Archives For Georgia

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), in a landmark decision, legalized same sex marriage in the United States of America. On Friday, June 26, SCOTUS issued its 5-4 opinion on the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Kennedy delivered the opinion, opening with, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”


Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

Through that opinion, SCOTUS reversed the decision of the lower Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which had upheld same sex marriage bans in four states: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. SCOTUS ruled these bans unconstitutional, saying:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

The Court’s opinion also made it clear that marriages performed legally in one state had to be officially recognized in other states. As SCOTUS ruled:

The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.

Within the opinion, Justice Kennedy offered an historical perspective, saying that marriage has been central to the “human condition” for “millennia and across civilizations.” While he acknowledged that most of the historical references speak of opposite sex unions, he goes on to say that “The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.”

Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomeyer. Dissenting opinions came from Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Roberts wrote:

This Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be … Today, however, the Court takes the extraordinary step of ordering every State to license and recognize same-sex marriage. Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening.

While there are those who directly oppose same sex marriage on religious or philosophical principles, there are others who, like Roberts, feel that the process should have been left to the states and the vote of the people.

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

As the news flooded the internet, we gathered some reactions from Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists around the country. Here is what they had to say:

Dianne Duggan is a Pagan Priestess who worked for the US government for decades and practiced law. Last year in her in Illinois, she was finally able to legally marry her wife. Duggan said, “Given that marriage is a legal contract, sanctioned by government, I’ve never understood the faith-based arguments against it. Even marriages that take place under religious circumstances must be sanctioned by government through licensing .. Rights are rights. That is that.” Read Duggan’s full comment

Another legal expert, Dana Eilers, author of Pagans and the Law, said that SCOTUS had “affirmed the great American Experiment, which is the separation of church and state.” She went on to say, “Critically, the majority of the Court found that the opponents of gay marriage had failed to provide any foundation for the dire outcomes which gay marriage opponents so often assert. This, to me, is crucial: there was, apparently, no proof offered to support the awful predictions made by the opponents of gender equality in marriage. Proof and evidence are not yet dead in American courts.” Read Eilers full comment.

Heading south, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren, also known as Rev. Seba O’Kiley, is a Priestess of the Gangani Tribe in Alabama, a marriage equality battle-ground state. Same sex marriage was legalized in February 2015, but state and local officials have been fighting ever since. Privett-Duren said that it “takes the efforts and courage of many to change any inequities in the world.” She added that this impulse to enact change should be a “human one born of the need to set things right.” Privett-Duren added:

I am saddened at the responses of some of my Southern friends and family to the SCOTUS ruling.  However, this is only a small faction of our South and will, inevitably, become only another archaic echo of a culture’s growing pains. ….  My tribe and I hold firm that we can be both Southern and progressive.  And while my neighbors are truly heartbroken at the SCOTUS decision, it is my hope that they will one day see that any oppression to any people oppresses us all. Read Privett-Duren’s full comment

Wizzard Rodney Hall, a transgender and pansexual Pagan from Alabama, said, “It has been a long march from … Stonewall riots to the marriage equality decision by SCOTUS … Though I told my partner after SCOTUS struck down DOMA … that this was a landmark decision and we were on a downward slope toward equal marriage rights, I had no clue that it would move this fast.” Like Privett-Duren, Hall knows that there will be some conflict within the state, saying “In Lee County AL, where I live, our courthouse was closed today until they review the SCOTUS decision. There is also Alabama Senate Bill 377 still pending, which seeks to replace marriage licenses with a contract process … Though we still face obstruction from bigots and the ill-informed religious right, I feel that we are on the upswing.”

From Georgia, two Pagans shared their thoughts. Blogger Sara Amis said, “I think it’s important to emphasize the religious equality angle. Pagans, who by and large are happy to recognize same-sex unions, should not be constrained by the beliefs of other faiths in this matter. And now we won’t be.” Amis went on to say that for bisexuals, like herself, “not being invisible matters. Social recognition matters.” Then she added, “And speaking as a Pagan, symbols matter. Rituals matter.” Read Amis’ full comment.

And, Benratu, a Witch and native Georgian, agreed, saying, “I am thrilled to see our leaders make the right decision!” He lamented that for so long he has been unable to “share the same rights and privileges as the rest of the country.” Benratu said “[It]is now possible. I felt a great sigh of relief.” Like Hall and Privett, Benratu also expressed a concern that the ruling may trigger a backlash and increased incidents of homophobic violence. However, he added, “My hope is this will bring our country together and user in more acceptance of different viewpoints.”

Friday Celebrations in Midtown Atlanta [Courtesy S. Amis]

Friday Celebrations in Midtown Atlanta [Courtesy S. Amis]

California-based author and activist T. Thorn Coyle took a more radical position, saying, “I stand for love, yet haven’t joined in very active support of what some people call ‘gay marriage’ or others call equal rights because the struggle feels much, much larger.” She explained, “..allowing two men or two women to marry one another just isn’t enough. It isn’t the sort of equality I really want. I’m more queer than that, and more of an anarchist, of course. I desire equity far more pluralistic than the simple replication of a state sanctioned nuclear family.” Read Coyle’s full comment

Also hailing from California, Rev. Patrick McCollum shared his thoughts, saying, “As one who has worked for gay rights for more than thirty years, I am elated that one of the fundamental rights that we’ve all fought for so long has finally come to be.” McCollum tied the ruling’s importance to his beliefs. He wrote, “Just as we speak of the interconnectedness of all things in a spiritual context, we must also realize that the same principles apply in our mundane lives. How we make space for everyone and how we honor the sacredness of diversity speaks directly to who we are as a people.” Read McCollum’s full comment.

Like McCollum, Rev. Selena Fox has been an longtime activist working for LBGQT equality and religious rights. When Friday’s ruling was handed down, Fox called for a celebration, saying, “I am glad that the USA has now joined the 20 other countries in the world that have legalized same sex marriage — and it is my hope that there will be marriage equality in every nation on this planet.” She said that she has been performing same sex handfastings since the 1980s with the first one in 1983, and assisting with the first legal handfasting at Pagan Spirit Gathering in 2014. Read Fox’ full comment.

Jumping the Broom. Sparky T. Rabbit and Ray 1984. One of the first same sex marriages at PSG [Courtesy PSG Archives]

Jumping the Broom. Sparky T. Rabbit and Ray 1984. One of the first same sex marriages at PSG [Courtesy PSG Archives]

Finally, in Washington D.C., we caught up with witch and activist David Salisbury, who works for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He said:

This enormous victory really speaks for itself. For years I’ve been involved with fighting state-by-state and we’ve seen many victories and some losses. Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, I can’t wait to shift my focus on the other important areas where LGBT people are still not equal. In most states, you can now get married on Sunday and fired on Monday. We now need employment and housing nondiscrimination as soon as possible. But for now, I will celebrate here in DC with the many people involved in this movement, and in spirit with many others around the nation. Love won, and that deserves a celebration.

Agreeing with Salisbury, Circle Sanctuary minister Vic Wright from Kentucky said, “It is a blessed day when the Supreme Court chooses to uphold the law … Now on to the next issues.” In her reaction statement, Fox also looked forward, saying, “We need to be vigilant and take action to counter attempts by bigoted forces that already are planning to undermine this victory under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’ ” Of course, she is referring to the RFRAs, which could potentially be used to counter this ruling. Whether that happens or not is up for debate

California-based Heathen Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir also expressed the need to keep pressing for rights by offering this call-to-action, “The fire is hot, the iron is stoked and burning bright, let’s strike at other issues that affect the lives of the rest of us who live under the “rainbow umbrella … Let’s keep the pressure on our legislators to provide the protections and dignity that we deserve in every facet of our lives; queer, trans, bi, however one chooses to identify.” Read Odinsdottir’s full comment.

The HRC, as an organization, also agrees that there is much work to be done. After issuing its celebratory statement, it turned its focus immediately to remaining problems by sending out a second statement that called for all “state officials to remove obstacles to marriage equality immediately.” These obstacles, for example, include such things as the closed Alabama courthouses noted earlier by Hall, and the public response by Louisiana’s Governor. Just after the SCOTUS ruling, Gov. Jindal issued his own opposing statement, going as far as saying, “Let’s just get rid of the court.” Louisiana is one of the few states that didn’t issue licenses on Friday.

However, not all the remaining 13 states, which prior to Friday’s ruling didn’t issue same sex licenses, were opposed. Georgia reportedly issued the very first same-sex license after the ruling was issued. In Texas, people lined up to get married. Along with the ceremonies, celebrations have happened and will continue throughout the weekend.


Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

Kasha, a Wiccan Priestess from Florida who is currently serving as National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, called for a moment of remembrance. She said, “I … hope we pause during our celebrations to honor those involved in this struggle that did not live to see this day – those that inspired the fight, endured persecution and violence, and lived and died with secrets.” Read Kasha’s full comment.

And, Jesse Hathaway Diaz, proprietor of The Wolf and Goat, shared this advice going forward, “I’m a firm believer in the ladder principle – if you are going to ascend the ladder, you must bring someone up to your current rung, or you backslide. Nature abhors a vacuum. Let the ‘victory’ of today similarly be a tool. Bring others to the current rung – what we envision should be a reality. Do not be complacent. Share the success. Advance others….. Help others understand why it’s worth sharing. Help others be able to share it with us someday.” Read Hathaway’s full comment.


Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

On Thursday June 18, Pope Francis is scheduled to release a “teaching letter,” also called an encyclical, on the environment. This highly anticipated document will most likely become big news of the week as the Pope enters the debates on climate change. A recent New York Times article suggested that, through this work, he is “seeking to redefine a typically secular discussion within a religious framework.” Many activists, around the world, stand ready to applaud his efforts to publicly engage in the global Earth Stewardship conversation and, thereby, hopefully increase pressure on communities, businesses, organizations and governments to enact change.

To some Pagans and others, who already position the Earth or a connection to natural systems of place, at the center of their spiritual practice, the need for such a document might seem superfluous. However, the team who created the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment did a very similar thing. They made a public statement that clearly positions environmental protection within a spiritual framework.  Now, many Pagans view the pending encyclical as an opportunity to demonstrate, in a concrete fashion, that people of different religious beliefs can stand together for one cause. Writer John Halstead said:

I wonder if the timing of the publication of ‘A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment‘ and the papal encyclical on the environment might be an opportunity for the beginning of a rapprochement between Pagans and Christians. No doubt this will be difficult for both, as we tend to define ourselves in contrast to each other … It can be difficult to see this when we are immersed in our own distinct paths. But when we suddenly find those paths intersecting, as they are at this moment, perhaps we can reconsider whether we — and all other life on Earth — would be better served by emphasizing our similarities, rather than our differences.

As for the Pagan statement itself, it is now has 6, 272 signatures, coming from people all over the world and many religions.

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In the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, there is a small metaphysical store called Raven and Crone. Although the store has only been around a short time, it has been making headlines in one of the city’s local magazines. In a recent article in Capital at Play, writer Roger McCredie featured the store in an article titled “Raven & Crone: Asheville’s Most Bewitching Retailers: Wiccan Make This Work.”  McCredie writes, “In recent decades a saying has arisen that there are probably more Wiccans in the woods of Southern Appalachia than there are rabbits. The sentiment may be fairly new, but the fact it addresses is as old as human habitation of these mountains.” He refers largely to the traditional magical practices and spiritual beliefs found within the Appalachian region.

The store is owned by Lisa Svencicki and Kim Strobel. In the article, McCredie, who is not Pagan, interviews them both about their backgrounds, the decisions that led to the store’s birth and how they are doing. He writes, “Lisa and Kim saw the runic writing on the wall and decided the time was right to create a retail source that could serve the whole spectrum of Asheville’s growing alternative religion communities and also to cross-market to the general public.” The entire article, originally published in print, is available online. Raven & Crone, which bills itself as “the only only “Old Age” metaphysical supply store,” is located on Merriman Avenue near the University campus.

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Christopher Lee at the Women's World Awards 2009 in Vienna, Austria

Christopher Lee at the Women’s World Awards 2009 in Vienna, Austria

On June 7, actor Christopher Lee (1922-2015) passed way at the age of 93. Lee is remembered for a number of roles, including Dracula in group of Hammer Horror films and the Man with the Golden Gun in the James Bond film franchise (1974).  However, younger movie goers will recognize him as Count Dooku or Darth Tyranus in the Star Wars series (2002-2008), or as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2012-2014). And, many Pagans will also recognize him as Lord Summerisle in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man.

Lee was born in London in 1922; in the early years of the film industry. During WWII, he served as an “intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Patrol, a forerunner of the SAS, Britain’s special forces.” He returned to London in 1946 and began his illustrious acting career. After sixty-three years of work, Lee was knighted in 2009 for his contribution to the arts.  Known for his deep voice, Lee was also a singer and recorded a number of operas during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2010, at the age of 88, he recorded a symphonic metal album called “Charlemagne: By the Sword and Cross” and then in 2013 “Charlemagne: the Omens of Death.”

Lee’s career was extensive, full and long-lived. Through his artistic legacy and the characters he brought to life, he will continue to entertain generations to come.  What is remembered, lives.

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In Other News

  • Twin Cities Pagan Pride has just released details about its Paganicon 2016 conference. The theme for its 6th year will be “Sacred Traditions: Global Visions & Voices” and the guest of honor will be T.Thorn Coyle. Organizers said, “We walk this world together; we have different spiritual ways of interacting with our deities, our ancestors, our families, and our rites, but ultimately we share many similar traditions and techniques of relating to the sacred.” Next year’s event will celebrate and honor this diversity. Submissions for programming will be accepted later this week.  In addition, organizers are currently holding a related T-Shirt design contest. Entry rules are posted on the website. Paganicon 2016 will be held from March 18-20 at the Double Tree Park Place in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
  • Lydia M. Nettles Crabtree’s book Family Coven: Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft has just been released. Crabtree has been researching and writing this book for over ten years. She calls it a “comprehensive guide to developing a family oriented spiritual practice … covering the basics of communication, relationship building, finances and parenting.”
  • Coming in October is Cernnunos Camp, a five day festival devoted to the Horned God. Organizers say, “Come and feel the antlered mysteries and abandon yourselves in a celebration of wild unfettered worship of Him with hand, tooth, claw, hoof and feet. Bring your bodies, your drums and rattles, antlers, masks and other ceremonial tools.” Cernnunos Camp will take place from October 14-18 in Shropshire in the West Midlands of England. Tickets are now on sale.
  • Over at Patheos’ The Agora, Dana Corby recalls the making of the album “Songs for the Old Religion.” As the story begins: “In 1973, a friend of mine returned to Southern California from a visit to a Wiccan gathering in the Bay Area telling me about a musician he had met by the name of Gwydion Pendderwyn who had a songbook full of wonderful music … “  Corby then goes on to describe the process and spirit that led to actual recording of the music.  She writes, “We didn’t know we were pioneering anything, or that there would soon be a booming cottage industry in self-produced Pagan music. We just wanted to “show ‘em how it should be done!” This post, which is marked as part one, provides a nice look into some of the early history of the modern Pagan movement in the United States.

songs of old religion

  • On June 5, a writer for Motherboard published an article called “Pop Culture Pagans Who Draw Power From Tumblr.”  The article discusses the use of Pop Cultural icons within magical and religious practice, as well as the controversies surrounding it.  A number of Pagans were quoted or interviewed for the discussion, including author Christine Hoff Kraemer, lawyer and witch Emily Carlin, and editor Taylor Ellwood, who has published a number of books on Pop Culture Magick. In the Motherboard article, Carlin explains, “For those of us who grew up stewing in pop culture, using those ideas in magick seems only natural.” In addition, Carlin has published the writer’s full interview on her own site.
  • Organizers of the upcoming 2016 Pagan Music Festival have recently announced some changes to the spring event. Originally the festival was to be hosted by Dragon Hills in Bowdon, Georgia. However, those plans fell through. Organizers have successfully relocated the festival to Cherokee Farm in LaFayette, Georgia, which is only 2 hours north of its original location. In addition, the event has been renamed to The Caldera Pagan Music Festival. Organizers did add that programming ha not changed; more than 20 bands are scheduled to perform over the 4 days from May 26-30. More information can be found on their website.
  • Tomorrow, Ardantane Learning Center will begin a new “Teaching intensive with Ina White Owl and Amber K.”  The four week course will instruct students on how to “teach more powerfully and effectively,” including “creating lesson plans, working with psychic energies in classrooms, communicating on multiple levels, evaluating your own strengths as a teacher, and handling various other challenges.” Teacher and author Amber K is the executive director of Ardantane, which is located in the deserts of New Mexico. The teaching intensive will be held Tuesdays at 7 pm from June 16-July 7. Registration is now open.

That’s all for now,  Have a nice day!

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

We begin with two updates on stories previously reported:

  • A Georgia State House Committee completely tabled the pending SB129 “Religious Freedom Restoration” bill. The unexpected action reportedly killed the bill’s chances of enactment for the foreseeable future. This was the bill that prompted a public response from the Aquarian Tabernacle Church and multiple reactions from the local Wiccan community. Before being tabled, one legislators offered an amendment to ensure that the bill would not be used for discriminatory purposes. The addition read, “…and protecting persons against discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state, or local law.” However, several committee members were opposed to the addition, causing the RFRA to be tabled.
  • The Associated Press has added Wicca and Wiccan to the religion section of its stylebook. Last year, changes were made to the religion section of the popular guide book, used by journalists throughout the world. However those additions did not incorporate Pagan terms. We reported on this story last summer. Now, almost a year later, AP has included Wicca. The guide advises capitalizing the term in all cases and offers a brief definition.


In other news….

  • Last week, a conflict in Iceland finally ended when a road-building company was ordered to move an 87 ton rock considered to be an “Elf Church.” This particular rock was in the way of the road being constructed “between the Alftanes peninsula to Gardabaer.” According to several locals, who work closely with land spirits and the Icelandic elves, the rock is sacred and part of an “elf habitat.” In 2009, Hilmar Örn Hilmars­son, director of Ásatrúarfélagið, performed a rite at the site. After a year long battle beginning in 2014, the courts ordered the construction company to relocate the rock, which happened on March 18. Now, the road-building can continue and the rock is protected.
  • In February, Chicago’s Field Museum opened a new exhibit called “Vikings.” Organized by the Swedish History Museum and supported by Austria’s MuseumPartner, the exhibit seeks to take visitors beyond lore and Hollywood depictions to share real Viking history. Included in the showing are over 500 artifacts which serve as a window into Viking culture through craftmanship and mythology. ‘Vikings’ runs now through October. And, for those who have yet to see the Field Museum’s ‘Voudou: the Sacred Powers of Haiti,’ exhibit, it will be open until April 26.
  • In February, The Interfaith Observer, a “monthly electronic journal created to explore interreligious relations and the interfaith movement” offered a strong message of unity and devotion to the sacred Earth written by Phil Lane, a member of the Yankton Dakota and Chickasaw First. In this article, titled “An Indigenous Call for Restoring the Sacred,” Lane writes, “As we move courageously and wisely forward, in greater and greater love, compassion, justice, and unity, we are reconnecting to our enduring and unbreakable spiritual and cultural foundation for healing and reconciliation. Together we can move in a unified action to restore and protect the Sacred everywhere on Mother Earth.” 
  • As reported in Religion Dispatches, writer Joseph Laycock has released a new book called Dangerous Games. In an article entitled “My Childhood Hobby was Satanic, or so they told me,” Laycock describes how his love for Dungeon & Dragons was rejected as harmful by many adults. He writes, “Much like religion, these [role-playing] games create a new mental space from which players can look back on the world and their lives from a new perspective.” The book is a exploration of this topic and why Christians, and others, largely rejected the game as occult and dangerous.
  • Photojournalist Rony Zakaria’s work in Indonesia was featured in The New York Times on March 16. Zakaria journeyed to the mountains of the country and found people whose lives were deeply tied to the land, and whose beliefs “tend more to animism or paganism.” The Times quotes Zakaria describing how the trip became a personal journey as he learned about the deep connection made between the people and the land. He captures this profound experience in striking black and white photographs.
  • The IndiaTimes published an article on March 14 that listed the “13 religions from around the world that are just to weird to be mainstream.” Coming in at number seven was The Church of All Worlds, which the writer describes as “the largest neo-pagan religion in the world.” He includes a striking photo of Oberon Zell-Ravenheart holding a skull. The entry is directly followed by Jediism and the Creativity Movement.
  • There is no dearth of feel-good stories about humans interacting with animals on the internet. A recent one that made the rounds is a BBC story involving a little girl who feeds the crows and the many gifts that they have brought to her in return.
By Linda Tanner [CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

By Linda Tanner [CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

ATLANTA, Ga – It has been a year since we looked at the current debates over RFRAs or Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. In 2013, we reported on a Kentucky bill that had been prompted by concerns over the safety of Amish Buggies. In March 2014, Arizona’s infamous “anti-gay” bill was making news, and eventually vetoed. This past summer SCOTUS ruled in the Hobby Lobby case, raising awareness of the application of RFRA laws within society.

These are only three examples of a far reaching legislative battle over the boundaries and practical exercise of religious freedom. Basically, the debate comes down to whether we need more precise legislation to protect religious freedom or whether the state and federal constitutions are enough.

In the past month, the debate has flared up in the deep south. Up until February, there were two proposed “religious freedom” bills before Georgia’s state legislature. Representative Sam Teasley’s (R-Marietta) HB218 called “Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act,” and State Senator Josh McKoon’s (R-Columbus) SB129 called “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

When SB129 was approved by the Georgia State Senate on March 5, Teasley abandoned HB218 and joined in supporting McKoon’s bill as it moved into the House. Opponents are calling this bill the harshest state RFRA yet, because the bill is very open-ended in defining burden and religious exercise. For example, the bill reads:

‘Exercise of religion’ means any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief, including but not limited to the practice or observance of religion under Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, Article I of the 74 Constitution of this state or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, or the use, building, or conversion of real property for the purpose of religious exercise. [71-76]

The recent Senate approval raised the volume on the conversation, bringing out some new players, including Atlanta-resident Elton John. He said, “[SB129] claims to protect religious freedom and encourage tolerance. In reality, it encourages the same discrimination that’s haunted the South for too long.” John goes on to explain how the bill will target Atlanta’s LGBT community, calling it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” that will only “institutionalize the hate some people hold in their hearts.”

On March 11, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based in Washington state, published its own response to the Georgia bill. High Priest Dusty Dionne wrote:

We thank the state of Georgia for its forward thinking and dedication to religious freedom. It has been a reality long-held by Wiccans that the laws did not extend far enough toward our own exercise of religion [50-15A-2. line 71] to be truly encompassing of our freedom to worship. The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as passed by our illustrious president Bill Clinton, was a landmark move that opened the door for minority religions, and small local churches to have more safety to worship within their communities than ever before. This new bill will create sweeping changes that will open the doors for the Wiccans within Georgian communities to worship, work, and LIVE their religion to its fullest.

Dionne goes on to list a number of ways in which the Georgia RFRA will support Wiccan religious practice and lifestyles, including the growing of sacred plants and “multi-partner relationships.” Dionne told The Wild Hunt that in no way is that list of potential protections exhaustive.

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Dionne’s sent his article to all Georgia state senators as well as the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC). On March 13, AJC writer Jim Galloway responded in a post titled “An Unusual Voice enters the religious liberty debate.” Another local news site picked up on the story in a post titled, “Georgia’s Religious Freedom Act is Opposed by Elton John, But Supported by the Wiccans.”

It wasn’t long before ATC’s article began to pick up momentum in cyberspace. One writer said that the statement “will go down in the Annals of the History of Bluff-Calling,” and that he hopes “the Aquarian Tabernacle Church pushes this as far as they can.” A Heathen blogger simply said, “Honor to the Wiccans who came up with this one” and then contemplated whether Heathens should “try some humorous responses to discrimination as well.”

As Dionne’s article cycled around, Georgia Wiccans began to speak out, and many questioned Dionne’s approached. Atlanta-resident and blogger Sara Amis responded saying, “We can fight for our own,” pointing out the number of Wiccans present in the state. In “Pray Naked Re-Dux,” Amis wrote, “Dusty Dionne … greets this news with less hostility than I, also with a list of new freedoms the law could grant to Wiccans. (But he left out naked rituals in public! an oversight I’m sure.)” Having followed this debate since its beginnings, Amis goes on to say:

The Georgia state constitution already offers very robust protections to religious expression, even more than the First Amendment. Unnecessary laws are generally a pack of trouble on principle, and many people feel…I am one of them…that the only “protection” this will actually offer is for bigots in mainstream faiths.

Other Wiccans voiced direct frustration with ATC’s efforts. Like Amis, blogger and Wiccan Priestess Lydia M. Crabtree is opposed to RFRA legislation, but she expressed real concerns over the strategies used by the Washington-based ATC. She said that they “are confusing the issue.”

Agreeing with Crabtree is local Wiccan Priest Matthaios Theadoros. He said that he believes the article is “well-intended” but that he “uncomfortable” with the methodologies. Theodorus said, “Instead of working to undermine RFRA, I think it is only going to cast suspicion on Wicca.” He explained:

They are seeming to set up Wicca as one that participates in polyamory and insinuates some sort of questionable herb use. Though some Wiccans may be polyamorous, it is disingenuous to suggest that it is an inherent part of the religion. To suggest Wiccans should be exempt from urine or blood tests on the basis that Wiccans do not want others having our essence is going to come off as foolish at best and suspicious at worst considering that part comes after a section on allowing the use of certain herbs that cannot be locally grown

As Amis pointed out, the AJC reporter seemed to be “confused about whether [the ATC article was] a hoax.” And that was the overriding sentiment present in local reactions. Was ATC serious? Was it a hoax? Was it bluff? When asked, Dionne confirmed that he was indeed serious and explained:

If the bill goes through, this will be part of what we will be coaching Wiccans to accept as part of their rights, and then we will start dealing with winning the court cases, and that will cement our rights. Change can be made, and if they give us a framework of law that they think is going to give them exclusive religious rights, then what we are going to do is set our beliefs into that framework, and we legally should have the same expansion of our rights.

Dionne pointed out that this type of work is part of the ATC legacy. Peter Pathfinder was instrumental in past religious freedom battles. Dionne, now as the High Priest of the Keepers of the Gate ATC Mother Church, High Summoner of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church Intl. and Consort to the Arch Priestess Belladonna LaVeau, is compelled to pick up that baton. When asked why the Georgia bill and not the many others being proposed in other states, he said, “I am new in my position. Give me some time.”

And, there are many other RFRAs being debated currently. Americans United (AU) recently published an report on the various bills that have either “picked up steam” or “stalled out,” including the Federal RFRA.

As for Georgia’s bill, the debate rages on. Proponents continue to defend SB129’s non-discriminatory basis, and that it’s only purpose is to protect “people of faith” and their right to practice.

Opponents argue that the RFRA has nothing to do with religious freedom. Just yesterday, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination held a rally on the steps of the capitol to protest this point. Like many others, the group stresses that the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution are more than enough to ensure religious freedom in Georgia.

[Photo Credit: Ken Lund /Flickr]

State Capitol [Photo Credit: Ken Lund /Flickr]

However, there is one detail being overlooked in this entire conversation – one that may be of particular interest to Georgia’s Pagans and others practicing minority religions. The proposed bill references “Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, 19 Article I” of the Georgia constitution as the marker of the state’s religious freedom laws.This portion of the constitution reads, “Each person has the natural and inalienable right to worship God…”

Because of its open-ended language, SB129 actually nullifies that particular criteria. It defines the “Exercise of Religion” as “including but not limited to the practice or observance of religion under Paragraphs III and IV of Section I, Article I of the Constitution…” In other words, while the new bill may open doors to discriminatory behavior, abuse and similar stated issues, it also appears to be serving to undermine a section of Georgia’s state constitution that is, in the end, problematic itself.

The Georgia House is scheduled to vote on SB129 on April 2.

open_halls_squareAs first reported on the Norse Mythology Blog, the U.S. Army has not yet added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list. Dr. Karl Siegfried writes,”Over two months after being notified of approval, Army Heathens are now in a state of limbo.”

We spoke with Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project, who said, “The Chaplain backed away from his initial statement that the addition was approved,” and “he misread the speed in which the addition was going to be processed.” Heath said that the Open Halls Project will continue pressing for this recognition. He added, “The Army Corp of Chaplains has largely been helpful to us during this process. We particularly want to officially thank Chaplain Bryan Walker for his assistance. However, we also are growing increasingly frustrated that it has taken so long for this process to reach its finale. The Open Halls Project will continue to advocate for this addition, and will do everything in our power to ensure every soldier knows when it finally has been approved. Our soldiers deserve this recognition of their right to claim their faith. Heathenry is about a commitment to one’s community, a gift of service. The US Army has the duty now to return that gift as is our custom.”

*   *   *

Judy_Harrow_Award_Photo_CleanAs we reported last week, Judy Harrow was “honored by The Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ) division of the American Counseling Association (ACA).” She had been nominated in January by Michael Reeder, LCPC. At a special award luncheon Friday, a member of the Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) faculty accepted the Ohana award on Harrow’s behalf. CHS Director Holli Emore said, “Ms. Harrow was crucial to the development of Cherry Hill Seminary early on, building our pastoral counseling department into a program which would meet professional standards as well as the needs of the growing Pagan community.”

The award itself will be housed for viewing at the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) in Delaware. Board member Michael G. Smith said, “Ms. Harrow was an avid supporter of the New Alexandrian Library. She recognized the need for the Contemporary Paganism to preserve its history and cultural artifacts for future generations so they would be able to have a greater appreciation and understand their roots, their beginnings. She felt so passionately that she left her personal library in her last will and testament to the NAL. It is a great pleasure for us to see her work celebrated by her colleagues and we are honored to house her award, along with her collection, at the Library.”

 *   *   *

downloadThe Dragon Hills Retreat and Right Time, Right Place Productions will be hosting a spring Pagan Music Festival in 2016. Over Memorial Day weekend, musicians from around the world will come together in Bowdon, Georgia to perform at this private 30-acre campground and event center. According to the most recent updates, the festival will host over 20 bands, as well as100 vendors and more.

Currently booked to perform are: SJ Tucker, Sharon Knight, Celia, Tuatha Dea, Wendy Rule, Damh the Bard, Witch’s Mark, Murphy’s Midnight Rounders, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, Spiral Rhythm, Dragon Ritual Drummers, Elaine Silver, Mama Gina, Beltana Spellsinger, and Robin Renée. Organizers say that more performers will be added and tickets are already on sale. They added that “a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit Katie’s Krops.”

In Other News

  • This Friday will be the soft launch of the new site Gods & Radicalsborn out of a PantheaCon presentation made by Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie. On Friday, they will publish their first essay by Jason Thomas Pitzl. Other essays will follow periodically until the site is in full operation. Writers currently scheduled include Asa West, Lorna Smithers, and Sean Donahue. Gods & Radicals has been garnering much buzz in the community. When its facilitators made a call for submissions, the response was overwhelming. The site will publish works that focus on anti-capitalism, environmentalism and social change. They write, “We Pagans are trying to re-enchant the world, to bring back the magic of the forests and the mountains. We are trying to hear and revere the wild places the sacred forgotten places, the spirits of ocean and rivers and lakes.” 
  • Manannan mac Lir was back in the news again when the Limavady Council decided that the original statue was far too damaged to repair and that they would be erecting a replacement. According to the Derry Journal, the Council said that “a new sculpture should be made by John Darren Sutton at a cost of £9,950 and erected on Binevenagh.” The old statue will be on display as tourist attraction. However, as the decision was made, there was some outcry. According to the Belfast Telegraph, one local councilor believes that the “plan to use the damaged sculpture of a Celtic sea god as a tourist attraction would promote paganism and false gods.”
  • In another part of the world, ancient statues, relics and other historic sites are being pillaged and destroyed by ISIL. The destruction of these treasured artifacts has upset many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. One California Pagan, Jack Prewett has called for a Global Day of Mourning on April 18. Prewett calls the destruction a “tragedy for humankind” and says,“Let us mourn the loss of our history, our heritage. Cry for those that will come after us and know that once we had our history in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.” Why did Prewett choose April 18?  That is the U.N.’s World Heritage Day.
  • Last fall, in the heart of Arkansas, a group organized to host the first ever Pagan Pride event in Conway. According to reports, they had over 300 attendees, which far exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, the city of Conway has since passed an ordinance prohibiting all vendor sales on park property. Organizers said, “This means that we wouldn’t be able to have vendors, our singers and presenters wouldn’t be able to sell their merchandise, and there wouldn’t be any concessions! The only option that the city has given us is to rent out the Conway Expo Center.” If the organizers follow through, the event will cost significantly more money. The organization is now reaching out to the community for help through a GoFundMe campaign.
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based in Washington state, has recently released several statements responding to the most recent attempts to enact a religious freedom restoration act (RFRAs), specifically in the state of Georgia. The ATC’s statements have created buzz in the mainstream media, the Pagan blogosphere and local Georgia Wiccan community. We are currently working on this developing story and will bring you the details of the debate on Wed.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

[Remember our Fall Fund Drive is still going on. Your support and your donation is what make our work possible. If you like reading our articles and commentary daily, please consider donating today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

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

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

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

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

The Satanic Temple's Children's Activity Book

Created by The Satanic Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo Credit: Flickr’s Liz cc-lic]

[Articles like the one below take time, travel resources, research and money. If you like our work and want to help us continue to share stories about Pagan involvement in global peace efforts and other news like it, please consider donating to our fall fundraising efforts and sharing our IndieGoGo link. Your contributions and support are what make our work possible. Thank you very much.]

On Saturday, Sept. 27, a gala was held in Atlanta to kick off the year leading up to the 2015 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Next year’s event is scheduled to be the largest meeting of Nobel Laureates in history and will be held at Phillips Arena and the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta Nov. 15-19, 2015. Saturday’s pre-event gala, sponsored by the local Summit planning committee, attracted politicians, world dignitaries and Nobel Laureates such as Jimmy Carter and Muhammad Yunus. Among the crowd of 500 sitting under the courtyard tent of the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead was Rev. Patrick McCollum and his World Peace Violin.

World Peace Violin [Photo  Cedit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Cedit: H.Greene]

Over this past year, the violin has reached a new level of prominence in Rev. McCollum’s international peace efforts. Just in the last month, the violin was played at the World Peace Concert in Tahoe, and then in New York City’s Central Park on International Peace Day. It has traveled the world from the Himalayas to the streets of Manhattan.

A few hours before Saturday’s Atlanta gala, we caught up with Rev. McCollum as well as Nell Rose Phillips, executive director of the Patrick McCollum Foundation, and world-renowned violinist Scarlet Rivera. While relaxing together at the hotel, they shared their story and their plans for the violin’s future.

The violin itself was created by Rev. McCollum without the aid of instrument artisans or instructions. As the story goes, McCollum wanted a physical symbol of world peace to carry around with him while doing his work. He had no idea what that symbol could possibly be, so he performed a ritual asking for spiritual guidance. McCollum knew that he wanted it to represent the “diversity of culture and ideas” in the world, while still maintaining a connection “to the sacred universal voice.” The very next day, he received the magazine Scientific American and, on its cover, was the answer – a Stradivarius violin.

Rev. McCollum immediately went to work on making what would become the world peace violin. As he says, it’s spirit was born from “Goddess magic.” But the actual instrument was physically constructed from a variety of ethically-attained, sacred woods from around the world. For example, the front piece was carved from wood native to Africa. The back was created out of sacred woods given to him by a California-based Coalition of Native American tribes. On its base, there is an inlaid carving made from an Irish Willow Tree that grew out of a sacred well. And, the list goes on.

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

World Peace Violin [Photo Credit: H.Greene]

The violin’s varnish was also developed in the same manner, through the combining of elements from around the world. Rev. McCollum says that varnish mix includes dust from Hiroshima taken just after the bombs went off in 1945 and shell fragments from the battle of Iwo Jima. The varnish also contains sands from Israel “collected from the baptism site of Jesus during Arab-Israeli peace talks in Jordan;” the ashes of a white buffalo “gifted to him by an Anaswabi Chief;” and sacred oil from Rev. McCollum’s own magical tradition. He says, “This is all symbolism.” He wants the instrument to be the world’s violin, created by the world of the world.

As the story continues, when the violin was was finished, McCollum gave it to someone to play. It sounded awful. Therefore he went back to the drawing board; took it completely apart and put it back together. He did this nine times. When the sound still wasn’t right, McCollum turned back to meditation. In doing so, he says that the Goddess instructed him to dunk the violin in the Ganges River. His friends thought he was crazy, but he did it anyway. The violin soaked in the river for 3-4 minutes. When it finally dried out, the instrument had found its voice.

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlet Rivera [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Scarlett Rivera, a world-renowned violinist, first played McCollum’s violin in Tahoe at the World Peace Concert in September. A few months earlier, a mutual friend had connected Rivera with McCollum. When she heard about what he had done, she says that she was not at all concerned about the homegrown instrument’s sound quality. She called the connection “destiny.” Rivera believes that she was “directed to” the violin as it has become a symbol and agent of global efforts for peace.

Rivera described the world peace violin as “a conduit – a special voice – that reaches the higher realms” as it spreads its sound through a room. Having always “followed a path of human rights, spirituality and peace,” she said that playing the world peace violin is one of the “greatest gifts in her life.” In doing so, she blends her beliefs and activism with her music, a possibility that she called “deeply meaningful.”

Rivera added, “This was not coincidence. I move with the hand of fate and I am open to it.” With the passion of both a musician and peace advocate, Rivera describes how the violin’s sound has changed over time. She called it nothing short of spectacular, saying, “As each person blesses the violin, the sound dramatically changes. It sings now in a way it didn’t just three weeks ago.”

Both Nell Rose Phillips and Rev. McCollum agree. They take the violin to every event, whether it is to be played or not. Wherever they go, even at meals between events, they will ask people to bless the violin. To date, many hands have touched the instrument from, as McCollum adds, “the poor and homeless to dignitaries and kings. This is the instrument of the world.”

Patrick McCollum having children bless violin at Phoenix & Dragon [Courtesy of Candace Apple]

Patrick McCollum having children bless violin at Phoenix & Dragon [Courtesy of Candace Apple]

On the Thursday evening prior to the Atlanta gala, Rivera, McCollum and Phillips spoke with a small local crowd at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore, a metaphysical shop in the northern suburb of Sandy Springs. McCollum gave a talk on peace efforts and the purpose of the violin. Rivera played the instrument, and all attendees were asked to bless it. Owner Candace Apple said:

We were honored at Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore to have Rev. Patrick McCullom, Scarlet Rivera and the World Peace Violin share the “Journey to Peace” and its beautiful healing energy. May all the hearts of the world be touched by its song.

During the gala itself, Rivera performed a piece that she composed specifically for that night called “Journey to Peace.”  As has become a tradition, McCollum also welcomed the attending dignitaries to bless the instrument; thereby adding their own individual energy into its voice.

Muhummed Yunus blessing World Peace Violin [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

Muhummed Yunus blessing World Peace Violin [Courtesy of the Patrick McCollum Foundation]

With this increase in visibility, Phillips is building a new website dedicated specifically to the world peace violin. It will contain an appearance schedule, its story as well as photos of people blessing the instrument from around the world. They already have had a number of new requests for violin performances at various, upcoming international peace events. This includes next year’s November World Nobel Peace Laureate Summit in Atlanta.

In the meantime, this coming November the instrument will be heading to Los Angeles for its first-ever, professional recording session. Rivera will be playing a composition written by Yuval Ron specifically for this purpose. The composition is called “Voices of Peace,” composed for a solo violin. While they do not know exactly how the recording will be used in their work, McCollum, Phillips and Rivera do promise that it will be made available to the public in some way to inspire others in the nurturing of world peace.

The immigration of unaccompanied minors is not new to the U.S. border patrol or the country as a whole. However, as reported by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, the number of these children has more than doubled over the past year from 31,491 to 62,998. According to reports, the recent wave is due to an increase in refugees from Central American countries. Many of these children are victims of domestic or civic violence, drug wars and other forms of extreme abuse. Obama has called the problem an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

Refugee Teenager [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

In recent months, the immigration story has been all over the news as the American political engine steams ahead in its attempts to grapple with the crisis at its southern borders. Although the number of incoming children has dropped significantly since June, officials expect the number to rise again once the heat of summer wanes. Even if that doesn’t happen, there are still many children living in U.S. or Mexican detention facilities and shelters waiting for something, anything.

Will these young refugees be deported back to the violence and strife of their homelands? Will they ever see their families again? Will they be allowed to stay in the U.S. and, if so, what will become of them once here?

In spite of the “urgent humanitarian situation” and any failings in the immigration system, hope does find some of these children. In recent months, the U.S. Government has sent a large number of unaccompanied minors into communities that already have large, thriving Central American immigrant populations. With the help of a sponsor, these children can start school and a whole new life.

In one such town in Georgia, a public school system is readying itself for another large influx of Central American refugees. The Dalton City Schools of northwest Georgia has created a special program to assist unaccompanied immigrant children adapt to their new life. The “Newcomer Academy,” established within the city’s Morris Innovative High School, was specifically created to cater to children who have fled Central America. School Official, Caroline Woodson told a local news station:

Really the big challenge for our students doesn’t even come with academics. It comes with feeling safe and feeling that they have adults they can trust.

Over the past year, Georgia alone has received over 1,100 immigrant children. Other states, such as Florida and Texas, have also received large groups of these children. With the help of state-funding, private advocacy groups, personal sponsors and extended-family members, the children are acclimated to the classrooms and given a new “lease on life.”

However, not every child can find a sponsor, can reconnect with family, or has the resources needed to open an entry point into U.S. system. For those children left behind or those yet to arrive, there are organizations advocating for their care, raising funds for legal fees, and performing community outreach to raise awareness.

Fence with prayer ribbons [Courtesy T. Thorn Coyle]

Fence with prayer ribbons [Courtesy T. Thorn Coyle]

For example, in Arizona, the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP) provides “free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Arizona.” Similarly, in Texas, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) “promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.” In California, an organization called Pangea strives to “stand with immigrant communities and to provide services through direct legal representation, especially in the area of deportation defense.”

To continue the work, these nonprofit advocacy organizations need money. Recently, several Pagan groups have come out in support of these organizations’ efforts to protect the rights of unaccompanied immigrant minors. Using their own voices, these Pagans are attempting to amplify a message of need.

On June 20, Come As You Are Coven (CAYA) launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for FIRRP in Arizona. Priestess Amata Maia writes:

We are looking to create a miracle for the many unaccompanied children who have been crossing the border into Arizona and Texas. These children are fleeing the gang violence in Central America and Mexico.  Many of them have lost their families to this violence and are trying desperately to escape the same fate. Currently there are so many children coming in that they are being warehoused like cattle. 

The fundraising goal was set at $500 and has raised, to date, $815.

T. Thorn Coyle leading prayer [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

T. Thorn Coyle leading prayer [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

On Thursday, T. Thorn Coyle participated in a vigil outside the San Francisco Federal Building with other community religious leaders. The group gathered together to ask Obama to expedite the immigration processes for unrepresented children and to draw attention to the crisis. Coyle read the vigil’s opening prayer. In retrospect, she said:

[I] called upon Demeter to give us strength. I called on she who knows what it is to grieve for a child, and she who perseveres. And I asked Tonantzin, Goddess of the Americas, to bless and protect the children. I then led a chant to these Goddesses and to the children at the border.    

In addition to a diversity of faith leaders, the vigil was attended by several children and adults who had survived the crossing. They also spoke out, sharing their lived horrors and tears of suffering. Thorn recalls:

A young man approached me to thank me for being there. I’d seen him singing along with my chant. He was the child of a deportee … I listened to the testimony of a family only recently escaped from El Salvador. They were all in tears. The father refused to work for the drug gangs and was killed. The women of the family were raped, and threatened. They are staying with a brother and may still be returned. 

Coyle was not the only Pagan at Thursday night’s vigil. Claire “Chuck” Bohman, an Interfaith minister and Reclaiming Witch, was also there to lend an ear and voice. She said:

The truth is that the vast majority of us are immigrants here. One side of my family were German immigrants who first migrated to Canada and walked across the border before they settled on a farm in Ohio. In a different time and place, the children of the border could have been my grandmother. I invite you to take a breath and connect with your ancestors. How is it that they came to live on this land? Who did they displace when they settled? 

Both Bohman and Coyle expressed compassion for the children but also a sense of civic duty. Bohman says:

The problems in these countries are connected with NAFTA and US foreign and economic policy. We have an obligation to these children and it’s time for the U.S. government to act … Obama has the power to intervene and we join together across our differences to call for justice for these children and justice for immigrants.

Coyle agrees, saying “This is our problem. We helped create this situation and we are honor bound to deal with the results. That is what adults do.”

Claire "Chuck" Bohman With Rev. Israel Alvaran [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

Claire “Chuck” Bohman With Rev. Israel Alvaran [Courtesy of T. Thorn Coyle]

Solar Cross Temple has begun raising money to help RAICES fund the mandated legal processes that enable unaccompanied minors to leave detention centers and enter U.S communities. Coyle also emphasizes that there are other ways to get involved. The California Endowment is digitally collecting letters of support for the “border children.” Vigils continued to be held across the country, like the one in San Francisco or the one held last night by Humanity is Borderless. Coyle also recommends contacting local governments about “offering homes to children locally” or finding ways of supporting those communities already open, such as Dalton, Georgia.

Coyle has hope saying, “In my heart, I know that we can learn to treat one another better. We can act from our true strength and offer one another compassion.”


On June 30 Phil Kent, an appointee to Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board, concluded a televised roundtable discussion on same-sex marriage by saying that he hoped “the pagans’ and the left’s values do not prevail because that’s not the Judeo-Christian culture that made this country great.” In uttering those words, Kent has joined several prominent figures who have, in recent months, used the term “pagan” as a slur, or as means of labeling an amorphous “other” in seeming opposition to their interpretation of Christian values.

Christian organizer David Lane, who is doing outreach work on behalf of Senator Rand Paul, recently inveighed against a “pagan onslaught” that includes “pagan public schools, pagan higher learning and pagan media.” Meanwhile, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput says that “many self-described Christians” are “in fact pagan,” spurring other Catholics to try and spin his comments in a way that won’t offend other Christians. Joining the Archbishop, Irish Catholic clergy believe their countrymen “have, to all intents and purposes, become pagan,”  and so on, and so on, and so on it goes.

David Lane

David Lane

“Where are the champions of Christ to save the nation from the pagan onslaught imposing homosexual marriage, homosexual scouts, 60 million babies done to death by abortion and red ink as far as the eye can see on America? Who will wage war for the Soul of America and trust the living God to deliver the pagan gods into our hands and restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture?”David Lane, 2013

For the most part, these people aren’t explicitly talking about us capital-P modern Pagans (except when they are), they’re invoking an idea, a giant egregore that encapsulates all that is “other” than Christianity, or to be more precise, anything that is outside the boundaries of a very narrow and particular kind of Christianity.  It’s a slur of disgust, one that frames the target in complete opposition to all that Christians hold dear. It doesn’t matter if it’s Earth Day celebrations, or same-sex unions. This dualistic ‘Christians versus the “pagan” Other’ paradigm has done more to erode interfaith relations, and the social standing of Christianity in the West, than many of that faith’s real problems or opponents could have ever done.

“Christians have alienated gays and lesbians and their families, friends, and sympathetic allies, driving many away from the love of Jesus Christ and contributing to the secularization of American culture. They have done a great deal to create hostility to the church and closed ears to the Gospel. The saddest cases are the church’s own rejected gay and lesbian adolescents and twentysomethings. They are legion. Christians have contributed to the fear in society that millions of Americans are unable to tell the difference between the church and the state, or between the demands of their faith on themselves vs. the demands of their faith on those who do not share it. This contributes to secularization and weakens respect for legitimate concerns about protecting a zone of religious liberty for religious dissenters.”

The use of the word “pagan” as a slur, as a tool to label enemies, has a corrosive effect, particularly when it comes to those religious groups that claim Pagan (or Heathen) as a descriptor. Would Christian clergy in Florida have reacted so strongly to the reality of a Pagan festival near them, necessitating some quick outreach to prevent a protest, if the term didn’t immediately summon up images of depravity and evil within their minds? This existential dread, sourced in the Christian narrative of battle against false gods and idols, of persecution that turns to triumph, is pushed like a button by ideologues and conspiracy theorists to get their audience engaged, scared, and ready to do what’s necessary to “win.” The actual human lives of the Pagans (or “pagans”) are rarely considered in these contexts, or if they are, only in terms of pity or imperious judgment. Pagan author and commentator Gus diZerega, who has done a considerable amount of outreach to Christians, once wisely noted that the figure of the “pagan” strikes to the heart of a religious peril that was supposed to have been vanquished long ago.

“We have arisen within a Christian culture, a very self confident one, and we explicitly reject its Abrahamic spiritual tradition as being good for us. Not only that, we look to the pre-Christian past for inspiration and grounding. We represent the rise of something Christian leaders thought they had vanquished long ago, and we should never forget that initial vanquishing involved the sword far more than persuasion. Add religious liberty and the outcome would have been far different. For the most rabid of our attackers, our reappearance also seems evidence that we are in the end times, a time of religious war, at least for the likes of Dispenastionalists.”

Our very existence brings this often-uttered metaphor to life, and touches something ugly in the process. It is imperative that Christians and modern Pagans collectively move beyond what Paul Louis Metzger calls “lampoon tract propaganda” if we are to share a civil society together. An important first step in this process is to realize that words have power, and that constantly invoking the “pagan” as symbol for that which you oppose has real-world consequences.

In this modern, transient, and digitally-driven world, we find ourselves frequently discussing the meaning, development, make-up or even the apparent death of “community.”  For Pagans, this can be a particularly profound discussion due to the incredible diversity in our faith and practice.  How do we develop and nurture a positive and lasting Pagan solidarity across differences in belief and tradition?

Community Wreath

In Atlanta, the answer has come in the form of a wreath. In the spring of 2012, Lady Charissa, senior priestess of North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), began a community wreath project that has now been going for over nine months. She explains:

The idea behind [the wreath] is for people, groups, or covens to add a ribbon to the wreath symbolizing how connected we all are. We are connected to the people we like and work with; connected to the people we’ve never met, connected to the people that we don’t care for. All of these people, friends… make a community. By connecting to this wreath we are bringing …[manifesting] cohesiveness for the Pagan community. (From the NGS Website)

Several years ago, Lady Charissa and a fellow Atlanta Pagan, Kieran Nightstar successfully incorporated a unity wreath into an NGS Samhain ritual. The work proved beneficial and inspirational to all attending. In 2012, Lady Charissa decided to resurrect this idea when she was asked to lead an Ostara ritual at the Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas, an annual festival celebrating Pagan life. Lady Charissa remarked:

I had not considered making the wreath a long term project.  But, when I was leading the ritual and passing the wreath around, the words just came to me. “We will pass the wreath around the community during the coming year.”

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa
North Georgia Solitaries

She started getting calls the very next week. Pagans from all over the Atlanta-area wanted to participate in her community wreath project. A few short months later, that simple grapevine circular form was covered with a menagerie of ribbons representing both solitary Pagans and covens throughout the north Georgia community.

Over the past 9 months, the wreath has been passed around the local community attending private sabbat rituals and open festivals. In September, the wreath traveled to Alabama to attend the first annual Auburn Pagan Pride Day.  As leader of the open ritual, Lady Charissa incorporated the wreath project into the evening’s work. Then, late in October, the wreath was displayed at both Atlanta’s and Savannah’s Pagan Pride events.

To date, more than eight covens and organizations, representing different Pagan traditions and faiths, as well as countless solitaries have participated in building Pagan solidarity through this community wreath.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how many people have wanted to bring the wreath into their circles and to be a part of this project. It has grown far past my original idea.

On Yule, my own group had the wreath. We tied our ribbons into its tapestry.  It was indeed transformative as we looked over the rainbow of interwoven ribbons – some from friends and others from strangers, but all a part of the community.  Through our shared experience, we were immediately connected.

In the upcoming months, the community wreath will continue to makes its way through Georgia’s Pagan world. Lady Charissa hasn’t firmly decided on its final destination. She said, “At this point, I will just see where [the project] wants to go, doing my best to facilitate the journey.”  Right now, she plans to circle the project back to its starting place at the 2013 Ostara ritual for Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas. From there, the wreath will grow in new ways, as Lady Charissa notes, just as “the community energy grows.”

Wreath building is one symbolic way that we can nurture Pagan solidarity within our diverse world. Have your local communities used any methods, magickal or otherwise, to bridge gaps, to build and maintain community in an effort to foster Pagan solidarity?  What ways have you used?