Archives For Georgia

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?

In the growing darkness of November, the sacred fires are lit by the wisdom keepers of our age!

Thanksgiving TurkeyIt’s Sunday again. Last week, I wrote about the growing popularity of one U.S. holiday – Halloween. Now, a week has passed and, collectively speaking, America has turned its attention to yet another holiday – Thanksgiving. With that shift come new decorations, sacred family traditions, and most importantly, a squeaky-clean mythos involving a big ship, a bunch of Pilgrims, and of course, the “Indians.”

With that in mind let’s consider reversing the thread from last week’s post in which I examined a spiritual holiday going secular. What if we ushered in a secular holiday, Thanksgiving, with a definitively spiritual experience? What if we could reach into that modern American mythos to find a deeper meaning through a connection to the very spirit that resides within these lands? What if we could celebrate that spirit in a traditional way with the elders of the indigenous populations?

Creek Elder Sam Proctor

Sam Proctor
Muskogee (Creek)

This past weekend, the Sacred Fire Foundation made this a real possibility. In Atlanta, Georgia, the Foundation hosted its annual Ancient Wisdom Rising retreat. The annual event is a gathering of community elders from a across the globe who guard that ancient spirit – the one that emanates from deep within the Earth. Each year, these wisdom keepers come together to share their stories, offer counsel, and demonstrate the ancient traditions that have survived for centuries.

Over the years the retreat has been held in a variety of locations including California, Washington State and New York. This year the event was back on the East Coast. Coming to Georgia, specifically, was a powerful choice for the Foundation because it paved the way for a spiritual and ancestral reunion for one of the visiting elders: Sam Proctor. As written by their Board of directors:

“Almost two centuries since the removal of his People from Georgia, Mr. Sam Proctor, respected Muscogee (Creek) spiritual leader from Oklahoma, returns to the shores of the Chattahoochee River to share his message of peace and time-tested wisdom about a heart-centered way of living.”  (From Ancient Wisdom Rising, September Newsletter)

Marie Junaluska

Marie Junaluska
Cherokee Elder

After visiting the retreat site near the banks of the Chattahoochee, Mr. Proctor said, “The Ancestors are still here.” During the weekend, he shared Muskogee traditions and, with other members of the Muskogee Nation, led a traditional Social Fire Dance welcoming the attendees to the land of his ancestors.

Joining him was Marie Junaluska, a Cherokee elder living in Western North Carolina and Kevin Welch, Cherokee Master Gardener. Their people’s ancestral heritage can be traced to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, Western North Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee. Like the Creek, the Cherokee were forcibly removed from Georgia and made to walk the infamous, “Trail of Tears.” Despite this painful history, the Cherokee spirit lives on.  Ms. Junaluska has been sharing, teaching and passing on the Cherokee culture and traditions for over thirty years.  And, Kevin Welch speaks out for the preservation of heirloom plants and growing techniques native to this Southern landscape and the Cherokee people.

Grandmother Walking Thunder

Grandma Walking Thunder
Navajo Medicine Woman

In addition, Ancient Wisdom Rising welcomed two other elders from North American indigenous cultures. Grandmother Walking Thunder, a healer and sand painter, shared the spirit of the Dine’ Medicine People (Navajo) and her experiences as a medicine woman. Coming from Alaska, Larry Merculieff of the Aleut Peoples shared the Aleutian teachings on the Oneness with Nature and the Great Womb of life. He is a one of the last Aleuts to be fully raised in the traditional way.

Larry Merculieff Speaks:

The Sacred Fire Foundation also invited wisdom keepers from cultures originating outside of the U.S. Sobonfu Some’ of the Dagara Peoples of West Africa’s Brukina Faso shared the traditions of her people.

From Southern Asian traditions, Marcy Vaughn, a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, led a visualization and a talk on compassion. And, Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami, a Sufi from Pakistan and a 17th generation musician, shared the healing powers of sound and music.

 

Marcy Vaughn

Marcy Vaughn
Tibetan Buddhism and Bon

Not everyone has the opportunity to attend a comprehensive inter-spiritual event like this. However, in reading the stories and watching the videos, it is possible to understand why these elders are reaching out to help humanity through their ancient traditions. More importantly, it is possible to understand how their teachings can help us rediscover our own connection to the Earth and benefit our journey, no matter what the path.

Once again, my thoughts return to the secular Thanksgiving – a holiday that focuses on community, compassion, tradition, and natural abundance. Can we re-sculpt the mythos to breathe a new spiritual life into that holiday? The story centers on an indigenous population, the “Indians,” teaching the new inhabitants, the Pilgrims, about the land and its creatures. It ends in a peaceful shared community feast that we now replicate every November.

Can we bring the spiritual into the secular? Can we transform this myth to focus on the teachings of the wisdom keepers who strive to bring humanity back into balance with Nature? Can we rededicate Thanksgiving to that ever sacred and shared wisdom that passes effortlessly from hand-to-hand, from drum beat to drum beat, from the heart to the heart through the eternal spirit fires of this wonderful Earth? And what if we did….

 

Earth

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

 

An Aside: I realize that there may be some readers who are not well-versed in Native American history, specifically that of the South East, or know much about Thanksgiving. Click on the following links for quick background reads:

About Thanksgiving from The History Channel
Native Americans in Georgia: Link Page with lots of Information. Or, go directly to the Cherokee‘s or Muscogee‘s site.

Heck Yea!

As a whole, we, Americans, live in a Christian-based culture. Our calendar alone demonstrates that fact. If this were a Jewish culture, we could shop at Wal-Mart on Dec 25th. If this were a Pagan culture, the 12,000 lb Times Square crystal ball would drop on Oct 31st – not Dec 31st. And the festivities would end with a mass scrying led by Ryan Seacrest himself. However, for better or worse, the framework of our culture is, at its very core, Christian.

While this Christian cultural-bias manifests differently in varying regions, it is most definitely pronounced in the South Eastern U.S. – the area studied in the Jews on First article that prompted the original question. It ain’t called the Bible Belt for nothing. Many of the most memorable evangelical icons are from the Southern U.S. such as Jerry Falwell, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Bible Man. But, if you need statistical proof, look no further than the Pew Forum demographics maps.

Until moving South, I had never felt the “otherness” that comes with being a religious minority – not Jewish or Pagan. I was raised in the relative comfort of New York’s cultural heterogeneity in which religion is a private family matter isolated from secular life. Even when God was mentioned in public school, nobody noticed. We could have been saying, “One Nation under Goats” and it would have had the same spiritual impact.

Tour BusHowever, Southern culture is very different. The South has been marinating in evangelical Christianity for so long that it permeates all aspects of southern life, even the secular. As expressed by native Georgian, Amy Ray, of the Indigo Girls, “…once you get raised on Jesus, it is kind of always a part of you even if you are a pagan.” (WNYC, 2012) In other words, in the South, goats are never confused with Gods.

Why? Historically-speaking, the South was an agrarian-based society that was founded on small towns, city squares and Friday night football. At its very center was the Church acting as both the town’s religious and social foundation. This idea is summed up in the Southern Baptist Convention’s “faith and message” statement:

“All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society.”

And, this is how religious doctrine seeped into secular Christian culture. These small towns were, and still are, a living Venn diagram in which religion, culture and government merge at the walls of the Church.

If everyone in town is Christian, nobody minds – a scenario common to these rural areas. For example, in Alabama, the Jackson County School Board openly supported the on-campus preaching of Horace Turner, a.k.a Bible Man. Local State Senator Shradack McQuill remarked, “We need God in the public schools” adding that unhappy parents should just home-school. Clearly, this educational program is unconstitutional. However, when the Board voted, there was nobody to object. Therefore, today, Jackson County’s Bible Man continues to …do whatever a Bible Man does.

Even in the larger cities, this Church-centered mentality remains ingrained within the collective culture. In the South, you are not asked, “What is your religion?” You are asked, “What Church do you attend?” That alone speaks volumes. So, taking this Christian-infused secular tradition and adding it to the aggressive “outreach” policy of the dominant Southern Baptist church, you have a society in which Jesus sits on every street and attends every event.

One World Spiritual CenterTo better illustrate, let me refer back to the Jews on First article that focused on children living in two adjacent suburbs of Atlanta: East Cobb and Roswell. Roughly, within a 5 mile radius, there are four synagogues and a Jewish Community Center. Within that area, you will also find a large representation of Christian sects, including Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Korean, Chinese, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian, Coptic, and more. There’s an Islamic Center and a New Age store. Moreover, East Cobb boasts the One World Spiritual Center – a Church that embraces alternative faiths such as New Thought Christians, Pagans, Hindus, and Baha’i.

Without a doubt, East Cobb is one of the most religiously diverse suburbs of Atlanta. The interfaith love is so strong there that the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection and Temple Etz Chaim, who share a parking lot, periodically use their marquis’ to offer holiday blessings to each other. “Shana Tova,” reads the Lutheran marquis. “Happy Easter,” reads the Temple’s. In December, it’s like a tennis match of marquis well-wishes.

Despite all of that diversity, local students’ are still faced with the frustrating experiences illustrated by Jews on First. Yes, Cobb County did put “creationism” stickers in the science texts. Yes, the student-run Fellowship of Christian Athletes is allowed to paper school walls with advertising. Yes, the Sojourn Church uses a public middle school for Sunday worship. And, yes, the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, a so-called megachurch, dominates East Cobb’s landscape, aggressively seeking to convert the “unchurched” with its youth and school outreach programs.

(An aside: I will omit my comments on the Boy Scouts’ and Girl Scouts’ presence within the elementary school classrooms. That particular subject would require a soap box, a microphone and sedative.)

Cobb County Creationism Disclaimer

Setting aside blatant proselytizing, the Southern tradition of a Church-based culture persists even within the diversity-rich suburbs of East Cobb and Roswell. The local churches run many of the community programs such as sports leagues, music conservatories, gymnastics programs, art classes, day-care centers and summer camps. Every church has a pumpkin patch in October and an evergreen forest in December.

“Why don’t you join the Church’s league? It’s just basketball. There isn’t any religious teaching.” But, it’s not just basketball. It means something more. Why? Because it means something here in this Southern environment. Because in that Church, even without a pre-game prayer, we, the non-Christians, are the aliens.

Fortunately, in the Southern cities, religious minorities do have the benefit of secular entertainment options. However, that’s not the case everywhere. Having worked on several Lady Liberty League cases, I have witnessed the pressures placed on Pagan families living in rural areas. There, in that small town, that Venn diagram, boundaries are still blurred. And, while problems often arise from direct attacks, they also flare up simply due to the town’s tradition, a.k.a. “the way it’s done.” In these rural battles, the stakes can be very high and the damage can be devastating.

With that said, the U.S. Constitution still reigns supreme. The First Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..”

This includes public schools. If a government school supports the presence of one religion, it must do the same for every religion. If it disallows the presence of one religion, it must disallow all.

Unfortunately for religious minorities living in the Southern rural landscape, the battle is on-going; especially if the town is controlled by the evangelical Southern Baptist Church. This organization has a different interpretation of the First Amendment:

Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends.……. and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power. (The Baptist Faith & Message: Religious Liberty)

Must Ministries Collection BinThere are profound questions left open, only to be answered privately by every Southerner practicing a minority faith. When do you stay quiet and blend in? When do you re-locate? When do you fight back? The answers should be considered carefully. Just this morning, I saw a Must Ministries collection bin in a school lobby. Should I say something? Should I let it go? Or, should I ask to put a Pagan Assistance Fund bucket alongside it? Legally, the school would have to accept my collection bin or reject both.

Of course, I let the collection bin issue go. Must Ministries does positive community work. And, frankly, I don’t mind Christianity’s presence provided it is kept within the private sector where I have the choice to reject or absorb what is offered. For example, I can avoid the local karate school where a child, quite literally, earns a “Bible Belt.” And, I can choose to only visit the doctors who don’t hang Bible verses in their examination rooms. Just as private businesses have a right to promote, within their walls, their religious beliefs, I have a right not to purchase their products. As Pagans, we must choose our battles wisely because the fight for liberty, while worth it, can be very ugly.

Karate School in Georgia

In the end, the South is what it is – a place of phenomenal beauty and vibrant, unique cultural traditions. But with that comes its historical religious baggage. If you want to live here, you must get used to it. Just like in marriage, you enjoy the good, tolerate the bad… and laugh about the rest.

[The following is a guest interview with John Matthews, author of "The Sidhe: Wisdom from the Celtic Otherworld" and 90 other books, co-creator of The Wildwood Tarot.  Matthews and fellow Wildwood Tarot co-creator Mark Ryan, who played "Nasir" on Robin of Sherwood, will be appearing in Atlanta, Georgia this November to conduct a workshop. The interview was conducted by Virginia Chandler, with an introduction written by John Matthews.]

For many people today, the woodlands are the last vestiges of the mystical world in which we had our beginning. Such places are full of classic archetypes from Robin Hood to the shadowy figures of the Green Man and Woman. To walk in the wild wood is to take a journey back in time to a place where we, ourselves, are different; a place where deep ancestral wisdom still resides; a place where a partnership with the denizens of the wild wood is as natural as breathing.

Based on the seasonal rhythms and festivals of the ancient year, The Wildwood Tarot is filled with the rich mythology and shamanic mysteries of the ancient Celts. Deep within the Wildwood system lies the mystical archetypes of The Green Man, The Blasted Oak, the Archer and the Hooded Man and many others of forest lore.

The archetypal forces of the pack act as both guides and interpreters, taking the user on a spiritual, mystical and psychological journey deep into the labyrinth of primal Earth mysteries. Used as a meditation system, divinatory Oracle, or as a reference work for the seeker of profound knowledge, The Wildwood Tarot will draw you into the heart of the ancient forest and allow you to open up to its mysteries.

Will Worthington, Mark Ryan, and John Matthews

Will Worthington, Mark Ryan, and John Matthews (Wildwood Tarot launch party)

Virginia Chandler: What was your personal inspiration for creating The Wildwood Tarot?

John Matthews: I think the inspiration is really Mark Ryan, because he was the only begetter of The Greenwood Tarot, on which Wildwood is very firmly based. I came along 10 years later. I’d hoped that the original deck would be reprinted, but when it became evident that the original artist, Chesca Potter, was not around to do this, I suggested that Mark should look for another artist and redo it that way. As we talked about this I made a few suggestions of ways that the original concept seemed incomplete and Mark responded by suggesting that he and I collaborate on a new version. The result was The Wildwood Tarot, but I find Mark a very inspiring person to work with. We’ve been friends for 20 odd years and share a lot of interests in common. And of course we were fortunate to secure the services of one of the premier artists of our time, Will Worthington, who understands the nature of the Wildwood and the Robin Hood mythos which is part of it, better than almost anyone else I know of.

VC: What can we find within the Wildwood?

JM: All kinds of wildness and wonder. The medieval ideas of the “wild wood” was like a cupboard into which they stuffed everything they were afraid of – Wodwose, Green Men, demons, strange creatures – and of course the most fearful thing of all- wild women and their sexuality!

VC: As journeymen, what would be the one item that we must take with us into the Wildwood?

JM: Courage.

VC: Where should we seek the Wildwood?

JM: The wildwood is everywhere. It’s inside us. It’s outside us. And, of course, if you happen to be near any of the more ancient forests, not just in Europe; then, you are in touch with the source itself. But for me, it’s about journeying into an inner landscape that is deeply embedded within us. We have a wild nature that most of us have forgotten, but it’s there. And it’s both light and dark. There are ancient atavistic things that need to be approached with care. But even these, if faced up to, can bring blessings.

VC: What is the archetype that you most closely identity with from the Wildwood Tarot?

JM: I have to say I think it’s the Archer. There is something about this powerful image and the sense of direction, of one pointedness and determination. Although we portray the Archer as female in the pock, it can be of either gender.

VC: The Wildwood Tarot is in its third printing; why do you think that this deck resonates with so many people?

JM: Precisely because it touches into a very deep level to the primal energy that still drives us. We may think of ourselves as civilized, but there is always a wildness within.

VC: Why “Wildwood “? What’ so “wild” about it?

JM: I think it’s the freedom, the undisciplined energy that’s within us all – exactly what you feel when you enter the wild anywhere, or if you let your garden grow wild. Even if most of us don’t want to admit it, there’s a memory latent that grabs people in a profound way.

VC: What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

JM: (laugh) Twice what you think it is.

VC: Do you have a favorite card or piece of artwork from the deck?

JM: Either The Archer or The Great Bear. Both, it seems to me, really captures the energy of the Wildwood. But to be honest I love them all.

VC: Other than your upcoming visit to Atlanta in November, what other Wild events do you have planned for 2012?

JM: Well, we hope to continue circling the globe with as many workshops and seminars and book signings as possible – until our global empire is greater than any other and we can take over the world. At the moment, Caitlín and I are contemplating a special event here, in the UK, around Christmas next year at the amazing and legendary Hawkwood College. This will bring together all the many decks we have worked on over the years – one of which will, of course, be The Wildwood Tarot.

More Information on The Wild Wood Tarot.

More Information on the The Atlanta Wildwood Weekend and Signing.

Word has come to us that John Monogue, better known to many modern Pagans as Lord Athanor, passed into the Summerlands on February 13th. Athanor co-founded the Unicorn Tradition of Wicca with Lady Galadriel after receiving initiations in a Family Tradition from Lady Rhea. The Unicorn Tradition went on to become a successful and multi-generational tradition that still thrives today, its initiates spreading far beyond its Southern origins, with many serving important roles within organizations like the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) and the Lady Liberty League. Athanor was beloved as a wise, kind, and generous man, who helped many through his years of service.

Lord Athanor with Lady Galadriel.

Lord Athanor with Lady Galadriel.

“While it is a sad time for those who knew and loved him, is with joy, love, and light that we celebrate the wonder and magick filled life. It is with gratitude that we remember one who touched the lives of many, many people through his storytelling, kindness, humor, wisdom, and bountiful spirit.” – Lady Arden

“He had an excellent sense of humor and had the wonderful gift of making people smile. He was the best hugger I have ever met. He will be sorely missed by the Atlanta Pagan Community at large, as he contribued a great deal to the education of all who sought knowledge.” – LunaW

Adrian Hawkins (aka Ash), the son of Lord Athanor and Lady Galadriel, who has become a thoughtful voice within the larger Pagan community in his own right, is cataloging his parent’s large collection of occult, Pagan, and metaphysical books to ultimately serve as a lasting legacy of their collective contributions to modern Paganism.

“Over the years,  many valiant attempts were made to record the contents  the library. My dad liked to joke that we broke several librarians in attempts to do so We do not even exactly how many books the library contains.  The library grew over the years, and grew, and grew to the size it is today.  Our best guess is that the library contains around a few thousand books on the occult with the main focus of the library being on subjects relevant to Paganism and Wicca in particular. Now that my father has passed into the Summerlands, stewardship of this library has past to the next generation. Another individual and myself  have taken on the responsibility to take care of the Library that my parents spent their lives collecting.

I have begun the task of cataloging the contents of the library. So far I have made it through three bookshelves, with about seventeen left to go.  However, our dreams do not stop there.  Once we have cataloged all of the books in the library we will be opening a by mail pagan lending library (Due to the nature of some of the books they will only be available in person). We hope to have a physical location where Pagans may come and study the various subjects of the craft for a weekend or longer  in person as well. We hope to continue to expand (and READ!) the collection as our lifetimes go on, and one day leave this legacy and resource for the next generation.  Our hope and dream is to build this into the largest Pagan lending library in the South East or even North America.”

Tentative plans for a public memorial service are currently underway, scheduled for Sunday, February 19th, from 2-5pm at Angora Hall in the Clarkston Community Center, Georgia. Any changes to this plan should be posted at PNC-Georgia.

“Very sad to hear of the passing of Lord Athanor, founding HP of the Unicorn Tradition. With his passing, all the founding elders of what could arguably be the two most influential traditions in Atlanta have passed. The originators are headed for rest, reunion and rebirth, and the tradition’s destinies are firmly in the grasp of the next generation. While each passing is sad, the loss of Lord Athanor seems to place a mantle of responsibility not only on the current leaders, but also little peons like myself. I never met Lord Athanor, but through the stories I have heard and interactions with his students and family, I am aware he was an incredible man and a great asset to our community. My thoughts are with his family and tradition.”Star Foster

On a personal note, while I’ve never met Lord Athanor, I have met members of the Unicorn Tradition, and they have each impressed me with their intelligence, dedication, and sense of purpose. It is to the credit of Lord Athanor that the tradition he helped co-found is so healthy and vibrant today. May he take his rest in the Summerlands, and return to us again.

Local and national news outlets are reporting on the case of a 4-year-old girl whose parents are being investigated by police after a daycare employee found lacerations on the girl’s chest. The parents, and a neighbor who witnessed the event, claim it is a Santeria ritual of health and protection for the child, not abuse.

Neighbor Nadeshda Ramirez.

Neighbor Nadeshda Ramirez. Who witnessed and underwent the ritual in question.

“The girl’s parents told police that the cuts were part of a religious ritual. Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik went to the girl’s apartment off Greenhouse Drive and talked to a woman who said she actually witnessed the ritual that she contends is part of the Santeria religion. ”This religion is to help people, to help people get better, to protect people,” said Nadeshda Ramirez.”

Avoiding the question of if this action constitutes child abuse, a matter for the authorities to decide, I’d like to instead focus on what this story doesn’t tell us. For example, is this a normative and routine part of an upbringing within Santeria, or was this ritual unusual and brought on by a crisis of some sort? Why didn’t ABC News use its contacts to speak with an academic who studies Santeria, or a prominent figure within the faith? In the local video report, but not the written report, neighbor Nadeshda Ramirez claims the ritual is normal, and underwent it when she was seven years old.

“I had it done when I was seven.” Reporter: Did it hurt? “It did hurt, just a little bit.”

This brings to mind a case somewhat similar to this, involving a 7-year-old girl, which made the news back in 2009. In that case it wasn’t Santeria, but Palo Mayombe, and the mother ended up pleading guilty to neglect and cruelty charges.

“A mother who exposed her 7-year-old daughter to bloody religious initiation rituals in Paterson that included making her watch a chicken being sacrificed and feeding the girl its heart pleaded guilty in state court Monday to cruelty and neglect of a child. [...] In addition to being fed the chicken’s heart, the rituals included making the girl witness the decapitation of a goat, and the scratching of a religious symbol into her skin.”

The mother’s attorney argued that the “initiation ritual at issue is as necessary to the faith as a Catholic baptism,” an argument the judge rejected.  Which brings me back to the original questions: was this really Santeria? Is this a normative ritual for children within that faith? How was it conducted?

Media coverage, for better of for worse, shapes opinion and narrative. We live in an age where the secrecy of such rituals is difficult at best, especially when they involve children. Prominent figures within Santeria, and those who study the faith within academia, need to make their voices heard so that a nuanced portrait of Santeria, and related faiths, is presented. Certainly, journalists need to ask more questions, and dig deeper when reporting on a minority faith they don’t understand, but it is also incumbent on practitioners to organize, and become more vocal in presenting their beliefs to a world that is increasingly learning to fear and resent them. If these instances aren’t contextualized by experts and practitioners, then they will be contextualized by reporters and readers instead.

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

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Yesterday, just hours after I posted an update on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school, another press release was sent out that seems to point to an agreement between Carroll County School District, the Turner family, and coalition of Pagan advocacy groups.

Here’s the full press release:

Statement from Bowdon Elementary School, Carroll County School District, and members of the Turner Family Support Task Force as represented by Lady Liberty League, North Georgia Solitaries, Covenant of the Goddess, Dogwood Local Council, and Circle Sanctuary:

The Turner Family, Task Force, and School District want Bowdon School to be a positive, supportive environment which fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students.

With education, cooperation, and open dialogue, all things are possible.

At times, a lack of life experience and/or other circumstances can make it difficult to perceive how words and actions might cause offense or upset. The parties involved acknowledge that words and deeds can be hurtful even without the intent of making them so.

In an effort to reach a positive and collaborative resolution to recent events, an alliance of the parties involved has come to pass which will set the stage for future education for school staff, students, and parents on the topic of equality and respect for all students and families in the Carroll County School System.

First, a sincere apology for recent events and misunderstandings has been given by School Administration and accepted by the family.

Second, the Bowdon Elementary School guidance Counselor will educate staff and students about honoring and accepting the differences that make us individuals.

Third, procedures have been put in place to ensure classroom activities don’t alienate students. As part of this, the administration and teachers will have yearly training about the District’s Code of Ethics and the responsibilities of each staff member to preserve the integrity of every students’ rights.

We appreciate the hard work and open dialogue of all the parties involved to create this positive resolution. The Turner children will return to school. The Carroll County School District will continue to strive to be a place that fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students regardless of religion, race, national origin, gender or disability.

So it looks like this issue has been largely settled, aside from implementation of these new agreements concerning education on “honoring and accepting” religious differences. Stephanie Turner, mother of Christopher, appeared on the Internet radio show Pagan Warrior Radio last night, and thanked the Pagan community for all the support she and her family has received during this ordeal. Here’s hoping that this incident will act as a message to schools, teachers, and administrators that the rights of religious minorities in public schools are to be taken seriously, and that the Pagan community is more than willing to come together in order to protect our constitutional rights.

Today I have some updates and new developments in stories previously covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Georgia School Harassment Case: Last week I reported on an official joint statement sent out by the North Georgia SolitariesDogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the GoddessLady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary, on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school (as originally reported by the Atlanta IMC). Now, that coalition, The Turner Family Support Task Force, has sent out an update calling for ongoing spiritual and fiscal support.

“Please send your prayers, your energy, and your personal messages through the Facebook page. They are being read by the Turners throughout each day. And, secondly, if you would like to contribute funds to help alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on the family, please make your donations via the Pagan Assistance Fund, operated by the North Georgia Solitaries through the Church of the Spiral Tree. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to offset a variety of expenses such as gas, child care, home-schooling supplies, and other related family expenses as they arise.”

The task force is hoping their efforts will lead to “a peaceful resolution and a future of fair and equal treatment in the school and school system.” My contact within the task force says that there will be more news on this front soon, so stay tuned!

Saudi Arabia’s Sorcery Beheading: On Monday, news broke that Saudi Arabia had executed yet another person for the crime of “sorcery,” bringing the estimated total of state-backed executions to 79, a massive increase from the previous year. Amnesty International called the beheading Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser “deeply shocking,” while the BBC reports that it is the country’s religious police force (the Mutaween) who are pushing for executions.

“The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. [...] Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.”

The Wild Hunt has spent quite a bit of time reporting on Saudi Arabia’s harsh laws against fortune telling, sorcery, and witchcraft. There was the case of Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, and finally freed. Also significant is the case of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, which drew the public attention of Pagan and international interfaith figure Phyllis Curott, a Trustee of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, serving on its Executive Committee. In many cases, like Fawza Falih’s, we never learn their ultimate fate. This trend of executing fortune tellers and “sorcerers” is troubling, not only because Saudi Arabia is ostensibly our ally, but because there are modern Pagans living in the Middle East, and having to live under the threat of death for witchcraft in the 21st century is a scandal to any who believe in progress and human rights.

Peruvian Shaman Slayings: Back in October I reported on the murder of fourteen shamans in Peru, allegedly ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claimed these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect. Now, progressive news site Truthout brings us an update on the story, alleging that more than mere religious animus is behind these murders.

Alberto Pizango, Peru’s top indigenous leader and president of the country’s most powerful indigenous organization, the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP) paints a more complex picture of the case, blaming cash and pressure from legal and illegal industries in the Amazon who poach natural resources from indigenous lands. ”What is happening now in my community is organized crime,” said Pizango, himself a Shawi medico who studied for seven years under a master shaman.

Pizango goes on to tell how traditions are being distorted to support the murder of shamans who oppose the growing criminal enterprises in Peru, or their political allies. noting that “when the people come out to defend their territorial rights, their rights to their natural resources, then the mayor has the perfect criminal organization to shut them up, accuse them, say that someone was killed because he was a brujo.” At this point the death-count is now estimated at 20, and the government investigation into these charges are still ongoing. No arrests or public statements have been made. For ongoing updates see the Alianza Arkana news blog.

Dan Halloran Responds (by Proxy): I’ve been waiting to hear Dan Halloran’s response to the divisive Village Voice piece that I feel unfairly sensationalized his Heathen faith, and dinged by religion journalism criticism site Get Religion for its unnecessary mocking tone.” Now, it seems a response was sent out this past Thursday, albeit indirectly through Halloran’s spokesman Steve Stites in an email to the Queens Tribune.

“The liberal press, such as the Voice, based in downtown Manhattan, and knowing zilch about Northeast Queens, have stooped to some pretty creative new lows in trying to bash the Councilman,” Stites wrote in a furious email. “It makes you wonder why they’re so afraid of him, or so fascinated by him. My guess is that the left-wing press doesn’t like the Councilman because he’s outspoken, effective and conservative, and he doesn’t play by their rules of political correctness and go-along get-along politics.”

Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher defended his piece, saying he wrote it “because it made such a good story—a politician with a faith unlike any other,” and that comparing Heathens with Civil War reenactors was meant to be a compliment. Sadly, neither Halloran or Stites have directly addressed the religious content of Thrasher’s article, nor do I expect them to any time soon.

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