Archives For Grand Council

This year, the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) held its annual business meeting, Grand Council, in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting was sponsored by Dogwood Local Council (DLC), the Atlanta-based chapter for the national organization. The two-day meeting is the center-piece of a full four-day conference event called MerryMeet.

green-faiths-3atrans

Before I continue, I must divulge my affiliation with the organization and event. I have been a CoG member for years, and I am currently serving as its National Public Information Officer (NPIO) – a position that I will hold until Samhain 2014. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity as NPIO. What I share below is my own personal reflections. Additionally, I happened to also be one the event planners.

This year, the bulk of the MerryMeet conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia, selected partly for its exceptional green space. The 2014 theme was “Standing on Common Ground,” which reflects both the organization’s attention to interfaith or intrafaith work, as well as its spiritual and practical focus on the Earth – our literal “Common Ground.”

The four day conference opened, as it typically does, with a daylong leadership institute. This year’s topic was the expanding interfaith movement. Over 40 attendees met at the beautiful Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in Roswell to participate in discussions led by leaders in interfaith work.

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

The morning Pagan-only panel consisted of CoG inferfaith representatives Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, M. Macha Nightmare (Aline O’Brien) as well as special guest Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. In the afternoon, they were joined by Garth Young (Buddhist), Cliff Trammel (Jewish), Carl McCollum (Catholic), Syndey Linquist (New Thought Christian), and Iraj khodadoost (Baha’i).

Both panel discussions began with introductions, relevant stories and questions on general interfaith work. However, the conversations slowly gravitated to the intersection of the interfaith and environmental movements. What role does or should faith play in protecting our ecosystem and how can the interfaith movement support that role? *

Several of the panelists lamented that their interfaith work is frequently kept separate from their environmental concerns. However, Frew relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, that interest waned after 9/11. However, Frew added that now the attention appears to be shifting back once again.

In the afternoon, Garth Young, a Buddhist, brought the discussion down to a personal level and said, “Caring for myself is caring for the Earth. Caring for the Earth is caring for myself.” In the end, the panelists all agreed that Earth care is and should be at the forefront of the interfaith movement because, as the theme states, the Earth is our common ground.

Heron  Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Heron Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Outside of Earth stewardship, the panel spent a longtime discussing the obstacles of interfaith work. What are the walls that prevent “bridge building” toward interfaith understanding? Cliff Trammel, representing Judaism, noted that his biggest obstacle is fear. “Will I be accepted or represent my faith well?” He added that, in letting go of expectations and personal anxiety, he is able to bring down those walls and listen to others. All the speakers agreed and shared their own experiences with confronting personal fear.

Before and after the panel discussions, attendees had the opportunity to go out into nature and explore the literal “common ground.” For those guests that didn’t want to brave the 90 degree temperatures, the CNC treated them to an animal encounter. The wildlife rehabilitation manager brought a Merlin falcon into the meeting room and answered questions about raptors and other native species of Georgia.

The very next morning, Grand Council began. Working by consensus, CoG representatives from around the country convened to discuss all manners of business from internal organization, external works, policies and the voting of next year’s officers.

CoG National Board 2014-2015.  Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, XXXX, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

CoG National Board 2014-2015. Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, Gordon Stone, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

This year’s meeting resulted in two landmark decisions. First, CoG adopted an official environmental policy statement. Spearheaded by CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), the statement was the result of a year’s worth of collaborative work. She says, “It gives me a great sense of accomplishment that we, the Witches of the Covenant of the Goddess, have crafted a statement about our beloved Mother Earth that reflects our shared values and expresses our mutual concern for our planet, as well as our responsibilities for its current state and our hope for the future.”

Second, CoG approved the creation of an internal Abuse Advisory Committee to “advise, educate, and support the Covenant on issues of physical and sexual violence.” The committee will be made up of CoG members who are professionally trained in this field and those who “remain current on information pertinent to the issue.”

The CoG Abuse Advisory Committee was proposed and presented by Lady Aradia and Lady Emrys, two licensed social workers from Pennsylvania. Lady Aradia, also psychotherapist, said:

Sexual offenses and family violence happen in every community including the Wiccan and larger Pagan community. Although we pride ourselves in not being a religion with a large institution, this places us at a disadvantage when issues of abuse arise.

During the two-day meeting, Lady Aradia also presented a well-attended workshop called “Boundaries,” and another member presented a workshop on “Mandatory Reporting.” Aradia says:

By COG agreeing that a committee be formed to address and help the community navigate this issue, they/we take an active stance in both reducing these offenses but also providing safe ways for everyone to engage in their religions communities … We know we may not have all the answers but it’s a beginning, a way to keep talking about the issue from an educated and knowledgeable perspective.

In addition to these two landmark decisions, CoG held three important ceremonies honoring various Pagans for service and dedication. Just after the meeting opened, National First Officer Kathy Lezon called for a moment of silence to honor those members and others who had passed over the year. Names were read aloud.

After lunch Friday, CoG was joined by Circle Sanctuary for the first-ever joint presentation to honor Pagan military servicemen and women. Lezon presented CoG’s Military Service Award Medal while Rev. Selena Fox and Rev. Dawnwalker presented Circle’s Pagan Military Service Ribbon. Jack Prewett, a Vietnam Veteran and former Sergeant United States Air Force, said:

As a Vietnam veteran, I didn’t get much of a homecoming. So I felt both honored and humbled to be recognized by both Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess for my service to my country. To have both these organizations recognize servicemen both past and present is truly a gift from the Gods and I know from personal experience how much it means those that do and have served.

In the third and final ceremony, CoG presented its newly-established Award of Honor for outstanding service to community. The membership had only just approved the new award Friday morning. Spearheaded by Ardantane director and longtime CoG member, Amber K, the CoG Award of Honor recognizes people for “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.”

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

After its approval, the membership awarded the honor to eight people including, Margot Adler, Alison Harlow, Sparky T Rabbit, Deborah Ann Light, Kathryn Fuller, Don Frew, Selena Fox and Judy Harrow. After receiving the award, Rev. Fox said, “I was deeply moved to be among the 8 selected by Covenant of the Goddess at this year’s Grand Council to receive the newly created Service Award.  It means a lot to receive recognition and appreciation by peers.” Also present at the ceremony was member Kathryn Fuller. She said, “I was taken aback by the nomination, and both honored by the award and humbled to be in the company of such giants in the Pagan community.”

Outside of the landmark decisions and moving ceremonies, there was an overwhelming sense of presence at the meeting. During those four days the membership looked back at those who had passed or had contributed to our cultural progress.Their efforts were exemplified strongly in the group’s ability to safely meet in a openly accessible hotel deep within the conservative Southeast. Because of those people and that work, “we are here now.”

Covenant of the GoddessAt the same time, the membership looked toward its future – one that looms ahead driving all of us to continue. “Here we are. But what next?” In considering this unknowable future, the delegates discussed the results of the CoG Vision Survey and how to apply its data to the organization’s direction going forward. How can we affect positive, lasting change in a fluid, evolving world filled with so many unknowns? This discussion will continue as delegates return home and digest their MerryMeet 2014 experience.

Next year, CoG’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be hosted by Touchstone Local Council and held in Ontario, California, Aug 13-16. The organization will be celebrating its 40th anniversary.

 

*Dogwood Local Council has made the MerryMeet Leadership Institute Prayer Book to the Earth available for download.  The book contains prayers, chants, songs and other writings dedicated to the Earth.

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

10585339_10152348396531365_1555763864_nYesterday was the funeral for slain teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Throughout the country, vigils were held in solidarity with Brown’s family. Among them was #HandsUpDC in Washington DC. Quote: Join us for a candlelight vigil as Michael Brown’s family lays him to peaceful rest. We’d like to stand in solidarity with #Ferguson and demand the de-escalation of the police and military.” A group of local Pagans took part in the event, carrying signs that said “Justice for the beloved dead.” Pagan author and activist David Salisbury, who lives and works in Washington DC, also organized an informal ritual at the vigil which “will invoke the justice goddesses: Libertas, Justica, Columbia, and Themis.” For more on Pagan responses to Ferguson, please see Crystal Blanton’s Wild Hunt post from this past Sunday

10634262_10152348396461365_1754006794_n

ice-bucket-challenge-fb-user-profile-1There’s been a huge viral outpouring of support on the Internet for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which participants in the challenge are doused with ice water to help raise money and awareness for those living with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. At this point in the campaign an immense assortment of prominent individuals (including an assortment of non-human individuals) have participated, so it stands to reason that there have been Pagan who’ve accepted the challenge as well. Notable Pagans who’ve taken part include author and Pagan Unity Festival co-founder Tish Owen, Pagan children’s book author Kyrja Withers, Llewellyn Worldwide authors Deborah Blake and Melanie Marquis, and ADF Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas. Those are just the ones I could easily produce links for, I know there are more out there, so feel free to share them in the comments. As for myself, I prefer Patrick Stewart’s utterly sensible response. I’ve embedded the video featuring Archdruid Kirk Thomas below.

Covenant of the GoddessThis past weekend in Atlanta, Georgia, the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) one of the largest Witchcraft and Wiccan organizations in the United States, held their annual business meeting, known as the Grand Council. Our own Heather Greene will have more about the Grand Council and the accompanying public event Merry Meet on Wednesday, but I can report on one piece of news today: the organization has adopted a formal policy on environmental issues. Quote: “The CoG environmental statement was originally proposed and developed by longtime member and national CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien.) She said, ‘It gives me a great sense of accomplishment that we, the Witches of the Covenant of the Goddess, have crafted a statement about our beloved Mother Earth that reflects our shared values and expresses our mutual concern for our planet, as well as our responsibilities for its current state and our hope for the future. Having this official statement on behalf of the entire membership will be immensely helpful to those of us who work in interfaith arenas. I am proud to have it to share.'” You can read the entire policy statement, which includes a section on climate change, here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

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

Cara Schulz

Cara Schulz

Earlier this month I gave an overview of Cara Schulz’s candidacy for a city council seat in Burnsville, Minnesota. Schulz, a Hellenic Polytheist and staff writer for this publication, has long been active in politics. As a candidate for this non-partisan seat she has endorsed a “Socially Accepting and Fiscally Responsible” platform, and it looks like enough voters in Burnsville liked what they saw. Quote from her Facebook campaign page: “THANK YOU to everyone who volunteered, told their friends about me, and are heading to the polls today to vote. If you think people are selfish, not involved, or lazy … run for office – you will be disabused of those erroneous notions. I’ve been offered help before I could even ask and volunteers helped an insane number of hours. I’ve made some great friends and learned from kind mentors. I’ve met some incredible people from all over Burnsville. […] The final tally is in! Thank you to everyone who volunteered, sent me messages cheering me on, told others about me, and took the time to vote in the primary.” Schulz will now advance to the general election in November, where the top-two vote getters will fill the two vacant seats on the city council. Our congratulations go out to Cara! 

10557341_10203741099061740_6626525900185221594_nAuthor and Dianic Witchcraft Elder Zsuzsanna Budapest sent out a press release last week announcing that she had bestowed a blessing on Claudiney Prieto, part of Brazil’s Nemorensis Dianic Tradition, for his work on behalf of the goddess Isis. Quote: “I was greatly impressed by Claudiney Prieto in Brazil, who has successfully nurtured an Isis revival. I have blessed him to be a Priest of Isis, which he already is. I saw what he has done and I think he serves the Goddess with his personal leadership. Everybody loves the man. He is dynamite in circle. Such a man with ten years of experience richly deserves the blessing. Both sexes are part of the rituals and sacred plays and always have been. This fits us well. I connect with this because I am also a play write. The original Isis plays have all been translated. It will be great fun creating a religious experience within the medium of theater for this community.” Budapest went on to clearly state that this blessing was not a shift in her beliefs concerning gender and her tradition’s Dianic rituals. Quote: “Although there was some initial confusion about the blessing, it was clarified that he was awarded by her as an honoring of his work with the Goddess […]  Budapest honored Prieto and bound him as a priest to the Goddess within the constructs of Prieto’s own Nemorensis Dianic Tradition and not her own Dianic Tradition, which is women-born only.” The stated “confusion” and subsequent clarification is most likely related to the fact that Budapest’s form of Dianic Witchcraft is open to cisgender women only, and this blessing could have been interpreted as a move away from that ethos. Such a shift would have been dramatic news indeed, as Budapest has received criticism from within the Pagan community in the recent past for holding “genetic women only” rituals that exclude not just men, but also transgender women, at Pagan events that are open to the public.

green-faiths-3atransThe Covenant of the Goddess (COG), one of the largest Wiccan and Witchcraft-focused organizations in the United States, is holding their annual business meeting, the Grand Council, this week in Atlanta, Georgia. Grand Council, which is held in conjunction with an open-to-the-public event called Merry Meet, is where the sprawling consensus-based organization elects its board and decides on policy. I’ve personally held forth on why I think COG could have a vital role in Wicca and religious Witchcraft’s future, and The Wild Hunt has covered these meetings for the past three years. This year, Merry Meet will feature Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary as a special keynote speaker. Quote: “We are very excited to have Selena Fox as our Guest of Honor for Merry Meet 2014 and as our Friday Night Keynote Speaker. Selena has been a leader and mover in Interfaith for many years and has worked, and continues to work, tirelessly within the Interfaith Community. Join us for what is sure to be a lovely evening of good food, camaraderie, and our shared passion for ‘Standing on Common Ground’!” Stay tuned for a report on the event from Managing Editor Heather Greene in the near future.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Polytheist and spirit-worker Sarah Kate Istra Winter has announced the publication of a short booklet on working with animal bones. Quote: “Working with Animal Bones introduces the reader to the biological processes which form bone; gives advice on how to find bones in a natural setting, and subsequently identify and thoroughly clean them; discusses the types of crafts that can be made with bones; and explores the history and modern practices involving the sacred use of animal bones, including divination. An annotated bibliography and list of online resources for collectors are also included.” The book can be purchased at Etsy, or on Amazon.com.

img_3163

  • Over at the Patheos Pagan channel, The Staff of Asclepius blog has welcomed two new contributors: Nornoriel Lokason and CJ Blackwood. Quote: “Nornoriel Lokason is a thirtysomething Norse pagan and demonolater living in the Portland metropolitan area with spirits and a cat […] Nornoriel is a disability and LGBT rights advocate and in his spare time he enjoys thrifting, communing with nature, reading, and being an armchair historian. […] CJ Blackwood graduated from Illinois State University with a Bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in English […] She’s been a practing witch and Pagan for eight years. Her path began with eclectic Wicca, but has now taken her to dusky realms of warrior goddesses, creative goddesses, and crones.”
  • Hungarian Pagan band The Moon and the Nightspirit have released a new album entitled “Holdrejtek.” Quote: “Just like its predecessor ‘Mohalepte’, ‘Holdrejtek’ is much influenced by a deep veneration for and love of nature as far as its concept is concerned, while this time, mastermind Mihaly Szabo approaches the subject in a less romantic and more intellectual way. The lyrics are rife with the philosophical idea of simultaneous oneness and duality of micro- and macrocosm, which is attributed to Hermes Trismegistos and his screed ‘Tabula Smaragdina’.” You can purchase the album digitally on iTunes and at Amazon.com.

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

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

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

This past weekend a celebration of the life of Pagan elder Morning Glory Zell, who has been seriously ill recently, took place. Now, a new initiative has been launched to preserve her wisdom in the time that she has remaining.  Quote: “Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart is dancing with the veil. Her final wish is to preserve the knowledge and wisdom she carries of her incredible Goddess Collection for the generations. THIS INFORMATION is currently stored ONLY IN HER BRAIN. The only way to capture it is by voice recordings which need to happen NOW. Time is of the essence. Funds will go to recording her knowledge of her collection of over 300 votive Goddess figurines from around the world as the opportunity arises (she is in great pain) and to photograph and catalog the figurines in a database so that they will carry her wisdom along with them after she passes.” So far a little over $2000 dollars has been raised towards a $6000 dollar goal. That money will ensure that her archivist can stay by her side to make the recordings, plus do photography, database entry, and transcription. You can see a promotional video for the campaign embedded below.

Sekhmet TempleThe Temple of Goddess Spirituality in Nevada, which is dedicated to the goddess Sekhmet, has been had its statue of Sekhmet stolen on Friday. Quote: “Sekhmet stolen! Sometime during the night, the statue of Sekhmet was removed by unknown persons. The necklace someone had placed around Her neck is lying in the dirt just outside the Temple entrance indicating She was tilted up and placed in a car trunk or more likely the back of a truck. I am in shock, saddened that anyone would do this. Was it someone who coveted the statue? or retribution for the peace work done here? I don’ know.” At this time a $500 dollar reward is being offered for any information that may lead to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible. You can see a photo of the statue, here.

Tuatha DeaThe Pagan band Tuatha Dea, who recently held a fundraiser to create a new album, has been chosen to compete for a slot in the Hard Rock Rising Competition. Quote: “Send Tuatha Dea to Rome!!!! Tuatha Dea in Rome! You can make that happen! Tuatha Dea has been chosen to compete for a slot in the Hard Rock Rising Competition, The Global Battle for the Bands! All you have to do is vote! Follow the link below and download our song “Bagabi” and your vote will have been cast! Only 25 bands with the highest number of votes will be chosen to showcase their talent and those lucky 25 will be flown to Rome, Italy to compete on stage. So cast your votes now and let’s show the world how to do it Tribal!” As mentioned, if they make it into the top 25, they will be sent to Rome to compete. So far, they have won the first round, being one of five American bands that get to advance to a global round of online voting. They are the only Pagan band to do so. Good luck to them!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Pagan-friendly tribal band Arcane Dimension (they’ve played Hexenfest) had a successful crowdfunding campaign to produce band merch for fans. Quote: “Friends, you have been asking ‘when are you gonna get t-shirts/hoodies/merchandise?’ Well, you asked and we listened! The goal for this campaign is to raise enough funds to get all our band merchandise done and open our web store.”
  • Interfaith organization United Religions Initiative has named Pagan interfaith activist Rachael Watcher as their new Regional Coordinator for  the Multiregion. Quote: “Rachael brings seasoned experience with the URI community, commitment and passion to help the Multiregion fulfill its potential. As Interim RC, Rachael provided steady leadership in developing the Regional Leadership Team and strengthening existing services provided by the Multiregion. She is a practicing Wiccan for 30 years and lives in the Bay Area with her husband.” You can read a 2012 guest post she wrote for The Wild Hunt, here. Congratulations!
  • The Sacred Crossroads Association in Pennsylvania, is expanding their schedule of festivals this year with the addition of “Mythmusica: The Festival,” scheduled for the last weekend of July, 2014. The event will be held at Mountain View Park in Wind Gap, PA. Multiple performers have already been booked, according to a press release sent to The Wild Hunt. It looks like they are running a fundraising campaign to fund this new initiative.

hexenfest

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

Happy Sunday! Here are few quick updates on stories that I’ve covered here previously at The Wild Hunt.

Sacred Land Sale Stopped: A week ago I reported on Lakota, Dakota and Nakota efforts to purchase the land known as Pe’ Sla, an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that was being sold by its owners. This was no ordinary piece of land, as one Native commentator put it:Its grounds are holy. It is our Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is our Mecca. Pe’ Sla is our wailing wall, where we are meant to pray.”  However, after a flurry of media scrutiny, and an urging for consultations from the United Nations, the land was withdrawn from auction with no comment or reason given.

“Iowa-based Brock Auction Co. planned to auction five tracts of land owned by Leonard and Margaret Reynolds on Saturday. But a message on the auction house’s website Thursday said it has been canceled at the land owners’ direction. The auction house and Margaret Reynolds declined to comment. Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation consider the site key to their creation story and are trying to purchase it because they fear new owners would develop the land, which they call Pe’ Sla. The property, which spans about 1,942 acres of pristine prairie grass, is the only sacred site on private land currently outside Sioux control.”

This is certainly a step in the right direction, and gives more time for tribes of the Great Sioux Nation to raise funds should the land eventually go up for auction. Let’s hope the request of James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is heard and a consultation with tribal nations, local, and federal government officials can take place to find a way forward so that this sacred site isn’t developed.

An Analysis of the Maetrum of Cybele Case: Earlier this month I reported on how Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. Catskill’s lawyer intimated to a local paper that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” That lawyer may have spoken too quickly, as the Maetreum seems fighting mad, not cowed, though Pagan attorney Dana D. Eilers (author of “Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights”) doesn’t seem convinced that the Maetreum would be able to turn this decision around on appeal.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“Is this, as some claim, a case of deep discrimination? On its face, it does not appear to be so. It appears to be a stand-up analysis of facts presented at trial. Were these all the facts presented at trial? One would have to review all the exhibits accepted into evidence and read the transcript of all the testimony in order to be sure. Wil this case be appealed? That is yet to be seen. What will the fate of the Matreum be if it is appealed? Appellate courts do not like to second-guess the fact finding entity (whether it be a judge or a jury) on appeal. The appellate court will be entitled to review the entire record, however, and not just the facts which Judge Platkin found to be determinative. This fight may not be over.”

I don’t think this fight is over as the Maetreum feels that the judge analyzed the evidence through a lens that delegitimized practices he didn’t understand. Quote: “Charity is not charity, prayer, meditation and spiritual activities are not religious, duties of clergy clearly spelled out are not spelled out, activities every week and formal ones every two weeks are “irregular”, some mythical standard of number of regular congregants was not met.  We are a “legitimate” religion but actually exist to wrangle a tax exemption (not legitimate)  I am personally a liar with no actual evidence provided to justify saying that.” The real question will be if the Maetreum can afford to take this fight to the next level. The Wild Hunt will keep you posted of further developments.

A Dogwood Blooms at COG’s Grand Council: About a week ago I wrote my analysis of Wiccan/Witchcraft organization Covenant of Goddess (COG), having just returned from their annual Grand Council. However, while I managed to say quite a bit in my piece, there was lot I didn’t include. Most memorable was a brief audio interview with several members of the Dogwood Local Council, which covers Georgia and Alabama. A truly vital example of how local councils work within their community, I would like to share that audio with you.

You can download the file, here. It’s only twelve minutes long, and there’s some background noise, but I think there’s a lot of wisdom, history, and good conversation packed into it. I hope you’ll check it out.

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

Covenant of the Goddess (COG) is one of the oldest and largest credentialing bodies for Wicca and Witchcraft in the United States. Originally founded in 1975 by 13 original member covens, the organization today boasts 121 member covens and a growing number of solitary members. The work of COG is done by a national board of directors, and fourteen regional local councils that engage in much of the grassroots organizing and direct activism in service of Wiccan rights. For example, it was the Dogwood local council in Georgia who responded to a story about religious harassment of a Wiccan student in Bowden, forming a coalition of local and national Pagan groups to make sure the student’s rights were respected. Representatives from these councils, solitary caucuses, and the national board gather each year in a different city to hold a Grand Council, a two-day consensus-run meeting where national elections are held, business is discussed, and Witches from across the country spend hours envisioning the future of the covenant.

I was pleased to attend the 2012 MerryMeet and COG Grand Council in Albuquerque, New Mexico not only as a reporter, but as a pending member. In 2010 I was invited to speak at MerryMeet in Indiana, and was able to cover their process, and the election of Peter Dybing to the office of First Officer. Since then I’ve built professional and personal relationships with many COG members, and have become convinced that the survival and expansion of the covenant is vital to the future of Wiccans, and modern Paganism as a whole. As modern Paganism continues to grow, and religious demographics in America reach various tipping points, more attention, both positive and negative, will be paid to what Witches do. As we enter that reality, an organization that is built to speak with the voices from many different Wiccan traditions will be increasingly necessary.

While many instinctively point to COG’s historic past, and who’s-who of famous members past and present ( Margot AdlerStarhawkDiana Paxson, Isaac Bonewits, and many more), I think it is more important to talk about what COG is doing right now. COG and COG members help fund Cherry Hill Seminary, a Pagan learning institution that just awarded its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling.

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

“When I started in 2002, Cherry Hill Seminary was the first and best opportunity I found for inexpensive and trustworthy Pagan education beyond the training I received in the Fellowship of the Sacred Grove,” said Harris in an interview. “By the time the masters program was introduced in 2009, I had committed myself to becoming a board-certified chaplain. I embraced the Cherry Hill Seminary program as a way to add the necessary qualification of an M.Div. or equivalent.”

COG members are a part of Cherry Hill’s leadership, and extends COG’s role of credentialing clergy into making sure those clergy, whether COG-aligned or not, are well-prepared for their future in service. Another important part of educating Wiccan clergy is making sure they have the material and papers necessary for their research and development. The Adocentyn Research Library in the San Francisco Bay Area, is in the process of building what they hope will be “the premier Pagan research center in the Western US.” All of its Board of Directors, save one, are current COG members, this includes Don Frew, Rowan Fairgrove, Anna Korn, and Gus diZerega. Starting with a collection of 13,000 volumes that they are currently cataloging and shelving, the library already has a physical space, and will soon have non-profit status. At this 2012 Grand Council, it was decided that Adocentyn would be added as a donation option on COG member renewal forms.

Adocentyn Research Library

Adocentyn Research Library

In addition to simply opening a research library, Adocentyn is in preliminary talks with the New Alexandrian Library Project (which recently laid its foundation) and other institutions in forming a Pagan Libraries Organization so that they can share information, and offer inter-library loans. Don Frew is also working with other Pagan elders in forming a Pagan Foundation to help fund initiatives like Adocentyn and other projects that enrich and benefit our community.

The above examples are just a sampling of the work that is happening right now that COG is involved in. Work that often happens behind the scenes and doesn’t get the attention it often deserves. Of course, COG is also rightfully respected for its intensive interfaith activities, for the public events and Pagan Pride Days sponsored by local councils, for its partnership with Circle Sanctuary in honoring Pagan veterans with the Order of the Pentacle, for the many Pagan chaplains it provides resources to, and its support of Ardantane Learning Center, The Witches’ Voice, and other institutions that make our community what it is today. Look at almost any Wiccan or Witchcraft initiatives that has benefited our community, and in many cases you’ll find COG or COG members involved in some capacity.

Returning to this year’s Grand Council, what is apparent is that despite the contention, and sometimes esoteric points over by-laws or process, what emerges is a microcosm of Wicca today full of mutual respect and love. British Traditional Witches alongside utterly eclectic “bootstrap” traditions, alongside solitary Witches, finding common ground and purpose. Engaging in the kind of ecumenicism our sometimes fractious community desperately needs. There’s an emphasis on tradition at Grand Council, for obvious reasons, but I also caught glimpses of COG’s future as younger Wiccans started stepping forward. The election of Miraselena from Dogwood, a media professional, to the National Public Information Officer position, the formation of committees to explore better outreach and to make sure COG is fulfilling its purpose, which includes the participation of rising star Crystal Blanton, author of “Bridging the Gap: Working Within the Dynamics of Pagan Groups and Society,” and several more small hints that things are starting to shift.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

First Officer Ginger Wages (Hawk), was re-elected for a second term, when first elected she told media representatives that the job of everyone in this organization to make sure we’re still here thirty years from now,” and it’s obvious from much of the discussion underway this year that her emphasis on that goal is starting to bear fruit. Her oversight in 2013 will no doubt play a vital role in seeing these budding initiatives succeed. She is joined by an energized and enthusiastic incoming board which sports representatives from local councils across the country.

As I said earlier in this piece, I believe COG is vital to Wicca’s future. It is the only organization of its type dedicated to the needs and issues faced by Wiccans and Witches. Unlike other large Witchcraft-oriented organizations like Circle Sanctuary, Sacred Well, or Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, they are not a church or single tradition, they are a collective of many different traditions who choose to align themselves under COG’s banner. This also differentiates them from other Pagan organizations which are often focused on a single tradition or practice within a Pagan faith. As Paganism grows, we will not only need “Pagan” spokespeople and leaders, we will need those who publicly advocate for views and positions within a particular Pagan faith. Journalists will all eventually understand that modern Paganism is a religious movement, not a religion itself with “denominations” branching out from it. As we move into that time, organizations that can speak with an explicitly Wiccan voice will be needed more than ever.

Conservative estimates say there are currently over 300 thousand Wiccans in the United States (I personally believe that number is higher), which means that COG will have to grow at a continual steady pace if it hopes to effectively serve religious Witchcraft as a whole. Of all the Wiccan-oriented groups, I think COG is best placed to achieve this goal, and be the proactive, responsive body it needs to be in a post-Christian society where Pagan voices will be heard by larger and larger numbers. This means more local councils, more solitary members, and an even greater engagement with new traditions, groups, and leaders. It is for this reason that I have taken the step of actively involving myself in COG, and helping it to work toward those goals. Despite the many challenges we face, externally and internally, I am optimistic about COG moving into an ever-growing and important role within the world of religious Witchcraft traditions. If you are interested in becoming a part of COG’s future, you should contact COG, or one of the local councils about you or your coven becoming a member. There’s a somewhat lengthy process, but one that I think is worthwhile.

Before I end this post, one picture, that I think sums up the importance of COG. Outside our hotel in New Mexico was a giant stone Ten Commandments monument. Instead of being seen as an affront, or reminder of Christianity’s dominance in our culture, I saw it as sign of how far we’ve come that this hotel readily accepts the business of a out-and-proud Witch conference.

Wait, isn't this a graven image?

Wait, isn’t this a graven image?

Crowley said that Magick is “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,” and our Will to be an accepted and vital part of our society is manifesting before us. I’m excited about where our Will takes us next.

This weekend Covenant of The Goddess, one of the largest and oldest Witch and Wiccan associations, held their 2011 Grand Council. This year the council, part of the larger yearly event known as MerryMeet, took place in Irving Texas and was hosted by the Texas Local Council (click here to download an audio interview with Chuck Peart of COG’s Texas Local Council). In a historic first for this national Witchcraft organization, their traditional opening invocation featured an interfaith blessing with Tatiana Androsov, Russian Orthodox, of the Thanks-Giving Foundation, Bill Matthews, Methodist, of the Dallas Peace Center, and Revathi Srinath, Hindu, of the Sanatana Dharma Foundation. Speaking with Greg Harder of the Pagan Newswire Collective COG First Officer Peter Dybing called the invocation “a beautiful testament to the work our interfaith representatives have been doing over the years” (Click here to download the audio interview with First Officer Peter Dybing).

“Today we saw an example of other faiths blessing the work of Witches on a national level and that is a beautiful thing […] I found it a very touching moment and I think it’s historic.” – COG First Officer Peter Dybing

MerryMeet is a mini-convention complete with vendors and presentations, but one built around a business meeting. The Grand Council, which is run on a consensus basis, is where the organization perpetuates itself and makes all major decisions for the coming year. This year, in an initiative spearheaded by Rachael Watcher, COG’s National Public Information Officer, Internet conferencing technologies were used so members outside of Texas could observe, listen, and ask questions during deliberations.

A view of the Grand Council meeting space.

“What was new this year was the inclusion of Adobe Connect, an on line meeting room which allowed the members of the Covenant who were unable to attend physically to join the meeting through this virtual space. As this year was the first time for such an experiment, the members who joined us on line were not able to participate in a total give and take but were, in fact allowed to listen and chat among themselves asking questions of myself and Daryl Fuller who were manning the two meeting computers that were hosting the meeting space within the physical space of the meeting.  We had between 10 and 16 folks who were logged on for the entire time of the meeting  from opening to closing and the enthusiasm was “over  the moon” as one participant, who had not been able to participate for some years due to physical disabilities, stated.”

The initiative was so successful that Chamisa Local Council, who is hosting the 2012 Grand Council, is looking into expanding the experience so members can participate more fully during the meeting.

Finally, a new slate of officers for COG’s national governing board was elected, and the new First Officer/President, who will guide the organization for at least the next year starting on Samhain 2011, is COG member Ginger Wages (aka Hawk). Wages is part of Dogwood Local Council, which serves Witches and Wiccans in Georgia and Alabama, and has acted as an outspoken voice for Pagan rights for many years. Wages will replace Peter Dybing, who has been a dynamic force for COG, and the wider Pagan community, bringing much-needed energy and passion to the position. In a short interview, Wages talks about her vision as First Officer for the coming year (click here to download the audio interview with First Officer-elect Ginger Wages).

The COG board-elect. F.O.-elect Ginger Wages is second-row third from left.

“[Peter Dybing] set a precedent for getting out into the community and seeing COG people face-to-face, I plan to continue that. […] Interfaith is probably the thing that I really put at the top of the list for COG, and I really want to keep that supported, and hopefully give it even more support. […] I plan to work with the wonderful people in this organization to help us keep moving forward. We’ve been around a long, long time and its the job of everyone in this organization to make sure we’re still here thirty years from now.”

Peter Dybing will remain as Emeritus First Officer through 2012. When asked about a possible leadership shift, Dybing said that “change is good” and that if there’s a new First Officer “that would be great for this year.” Dybing also shared his plans to travel more extensively in 2012, visiting many Pagan festivals and doing more outreach on behalf of COG. Also of note is that longtime COG member and Interfaith Representative Don Frew will be joining Rachael Watcher as co-National Public Information Officer in 2012. Both Frew and Watcher are heavily involved in COG’s interfaith activities, and will no doubt compliment Wages in her desire to place more emphasis on interfaith work.

I wish Ginger Wages good luck in her new leadership role, and look forward to what the COG Board will achieve during her tenure. I’d also like to thank COG NPIO Rachael Watcher and Pagan Newswire Collective correspondent Greg Harder for gathering the interviews, quotes, and pictures for this article.

On the second day of their annual business meeting, known as the Grand Council, the Covenant of The Goddess elected a new slate of officers for their governing Board. The new First Officer/President, who will guide the organization for at least the next year starting on Samhain, is COG member Peter Dybing. Dybing has come to prominence within the larger Pagan community lately for his hands-on activism in places like earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince in Haiti, and in clean-up efforts on the Gulf Coast in the wake of the massive oil spill there. The election of Dybing seems to hint at a new engagement with the larger Pagan world, and a new commitment towards communicating the ethics and goals of this long-standing organization that has boasted Margot Adler, Starhawk, Diana Paxson, and many other well-known figures, on their membership rolls.


Peter Dybing, center, along with the rest of the newly elected COG Board.

“I wanted to serve the Covenant, they do some really wonderful things in terms of interfaith work, public information work, and people doing work in prisons. There’s some great things [COG does] I want to support. I think it’s really important because we’ve made so many inroads over the years that those things continue to get our support.” – Peter Dybing

I was able to sit down with Dybing shortly after his election to talk about his new role as First Officer, the many activities COG engages in, and his vision for the future of the organization.

You can download the entire interview, here.

Dybing will assume duties starting on Samhain 2010, the start of the organization’s new fiscal year. Outgoing First Officer Sylvia Webb, in a conversation with me shortly after the election, expressed her happiness with Dybing’s election, and confidence in his abilities.

“As the outgoing First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess I have been honored to be a part of the COG Board for the past year. I know that we are incredibly blessed by the Goddess and the God to have individuals of great quality who are willing to sacrifice time, personal resources, personal creativity and magickal skills in the service of all Witches, Wiccans and Pagans throughout the world. Our new incoming First Officer, Peter Dybing has a long history of service in many arenas and we are glad that he is willing to engage in spiritual service (long an Elder tradition in Covenant of the Goddess and all Wiccan Paths) by lending his administrative and organizational experiences and talents to the Covenant of the Goddess during these times of rapid technological and ideological change. Thank you Peter for taking on this task.” – Sylvia T. Webb (aka AmberIsis), First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess 2009/2010

I wish Peter Dybing good luck in his new leadership role, and look forward to what the COG Board will achieve during his tenure.

Starting with an invocation to the organization’s matron deity Coventina, the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) began their two-day annual business meeting, known as the Grand Council. Held during their yearly MerryMeet festival, this year in Indianapolis, the Grand Council is an exercise in how a mature Pagan organization perpetuates itself and makes important policy decisions. On their 35th anniversary, this respected institution for those who practice various forms of religious Witchcraft faces issues dealing with  stagnation, communication, and their own success.

The Grand Council is something unique. All decisions are made by consensus, and representatives from local regional councils, member covens, and solitary members get a say before anything can move forward. This can be contentious at times, but is surprisingly effective at forming and strengthening group identity and unity.

“Consensus wasn’t always easy to pass on (unless you had been raised in a Quaker setting, where it is the usual method of decision-making) but we stuck with it, and were often rewarded when difficult issues were solved in ways that had broad-based and sometimes unexpected support, rather than causing schisms which could have ended the organization.” – Anna Korn, Membership Officer of the Northern California Local Council, Covenant of the Goddess

“The true magic of COG’s consensus process is that, in a group of over 100 covens from all traditions and all parts of the country in which any representative in the room could stop the process with a veto, we can only move forward though the shared good will and sense of shared Wiccan identity among all here. And more forward we do… making decision after decision.” – Don Frew, National Interfaith Representative, Covenant of the Goddess

As a spectator, what struck me amid the budget requests and fine-tuning of proposal language, was the large amount of good this Witch/Wiccan group does that goes largely unnoticed.

COG members are currently involved in advances in Pagan military chaplaincy, Pagan prison chaplaincy, interfaith in a number of contexts, and positive activism on a number of issues. However, the membership is graying, there are complaints of a stagnant growth rate, and there’s a sense that they are victims of their own success.

“Many people don’t realize that many of the freedoms Witches enjoy today are the result of many years of legal, cultural, and societal battles successfully waged by COG and other groups. The more successful we’ve been, the less some uninformed Witches see a need for us. In this, we’re in the same boat as many feminist organizations” - Don Frew, National Interfaith Representative, Covenant of the Goddess

Right now there are several proposals and a reawakened energy among members behind improving communications and outreach within the organization. There is a hope of interacting with a new generation of Witches, instilling a new ethos of the coven system at a time when eclectic solitary individualism rules the day, and turning part of their focus back toward the Pagan community they’ve worked for so long on the behalf of.

Tomorrow are elections for their national Board of Directors, at the end of which there will be a new First Officer. I’ll be reporting on that, and hopefully doing a short interview with the winner to talk about their vision for COG.