Archives For Florida

hcooper-256x500PARKERSBURG, W.Va.- The city council has “voted to uphold a ban on fortune-telling this week, despite a formal request from a local entrepreneur to do away with the decades-old law,” as reported by Riverside City News. In June we published the story of Heather Cooper, who had opened up a local shop called Hawthorn. Her intent was to offer Tarot readings as well as a place for local artists to display their work. However, she was denied a business license due to an old fortune-telling law, and she pledged to fight to have it removed.

After her first attempt, it was announced that the Council opted to keep the law, with a vote of 5-3. Cooper was disappointed, but she is continuing to work in the store and will keep trying. Cooper wrote, “We will not be doing any readings until further notice. We WILL, however, have classes at our store and continue to have consigned work from local artists. Stop by to see what we have and continue to watch the page for upcoming classes.”

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PENSACOLA, Fla. — Pagan David Suhor, the founder of the local chapter of The Satanic Temple, delivered his invocation before the Pensacola City Council meeting July 14. As we previously reported, Suhor’s scheduled appearance generated concerns, and a special meeting was held in order to decide whether or not to cancel the city’s inclusive prayer policy.

The council voted to keep the invocations, and Suhor was left on the schedule. However, when the day arrived, the council meeting did not run as smoothly as officials would have liked. Suhor’s invocation was interrupted by people reciting the Lord’s Prayer, one council person walked, and others protested. During the meeting several people, including Suhor, debated the policy again.

The entire meeting, including the opening invocation, can be viewed online. We will have more from Suhor about his religious freedom work in the coming week.

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287078_10150255779783742_3999081_oATLANTA, Ga. — It was announced this week that the Celtic American folk band Emerald Rose would be retiring. The announcement reads, “It’s been a great journey, but all things have a life cycle. It is time for us to let you all know that Emerald Rose has decided to retire as a band after the end of this year.”

The group will be performing at Dragon*Con, held in annually in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, and they are looking for one more venue to stage a farewell concert. The Wild Hunt has spoken to band member, singer and songwriter Arthur Hinds about Emerald Rose’s history, music and the retirement. We will bring you that interview this week.

In Other News

  • EarthSpirit Community’s co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen has been in Prague participating in the annual meeting for the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER). Corban-Arthen, who is currently serving as the organization’s president, wrote, “Representatives of 20 countries have gathered in a marvelous old building which currently houses the Czech Academy of Sciences.” Reporting from the event, Corban-Arthen said that they participated in a ritual built around “an old Celtic tripod of stones on the grounds of Vyšehrad.” He was reportedly told by locals that the “more than two hundred” people at that ceremony made up “the largest gathering of pagans in [Prague] in modern times.”  
  • The Temple of Goddess Spirituality, dedicated to Sekhmet, is experiencing a fiscal crisis. Founded in 1993, the temple is located in the Nevada desert near Cactus Springs. For 23 years, it has operated on the principle of the “gift economy.” However, in reality, the temple, which includes land and a structure, has been almost entirely supported by its founder Genevieve Vaughan. Donations reportedly make up less than 5% of their budget. Now in her 70s, Vaughan is not able to keep up with the temple’s needs. The organization has created a new governing “Temple Council” to develop new methods of funding. As they do that, donations of money and supplies are being accepted.
Temple of Goddess Spirituality in Nevada [Courtesy Photo]

Temple of Goddess Spirituality in Nevada [www.sekhmettemple.com]

  • Earth Traditions, based in Illinois, has announced a Death Midwife Certification Class for February 2017. The announcement was just made and a Facebook event created. The class will be held in Archer House, Northfield Minnesota and will be led by Angie Buchanan, who was trained and certified as a Certified Death Midwife by Nora Cedarwind Young, one of the founders of the Death Midwife movement. Buchanan said, “Death is the only guarantee we have in life and it is a sacred Rite of Passage deserving of as much thoughtful care and planning as any other life event.” Registration for the class is online and currently open.
  • The Guardian has reported on the opening of a local metaphysical store in the city of Lancaster. The owner of the new shop, called Bell, Book & Candle, is 38-year-old Dubhlainn Earley, who describes himself as a necromancer and a practitioner of “black magic.” In the interview he said that there should be more shops in the city due to its history. Lancaster is similar to the U.S. city of Salem. The Pendle witch trials took place in Lancashire, and the accused were all tried and sentenced in Lancaster due to it being the county town.  Earley believes Lancaster needs a Witch museum and hopes more Witches come forward now, saying, “there is no need to hide away, come out, come out wherever you are.”
  • There is a call for authors for the upcoming book Encyclopedia of Women in World Religions: Faith and Culture Across History. “Author-Scholars are needed for the two volume reference work […] to be published by ABC-CLIO Publishing. We seek contributors with expertise in Women, Religion, and History to write articles of 500 to 2000 words, with overview, historical background, and selected details.” More specifications and requirements are on the website. The current deadline is August 15.
  • Another upcoming submission deadline is of the music kind. The Hermetic Library, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary, is calling for artists to submit work for their 2016 Magick, Music, and Ritual 12 album. “These anthology albums help promote artists to the audience of the Hermetic Library and beyond. These albums raise awareness about the connection between ritual, music and magick. And, they are a mass of awesome fun.” The submission deadline is Aug. 15.

A Note from the Editor’s Desk

As many of our daily email subscribers have noticed, we recently upgraded to a new subscription provider. The look of our emails now corresponds with the new logo and style of our web site, and provides subscribers with a clean, easy-to-read daily delivery of articles and news. It’s like receiving a newspaper in your inbox! If you’d like to subscribe to our daily delivery, it’s easy to sign up here.

As part of our upgrade project, we are launching a new advertising program. Rather than allowing the subscription provider to place their own (often off-topic) external ads on our daily emails, we will be offering ad space at the bottom of our emails to Pagan, Wiccan, Polytheist, and Heathen businesses, artists, and festivals, at an affordable rate. Your banner ad will be seen by nearly 1500 subscribers each day. For more information on this great advertising opportunity, please contact us directly using our contact form.

Once again we are standing in the wake of a horrific tragedy and trying to make sense of the lives taken away by an act of violence. On June 12, 2016 around 2 A.M. a gunman walked into the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida with an assault rifle, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others. Pulse, a LGTBQ club, was hosting a “Latin Flavor” event that was packed with approximately 300 people enjoying life and love on that Sunday morning.

Celebrations of love, during this Pride month, turned to the mourning of those who were killed and to the honoring of those wounded in Sunday’s tragedy. While many people try to make sense of the losses and the continued hatred directed at LGTBQ individuals, the mainstream media continues to focus on the shooter and his apparent motives. They have neglected to show the impact on the local, LGTBQ, or Latinx communities.

[Courtesy: Wikimedia

[Courtesy: Wikimedia]

The pain and loss experienced by these intersecting groups is being overshadowed by the most sensationalized tactics of the mainstream media machine. The erasure of politics and fear is in full force, which is nothing new to this community or to other historically marginalized communities. Little room is left to collectively grieve and support LGTBQ people without hate, fear and political nonsense creeping in.

After the event happened, the spotlight quickly moved toward attempts to identify the motives of the killer, tie him to specific agendas of extreme terrorism, which then becomes political fuel for the upcoming elections. Instead of a focusing on the very real grief of the affected communities, the media bypassed the LGTBQ voice for sensationalized news coverage and terrorist plots.

With so many publications focusing on the story of what happened at Pulse, I felt it was important to prioritize the voices of the LGTBQ, LatinX and the interconnected Pagan/Polytheist communities – voices that are too often lost in the madness.

In doing so, I also recognize that the grief, shock, and pain of such an incident makes it challenging to speak up at times like this. In reaching out to some within the local areas, or within the LGTBQ Pagan community at large, the rawness of the situation deserved care and consideration. Below are some of the reflective, inspiring, emotion filled, fierce words of a community impacted by the events of June 12.

The LGBT community in Orlando, the rest of Florida, and throughout the country and the world is still in shock after this tragic act of hate and violence. Our pain and outrage is compounded by media erasure of the fact that this was a deliberate attack on the LGBT community, and by those who seek to use our tragedy to further Islamophobic and gun control related political agendas.

We are doing our best to build something good out of the tragedy, by using it to bring us together and renew our sense of solidarity and community. Monday night I worked with a coalition of the LGBT leaders and organizers here in Pensacola, working together more closely than ever before to put together a candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of the Pulse massacre. I’ve never been more proud of my community than I am now, since I’ve seen how we respond to tragedy with love and support. – Katharine A. Luck, Ordained Minister of Florida’s Fire Dance Church of Wicca and vice president of STRIVE

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A few days before the Orlando massacre, I was talking to a straight friend who was giving me the “things are so much better and homophobia is dying out with the older generations” speech. I disagreed, but my well meaning friend was not ready to hear me. I was in the Orlando area about a month ago and had reconnected with people I know there.

I am an early riser so the horror of watching the news started very early in the day as I worried for my friends, grieved for the losses, and so much more. In addition to everything else, I saw repeated efforts to ignore, minimize, and sidestep the centrality of homophobia to the why and the when of the attack. So in addition to the emotional wound delivered to every LGBT person by the attack, there was also the wounding message that we matter less than making political hay.

I have been out for 42 years and every single one of those years I have been affected by physical, emotional, and political violence. It is useful to have gained some legislation over the course of those years, but ultimately the real work is in changing the culture. Homophobia is not dying out with the older generation, pay attention to the age of most of the perpetrators of violence. The hateful ideas are passed down the line like most abusive behaviors, and I see the same hateful values taught and role modeled today as when I was 16. If you want to do something about Orlando, work to change yourself and our culture, that is where real change lives. – Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

The news about Orlando has pulled at my heart in so many ways. I still can’t read the names or look and their pictures. They look too much like my community, my friends, the ones I go out with to queer bars in San Francisco. It could have been any of the people I know. It could have been me. I’m grieving for the families, especially the mamas burying their young. I’m grieving for the young queers, especially queer Latinx and other QTPOC who feel afraid.

Queer bars are not just safe spaces for me. They are temples. They are where I find the Blue God, the Peacock Angel, dancing among us, rejoicing in our beauty, power, and freedom. And I find myself asking, in what ways does our practice hold us in these moments? How do we stay present when our communities and the communities of those around us experience so much violence?” – Abel R. Gomez

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The first thing I read yesterday (June 12) when I woke up was about the Orlando shooting. For most of the day I didn’t really have an emotional response; I was angry but a lot of my other queer friends were more effected. I was driving to a café at around eleven at night when it hit me as I was listening to NPR, though, and I just started crying in the car.

I felt bad for crying. I don’t really feel I have the ‘right’ to be upset, even though I’m queer and even though the whole situation is horrid enough everyone should be crying. I’ve appreciated seeing my queer Pagan friends and leaders talking about the shooting and how to heal and extending themselves to the wider community, especially Elena Rose.  – Aine Llewellyn

Queer is the only word to define us. Queer is the word we will wear. And an ocean of strange friends that we call family, ebb and flow around us. All making up their families as best as they can, too.

And another year follows yet another day. Checking in after morning prayers, there is word from a beloved friend: There’s been a mass shooting. His friends go to that club. One still unaccounted for. He is bereft.

A day of grief shatters a month of joy. A month set aside to mark the uprising, a riot where trans women led gay men to say, “Enough!”

Enough harassment. Enough beatings. Enough killings. Enough arrests. Enough denials of housing. Of children. Of jobs. Of health care. Of being with our loved ones. Enough. Enough. Enough.

We too say enough.

You will not kill us. A few may fall, cut down, but you cannot kill us all. We will not let you. And we will not let you use our blood to organize more hatred and more war. Yes. I’m looking at you. And you. And you, too.

Last night, I made a decision. It is one I’ve made before:

I don’t want to, but if I have to, I will die in the streets defending my siblings from harm. Be they cis or trans. Black, brown, or white. Men or women. Not men, not women. Queer or straight. Or something wholly new. A parent defending a child. A band of Pagans. A Muslim at prayer. A young black man just hanging out. Two women, white, or brown, kissing on a sidewalk. Comrades locking down. A group of friends dancing and laughing, drinking beer at one a.m. – T. Thorn Coyle

Anthony Falls Bridge lit up June 12 2016 [From Tweet by @derekjohnson]

Anthony Falls Bridge lit up June 12 2016 [From Tweet by @derekjohnson]

Apparently our mainstream media (MSM) and conservative politicians are bound and determined to erase us, to make the mass murder in Orlando into a “tragedy” that does NOT acknowledge precisely who lost their lives. Queer people. Latinx / Latin@ people. People who were in a safe place, dancing, sharing love and lust and light and space.

The dead are dead because of homophobia. The dead are dead because people in this country have become far more visible in persecuting (through word and deed and law) LGBTQIA people. The acts of violence are nothing new; the laws are flashbacks to the old days when what we wore was legislated.

I am queer. I am terrified, because a man was arrested before he could get to an LA Pride event, and he had guns and bomb-making materials, and apparently enough hate that he drove from the middle of the country to attack people he didn’t know. I am sick with heartbreak, because the conversation is (once again) about the identity of the man who did this, and not about the identities of those who died because of his hate.

Visibility is so necessary to our community. Yes, it’s dangerous, and not everyone can practice it. But if we are not seen, not acknowledged in the truth of who we are, then bigots will continue to ramp up their hateful words, acts, and legislation. – Dee Shull

I have been trying to unwind the various threads that combined to weave together the tragedy of last weekend. Instead I found myself tied up in knots unable to move and heartbroken. The fact that the shooting had even occurred was devastating; the number of deaths and injured unbelievable.

In the GLBTIQ community we refer to each other as family. We share common experiences, some of rejection and hate, others of acceptance and Love. It is these experiences that help to bring us together. We come together in clubs like Pulse to share community, dance, sing; to be our authentic selves and to be safe. These are the only locations where many of us are able to do this.

This attack has devastated our family and shattered our sense of security. In addition that devastating news that most of those killed and injured were Lantinx/Hispanic/Mexican, communities that have been exploited, marginalized, oppressed and are under vitriolic attack in political and public discourse, added an almost unfathomable overlay to the story.  People who have been attacked for both their ethnicity and their sexuality, gunned down in a venue where they anticipated being safe from the attacks they endured from the outside world.

The added knowledge that the killer may have been struggling with his own orientation only adds to the tragedy.  This attack may have been fueled by a combination of internalized homophobia and the misogynistic abusive propaganda put out by individuals and organizations skewing the teachings of their religions to meet their warped political end goals. If this is the case, the shooter is a victim of the lies and hatred told him as much as the victims he shot. This is not to diminish his actions but to highlight the complexity of this tragedy.

And so I find myself in knots, knots that time will eventually unwind, but knots that will forever have an impact on the fabric of my community and my chosen family. – David R. Shorey

Minneapolis Vigil for Orlando Victims [Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr]

Minneapolis Vigil for Orlando Victims [Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr]

3 hours
Yes I’m going there. We, the queers, have been thinking and talking about those three hours.  “Mommy, I love you …  He’s coming.  I’m gonna die.”
Walking in, saying, “If you are still alive, raise your hand.”
WE are talking about it, thinking about it, dreaming about it.
3 hours to be hunted, wounded, die.
Black, Brown, Queer people, and three hours.
A part of me says, “There is no Justice.”  Another part says, “We make our own Justice.”
The cottage/community witch in me is working fiercely to love and be present to my Queer family. The Social Justice witch in me, is in that place where there are three hours going by. For now, that is all I have to say. – Jacki Chuculate

I actually started receiving text messages and emails of solidarity from friends and allies long before I heard the news about Orlando first hand. And of all the messages and voices and memes and social media posts I’ve seen, one message rang the most true. It went something like: If you don’t understand how a club can be a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid of holding someone’s hand in public.

And that brought to mind a poem I wrote my freshman year of college. It’s included in my book, The Playground. It came about after I was physically reminded that I am not – or was not – allowed to exist in all spaces. I was not welcome, and my mere presence was seen as some kind of threat.

And it is in that space where I am beginning to process the fact that in 2016, in our own places of sanctuary, we are just as vulnerable and just as endangered as ever. These spaces are just as important as ever.  – Fire Lyte

I don’t feel sad. I feel RAGE. Being entirely free and open to others, whether Gay or Polytheist, in a country where savagery, ignorance, and entitlement are nurtured is a gamble not worth taking. Want to learn more or come near me, my culture, my beliefs? Fuck you, you can sit by your lonesome until I’M good and ready. Don’t like it? KEEP WALKING. – Lāhela Nihipali

>We are adaptable creatures. Our brains are built to cope with horror. But if you don’t feel this pain, if you can say to yourself “this isn’t about me,” or “this isn’t my fight.” You’re wrong. No matter your sexuality, your gender identity, your race, or your religion.  Violence against one is violence against all. Until we can accept that we are all connected, that we are all responsible, it’s going to happen again. And that is the true horror. – Rúndaingne Ash

[Courtesy Pulse Nightclub Facebook Page]

[Courtesy Pulse Nightclub Facebook Page]

>I am the mother of an LGBT teen and I had to tell her about the shooting before she left her bedroom this morning. It broke my heart to see her bouncing out of bed in a good mood (a rare enough event in adolescence!) and to have to take that joy away. Her political awareness and spiritual sense of self are both developing in the context of the current climate of divisive and hate-filled politics and public shootings.

She’s scared that marriage equality will be taken away; she’s sad and afraid of violence and hatred. She’s had to deal with ignorant questions about her faith but I don’t think she’s had any vitriol due to her sexual identity. I know that I can’t shelter her from all the hate and ignorance in the world but I’d love to keep her safely under my wing for a little while longer. Of course our family, our friends, our religious community are completely welcoming and loving. It is a gift I am happy that I can give my children. Their Gods and Goddesses love them, their trad mates love them. They have examples of happy adults living all sorts of different  lives.

I wonder if the dissonance between the loving and accepting cocoon of our community and the hate and fear of broader society are going to cause her pain in the long run. Because I know that someday, someone will say something ugly to her for being who she is, whether it is directed at her religion or her sexual orientation. It breaks my heart that I can’t protect my child from the sickness of our society. These are just some thoughts off the top of my head. I appreciate you giving space on TWH for this issue this week. Our home has been rocked by this horrifying event. – Larissa Güran

Truth time;
We are of one blood,
And it bleeds red,
Regardless what pigmentation your skin.
No matter,
Who you like to fuck,
Which is what it boils down to
No matter
Who you are on the inside,
Showing who you are on the outside
And if our paths do meet,
Who am I
To choose when your ending ought to be?
All of our lives
Our Paths,
Even if our paths never cross,
Stitched together by a Maker,
Whomever that might be,
Who can speak for Them?
And if
They do not possess the power to speak for Themselves’,
Who are we to speak for Them?
And furthermore,
Why are we following Them?
So,
50 lives for 50 states,
50 hearts,
50 souls,
Gone in a matter of moments
53 more
Unspeakable atrocities
Made in the image
Either of what you believe in
Or what you fear. – Jeremy Shirey

Vigil at MIT June 14 2016 [Photo Credit: Maia Weinstock, Flickr]

Vigil at MIT June 14 2016 [Photo Credit: Maia Weinstock, Flickr]

In the wake of this horrific catastrophe, we have the opportunity to step forward and center the voices of the LatinX and LGTBQ communities in our society. We get to challenge a narrative that is so often pushed into the mainstream consciousness without challenge or question. We have the opportunity to embrace those who are often ignored or discarded and pass the mic that will amplify their voices.

Within our interconnected Pagan and Polytheist communities we have a unique chance to truly embrace the spirit of community by listening to the words of our marginalized. We are small enough that we can dismantle the walls keeping us separated and large enough to make an impact in the process.

The chance to use our collective power to demand changes in legislation and laws, and to demand proper representation in our government and organizations holds more power than a simple social media meme or a lit candle. The isolation created by erasure can be lonely and harsh, we can counter it by being present and willing.

As we all continue to heal from the devastation of this unspeakable injury to the LGTBQ community, we should ask ourselves: “Who are the most affected?”

How can we give space and honor those who have lost their voice? What can we do to support our LGTBQ community members and friends? How can we lift up our most marginalized? What actions are needed to support our LGBTQ and other marginalized peoples beyond this moment in time?

The legacy of erasure, oppression, marginalization and othering that happens within the larger societal construct will continue to impact those who we care about, if we are not willing or brave enough to speak up, step out, and work for love.

From Washington DC Vigil June 13, 2016 [Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr]

From Washington DC Vigil June 13, 2016 [Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr]

In our collective road to understanding, let us now acknowledge the names of those who lost their lives while celebrating Life in Orlando, Florida.  As we say, what is remembered, lives! 

Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

More from LGBTQ and LatinX leaders:

Author’s note: A special thank you to those who were willing, able or available to contribute to this piece during such an emotionally challenging time. In an effort to put LGTBQ voices forward it became apparent how understandably challenging this was at this time. I honor those who took the time to do this, and I also honor those who were not at the space to be able to. I see you. Thank you.

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This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

bcaa26b7f8aca9110e5f183331315fcb_400x400FLORIDA – While putting the final touches on its upcoming festival, Temple of Earth Gatherings (TEG) has found itself, once again, at the center of community controversy. TEG’s Florida Pagan Gathering (FPG) is a popular festival and has been one of the most well-attended Pagan events in that state since its inception in 1995. But, in 2014, the TEG board hit a snag, when it invited Yvonne and Gavin Frost, two teachers considered controversial, to present at that year’s spring event.

Since that point, FPG has be staged biannually without incident until recent months. In January, the Frosts announced that they would be returning to the festival circuit and attending FPG 2016, but the couple made no mention of offering any workshops. Their blog post went largely unnoticed. Then, two weeks ago, an anonymous person emailed an unpublished FPG 2016 festival booklet to a large group of people. The booklet listed the Frosts as workshop presenters, which immediately launched a public conversation, raising old concerns. Rumors and stories began quickly circulating.

When TEG became aware that the booklet was out, it announced that this circulating booklet had not been approved, nor was it official. Within one week, TEG published a new one that did not list the Frosts as presenters. The TEG Board would not confirm or deny any of the rumors and declined any further comment.

Sage. a former FPG staff member, told The Wild Hunt that he and several others resigned over this very issue. Until recently, Sage was the FPG workshop coordinator and he said, “I resigned largely because I was instructed that it was my job to keep secret certain workshops that the Board of Directors was aware would upset some portion of the community. This deceit came in direct conflict with my moral and ethical codes of conduct.” There are also reportedly some copyright issues involving the printing and publication of the two versions of the festival booklets, which have nothing directly to do with the workshop issue itself. Sage did add that he personally will not be attending the event.

At this point, FPG is still moving forward. Several of the scheduled presenters have confirmed that they will be attending after speaking privately with the board about raised concerns, and no protests against TEG are currently in the works. As for the Frosts, they typically communicate via “snail mail” and could not respond for comment in time for publication. But we will update this story as needed.

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AdflogoTUCSON, Ariz. – Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) announced the election of its new Archdruid Rev. Jean Pagano. Effective May 1, Rev. Pagano will “take the reins” from Rev. Kirk Thomas, who has been serving as ADF’s spiritual and administrative leader since 2010. Pagano said, “I am touched and honoured that people have chosen me to be their Arch Druid – it is not a challenge that I take lightly and I promise to be Archdruid to all members.”

This past Saturday, Rev. Thomas led his final ritual as Archdruid at Trillium. He said, “I think that it’s been a good six years, and it has always been my intent to serve ADF well, but it’s time for me to move on. I shall, of course, remain highly involved in ADF, and perhaps even hold some minor leadership roles in the future, but I shall also be taking more time for myself. I want to thank everyone in ADF who has supported me in my journey as ADF Archdruid, and I know that ADF shall continue to grow and thrive in the future.”

Rev. Pagano will served as Archdruid for the next three years. He was thankful to be chosen and said, “He added, I want to thank the Earth Mother, the Kindreds, and all of the people who have made ADF what it is today. May the Gods always provide.”

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Priestess Miriam with Aiyda [Courtesy Photo]

Priestess Miriam with Aiyda [Courtesy Photo]

NEW ORLEANS – Priestess Miriam of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple has announced the new location for her famous New Orleans temple. As we previously reported, on Feb 1, the historic building, which had been the temple’s home for twenty-four years, was destroyed by an electrical fire. At first Priestess Miriam had hoped that renovations would allow her to move back into the classic Creole cottage. However, that was not the case. Damage was too severe.

She began searching for a new location, which was reportedly “not an easy task in one of America’s most fastly gentrifying and expensive cities.” However, she was finally able to locate a space at 1428 North Rampart near its intersection with Esplanade. Witchdoctor Utu reports, “The New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple will begin a brand new era.” He also said that the temple is “not out of the woods yet.” Most of the renovations and moving tasks are complete but the setup and “sense of normalcy” has yet to return.

On behalf of Priestess Miriam, Utu added, “We cannot thank everyone enough who have contributed to the still existing GoFundMe campaign, this would simply not have been possible with out the beautiful people who continue to support, promote and contribute to the various fund raising efforts, much of it from around the entire North American Continent. Lots of work ahead but we continue to count our blessings and gratitude abounds. Soon enough we will be able to share some photos of the new building as it begins to settle into its new home.”

In Other News

  • Earth Day is coming up Friday, Apr. 22 and people around the world are planning their events. In dedication to that day, several Pagans in London are reviving a yearly tradition formerly run by Wiccan High Priestess Jean Willams (1928-2015). On Apr. 23, organizers and attendees will gather at 1 pm at the Highgate Tube Station, Priory Gardens exit. They will then walk from the “tube to the wood.” The group will collect “rubbish in Queens Wood till about 3:30 pm.”  After that, the group will picnic and a have an “attunement in the clearing.” Organizers look forward to seeing everyone come out for this London Earth Day tradition.
  • Similarly, Tuesday Apr. 19, Starhawk will join Rev. Selena Fox on her weekly podcast to discuss current environmental issues, climate change and ways to incorporate eco-activism in daily life. Additionally, Starhawk will talk about her “Earth Activist trainings, her permaculture work, and her visionary novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing and its long-awaited sequel, City of Refuge.” The podcast, titled “EcoPagan EcoMagic,” will air Tuesday night at 7 pm CT. 
  • The Troth is preparing to host its annual event called Trothmoot. This year’s four day camping festival will be held in Port Townsend, Washington at Ft. Flagler State Park. The organization writes, “Heathens from all over the world are invited to gather in the Pacific Northwest for a celebration of Heathen diversity and spirituality. Hosted by Hrafnar and Heathen Freehold Troth KAP Kindreds, and our Washinton and Pacific Northwest Troth members, come for fellowship, ritual, workshop, skaldship, and of course Northwest hospitality.” Trothmoot begins June 9 and runs through June 12. Registration is open on the Troth’s site.
  • On May 1, Heathens United Against Racism will be hosting Light the Beaconsa worldwide action calling “on all Heathens around the world who stand for inclusive, tolerant, and diverse practice to light a beacon in solidarity with all other Heathens who stand for these values in our spirituality.” HUAR asks participating individuals to light a candle, or some other form of light, at any point during that day. They also ask for photos of that light to be posted on the event Facebook event site. Organizers write, “Together we will ignite a fire in our hearts and homes that will push back the shadows of fear & ignorance, shine light on our honor, and rally the hopes of Heathens everywhere.
  • Athena: Sharing Current Research is still looking for presenters for its June conference in London. The site explains, “This conference will share current research on a deity that has been a topic of interest since the dawn of classical scholarship and through its various ‘turns.’ The event will appraise various ways to approach the goddess by drawing together current researchers from the UK, France, Italy, and, we hope, elsewhere.” Submissions are due by Apr. 30. The conference will take place on June 3 at the “Adam Room, Grove House, University of Roehampton, London.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

patrickRev. Patrick McCollum arrived in New York City to attend the United Nations 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This annual conference begins today, Mar. 14, and lasts through Mar. 24. The 2016 theme is “women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development […] ending violence against women and girls.” According to the commission, there are “8,100 NGO representatives registered” and “a record 208 events scheduled […] Alongside this, NGOs will organize 450 parallel events in the vicinity of the UN.”

One of the events happening alongside the conference is the presentation of the Ralph Johnson Bunche Medal for Peace. Rev. McCollum as well as Rev. Dean James Morton, former Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, will be receiving this honor for their work promoting international peace. The special public gala is being held Mar. 14, beginning at 7 p.m. in New York City at the InterChurch Center.

Rev. McCollum said that he was thankful to “the many friends and colleagues who have supported and encouraged [his] work for World Peace over the years.” Now he asks that people join him in raising “the status of women” and creating a world that “we can be proud of.”

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Portals-is-HereMusicians Sharon Knight and Winter have released the long-awaited Portals album. The music project was launched last year and described as an “otherworldly carnival, traveling in and out of mystery, magic, the unexplained. You feel the hair raise on the back of your neck as a motley band of skillful and possibly dangerous musicians brandish their bows, their voices, their tambourines, and open portals to the realms of the fantastical!”

In February 2015, Knight and Winter began a fundraising campaign that quickly raised a staggering $22,000 toward the completion of the project. One year later, Portals was released.

The album includes twelve songs “featuring guest performances by SJ Tucker, Betsy Tinney, Alexander James Adams (Tricky Pixie), Nathaniel Johnstone (Abney Park), Heather Dale, Wendy Rule, Sonja Drakulich ( Faun, Stellamara), and several more” It can be purchased through bandcamp in digital form or as a compact disc including a full-color lyric book.

Knight and Winter have also produced and released a video for the Portals song Porcelain Princess. The video is embedded below.

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The Sacred Space Conference 2016 is now over and attendees have been singing its praises. Featured presenter Ivo Dominguez Jr. told The Wild Hunt, “It was excellent and smoothly run.” And his comment was echoed over and over again on the public Sacred Space Facebook page.

After calling Sacred Space “one of the smoothest, more stimulating and drama-free gatherings around,” one attendee relayed this anecdote: “Many of us ran into a guy that just happened to be at the hotel, was Pagan, and was surprised to find a conference going on. He popped into several things as he could. He commented on how nonjudgmental, accepting and positive the vibe was – and he will be back next year – on purpose next time.”

Reviewing the weekend, Robert Schreiwer said, “I did one workshop on Braucherei in the Urglaawe Context and also one ritual to Ewicher Yeeger. There was a powerful discussion on death and funerals run by the Blue Star folks and that has already led to the creation of a network of people from several traditions.” He also noted that his own organization founded a new Urglaawe freehold, or kindred without a formal oath, this weekend during the Sacred Space event.

Organizer Gwendolyn Reece said, “I am really grateful to all of our teachers for sharing their talent, their ritual skills, and their inspiration with us, especially our featured teachers: Ian Corrigan, Ivo Dominguez Jr., and Ellen Lorenzi-Prince.”

Reece and the other Sacred Space organizers will be taking a short, much-needed break and, then, they begin plans for next year’s 2017 event. Reece said, “From my perspective [this year’s event] went really, really well. I think the best objective indication is that last year we had 11 people pre-register at the conference and this year we had 45.”

In Other News:

  • As the winter conference season winds down, festival season begins. On Mar. 24, Equinox in the Oaks kicks off its second annual event, held on private campgrounds in Pierson, Florida. The four-day outdoor festival hosts workshops, rituals and vendors. Organizers call it a “magical immersion” experience. Registration is now open.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary’s “The Greening of Religions” symposium and leadership training conference is also on the horizon. To be held the first weekend of April, the CHS conference “is a two and a half day event in Columbia, South Carolina, held at the University of South Carolina.” It brings people together to discuss the “the link between religion and climate change.” The keynote speaker is Bron Taylor, Ph.D., and the theme is “Hope in the Eye of the Storm.”
  • Burning Brigid Media (BBM), a Pagan-run production company based in Chicago, has announced the launch of Synesthesia Theatre, an “Audio Drama Anthology Podcast.” The first serial will be “an adaption of the steampunk western novel Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken by Michael Coorlim.” BBM founders describe Synthesia Theatre as the “cinema of the mind, dedicated to telling engaging stories through well-crafted writing, performances, and sound effects to evoke a cinematic experience in the mind’s eye.” The new serial and future projects can be found through through iTunes, Libsyn RSS, and Burning Brigid Media’s website.
  • Moon Books publishing has released a title called Whispers from the Earth by shamanic healer Taz Thornton. It is described as containing, “ancient teaching stories from the earth, together with meditations and step-by-step guides to sourcing your own tales from the spirits of the ancestors.” The Bad Witch’s Blog published a short review of the book and an interview with Thornton, who explains her story and how the book came into existence. She said, “Whispers from the Earth came about when I was sitting doing some admin work at my PC one day and a voice I recognised as one of my ancestor spirits came through. I was busy, so tried to dismiss it, but the voice was very insistent. ‘The stories you’ve been recording,’ it said, ‘send them to a publisher.’ “
  • Paganicon is coming this week to Minneapolis! And, if you are going, don’t forget to stop by The Wild Hunt social on Mar. 18, and the Meet The Wild Hunt panel on Mar. 19.

10296216_10153167430591104_642259405498786551_oIsis Books & Gifts, a metaphysical store located in Englewood, Colorado, erected its new sign after the original was destroyed by vandals. As we reported in November, the bookstore’s sign was destroyed shortly after the terrorist attacks on Paris and Lebanon. At the time, bookstore owner Karen Charboneau-Harrison told local news, “I don’t know if somebody walking down the street just saw our name on the sign and kind of lost it for a moment and threw a rock through it … or if it was an ignorant person who actually thought this was a bookstore for terrorists, I don’t know.”

The vandals were never caught, but Charboneau-Harrison immediately had a new sign created. However, this sign is slightly different. On a blue background, it reads “Goddess Books & Gifts” with an image of Isis to the left. And, the website graphic now reads the same. However, the store has not changed its name; only the sign and graphic have been altered. Charboneau-Harrison wrote on Facebook, “We are deflecting the attention of folks who flunked their 6th grade basic mythology class (and have anger issues) away from us and our signage.”

After the initial vandalism, the store received an outpouring of support in messages and donations. Currently, they are selling bumper stickers that read, “Isis is the Goddess of Healing, Family & Wisdom. Support Isis Books & Gifts.” Charboneau-Harrison added that that they feel strongly about keeping the name Isis, but also do not want to draw more violence to the business.

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Norse MythologyOn Dec 23, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried’s work was featured on the BBC Radio series “Religion in the North.” Last July, he was contacted by Senior Producer Phil Pegum, who was interested in developing a series of programs that celebrated “the life and culture of the countries of the north.” Pegum asked Dr. Seigfried to write and record an essay “on the continuing popularity of Norse mythology, its broader cultural significance, and the resurgence of Heathen religion in recent decades.”

Dr. Seigfried’s recording aired third in a series of five episodes on the subject as part of Radio 3’s program “The Essay.” The other four include, “Forests and Faith under the Northern Lights,” Christmas Father: Lars Petter Sveen,”  “A Swedish Christmas: Andrew Brown,” and “Winter Solstice: Hanne Orstavik.” This series corresponds to Radio 3’s larger seasonal programming focusing on the world’s “northernmost territories.”

Dr. Seigfried’s essay runs fifteen minutes. The full text is published on his Norse Mythology blog, along with an embedded recording. Or you can listen to the full piece, as well as the others, directly through BBC Radio 3.

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269241_415493488489950_1381333520_nOn Dec. 29, the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina gathered at the State House for its annual meeting to discuss interfaith awareness in the state. Although not in attendance for the meeting this year, Gov. Nikki Haley did, once again for the fourth year in a row, make the declaration that January would be Interfaith Harmony Month.

In addition to discussing interfaith awareness, the organization was also there to address concerns over the rise in Islamaphobia both in the South Carolina region and the country. In a recent media release, the organization clearly stated its concerns saying that “Muslims have lived in South Carolina for three centuries.” And they added:

Our Interfaith Partners members include many religions and spiritual paths, including Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i, Buddhist, Pagan, Native American, Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, and more.  We work for harmonious communities through our interfaith activities because we understand the fragile bonds upon which our democracy is built. Peace in America depends upon the ability of diverse peoples to value diversity without perceiving those differences to be a threat.

Cherry Hill Seminary Director Holli Emore is a vocal and organizing partner in this interfaith group and spoke at the state house gathering. After the meeting, she was interviewed by a local CBS affiliate, saying “I want people to remember that you need to take time to listen to other people.”

With the official declaration of Interfaith Harmony Month, the interfaith organization is planning a number of activities to educate the population and advocate for peace. All upcoming January events are listed on the organization’s site.

In Other News:

  • Beginning today, the long-awaited novel City of Refuge is available to the public. In 2015, Starhawk opted to self-publish her new book, which is a sequel to her popular novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. Previously, the book was only available for special pre-orders through Starhawk’s successful kickstarter campaign. Now the book can be found on Amazon and other similar sites.
  • For fans of blogger Sara Amis’ writing, she will be featured in an upcoming edition of Cicada, a literary magazine for young people. According to Amis, the March/April issue will focus on witches. While her own piece, titled “The Witch’s Egg,” was not written specifically as a children’s story, she said that it is “fairy-tale-esque and they went with it.” Amis added, “It’s actually kind of a fairy tale about a middle-aged woman finding her own power. What a tween girl will make of it I don’t know, but I think it’s good for them to see an older adult female protagonist who isn’t stereotypical.” The issue will be available February.
  • The Norse Mythology Blog announced its art winners for midwinter 2015. In the adult category, first place went to Maria Bogdanova of Finland with her painting depicting the “Lady of the Winter, the goddess of heaven.” Second place went to Ida M. Kozłowski of Poland, and third place was award to Jorge Alves de Lima Júnior of Brazil. In the teen category, the first place winner was Heather Mathis of the U.S., age 16, with her depiction of “Frau Holle.” Second place went to Marquellius Nunn,of the U.S., age 19, and third to Stefano J. of the U.S., age 15. Lastly, in the kids category, the first place winner was Katie U. of the U.S., age 11, with her painting depicting “Frau Holle.” The second place winner was Rowan Chiment-Scimeca of the U.S., age 8, and the third place winner was Paul Jules Butler of Germany, age 7.
  • Now that the first issue of A Beautiful Resistance has been published and distributed, the editors are looking toward the next issue. They have posted a call for submissions. Issue #2 will be edited and curated by poet Lorna Smithers and published in May, around Beltane. The deadline for all submissions is March 1.
  • Although Pagan festival season is still several months away, registration has opened for one of the earliest such gatherings. The second annual Equinox in the Oaks is now open for business. The event, which will be held once again in Pierson, Florida, is a weekend long “earth-centered, ethically-focused, family-affirming festival.” It debuted last year on the weekend of the Spring Equinox. This year, it will be held from March 24-27, 2016.

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PENSACOLA, Fla – It was announced Tuesday that the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) had made progress in the July triple homicide dubbed the ‘Blue Moon’ murders. Donald Wayne Hartung Sr, age 58, was arrested the morning of Oct 27 for the murder of his mother Voncile ‘Bonnie’ Smith (age 76) and his two half brothers Richard Thomas Smith (age 49) and John William Smith (age 47). Hartung is being held in the Escambia County jail without bond.

pensacolaThe case, as originally reported, was labeled the ‘Blue Moon’ murders after Sheriff David Morgan linked the case to that week’s blue moon. He called the murder “ritualistic” and the scene “odd at best.” Additionally, during the Aug. 4 news conference, Morgan reported that the case was connected to Witchcraft, which set off a week-long international media frenzy.

Over the past three months, there has been no public updates on the investigation. Then, on Tuesday, ECSO announced Hartung’s arrest and, subsequently, held a press conference. According to the Sheriff Morgan, the crime scene was confusing with “significant forensic evidence.” This was corroborated by State Attorney Bill Eddins, who said that it was one of the “most complicated he’d seen in his career.” They both cited this factor as the reason for the delays in making an arrest and updating the public.

When asked more specifically about the motive, Sheriff Morgan said, “I don’t concern myself as much with motive, you know because again … from my area of this in law enforcement we don’t really care so much as to why they did it, as the fact that it did occur.”

Then, he was asked specifically about the ‘witchcraft’ motive, to which he said, “Yes, it is still in play.”  Although in this press conference, he himself did not use the term ‘witchcraft’ or any related words. Sheriff Morgan did, however, clearly note that there was evidence in the home that Hartung practiced Witchcraft, and that the suspect made statements supporting that evidence. ECSO would not release any more information, saying that the details will come out in court.

Later that same day, Sheriff Morgan gave an exclusive interview to the local ABC affiliate. In that video, Sheriff Morgan did use the word ‘witchcraft,’ saying “it is still an element of the case.” He elaborated, saying that investigators found “photos, items, physical evidence” suggesting the practice of Witchcraft. Those details along with the July 31 blue moon and the reported “self-admissions” are keeping the Witchcraft theory in play. This interview can be seen in full below.

Despite the arrest and news update, the alleged ‘Witchcraft’ connection still remains mystery to the public. As noted by Sheriff Morgan, there were two other possible theories being pursued as well. One involved R.T. Williams’ connection to the Department of Homeland Security, but that has since been dropped. The third is monetary, or “financial gains.”

Additionally, it is now being reported that the crime scene, originally called ‘ritualistic,’ was not at all staged suspiciously. According News 5, “investigators are now [saying] that the bodies were not found laid out in a ritual pattern. All three bodies were discovered in separate rooms of the house.”

Despite the changing details and downplaying of the ‘Witchcraft’ angle, the media is still working the ‘Occult’ angle, which may be partially due to the upcoming holiday. News reports are now calling the case “the Witchcraft murders.”

Regardless of motivation, it is entirely possible that the suspect did dabble in the Craft in some form. Books and online information are easily accessible to anyone. In fact, local News 5 is now reporting that the victims’ family members state that “Hartung ‘loosely’ practiced some form of witchcraft or Wiccan religion, and kept at least one Wiccan book in his office.” This may be what ECSO found.

We reached out to local Wiccan Priest Rev. Edward Livingston, who said, “[Hartung] is not part of the Pagan community to anyone’s knowledge…. I’ve never heard of him.” Livingston is the founder of the Fire Dance Church of Wicca, the only 501(c)3, Wiccan church in the area. He has lived there for 50 years and been active in the Pagan community for over 20.

Livingston described the Pensacola religious climate as very conservative. He said that it is dominated by the Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, and Pentecostal Churches. He added that there are two Jewish synagogues, a few Catholic churches, one Unity Church and one UU congregation. Due to this atmosphere, most Pagans remain “in the broom closet” and practice in small covens or alone. Livingston said, “We all know solitary practitioners that have never had any training. If it turns out to be this [is] the case maybe its once again a good reason for proper education within our community.”

1917403_177645989062_5187128_nWhen asked if there had been any backlash due to the very public ‘Witchcraft’ accusations, Livingston emphatically said “no.” As he explained, this is partly due to the solitary nature of most Pagans in the area. Additionally, he added  “[Most locals] saw this as our silly sheriff over speaking  He has a history for histrionics and over reaction.”

Livingston himself was outraged by the entire fiasco in August, both with ECSO and in the media. He also said that, to date, no one from ECSO has contacted him, or any other Pagan known to him, to assist with the case or clarify the details about Witchcraft or Wicca.

As announced Tuesday, the so-called ‘Blue Moon’ murder case has now been handed over the the State Attorney’s office, who will be seeking the death penalty due to the number of victims and the situation. Hartung is due in court for a Grand Jury hearing on Nov 18 at 8:30am.

Until the court case makes more details public, there are still questions remaining. Is there really any tangible connection to Witchcraft or Wicca? And, if so, is that Witchcraft connection truly the motivation behind the gruesome act? Or is it simply the religious practice of the suspect – an irrelevant, but very distracting, detail?

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“We expect a candidate to be bland, uninteresting … We pretend we want politicians who are honest or unconventional, someone who has not sold his soul to special interests. But as soon as that person arrives, we crucify him. Trying to understand him is the last thing on anyone’s mind.”  – U.S. Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus

Florida attorney Augustus Invictus is garnering national headlines in his run to replace Sen. Marco Rubio. Most of those headlines focus on or include sensationalized reports about him drinking the blood of a sacrificed goat. Mr. Invictus’ attempt to run as a Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF) candidate has also resulted in the resignation of the party’s chair and vice chair, both of whom protest the lack of LPF Executive Committee opposition to the possible candidate prior to the primary vote

In his resignation letter, former LPF Chair Adrian Wyllie alledged that Invitcus’ Thelema-inspired religious views, his name, and his stance on eugenics and future civil war make him an unfit Libertarian candidate. He wrote, “My strong opposition to him has put me in conflict with the LPF Executive Committee.”

The mainstream press is having a field day with some of the allegations and reader comments tend toward either mocking or open hostility. Is this a case of non-Pagans misunderstanding Pagan views and religious practices? Does religious bigotry play a role in some of these reactions? Or, are these allegations true?

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The Wild Hunt takes a closer, interviewing Mr. Invictus and others involved. First, we’ll break down the allegations from Mr. Wyllie’s resignation letter.

Animal Sacrifice
This is the allegation which has captured the most reporter and reader attention. Wyllie states, “I would never disparage anyone on the basis of their religion. But, since Mr. Invictus cites his religion as the motivation for his violent intentions, I believe it must be scrutinized. Mr. Invictus practices Thelema, an occult pagan religion based on the teachings of Aleister Crowley. Mr. Invictus was ejected from Ordo Templi Orientis for brutally and sadistically dismembering a goat in a ritualistic sacrifice.”

While Invictus disputes he dismembered a goat he readily admits to sacrificing a goat in a ritual of thanksgiving, “What actually happened is that I undertook a religious Pilgrimage in the Spring of 2013, walking from Orlando, Florida to the Mojave Desert in California. I did not expect to survive the journey or the desert, and so I sacrificed a goat to the God of the Wilderness in thanksgiving some time later, after my return to Florida. But that does not grab the headlines quite as well as ‘Chairman resigns to protest animal sacrifice by Senate candidate,’ which is how this is being spun.”

As of publication date over 140 news articles have been published in the last 72 hours focusing on Invictus’ sacrifice of the goat. There are a number of religions that practice some form of ritual animal killing, slaughter or sacrifice. However, the mainstream press regularly treats all forms of ritual sacrifice as outlandish and barbaric. Many comments claim Invictus’ ritual killing of an animal makes him unfit to hold office, while others point out the hypocrisy of being horrified by animal sacrifice while dining on factory meat.

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Some people have condemned the act as “Satanic witchcraft,” while others call for Invictus to be killed. If Invictus was a Muslim sacrificing a lamb during Hajj or a Jewish person sacrificng a rooster the day before Yom Kippur would the media coverage and reader reaction be different?

The Wild Hunt has covered the controversy surrounding animal sacrifice many times and even Pagans disagree about the ethics of the practice.

Many modern Pagans and Heathens shy away from — or are downright horrified by — the idea of animal sacrifice. Arguments against the practice generally come from a place of concern for the animals involved, or a fear that it would result in an “othering” by mainstream society. On the other hand, the sacrificial priests say that the practice is rooted in compassion and community, and that criticisms of their work reveal a fundamental disconnect with the food system, and perhaps a smoldering of racism as well.

Jeff Billman, a Libertarian Pagan, definitely believes that religious bigoty is in play here, both within the media coverage and in the allegations by Wyllie. In a Facebook post, Billman wrote:

 All the reasons that Adrian Wyllie tried to convince the Libertarian Party of Florida to take action against Augustus Invictus went unreported. Instead, Bay News 9 (the 24 hour cable news channel on Bright House Networks in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida) insinuated that Wyllie resigned because Invictus practices animal sacrifice. Despite the continued denials of his supporters, Adrian Wyllie is conducting a witch hunt against Pagan Libertarians, and this report proves it. I demand that the Libertarian Party of Florida take steps to censure Adrian Wyllie, and to make a statement that the Libertarian Party of Florida respects the religious beliefs of all, including Pagans. I will be making a formal motion to that effect with the Executive Committee of the Libertarian Party of Florida, once I ascertain Mr. Wyllie’s current membership status.

Wyllie has not only resigned as LPF Chair, but has also left the LPF Party. In a written interview, he told The Wild Hunt, “I was not familiar with Thelema specifically before this, but I am familiar with Paganism. I’m probably most familiar with Wicca, because I have some close friends that practice it. I have other friends who identify as Pagans, but not any specific order. I think a candidate’s religion is absolutely irrelevant. The only reason it became at all relevant with Mr. Invictus was because he used it as his justification for violence and starting a civil war. I strongly believe that his view of Paganism is completely warped, and that the overwhelming majority of Pagans are good, peaceful people who don’t share his apocalyptic visions. He doesn’t represent Pagans any more than a violent Jihadist represents Muslims.”

Ejection from Ordo Templi Orientis
Invictus posted a video of himself performing the sacrifice and said that he was expelled by the OTO shortly after for what he said were political reasons. The OTO Public Information Officer would only confirm that Augustus Sol Invictus has not been a member of Ordo Templi Orientis since November 9, 2013, and that the circumstances surrounding his expulsion are confidential.

Thelema is a religion based on the teachings of Aleister Crowley and has as its two main tenets: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” and “Love is the law, love under will.” The goal of Thelemites is to discover their True Will, which is defined as “what they were meant to do on this earth.” Initiations of violence are generally frowned on in Thelema, while physical defense of individual rights is allowed. This is similar to the Non-Aggression Principle in Libertarian philosophy.

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We spoke with author and Occultist James Wasserman about Invictus’ run for Senate and his alleged expulsion from OTO. Wasserman has been a member of OTO since 1976 and knows Invictus.” It is difficult to comment on this individual without understanding that he suffers from mental illness. We are repeatedly warned in the mystic teachings of the dangers of madness: ‘The mystic swims in the same waters in which the psychotic drowns.’ ”

Wasserman goes on to explain, “The unrestrained plunge into the Abyss comes through attachment to the Ego. In the Star Wars story, Luke hears Obi-Wan calling upon him to trust “The Force.” Such ancient myths, translated into modern cinema, can retain their truth when skillfully told. Augustus Sol Invictus pursues his fantasy life on YouTube with phony accents, unbalanced rants, and even despicable acts of violence. Anyone contemplating taking him seriously should first ask him to remove the password protection from his YouTube video of a goat sacrifice. If you find him acceptable after that, go in peace. While some of his written political philosophy may contain some coherence, we would expect no less from one who was once sane enough to earn a law degree. To pretend that the teachings of the Law of Thelema justify his behavior or his opinions besmirches Truth with the tarnish of delusion, egomania, and narcissism. I am sorry to witness his fall. At one point, I believed he might have had some potential.”

Changing His Name
Wyllie said that “Even the legally-changed name he chose for himself is revealing. August Sol Invictus is Latin, and translates to ‘The Unconquerable Sun God’ ” He sites this as another reason that Invictus is unfit to be a Libertarian candidate. His name was also joked about in reader comments attached to articles.

Although Invictus primarily calls himself Pagan, those close to him say he is a Roman Reconstructionist, or a person looking to revive the religion of ancient Rome. Similar to how Pagans may have a Craft name, converts to other religions will sometimes change their name to reflect their new religious identity. For example, it’s not an uncommon for those converting to Islam, and it is not considered egotistical to change that name to that of their Prophet, Mohammed. Changing your name to Augustus Sol Invictus may be an indicator of an inflated self worth and a desire to rule over others, or it may be a sincere sign of devotion to a specific God.

Advocating Violence and Civil War
One of the more troubling allegations for many within the Libertarian Party is Invictus’ interest in inciting a second civil war. Wyllie said, “Mr. Invictus has repeatedly vowed that it is his destiny to start a second civil war in America. In a 2013 memo to his colleagues, he wrote, ‘I have prophesied for years that I was born for a Great War; that if I did not witness the coming of the Second American Civil War, I would begin it myself.’ ”  This memo was published by Above the Law in 2013.

Wyllie also has claimed that, in a private, face-to-face meeting, he asked Invictus directly, “Do you actually intend to kill millions of people and start a civil war?” Wyllie said that his answer was, “It’s my religion.” Invictus remembers the conversation differently. He said that they were talking about transhumanism and Nietzsche and the idea that mankind must be overcome.

In our interview, Wyllie directed us to a video created by Invictus titled Give Me A War. Wyllie cites this as an example of Invictus intentions. When we asked Invictus about the video, he said that it was a poem made several years ago. He explained, “This is in reference to the poem Seven Seals, which Wyllie has taken upon himself to rename to Give Me a War, in keeping with his dishonest tactics. Seven Seals is a poem and an Enochian invocation, not a call for a civil war. The original recitation can be found here.” He added that these videos are poetry readings and have nothing to do with his stance as a political candidate.

[invictusforsenate.com]

[invictusforsenate.com]

Eugenics
This is the allegation which appears to disturb the LPF Executive Committee the most. Wyllie claims that Invictus supports a return to a government supported eugenics program, which would sterilize, euthanize or forcibly abort ‘the weakest, the least intelligent, and the most diseased.’

This particular allegation also appears to strike the strongest nerve among Thelemites, many of whom expressed private outrage while refusing to make comments on the record.

When we asked Invictus directly if he supports eugenics, as alleged by Wyllie, he said, “I do not support a eugenics program, and this is a bold faced lie by Wyllie. This was addressed in one of my first Fireside Chats. Wyllie has heard me say a hundred times that I do not support a eugenics program, and he knows all the reasons why; but he also knows that in ceaselessly repeating this allegation he does not need to argue about it. It reminds me of a statement attributed to Joseph Goebbels: ‘If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.’ ”

However, Invictus’ Senate campaign website contains conflicting information on this subject. In a blog post titled “A Declaration on the Failings of the Federal Government,” bullet point number 25 states:

It has abandoned its eugenics program & elitist mindset in favor of decadent ideology that rejects the beauty of strength and demands the exponential growth of the weakest, least intelligent, and the most diseased.

Yet in the site’s FAQ section, Invictus notes that, while he wrote a paper in support of eugenics during law school, he has since changed his mind and regrets writing it. He asserts that a portion of the U.S.eugenics program is still legal today and that “no ruler or group of bureaucrats should have that sort of power over another person” and calls forced sterilization an “abuse of power.”

General Policy Positions
In looking at Invictus’ campaign website, his actual policy positions are much less controversial. He is against the drug war, constant war, government bans on same sex marriage, firearms, and marijuana. He departs from typical Libertarian policies on supporting government protection of the environment and for FDA regulations.

Other portions of his website reveal a candidate who is far from the “bland” or “uninteresting ,” as Invictus says voters expect. Many of his fireside chats have him affecting an accent that is difficult to place. He describes himself as a poet, artist, and a scholar. In one featured video, Invictus says that he wants “you to revolt…I want you to be dangerous…I want each and every one of you to be a legitimate threat…I don’t want you to vote so much as I want you to wake up, drop out and tune in, I want you to take LSD and practice sorcery.”

 *   *   *

On Sunday, the LPF took action, considering two motions concerning Invictus. The first motion proposed expelling him from the party. That motion failed. The second motion called for the LPF to formally condemn Invictus for violating the Non-Aggression Principle. That motion carried.

The LPF put out this statement on Monday. It reads, in part: 

During yesterday’s meeting of its Executive Committee, the Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF) voted to condemn platform issues associated with U.S. Senate candidate, Augustus Invictus. The LPF finds the initiation of violence through his call for civil war and state-sponsored murder abhorrent. These platform issues are diametrically opposed to the principles of the LPF.

Char-Lez Braden, chair of the LPF said this morning, “Legally, the LPF has no control over a candidate’s political affiliation. Florida election laws allow anyone, with any ideology, to run as a candidate in the party they declared when registering to vote. The LPF has not endorsed Augustus Invictus and has not provided him with any support. Under the law, we cannot prevent him from running as a Libertarian and he is not required to enter our certification process.”

Currently, Invictus is the only candidate seeking to run as a Libertarian for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. Even though Florida election law allows anyone to run, as noted in the statement, his inclusion on the ballot as a third party candidate is not assured. To be listed on the ballot itself, Invictus needs to gather 100,000 signatures or pay $10,000.

logo4
At this point, Florida voters and LPF members will have to decide for themselves if Invictus is a candidate worthy of support, or if his views, past or present, are problematic. At the same time it appears that the ways in which much of the media are covering the story, with a focus on animal sacrifice to near exclusion of many of the other allegations and concerns, demonstrates unexamined religious bias. In addition, the general public’s reaction to these reports, as seen in various comments, suggests the same stark religious bigotry – one that could cause tension and problems for any Pagan politician in a run for public office.

We will continue to follow the story and update our readers as it develops.

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[On a weekly basis, we bring you the news and issues that affect Pagan and Heathen communities around the world. Pagan Community Notes is a weekly column that features important short stories and news blurbs from within our collective communities. If you value our work, please consider donating to our fall fund drive today. Bringing you important news and stories, like the ones below, is what we love to do. Your support makes it possible for us to continue for another year. Thank you very much.]

3377032_1440958544.4266On Aug. 18, the Florida Pagan community lost one of its longtime, active members. Lady Moonfire, elder of the Church of Iron Oak – ATC and High Priestess of Coven Tropic Moon, passed beyond the veil after losing a long battle with cancer. Also known as Brandie Gramling, Lady Moonfire was born in Bristol, Connecticut March 25, 1957. She studied and lived in Kentucky before arriving in Florida, which then became her home.

Brandie’s Pagan journey began in 1994 when she joined the Church of Iron Oak. She helped with the group’s 10 month legal battle over zoning restrictions in the city of Palm Bay. During that time, Iron Oak’s neighbors attempted to stop the group from performing Wiccan rituals and worship in its home temple space. These neighbors claimed that the area was zoned residential only. In the end, Iron Oak won the battle when the city’s zoning board, ruled in its favor.

In 1996, Brandie moved to the Coven Lia Fail where she was initiated into the Gardnerian tradition. Then, in 1999, she finished her training, receiving her third degree. Nine years later, she was ordained by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. Over that time period, Brandie also became involved with Florida Pagan Gathering (FPG), first as an attendee and eventually as a staff member. For twenty years, Brandie was present at every FPG, twice-yearly. In addition to being an active Priestess, Brandie enjoyed teaching students, making mead and being an herbalist. In the late 1990s, she maintained a small web presence devoted to these topics.

In the fall of 2014, Brandie was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and she began and extensive treatment program. In February 2015, a GoFundMe campaign was launched to help offset her growing medical costs. However, in Aug, she lost her battle and passed away. Her family has left the fund open to donations, and all money will be used to pay her final bills. Brandie is survived by her husband, their partner, her two daughters and her father. Coven Tropic Moon has moved to Kentucky and is under the care of Lady Luna Owlheart and Lord Fox Fire. According to the family, there will be no public memorial. They have chosen to privately scatter Brandie’s ashes over a number of different places that she held dear. What is Remembered, Lives.

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Many Gods West Facebook Photo

Many Gods West Facebook Photo

Organizers have announced the return of Many Gods West. According to the announcement, Niki Whiting is returning as one of the coordinators of the event uniquely devoted to Polytheism. Once again, it will be held in Olympia, Washington. The opening and closing ceremonies will be hosted by Rynn Fox of the Coru Cathubodua. At this point, those are the only details provided.

Whiting said, “The enthusiasm, support, and love for this conference – from the gods and from humans – exceeded any expectations I had. I am hoping that MGW 2016 will be even better.” She added that organizers will be accepting proposals sometime this fall. She suggests following the MGW facebook for the most recent news, including all important dates and the launch of the 2016 web page.

In the meantime, you can read more about the inaugural 2015 Many Gods West event here at The Wild Hunt. Heathen Chinese attended and provided us with an extensive review of his experience.

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602721_484990421567144_202466889_nEverglades Moon Local Council (EMLC), a division of Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) located in Florida, has released its most recent podcast. This Mabon recording marks the 15th episode of the “Reaching for the Moon” podcast.

In 2013, EMLC organizers began creating podcasts in conjunction with the sabbats. They saw this as a way to not only regularly communicate with their community members, who are spread out over the entire state, but also to involve them in a unique way. The first podcast was recorded for Imbolc of that year. It included interviews with attendees of EMLCs yearly “Turning the Tides” event, as well as a Pagan parenting discussion and music by Lady Bridget and Ginger Doss.

Over the past two years, the podcasts have grown considerably and include more variety and greater participation. The 15th edition includes five different talks, on topics from baking bread to “Pagan Standard Time,” and three musical selections by the groups Crow Woman and Emerald Rose. EMLC invites everyone to participate, “If you’d like to contribute something to our podcast, whether it’s your music, an article, or something else, please leave us a comment below and we’ll get back to you to help make that happen!” You can listen to the podcasts on the group’s website or through iTunes, Stitcher and Libsyn.

In Other News:

  • Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried has published the first of a two-part interview with writer Jennifer Snook. As we reported in June, Snook is the author of the new book American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement. She is a professor of sociology at Grinnell College, and has been a practicing Heathen since the age of eighteen. In his article, Seigfried writes, “For anyone interested in the subject of modern Heathen belief and practice, the book is indispensable. As the first work of its kind, it will be the defining text in this field.” He then moves on to the extensive, in-depth interview.
  • As we noted last week, T. Thorn Coyle has returned to blogging after an short hiatus. During that break, she was able to focus on different projects, one of which was her fiction book Like Water. The other is the newly published book Sigil Magic: For Writers, Artists and Other Creatives. This book was published in Aug, and it is described as such: “Sigils can assist us with any creative venture: from writing novels and prepping art shows, to building lives filled with curiosity, wonder, and success. Sigil Magic walks us through a variety of ways to generate and charge up our sigils, and includes instructions for preparation and cleansing, working with intentional statements, and using magical mantras and a variety of sigils types. Take a risk. Make your mark.” Sigil Magic is currently available through Amazon.
  • Diotima Mantineia, Chief Star Gazer at Urania’s Well, is beginning a new 9 week course in Astrology. Mantineia has been studying the subject since 1968, and it has guided much of her Pagan experience. Taught from Mantineia’s home in North Carolina, the beginner astrology class will be held completely online and will begin Oct. 19. Manineia writes, “The symbolic language of astrology offers profound insights … No astrologer, no other person, can do more than point you toward these gems — only you can fully experience the truths that ignite your soul. And that’s why I am teaching this course.”
  • The Conference on Current Pagan Studies has extended its abstract deadline to Oct 6. The announcement reads, “The overall theme for the 2016 Conference is Social Justice. We face issues of social justice everywhere we look, from something as overwhelming as ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ to the seeming trivial Wiccanate privilege … We are looking for papers from all disciplines. A community needs artists, teachers, scientists, healers, historians, philosophers, educators, thinkers, activists, etc.” The abstracts should be no more than 300 words. More information is available on its website.

Heritage-Day-2015

  • Our friends in South Africa will be celebrating Pagan Heritage Day on Sept. 26. This event is sponsored by the Pagan Assistance Network and will be held Sunnyridge Primary, Germiston. The festival includes music, drumming, food, art, vendors and more. Contact information is available in the graphic above and on the website

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA –  On Friday, July 31, three residents were found murdered in their home on Deerfield Drive in the coastal city of Pensacola. The victims were Richard Thomas Smith (age 49), his brother John William Smith (age 47) and their mother Voncile Smith (age 76). The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) found them at 9:30 a.m. during a welfare call, which was requested by Richard’s concerned employer.

During that morning check, officers found the three bodies. Their throats were slit, and Richard had a gun shot through his neck. As has been reported, the family was killed on Tues, July 28. and their deaths were caused by blunt force trauma by hammer. The police have ruled out robbery and are currently investigating.

This gruesome reality turned media frenzy after the department held an Aug. 4 news conference. During the opening speech, Sheriff David Morgan called the case “odd at best,” describing the family as reclusive. Then when he was asked about motive, he responded:

… initial research has led us to believe that there is a potential that it was a ritualistic killing … The method of the murder, blunt force traumas, slit throats, positions of bodies and then our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that.

When asked for more, Sheriff Morgan noted, “Well, again, the time of the blue moon every three years, the method of the murders and also our person of interest is known to practice this.” He was then asked directly “What religion?” Sheriff Morgan responded, “It is Witchcraft.” The full news conference was uploaded to You Tube.

That was all it took. Within minutes, the local, national and, eventually, international media were reporting on the triple murder. “Witchcraft suspected in savage murder of family” reported the local CBS affiliate WKRG. The Washington Post announced, “Florida triple murder tied to ‘witchcraft’ and blue moon, police say.” And NOLA.com asked,”Witchcraft’ and ‘blue moon’ behind Pensacola triple homicide?”

Shortly after, NBC quoted ECSO’s own Sgt. Andrew Hobbes saying, “It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon.” Witchcraft suddenly changed to Wicca. Several ABC and CBS affiliates around the country picked up the wording change. For example, one in Texas reported, “Wiccan ritual may be motive behind deaths of three family members in Fla.” And, the UK’s Daily Mail announced, “Florida family murdered with a hammer in ‘ritualistic Wiccan killing planned to coincide with the Blue Moon‘ ”

As the story continued to gain media traction throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, Pagans began to speak out publicly against both the sensationalist, and often false, coverage and the Sheriff’s premature speculation. Peg Aloi at “The Witching Hour” wrote, “I am fairly certain there is nothing in any book on Wicca that has ever been published on Planet Earth that describes body positions consistent with ritual murder.”

Lady Liberty League (LLL), who has been investigating the situation, published a statement, saying, “We are deeply concerned by the misrepresentations of Wicca, witchcraft and Paganism that have resulted, and are currently working to respond to the situation … We ask that all Wiccans, Pagans and those concerned send prayers and energy for healing to those affected by the murders, local law enforcement, the local community and the cause of religious understanding and Pagan civil liberties worldwide.”

LLL’s Rev. Selena Fox is one of two Pagans quoted in a Guardian article titled, “Wicca experts slam Florida sheriff for linking triple murder to ‘witchcraft.‘” Published Aug 5, the UK news outlet took a very different approach from others agencies by talking to actual Pagan practitioners. The Guardian quoted Fox as saying, “Ritual murder is not part of the Wiccan religion, it never has been, and it’s not now.” She also said added, “There are so many crime shows on TV and the Internet [that involve witchcraft], and I think that some story lines can complicate reporting on actual crimes.” Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, was also quoted and said, “If they had done even a modicum of research it would be clear this had nothing to do with Paganism.”

Riki Lee Para started a change.org petition titled “Stop the Witch Hunt!” It reads, in part, “We send our deepest condolences to the victims and families involved, however the Wiccan community will not stand for allegations from a high ranking office of justice that these murders were due to a ‘Blue Moon Ritual by a Wiccan Practitioner'” In less then 24 hours, it has earned over 817 signatures.

pensacola

[Courtesy Boston Public Library]

As is typical, the media storm caused some confusion on what had actually been reported by the sheriff’s department. In attempt to clarify, ECSO republished the portion of the news conference transcript that specifically mentioned Witchcraft. The second press release, titled “Statement Concerning Transcript of news conference,” read:

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office has received numerous inquiries relative to the triple homicide in Escambia County, specifically as to its potential ties to a ritualistic murder. We encourage everyone concerned about the truth and facts to read the following transcript …

In the following abridged statements, ECSO noted that Sheriff Morgan said “While it doesn’t bother me to release it being their being [sic], most assuredly, you do not want to want to [sic] defame or demean any particular practices.” He also noted that “our country” allows for the belief in “anything.”

The Wild Hunt reached out to ECSO and spoke with its PIO Sena Maddison, who said, “The department by no means meant to imply that Wiccans are killers.” She offered apologies to the community for this confusion. When asked about Hobbes statements to NBC, she said that Hobbes was misquoted. He never said the word “Wicca.” She further explained that it was the media confusion that prompted ECSO to release that second statement and to also post the news conference on its You Tube channel and Facebook page.

ECSO may not have intended to create the media frenzy, but the department did cause it by using hot button, or so called click-bait, terms in its initial news conference, which included reference to the blue moon. Unfortunately, the repercussions of such acts are not always limited to news reports and sensational banter. They can also lead to the real-life bullying of modern Witches and Wiccans. The Wild Hunt has received reports over the last day indicating that several Pagans living in small conservative communities have been harassed. Unfortunately, none of these people would go on record.

However, in the online petition, Pensacola Wiccan Katharine Jones did refer directly to this danger. She angrily, wrote, “I am a minister with Fire Dance Church of Wicca, operating in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The slanderous statements made by Sheriff Morgan present a risk to the safety of the residents of this county. He is inciting hate crimes against anyone who appears to be non-Christian, including essentially everyone who is a member of any counter culture. He is personally responsible for any violence which results from his comments.”

At this point, there are many dots that do not connect within the publicly available story. When asked why ECSO had linked the crime to Witchcraft at all and who this practicing “person of interest” was, Maddison said that she could not reveal any more details on the case, because it is still an open investigation. And, that is standard practice. Additionally, we asked if any officers had contacted local Pagan organizations or individuals, she said, “not yet.”

There currently is just not enough publicly available data to know exactly what happened. Did anyone in the family or associated with the family actually practice Witchcraft or any religion for that matter? Why was the crime considered ritualistic? And, why was the act linked to the blue moon, which actually occurred three days after the reported murder? There are many questions yet to be answered.

As for the media, the local CBS affiliate WKRG has since spoken to the victims’ family members, who are quoted as saying “witchcraft” had nothing to do with the murders. They also added – as proof – “the Smith family were normal folks.” In addition, WKRG followed The Guardians’ lead and is now reporting that “Witches say they’re not linked to Triple Murder.”

The latest news release from ECSO states that samples from the scene are currently being analyzed, and that the department will not update the media until the lab reports are back. Maddion invited us to contact her directly with any future questions. We will continue to follow the case and update as we learn more. In the meantime, the mainstream media will most likely continue to speculate, sensationalize and feed.

Among my favorite places to visit is the Fakahatchee Strand in South Florida. About an hour west of Miami, the Fak (as we call it) is a narrow swamp forest about five miles wide and about 20 miles long. The shallow swamp sits beneath soaring royal palms, bald cypress trees and tropical hardwoods while its near-crystal waters slowly drain southward into the Ten Thousand Islands region of Southwest Florida. The Fak is home to the Florida panther, alligators, river otters, fox squirrels, Everglades minks, native bromeliads, as well as the fantastically rare Ghost Orchid that was highlighted in Susan Orlean’s novel, The Orchid Thief and its ensuing film, Adaptation.

It is primordial.

Photo by M. Tejeda-Moreno

Inside the Fakahatchee Strand. [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The Fak is both close to the city and, like much of Southern Florida, refreshingly and dangerously wild in the word’s deepest sense. In winter, the Fak is crisp and covered in migratory birds. In the summer, you venture with full-body netting and repellent; the mosquitoes are the least of your worries. Spending time in the swamp, whether hiking dry trails or slogging the water, is a constant marvel. Animal noises are punctuated by deafening bursts of silence. You are immersed within the wild; its tangible danger as well as it thick and overflowing life. You become as vigilant as our ancestors in these treacherous places, yet reassured back into modernity as your cell phone makes a weak and random connection. No matter how long you stay or how often you go, you leave transformed.

The experience is a far and away a contrast to the security of our homes and the usual life that we inhabit in cities. Most of us live in spaces designed by humans to maximize both our safety and our comfort. In many ways, however, the Pagan identity is built upon the reconnection with the natural world and, as we have all heard, there is much magic outside our comfort zone.

Many of our rituals address our connection to nature in one way or another; and many of our spiritual traditions place nature as the center point of reverence. Indeed, most of our festivals intentionally pull as away from the familiar, urban life into natural spaces. They help remind us that we are strengthened when we occasionally break away from the structured lives of the city into the randomness and freedom of nature. This is a familiar Pagan pattern: live in the city, renew in the wild.

To be sure, mainstream Western Society has affixed itself to severing connections with the natural world. In the 8th century, Charlemagne’s violent campaigns to Christianize Pagan Saxons culminated in, what the Royal Frankish Annals refers to as, the destruction of the central seat of the Saxon religion, the Irminsul. The Irminsul is described as a large hollow tree trunk clearly connected to Yggdrasil, the sacred tree of Odin that connects the Nine Worlds. The location of the Irminsul appears to have been near modern-day Obermarsberg, Germany towards the Teutoberg Forest; but nothing remains of the location, only the references.

While Charlemagne’s more obvious motive for destroying the Irminsul was to shatter the connections that Pagans had with their religion and ultimately convert them to Christianity, an additional interpretation is that its demolition had the supplementary effect of severing the Saxon connection with nature. Violent and forced conversions are one thing, but if you truly want to permanently decimate a community, disconnect them from the well of their strength.

The Irminsul represented that strength, but urbanizing Pagan communities was the key: that would cap the well. Sever the connection with nature, and the city would subordinate Pagans. The church at the city center would become the new pillar of society and the promised safety and ease of urban life would silence the call of the forests. Indeed, in Latin, Urbanus (city dweller) is the opposite of Paganus (country dweller). Creating city dwellers is the act of destroying country dwellers and, more critically, their values.

[Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

[Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

In time, nature would be seen as wild and ultimately dangerous. The place we came from would become the place we see as alien. Twelve hundred years later, mainstream society continues to embrace Charlemagne’s vision and to villanize nature in many ways. Although we hear occasional Romantic yearnings for the natural world, urbanites constantly, and often inadvertently, whisper to one another the dangers of the wild (not parks, those are “secure” nature”). The mainstream world in which we live collectively encourages urban, modern lifestyles while discouraging people from visiting the wild, reminding us of the risks, hazards and threats “out there.”

Nature is dangerous but it is not a place to dread. Despite the fact the vast majority of people are injured or die in cities, that mainstream world is very invested in us fearing nature to maintain power and profit.

So why keep us from visiting nature? Because visiting nature is unimaginably rebellious. It causes us to question how we live. It reminds us that the future is only possible through sustainability. It exposes us to how we are part of a web of life and, perhaps most importantly, how we humans can uniquely make choices that strengthen and weaken that web. Being in nature helps us recognize that our human strengths involve cooperation and acceptance, rather than control and suppression.

And science has taken notice. In 1984, myrmecologist, professor and “father” of biodiveristy, Dr. E. O. Wilson proposed the Biophilia Hypothesis (later more fully developed by Wilson’s colleague, Dr. Stephen Kellert in 1993). Broadly and simply stated, the hypothesis proposes a human urge to “affiliate with other forms of life.” It was a development from the work of Psychologist Dr. Erich Fromm who first coined the term and proposed the subconscious psychological attraction to be immersed in and have a deep affiliation with nature. To Pagan ears, that probably sounds so obviously self-evident it would merit sarcasm. To urbanites, it is heresy.

Indeed, the Biophilia Hypothesis actually leads to some interesting questions in evolutionary psychology, the subfield of psychological science that explores the evolutionary advantages of our psychological and behavioral characteristics. Because we evolved in a natural environment, that natural environment must also expose those characteristics that represent our optimal functioning. In other words, does being in nature somehow reveal our nobler sides that are possibly hidden by modern urban existence?

As it turns out, yeah it does. In one study, UK researchers examined panel data from 10,000 individuals. Panel data refers to information collected in the same way but at multiple times (pre- and post- testing is an example of simple panel data). The researchers found that after controlling for individual and regional differences, individuals living in urban areas that had more green spaces also reported lower levels of mental distress and higher levels of happiness.

Now there are other factors there that need to be explored and understood more completely, but the interesting point is that an effect was still detected (White, Alcock, Wheeler & Depledge, 2013). In other words, all things were expected to be equal, but they noted a difference. And, that points social science in an interesting direction.

Recently, Canadian researchers conducted three experimental studies to explore more carefully the causal direction of some of those nature findings like the one described above. They presented participants with a “commons dilemma.” It is a specific kind of problem that pits people’s short-term self-interests against longer-term group interests. In this case, it was a fishing simulation that basically boiled down to whether you would harvest fish competitively to make a profit for yourself now or harvest fish cooperatively with others to sustain the group for the future.

Before participants entered the simulation, they were randomly assigned to two groups. One group watched a nature video prior to entering the simulation, and the other group watched a city-building video. The Biophilia hypothesis would predict that watching nature would make you feel more part of it and make you more aware of your actions. And that’s just what happened: the group that watched the nature video exhibited significantly more cooperative behaviors and fished sustainably. The groups that watched the city-building video behaved more competitively. When the study was repeated by introducing a third group that viewed a neutral video, the same cooperative behaviors were still demonstrated (though somewhat more weakly in statistical terms) by the nature-exposed group. In other words, exposure to nature leads to more human cooperation.

[Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

[Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

Now in a third study, the same researchers used a similar design but replaced fishing with a questionnaire on perceived important social values and sustainability. They also changed the videos with generic videos of nature and generic videos of cities. They altered the experiment because they wanted to eliminate the association between fishing and nature, to still see if the effect on cooperation was present.

Instead of the fishing exercise, the participants completed the questionnaire after being randomly assigned to groups and viewing the videos. Again, participants who watched nature videos were more likely to endorse cooperative decision-making and sustainability than their counterparts who watched urban-focused videos (Zelenski, Dopko, & Capaldi, 2015).

The findings speak very loudly: Exposure to Nature is transformative. It reinforces those aspects of ourselves that strengthen our society like cooperation, mutual support, collective good, and sustainability. Those values create collective wealth and sustainable enterprise that expands- not exploits– our relationship with Nature. What science underscores is something that Pagans know: Nature exposes that which makes us Human. Nature reminds us of the human social powers that helps us make collective and positive decisions without needing a central authority, whether that be king or gospel. That is something, I think, Charlemagne could never have come to terms with. Simple, and so very Pagan.

Citations
Kellert, S.R. (ed.) (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press.
White, M.P, Alcock, I., Wheeler, B.W., & Depledge, M.H. (2013). Would You Be Happier Living in a Greener Urban Area? A Fixed-Effects Analysis of Panel Data. Psychological Science, 24, 920-928.
Wilson, E.O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Zelenski, J.M., Dopko, R.L. & Capaldi, C.A. (2015). Cooperation is in our nature: Nature exposure may promote cooperative and environmentally sustainable behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 24-31.