Archives For environmentalism

“You may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.”

This was Sheriff Gil Gilbertson’s advice to women fearing domestic violence in Josephine County, Oregon in the spring of 2012, after drastic cuts to public safety funding resulted in a reduction from 24 sheriff’s deputies to only 6. A few months later, Gilbertson’s chilling warning became a reality when a woman in Josephine County was sexually assaulted by an abusive ex-boyfriend despite calling 911 and pleading for help to the dispatcher for over ten minutes. The dispatcher was not able to send help because there were no deputies on duty at the time. When the Josephine County dispatcher routed the call through to the Oregon State Police, there were also no officers available. Over the course of the call, the State Police dispatcher remarked that it was “unfortunate you guys don’t have any law enforcement up there” and suggested that the terrified caller “ask him to go away”.

The incident made national news a few months later after Josephine County voters once again considered and then narrowly rejected a modest property tax levy that would have provided for adequate law enforcement. Despite having the lowest property taxes of any county in Oregon, and despite the fact that the failure to pass a tax levy the year before resulted in a woman being brutalized, voters had apparently decided that the safety of local citizens was not worth an average of $18.50 per household per month.

On the surface, it would seem easy to simply blame Josephine County voters for their woes, but the situation that led to the county’s financial crisis is far more complicated than just a matter of property taxes. Nearly 70% of the land in Josephine County is owned by the federal government, and the county receives no tax revenue from that land regardless of whether a tax levy is passed or not. Josephine County is one of eighteen counties in Oregon that has been receiving timber payments from the federal government to compensate for the lost tax revenue from federally-owned land since the 1930s. The amounts of payments are dependent on sustainable-yield harvests, and for many of these counties, known collectively as the “O&C counties”, these timber payments have made the difference between feast and famine for nearly a century. And while the O&C counties prospered as a result of these payments up through the late 1980s, over the past 25 years many of these counties have fallen into financial ruin as the payments slowly dried up.

While many felt that Josephine County voters were simply prioritizing their anti-tax sentiment over their need for adequate public safety services, its important to recognize that in rejecting the tax levies, the citizens of Josephine County were not only demonstrating their belief that the federal government has an obligation to help fill their budget gap, but many also strongly believed that rejecting the levies would either prompt Congress to increase timber harvests or would trigger additional financial assistance from the federal government.

The short explanation behind Josephine County’s financial crisis is that the rapid deforestation of Oregon’s old-growth forests over the past century eventually led to a steady decline in timber harvests, which in turn reduced the federal timber payments down to a trickle. The larger story behind that simple explanation, however, of how and why Oregon developed such a pathological dependence on timber in the first place and why basic municipal infrastructures are so rapidly failing as a consequence of that dependence, is an interesting tale of money and politics that stretches back over 150 years. And while critics had pointed out for many years that Oregon’s failure to diversify its timber-dependent economy would eventually lead to both economic and biological disaster, few ever truly imagined a day where in the words of a local forest activist, “we are now being told that protecting women from rape is contingent upon raping the earth.”

Clear-cut forests near Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Calibas.

Clear-cut forests near Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Calibas.

It all started with the desire for a railroad.

The Oregon and California Railroad Act, passed by Congress in 1866, dedicated nearly four million acres of land to be made available to any company who would build a railroad from Portland to San Francisco. The Act dictated that the land was to be distributed in 12,800-acre land grants for each mile of track that was built, with an amendment three years later requiring the railroad company to sell the land adjacent to the rail line in 160-acre parcels to be priced at only $2.50 an acre in order to encourage settlement along the corridor. The theory behind the land-grant arrangement was that the sale of the parcels granted to the railroad company would financially compensate the railroad company for building the railroad in the first place. Meanwhile, the value of the government parcels would increase significantly over time due to the building of the railroad as well as the development that would occur on the parcels that the railroad sold to settlers, which would financially benefit the government in the long-term. Similar land grants had successfully enticed railroad companies to construct what became the first transcontinental railroad, which broke ground in 1863 and was completed in 1869.

The O&C parcels were laid out in a checkerboard pattern, extending twenty miles out from each side of the tracks, with the parcels designated for settlers alternating with parcels that were retained by the federal government. Construction was first started in Portland in 1868, and the route was completed over Siskiyou Summit into California by 1877, at which time the Southern Pacific Railroad took control of the railroad line. But while the laying of the tracks itself went smoothly, selling the available land parcels to settlers proved to be quite problematic. The terrain, which was rugged, mountainous, and consisted mostly of old-growth Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock, was not ideal nor practical for development, and the land proved to be difficult if not impossible to sell to potential homesteaders. Timber companies, on the other hand, coveted the parcels, but the land grant stipulated that the land was to only be sold to bona-fide settlers. This left the railroad company unable to recoup the money that was spent on building the railroad, as was the original purpose of the land grant.

And from this dilemma, a massive land-fraud scandal was born.

The racket was brilliantly simple. The president of the Southern Pacific Railroad hired a former surveyor tasked with rounding up working-class folks from the bars and saloons on Portland’s waterfront. The surveyor would escort the saloon patrons over to the land office and pay them to pose as a settlers, where they would register and pay $2.50 an acre for an O&C parcel and then immediately sell the parcel back to the railroad company. The railroad company then sold off the parcels in large blocks to the highest-bidding timber companies, who then harvested the timber without restrictions. This continued throughout the first decade of the 20th Century, until a disgruntled lumber employee tipped a Portland newspaper off to the scheme. The investigations that followed led to hundreds of federal indictments.

After the subsequent trials and convictions, the question remained as to how to legally handle the issue of the land fraud and the parcels themselves. A flurry of lawsuits between the state of Oregon, the federal government, and Southern Pacific resulted in a 1915 Supreme Court ruling that found that although the railroad company had violated the terms of the grant, they had a right to retain the land because the railroad had still been built as per the agreement. A year later, Congress overrode the Supreme Court’s decision with the passing of the Chamberlain-Ferris Act, which declared that 2,800,000 acres out of the nearly four million acres granted were to be revested back to the United States under the control of the General Land Office, which later became the Bureau of Land Management. Under the Act, the land became known as the “Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands”, commonly referred to thereafter as the “O&C Lands”. The original plan under the Chamberlain-Ferris Act was for the land to again be re-sold into private ownership so that the counties could recover their tax base, but once again selling the land to settlers and developers proved to be difficult if not impossible due to the rugged terrain.

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Finally, in 1937, Congress passed the O&C Act, revising the terms of the Chamberlain-Ferris Act and mandating that the land be managed for forest production and that the 18 affected Oregon counties be compensated for the loss of tax revenue. The Act guaranteed the counties 75% of the revenue from timber sales on O&C lands, which could be used by the counties for any purpose they chose. A year after the Act was passed, Oregon surpassed the state of Washington as the number-one timber producing state in America.

Under the terms and financial structure of the O&C Act, the counties themselves became the most vocal champions of timber production. More production meant more money flowing into county coffers, and for the next fifty years, the O&C counties in Oregon produced more timber than any other region in the entire world, leveling over 80% of Oregon’s old-growth forests in the process. Between the jobs created through the timber industry and the revenue that flowed through the O&C counties as a result, timber was not only the most dominating economic force throughout Oregon, in many rural areas it was pretty much the only economic force. At the height of the timber boom in the 1940s and 1950s, loggers harvested several billion board feet per year from the O&C lands, and by the 1960s more timber was being harvested on federal lands than any private land in Oregon.

Clearcuts on O&C lands outside of Oakridge, Oregon

Clearcuts on O&C lands outside of Oakridge, Oregon

For years, as old growth was logged and the O&C counties flourished, environmentalists watched the massive deforestation and subsequent destruction of a thriving ecosystem with horror. Under the terms of the O&C Act, however, there was little they could do to halt the logging. Years’ worth of environmental lawsuits had failed to produce any results, and yet the effects of deforestation on certain species were becoming plainly apparent. In 1986, environmentalists first petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Northern Spotted Owl as a threatened species. The USFWS reviewed the petition in both 1987 and 1989, but declined to list the owl as endangered. In the meantime, forest activists started to blockade federal forests in order to stall logging operations while more lawsuits worked their way through the court system.

The Northern Spotted Owl

The Northern Spotted Owl

Finally, in 1990, the Northern Spotted Owl was listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Loss of old-growth habitat was listed as the primary threat the owl, which gave environmental activists the ammunition they needed. A lawsuit was filed, claiming that logging timber harvesting old-growth habitat was in violation of the Endangered Species Act due to the presence of the Northern Spotted Owl, and in 1991 logging was halted on the O&C lands via court order. This order provided immediate relief for the owl and the forest, but also had an immediate and devastating affect on the timber payments that the O&C counties relied on, and officials stated that anywhere from 30,000 to 150,000 jobs would be lost as a result of the court order.

During his first campaign for office, presidential hopeful Bill Clinton promised Oregon voters that if elected, he would work to break the deadlock. Clinton kept his promise, and in 1994 his administration adopted the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP), which was intended to balance the need for logging on federal lands with the need to protect the habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl. The plan strongly decreased the amount of timber yields that were allowed under the original O&C Act, and set aside several million acres of old-growth forest as habitat for the Northwest Spotted Owl. And while the compromise set forth in the Northwest Forest Plan was arguably better than the stalemate that had preceded it, neither side was happy with the results. Environmentalists and forest activists pointed out that the plan did not go far enough to protect old-growth forests and municipal watersheds, while timber executives and county officials insisted that the allowed yields were not high enough to sustain the timber industry and the economic health of the O&C counties. Over the next several years, the concerns of both groups came to fruition. Environmentalists witnessed, documented, and publicized the negative effects that the logging was having on the ecosystem, which further empowered the forest defense movement to take up blockades in the forest. Meanwhile, the timber revenues of the O&C Counties continued to plummet, and timber jobs steadily started to vanish. Rural towns descended into poverty, while municipal and county governments struggled to stay afloat.

Once again the O&C dilemma compelled the federal government to act, and in the year 2000 Congress created a safety net for the Oregon timber counties as well as other rural areas affected by declining timber harvests by enacting the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. The Act allowed the O&C counties to receive the average of the three highest timber payments from 1986 through 1999 in lieu of the payments owed based on actual yields, which at the time was an average of only 150 million board feet a year. The Act originally was set to expire in 1996, but was renewed several times without lapsing, with the amounts decreasing with each renewal. In early 2012, however, the bill stalled in Congress and the federal timber payments lapsed for the first time since they began in 1937, which directly resulted in Josephine County’s drastic public safety cuts and Sheriff Gil Gilbertson’s ominous warning. Although Congress eventually renewed the payments, the Act is again set to expire in a few years.

Today, only 10% of Oregon’s old-growth forests remain, and two more “compromise” bills working their way through Congress are being championed as problem-solvers but also potentially threaten much of the remaining old-growth habitat. The competing bills, one sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and the other sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), have both come under fire from environmentalists and forest activists for increasing timber harvests on the O&C lands. DeFazio’s plan would turn over portions of the O&C lands to a state-managed trust for harvest, while granting federal wilderness protections to other sections of the O&C lands. Wyden’s plan is strikingly similar, claiming that it will boost timber harvests from the current 150 million board feet a year to anywhere between 300 and 400 million board feet a year while protecting trees that are over 150 years old. It is inevitable that one of the bills will become law, which in the long run will only serve as another band-aid that will not satisfy either side. The potential agreement only furthers Oregon’s dependence on a finite resource that is undeniably running out.

forest defenders

Forest defenders blockading threatened old-growth habitat

Growing up on the other side of the country, it was my fascination with the forest defense movement in the Pacific Northwest that first lured me to Oregon a decade ago, where I spent two weeks in the Willamette National Forest assisting with a tree-sit at a timber sale on the O&C lands. At the time, I knew little of the history and politics that led to the action I was participating in, but the experience of climbing 200 feet up a Douglas fir and the effects of sleeping and waking surrounded by old-growth had forever altered my understanding of the sacred. It was also in the forest that I first regarded the actions of forest activists as a militant form of earth-worship, and it was the energy and passion of certain individuals within that movement that strongly factored in my decision to permanently relocate to Oregon a few years later. Since then, my experiences with the land and the people here have greatly expanded my understanding of the timber-related history and politics that have driven and controlled this area for the past century. Never have I seen or experienced a single issue that so strongly reverberates through so many people and so deeply within a place, and never have I been at more at a loss for answers or solutions. Often I can’t help but feel that Western Oregon is a real-life version of “The Lorax”, complete with an equally grim and predictable ending.

In the meantime, it was announced last week that petitioners in Josephine County have gathered enough signatures to place another tax levy on the ballot this coming May. And while I can’t predict exactly what the future holds for Josephine County or any of the other O&C counties for that matter, what I do know for sure is if the long-term safety, security, and livelihood of the citizenry is dependent on the consumption and destruction of our old-growth forests, we will have retained neither our security nor our biodiversity in the end.

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

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  • Climate Progress reports on efforts by an alliance of Native American nations, activists, and environmental groups, to stop the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline through Lakota land. Quote: “In the wake of the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statementfor the Keystone XL pipeline which sparked nearly 300 protest vigils across the country, a group of Native American communities have added their voices to the calls to reject Keystone XL. In a joint statement — No Keystone XL pipeline will cross Lakota lands — Honor the Earth, the Oglala Sioux Nation, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred announced their intention to peacefully resist the construction of the pipeline slated to cut through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.” You can read the full statement, here.
  • Amnesty International has released a statement saying “after 38 years time to release indigenous leader Leonard Peltier.” Quote: “It is time for the USA authorities to release Leonard Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American and leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who has been imprisoned for 38 years despite serious concerns about the fairness of proceedings leading to his conviction. Leonard Peltier was arrested 38 years ago today in connection with the murders of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. While he admits to having been present during the incident, Leonard Peltier, who in 1977 was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murders, has always denied killing the agents as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.”
  • A woman charged with the sexual abuse of children allegedly tried to silence victims by saying she was a witch, and that she would utilize spells against them if they talked. Quote: “Shocking is perhaps the best word to describe the allegations against Jessica Smith. But perhaps it also best describes her self-proclaimed job title. “Ms. Smith led the children to believe that she was a witch, a practicing witch. [She]would place hexes or spells on the children if they revealed any of the facts that had happened,” Richmond said. “Of course, these children are young and they believed her. As if what [the victims] witnessed at that point wasn’t enough, now they think someone is going to cast a spell on them.” There’s no confirmation of whether she actually adhered to some form of religious witchcraft, or if it was merely a ruse.
  • “Conscience” laws are redundant, and largely politically motivated, and even lawmakers in South Dakota realize that. Quote: “As Americans United has pointed out several times, the First Amendment already protects members of clergy from being compelled to officiate at marriage ceremonies. Why can’t a same-sex couple demand a church wedding? For the same reason that a Protestant couple can’t just walk into a Roman Catholic church and demand that the priest marry them. Members of the clergy have an absolute right to determine the parameters for the sacraments they offer. If a couple doesn’t meet those criteria, the pastor is free to show them the door.”
  • Religion Clause reports that a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in State v. Armitage says Native Hawaiians are not infringed on by making them obtain a permit to enter an island reserve. Quote: “The Hawaii Supreme Court held that the rights of Native Hawaiians are not infringed by a statute limiting entry into the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve only to those who obtain authorization to do so through a written application process.  Defendants claim they were traveling to the island to proclaim the right of the “Reinstated Kingdom of Hawaii” to the island. The court rejected defendants’ arguments that their entry was protected by the Art. XII, Sec. 7 of the Hawaii Constitution which protects the right to engage in traditional and customary Native Hawaiian subsistence, cultural and religious practices.”
A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

  • Global Post has a photoset up focusing on Palo in Cuba. Quote: “The cultures of Cuba’s many African descendants run deep across the island. They blend with the country’s traditional Roman Catholic practices to create vibrant mixtures. Photographer Jan Sochor captures the ritual scenes here in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, in particular capturing Palo rituals. A religious practice often confused with Yoruba religion (Santeria), but distinguished by more underground practices and initiations.”
  • Is cultural Christianity dead? That’s what  R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary asserts. Quote: “There was in the center of the country — and I don’t mean that geographically, but culturally — a cultural religiosity that was, in the main, a cultural Christianity that trended in one direction for the better part of 60 to 70 years, and it had a kind of moral authority that is disappearing before our eyes.” 
  • Don’t be a jerk, don’t deface ancient rock formations. Quote: “Prosecutors have filed charges against two former Boy Scout leaders accused of toppling one of the ancient rock formations at Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. State Parks officials say Glenn Taylor is charged with criminal mischief. David Hall is charged with aiding criminal mischief, another felony.”
  • Early Americans really didn’t like the Quakers much. Quote: “Known today for their pacifist and quietist ways, Quakers had an altogether different reputation in the seventeenth century: belligerent and boisterous rabble-rousers. Fueled by evangelical zeal, and asserting radical ideas for the time, the Quakers were aggressive proselytizers. As a result, they faced violent persecution in England and, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands, where many migrated. News of their beliefs (e.g. equality for women, refusal to swear oaths, etc.) and their tactics (e.g. preaching loudly and publicly, disrupting worship services, etc.) reached the colonies before the Quakers did. Connecticut, in fact, banned Quakers in October 1656—prior to any Quakers having ever reached the colony.”
  • What’s it like being a Pagan at Penn? Pretty lonely, it seems. Quote: “Deidre Marsh, a College senior, founded Penn Wheel a semester ago in order to build a community for earth-based religions and paganism. But even in a school of over 10,000 undergraduates, Marsh has been unable to find anyone else who shares her religious beliefs.”

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

Earlier this week, I noted that a West Virginia-based CUUPs chapter was holding a ritual for the water poisoned by a massive chemical spill, which has still hobbled access to fresh, safe, water in that region.

Elk_River_WV_map

“An emergency meeting of concerned citizens was held in our Unitarian Fellowship (there had been other emergency meeting cropping up throughout the state) to discuss implications and possible actions. A water drive had been planned for the capital with an open mic for residents to express their outrage- and there’s a lot of it. There are other community meetings planned, letter writing campaigns, and pushes to contact representatives; but as a magical person, my instinctual reaction is to couple This World Action with magic and ritual. I met up with a few other local CUUPs members who were also mad as hell and it was decided that a magical working was needed but to fight our polluting Goliaths and the legislators who support them, we’d need help and support from the outside.” – Crystal Kendrick, Co-Vice President, Unitarian Fellowship of Huntington

The truth is that scientists aren’t sure how safe the “cleared” water sources are after the spill.

“Sonya Lunder, a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., told National Geographic that the decision to lift the water ban was based on scant science. “Evidently the one-part-per-million safety level, used to lift the drinking water restriction, is based on an unpublished study of the amount of chemical that killed 50 percent of test animals, a very crude indicator of health concern,” she said.”

Further, the spilled chemical agent isn’t simply staying put in West Virginia, that isn’t how water works. Now, places like Ohio are scrambling to protect their own drinking water sources as the contamination spreads.

“The Ohio Guardsmen are among more than 500 from West Virginia, Tennessee and the District of Columbia responding to the incident, and have been testing water samples from across the Kanawha Valley to determine levels of contamination to the local water supply.”

For those of us in the Pagan community who see our ecosystem, our natural world, as a living sacred force (or interwoven tapestry of sacred lives), this spill is an affront, a blasphemy in a religious culture that rarely utters such an accusation. Some Pagan groups are now stepping up to help raise funds, and give assistance, to those affected by this ongoing eco-crisis.

1521839_10203039292001565_828088099_n“When I first heard about the disaster, my thought was to raise funds to send water shipments to the hardest hit towns. In talking with local Pagan, Shannon Swan, I was pointed to a different need: 

No clean water means that restaurants, cafes and other places many working class people rely on for income are closed, or, as some locals have told me, though some restaurants have re-opened, things like coffee are being made with affected water. Restaurant workers in the US, as we know, rely on tips to survive. A week without work, plus these ongoing conditions, is making life very difficult.

Paul Dalzell of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Charleston writes: “I have worked in, and have many friends in, the food service industry, and I am very concerned for them.  This is an urgent problem for both the minimum wage workers who barely make it in the best of times, and the waitstaff and help who often live from day to day on their tips.”  

These people already live close to the bone. Solar Cross Temple is raising funds to send to the Unitarian church in Charleston, who will get the money to local people in need.

This is a disaster for the trees, the water, the animals, the land, and the people. If you cannot afford a donation, please offer whatever prayers you can, and pass this announcement along. Donations of any amount are welcomed. Donations to Solar Cross Temple are tax deductible.”

For those wanting to help through Solar Cross Temple and the Charleston UU congregation, you can donate via Paypal using the email “solarcrosstemple@gmail.com.” Please note in your donation “West Virginia Disaster” so that the funds are appropriated correctly. For those wanting to donate directly to the UU church, information can be found at Thorn’s blog.

West Virginia resident Kelly Mir, a Reclaiming Priestess and Feri student, noted that she is living in a “sacrifice zone” and this is just the most recent outrage in the “oppression” of this land.

“Thank you for being attentive to this; we {West Virginians) are in a location openly called a “sacrifice zone,” but few are paying attention. I am a Reclaiming Priestess, a student of Feri, a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School, and a long-time active member of the UU Congregation of Charleston, WV, where efforts are being made to help those most harmed by our most recent crisis. I am also a descendent of some of the first Europeans into this area, and of some of the Original People as well. This land is held deeply in my heart, and the oppression of this land and its people goes back many, many generations.”

It is in moments like this, when an ecological crisis becomes acute and impossible to ignore, that a belief in sacred nature, in a nature imbued with life and powers, is truly tested. How do we respond to the spoiling of our own water supply? How do we reach out? Do we reach out? Recently, at Patheos, Rhyd Wildermuth argued that Paganism, that polytheism, was inherently radical in a economic system that treats our natural world as a resource to be exploited and controlled.

“Worlding the earth with the gods and spirits is a radical act in our societies, as is fighting the systems of control and profit which maintain our distance from the earth and our disenchantment (and disenfranchisement). It can seem daunting, dangerous; it will alienate us from some, and the decisions we make may cause us to experience poverty rather than exploit the earth and each other.”

One does not have to be a radical to see the danger in unregulated use of the ecosystem that supports our life, one only has to be pragmatic about what is truly sustainable, and posses the empathy to see how our actions are interconnected. A small, symbolic act would be to reach out now, and help make life a little easier for those in West Virginia, where this spill originated, to help the people who are now feeling the effects of a system that does not care about preserving natural resources for all classes of people and life on this planet. We will keep you updated as this story continues to develop.

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!

Elk_River_WV_mapLast week, a massive chemical spill in West Virginia contaminated the local water supply, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without safe tap water. While de-contamination is ongoing, and some areas are starting have water restored, the crisis is far from over. The CUUPs chapter at the Unitarian Fellowship of Huntington is planning a water ritual for this Friday, and that participant’s “intent should be one of justice and bringing an end to these destructive practices.” Crystal Kendrick, Co-Vice President of the Unitarian Fellowship of Huntington, said that the ritual will help compliment activism and community meetings already happening in the area. Quote: “There are other community meetings planned, letter writing campaigns, and pushes to contact representatives; but as a magical person, my instinctual reaction is to couple This World Action with magic and ritual. I met up with a few other local CUUPs members who were also mad as hell and it was decided that a magical working was needed but to fight our polluting Goliaths and the legislators who support them, we’d need help and support from the outside.” CUUPs chapter member Antinoodorus Atellus added that “the way we live, what we focus on, must change or we will not fare well as the future becomes the present.”

Raven Radio

Raven Radio

After nearly four years Heathen talk radio program Raven Radio has decided to shut down this week, with founder Chuck Hudson saying it is “time now to let the young folks step up and take a swing at this.” Quote: “Well after long thought and taking back and forth. This Sunday will be the last live episode of Raven Radio. We’ve been on nearly 4 years, at least twice as long as anyone else. We did a lot of first for Asatru podcasting. And I am damn proud of it. We were the first live Heathen show on a regular schedule. We have talked with heathens from all over this planet.We have broken ground and brought conflicting points of view about Asatru to the table to at least talk. I have made friends through this station that I would have never been able to meet and they have become life long friends. […] What can I say. We had a great run. […] I want to thank each and every one of you, our listeners for making us the group we are. Also thank you all for lettings us have an hour of your time each week.” You can listen to the last episode here.

Aaron Leitch

Aaron Leitch

The best kind of fundraising story is one where the goal is met and surpassed before you even have a chance to write about it. That’s what happened with the medical fundraiser for Aaron Leitch, a scholar and member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who has written on several topics of interest to modern Pagans and occultists. In a matter of days, the $5500 goal was met, and is now nearly $2000 dollars over. Quote: “Thanks to a tremendous outpouring of support, sufficient funding for Aaron’s surgery was obtained within 48 hours of the first public announcement.  My thanks and gratitide, as well as Aaron’s, are due to you all!” I shared an excerpt from Leitch’s response to his community coming out in support at this week’s Pagan Voices, but I encourage you to go and read the whole thing. Quote: “Any donations beyond the costs of the surgery and associated expenses (like meds) will go directly to the Himalayan Cataract Project.  Steve researched them, and they are top-of-the-line where it comes to your donations actually getting to the people who need help.  So we’re going to make sure that several people get their eyesight back from this. […] It’s damn hard to have faith in this world, as I’m sure you know.  But I’ll tell you one thing – I’ve got an unshakable faith in our particular corner of it.  If this is who we really are, then I’ve chosen the right life path.” Here’s to a bit of heartwarming community news!

 In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • The Temple of Witchcraft fundraiser anthology “Ancestors of the Craft” is now available on Amazon.com. All profits from the sale of the book go to support the Temple. Quote: “Modern pagans are heirs to a rich confluence of traditions from numerous pioneers in the realms of Spirit who have passed beyond the Veil. Ancestors of the Craft honors these ancestors, some widely known, others obscure, but no less deserving.”
  • Also, the Temple of Witchcraft is looking for subjects in a healing case study. Quote: “Would you or a friend like to receive distance healing as an adjunct to your other healing treatment? The Healing Case Study Group of the Temple of Witchcraft is looking for volunteer subjects who have a physical condition or disease to receive this distance healing from its members. For one month, you can bask in the healing light sent to you by the group. For further information, please send a one-sentence description of your ailments to Tim Titus or Stevie Grant.”
  • Paganicon 2014, held March 14-16 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, has announced that High Priestess and author Deborah Lipp will join Oberon Zell as a Guest of Honor, along with featured guest Ivo Dominguez, Jr. Quote: “Our new Guest of Honor is High Priestess and author Deborah Lipp. Deborah became a Gardnerian Witch in 1982 and a High Priestess in 1986, and has been teaching Wicca and running Pagan circles ever since. Since Deborah wrote The Elements of Ritual, The Way of Four, and The Way of Four Spellbook, she’s a natural fit for this year’s Paganicon theme of the elements.”
  • The new edition of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, has been released. Don’t let the 2012 date fool you, they’re just running a bit behind, something that editor Chas Clifton promises will be remedied soon. This issue’s focus is on “Paganism, Initiation, and Ritual.” Quote: “Arguably, initiation and ritual are in many ways central for the understanding of most of the currents studied under the umbrella term Paganism—one need only mention the importance placed on rituals of initiation in the modern Witchcraft movement from the 1950s onwards, or the rituals performed in connection with the seasonal festivals of the year encountered in most forms of Paganism.”
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has an editorial up at The Shift Network on “changing the narrative.” Quote: “My mission is to promote a new sacred planetary vision through a new narrative that better fits the truth that we have come to know.”

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

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

maetreum sign large

  • As I reported this past weekend, the Maetreum of Cybele has finally won their property tax fight against the Town of Catskill in New York. So far, the only mainstream media (non-Pagan) outlet to report on this has been The New York Law Journal (registration needed to read the article), who note that town officials are “disappointed” with the ruling, and are weighing whether to appeal the ruling to a higher court. “[Attorney Daniel] Vincelette said town officials believe the primary use of the property is as a ‘residential cooperative,’ not for religious purposes. He denied that the nature of the group’s pagan beliefs has been a factor in the town’s opposition to the property tax exemption. ‘It was never ever a consideration or an issue at all,’ he said.” That statement seems rather laughable, considering the lengths the town has gone to fighting their exemption.
  • So, anybody read the New York Times lately? In an article about Teo Bishop re-embracing Jesus, reporter Mark Oppenheimer interviews T. Thorn Coyle, Amy Hale, and myself, about the story (and the meta-story, I suppose). I thought that, all told, it was a fair and balanced snapshot of the situation, and I’m pleased that we weren’t subjected to a Christian counter-point for the sake of “balance.” This being a New York Times piece, it has gotten a lot of commentary and links, including from a local Portland paper, and our “friends” at Get Religion. For those dismayed at the amount of attention this is getting, I encourage you to help build our community’s journalistic apparatus so we can have a bigger influence on mainstream journalism. Journalism isn’t something that just happens to us, it is something we can do.
  • Religion Clause points to a Japan Times article on the growing influence of Shinto in Japanese politics. Quote: “‘They’re trying to restore what was removed by the U.S. Occupation reforms,’ explains Mark Mullins, director of the Japan Studies Center at the University of Auckland. If it succeeds, the project amounts to the overturning of much of the existing order in Japan — a return to the past, with one eye on the future. […] Many of the nation’s top elected officials, including Abe and Shimomura are members of the organization’s political wing, Shinto Seiji Renmei (officially, the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership — eschewing the word ‘political’ from the title) […] Seiji Renmei sees its mission as renewing the national emphasis on ‘Japanese spiritual values.’ […] Since its birth in 1969, Shinto Seiji Renmei has notched several victories in its quest to restore much of the nation’s prewar political and social architecture.” This is a story I’ll be paying close attention to in the future, and one that Pagans who are interested in Shinto should also note.
  • Religion in American History looks at Vodou in the early American republic, and finds more questions than answers. Quote: “Finding the place of Vodou in the early republic presents problems of definition and problems of sources and evidence relating to the practice of Vodou and the experiences of Dominguan migrants. In considering these issues, I stand by my interpretation of the evidence for Philadelphia, and now agree that Vodou may have been practiced in Dominguan communities elsewhere in the United States; however, there is much that remains unclear.” 
  •  Last week major environmental advocacy groups walked out of the climate talks in Poland, stating that there’s been a lack of progress on achieving a sustainable future. Quote: “This is the first time environmental groups have walked out of a UNFCCC conference. In astatement, the groups said they had grown tired of the conference’s gridlock over issues such as aid to help poor countries adapt to and mitigate climate change, as well as the apparent disconnect between Poland’s commitment to coal and its job as host of this year’s conference.” News post-talks described this round of talks as “uneventful.” 
Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

  • Famous psychic and author Sylvia Browne died last week at the age of 77. A Gnostic Christian, Browne emerged as a popular figure in the 1990s and oversaw a vast media empire that included talk-show appearances, bestselling books, and luxury cruise ship experiences for fans. During her life, Browne came under fire from many who saw her off-the-cuff style as irresponsible, especially when it concerned life-or-death matters. Quote: “Although Ms. Browne often appeared on shows like ‘Larry King Live’ and was a regular guest on ‘The Montel Williams Show,’ much of her income came from customers who paid $700 to ask her questions over the telephone for 30 minutes. She was frequently taken to task by skeptics, most notably the professional psychic debunker James Randi. But the questions raised about her abilities did not damage her appeal as an author. She published more than 40 books, and many were mainstays on The New York Times’s best-seller list.” No doubt Browne’s legacy will continue to be debated, and depending on your beliefs, perhaps she’ll still want a say on what that legacy was.
  • An Egyptian statue that had been rotating, seemingly of its own accord, has been explained. Quote: “An engineer, called in to look at the statue, found that that vibrations from a busy nearby road were causing the 3,800-year-old stone figure to rotate. The convex base of the figure made it ‘more susceptible’ to spin around than the cabinet’s other artefacts.” Sorry, folks, maybe next time.
  • Indian newspaper The Hindu has agreed to stop using the word “primitives” to refer to tribal groups. Quote: “The ‘Proud Not Primitive’ movement to challenge prejudice towards tribal peoples in India is celebrating a major success after ‘The Hindu’, one of the world’s largest English language newspapers, pledged to no longer describe tribal peoples as ‘primitive’. Several journalists from renowned Indian publications have also endorsed the movement, including Kumkum Dasgupta of the Hindustan Times, Nikhil Agarwal of the Press Trust of India, and V Raghunathan of the Times of India.” Congratulations on this step forward in respect for tribal and indigenous peoples.
  • Should artists form their own political party? Maybe? Quote: “In the main hall, a Salvador Dali impersonator acted as the compere as figures from the arts world mounted a kind of pulpit to deliver short sermons on the state of the arts.” Just so long as they don’t elect Koons as party chair, I’m down.
  • The American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting just happened, and I know a bunch of Pagan stuff happened. I’m hoping to get some of the inside scoop soon. Stay tuned!

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

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!

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”John Muir

A view from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

A view from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

Despite the fact that it has been co-opted for all sorts of bizarre and cynical purposes over the years, as a Pagan I still find Earth Day a worthy, and historically important, day. Originally a teach-in on environmental issues, it has since become a global moment where we collectively stop and take stock of how we are treating our home. Since before the very first Earth Day in 1970, many modern Pagans have embraced and incorporated the idea of being Nature Religions, in addition to religions of fertility or mystery.

“The spirit of Earth Day 1970 did not just happen; its roots could include the gradual stirring of environmental consciousness that accelerated in the 1960s, but that stirring itself had deeper roots in an American consciousness of a special relationship with the land, even if that relationship was often abusive. Still, if there was a year when Wicca (in the broad sense) became “nature religion,” as opposed to the “mystery religion” or “metaphorical fertility religion” labels that it had brought from England, that year was 1970.” – Chas Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America

Modern Pagan and Heathen faiths, whether they identify as “nature religions” or not, have a special sacral relationship with the natural world. Our gods and goddesses can be found in oceans, rivers, forests, and mountains (indeed, in many cultures, Earth is the primal mother of most acknowledged gods and powers), some pre-Christian cultures envision a World Tree that binds reality together. Our rites often mark the changing seasons, and once tracked the progress of crops essential to our survival. Deity is not merely a transcendent force separate from creation, deity is everywhere and within every thing. Each of us holds the potential to be like the gods, and we acknowledge that the gods and powers walk and exist among us still. So it isn’t surprising that many Pagans feel a special urging to advocate for the environment and the protection of the natural world.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

“Pagans should be at the forefront of the environmental movement. We should put into practice the green living techniques learned over the last decades and show the world we take seriously what we preach: Earth is our Mother and we will honor Her by becoming green beacons for others to gravitate to.”

Lately, with extreme weather events making the headlines on a regular basis, and controversial initiatives like the Keystone XL pipeline spurring environmental groups like the Sierra Club to endorse civil disobedience, the call to fulfill the role-modeling and leadership many in our community believe we should be engaging with on these issues grows more urgent.

“We should know better. Here’s what I’d like to see in the Pagan community. I’d like to see Pagans across the world standing up to choose the sometimes harder road.”

When that call for civil disobedience came from the Sierra Club, I wondered if our interconnected communities would find a new, more expansive, consensus on the role of environmentalism, eco-spirituality, and “nature religion” within modern Pagan religions and modern Pagan organizations.

“This is a moment of challenge for those Pagans who espouse an eco-spirituality, who want to practice an Earth or nature religion. If the “safe” moderate environmental group says it’s now time for civil disobedience, do we follow suit? Do our leaders also say “enough” and call for civil disobedience? For direct action in the face of climate crisis? Such calls have usually come from “activist” Pagans like Starhawk, and her critics have often accused her of politicizing Paganism, but are we now at a different moment? Is this the moment where we move beyond recycling and buying the Sierra Club calendar, into advocating for direct action? Not just prayers and spells, but our bodies on the front lines? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but perhaps it’s time we had a renewed discussion about what, exactly, Wiccans, Druids, and other Pagan faiths that espouse the natural world as sacred and alive, should do in the face of a now impossible to ignore climate crisis. The Sierra Club has made a decision, and perhaps that should press us to collectively make one too.”

I’m still wondering, and I’d still like to see more robust discussion on what kind of leadership, or role, Pagans should engage in regarding our environment, our climate, our collective ecosystems. I’ve heard and read a lot of talk over the years about how Pagans would bring better stewardship to our planet, that our values are better on these issues, but it seems like only a small fraction of us are engaged in the work of becoming the models we say we naturally are. I include myself in that statement, knowing that I could do more, be more, sacrifice more, if I truly felt the sense of urgency that some eco-activists feel. So I don’t ask these questions to collectively damn us, but instead to use this moment of Earth Day to ask if we are collectively content with our current level of engagement, of activism, or if we should be more.

While we work on finding our place on these issues, let’s individually embrace nature religion for real, reduce our carbon footprint (and our water footprint), support small farmseat ethically, teach on global climate change as a moral issue, hold up those who act for the environment in our stead, invest green, vote green, and “go green.” Individual changes might not bring about some of the macro-changes the world so sorely needs, but small acts of leadership and courage can have effects beyond our doorstep, especially if we truly embrace the idea that everything is connected.

“I will sing of well-founded Earth, mother of all, eldest of all beings. She feeds all creatures that are in the world, all that go upon the goodly land, and all that are in the paths of the seas, and all that fly: all these are fed of her store.” – Homer

Let’s make every day Earth Day.

In his book “Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America” Pagan scholar Chas Clifton notes that the environmental awakening of 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, “was a year when Wicca (in the broad sense) became “nature religion,” as opposed to the “mystery religion” or “metaphorical fertility religion” labels that it had brought from England.” Since then, modern Pagans of many stripes, particularly Wiccans and Druids, have placed a special emphasis on being religions that care for, and have concern about, our natural environment. A who’s who of Pagans, both high-profile and not, have told the press, and the world, that we give special concern to problems facing our natural world, and further, that our faiths represent a positive shift away from abuse and towards sustainability.

“I think only spiritualities of sacred immanence are capable of doing earth justice, and I think that we, as Pagans, have a responsibility to act and speak in defense of this planet that has blessed us into existence.  If anyone can it is we who can argue for and sometimes introduce others to a direct experience of the sacrality of the earth. […]  Far from being anti-human, we need only enlarge that part of us which may be most unique, our hearts, to embrace what [Aldo Leopold] terms a “land ethic.” Such an ethic: ‘simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.’” - Gus diZerega, Patheos.com

As Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum continues his historic visit to the Kumbh Mela in India, one of his primary messages to our Hindu cousins has been ecological awareness and restoration. From mucking trash in the Ganges river, to leading and blessing a march of Indian school children who are pledging to preserve the planet.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

“Today I led a march of 5,000 school children along the banks of the Ganges to both clean up the sacred river, but also to call for world peace and the preservation of our environment generally. All of these things have been quite spontaneous, and our single act of mucking trash in front of all of the pilgrims has gone viral across the world.  There were TV stations from many countries and newspaper reporters everywhere.  The Governor and Minister and many other officials have joined with us, and banners and such are literally being created in the moment.  One TV station said this is the most significant event toward saving our planet in modern history. Swamiji got this idea to have the kids take a pledge to clean and preserve the planet, and it turned into a huge gathering.  I sat up in front with 5,000 children behind me and we all took the pledge together.”

Bron Taylor, author of “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”, believes that religions which embrace an ethos of environmentalism, or ecological sustainability, will thrive as our world’s climate troubles worsen.

“The forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings. This is because most contemporary nature spiritualities are sensory (based on what we perceive with our senses, sometimes enhanced by clever gadgets), and thus sensible. They also tend to promote ecologically adaptive behaviors, which enhances the survival prospects of their carriers, and thus their own long-term survival prospects.”

But how far are Pagans, collectively, willing to go in defense of an Earth they call sacred? In a guest review of John Michael Greer’s new book “The Blood of the Earth” (Scarlet Imprint, 2012) from last year, UK Pagan Paracelsian wonders how deep our commitment to being “nature religions” actually goes.

“I’m not suggesting that individual Pagans are never involved with environmental activism, but I am convinced that this is not a priority for the vast majority of individuals who would identify as being Pagan. Greer’s work (and that of other authors who seek to engage contemporary Pagans with these issues: Emma Restall Orr, for example) should at least be encouraging members of the Pagan community to be asking some questions about what it means, in practice, to espouse a nature-based spirituality. This discussion is long overdue, and needed now more than ever, or Paganism will be never be any more than the “virtual religion” critiqued by Andy Letcher. How many self-identified Pagans can honestly live up to Chas Clifton’s challenge to “live so that someone ignorant about Paganism would know from watching your life or visiting your home that you followed an ‘earth religion”. It seems obvious to me that thinking about these questions is imperative if Paganism is not only going to survive, but also to make a positive contribution to the way that humanity relates to Nature in the future.”

It is from this lens that I think we should view the news that the Sierra Club, America’s oldest and largest environmental organization, founded by famed conservationist John Muir, has for the first time advocated civil disobedience to its membership.

Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune

Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune

“For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest. Such a protest, if rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in fact a profound act of patriotism. For Thoreau, the wrongs were slavery and the invasion of Mexico. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was the brutal, institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South. For us, it is the possibility that the United States might surrender any hope of stabilizing our planet’s climate.” 

The first test of this new call for civil disobedience will be at a Washington DC rally this February in opposition to the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline. However, even if no arrests are made at this rally, it marks a major shift for the Sierra Club, which has preferred lobbying, deal-making, and advocacy over the more direct methods of groups like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. It erodes the idea that mere advocacy, or being ideologically behind better environmental policy, is sufficient in the current environment. It means that support for the Sierra Club implicitly means supporting civil disobedience for the environment.

This is a moment of challenge for those Pagans who espouse an eco-spirituality, who want to practice an Earth or nature religion. If the “safe” moderate environmental group says it’s now time for civil disobedience, do we follow suit? Do our leaders also say “enough” and call for civil disobedience? For direct action in the face of climate crisis? Such calls have usually come from “activist” Pagans like Starhawk, and her critics have often accused her of politicizing Paganism, but are we now at a different moment? Is this the moment where we move beyond recycling and buying the Sierra Club calendar, into advocating for direct action? Not just prayers and spells, but our bodies on the front lines? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but perhaps it’s time we had a renewed discussion about what, exactly, Wiccans, Druids, and other Pagan faiths that espouse the natural world as sacred and alive, should do in the face of a now impossible to ignore climate crisis. The Sierra Club has made a decision, and perhaps that should press us to collectively make one too.

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!

New Alexandrian Library Lays Foundation: At the end of 2011 the New Alexandrian Library officially broke ground on their physical space in Delaware. A project that hopes to create “a library worthy of its namesake” focused on esoteric knowledge, mystical and the spiritual writings from many traditions, and the “ history of our magickal communities,” the NAL project has already started building an impressive collection, one that includes the recent acquisition of rare Dion Fortune paintings gifted by Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki. Now, the foundation for the dome structure has been recently completed, and PNC-Washington DC interviews Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (NAL’s sponsoring organization) Elder Michael Smith about the process.

New Alexandrian Library foundation.

New Alexandrian Library foundation.

“…sacred waters from around the world, sacred protective objects and crystals charged for this very purpose at our Between The Worlds gatherings’ main rituals in 2000, 2004, and 2007 are placed throughout the foundation. This work was designed to root all of the power and intention we have raised to support the Library over the years. Additional ritual and magickal work will be done at each step of the construction. The specific dome construction allows us to place objects and implant workings into each seam between the triangles – to help the project grow and prosper each step of the way.”

Smith says the project is on-schedule, and construction of the dome kit will begin soon. You can receive regular updates on the library’s progress at their Facebook page. As always, monetary donations, no matter how small, are needed to make this happen. One can donate through the NAL’s website or through the Causes campaign ‘Support the New Alexandrian Library.’ You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s coverage of the New Alexandrian Library project, here.

Circle Minister Joins Eagle Scout Protest: Due to an ongoing policy of the Boy Scouts of America “not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals,” one recently affirmed by its leadership, a growing number of Eagle Scouts, the organization’s elite members, have been resigning their membership and sending back their badges and medals. One of that growing number is Bob Paxton, a Circle Sanctuary Minister, who was interviewed yesterday by Pagan Newswire Collective Managing Editor Cara Schulz about his decision.

“I can say that as a Pagan my experience as a Boy Scout directly lead to my choosing the Pagan spiritual path.  Experience that I had in the woods, experiences I had in summer camps, experiences I had in some of the ceremonial occasions very much led me in that direction […] We are hoping to accomplish, not only by sending the letters but by publicly sending the letters a public shaming such that if nothing else it’s my hope that down in Irving, Texas as these letters and these medals come in with the mail delivery every day that somebody opens them up, puts them on a table, and takes a look at this and says, “You know, something’s wrong here. We have to do something else. People that we nurtured up to the verge of manhood are coming back to us now from 10, 20, 30, 50 years and saying no, you can’t be like this.”  If that doesn’t stand a chance of changing their hearts, I don’t know what will.”

As Paxton notes, his Pagan experience began as a Boy Scout, and no doubt many Pagans nurtured a reverence for nature in a scouting organization. Today, groups like the Spiral Scouts attempt to recreate the scouting experience from with a Pagan lens. Paxton says that as a Pagan minister, and an LGBT ally, he felt the national organization ratifying the exclusion of gay men allows a culture of bullying that could not go unanswered. No doubt other Pagan Eagle Scouts are considering the same steps that he has.

Nature Spirituality Podcast Interviews Former Sierra Club Director: Tomorrow, the Faith, Fern, and Compass podcast, hosted by Alison Leigh Lilly, and her husband Jeff Lilly, will post part one of an interview with Former National Director of the Sierra Club Melanie Griffin in a two-part special.

Melanie Griffin

Melanie Griffin

“After a wildly successful premiere season during which the new podcast hosted by Alison Leigh Lilly and her husband Jeff Lilly grew in leaps and bounds reaching listeners worldwide, Faith, Fern & Compass celebrates with a two-part special exploring the changing face of environmentalism and the growing interest in nature-centered spirituality. Former National Director of the Sierra Club Melanie Griffin has been a leader in the national environmental movement for more than 25 years; as an activist and lobbyist, she has been instrumental in the passing of ground-breaking legislation to protect the environment and regulate industry in the United States. In an exclusive interview with FF&C co-host Jeff Lilly, she shares personal reflections on her experiences working for the Sierra Club, exploring the ways that science, technology, the economy and social media has shaped the conversation about ecology and environmentalism over the past few decades, and how her own faith has played an important role in her commitment to the planet.”

Lilly has long been a champion of environmental concerns within the context of modern Paganism, and is the coordinator/editor of the Pagan Newswire Collective’s No Unsacred Place group blog, which explores the relationships between religion and science, nature and civilization from a diversity of modern Pagan perspectives. Griffin says she “sees the divine most strikingly in the natural world,” and this should be a must-listen program for anyone interested in how our faith, and environmental activism can intersect. You can subscribe to Faith, Fern, and Compass on iTunes, or download directly from their site.

In Other Community News:

That’s all I have for now! Speaking of Pagan community events, I’ll be at Faerieworlds this weekend, and hope to share with you the many Pagan elements of this wonderful event. So stay tuned! As always, if you have community news you’d like to share, please drop me a line.

This year Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), a Midwest Pagan festival that’s been running for more than 30 years, broke attendance records, drawing over 1000 people to the week-long event. The West Coast Pagan convention PantheaCon, held each February in San Jose, California, has gotten so popular that they’ve introduced a new reservations system to prevent individuals from gaming the system. Pagan-friendly fantasy-oriented events like Faerieworlds are anticipating record-breaking numbers this Summer, and even brand-new Pagan events like Paganicon in Minnesota are growing at a healthy rate. It seems like Pagan festivals and conventions, at least in the United States, are doing great, but are the days of the large Pagan event that draws a national or even international audience numbered? That’s what Frater Barrabbas Tiresius at the Talking About Ritual Magick blog argues.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

“There are many factors that are shaping the future in which we will live and they will probably have a profound impact on Pagans and Wiccans being able to assemble in large groups, unless of course, those groups are local and sustainable in the long term […] times are indeed changing and the need for such large gatherings may have achieved the upper limit in terms of both usefulness and sustainability. By usefulness I am saying that merely getting together for what would seem to be mostly a social gathering with sprinkling of some workshops, presentations, rituals, live music and the selling of obscure books and goods may not represent what is really needed or relevant for our growing population of practitioners and followers. By sustainability, I am thinking of the availability of resources to gather together in large regional or even international groups. Traveling by car or plane does impact the environment with pollutants and it also uses up precious resources, namely fossil fuels. These resources will probably become a lot more expensive in the decades ahead.”

In short, if I’m reading Frater Barrabbas’ argument correctly, the looming reality of peak oil, the effects of global warming, along with other factors, will eventually make the larger gatherings too expensive for anyone outside the immediate area to attend. That right now we are witnessing the upper limit of the Pagan festival phenomenon, one that might continue for several more years, but will eventually crumble. Is this prediction accurate? We are certainly seeing hotter summers each year, and scientists predict this will be the norm, with some areas seeing “the permanent emergence of unprecedented summer heat” in the next 20 years. Already, the record-breaking heatwaves being experienced in many parts of the United States are causing disruptions in all aspects of our transportation grid, a situation that could worsen as average summer temperatures increase. If long-range transportation becomes unreliable during the summer months, that would certainly keep many people close to home.

Airplane stuck on melted tarmac.

Airplane stuck on melted tarmac.

Environmental shifts changing the way we live our lives was recently discussed here at The Wild Hunt in a review of John Michael Greer’s new book “The Blood of the Earth.” Greer reminds us, and has been reminding us for years, that things will eventually change. That we cannot be forever insulated from the reality many parts of the world already face, resource shortages, and ever-inflating prices for the kind of travel we once took for granted. That we as Pagans, many of whom claim a special connection to the natural world, need to be ready to experience and live in this shift. This is echoed by Barrabbas, who advocates that Pagans start acting like those days are already here, and plan their events accordingly.

“As followers of earth-based spirituality, we should not only be aware of these facts, but actually embrace them and start planning and acting as if those times were already here.”

Barrabbas’ post is just the first in a series, one that I look forward to reading, especially his conclusions and recommendations, but I can take a few guesses of my own at where this line of thinking will go. Primarily, face-to-face Pagan events will become either regional or hyper-local affairs, and that national and international figures in the Pagan community will increasingly have to “attend” such events virtually. That “Pagan community” will increasingly lean on the powers of social networking to bind itself together. This reality is, in many respects, already here. Sociologist Helen A. Berger, in a revisitation of her Pagan Census project from the late 1990’s, noted that we are becoming increasingly solitary and eclectic, and that a majority of us already depend on the Internet as our main interaction with co-religionists and adherents of other Pagan faiths.

How often do we communicate with other Pagans?

How often do we communicate with other Pagans?

“Solitary practice and training outside of groups, most likely through books and the Internet, appears to be the future of the religion.”Helen A. Berger

Noted figures in our community, like T. Thorn Coyle, have already begun embracing a model that integrates virtual communication into their teaching. Producing a subscription web-series that students can use, including a private forum, giving access to Thorn and her teachings, without the need for her to travel constantly. The next step would seem to be virtual panels and virtual presentations at Pagan conventions and events that couldn’t afford to fly in a “big-name” Pagan. This would not only be “greener” but will ultimately be the only practical way to host such an event on a limited budget.

I think the age of the virtual and the hyper-local are upon us, and the quicker we accept that and learn to adapt, the better. Larger Pagan events can prepare now by investing in the infrastructure necessary to have a virtual component to all indoor events that used to welcome several noted teachers or religious leaders (projection screens, audio equipment, computers). We should set a goal so that in the next ten years, we will be ready for when these shifts in lifestyle become mandatory, rather than a lifestyle option. As Pagans, we can set an example for how to keep our communities close-knit and vibrant while dealing with the ramifications of our society’s choices. In a way, our heavy reliance on social networking, on virtual communication, to bind us together gives us a necessary head start. One we should exploit to make our events as environmentally sustainable as possible.

For more on this subject, stay tuned to the Talking About Ritual Magick blog, and I hope to revisit this topic after his series is completed, talking with some festival and convention organizers about what they think will be sustainable in the coming decades.