Archives For Everglades Moon Local Council

As the United States and its free citizens hurl through the second decade of the 21st century, most of its ample prison population is solidly rooted in the final decade of the 20th, with regards to email. While inmates in some prisons have had limited access to email since as far back as 2005, when the messages would be printed out and included with other mail for review and distribution, most are limited to old fashioned snail mail. But more recently an increasing number of prisoners have been allowed to send and receive messages through an officially-sanctioned service called CorrLinks. The Wild Hunt posed the question: how has this impacted Pagan prison ministry?

CorrLinks, a web site run by Advanced Technologies Group of West Des Moines, Iowa, is an intermediary between prisoners and those on the outside with whom they wish to contact. Federal prisoners, as well as those incarcerated in Iowa, may apply to use the system, but can be rejected for any reason, including having used a computer to commit crime. The inmate can only send messages to people on an approved contact list, which is populated with email addresses provided by the inmate. Those addresses are vetted and included only after the address owner consents. Prisoners can use designated computers, which have no internet access, to receive and send emails at a cost of five cents per minute. Incoming and outgoing messages are reviewed by prison officials, as is the case with any other mail to and from inmates.

Inquiries directed to CorrLinks customer service department about aspects of the service received unhelpful replies. Those questions, probing how inmate fees are set and whether the software itself provides monitoring tools, got a one-sentence reply: “You would need to contact facilities for that information.”

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[Public Domain Photo]

The system has been in place since at least 2005, but only one of the Pagan ministers asked indicated any familiarity with it. That one is River Faeron, who is a member of Everglades Moon Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess and has been involved in prison ministry in the Tallahassee area for the past seven years. “I’ve been active in prison ministry,” he wrote, “but I’ve never been active in email-correspondence-ministry through CorrLinks or anything similar. I only used CorrLinks by sheer coincidence, when a single inmate from my Florida ministry was transferred into Federal custody and he and I kept in touch for a brief period of time.”

What happened with that one correspondent could be indicative of a larger, underlying problem in prison ministry. Inmates have a lot of time on their hands, and a minister may be the only outside contact that the prisoner has. “Unfortunately, sometimes inmates write lengthy correspondences, and he became distraught/frustrated when his long emails went unanswered for days or weeks,” Faeron conceded. Eventually the prisoner broke off contact completely.

Long letters are typical on paper as well, and as a rule Faeron spends his time visiting in person, rather than responding to correspondence. However, he did say that email is a good way to write without having to reveal one’s address to an inmate.

That time component is something that Ashleen O’Gaea, with Mother Earth Ministries, mitigates by going old school. She doesn’t use email, just the postal service. She said that “a paper letter can be considered for some time before an answer’s made, whereas e-mail time tends to be limited, so, it seems to me, there’s less time for thought to go into the process.” She also finds paper letters easier to refer to while writing a response, and harder to alter without detection than email.

While CorrLinks is the only sanctioned system for federal prisons, there are other similar systems. Reverend Dave Sassman, a member of Circle Sanctuary, said that he uses JPay to email inmates in his state of Indiana. That system charges Sassman a per-page fee for emails, but he was unaware if inmates also must pay. Typically prisoners don’t get anything without paying for it out of their commissary accounts, which must be funded by people who are not incarcerated. Even basic toiletries like toothbrushes and soap may not be provided to an inmate with a zero balance. It is likely that JPay users do get charged on both ends.

The prisons in the United States might be slowly approaching the 21st century, but Pagan ministers don’t appear to be in any rush to adopt electronic communication with inmates. At this point, CorrLinks and similar services seem poised to collect fees for the right to keep in touch using a method that is taken for granted by free people, and Pagan ministers, in particular, don’t see it as a useful tool for improving their work.

During last year’s holiday season, “Jorge L. Aladro, Grand Master of Florida’s Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons issued a ruling stating that Paganism, Wicca, Odinism and Gnosticism were not compatible with Freemasonry,” as Jason Pitzl-Waters reported here at the Wild Hunt. Several months later, word spread of the violence directed at Pagan childrens’ author Kyrja Withers  in Port Richey, Florida. Just as that issue was resolved, Florida was back in the news again when a group of conservative Christian ministers from Pahokee Florida spoke out against a new Pagan Summer Solstice Festival at Lake Okeechobee.  What was going on in Florida this year?

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/69590

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/69590

Fortunately all three of these news-making stories ended positively in support of religious diversity and freedom. The Florida Masons overturned their ruling. Kyrja Withers received consultation and protection. The Pahokee Summer Solstice Festival went on without any further incident. None of this could have happened without the help of the local Florida Pagan community.

Looking back on this tumultuous year, I turned to Kathy Lezon, long-time Florida-resident, Wiccan High Priestess and the newly elected First Officer for Covenant of the Goddess (CoG).  As well as being the High Priestess of Circle of the Moonlit Sea, Kathy spent this past year serving as First Officer of Florida’s Everglades Moon Local Council of CoG and attending many events around the state.  As such she was intimately involved in the outreach needed to resolve all three of these situations.

Heather:  Before we talk about the dynamics of the year, please share with us your personal spiritual path.

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Kathy: I was raised Roman Catholic and religion was very much a part of our family, from the holidays we celebrated to where we went to school.  As I grew older, I began to feel like I didn’t really belong there. In middle school I wrote to the Cardinal asking to be considered for an altar boy position and wasn’t satisfied with his description of the limited roles of women within the church.  As a young critical care nurse, I frequently dealt with disability and death. I began to search for answers outside of the paradigm I was familiar with and spent some years thinking of myself as spiritual rather than religious. I discovered Wicca through reading a book and shortly after that began to study with a coven not far from home… I see my path as an opportunity and a responsibility to have a reciprocal relationship with Spirit, in the form of deity, ancestor, place, nature- that web in which we live.

H: You’ve lived in Florida for nearly 30 years. Where does Florida generally fall in the socio-political spectrum?

K:  Florida is full of paradox.  We have south Florida with its diversity, arts, tourism, and hip international flair. We have north Florida which is very much a part of the Southern US and all of its [conservative] values.  And we have a whole lot of space and variety in between.

H:   Let’s talk about the year’s headlines.  Florida was in the Pagan news quite a bit.  In June, I can recall thinking, “Not Florida again.”  What happened? What has changed?

K: It’s funny that you ask this. Last year was certainly quite a ride and I’ve been thinking lately about what is so different now, compared to five years ago.  In a [short] period of time, we had several tense situations, most rooted in intolerance or misinformation that basically involved Pagans just doing what we do.  What’s different may be people’s comfort level with showing who they are.  What we saw was the public reaction to it.

There have been Pagan Masons, Witches doing [community] work, and Pagan festivals for years now. What happened last year? A Mason didn’t keep his religion secret.  A Witch on Florida’s west coast publicly asked for help when she [became the] victim of a crime.  A group of people decided to gather Pagans for a Summer Solstice celebration in a part of the state that is dense with fundamentalist Christian values. These folks were just a little more open than others previously had been….This openness got a reaction and shined a light on the amount of fear that still exists, and also created space for dialogue that will perhaps make it easier for the next one who wants to be public about his or her path.

H: You worked on some of these cases personally.  What was your role?

K:  As First Officer for Florida’s Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC) of CoG, I was the contact person for the Council.  When the Kyrja Withers incidents were occurring, EMLC wanted to reach out to Kyrja to offer encouragement and support.] I contacted Kyrja…  After that things went from 0-100 mph in an instant! The next day I was on the phone with Selena Fox from Lady Liberty League, and learned what kind of networking help was needed on the local level.  I was able to contact EMLC members in order to have resources with special skills on standby. We also helped advertise her crowd funding campaign to obtain [security] equipment.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

I was stunned at how quickly things happened, how organized the response seemed to be, and I was so impressed at how many people wanted to help.  I was also involved in a similar way when the ministers of Pahokee wanted to protest the Summer Solstice Festival. EMLC assisted by providing volunteers and support before and at the festival.  In both instances, my most striking impressions were the power of fear, how dangerous intolerance can be, and the power of people when they come together to work for a common goal.  I also learned that there is no hotter place in Florida than in the center of the state on the longest day of the year! Boy that was a sweaty festival!

H: During any of this time, did you personally get attacked?

K: I didn’t experience any kind of personal attack. However one thought kept crossing my mind as I dealt with the Kyrja Withers issue: “This could be me.”  First the thought frightened me, then it angered me. When someone else’s struggle could be yours, you sort of own it. I live in a small, conservative town.  It wouldn’t take much for someone who noticed a piece of jewelry or overheard a conversation to follow me home and vandalize the place that I feel safest.  So despite the fact that I haven’t been personally touched by religious discrimination and intolerance in a significant way, I feel like it’s a responsibility to work so that I-and anybody else-never have to.

H: Has there been any new concerns crop up since June?

Nothing has happened since Pahokee. The Florida Pagan gathering moved to a new site further south in conservative central Florida at Samhain. There were no problems, except one inebriated local man who stumbled onto site, found the fire circle on Saturday evening and yelled at the drummers for all of the noise. He didn’t stay long.

H: What has this year of adversity done for the Florida Pagan community in general?

K:  For a long time, Florida’s Pagan community has lived in regional pockets. We have those acres of cow pasture and orange grove between our coasts, big cities and towns! Over the past year, I’ve seen friendships forged across those acres – people who, prior to the conflict, wouldn’t have been in the same room. It’s my hope that more connections continue to be made as we realize that all that separates us is a few miles.

Kathy Lezon, NFO Covenant of the Goddess at Pahokee Festival June 2013

Kathy Lezon, NFO Covenant of the Goddess at Pahokee Festival June 2013

H:  Adding to the Florida Pagan news, you were elected as First Officer of CoG for 2013-2014. In fact there are now two Florida Pagans serving on CoG’s national Board. What perspective do you bring to this National organization?

K: We are blessed with an amazing National Board this year, and I’m thrilled to have another Floridian there with me.  I think [our presence] is representative of the culture of [EMLC], of how willing we are to be involved..  EMLC is full of people that have been CoG members for a long time and with that comes the wisdom of how organizations like this work.  More than that it’s a group that is able to define a value, set a goal, and get something done. EMLC demonstrates that much can be accomplished through collaboration, creativity, and mutual respect, and that you can successfully combine deep Spirituality, love for each other, and lots of fun. This is what I would like to bring with me in all of my work with CoG.

H:  With that said, what are your goals for CoG at a National level this year?

K: This year, I want as many people as possible to see CoG as the living, vibrant organization that it is. I want them to hear what our Local Councils are doing and about the talented people that are doing this work. I’d like to help make and strengthen relationships, connections, within our organization and between CoG and our communities. I want us to be sure that the work that we are doing is what our communities need from us, and I want those that want to join us in these endeavors to jump aboard.

Yoga Class at EMLC Turning of the Tides Festival

Yoga Class at EMLC Turning of the Tides Festival

H:  Moving into the future, where do you see Paganism, in general, ten years from now?  What do we need to get there?

K: Ten years from now, it would be nice if being a Pagan, of any kind, was not any bigger deal to society than any other path and that we could focus our energies from being understood and dispelling fears to the work that we really are here to do. Whether that work is caring for our environment, collaborating with other people of faith for social change, healing and teaching, or just celebrating our connectedness to all things, doing that without fear of harm or discrimination or the barrier of intolerance would be just fabulous.

To get there, we need to just keep taking baby steps, keep having conversations with those that don’t understand us and keep joining hands with those that do. We need to continue our inter- and intra-faith work, speak up about who we are, correct misconceptions whenever we find them, and realize that someone’s negative response to us is probably based in fear.

We also need to support each other in our own diversity and not be afraid of our differences. We need to listen to our elders and our youngsters and realize that the right way is often a blending of the two points of view.  And we need to remember that we are connected; all of us, to everything. It really simplifies a lot of situations when you look at them that way.

H: You mention Intra-faith and supporting “our own diversity.” How do you see that as beneficial to your work either with CoG or your Florida Community?

K: By intrafaith work I mean dialogue, collaboration, bridge building between the diverse groups within Paganism locally. Competition and judgment do not serve us well.  I find it ironic that we expect tolerance and acceptance in society when we are not always so tolerant and accepting of each other. If we don’t have some kind of unity among our local Pagan population, we don’t have a foundation to ground us in the difficult times and we don’t even begin to develop the skills to have the interfaith conversations.

In Miami this is easier than in other parts of the states.  At one of our EMLC Turning the Tide festivals, we had workshops by clergy from Lucumi, Druid, Wiccan, Hellenic reconstructionist paths. It’s a small sample, but it was a small gathering and everyone could sit around to appreciate others’ point of view. We saw something similar in Pahokee as we gathered on the banks of Lake Okeechobee to celebrate Summer Solstice in a ceremony led by Druids and attended by Heathens, Native Americans, Wiccans, eclectic Pagans and folks following a variety of other paths. The point of being together was not to celebrate a particular path, but to celebrate that we had come together to make this event happen on this very special day.

I’m hoping to be involved in more of of this kind of happening – one sparked by the mere desire to know each other rather than rallying against a common “enemy”. I’ll bet we have a lot to learn from each other.

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H:  Your hopes may come true sooner rather than later.  You are in the middle of creating a new festival – one that is pan-Pagan and part of the Pagan Pride circuit.  Before we say goodbye, tell us about that venture.

K: I’m finishing up the approval to become the Pagan Pride Day Local Coordinator for Florida’s Treasure and Space Coast. Although there are 5 or 6 Pagan Pride events in Florida each year, we are a big state and the closest Pagan Pride event is about two hours in either direction from here.  There’s a void.

The objective of these events is to encourage interaction between Pagans and non Pagans in local communities as well as being inclusive pan-Pagan events. This is an opportunity to combine the kinds of activities you and I have been talking about- let our neighbors see and know who Pagans are and get a feel for what we’re all about.  And get local Pagan groups and solitary folks together, talking to each other and working on something together. I’ve put an informal call out to the people that I know to see who wants to be involved, and I’m really excited about the level of interest.  We will start planning in January for a Fall 2014 event.

H: Thank you very much Kathy for you insight and retrospective.  On a personal note, I look forward to working with you on the CoG Board and watching all of your other work develop in Florida.

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IMG_0570This past weekend I traveled to the historic town of Salem, Massachusetts for Covenant of the Goddess’ (CoG) yearly Merry Meet Convention. This multi-faceted four-day event includes rituals, leadership training, social activities, shopping and the ever important annual business meeting called Grand Council. This year’s Merry Meet was artfully hosted by CoG’s New England-based local council – the Weavers.

Before I recount the experience, I want to make one thing very clear. I am a proud CoG member and have been for years. Currently, I am serving as its National Public Information Officer and will continue to do so for the upcoming year 2013-14. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity. What I share below is my own personal reflections from Salem.

This year’s Merry Meet contained a unique and symbolic presence. Salem alone is an interesting city without us even being there. The city is marinating in all things “witchy.” There are pentacles in shop windows and metaphysical shops on every block.  If a store clerk notices your pentagram necklace, he or she kindly adds “Blessed Be” while handing you change.

Being a Witch in Salem offers an interesting dichotomy of experience. It allows for a certain freedom of practice while simultaneously putting you in a spotlight. I recall an earlier summer trip to Pennsylvania’s Amish country.  While there I wondered how the Amish people felt about being a tourist attraction. How did it feel to live like a Disneyland character?  While I was in Salem, I very briefly experienced what that might be like.

With all of those oddities, Salem serves as an excellent backdrop for a Witch convention. Even the producers of Bewitched thought so. In the 1970s Salem Saga episodes, Samantha, Darrin and Endora arrive in the city for their own annual witch convention called Convocation. In the show, the characters actually stay at the Hawthorne Hotel – the very same hotel that CoG used.

Courtesy of Flickr's jimmywayne

Courtesy of Flickr’s jimmywayne

Throughout those four days, I found a deep sense of connectivity through the coming together of all things “witch.” Before us lay the rich history of Salem and the tragic deaths of those who were accused of Witchcraft. Layered upon that was the popular culture image of the witch, Samantha, who is now immortalized in a bronze statue on Essex Street.  As one tour guide said, the show saved the town. Then there is the presence of real Witchcraft, real Witches and real magic as seen in some of the shops and local practitioners who make Salem their home.

Priestess Sandra Wright

Priestess Sandra Wright

One of these local Witches is Sandra Mariah Wright, the High Priestess of Elphame Coven and CoG’s Merry Meet event coordinator. Standing outside in the Salem Commons, she spoke these opening words:

It is my distinct honor and privilege to welcome you to Salem. It’s my hometown, and I suspect like every hometown it looks much different from the outside looking in. For so many people who visit Salem, it is a pilgrimage that ends up feeling more like a homecoming. I hope it will be that way for all of you….We are standing on Salem Common, the site of the militia’s first muster and the birthplace of the National Guard, and it seems only right – because we are warriors for change. … That is the energy we are tapping into here, weaving this web of unity.

There in the Commons stood more than 70 Witches and Wiccans from across the country representing many generations and traditions all weaving a web of unity. This added yet another layer of meaning to the experience of Merry Meet.

As the work of the Covenant progressed through Friday and Saturday, there was a decidedly clear consensus that the organization needed to modify its processes and adapt to a rapidly evolving world. Much of the work was centered on the notion of looking towards tomorrow. How does CoG, as an organization, successfully implement new technology and what are the best practices for social media?  How do we adjust our long standing policies to accommodate or reflect any new trends in Wiccan practice? How do we stay relevant for younger generations whose needs and expectations are different than those of the CoG founders?

Accommodating new technology, such as virtual meeting access, blogs and social media marketing, is the easy part. In fact, today CoG has a very successful Facebook page with well over 15,000 likes. However, negotiating social trends is far more complicated whether that be the increase in solitary practitioners, an aging population or something else entirely.

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Priestess Kathy Lezon

The incoming First Officer, High Priestess Kathy Lezon of Circle of the Moonlit Sea, is excited to explore the possibilities of moving CoG forward into the evolved future as a strong and relevant organization. She says:

We need to do a whole lot more talking [publicly] about us as an organization…demonstrate what we already do. How nationally can we talk more about what is happening locally with the CoG face on it. [We also need to ] think about the needs of the younger population…solitaries who want some sort of affiliation or people who don’t see the value in a connection with a local organization. There’s a shift happening.

Over the past year, Kasha and members of CoG’s Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC) have dedicated themselves to experimenting with new ways of increasing CoG’s visibility in Florida. In doing so, they hope to demonstrate its relevancy within contemporary Wiccan life. One of their most progressive projects was their podcast series.

Northern Dawn Local Council's Gary Lingen and Lorelei

Northern Dawn Local Council’s Gary and Linda Lingen

However, the Covenant of the Goddess is not entirely about revolutionary change. While locating its position in this post-Christian world, the organization is also very interested in preserving its own history and that of all Witches. During the meeting, many of its older members provided a much needed grounding point. Anna Korn and Don Frew of Northern California Local Council, often acted as a needed reference point on the history of policies and actions. Several evenings, I had pleasure of talking to another longtime member, Gary Linden of Northern Dawn Local Council, who shared some wonderful stories of Merry Meets gone-by.

Even more profound was the connectivity that we all had to a darker and older history. On Friday morning, the membership unanimously agreed to participate in a service in honor of those colonists who suffered at the hands of Salem Witch Trials in 1692. On Saturday at 1pm, the entire group of 70 plus witches walked to Salem’s Witch Memorial for the tribute. Rayna of EMLC and Jennifer Bennett of Weavers led the observance.  I was honored to be able to read aloud a specially written prayer.  It stated:

We, the Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization of Wiccans and Witches, in honor of the innocents in Salem who were accused and those who died in 1692, wish to express our sympathy and sorrow over the pain and suffering they experienced. It is our wish that all people will be free to worship the divine presence in their own way in peace. To that end, we have laid a white rose on the marker of each of the aforementioned innocents where that place is known, or here, with these flowers to honor all the rest who suffered alongside them.

IMG_0577While we spoke the words, sang a ritual song and laid the flowers, many tourists stopped to listen and take photos.  Some even joined in. Laura Spellweaver, one of the Weavers event planners, stated “It was a lovely and moving moment.”

After this, we got back to business and back to the consensus process. As always this unusual process is simultaneously frustrating and awe-inspiring.  A visitor in our midsts, Patheos Pagan Portal’s Managing Editor, Christine Hoff-Kraemer commented:

I was impressed and excited to see an organization where consensus process appears to be working. The meeting was skillfully facilitated, with the moderator working to keep the group’s attention on the specific proposal in front of them. Contentious issues that could be resolved in a relatively short time were sent back to committee for revision and then re-presented after a break and approved. Issues that were more powerfully contentious were tabled for additional discussion and re-consideration in the next year.

Consensus worked its own magic and the business got done. Along with everything else, the Covenant elected its new 2013-14 Board which includes from Left to Right:  myself, Garth Garrett, Kathy Lezon, Jack Prewett, Lady Emrys, Lady Mehurt, Jennifer Bennett, and Lady Bridget.

Covenant of the Goddess' National Board 2013-14

Covenant of the Goddess’ National Board 2013-14

The Weavers ended the weekend with another outdoor ritual. Priestess Sandra Wright spoke these words:

In thirty years, COG has never held a Grand Council in Salem….We have accomplished much here together, and will continue to carry this energy through the coming year as we look to more growth and prosperity for COG. Weavers Local Council has enjoyed hosting you so much, we don’t want to let you leave! And so we say stay if you will, go if you must, return when you wish, hail and farewell! Safe journey, and blessed be!

As always the experience of Merry Meet is invigorating and inspiring. This particular Merry Meet held a unique significance as it brought together a slice of Witchcraft history together with a slice of Witchcraft modernity and, beneath that umbrella let us, the members of CoG, examine our own role in Witchcraft’s future.

Next year’s Merry Meet will be hosted by Dogwood Local Council in Atlanta, Georgia, August 21-24.

 

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

 

 

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!

seeking_the_mysteryChristine Hoff Kraemer’s book “Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies” went on sale in the Kindle store this past Monday, and as a result shot to the top of several of Amazon’s best-sellers charts. This included the Paganism, Theology, and Earth-Based Religions categories. A book on Pagan theology climbing the charts is always newsworthy, so I asked Kraemer, who is faculty at Cherry Hill Seminary and also manager of the Patheos Pagan Channel, for her reaction. Quote: “I’m delighted that the book is being so well received! It’s been fascinating to me to see how many of the recent debates among Pagan writers online have actually been theological in nature. How many tens of thousands of words have been written in the last few months about the nature of the Gods? Although these debates can be painful and emotional, the fact that so many Pagans are deeply invested in building a coherent theology for themselves — in other words, developing good theory behind their practices — seems like a sign that we’re maturing as a movement. I just hope we can cultivate patience and compassion with each other as we do it.” Our congratulations to Dr. Kraemer on this accomplishment, and don’t forget to get your copy today!

Cherry Hill SeminaryLast month I reported that online Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary had received a generous challenge gift that would match up to $10,000 dollars in donations by July 1st. I’m happy to report that they matched and surpassed their goal. Quote: “Cherry Hill Seminary is happy to announce the successful completion of our endowment challenge fund drive, with a total raised of $12,271. Our original donor has now transferred $10,000 to Cherry Hill Seminary and we have opened a new restricted account! We could not be happier about this wonderful news. What is most touching is to see the number of students and volunteers who have made a real sacrifice to see this happen. It’s also exciting to see the number of new donors who were inspired by the vision of a permanent endowment.” The donations will benefit a new scholarship endowment that would help students nearing completion of their Master of Divinity, assisting them with the expense of attending their required second intensive. This is the latest in a string of accomplishments for the seminary, which which recently presented its first academic symposium in partnership with the University of South Carolina.

Angie Buchanan with partner Drake Spaeth.

Angie Buchanan with partner Drake Spaeth.

Back in April I reported on how Pagans played a key role in raising funds to save the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions from a fiscal crisis that could have ended the organization and its much-heralded interfaith gatherings. Now, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, current Chairperson for the council, announces that as of July 2nd they are officially liberated from that debt crisis, and are now operating in a fiscally sustainable manner. Angie Buchanan, Emeritus Director of the Council, and founder of Earth Traditions, released the following statement to the Pagan community. Quote: “I am deeply grateful to the Pagan Community for coming together for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in its hour of need. The papers have been signed, the case has been dismissed and the lawyers have released us to be able to make this public announcement. Pagans alone raised 10% of the $260K debt, an amazing feat accomplished in less than 3 weeks. As an emeritus member of the Board, and the first Pagan ever to have served in such a capacity, I have a clear understanding of the importance of this great organization to the world, and to Pagans specifically. I look forward to helping CPWR produce the celebration of their 120th anniversary, in November of this year.” Pagans have played key roles in the Parliament since its return in 1993, and Phyllis Curott, founder of the Temple of Ara, currently serves as the Vice-Chair for the Parliament’s Board of Trustees.

 In Other Pagan Community News: 

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

Yesterday I highlighted a ruling from Jorge L. Aladro, Grand Master of Florida’s Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, which barred membership to Pagans, Gnostics, and agnostics, and made it plain that any current Pagan members would be evicted from the order.

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“Therefore, as Grand Master, it is my Ruling and Decision that none of the above mentioned beliefs and/or practices [Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, and secondarily Agnosticism and Gnosticism] are compatible with Freemasonry since they do not believe or practice one or more of the prerequisites to be a candidate for Masonry listed above.  Further, any member of the Craft that professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion since there is no provision to allow anything contrary to the Ancient Landmarks.”

Since then, many Freemasons, Pagans, and Pagan Freemasons have spoken out about this ruling, with most decrying the move as against the principles of their order. Most notably, one of the Florida Pagans at the center of this controversy, Corey Bryson, has had his story published at the Freemason Information blog, and at the Florida bureau of the Pagan Newswire Collective.

Jorge L. Aladro

Jorge L. Aladro,

“A few weeks later, I received an email stating that I was to appear before the vigilance committee of my lodge by order of the Grand Master. I appeared before the committee with the assistance of a PM of my lodge who volunteered to assist me. I was asked again the questions relating to 32:16 of the Florida Masonic Digest, and again honestly answered the questions, in agreement with the Digest. I was asked if I was a Pagan, and explained that I used that term to describe my religious practices, but not my belief. Paganism is not Orthodox, and has no set doctrines. It is merely a blanket term for non-Abrahamic faiths. In definition of my beliefs, I stated that I was primarily a Deist. I was further asked if I could uphold Masonic Morality, as exemplified by the Golden Rule and the 10 commandments. I explained that the Golden Rule was a value to aspire to. Concerning the 10 Commandments, I had to educate the committee on the fact that the first 5 commandments were religious commandments that only really apply to Jews, but that the second 5 were values to aspire to as well.

The Committee concluded that there was no reason for further action in my case. Apparently the Grand Master was not satisfied with this decision, and proceeded to issue his Ruling.

After reading the ruling, I felt that I had no choice per my Master Mason Obligation other than to resign as a Mason. This morning, I went to my lodge and submitted my letter of resignation to the Secretary, along with my dues card.”

The Freemason who posted Bryson’s testimony, Frederic Milliken, went on to comment that “we are told as Masons to avoid all sectarian religious discussion yet that is exactly what the Mainstream Grand Master of Florida Has done,” and noted the irony of making this move so near the holiday of Christmas.

“Soon we will celebrate Christmas, a holiday with Pagan roots, incorporating pre Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice, why don’t we all send Grand Master Jorge L. Aladro, a little mind and a happy Pagan day card? You can send him one, care of the Grand Lodge at 220 North Ocean Street, Jacksonville, FL 32202.”

In addition, the Everglades Moon Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess has released an official statement on this matter, saying they were “saddened and disappointed” in Grand Master Aladro’s edict.

“Everglades Moon Local Council, Florida Chapter of Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization of Wiccans, is saddened and disappointed to learn that The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida has stated all Pagans, and specifically Wiccans, must resign their membership. We respect the right of groups such as the Freemasons to make choices regarding their membership, and pray that Wiccan Masons can find a way to continue their contributions towards making good men better.”

Meanwhile, other Masons, like Cliff Porter at The Relevant Mason and Erik Arneson at The Oblong Square have spoken out against what they see as religious intolerance masquerading as Freemasonry.

“This wave of younger Masons interested in alternative spirituality and religion must be vexing for some of the so-called “old guard” of the Fraternity. It has been made clear repeatedly that there are members of grand lodges across the country who, in spite of the obligations they made before God, view Freemasonry as just another vehicle to practice religious discrimination. They view the Craft as strictly Christian and try to limit its vital message. And they are wrong.

“Freemasonry is a progressive science,” we are taught in its ritual. Centuries ago, we were at the edge of social progressiveness, but over generations we fell behind. For a long time, the specters of bigotry and intolerance have overshadowed the vision of the fraternity, and only in the past few decades has this begun to be reversed. Sometimes intolerance will continue to rear its ugly head as it has in Florida, but those of us who believe in the messages of virtue and tolerance at the heart of Freemasonry need to remain strong and continue to act with patience, prudence and fortitude. If we can do so, we will see Freemasonry return to the forefront of progressive thought where it once stood.”

In addition, several Pagan Freemasons have made their views known here at The Wild Hunt. Michael Eric Bérubé, who’s been a Pagan since the 1980s, and a Freemason since 1994, said he was “saddened” by this ruling, and pointed to his lodge in Maine, where religious tolerance and inclusion are the norm. Kirk White, a Pagan and former Grand High Priest of the Royal Arch Masons of Vermont, noted that some of the religious tensions are due to younger Pagan members threatening the status quo.

“In many cases, the influx of Pagan men have saved lodges that were about to die out. And in these cases, these younger, active Pagan men are threatening the status quo. Most of the old guys don’t want spirituality – much less esotericism – in their Freemasonry. For them, it is just a social and charitable organization. This rebirth of esotericism scares them and they blame it on the Pagans (although most esoteric Masons I know are not Pagan).

The Grand Master of Florida is the final say in Florida through his term (which is 1-3 years depending on jurisdiction). His successor may keep it, repeal it, or usually they just forget about such decrees and never enforce them. In the meanwhile, many more liberal jurisdictions (including Vermont) are discussing how to handle this. We’ll see how it turns out. In the end, though, time is on our side. The old guard pass away and the new, more spiritually open guys take their place. There are big changes coming in Masonry in the next 10 years. It is pretty exciting.”

I agree with Kirk White in that the changes happening within Freemasonry right now are exciting, and point to a new phase in the fraternity’s existence, one that make it especially suited to thrive in a post-Christian and pluralistic society where diversity is the norm. What I think Grand Master Aladro’s ruling has done is bring to the surface a conversation and debate that’s been quietly happening behind the scenes about the future of Freemasonry (and the role of Paganism and other non-Christian faiths in it). Even if the Florida Grand Lodge keeps its discriminatory stance against non-Christian faiths, this ruling has created reverberations that may bring about shifts Aladro and other like him could not have suspected.

As always, we’ll keep you posted as this story continues to develop.