Archives For Florida

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On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rejected the appeal of Ohio science teacher John Freshwater, who was fired for teaching Creationism in the public school system. The case, Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, first made its way through the Ohio courts, where it was ultimately ruled that “the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education had ‘good and just cause’ to terminate John Freshwater’s teaching contract.” When the appeal reached the Supreme Court, the justices rejected it, thereby, allowing the Ohio court’s opinion to stand.

vernon_logoThis case is a recent example of a public school system becoming the playing field for a tug of war match between secularism and religion. According to Americans United (AU), the teacher not only taught Creationism in the classroom, but he displayed and handed-out religious material, and also performed surveys of students’ religious beliefs. AU also notes that the teacher was “accused of using an electronic device (a Tesla coil) to burn a cross into a student’s arm.”

Although the Ohio courts ruled that it was legal for Freshwater to place his personal Bible on the desk, his actions were otherwise out of line. AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said, “Freshwater was using his position to foist his religious beliefs onto impressionable students. The courts rightfully put a stop to that.”

For Pagan and Heathen parents or others practicing minority religions, there may come a time when religion is “foisted” upon their children within the public school environment. In most cases, the situation is likely an unthinking act, and indicative of a changing culture or shift in demographics. Minor missteps do happen and can often be remedied through conversations, education and awareness. Unfortunately, in some instances, such as the Ohio case above, the acts are blatant attempts at promoting a single religion.

The Satanic Temple's Children's Activity Book

Created by The Satanic Temple

Last year, Florida’s Orange County School Board allowed The World Changers of Florida to distribute Bibles to their students. After being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Central Florida Freethought Community, the school board approved the distribution of other religious material, which now includes pamphlets on Atheism and the Satanic Temple’s coloring book called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

Similarly, the Madison County School Board in Georgia allowed a privately funded religious monument to be erected outside a high school football team’s field house. According to local news, the statue reads, “Romans 8:31: ‘If God be for us who can be against us?’ and Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ ” Last month, the school board was contacted by both the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and is now facing a potential lawsuit.

In all three of these cases, the intention and, therefore the violation, is very clear. However, not all cases are quite as “cut and dry.” Over the past fifteen years, a national organization called “The Good News Club,” has been establishing after-school enrichment programs within public school buildings. With the growing number of working parents, these in-school extracurricular programs have become increasingly popular, serving a very needed purpose for modern families.

However, The Good News Club is a division of The Child Evangelism Fellowship and has a clear and direct religious initiative. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that the club, and others like it, can legally hold after-school meetings within public school buildings. (The Good News Club v. Milford Central High School)  Despite that ruling, the club’s presence continues to spark controversy.

In Portland, Oregon, a large coalition has recently formed with the aim of stopping the Good News Club’s in-school activities. According to The Oregonian, its formation was sparked when Katherine Stewart published her book called The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s stealth assault on American Children.

Due to the SCOTUS ruling, that situation is not easy to legally negotiate. In an interview with The Oregonian, ACLU David Fidanque said, “I don’t know that there is a bright line anymore.” While acknowledging the club’s legal right to be in the school, he expressed real concern saying:

Keeping the government out of religious affairs is the single most important thing we can do to protect religious freedom in this country. If we allow our government institutions to endorse particular religious viewpoints, or even to promote religion in general over non-religion that is a threat to every form of religion.

1969339_231559560385952_2907068694561940975_nEven if The Good News Club is staying within its constitutional rights, Fidanque’s concerns are justified when looking at other similar situations. Growing in popularity in Georgia is another after-school religious club called Rise UP. The organizers make no effort to mask their affiliation with area schools. The website advertises, “Several other local elementary schools expressed interest in starting a similar program. We were excited about the possibility of partnering with these other parents and schools… there are new schools joining the RISE UP! Team as each school year starts – RISE UP! has a total of 9 elementary schools participating!” Did the schools ask to join or did the club ask to use the space?  Does that distinction matter?

Another way school systems intentionally or unintentionally allow religious speak into their public space is through visiting authors. Schools often hold assemblies during which a writer might speak, entertain, and read from his or her latest book. It is a very common occurrence and, in most cases, quite innocuous.

However, when that author writes with a strong religious directive, like popular Christian author Bryan Davis, the assembly could become problematic. Davis’ books reflect a deep connection to his own personal theology. While his work is certainly fitting for church assemblies, is it appropriate for public school children? Is it constitutionally legal for Davis to be speaking about and selling books that openly promote the celebration of one’s “God-given talents” and overtly discuss “faith, prayer and redemption” within the public school system? Interestingly, two of the participating middle schools are in Orange County, Florida, where the Bibles are being distributed.

These are only a few recent examples of cases in which an uncomfortable situation could arise for Pagan, Heathen or other families practicing a minority religion. There are many others situations from the minor missteps by a well-meaning teacher to the blatant promotion of a single religion. On Polytheist.com, parent Niki Whiting described her own encounter:

For a few brief weeks when we sent my son to the neighborhood kindergarten we had to deal with his confusion around the Pledge of Allegiance. I was surprised that this was still said in schools. He came home and asked why the school was trying to make him Christian. Already, in his (then) 5 short years of life, he knew that when people say ‘God’ they are mostly referring to Yahweh. “Don’t they know that the world is full of gods?” he asked. No, no, my son, they do not.

pagans_and_the_law_mainWhile every situation doesn’t need a lawyer, there may be times when a friendly email is just not enough. What should a parent do in such situations?  In her book Pagans and the Law, lawyer Dana Eilers suggests, “A basic understanding of the Constitution, the First Amendment, and their history is essential to grasping the enormity of religious freedom.” Her book lays out the basics as they pertain specifically to Pagans. She writes, “It is highly recommended that everyone read this document, boring as it appears. It is what stands between you and 10 thousand years of discrimination, persecution, and darkness.”

Another resource is Lady Liberty League. Co-founder Rev. Selena Fox has this recommendation:

Documentation is essential. Keep a log with dates and details of what has happened and what has been done to express concerns and get positive resolution. Check into the school’s policies and processes for filing complaints and voicing concerns. Keep a copy of every written communication you make and receive regarding the situation. Share this information with individuals and organizations you contact for help.

While fighting these battles may be difficult, costly and time consuming, not every situation leads to a lengthy court battle. Byron Ballard, who has worked extensively and very successfully with North Carolina’s Buncombe County School Board, found herself in the middle of such a situation in 2011. As reported by The Wild Hunt, the school board allowed Bibles to be distributed to students and a Pagan mother protested. Ballard was an integral part of resolving the tensions and finding workable solutions. Ballard advises looking for allies, adding that some may “come from surprising places.” Some of her allies  have been leaders from mainstream religious institutions. She says:

My best advice is to stay grounded, be persistent and try to really listen to all sides of the issue at hand. This work is about rights and responsibility, about shifting cultures. But it’s actually about making public schools safe places for all children to learn and to grow into caring, compassionate adults.

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

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In Florida last week, a moment happened that some members of religious minorities have been anticipating since the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling on sectarian prayer at public meetings. An elected official walked out rather than hear an invocation given by a Pagan. Now, due to similar religious freedom efforts by that same Pagan, the local school board may face a lawsuit for discriminating against minority faiths.

David Suhor [Courtesy image]

David Suhor [Courtesy image]

David Suhor, who describes himself as “an APPLE Biter – that’s an Agnostic Pagan Pantheist Living Existentially and biting every apple I want to,” firmly believes that a moment of silence is the only way for public bodies to be inclusive when they incorporate prayer into meetings. He has been using the language of the Greece v Galloway SCOTUS decision to push that agenda. The court held that prayers are acceptable so long as a policy of nondiscrimination is followed.

Suhor has been repeatedly asking permission to offer a prayer before several boards in Escambia County, Florida. The video of Suhor calling to the quarters singing a prayer written by Starhawk with accompanying magical gestures quickly went viral, to the delight of Atheists and others troubled by the SCOTUS decision.

In this video, he stands before the County Commission. However, the county’s school board has repeatedly rejected his requests.

“The resistance is unique to each board,” Suhor said when reached for comment. “The County Commission and school board let each of the five commissioners choose who gives a prayer. The [school] board [members] all said no. [On the] County Commission, the chairman accepted, [but it] took a little pushback before he accepted. My goal is each and every member should be willing to be welcoming of anyone if they’re going [to have prayer, but my] goal is really a moment of silence.”

What Suhor calls “pushback” has been called “pushy and off-putting” by one of those being pushed, school board member Jeff Bergosh. In Suhor’s campaign to have the school board’s meetings follow the same prayer protocol as expected in the classroom (a moment of silence), Suhor has been theatrical. He told a local news reporter that he may choose to pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Satan if his requests continue to be denied.  On one occasion, he unrolled a prayer mat and chanted while a Christian invocation was delivered. Bergosh characterized this act as distracting, saying on his blog, “I’lll leave the room and come back after, or wear Bose noise cancelling headphones,” rather than witness “disrespectful” behavior during an invocation.

Suhor has also threatened legal action, which prompted the school board to consult its attorney, Donna Waters. “At present, I don’t see that the board has to change its past practice (of holding invocations),” Waters said, adding “that practice does carry some degree of risk for litigation.”

Suhor’s push to force local boards into abandoning the use of an opening invocation goes back long before the controversial SCOTUS decision. “The tradition of allowing each board member to choose who will give the prayer means that they tend to pick their own religion,” he said, “and I’ve sat through a lot of Christian prayers.” He points to his difficulty getting on the calendar; he did it once before at a County Commissioners’ meeting two years ago.  But he has been repeatedly rebuffed by the school board. “No one wants to stand for a minority religion,” he said.

Seal_of_Escambia_County,_FloridaWhat do other local members of those minority religions think about the firestorm Suhor has created? The reactions are generally positive, although the specific content of his prayer is sometimes questioned. While Suhor has participated in Pagan observances at a Unitarian Universalist church, he isn’t well known in the local Pagan community, being mostly solitary. Rev. Edward Livingston of the Fire Dance Church of Wicca said of Suhor:

He has never attended our church or taken part in the greater Pagan community. But not all Pagans like to work in groups or circle with others. I support his challenges to the legal and governmental system, but I also see him as doing this to make them stop using invocations and prayer, but a moment of silence instead. He has said to me he would consider all invocations and prayers outside the normal local top three religions until they change the rules. We are not as political as he is, we are a small Wiccan/Pagan church that provides a ritual 8 times a year for those who want to circle with others.

Cynthia Jurkovic is an ordained Priestess-Hierophant of the Fellowship of Isis who also lives in the panhandle of Florida. She supports Suhor’s goals, but questions his methods. Jurkovic said:

After reading the article about this incident in Escambia County, and watching the news clip from WEAR 3, I have a few thoughts to share. First, I totally agree that if prayer is to be allowed before any meeting of government bodies or other institutions, all spiritual/religious traditions should be given the opportunity to offer a prayer.

Likewise, I support David Suhor’s right to step up to offer Pagan prayers at these government functions. Where I feel he took a wrong turn is in what he presented at this meeting. Invoking the elements is not in alignment with the intention of speaking a prayer to a higher power, however you name it, for wisdom and guidance in decision making, and working toward the highest good regarding the outcome of the meeting.

I thought it was ridiculous that he sang elemental quarter calls. He was not there to cast a ritual circle. The elements are not the same as deities. Why did he not say a prayer to Pagan deities suitable to the intention of the meeting? It appears to me that by coming before the assembled people and then singing elemental quarter calls, complete with gesticulation, that he was purposefully irritating and provoking a dramatic response. This was completely inappropriate!

For Suhor’s part, he’s a musician, and explains that he’s more comfortable singing in public than speaking. “I wasn’t going over the top,” he said, “just expressing as fully as I knew by calling the quarters.” Identifying as a Pantheist, his view on the divine nature of the elements differs from Jurkovic’s. In response to the criticism that the invocation was too long, Suhor responds that he’s sat through many Christian prayers that were longer.

Was he “purposefully irritating and provoking a dramatic response,” as Jurkovic believes? He told one reporter, “In a way I would like for other people to experience what it’s like when I go to a meeting and am asked to pray against my conscience.”

And what about that County Commissioner who walked out? He told a television news reporter, “I’m just not going to have a Pagan or Satanic minister pray for me.” Commissioner Wilson Robertson was not able to be reached for this story, so it is unclear if he’s conflated those two terms, ascribing them both to Suhor, or if he doesn’t care either way.

As for the Escambia County School Board, it continues to be recalcitrant. The Wild Hunt will be watching this story as it develops.

Crisis hit the Florida Pagan community this week when locals became aware that Gavin and Yvonne Frost, founders of the Church and School of Wicca, were scheduled presenters at the annual Beltane Florida Pagan Gathering 2014 (FPG.)  In the past, the Frosts’ presence at FPG has generated a moderate number of complaints. Attendees and past headliners, such as T.Thorn Coyle, have expressed concern over specific content in The Witch’s Bible (reprinted  later as The Good Witch’s Bible) describing the religious initiation practices for sexually-mature minors. This year the Frosts FPG invitation sparked more than just voiced concerns. It led to decisive action.

1521719_10152394557671754_1775384618_n

Ray Romanowicz, former Division Coordinator, explains:

Monday I was checking with the workshop coordinator to see if she was doing OK … and she mentioned that the only issue she has [was] figuring out which of the preferred workshop locations to put the Frosts. I was stunned and taken aback to hear the Frosts were coming back …

In 2013 Romanowicz openly stated that if the Frosts ever returned to FPG he would resign as coordinator. On April 1 that is just what he did. He explains “I could not in good conscience be a part of any entity that allows [the Frosts] … A stand must be made someplace and I see it as here for me.” He immediately informed his community saying, “I really felt I had no other choice other than going as public as I could to shine the light on who would be speaking at FPG.”

As word spread Florida Pagans began to organize over social media. Discussions were hosted in a new private Facebook group called FrostFreeFPG. It was later renamed to Pagans for Change to reflect a more positive and global intent.

Rayna Templebee

Rayna Templebee

Concerned attendees also expressed their concerns directly to the Board via email. As Rayna Templebee describes, the response was always “the same generic reply that dismissed [their] concerns.” Rayna goes on to say, “I asked the TEG board to open their hearts to the many members of the FPG community who have survived abuse or had it touch their lives and to create a safe space by dis-inviting the Frosts to present. I never asked for them to be banned from the festival, but I respectfully suggested that they not be given an official platform for teaching as leaders or elders.”

Over the next 24 hours Rayna helped facilitate the writing of a “joint resolution to the FPG Board.” Using contributions from over a dozen people, Pagans for Change authored this official resolution stating in part:

We stand together, as modern Pagans, to urge the FPG Board to listen to our concerns and to help host and foster discussion about this critical issue. We call for a removal of the Frosts as presenters at FPG and a ban on any distribution or vending of their materials. It’s past time that our beloved community take a stand against those who advocate abuse. Silence = complicity.

While that was in process, a heated debate erupted on the the FPG Facebook page. On April 2 the Board opted to delete all of these posts saying:

Hot button issues tend to attract spectators and it has always been one of our greatest duties to protect the anonymity of our guests and staff especially those who are still in the broom closet. This is not an effort to prevent anyone from expressing their feelings about this issue whether positive or negative and we will not attempt to prevent people from posting elsewhere.

Later that same day, the FPG Board published its own statement in response to concerns stating:

Florida Pagan Gathering Beltaine 2014 will be hosting all of our headliners and workshop presenters currently signed up to present workshops, events and concerts. We want to assure everyone that FPG and TEG never has, and never will condone assault of any nature, be it verbal, physical or sexual. When our guests and staff are at FPG we work with our Guardians and fellow staff members to keep everyone as safe as possible and we respond to threats immediately.

Meanwhile Pagans for Change created a new public Facebook page in order to gather support for their cause. To date the joint resolution has been “signed” by 254 individuals and organizations including The Treasure Coast Pagan Pride Project, Everglades Moon Local Council (CoG), Moon Path Pagans, Officers of Avalon, Circle of the Moonlit Sea, Central Florida Pagan Association and more.

10176106_261906210659016_1855122944_nThe situation turned into what appeared to be a standoff as frustrations mounted on both sides. Florida resident and FPG Board member, Medea described the crisis as a “moral panic” saying, “What’s ironic is that the very thing [moral panic] that caused FPG to come into existence is the same thing that the community is facing today.”

As the hours ticked by more and more people voiced their opinions via social media. Vendor and presenter Gypsey Teague announced that she would no longer be attending FPG on ethical grounds. Orion Foxwood signed the resolution and added:

Orion Foxwood

Orion Foxwood

Some reactions to the resignation of a Florida Pagan Gathering staffer have been very narrow in their understanding of the impact a leader or author has on its community. The undeniable publishing of statements that encourage sex with minors as a “supposed traditional practice” encourages those who have these tendencies to follow them and feel they have an endorsement for it. Waiting for an arrest to stop such behavior is like saying that we need not prevent war until a bomb is dropped. With all due respect that approach is ill informed. There are two types of social change agents; activists and planners. The FPG staffer’s resignation became an activist’s call to action. Now, comes social planning where we all must foster systems to prevent harm and encourage well-being.

Then the standoff broke when an unknown individual took it upon himself to directly contact the host facility, Retreats By the Lake. Using both Twitter and Facebook, this person informed the facility’s owners that “Florida Pagans [were] embracing Sex-With-Children Advocates.” His very public statement understandably caused real concern for the child-friendly camp facility. They immediately contacted the FPG Board who then issued a second public statement:

Originally, we had a resolution where instead of hosting workshops there was going to be an open discussion with the Frosts … Unfortunately with the attack on the camp, and its owners, we cannot, in good conscience, allow the Frosts to come, even as private guests.

In response Pagans for Change emphatically stressed that this unknown person was not one of them and that his approach was “damaging to the entire community.” They added, “We support the Board’s request that it handle its relationship with the camp… We agree with the FPG Board that we need to offer each other love, support, compassion and honesty.”

After the latest turn-of-events, Ann Marie, President of the board of directors of the Temple of Earth Gathering (TEG), stressed the need for community healing in a final statement sent directly to The Wild Hunt. On behalf of the FPG Board, she said:

At the coming festival, in place of workshops that will now never be presented, we instead will attempt to hold some workshops and rituals focused on healing the community, because the pressing need right now is for us all to remember we are about one another, and our collective care for our community.

Many locals agree that the healing process does now need to begin. FPG has been and still is a beloved Florida event that is one of the center pieces in Florida’s Pagan festival life. However not everyone knows how to proceed or is even ready. Coral Bruce, a member of Spiraling Heart Coven, says, “I think [the Board] handled [the situation] poorly. They did not respond appropriately to the concerns of the community. Yes, there needs to be healing. I want to heal but I don’t know how yet.”

Camping at FPG Samhain 2013

Camping at FPG Samhain 2013

Marla Roberson, a Georgian elder and regular attendee from South Carolina agrees saying, “I have a lot of sympathy for the Board – what they have to put on and what they have to do. But I think they need to listen to their attendees … [Now] We do need to heal but I also don’t know how.” Neither Marla or Coral plans to attend FPG this year.

Rayna Templebee, on the other hand, will be attending. She says:

I had a workshop accepted that was already going to touch on sexual boundaries and ethics … so I look forward to offering that to the community.  I want to work from the inside to model a healthy and safe sexuality for the modern Craft.  I honor the work the TEG board and staff do to put on FPG and I know we can all help improve the way communication … is shared with attendees.

The situation is still on-going as new threats of lawsuits begin to appear in social media. Yesterday on Twitter the Frosts’ daughter called the protesters’ actions “illegal and bigoted.” The Frosts themselves have yet to respond to the situation on their own blog. As for Florida Pagans, FPG will go on as planned April 30-May 4 while its broken community finds ways of rebuilding and healing.

Will concerns raised in the sunshine state follow the Frosts throughout the year as they travel to other communities? Will these global ethics and safety concerns raised by Pagans for Change unleash a dialog elsewhere? Will event organizers nation-wide reevaluate their own communication processes and their relationship with their attendees to allow for more open communication concerning ethics and safety?

As the story develops, we will continue to keep you informed

Full statements:
Joint Resolution to the FPG Board
FPG Board Statement #1
FPG Board Statement #2
Pagans For Change Response
FPG Board Statement #3

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

Florida Freemasons Reverse Anti-Pagan Edict: On November 28th, 2012, 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. Further, any Freemason who “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.” This ruling caused quite a bit of consternation among both Pagans and Freemasons, two communities that have long and interlocking histories. Now, Christopher L. Hodapp at the Freemasons For Dummies blog reports that the edict has been overturned.

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“The passed resolution reverses the Ruling in its entirety, and concludes by affirming ‘that Florida Masonry hereby declares its eternal devotion to the religious toleration that is one of the immovable and Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry, never to be changed by any man or group of men.’ The Jurisprudence Committee had recommended rejection.”

As one commenter aptly put it: “I am very proud of my brethren in Florida for defending religious tolerance and having the courage to undo a mistake that did damage to our fraternity.” This is very good news for Freemasons, Pagans, and Pagan Freemasons, and I hope it will signal a new beginning for all involved (more from PNC-Florida). For more information on how this whole mess got started in the first place, check out this editorial from PNC-Florida.

Progress, Study, and Introspection in the Matter of Papua New Guinea Witch-Killings: The world was shocked to attention earlier this year at the torture and burning of a woman in Papua New Guinea over charges of sorcery and witchcraft. While the case of Kepari Leniata was sadly not unique, that fact that it was so well documented via cell phone pictures gave it a visceral immediacy that is often absent in these cases. Now, the country’s Sorcery Act has been repealed, and capital punishment re-instated in an effort to quell these murders.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minster Peter O'Neill

Papua New Guinea Prime Minster Peter O’Neill

“The Parliament of Papua New Guinea has voted to repeal the country’s Sorcery Act and to reinstate the death penalty in certain cases to help stem an increase in violence against people accused of practicing black magic. Such violence is endemic in the South Pacific island nation, and a rise in the number of public killings in the past year has prompted international condemnation and embarrassed the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. [...] Amnesty International, which has campaigned loudly against sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea, praised the repeal of the Sorcery Act but assailed the reintroduction of the death penalty. Isabelle Arradon, a spokeswoman, said that represented ‘several giant steps back.'”

Meanwhile, a conference entitled “Sorcery and Witchcraft-Related Killings in Melanesia: Culture, Law and Human Rights Perspectives” is taking place this week in Australia that focuses on possible solutions to this horror, including whether legislative solutions can have any effect on witch-killings in the Melanesia subregion. Quote: “Belief in sorcery and witchcraft is so deeply embedded in Papua New Guinea that the problem will not be solved so easily as repealing a piece of legislation.” Still, at least there are signs that forces both within and without Papua New Guinea are struggling to find solutions. Let us hope that this terror can be abated for the sake of the victims, and the humanity of the perpetrators.

Famous Bengali Film Director a Member of India’s Wiccan Brigade: The world mourned this week on hearing that internationally known and celebrated film director Rituparno Ghosh died at the age of 49 after suffering a massive heart attack. As tributes and remembrances have emerged, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, India’s most famous Wiccan adherent, claims that Ghosh was a student of her teachings, and a part of her “Wiccan Brigade.”

Rituparno Ghosh

Rituparno Ghosh

“For master storyteller Rituparno Ghosh, who died on May 30, the craft of Wicca — a modern pagan and witchcraft religion was a “great draw” as it appealed to his intellectual side. The filmmaker also exhibited a pronounced curiosity about “life after death”, says renowned Wiccan exponent Ipsita Roy Chakraverti. Ghosh was Chakraverti’s first student from the film fraternity [...] “He was always a part of our programmes… As a speaker, as a participant. (He was) always very interested in learning the craft. In fact, he was my first student from the film fraternity,” said Chakraverti.”

As I’ve reported here previously, Chakraverti’s Wiccan Brigade has worked to combat violence against women in the form of witch killings and persecutions, and believes that the religion could empower women in the face of a “national problem” of rape. Knowing that Ghosh was a part of Chakraverti’s group adds an extra dimension to his character, part of a life dedicated towards equal treatment for all individuals in his home country. What is remembered, lives.

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

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Lady Liberty League Forms Task Force, Prevents Protest in Florida: Last week many Pagans were outraged after a story about Christian clergy opposition to a Pagan festival in Pahokee, Florida emerged. In response the Lady Liberty League, a religious freedom support organization for Wiccans, Pagans, and other Nature religion practitioners worldwide, formed a task force to address the concerns raised by this situation.

“‘This is an opportunity not only to bring about better public understanding about Paganism, but for Pagans of many paths to work together,’ said Rev. Selena Fox, Executive Director of Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League (LLL). 

On Saturday, the Lady Liberty League sent an update that task-force member Peter Dybing attended a meeting of local Christian clergy, explained modern Pagan faiths to those assembled, and received a pledge that they would not protest the Summer Solstice festival.

Peter Dybing and Selena Fox of the Lady Liberty League.

Peter Dybing and Selena Fox of the Lady Liberty League.

“‘What I am here asking is not for your support, or your approval, but your tolerance for our right to engage in religious activity. If anyone were to protest the activities of your church, our community, would, if asked, come to your defense. We ask only the same, please don’t protest our event’. After Rev. Dybing’s statements, the pastor who organized the meeting declared to all present that there would be ‘No Protest.’ He and Peter Dybing shook hands; a significant gesture in heated times. Rev. Dybing stated that if members of their community wanted to pray for our community, we would welcome such prayers as we see all prayer as a good thing. It was clear that LLL’s approach of outreach at this meeting had had a profound effect on the proceedings.”

Further, a representative of the local Chamber of Commerce said the organization fully supports the festival and local business owners will be open for business and looking forward to the festival.” More on these developments, including contact information for the Christian pastor who reached out to Peter Dybing to make this possible, can be found here. This is very good news for the Pagans of Florida, and I think it’s important to reiterate what the LLL said in their previous press release: that people “avoid independent actions that have the potential to complicate efforts,” and to contact them first by emailing liberty@circlesanctuary.org if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas regarding this issue. The Wild Hunt will keep you updated on further developments.

Cherry Hill Seminary Receives Generous Challenge Gift: Online Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary announced on Monday that a donor was willing to match up to $10,000 dollars in donations for a new scholarship endowment that would help students nearing completion of their Master of Divinity, to assist them with the expense of attending their required second intensive. This is another significant step forward for Cherry Hill Seminary, which recently presented its first academic symposium in partnership with the University of South Carolina.

Ronald Hutton (center) with symposium presenters and CHS staff.

Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes symposium. L to R, Carl Evans, Emeritus Chair of Dept. of Religious Studies, University of South Carolina; Holli Emore, Executive Director, Cherry Hill Seminary; Ronald Hutton, Professor of History, Bristol University; Chas Clifton, Editor The Pomegranate; Candace Kant, Dean of Students, Cherry Hill Seminary; Wendy Griffin, Academic Dean, Cherry Hill Seminary.

Executive Director Holli Emore noted that the donor was inspired to give by the recent Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes held in collaboration with the University of South Carolina. “We have worked so hard for the past several years to shape our program into one with strong academic integrity as well as meaningful impact for the community of Pagan and nature-based spiritualities,” said Emore. This endowment is both an affirmation of that hard work, and a signal to others who might be ready to join the effort.”

Nearly $5,000 in gifts to the endowment have already been received; Cherry Hill Seminary has until July 1, 2013 to raise the full $10,000 match. You can find out more about the gift, including reactions from students and staff, here.  Those who wish to make a gift may do so online, or you can make a pledge of support. For further options, you can send a message to CHS@cherryhillseminary.org. All donors will be acknowledged online unless they request otherwise. Congratulations to Cherry Hill Seminary on this step forward!

 Solar Cross Temple “Love In Action” Update: On May 25th I reported on how the pan-Pagan/Magickal organization Solar Cross Temple, in partnership with a local Pagan and a consortium of activist organizations, were working to raise money for those affected by the massive and deadly tornado that struck Oklahoma recently. On May 30th, T. Thorn Coyle posted a new update on that effort

Debris covers the ground in Moore, Oklahoma. Photograph by Brett Deering/Getty.

Debris covers the ground in Moore, Oklahoma. Photograph by Brett Deering/Getty.

“6 wheel barrows and 4 heavy duty transfer shovels were sent to Oklahoma on May 29th! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far! Including donations from Solar Cross, people have contributed $1061 toward the two shipments of much needed goods. These are all going to the harder hit rural areas of Oklahoma that aren’t getting as much help. In addition to that total, another $150 was collected from our Solar Cross Devotional on Sunday and will take up collections at Troth Moot this weekend. This will enable us to send another shipment!”

For those wanting to join this initiative  please donate via PayPal to solarcrosstemple@gmail.com. Please note that it is for Tornado Relief so they can assign the money properly. As T. Thorn Coyle says in her initial post: “I want to create a world of mutual aid, where we help one another in times of need, and celebrate together in times of joy.” May all those affected find safety, shelter, and the means to rebuild.

Congratulations to Erynn Rowan Laurie: Erynn Rowan Laurie, author of “A Circle of Stones,” and a finalist in the poetry category of the Bi Writers Association Bi Book Awards, won in the poetry category this past Sunday for her collection “Fireflies at Absolute Zero.”

"Guess who is now an award-winning poet?" - Erynn Rowan Laurie

“Guess who is now an award-winning poet?” – Erynn Rowan Laurie

“Erynn Rowan Laurie’s  Fireflies at Absolute Zero is a call to poetic arms, written with the ferocity and pas­sion of the Earth war­rior — “my poems burn like stars/​ they fall like spears from the oil-​​black sky.” It is a hymn of praise to the old gods, written in the long tra­di­tion of poets as dreamers of new worlds, and re-​​memberers of old ones. Indeed, Laurie’s poetry reminds us all that humanity cannot face its strug­gles with either mushy plat­i­tudes or mil­i­tarist cliché; we require the nuance of the poet who dances coura­geously on the edges, between the struggle and the embrace.”Theodore Richards, author of Cosmosophia and The Crucifixion

I think this is a wonderful achievement, not only for Erynn, but for creative writings by modern Pagans.  Congratulations! In the meantime, for those who are curious, you can read a preview of the poetry collection, here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

This June, Lake Okeechobee Resort in Florida will be hosting a Summer Solstice festival. The Lake Okeechobee Summer Solstice Festival will feature workshops on Celtic Reconstructionism, drumming, belly dancing, gardening, and runes, with musical performances by Lord Alexian, Hecate’s Wheel, and others. It is the first such festival in Pahokee, Florida, and if the local Christians have their way, it will be the last.

A view from Lake Okeechobee Resort.

A view from Lake Okeechobee Resort.

“Pastors from various churches in Pahokee attended Tuesday night’s city commission meeting to express disappointment in city leaders for allowing the event to come to Pahokee. The crowd cheered in agreement as, one-by-one, pastors from around the area admonished city officials for allowing festivals containing witchcraft and occult practices into the city.”

One by one they hurled their spite on the absent Pagan menace they wished their local politicians would repel. Pastor Brad Smith called the event “an abomination,” while Rev. Raul Rodriguez said that “we don’t need this in our town. Not now. Not ever.” Bishop Jared Hines warned that the festival was “not only detrimental to our city but to our county,” and Evangelist Lillian Brown claimed that “God cannot heal our land if we have witches and warlocks violating our community.” Violating, detrimental, an abomination, and that’s only a sample from the mob that vented itself.

summersolsticefiresatmidnight

“When I heard about this I immediately began praying. This event is not only detrimental to our city but to our county. What goes on at that lake will affect us all; it will move from the dike and into our homes.” – Bishop Jared Hines of New Destiny Community Church.

As for the local government? The best Mayor Colin Walkes could muster was that he “cannot legally stop Mr. Gray from allowing the event but I also cannot stop the community from protesting it.” Wow, way to stand up for the Constitution you swore to uphold. The only person with the nerve to stand up for the rights of Pagans was a local resident who correctly noted that “religious persecution no matter which way is wrong.” 

Hecate's Wheel, one of the musical acts performing at the festival.

Hecate’s Wheel, one of the musical acts performing at the festival.

Now, instead of simply enjoying a nice Summer Solstice celebration, organizers and attendees will have to worry about protestors, about proper security, about harassment from the locals. The irony of course is that if the situation were reversed, the noise about Christian persecution would be deafening. The forces of secularism and Paganism would be excoriated for daring to even entertain limiting the freedoms of Christian fellowship. If Pagans dared to march against a Christian event, the protestors would be mobbed with counter-protestors.

Of course, Pagans wouldn’t march against a Christian gathering, they simply want to practice their faith, and Florida has a thriving Pagan community. It’s home to the Florida Pagan Gathering, and the Everglades Moon Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, among other groups and organizations. Heck, The Witches’ Voice is headquartered in Florida! I hate to break it to these outraged Christian leaders in Pahokee but the Pagan toothpaste is already out of the tube. So maybe these good Christians might want to engage in some of the famous love and tolerance of their savior.

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”Jesus

He also said something about leaving secular matters to the secular authorities. But maybe working to drive Pagans out of your town is more important than listening to the mandates of their own faith. I hope not. I hope the Pagans can have a wonderful Summer celebration, can dance around the fire, and can find their own fellowship without having to worry about the animus of Christianity.

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.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

  • The historic site of Wounded Knee is now for sale on the open market. The current owner, James Czywczynski, makes some rather insulting claims about why he’s selling it. Quote: “For some reason, they cannot see economic development and they cannot see tourism and they cannot relate. They want everything for free is what it amounts to I guess.” The Oglala Sioux see the price as artificially inflated, trading on the massacre when the land itself is valued in the thousands, not millions. Quote: “We see that greed around here all the time with non-Indians. To me, you can’t put a price on the lives that were taken there.” What happens next is uncertain. There are claims that some buyers are interested in buying the land and giving it back to the tribe, but it’s just as possible someone will buy it in order to make money off someone else’s tragedy. 
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center shares the experiences of a lone Jew in a highly racially segregated prison. Quote: “It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you’ll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you’ll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don’t have any play.” I think it’s important to share this after my story yesterday about Even Ebel. This is the toxic atmosphere in which Paganism behind bars is being practiced. 
  •  Jack Jenkins, a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, writes about how mainstream journalism still doesn’t do religion coverage very well. Quote: “Yet religion seems to be having an increasingly hard time getting a fair shake from another major player in American life: the media. The breadth and quality of religion reporting in the United States has atrophied in recent years, with once-robust religion sections now all but erased from the pages of the nation’s leading newspapers. Meanwhile, religion reporters have either been laid off or forced to re-shift their professional focus to covering religion ‘on the side.'” The truth is that it’s even worse if you’re a member of a religious minority. We just hope the new episode of “Wife Swap” treats us gently, and we scarcely dream of the coverage larger faiths get. 
  • Just thought you should know that being for gun control laws is very, very, Pagan. Quote: “Frankly, it almost would seem that animism won’t go away. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will. That’s animism, that’s a return to the most pagan of paganism and look at what nutty political views it ends up supporting.” That’s Larry Pratt, thexecutive director of Gun Owners of America, an organization that believes the NRA is too soft on protecting the 2nd Amendment. Here’s one Heathen’s response to Pratt’s animist ramblings. 
  • In response to a number of recent articles, Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead confront the issue of predatory proselytism. Quote: “Moreover, friendship is sometimes abused, when it is reduced to the end of evangelism. In one instance where an Evangelical has been involved in a high-profile relationship and dialogue with a Mormon scholar, many Evangelicals have called for an end to the relationship after a period of time because the Mormon has not converted. Aren’t relationships valuable in and of themselves without being used merely as a tool to convert others? For all our emphasis on personal relationships, one might be left to wonder how relational the Evangelical movement as a whole is.” For more on my personal interactions with Paul Louis Metzger, click here.
Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

 

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.

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!

A Fundraiser for Kyrja Withers: Since Florida Pagan and children’s author Kyrja Withers had her home shot at this past March, followed by a chemical bottle-bomb attack, which required Withers’ daughter to seek medical care after inhaling fumes, the Lady Liberty League, Everglades Moon Local Council of COG, and other local Pagan community members have been mobilizing to assist Withers. At the behest of Lady Liberty League, their household is now raising funds to install security measures to protect against future attacks.

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

“Lady Liberty League [...] has provided a variety of resources to my husband, Randy, and I during this time.  They also provided a comprehensive on-site Threat Assessment Report of our home in an effort to de-escalate the situation and provide long-term safety for our family. We are seeking assistance to comply with the security measures recommended by Lady Liberty League.  The bulk of the funding received will be to purchase the security cameras necessary to provide surveillence of our unique, colorful home.  The cameras would provide visible deterents to those who would seek to further harass and intimidate us, as well as a means to secure evidence should additional incidents occur.”

They are seeking to raise $1,100 dollars, and have already raised nearly half of their goal. For those seeking to concretely help in this situation this seems to be a pragmatic and sensible way to do so. The Lady Liberty League asks that those who are interested in contributing suggestions of resources, ideas for strategies, and volunteering security consulting and other help” to send them an e-mail, or comment at the organization’s Facebook page.  A focus image has also been provided for those who want to do magical/prayer work for Kyrja and her family. We will update you here with further developments.

Emergency Pagan Conclave Called in California: The Wild Hunt has received a notice that an emergency conclave is being called for Sunday, May 5th in Oakland, California to discuss proposed regulations by the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) relating to religious items allowed by incarcerated Pagans. The call is being put forth by The Pagan Alliance and House of Danu.

Central California Women's Facility (CCWF)

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

“The California Department of Corrections (CDCR) has issued proposed regulations that threaten the ability of Pagans who are incarcerated to possess many of the religious items customary for the religious practices of our people. The proposed list excludes items out of ignorance, or for convenience, without regard to the required legal standard permitting personal religious items. Public comment on the proposed regulations ends May 7, 2013 at 5:00p.m.

The last great struggle for religious freedom in this country may very well be in the California prisons. At this historic Conclave. Dr. Barbara McGraw will give a presentation on the history of abuse endured by Pagan inmates, and there will be a panel of Pagan chaplain volunteers to share their experiences. Each of you will be given a guide showing how you can help the people of your tradition within the scope of any budget or time availability. We ask that each tradition send one or more representatives to the Conclave.”

Details on location, time, and how to participate can be found at this Facebook event listing. The proposed changes to what inmate religious property will be allowed can be found, here. The rights of Pagan prisoners has been an ongoing area of coverage at The Wild Hunt, and we’ll have more on this as the story develops.

Houston Pagan Conference: The first Pagan conference in the Houston, Texas area in over 30 years is being held May 18th  at the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands. I reporter earlier on the fundraiser to get this event started.

“There has not been a conference for Pagans in the Houston area for over 30 years. Now is the time to change that. The Houston metropolitan area has a wonderful, rich, and vast Pagan community which should be celebrated. The Houston Pagan Conference was started to not only bring this community together but to also bring forth ideas and discussions on various aspects of faith and practice.”

Guest of honor will be author Raven Grimassi. In addition, OBOD Druid, CUUPs Vice President, and Patheos blogger, John Beckett will be in attendance, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about how the event went. Congratulations to the Houston-area Pagan community on getting organized!

In Other Community News:

 

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

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Update on the Kyrja Withers Story: On March 30th I reported that Florida Pagan and children’s author Kyrja Withers had her home shot at, the latest in a string of escalating incidents seemingly connected to her Pagan faith. Now, PNC-Florida and the New Port Richey Patch are both reporting that the attacks have not stopped, and that her home was recently the subject of a chemical bomb attack, which required Withers’ daughter to seek medical care after inhaling fumes from the home-made bottle-bombs.

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

“She said there was a young man in the driver’s seat and another in the front passenger seat with his body sticking out of the window. She said the driver was also coming out of the window. There was also a young man in the backseat. She says two bottles with fluid inside were thrown at the house from within the vehicle on its return alongside the home. One landed near a bush in the front yard of the house. She saw the bottle expand and tried to get away before it exploded. “Every time I close my eyes, I see the bottle expanding,” she said. She said she did not escape the fumes when the bottle burst. She told the New Port Richey police that both bottles exploded. The second bottle exploded so hard that it went flying across the street and into a neighbor’s yard.”

Police are still investigating these incidents, and no arrests have been made. The Lady Liberty League is currently working on providing Kyrja Withers with support, and ask that those who are interested in contributing suggestions of resources, ideas for strategies, and volunteering security consulting and other help” to send them an e-mail, or comment at the organization’s Facebook page.  A focus image has also been provided for those who want to do magical/prayer work for Kyrja and her family. We will update you here with further developments. May Kyrja and her family remain safe, and may these perpetrators be brought to justice. 

Hexenfest Happens This Saturday: The second annual Hexenfest, a celebration of mythic music and dance, is happening this Saturday, April 27th, at the Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda, California. Featured performers are  Arcane DimensionPandemonaeon, Morpheus RavennaAnaar, a Tombo Studio fashion show, and DJing by Skellington.

“Welcome to Hexenfest, a music and arts festival dedicated to myth, magic, folklore, fairytale, and the numenous.   We feature artists who are exploring the wild archetypal through their art; musicians, dancers, visual artists, and crafters who look to the realms of myth and dream and reflect their visions into our world. Hexenfest has a flair for the darkly exotic. Gothic, Pagan, and Tribal belly dance themes are featured prominently, evoking the forbidden forest more than than the enchanted wood. If you feel at home in dark fairytales, join us in the realm!”

I was honored to be involved in the first Hexenfest, and I think the event could be replicated by local communities who want to grow and support Pagan-made music, dance, fashion, and other arts. So if you’re in the area, why not consider dropping by in a show of solidarity? I can guarantee that a lot of excellent people will be there. Here’s the official Facebook event page. 

6th Anniversary of Veteran Pentacle Quest Victory: On April 23rd, 2007, a settlement was reached with the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs concerning the inclusion of the Wiccan Pentacle to the official VA list of Emblems of Belief. Nine years of bureaucratic stalling over this issue were endured, very likely due to the personal beliefs of former Texas governor, then-president, George W. Bush. While some have tried to gloss over this struggle, litigation and public pressure was necessary to move this issue forward, and open the door for more minority religions to have their symbols included. Now, on this 6th anniversary of the victory, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who was an instrumental part of the campaign, is hosting a special radio show this evening to share stories and remembrances.

2006 Pagan religious freedom rally at the September 11 memorial in Reno, Nevada. Pictured, left to right: Selena Fox, executive director of Lady Liberty League; Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, first Wiccan killed in action in War on Terrorism in Afghanistan; and US Army Chaplain William Chrystal, Pastor Emeritus of First Congregational Church (UCC) of Reno, Nevada.

2006 Pagan religious freedom rally at the September 11 memorial in Reno, Nevada. Pictured, left to right: Selena Fox, executive director of Lady Liberty League; Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, first Wiccan killed in action in War on Terrorism in Afghanistan; and US Army Chaplain William Chrystal, Pastor Emeritus of First Congregational Church (UCC) of Reno, Nevada.

“Celebrating 6th Anniversary of Veteran Pentacle Quest Victory Day with Roberta Stewart, others who helped make this happen. Tune in to special podcast tonight, 8-9pm CDT”

You can find the link to the show, here.  Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, will be participating. You can read a history of this quest for inclusion, here. The Wild Hunt’s extensive coverage of the Veteran Pentacle Quest can be read, here. We give our thanks for those who fought to make sure individuals like Sgt. Patrick Stewart would be properly honored.

In Other Community News: 

 

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