Archives For handfastings

Tying the Knot

Alley Valkyrie —  June 27, 2014 — 15 Comments

Starla and Birch both came running up to me, grinning from ear to ear. “We’re getting married!” they yelled in unison, and grabbed me into a group hug.

I embraced them back, trying not to allow my racing thoughts to distract me from showing them love in the moment. She was barely eighteen; he was maybe a year or two older; they had both been living on the streets for several years, and they had known each other for less than a month. And yet I also knew that such a ‘marriage’ was quite typical in their world.

“Congrats,” I said, smiling. “Where and when?”

“Tomorrow, at 3, at the park,” said Starla. “You can come, right?”

“Of course,” I assured them. I was actually supposed to be elsewhere, but those plans had suddenly become meaningless. I had never been invited to a street wedding before.

“It’s going to be a pirate handfasting. You know, old school. Arachne’s gonna marry us.”

“Pirate handfasting?” I asked. “Is that anything like a Pagan handfasting?”

They both shrugged. “Never seen a Pagan handfasting before,” said Starla.

I had been to a wedding that had been billed as a ‘pirate handfasting’ in the past, but that was a typical Pagan-style handfasting with a friendly pirate theme. Arachne was one of the primary leaders in their family, a group that passionately self-identified as pirates. I knew that whatever was to occur the next day would not so much be a simple handfasting in pirate-themed costumes, but a ceremony put on by and for folks who literally considered themselves to be pirates. But I also had a feeling that the ceremony would inevitably be much more like a Pagan handfasting than Birch or Starla realized.

“We’re going to need some skull-and-crossbones flags,” said Birch.

I immediately knew that in this instance, “we’re going to need” was code for “could you provide.” Birch had been to my studio a few times in the past and had taken quite a liking to my skull-and-crossbones prints, and he also was a seasoned expert at nudging me into offering assistance without actually asking for it. “I’m sure I can make that happen somehow,” I said. “Is there anything else you think you’ll need?”

“Yeah, actually … can we use your place before the ceremony to get ready?” asked Starla. “We don’t really have anywhere with a shower … unless you know any other housies who could let us … I mean…”

“Of course,” I interjected. “No worries.”

“And could you be our driver?”

I nodded and smiled. I realized at that moment that I was the probably the only ‘housie’ that they knew well enough to ask for assistance with this event. And with that realization, it occurred to me that the next 24 hours of my life would most likely be devoted to handling most, if not all, of their wedding-related needs. While the social backdrop and implications around this “marriage” were distressing to me on a certain level, I felt a strong obligation to temporarily surrender myself to their needs in order to help make their handfasting as special and as true to their vision as possible.

“Just come by if you need anything else,” I told them before heading home.

Wedding decorations, pirate-style. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

Wedding decorations, pirate-style. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

I had been home for a few hours, and was just starting to tear strips of black canvas for the flags when Arachne showed up at my front door. “I need a proper staff, for the handfasting ceremony,” she said. “I just found the right branch, but I don’t have any tools or a space to do it. Do you have either of those things?”

At the time, I was living in a converted garage in the back of a house, with a tiny studio across the yard that I used for dyeing and printing. The building’s previous occupant had left a decent collection of woodworking tools in the desk drawers; tools that had sat unused and mostly forgotten until that moment.

“Yes, I have both of those things. Let me grab the tools and you can carve it in the yard.”

I brought a stool and the drawer of tools out to the yard, and set Arachne up on a flat part of grass next to my studio. I looked at the branch she was carrying, an impressively straight piece of wood that was perfect for a staff.

“Do you know what kind of tree it is?” I asked her.

She smiled. “Of course. It came off a birch tree. Birch for Birch.”

“You knew where to find a birch tree?” I asked.

“I know where to find any kind of tree,” she replied.

I nodded and went back into my studio, watching her work while ripping strips of canvas. A few minutes later, I heard Arachne shout to someone across the yard. I looked up, and saw two street kids who I recognized as part of Birch and Starla’s group of friends. I came out of the studio and looked over at Arachne. “That’s Ocean and Forager,” she said. Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I think they need space to make something as well.”

I walked towards the couple. “Hey there,” one of them said. “We’re friends with Birch and Starla, and we wanted to make them a handfasting cord, and we were wondering if you had any yarn or string or a place where we could make one.”

Handfasting cord, I thought to myself. I thought back to a time years before when I had made a few handfasting cords for some friends. I still had the tub of yarn somewhere. “Yep, find yourself a place in the yard, and I’ll dig you up some yarn.”

I again went back to my flag-making, leaving the studio door open as staffs were carved and cords were woven just feet away from me. I finished tearing the fabric and as I started to print, suddenly there were three more people in my yard. I looked up at them.

“We need to gather flowers for bouquets,” they yelled across the yard. “Do you have scissors, and a basket?” I pointed them towards the house.

A few minutes later, a kid who I knew as Diamond ran into the yard with a cake-sized box. “ SCORE! We dumpstered a cake!” he yelled to the group, holding the cake above his head victoriously. He looked over at me. “Do you have room in your fridge?” I pointed him towards the house as well.

The studio, the house, and the yard in between.  Photo by Alley Valkyrie

The studio, the house, and the yard in between. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

By the end of the evening, at least a dozen people had come through the yard, and an enormous pile had amassed in my tiny living space: sticks, staffs, cords, chairs, stools, drums, cups, plates, tapestries, water jugs, several baskets of flowers, a bundle of wild sage, and an unusually large amount of Chex Mix. The flags were drying in the studio, and I managed to get some cleaning done and a decent amount of sleep in before I was awoken in the morning by the phone.

“Hey, this is Forager. Can you meet us at The Pines? We need your help with something.”

The Pines was a motel downtown, one of many that is primarily occupied by the homeless and transient population. “Help with what?” I asked.

“We all pooled together money so that Birch and Starla could have a honeymoon, and we’re here trying to reserve a room for them for tonight, but they won’t rent a room to us because none of us have valid ID.”

My annoyance at being awoken immediately faded upon hearing their intended plans. The amount of generosity that was consistently displayed by this group towards each other despite having so little to nothing themselves never ceased to amaze me. “Be right there,” I said.

As I walked towards the motel, I reflected on the ‘honeymoon’ I was about to help arrange, and the larger similarities and differences between this handfasting and many of the others that I had experienced in the past. I remembered distinctly that the last couple whose wedding I attended spent a week in Florida for their honeymoon, and it occurred to me that most people I knew from middle-class backgrounds wouldn’t spend a night at The Pines even if I had paid them. And yet, in Starla and Birch’s case, not only was it was a simple and brilliant gift, but they would undoubtedly be overjoyed. A night indoors is a special occasion for them no matter what the lodging situation, but to have privacy of any sort, let alone a room of their own, was a rare and unexpected treat.

When I arrived at the motel and looked at the group gathered in front of the window, I immediately cracked a wide smile. They were downright giddy despite their frustration at not being able to rent the room themselves. It was obvious that they knew the value of their gift. It was not only the most meaningful and thoughtful thing that they had in their power to give, but the personal sacrifices that they made in order to make it happen gave the gift a whole other level of significance, one that I knew would not be lost on its recipients.

I rented the room, dropped several of them off at the service center to do some laundry, and, when I got home, Starla and three of her friends were on my front step waiting to get ready for the handfasting. I looked down at what they were carrying, and somehow they had managed to round up an impressive assortment of hair care products, accessories, and makeup. I walked them around back to the bathroom, which was fixed to the rear of the garage, and went back into the studio to give them room and space. After a few hours I came back in through the front door, and the four of them were posing in the mirror as I walked in. All four of them looked like they were ready for a faerie festival.

We loaded the large pile of handfasting-related contributions into my car and headed over to the park, where the ceremony was already in the midst of setting up. I saw Arachne standing in the center with an elaborately decorated staff and a small altar in front of her. Behind her was another woman with what appeared to be a bowl of sage. Two others were tracing and pointing out the boundaries of the circle.

Starla and I unloaded the car. I handed the skull flags to Birch, and I immediately made myself disappear as much as possible. At that moment, I felt a strong need to simply observe. I stood slightly towards the back, jotting down the details of what surrounded me in a pocket notebook while keeping one eye on what was transpiring in front of me all times. As I quickly scanned the group and scribbled down the names of everyone in attendance, it occurred to me that the list of names read nearly identical to the guest list of any typical Pagan handfasting: Sage, Willow, Raven, Leaf, Cinnamon, Ocean, Forager, Storm, Juniper, Scout, Arachne, Diamond, Starla, and Birch.

One of the very first things that ever struck me as a strong similarity between the Pagan and street communities was the way that folks typically adopt another name upon entering that other world. Street names and Craft/Pagan names were not only nearly identical in the types of names that are typically chosen, but the intent and motivations behind such a choice were strikingly similar as well. Both Pagans and street folks often have a legitimate need to hide and/or protect their legal identity, albeit often for very different reasons. Both groups also often regard the taking of a new name as an act of taking one’s power back and/or cutting ties with their former life. Especially in the case of runaway youths, their legal names are often a closely guarded secret, keys to their old life that they often fiercely protect, and they see those names as potential weapons in the hands of others that can be used against them. And once in a while it is; referring to one by a legal name instead of a street name in public is considered to be among the greatest insults and can often provoke a violent response.

I looked up from my list of names and realized that the ceremony was beginning. As I watched what was taking place, I was unsurprised and, yet, fascinated by how similar it all was to a typical Pagan handfasting. As I watched Arachne expertly tie the handfasting cord after wrapping Starla and Birch’s wrists together, I made a note to ask her where she had learned such a ceremony.

“I learned that from my brother Fern,” she told me later. By ‘brother,’ she was referring to street family, not blood family. “I’m not sure where he learned it, but I’m pretty sure that whoever he learned it from was the pirate who created it, and he spent a lot of time down near Shasta so I think he might have learned it down there. But I taught it to several other people, so there’s probably a few more out there who know it as well.”

I paused for a moment, as it hit me that she was unaware that the ritual she had performed was actually quite well known and widespread within the Pagan community. What I had witnessed was so passionate and true to its origins, which stood out for me even stronger as I realized that the person whose energy drove that ceremony wasn’t even aware of its history or origins. At that moment, someone yelled her name, and she nodded to me and ran off in the other direction. I looked over at Birch, holding the staff that Arachne had carved with an overjoyed expression on his face. I scanned the crowd again, and marveled at the time and sweat and love that they poured into this, all with one day’s notice.

As the crowd started to disperse, Birch and Starla walked towards me. “Ocean told us that you’re supposed to take us somewhere,” Birch said. I nodded and escorted them towards my van, and drove them to their surprise honeymoon suite.

A room at The Pines. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

A honeymoon at The Pines. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

A month or so later, I ran into Starla downtown, sitting on a planter, alone. “Heya,” I said. “Where’s Birch?”

She sighed, looked up at me, sighed again, and looked away.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m okay, I guess. Birch went back to Cali… his mom is sick and so he took off, although she’s been sick for a while, and that’s kinda just his excuse, but … well, you know how it goes…”

Sadly I did know how it went. It was a story I saw play out far too often.

“But you know what, even though he’s gone, I’m still glad we had the handfasting. It was awesome. Thanks so much for letting us use your house and driving us and all that. I can’t believe what everyone did for us, how you all pulled it off. That was the nicest day I had in a long, long time.”

She got up and gave me a long hug. I nodded and hugged her back, and as I felt my throat tighten up, I thought back to the strong feeling of obligation I had towards helping them with the handfasting. What I instinctively understood at the beginning was just confirmed and clarified before my eyes, and despite the profound sadness that I felt at that moment, I was deeply grateful that I had been able to help facilitate that memorable day for her. It was a powerful reminder that, when one is mostly helpless in the face of the larger tragedy at play, creating meaningful moments within, despite that larger tragedy, is a powerful and often crucial act.

(Author’s Note: Names and minor details have been changed to protect privacy.)

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Is marriage obsolete? A new survey out this week from the National Marriage Project shows that marriage is an institution in decline in many parts of American society. This “retreat from marriage in Middle America” will have wide-ranging social and economic consequences, say the survey’s authors. Another recent study of marriage, administered by the Pew Research Center, showed that nearly 40% of Americans believe marriage is becoming ‘obsolete.’ What is marriage? Is it a civil union or is it a religious institution? How do you define it? Is there a marriage crisis in America today?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

It’s telling that the “solution” provided by many to the marriage problem is to roll back freedoms, and enshrine a trapped-in-amber definition of marriage that is as much an artificial construction as any now criticized by the culture warriors. Just as many “traditional marriage” proponents would blanch at the thought of returning marriage to a time of dowries, land transference, political alliances, and women-as-bargaining-chip; so too do young people today recoil at the thought of marriage being limited to the “proper” genders, a vehicle for reproduction, social stability, and maintaining an illusory status quo. A return to a time when private detectives where required to extricate oneself from an unhappy union, and domestic abuses were glossed over for the sake of social order.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

Rending the Veil Goes on Hiatus: The occult e-zine Rending the Veil has announced that it is going on a year-long hiatus, citing a lack of time and burnout as contributing factors.

“…due to this lack of time and to serious burnout, I am putting the magazine on hiatus following the Autumn issue. I am planning on a year-long break, but it may be shorter than that or I may decide in that year to shut it down. For now, the hiatus is to give me a chance to restore the archives and to work on any other aspects of the site that may occur to me, such as the once-planned art gallery that never got off the ground. I debated about shutting the site down, but several people have urged me not to do that, so the hiatus is the alternative.”

While Pagan and occult e-zines once thrived on the Internet, their numbers have been shrinking. Burnout being a major factor, especially when the budget for such ventures is usually zero. Then again, the current economy hasn’t been kind to Pagan print publications either, leaving many wondering what kind of publishing model will be sustainable in the coming years. As some Pagan magazines test the waters of digital distribution, and other outlets engage with an “NPR” model of funding (all part of a larger discussion on money within our communities), we’ll have to see what our community is willing to support in the longer run. As for RtV, it remains to be seen if they emerge from their hiatus, but I wish them the best of luck.

Pagans Want to Be Handfasted on Facebook: On the popular social networking site Facebook, Chantal Clement is starting a “pseudo-campaign” to have the service add “handfasted” as a relationship status option.

“Having been handfasted to Andrew for almost 5 years now, I feel that we’ve been misrepresenting our relationship on Facebook merely because of an imposed convenience of having limited relationship status options. It’s always bothered me because I feel like I’m totally not expressing who we actually are, but I’ve stayed quiet. I’ve finally decided to do something about it.

Handfasting represents something that does not apply to what most people define as “marriage”. Marriage is a different situation than a Handfasting. It’s a commitment ceremony made between two people whether for “a year and a day” (with a renewal option :P) or “for as long as the love shall last.” It’s about honoring that your lives are bound together, and it’s about celebrating that love and commitment. I’m not saying one is superior to the other, but just that both deserve equal legitimacy.”

This isn’t the first group to ask for something more nuanced than “it’s complicated,” polyamorous groups have long rallied for the ability to list multiple partners, though whether the company is open to any of these proposed changes remains to be seen.

Is Modern Paganism Ready to Accommodate Disability? Pagan author Patricia Washburn (aka “Jane Raeburn”) has started a new blog called “Vulcan’s Sister” about being a Pagan living with a disability; in one of her first posts she lists the problems that a largely outdoor festival-based culture will have as our community grows and its leaders age.

“As the Pagan community grows and its leaders age, we ARE going to have more people among us with disabilities. There may, indeed, be more than we think already – I know more than one Pagan with disabilities who simply stays away from community events because he or she does not feel welcome. That makes me sad – and, because it’s now my problem as well, it makes me angry.”

I’ve long thought that we’ll see more indoor events and hotel-based conventions as the Baby Boom generation hits retirement, and we start to see a significant number of individuals with mobility or accommodation issues. Being welcoming towards Pagans with disabilities is going to be a significant issue in the near future, and I think that Washburn’s essay is a good starting point for conversation regarding how we should move forward.

The Red Lotus Library Begins: P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a contributor and friend to this blog, has announced the publication of a new work entitled “The Syncretisms of Antinous”.

Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE), was syncretized to a large number of deities and heroes in his ancient cultus, and the process didn’t stop when that cultus ended in the fifth century. Archaeologists, scholars, artists, and admirers of male beauty continued to link him to a great many figures from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. In this book, you will find out about the familiar as well as the more obscure syncretisms of Antinous, from Hermes to Herakles, Dionysos to the Dioskouroi, Apollon to Apis, Adonis to Attis, Pan to Poseidon, Achilleus to Aristaios, Endymion to Eunostos, Eros to Echmoun, and many more! You will also find resources to guide you in getting to know these syncretisms further, and ideas for devotional practices based upon them.

Lupus is one of the founding members of the Ekklesía Antínoou–a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and I anticipate, based on his past writings, that the book will be extensively researched and well-written. This book is the beginning of the Red Lotus Library, the publishing arm of Ekklesía Antínoou.

Political Survey Results: The Political Pagan blog has published the results of a recent survey on political attitudes in Asatru in America, with a second survey on non-Asatru pagans in America.

“Overall, I think the survey, despite its flaws, does manage to highlight some distinctive patterns. Ásatrú Pagans tend to trend more conservative and/or libertarian, and to be more involved in and supportive of the military, with less support for government programs, interracial relations, and helping the disadvantaged, all of which are in line with the views and values of conservative and libertarian political ideology in the USA. Non-Ásatrú Pagans tend to trend more towards the liberal end of the spectrum, and to be less involved in and supportive of the military, with more support for government programs, interracial relations, and helping the disadvantaged, all of which are in line with the views and values of liberal-leftist political ideology in the USA.”

Blog author Maelstrom calls the findings on racial attitudes within Asatru “troubling”, and a debate has already started in the comments regarding methodology and sample size. It will be interesting to see how accurate the Heathen community thinks his results are, and what, ultimately, will be done with this gathered data.

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

Top Story: The BBC reports that Athanassios Lerounis, a Greek national who was kidnapped by the Taliban  in Pakistan several months ago, has been freed. Lerounis’ kidnapping was thought to be a consequence of the Taliban increasingly targeting the Kalash in Pakistan, Indo-European pagans believed by some to be descended from a commingling of Alexander the Great’s army and local peoples, who have survived in predominantly Muslim areas thanks to living in remote valleys.

“His captors demanded the release of militants held by Pakistan in exchange for his freedom but officials say no militant exchange was made. “He has been released by the successful efforts of Pakistani security agencies,” Rahmatullah Wazir, the top administrative official in Chitral, told the BBC. The curator was living in the Kalash valley to pursue his interest in an ancient “lost tribe” when he was kidnapped by armed men on 7 September 2009.”

While Chitral officials claim that no ransom was paid, this assertion has been challenged by other media sources. Lerounis is much beloved by the Kalash people, whom he helped build a local heritage museum and medical facilities, while encouraging education opportunities. Inhabitants of the Kalasha valleys undertook rare mass demonstrations to secure his release. This international incident forced the government of Pakistan to pay more attention to the Kalash people, who are normally ignored, their relatively peaceful lifestyle increasing threatened by Taliban-Pakistan clashes in the nearby Swat valley.

The War on Herbs: While Americans are increasingly shifting their opinions concerning marijuana, especially for medical purposes, that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers in the Louisiana House of Representatives from attempting to regulate any plant that might get a kid (briefly) high. House Bill 173 will outlaw a number of herbs from being blended, smoked, or inhaled.

“HB173 would prohibit a number of plants from being blended and smoked or inhaled. The plants in question include mugwort, honeyweed, sacred lotus and dwarf skullcap.  Many of these plants are listed as ingredients in herbal incense products.”

Lawmakers will no doubt seek to prohibit spinning around really, really fast, masturbating, or any other activity that might alter a young person’s consciousness. One wonders if the St. John’s Wort-popping natural health community will rush to oppose the passage of this new law, or if they’ll lay low because it’s targeting head shops instead of Whole Foods. Not to engage in too much slippery-slope prognostication, but if we allow the government to ban the mixing and selling of some herbs, what’s to stop them from expanding further?

Handfasting on (Reality) Television: After the somewhat bizarre media uproar about two Pagan teenagers getting handfasted (with parental consent) in Australia last month, the couple, and the girl’s mother, have agreed to an exclusive deal with a local television station for coverage of the nuptials.

“A teenage couple set to wed this weekend in an ancient pagan ceremony have signed a deal with Channel 9’s A Current Affair program … Under the contract signed by Alex Stewart-Pole, 19, and Jenni Birch, 16, A Current Affair have exclusive rights to cover the handfasting ceremony.  Mum Sue Birch, a pagan high priestess, will perform the ceremony, and said on Tuesday that any media coverage of the wedding would have to be discussed with A Current Affair. She said the family would not receive payment under the contract. However, Mr Stewart-Pole said Nine had promised to give the couple ‘a wedding present’.”

A Current Affair tackles hard-hitting issues like diet pizza, bargain shopping, and kids who stab dogs, so this deal could really go either way for the couple. I’m hoping for sweet and innocuous, but you never know what will happen when mainstream media decides to cover Pagans. It’s part of the reason why I counsel against Pagans appearing on reality television, exploitative talk-shows, and man-bites-dog sensationalist “news magazines”. Always remember to read the fine print on any contract, and study the show you’re going on before hand.

Chuck Colson Continues to Hate on Pagans: I know this isn’t really going to  be”news” to anyone who’s familiar with the Watergate-criminal-turned-Christian crusader Chuck Colson, but he’s bad-mouthing Hinduism and modern Paganism in a recent editorial that making the rounds of various Christian publications. Using the isolated and tragic case of a Hindu priest in India sacrificing his family and himself as proof of a larger deficit in pagan belief systems.

“I want to emphasize that Hindus are among the most peace-loving people in the world. The actions of these people are by no means representative. What is representative, however, is their belief that worship largely consists in appeasing the deity. In order to obtain favor, the worshipper must offer the proper sacrifice. Get it wrong and your prayers aren’t answered. Or worse. This worldview is very similar to that of the ancient world into which Jesus became incarnate. The pagan gods were a fickle and demanding lot who demanded blood and abasement from their worshipers-and even then “answered” prayers only on a whim. This is why so many classical philosophers, like many of their Indian counterparts throughout history, were put off by popular religious practices. So they substituted an “unknown” god and an unknowable god … How ironic that we in the post-Christian West are exchanging belief in the “personal, benevolent God” of Christianity for a sanitized paganism. Whether it’s “new age” mumbo jumbo or Wicca for Dummies, we have forgotten the dread these beliefs caused our ancestors and the awful things it made them do.”

I’ll leave it to my ever-astute readers to bother with dismantling his anti-pagan arguments. Though no longer in favor at The White House now that Bush is out of office, Colson’s been busy in his ongoing hate-a-palooza by supporting anti-same-sex marriage initiatives and signing on to the Manhattan Declaration.

Goddess of the North Construction Starting: In a final note, work is beginning on the massive land sculpture entitled “Northumberlandia”, dubbed “The Goddess of the North” by the media.

“Work is to start on a giant sculpture of a naked woman which is to be carved into the Northumberland landscape. The “Goddess of the North” will be made from 1.5 million tonnes of earth from the Shotton mine, near Cramlington. It will stand 34 metres – 10 metres higher than the Angel of the North – and will be 400 metres long … designed by artist Charles Jencks, who is best known in the North East for his sculpture outside the Centre for Life in Newcastle. Mark Dowdall, environment and communities director of The Banks Group, said it was hoped the sculpture would attract an additional 200,000 visitors a year to Northumberland.”

Though I don’t like to repeat myself, I wonder if this new addition to Britain’s landscape will, in a few hundred years, be considered an “ancient” pre-Christian survival by the locals. It will also be interesting to see if the site will become a pilgrimage place for modern Pagans and Goddess-worshipers.

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

It’s time for the Pagan hysteria watch, where we spotlight some stories and editorials that get a wee bit over-excited in their rhetoric. Let’s start with an obvious source, conservatives defining environmental activism, and agreement with the scientific consensus concerning climate change, as a “new paganism”.

“As many commentators and “global warming skeptics” have observed, climate science has metamorphosed into a religion—or, more accurately, a cult in religious dress. It has its high priests (Al Gore, David Suzuki, James Hansen, Rajendra Pachauri), its sacred texts such as computer models whose inconsistencies and disparities are blithely ignored by the myriads of true believers, its prevailing orthodoxies that cannot safely be questioned or violated…”

Yes, it must be a “religion”, because “more and more evidence is surfacing against global warming claims”, even though the majority of that “evidence” has been overblown and distorted in the media, and the scientific community is being increasingly bullied by activists and politicians for not changing their position on global warming. Maybe they want to prove it’s a religion by producing martyrs? In any case, while times are tough for Al Gore (a “high priest” of the “new paganism”), our current President doesn’t escape accusations that he’s involving us all in paganism!

“For some Americans, Easter is a religious holiday to pay homage to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whom they consider to be the Son of God. But for President Barack Obama, this is a day to worship the environmental pagan goddess of ‘Mother Earth.’ No word yet, on whether the government-sponsored pagan worshippers at the Air Force Academy have been invited to attend ceremonies at the White House Easter Egg Roll ceremonies this year.”

When did the traditional White House Easter celebration become a ceremony for Gaia? Apparently when he decided to use environmentally friendly easter eggs in the ceremony! Gasp! Choke!

“A White House announcement Monday said the eggs at this year’s April 5 roll will be made from paperboard that contains no wood fibers from endangered forests, is recyclable and features vegetable-oil based inks and a water-based coating.”

Not paperboard! Nooooo! It’s like “The Wicker Man”, only not.

Of course “pagan” hysteria isn’t relegated to politics or scientific theories, real-live actual Pagans  also spark it. Just look at this bizarre story in the Queensland (Australia) Southern Star, which brings us the shocking story of two Pagan teenagers getting married … with the consent of their parents!

“A TEENAGER plans to marry a schoolgirl in a pagan ceremony next month with the bride’s mother officiating … Holland Park High School student Jenni, 16, said of the handfasting: “We’ll just see how it goes.” Jenni’s mother and pagan high priestess Sue Birch, of Lawnton, will perform the ceremony.”

Shocking! Wait, why is this a story again? Don’t teenagers get married with the consent of their parents all the time? This is obviously not meeting the desired hysteria quotient, better bring in a rabid anti-Pagan nutter to close out the article.

Pagan marriage is not recognised under Australian law, which stipulates those marrying must be 18 years or older. Christian Democrat Party leader and anti-pagan campaigner Reverend Fred Nile said: “(Handfasting) can’t be in any way acknowledged by the state and should not be listed as a genuine wedding. Our party will do what it can to stop pagan weddings and witchcraft or Wicca activities.’’

There we go, that’s better. We wouldn’t want things to get too reasoned and uncontroversial around here. But even if Wicca becomes utterly useless in drumming up hysteria, we’ll still have Santeria and Vodou to exploit.

“Raised in violent ghetto neighborhoods, Ramirez grew up despising his father for his careless disregard of his family. He learned to live like a street animal to survive the cold, harsh streets of the South Bronx. Looking for love and validation, he eventually found it in a new “family” of witches and warlocks who groomed him to become a high priest in their occult religion. Ramirez’s plunge into the dark side reached a boiling point on the night he sold his soul to the devil in a diabolical, blood-soaked ritual. With renewed fervor–and the mark of the beast now cut into his right arm–he actively recruited souls into this “unholy kingdom,” haunting the bars and clubs of NYC by night to find his next victims, including those who professed faith in Christ. His life continued on this dark path for 25 years until God intervened through a larger-than-life dream, revealing Himself for who He really is and snatching Ramirez back from the pit of hell.  Out of the Devil’s Caldron walks you through the dark alleys of the occult religions of Santeria, Palo Mayombe, and espiritismo (spiritualism) while exposing the hidden secrets of darkness.”

There’s always a new “other” to point the finger at, another form of “paganism” to demonize, wouldn’t want the fear and hysteria to die out would we? If we start having civil discussion about these issues, who knows what could happen? Maybe we’d all become Pagans?

Pagan Weddings in Ireland: Just a few quick news notes for you this Sunday, starting with the news that Ireland will now recognize weddings performed by officiants from Pagan Federation Ireland as legally binding.

“Following a five-year campaign the Irish state has now recognized the right of the Pagan Federation Ireland to perform weddings. Couples will now be able to be legally married after a ceremony that concludes with jumping over a broomstick to mark crossing over from an old life to a new one.”

Before this, Pagan couples would have to get legally married at a separate civil ceremony, and then participate in a religious ceremony of their choosing. A circumstance that still holds in the UK (unless you’re Christian). Eight solemnizers are currently being trained under the new guidelines, and no doubt wedding planners who work with Pagan tourists are excited about these new developments.

Invisible Vodou Aid: The BBC  examines why Vodou, practiced by such a large number of Haitians, isn’t more visible in post-earthquake relief efforts. What emerges are more accusations that some Christian aid missions are excluding and turning away Vodou practitioners.

“Some Christian communities do not want to give food to voodoo followers,” [Theodore 'Lolo' Beaubrun] says. “As soon as they see people wearing peasant clothes or voodoo handkerchiefs, they put them aside and deny them food. This is something I’ve seen.”

It should be noted that this isn’t the attitude of all aid organizations, many, most notably Catholic charities, have been welcoming  towards Vodou practitioners. In addition, Vodou practitioners took part, along with Christians, in a recent 3-day prayer ceremony held for earthquake victims. Still, these incidents of exclusion are deeply troubling, and point to a thread of “aid” that is more about winning souls than saving lives.

Pagan Holidays in New Jersey: In a final note, word has been spreading through Pagan e-mail lists that the New Jersey State Board of Education has added the eight Wiccan/Pagan “Wheel of the Year” holidays to its “official” list.

“I just got a call from the NJ Board of Education. They are adding 8 Wiccan/Pagan holidays to the “official” BoE calendar! They just wanted to double check the dates with me, in response to my letter to them in December. They said it will be adopted as official policy next month at the March BoE meeting!! our holidays plus a couple Jewish ones they apparently missed.”

This means that school children in New Jersey can now take an excused absence for those eight holidays without question. The addition of Pagan holidays came after  a Salem County School refused to grant an excused absence for Yule to a Pagan student, which started a letter-writing campaign by local Pagan parents. Congratulations to the New Jersey Pagans for this win!

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

While Samhain and Halloween are holidays that honour those that have passed, a time when the veils between the seen and unseen are thin, it is also, it seems, an increasingly popular time for some to get married. For some it’s just a laugh, something to break with the traditional expectations of marriage, for others it’s an extension of a lifelong love of spooky things. Getting married on Halloween may even be a long-held family tradition. But increasingly, it is a time for modern Pagans to tie the knot on one of their most sacred days. Such is the case of Dave Dominic and Maggie Venables, who were wed in Sherwood Forest by High Priestess Beccie Morris.

“Marrying in Sherwood Forest, they observed traditions which would have been a feature of Pagan weddings thousands of years ago – including stepping over a broomstick and having their hands tied together with ribbons. Pagans like Dave and Maggie call Halloween Samhain or Samhein, pronounced Sah-Ween … “It was very poignant to us. With us both being in our fifties we have lost a few people and it’s nice to be able to celebrate with our lost ones.” Maggie said: “It was magical and fantastic. Everybody had a wonderful time. It’s so appropriate and so real, and it feels so good.” Dave, 53, has been Pagan since he was a teenager, while Maggie, 52, has been moving towards Paganism over the last few years.”

While some might have qualms about getting married during Samhain, for Dave and Maggie it accentuated their faith and their connection to those who have passed, making for a poignant ceremony. While Dave and Maggie’s ceremony seemed rather solemn and understated, that didn’t seem to be the case of Daniel Shank and Christina Dorffner, a couple in Maryland who went all-out in merging Halloween and Samhain into their interfaith nuptials.

“But perhaps the wind was meant to blow when the auburn-haired bride made her entrance, veil flying, long silk gown glinting with 1,500 garnet and citrine jewels, escorted by her father and the otherworldly strains of the theme from “Edward Scissorhands.” The black-robed high priest and priestess presiding over this sacred rite would call forth the wind, along with water, earth and fire, to consecrate the vows exchanged Saturday by Christina Dorffner and Daniel Shank, one self-described Catholic witch and one pagan.”

The Catholic witch and Pagan were not only decked out in costumes, along with all the other guests, but were married by Pagan lottery winner Ellwood “Bunky” Bartlett (a friend of the couple who made the elaborate wedding fiscally possible) and were entertained at the reception by legendary horror-movie host Count Gore de Vol (aka Dick Dyszel). All of which makes me wonder if this is the start of some larger trend? Is Samhain for lovers? Considering the high-stakes world of weddings will anyone be able to top getting married by a Wiccan millionaire? I suppose we’ll have to see next year if this is truly a growing phenomenon, or if this was simply an unusually love-filled year.

Lisa Cupido, writing for The Modesto Bee, has a very informative and interesting write-up of the growing popularity of Pagan handfasting ceremonies among couples (both Pagan and non-Pagan) looking to wed. Cupido interviews a wide-ranging assortment of sources for the piece, from author Raven Kaldera (who touches on same-sex marriage within modern Paganism), to trained celebrant Lamira Martin.

“Lamira Martin is a celebrant from St. Louis, Mo., who trained with the Celebrant USA Foundation, an institute that teaches people to officiate at weddings, funerals and other personalized ceremonies. She has been performing pagan and nondenominational weddings for only a year and a half but has wed 60 couples of all ages and backgrounds. Her most popular requests include handfasting, unity candle lighting and sand ceremonies … ‘Most of the couples I meet are in their 20s and want something beautiful and spiritual, but not religious … A lot of people have lost the connection to their churches, but they still want a ritual and to write their own ceremony.'”

In addition to covering the growing popularity of handfastings, Cupido also digs into what is feeding the popularity of handfastings (Paganism’s explosive growth over the last twenty years), and the economic ripples this new popularity creates.

“As some vendors of pagan items can attest, there is no shortage of customers for popular Wiccan and Celtic wedding items like costumes, Renaissance gowns, handfasting ropes and candles. Kimberly and Bill Tuttle, the owners of Gryphon’s Moon, started their company 13 years ago, unaware that their moonstone pendants and incense would attract so many pagan clients. The most popular item on their Web site, gryphonsmoon.com, is their handfasting ring, which features the inscription “Hearts as one,” in Runic, an early Germanic alphabet.”

In a final note on this very well-written and researched article, I would like to congratulate Cupido on being one of the first journalists to (indirectly) include the data about Pagans from the recently released Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. A survey that gives a big boost to the estimated Pagan population in America.

“A 2001 survey by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York found that the number of followers of Wicca, one of the many religions that fall beneath the pagan umbrella, increased from 8,000 in 1990 to 134,000 in 2001, making it the fastest-growing religion in America in terms of percentage increase. Marty Laubach, a sociology professor at Marshall University, says the number of followers of pagan religions is even higher now, citing a 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey that put the estimate at 1.2 million. ‘My suspicion is that the first number was way too low due to people not responding,’ Laubach said. ‘The 1990 study was conducted at the height of the ‘satanic panic,’ which kept many neopagans in the closet.'”

One of the best articles dealing with modern Pagans I have read in awhile. I suggest reading the whole thing. Kudos to Lisa Cupido, this is what journalistic coverage of Paganism is supposed to look like.

A modern Pagan group in South Africa has been granted official recognition under the Civil Union Act. This will allow designated members of SAPRA (South Africa’s Pagan Rights Alliance) to legally perform marriages and civil unions for gay and straight couples.

“If your religious festivals follow lunar phases and seasonal solstices, you will be happy to know that marriage under pagan rite and ritual is now a possibility for South Africans … Sapra has nominated 13 pagans to become religious marriage officers. Once their registration is complete, traditional ceremonies will be legally recognised. To qualify the nominees must write a test set by home affairs within six months of Sapra’s registration.”

The Civil Union Act is opt-in for any religious group who wants to participate. Dissenting religious organizations (such as the Catholic and Anglican Churches) can still operate under the older 1961 Marriage Act, which defines a marriage as between a man and a woman. The Reforming Church in Pretoria, a gay-friendly Christian church, has called for the older Marriage Act to be gradually phased out in order to avoid the inadvertent establishment of “straight” laws, and “gay” laws.

“The old Marriage Act of 1961 is actually outdated and should gradually be phased out, so that there is only one Act under which couples can marry … Most people wrongly assume that the Civil Union Act is intended for same-sex couples only. It is not. What is more important is that the underlying principle of the kind of relationship between the two parties is one of equality.”

South Africa’s shift to civil unions represents an ethic where each religious body can decide for itself what sort of marriages and unions it can perform. A far more sensible approach than in America, where (predominately) Christian conceptions of what is a “moral” or “proper” marriage is imposed on modern Pagans and other groups open to broader definitions. SAPRA has taken an important step into a post-Christian world. A world where Pagan clergy and adherents can determine their own morality and destiny.

Paganism and the Law

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 18, 2007 — 4 Comments

Two recent stories bring a focus on modern Paganism and its relationship to the law. The first comes from the excellent law-blog Religion Clause, which brings to our attention a recent prisoner religious free-exercise case involving a Pagan.

“In Kay v. Bemis, (10th Cir., Sept. 11, 2007), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Utah district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s complaint that he had been denied tarot cards, incense, and religious books. It found several errors in the trial court’s approach, including its insistence that the use of tarot cards and other items be “necessary” to the practice of the prisoner’s Wicca religion. The appellate court said that it is enough that the prisoner sincerely believed in use of the requested items.”

It is increasingly clear in legal challenges involving religion that sincerity of belief is becoming the only true “test” for establishing an individual’s religious needs. Which seems to lead us into a “post-scriptural” legal world, a situation that definitely favors faiths under the modern Pagan umbrella where personal revelation can be just as important as tradition. You can read the full opinion of the court, here.

The second story comes from The Bucks County Courier Times, and warns those getting married that Pennsylvania State law prohibits legal marriages through Internet ordination services like the Universal Life Church unless you have an established congregation. A situation that could spell trouble for Pagans performing handfastings in the area.

“A ruling issued last week by a York County Court of Common Pleas judge reinforces the rules as they relate to clergy. That ruling says weddings conducted by Internet-ordained ministers aren’t valid unless those ministers have a ‘regularly established church or congregation.’ … [Bucks County Register of Wills Barbara] Reilly said her office has issued marriage licenses to individuals married in Wiccan or pagan ceremonies, and those are valid as long as the person who officiated has an established church or congregation. Some couples might not find out if their marriages were performed by authorized officials until a critical moment in their marriage.”

G. Martin Freeman, Universal Life Church Monastery president, is planning on challenging the ruling (though New York, North Carolina and Virginia have withstood such appeals). Until then, solitary Pagans and Heathens in PA who don’t work with an established group may want to either have a judge perform the legal side of a wedding ceremony, or take the time to get legal credentials through an organization like COG.

If this backlash against Internet ordinations continues to spread (and withstand legal challenges), it could certainly provide some serious complications to those married by Pagans using ULC credentials. Perhaps this will spark the formation of more legally incorporated Pagan groups dedicated to ordaining solitaries in these situations? Only time will tell.