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March 14, 2015 – a day of action across Canada [Photo by Paul S.Graham]

March 14, 2015 – a day of action across Canada [Photo by Paul S.Graham]

It is hard to ignore the current political climate in Canada. Never before have we been faced with a government that has tried to overhaul and carve up our country quite the way our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and his Conservative government are doing right now. For a country renowned for it’s affable nature and politeness, things are changing. In numbers not seen for decades, people are becoming radicalized and discovering reasons to become activists – for the environment, for our social programs, and now for the basic safety, privacy and security we had come to take for granted.

On January 30, 2015, Bill C-51, an “Anti-Terrorism Act” was unveiled in the House of Parliament. This massive piece of proposed legislation includes sweeping, radical changes to Canadian law and security systems by reducing the privacy and freedom of speech of Canadian people.

Bill C-51 would allow the government to:

  • Expand the definition of “Security” to not only include public safety, but to also prevent interference with the “economic or financial stability of Canada”. This could mean if you were a protestor at a rally or blockade against a pipeline you would be seen as a national threat to security.
  • The bill leaves the government to its own discretion to designate what activities may be security threats, without clear definition.
  • Even experts, such as Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, are unclear about what will constitute free speech under this bill. How are average Canadians supposed to know what can get them into trouble? The Criminal Code of Canada already has laws against committing or inciting others to commit terrorist acts. C-51 adds another layer including “advocating or promoting terrorism.’ which makes understanding the offense even more difficult.
  • The current criminal code already allows for something called “preventative arrest,” or the ability for police to arrest and detain without charge if they think you may commit a terrorist activity if they don’t. C-51 expands this, lowering the threshold and doubling the time you can be detained for.

The list goes on from there. Bill C-51 is a sprawling document over 60 pages long. With a federal election looming on the horizon, the Harper government needs to gain approval and push it through fast. It has already been voted in by the majority Conservative government, led by Stephen Harper. Now it must be brought before the House committee on National Security and Defence. If they approve it will be re-introduced to the House of Commons for a final vote before it is enacted into Law.

In a speech delivered at an anti-Bill C-51 rally on March 14, Pat Martin, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre explained how Harper rushed the process of closing the bill:

…he has moved closure on this bill after only one and one-half days of debate, he has truncated the committee process to only a few witnesses will be heard, he has run roughshod and undermined everything that is good and decent about our parliamentary democracy in his zeal to ram this bill through Parliament…the last time Parliament dealt with any kind of amendments to the public safety act was after 911, we had 54 days of debate in the House of Commons, we had 90 witnesses, expert testimony, because we know you do not interfere with these basic fundamental rights and freedoms lightly. This is not something you do with a day and a half of debate in the House of Commons….Harper has undermined the ability of your elected representatives to act on your behalf….you have to take it to the streets – sometimes civil disobedience is civil defense. 

On March 14, 2015, more than 60 Canadian communities held rallies and marches to protest Bill C-51. All across the country people from all walks of life participated in an action that, if this Bill passed, would no doubt land them on a government watch list.

Within Pagan groups, what does this mean? Many of us are environmentalists, some of us subscribe to alternative news sources, or campaign for religious freedom. Within the description of Bill C-51 is a wide grey area that we fall into and many of the causes we hold dear and participate in could land us on the government’s watch list. Many Pagans across the country got involved in the day of protest.

Outside the Canadian Houses of Parliament, a 1-year old, third generation Pagan attends his first protest. [Photo by Marc LeBlanc]

Outside the Canadian Houses of Parliament, a 1-year old, third generation Pagan attends his first protest. [Photo by Marc LeBlanc]

In Canada’s capitol city, Ottawa, Ontario, hundreds of people gathered outside the office of the Prime Minister on Parliament Hill. Sheena MacIsaac, a member of the Board of Directors for Gaia Gathering – The Canadian National Pagan Conference and mother of two, attended with her family:

We are participating because this bill is a terrible overreaction. It feels like it has been sitting in wait for anything to happen in Canada. There is no accountability, nor oversight. The terms are vague. I don’t want my children or family targeted because we love the earth and are vocal about it.

In London, Ontario, Sophia, an American Pagan living in Canada as a permanent resident, is shocked to find out that Canada’s politics are just as compromised as other places. Her reason for participating in the March 14th protest is pure and simple, She said, “I can say is that political action is part of my commitment to the living Earth that supports us with such grace.” 

On the west coast of the country, in British Columbia, the Pagan presence in Vernon took the form of writer and Priestess, Sable Aradia, one of over 400 people who shut down the highway in her hometown of Vernon, a small city of 40,000 people located in the lush Okanagan Valley.

Of her participation in the protest, Sable says:

Sable Aradia protesting Bill C-51 outside the office of her local Member of Parliament. [Photo by Chris Madsen]

Sable Aradia protesting Bill C-51 outside the office of her local Member of Parliament. [Photo by Chris Madsen]

I’m not really an activist. I sign occasional petitions and write the infrequent letter. The last thing I publicly protested was the Gulf War. But C-51 was a deal-breaker for me. It’s a less-well-regulated variant of the Patriot Act. What’s particularly troubling is the inclusion of groups that threaten the “economic well-being” of Canada. Since environmental activists and First Nations often chain themselves to trees to stop loggers and would-be frackers, it’s pretty clear how they intend to use this clause. I see no way in which the bill would, in actuality, increase our security but I see many ways in which it would endanger our civil liberties. It is an overreaction to an isolated incident and it’s clear that it is at least in part motivated by racism. It has no place in the Canada that I want to live in. My tradition of witchcraft is BTW descended but distinctly influenced by the more political climate of West Coast Paganisms such as Reclaiming. My politics tend to be moderately left-wing. I support equality, freedom, feminism and environmentalism. For me those ethics flow naturally from the Charge of the Goddess.

Also in British Columbia, activist and Pagan podcaster Sparrow, of the Wigglian Way Podcast hit the streets of Vancouver, along with over 1000 other protestors, and gathered on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Sparrow, who has put her talk into action recently protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline through her Burnaby Mountain home, felt that there really was no choice but to protest C-51:

Bill C51 is counter to what being Canadian is all about. We have the freedom and the responsibility to keep government in check. It is our government and our country is supposed to be a democratic one. Bill C51 is in direct opposition of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill would in effect make it illegal to protest in this country. It is a direct attack on First Nations people and Activists. This bill has nothing to do with “terrorism” as those in authority would have us believe, but everything to do with raping this land of it’s resources.

Sparrow is very active in environmental issues as well as Aboriginal rights and equality issues. A project she is passionate about is Settlers Info.org, a website offering information and resources to facilitate a paradigm shift in Canada among the non-aboriginal Canadian population in relation to First Nations, Métis and Inuit people and create unity and understanding among the entire population.

The Winnipeg, Manitoba edition of the protest was also attended by over 1000 people and many “WinniPagans” joined the crowd. The rally was held in the courtyard of Winnipeg’s City Hall and featured speakers from government, Aboriginal, student, and community groups. Underscoring the wide range of people who could be considered a threat to national security was a performance by “The Winnipeg Raging Grannies” who provided some hilarious songs of protest and decent and reminded us of how easily our own actions can be deemed dangerous.

This is what a threat to Canadian national security looks like – The Raging Grannies [Photo by Paul S. Graham]

This is what a threat to Canadian national security looks like – The Raging Grannies [Photo by Paul S. Graham]

One outspoken WinniPagan is Katherine Bitney, a poet, essayist and Witch who participated in the protest accompanied by her daughter and granddaughter – three generations of strong Pagan women determined to fight for the land:

My Paganism in a sense drives and/or determines my politics. Learning natural law, as it manifests in the world around us, and living from an ethics based on this. We are very aware that this bill is aimed at anyone who opposes Harper’s agenda to give the land over to corporations that will, already do, destroy it. It makes environmentalists, anyone who stands up for the land, Indigenous people, into enemies of the Harper state. It silences and criminalizes dissent. As a Pagan it’s my responsibility to listen to and watch out for the land, and to speak out against, fight, its enemies. All land is holy.

Reinforcing the Pagan connection to the land, is Lawrence, another WinniPagan, who attended the rally with the rest of his covenmates:

The bill would be used to crack down on the civil, humanitarian, and ecological endeavours of groups who choose to protect those rights against corporate and economic profiteers. C-51 places economic interests on par with – or above – human and ecological rights. As a witch, that makes no sense at all. My gods aren’t capitalists. They are gods of the wood, of the land, of waters, of air, of sacred groves and hearths. There is nothing in that which calls me to spoil the land, starve living beings, or disproportionately churn what natural balance is left. I choose to be political so I can protect that which is sacred to me, respect that which the gods find honourable, and affect what change may be possible.

Winnipeg Witches protest C-51 at City Hall [Photo by AT]

Winnipeg Witches protest C-51 at City Hall [Photo by AT]

What should Canadian Pagans and Witches do about C-51? Sparrow had this to say, “Now, I do expect more from Canadian Pagans. I expect the mundane and the magical. I’ve been to a lot of ritual where the idea was planted, but nothing is growing. I’ve also been to ceremony where you make a pledge to Spirit or the Gods, and YOU DO WHAT YOU PLEDGE. It’s not that hard. Really. Get out to a “call to action”. Activism is fun.”

As a response to the increasing dissent toward the government of Canada and the growing frustration of Pagans with the way things are going, more and more Pagan folk of all stripes are fed up and becoming activists. Sable Aradia invited some of us to join her in her new blog, Winding Widdershins, dedicated to Canadian politics through a Pagan lens. She said:

In general, I prefer not to discuss politics in Pagan circles; we’re already such a factitious lot. But our spirituality guides our ethics, and our ethics do influence our politics. I don’t like politics myself, but I keep finding out about things that concern me through Facebook feeds and chance conversations and that’s no way to do it. I figured we needed a forum to encourage this kind of discussion, if nothing else so that I don’t feel so impotent against overwhelming forces. 

Looking ahead, it really seems like this will be an exciting year of political activity in Canada. With a federal election tentatively scheduled for October 2015, issues like Bill C-51 will be boiling over and Canadian Pagans will be stirring the pot.

By earth, by air, by fire, by water
We are the good earth’s sons and daughters
By voice, by heart, by my own hand
I swear to keep this holy land
By the power of three times three
This is my oath So mote it be
And as you share
So do you swear

– Crystal Coven of Winnipeg’s  “Oath to the Land”

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

Gaia Gathering, a Canadian national Pagan conference, launched a new website to announce the opening of registration for its annual event. This coming year marks Gaia Gathering’s 10th anniversary, which will be celebrated in the city where “it all began,” Edmonton, Alberta.

Organizers are currently calling for academic papers saying, “We invite papers and proposals for our academic stream from all fields within the social sciences, arts, and humanities, which are relevant to the academic study of contemporary Paganism, New Religious Movements and related interests.”  In addition to academic paper presentations, the conference also hosts “workshops, panel discussions, and evening entertainment.” Gaia Gathering has been held every year for 10 years during Victoria Day Weekend, May 15-18.

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witch school 2Last week Witch School International released a new book, The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca. The publication is available for free via download from the school’s website.

Written by Don Lewis, the book’s forward explains that the new book is “a compendium of copy-right free materials dealing with Wicca and Witchcraft. All the materials within it may be freely shared without the need for any further permission. These materials have been created for the world, and are explicitly intended to be shared. Why? Because we believe that sharing knowledge can create a better world.

In its nearly 400 pages, The Common Book of Witchcraft and Wicca includes articles, poetry, chants, artwork and a biography listing. As reported by Witch School’s website, the digital publication has already been downloaded by people in over 55 countries in the seven days that it has been available.

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church of wiccaThe First Church of Wicca has reopened in Duxuby, Massachusetts after a five year hiatus. The announcement was made on Oct. 19, and the group celebrated its first Sabbat, Nov. 1.

The First Church of Wicca was founded and run by Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey. Many might remember her from the TLC reality show “My Unique Family: The Witches Next Door.” As we reported in 2009, Hovey announced that she was converting to Christianity. After a five hiatus, she has returned to Wicca and reopened her church. The Wild Hunt will have more on this story in the coming weeks.

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Brigid-Color-HorizBurning Brigid Media, a newly established Pagan-run production company, is beginning production on its first film project, a web series called Sleep Study. Company founders Michael Coorlin and Kat O’Connor have extensive experience in Chicago’s film and theater world. They both became disillusioned with many of their mainstream projects and the common representations of marginalized populations.

Last spring, they came together to aim their extensive experience and talents in a new direction. Burning Brigid Media’s goal is to “contribute to a cultural shift through narratives that normalize stories about the traditionally marginalized: women, minority, and LGBT characters presented as people rather than genres.” Their first project, to be launched this summer 2015, is the web series titled Sleep Study. They describe it as a “transmedia atmospheric surreal horror” that will “question the very nature of reality.

In Other News:

  • While most of our readers have been celebrating the Winter Solstice and other early winter holidays, some readers, like those living in Tasmania, Australia, have been preparing for the harvest. Each year the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance hosts an annunal Harvest Fest in mid-January. This family-friendly event includes rituals, workshops, and vendors, and is held 25 minutes outside of Devonport.
  • For some Pagans, the Winter Solstice means a trip to a sacred site, such as Stonehenge and Newgrange. Our own columnist Rhyd Wildermuth was fortunate enough to be selected to enter Newgrange on the Winter Solstice. He will be sharing the experience and photos in his next column.
  • Registration has opened for a new Spring Equinox festival in Florida. The Equinox in the Oaks will take place 30 minutes west of Ormond Beach and Daytona, in the central part of the state. Organizers are excited about the new event, describing it as an “Earth-centered, ethically-focused, family-affirming Pagan festival.” Pre-registration is already underway and they have launched a Facebook fan page to allow future attendees to follow the event’s developments and additions.
  • Another festival that has opened its registration is the mid-winter Feast of Lights hosted by the Earth Spirit Community. The annual event is held in Nothhampton, Massachusetts from Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Organizers describe it “as a weekend of warmth at the coldest time of the year – a festival of of community and hope, of tradition and creativity, of Earth spirituality and the arts, of community and hope, of tradition and creativity.” This year’s special guest will be Viviane Crowley.
World Peace Violin [Photo  Cedit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Cedit: H.Greene]

  • In October, we reported that violinist Scarlet Rivera would be recording a special piece using Rev. Patrick McCollum’s sacred violin. The recording is now posted on YouTube and features Rivera playing a composition written by Yuval Ron specifically for McCollum’s violin. The piece is entitled “Voice of Peace.”
  • Last week Patheos Pagan Blog, A Sense of Place, welcomed a new contributor. James Lindenschmidt has been Pagan for more than 20 years and “feeds his spirit by bonding with his ecosystem.” Originally from the midwest, he now lives in “a small place in the woods” in Northern New England. His inaugural post, entitled “By Way of Introduction,” was published on Dec. 24.

That is it for now. Have a great day.

Winnipeg is a city of 691,800 people nestled in the Southern portion of Manitoba, Canada.  It is the capital of this central providence and the 8th largest metropolis in the country. On the map, Winnipeg is about 90 miles north of the U.S. border and 650 miles NW of Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to the tourism industry, Winnipeg calls itself a “little big city” and the “cultural cradle of Canada.”

Winnipeg

City of Winnipeg
Photo Credit: donnieslarue, Flickr

Within all its hustle and bustle, Winnipeg is home to a group of people who call themselves the WinniPagans. It’s a catchy term; the origins of which are unknown. However, it is used endearingly to refer to a small, tightly-knit community of approximately 600 Pagans who live in and around Winnipeg. In 2012, these WinniPagans became the subject of a short documentary that was written, produced and directed by one of their own, Dodie Graham McKay.

Dodie, a native of Winnipeg, is an indie filmmaker who found a love of filmmaking through unexpected circumstance. In 2005, after returning from living in England, Dodie needed a job – any job.  With a friend’s help, she was hired as a production coordinator in a local documentary film office. From there she learned filmmaking skills which eventually led to her co-directing the documentary-short, “West Central: A View From Here” with her husband, Jeff McKay.

Filmmakers Dodie McKay & Jeff McKay

Filmmakers Dodie McKay & Jeff McKay

“WinniPagans” is Dodie’s first solo “flight.”  She recalls:

My high school English teacher used to say “Write about something you love”. When I wanted to make my first film I had to think about what I love that would be the subject for my project. My pagan community was the first and foremost thing I could think of.  

The 25-minute documentary explores this thriving Pagan community that resides in Canada’s cultural cradle. Dodie remarks:

“I really felt quite strongly that this community was due for some sort of document to mark the progress we have made. Many of the folks in the film have been active since our community went public in the mid to late 1980s and I wanted to capture some of these stories before they are forgotten.”

In late 2011 Dodie took her idea to MTS, a local telecom company that finances and airs indie films about Manitoba that are produced by local filmmakers. As explained by Craig Lawrence of MTS’ communication department:

MTS TV (Manitoba Telecom Service) supports community producers through Local Expression funding as a condition of our license as a broadcast distribution undertaking (BDU) in Canada… “Stories from Home” programming is quite varied and often represents a personal connection between the filmmaker and the subject, resulting in programming that – like The WinniPagans – can offer glimpses into different ways of life. 

Because of her experience, Dodie had a golden opportunity to pitch “WinniPagans” to Cam Bennett, executive director of “Stories from Home.”  He readily accepted the project and production began on January 21, 2012.

Logo

The film’s small budget consisted of a crew of four with other on-and-off camera volunteers from within the Pagan community.  Production lasted through April 29th with three months of post-production.  In September of 2012, Dodie delivered the final edited product to MTS.  She recalls:

I was so excited that MTS liked the show and accepted it as it was. They even gave us some cash to rent the local art house cinema for a premiere screening. The executive producer, Cam Bennett, asked me if there was a special Pagan holiday coming up. At that point Samhain was the next big date so he offered to make that the broadcast premiere.”

winnipeg cinemathequeOn Monday October 29th, the film premiered at the Cinematheque Art House. Before the actual screening, musician Glen Hoban performed and Kate Bitney read from her book of poetry entitled “Firewalk.”  Then, Cam Bennett stood up to offer some words about the film and to introduce Dodie.

“I was a bundle of nerves the night of the premiere. Just before the doors opened I went to the bathroom to splash some water on my face and then the magnitude of what I had done hit me full force – who did I think I was making a film about my own community? I live here and these are my own people, the people I care about, my friends and fellow pagans. My heart was in my mouth as I went out to make my speech and introduce the film, I was so nervous! As the film was playing I sat in the back of the cinema and listened to the 80 or so viewers as they laughed at the funny parts and clapped when they saw familiar faces, it was great! Nobody chucked rotten fruit or stormed out! The response was terrific. Folks seem to be appreciating the spirit of the thing and enjoy the way we are portrayed.”

After the screening, many of the viewers thanked Cam Bennett for his support and in doing so caught him completely off-guard.  Like so many Pagan communities, the WinniPagans rarely have the opportunity to see themselves, or any Pagan, visually portrayed without sensationalized imagery or stereotypes. Even when such a documentary is made, it is rarely funded and openly supported by a mainstream corporation. Cam Bennett didn’t expect the profound level of appreciation that he and MTS would receive.

Since November 3, 2012, “WinniPagans” has been airing on the MTS’ “Stories from Home” series. The film has also been screened in Southern Ontario and in Montreal.  Dodie’s visual story documenting the lives of “her people” has now touched Pagans across Canada’s wide expanse.   She said, “It was exciting to see that you didn’t have to be from Winnipeg to really get something out of the story.”

Why has the story been warmly received?  She attributes its success to some of the intangibles inherent in film production. When a Pagan filmmaker creates a film about his or her own Pagan community, the main production elements (visuals, narrative emphasis and pacing) will be different than when a non-Pagan (or Hollywood) produces the same film. The goal is different.  The perspective is different.  The entire feeling left in the viewers lap will, as a result, be different.

Dodie made a film about what she sees everyday; not what people want to see.  The film is a slice of life documentary – a true “reality show,” if you will.  In this way, it provides a unique opportunity for Pagan viewers to hypothetically cross the threshold of the silver screen and be themselves.  And, it offers the world a chance to see real Witches – minus the glamour of a Hollywood back lot.

Dodie McKay, Glen Hoban, Norm Dugas

Dodie McKay with musician Glen Hoban,
and sound editor Norm Dugas

What’s next for Dodie?  She is currently working on her second film for MTS about a long-time local social activist.  After that, she hopes to expand the “WinniPagan” project into a longer piece about Canadian Pagans, in general.  She has already been offered support from a number of Pagan communities across the country.

Want to see the film?  At this time, “WinniPagans” is only available to MTS’ customers through the on-demand service. However, she will be holding screenings at Paganicon in Minneapolis in March and at Gaia Gathering in Gatineau Quebec in May.  Not attending either event? Dodie will be selling the film online starting in April. All profits from the sale will be donated to a scholarship fund that offsets travel expenses to Gaia Gathering. To keep up with Dodie and the film’s happenings, you can follow the “WinniPagans” FaceBook fan page.

NOTE:  I was not able to view the film in its entirety before this post. Due to an unexpected blizzard in Winnipeg, mail has been delayed. However, after I receive a copy, I will post a complete film review and update.