Archives For health care

[The following is a guest editorial by Lydia M N Crabtree. Lydia M N Crabtree, back from a medical sabbatical, confesses she is many things through her website and her blog (Confessions of Being…). She writes on social justice issues, incest survival, physical and mental trauma as it relates to spiritual development, and Family Coven – the idea that a family unit is the first and primary coven anyone is part of. “Family Coven: Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft” will be released in Spring of 2014 through Immanion Press.]

Obamacare! Government shutdown! Republicans, Democrats, class wars, racism! Honestly, I turned it off and tuned it out about a week ago. I had my head, heart and hands dealing with an immediate problem, a real life situation that is a vivid and painful reflection of the arguments going on in this nation.

His name is Nathaniel Pucket. He is single, twenty-seven years old. His mother moved away about four years ago and resettled in West Virginia far from the Jasper, GA town he grew up in. He is beautiful inside and out. About 5’11’’ solid muscle, honed with his four years of service as a Boatswain’s Mate stationed out of Japan in the US Navy. Even two years after his honorable discharge, he has kept in shape riding his motorcycle’s and doing labor as a chef’s assistant or working in kitchens when he couldn’t find a good paying assistant chef’s job. Needless to say these jobs do not pay enough for him to cover insurance premiums so he doesn’t have any.

Nathaniel Pucket in the Navy.

Nathaniel Pucket in the Navy.

His really curly hair is cut military close and his eyes are that delicious chocolate brown that complements his mocha skin, which is the color of a great coffee with a bit of milk and sugar in it to enhance the flavor.

He has been living with other single men renting an apartment and actively involved in Willow Dragonstone Community, a circle without hierarchy and a dogma of practice. He has lead ritual in our community and been an overall force for good.

1373621_10202126771874656_706317362_nLast Friday, after spending time with a circle mate holding her hand while she got a new haircut, he was on his way home. He was thinking about starting school soon on his military scholarship to study computers and computer networking. He slowed his bright blue Yamaha bike which made the loud engine pitch to the downshifted tone as he approached a major intersection. As long as he has been riding bikes, he has learned to be cautious. Noting his green light and the passing of the large SUV in front of him through the intersection, he let off the brakes to move through.

The Lexus sport utility didn’t see him, the driver would claim later. Having the red light, she turned left cutting off Nathaniel’s natural crossing of the intersection and causing him to impact the Lexus at forty miles per hour ejecting him from the bike. She would later be ticketed for failure to yield among other things.

The off duty ambulance waiting on the other side of the intersection immediately turned on its lights and moved to provide aid. The only thing Nathan was sure of during the accident was that he was going to be in some serious pain. The thing he was aware of after the accident was the other driver saying that she never saw or heard him. For her, Nathan appeared out of thin air to crash into her vehicle.

As horrific as the accident was, it has been the ongoing fight since then that has zapped his energy and his strength. The ambulance saw him safely to the hospital where I would find him on a back brace with a neck collar. My husband (who is also my High Priest) and I would hold his hand while we learned that he had a fifteen break fracture of his left humerus bone broken directly above the elbow. His left foot and ankle had fared no better. He had a split fracture with multiple dislocations. Basically the bone attaching his large toe to his ankle had shifted backwards, impacting with the ankle bone, splitting down the middle, dislodging and dislocating all the other connective bones.

The orthopedic surgeon would never come in to consult that night. Now immobile, they wrote a prescription for a wheel chair, bundled his leg and arm up in temporary splints and sent him packing. If my husband had not spoken up, I firmly believe he would have been shipped off to adult social services instead. A circle mate took him in temporarily until my family completes our move into a home that would be better suited to his short term disability. Starting the next day, the battles began.

Suddenly unemployed and waiting on his last pay check, his medication was $200. The wheelchair nearly $1000. Our circle mates helped cover the cost of the pain medication which was all that they could afford. My husband used his contacts to borrow a wheel chair and Monday Nathan and I tried to see the same orthopedist who wouldn’t bother to see him in the ER. At his office the mantra was, “Does he have insurance? Does his motorcycle insurance have med pay? We do not accept third party insurance.” After getting essentially the run around all day Monday, we broke down and sought legal advice.

Sitting in Murrin and Wallace’s law office, I was faced with two legal experts in motorcycle accidents and they kept saying, “They sent him away like this? Really?”

Nathan was in pain. I knew that whenever a bump was run over or he had to figure out how to inventively get into the vehicle he was in pain. He was doling out pain medication like the very precious commodity it was. Murrin and Wallace made it clear. In most other circumstances medical insurance allowed accident victims to receive treatment and then seek damages from the driver who caused them.

“This is what the Affordable Health Care Act is trying to prevent,” Steve Murrin tells us, “People who have insurance believe everyone has insurance.”

However, because the hospital had sent Nate away without treatment, he was left in the precarious situation of not having had treatment and not having any prospects for treatment.

Tuesday, I sent Nathan an email of homework. A long list of links I had found for him to apply for, everything from food stamps and unemployment to Medicaid (which is unavailable to new applicants because of the Government Shutdown) and VA benefits (which take five or more days to process). I spent a significant amount of time on the phone calling social workers at various agencies trying to get him something that would cause him to be able to receive help. During this time, I heard his bones knitting together wrong causing him to be wheelchair bound the rest of his life and unable to use his left arm for any purpose.

Call after call the mantra kept returning, “They sent him away with those injuries?” Some said it differently and the essence was always identical. As it did my constant background noise, like bones grating upon sandpaper keeping me on edge, and a horrible realization took root in my mind.

Nathan had been considered less of a human, someone less worthy than others for treatment because he didn’t have insurance or because he was mocha in a lily white hospital in the South or he was single and separated from his biological family, perceived as the weak link in the herd that not be miss if something went awry with him.

As this realization settled on my shoulders, my pent up rage at a system steeped in racism and classism bubbled in me like Cerridwen’s cauldron and I snapped. I did the one thing people who enforce the status quo hope no one will ever do. I spoke.

“They sent him away with those injuries because he was black in that lily white ER. He was single and seemed to have no immediate family who cared around him. He had no insurance and the hospital and doctor all hoped he would become someone else’s problem on some other day knowing full well that not much was likely to change fast enough for him to get the proper treatment. In short, the doctor and hospital just couldn’t be bothered.”

The representative from the doctor’s office sat in stunned silence as what I said sunk in. My Southern sensibilities quaked as I considered what I had done by shattering the sound proof barrier of apathy.

“That was the ER Doctor and hospital’s call,” she said with a shaky breath. “Maybe I need to take my complaint up with them.”

And I did. I was nervous. I was scared. I was worried. Was I really doing what was in Nathan’s best interests? Still, I couldn’t rid my ear of that bone knitting noise that kept playing like a deranged loop in my brain. In the end, isn’t it better to do something, I reasoned with myself, than nothing?

I would speak with a low level administrator about my complaint. I would make my assertions to them about the horrible situation they had placed Nathaniel in. I would cite his record as a service man with our country and the Hippocratic oath. I would talk about the trials and tribulations they had laid at his feet when they patted him on the head and sent him out the door. I would talk about community and the responsibilities of those in power in our community. People whose decisions can make things better or worse for someone.

After my controlled and passionate dressing down, the administrator would say, “What do you want from us now?”

“Want? I want Nathaniel Pucket to be treated. I want his bones to be set properly before they heal improperly and cost the system and your hospital more money. I want Nathan to have the chance to walk again and drive again, preferably in a safe automobile. I want him to be able to stay in my home and his brow to not be marred by constant pain, unable to sleep because your hospital and the orthopedic doctor were all too busy to care about the long range consequences they made last Friday when he was in your hospital the first time. I want Nathan to be getting well so the lawyers and he can figure out how to pay for this horrible occurrence that wasn’t even his fault!”

She hung up without any promises and I resolved to call back if I didn’t get any response.

Nathaniel Pucket

Nathaniel Pucket

I had only been in my office forty-five minutes when Nathaniel called urgency ringing through his voice mail. Scared that he was doing worse than I thought, I promptly called him back.

“I don’t know what’s happened but the doctor’s office and ER called me and said to come straight to the hospital. They are going to treat my injuries. I need a ride.”

I laughed. I mean it was an ironic belly laugh. In that single moment I had an epiphany. I don’t have to hold signs to make a difference. I do not have to enter into heated debates online or send money to some group that supports what I believe. I simply have to have to BE. Isn’t that the traditional charge of High Priests and High Priestesses in my tradition?

To Know. To Do. To Will. To Be.

To Be Silent? No! I wasn’t silent. Suddenly every argument and discussion I have had with Pagan elders came into focus and the above clergy mantra took on a whole new meaning.

To know. I knew what was right. Everyone I spoke to knew what was right. We all knew that the right thing, the ethical thing, the things required by the Hippocratic oath had not been done.

To dare. I had done all I knew how. If I could have operated on Nathan I would have and that skill is outside of me. It required someone else to do, someone else to step up and act.

To will. I could have done a working. I know that others in our community did do workings. One community sister told me she pulled out the “big guns,” setting a special altar to address the obstacles Nathan faced. However, my willing something through magic alone would not necessarily force the action Nathan needed.

To be. I am what and who I am. I am a writer and I am activist. Maybe not in a protesting, sign waving, get arrested kind of way, but an activist I am. I am a High Priestess with my own pledges and oaths to uphold. I am educated and well spoken. I am white in the white South. With all these titles and privileges I can actively accept that they are my right. Or I can fight to extend the same privilege to my fellow humans because food, essential medical care, shelter and opportunity should not be given based on race, religious orientation, sexual orientation or the circumstance determined by their birth.

To be silent. Recently this has been consistently sited as the driving reason for the clergy to be neutral when it comes to divisive topics. Groups have been saying, “Let’s not take an open stand on the poor, class warfare, and race because it might offend.”

The reasoning is that the privilege of high priest/esses, elders, leaders in a Pagan community is to know things that not everyone does. Information, the working of negotiations, the politics that drive the large actions directed by leaders and elders. Our spirituality and these political issues do not cross, they are separate from one another.

It wasn’t until Nathan called that I realized silence and apathy are kissing cousins and my spirituality and politic issues are not separated, they are one. Everything is One. Clergy’s silence on social issues supports the idea that essential human care, food, shelter, equal opportunity and medical care, happen or do not happen because of the whims of the universe or because the person happened to have some internal flaw that makes life more difficult. When the very thing that prevents others from having essential human care is racism, classism, sexism, religious and sexual orientation and attitudes of entitlement unchecked – these are the social, political, issues that many have decided aren’t in clergy’s prevue.

So I ask Clergy this…

Who better to raise a sword and fight, if not for us, the spiritual warriors who have been trained to do battle? Are we only called to do the abstract? To pray and light candles? If we have risked nothing, our names, our beliefs, have we really been in service to the gods and goddesses and our community? Or are we playing at being clergy? Are we whipping out the title of Lady, Lord, and Reverend without having done the real hard work that earns that title? Are conferences, inter-faith meetings and long winded blogs enough to make the case that we are providing for our community? Are these things simply our way of making ourselves feel like we have done actual work instead of doing actual work?

If our spirits and our walks as leaders have lead us to lead, how can we if we do not defend the weakest among us? Who else will see the disenfranchised, the discriminated against and fight for them if not for the lauded class of clergy? Where will pagans turn on this physical plan for a manifestation of Warrior Gods and Warrior Goddesses if not among those they have elected, chosen or have been ordained to lead? How can we say that classism, privilege, racism, religious discrimination and any law, action or behavior that leaves a spiritual being disenfranchised and wounded is outside the prevue of spiritual work? Isn’t, by definition, these things the work? How can leaders address these spiritual wounds while refusing to address what actively does the damage? Don’t our people need both sword and shield? Confidant and advocate? Leader and servant? Warrior and healer? How can you know and then be silent?

Before, I simply did not realize my silence was cripplingly people, figuratively and literally. There are plenty of Nathans out there – how many fall through the cracks and dissolve into obscurity untreated and uncared for while clergy hides behind precious silence and the separation of politics and spiritual growth and development?

To know. To Do. To Will. To Be.

To Be Silent… NO MORE.

END NOTE: Nathaniel Pucket was denied treatment on Friday, September 27, 2013. Nathaniel was admitted into the same hospital that had originally denied him Thursday, October 2, 2013. He entered into a double surgery on Friday, October 4, 2013 to fix both his humerus and foot injuries. Before surgery, Nate was told that because of the severity of his injury to his foot and the length of time permitted to elapse before treatment, he would never see a 100% recovery. He will be required to be fitted with arch support he will be forced to wear the rest of his life. Additionally, they anticipate arthritic and ongoing pain complications. A circle sister has agreed to be with him on Friday and Saturday and to take him in when he is released. Next week he will move with my family into our new home which will be better suited to his ongoing recovery. Saturday, October 5, 2013, Willow Dragonstone Community will be at Atlanta Pagan Pride Day. Despite his injuries, Nathan had volunteered to be at PPD and supply our group with water before his re-admittance into the hospital. He actually apologized that he couldn’t deliver as promised. Other circle members gladly took up the slack.

Nathan was most upset by the idea that being single without immediate family present may have caused his predicament because he lived with other single guys in similar situations. In essence, he clearly saw the potential for the system to hurt other people he knows and loves regardless of race.

I will be updating Nathan’s status regarding his recovery and on-going legal issues on my Facebook page, and at the Willow Dragonstone Community Facebook group. Those who would like to donate monetary support for Nathan’s care may do so to me by contacting me via email . I would like to publicly thank Nathan for allowing me to tell his story.

[The opinions expressed here are those of Lydia M N Crabtree, and do not necessarily represent those of The Wild Hunt, its contributors, or underwriters.]

Back in 2010 cultural anthropologist Kimberly Kirner, PhD (formerly Hedrick), launched a Pagan health survey to, quote, “help policy-makers and service providers understand our needs and beliefs.” The data collected from that survey was presented at the annual meeting of The American Public Health Association (APHA) in November of that year. Now, Dr. Kirner is launching a follow-up survey to explore some of her initial findings in greater depth.

Kimberly Kirner (photo by Tony Mierzwicki)

Kimberly Kirner, PhD (photo by Tony Mierzwicki)

“Why should you take the Pagan Health Survey II? I am Pagan Druid and a cultural anthropologist at California State University, Northridge. I started the Pagan Health Survey in 2010, which provided a snapshot into the Pagan community, including our beliefs about healing and wellness and the choices we make in navigating the health care community. From the first survey, we learned that our community shares some strong common models about healing and wellness and that we have particular challenges in obtaining optimal health care. The top two challenges Pagans faced were:

  1. Linkages to Pagan-friendly, culturally competent health professionals and
  2. Barriers to accessing adequate health care among those who have lower incomes, rural locations, minority status, and/or who are seniors.

The Pagan Health Survey II investigates these two challenges in more depth. Your participation will provide better data for community organizing, educating the public and health care community, and assisting Pagan leaders in responding to the community’s healing and wellness needs.”

Resources for this updated survey of the Pagan community’s healthy needs are being provided by California State University, Northridge and NIH RIMI (National Institutes of Health Research Infrastructure for Minority Institutions). Kirner stresses that the survey collects no identifying information, and that participants will not be asked for their name, contact information, or “or any other data that would compromise your anonymity.” Kirner further explains that participation in this study is completely voluntary and you may withdraw at any time.” The study has been reviewed and approved by the CSUN Institutional Review Board.

Here’s a link to the survey:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/paganhealth

The survey takes around 30 minutes to complete, depending on the length of your answers. Participants must identify as Pagan, Heathen, or another related spirituality/faith. The survey is only open to people living in the United States, and you must be 18 or older. You can contact Dr. Kirner, here. If you wish to pass along the original press release for this survey, you can find it here.

This ongoing work by Dr. Kirner could really provide useful data that helps our communities in the long-term, providing important insights for Pagan organizations wanting to be more responsive to our community’s needs, and helping secular institutions to serve us better. To get a statistically significant sample it needs thousands of respondents, so please share this far and wide to anyone you think might be interested.

Pagans and Obamacare

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2012 — 18 Comments

[The following is a post from The Wild Hunt archivesThe Wild Hunt is on hiatus through Labor Day weekend and will return with new posts on Tuesday, September 4th.]

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

 

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article:

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article:

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!

A Split in the Feri Tradition? In recent weeks there’s been quite a bit of activity online regarding a split within the Victor and Cora Anderson-founded Feri tradition, with several new web sites emerging that detail a separation on private/public lines. Author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle, perhaps one of the best-known modern Feri initiates, writes an essay for Patheos that explores her own thoughts and feelings on this developing situation.

“It is said of late that the Feri Tradition has been broken in two, being named by folks on one side of the divide as a split between the “Mystery tradition” (taking on the old spelling of Faery) and “public religion” (Feri). While there have been splits and factions for almost as long as the tradition has been active, while the spelling of the name changed over time, and scapegoating, shouting, and long silences have abounded, I never before felt such an energetic sundering. As I write this, I can feel the mighty gates closing on what was. What will emerge, I do not know. Perhaps nothing will change, and perhaps everything will. Such are the times we live in, and various are the pronouncements of our egos trying to figure things out.”

Coyle, who no longer publicly teaches Feri to students, feels that this split is “a reflection of the tension seen all over the world right now, which is the tension felt in ages of transition.” Faery/Feri has been a very influential tradition in the history of modern Paganism in the United States, and currently counts many charismatic and influential teachers among its initiates. I feel this split is an important moment in our shared history, and I am currently putting together a longer article exploring this split, interviewing several individuals from both sides of this seemingly widening gulf. Expect the hear more on this very soon, if not this week, then most certainly next.

D.C. Commits To Opening a Community Center: David Salisbury from the Washington D.C. PNC bureau reports on a historic meeting of regional leaders and organizers to finalize plans for a joint community center.

“Yesterday I was invited to attend the Open Hearth Foundation’s Pagan Leadership Summit which met to discuss and finalize plans for the upcoming Pagan Community Center, an 11 year goal for the organization and the DC Pagan community in general. This day-long summit of leaders from around the metropolitan area shared views on details such as the centers location, size, programming, funding and when it actually plans to open the doors.

It’s a rare occasion when this many Pagan leaders from our area can gather. Rarer still is the fact that the leaders met to give input on this area’s most important Pagan land space project ever, a Pagan Community Center. Becoming, Reflections Mystery School, Ecumenicon, Firefly, Spiral Grove, covens and more spent 5 hours in a thrilling high-energy debate.”

A seeming consensus has been formed to achieve this in one year, by Imbolc 2012. If they manage to achieve this, it could set a new standard for cooperation towards building communal infrastructure among different Pagan groups within a community. The Washington DC-PNC will no doubt keep up updated and informed as this process goes forward.

Pagans and the Health Care Reforms: Masery at the Patheos-hosted Staff of Asclepius blog examines the religious breakdown of a recent Associated Press/GfK poll regarding health care reform and decides to drill down into that pesky “other” category by creating a nearly identical survey aimed at the Pagan community.

The health care poll was conducted by the Associated Press and Gfk Roper Public Affairs Corporate Communications from January 5 – 10, 2011. By telephone they spoke to 1001 Americans ages 18+  Religious affiliation: Protestant 25%, Catholic 25%, Mormon 1%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 1%, Other 26%, No religious denomination 19%. Of the “Other” religion 87% were Christian and 13% were not. What do Pagans think? You can answer the same questions as the AP poll at www.surveymonkey.com/s/CZFX8TR

If you’d like to see what the Pagan community thinks about current health care reform laws, please spread the word to your own blogs and social networking sites, so that a significant sample size can be reached. I’ll be sure to share the results once they are available. Once again, the survey can be found, here. Also, while you’re there, do check out her interview with Kimberly Hedrick, PhD about the recent groundbreaking Pagan Health Survey (which I covered here at The Wild Hunt).

6th Annual Brigid Poetry Festival: An Internet tradition that began in the early days of the Pagan blogosphere continues!

It is that time of year again, when bloggers around the world post a favorite poem in honor of Brigid, the Irish goddess and patron saint of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. Brigid’s feast day is February 1st, so between now and then is the perfect time to publish a poem to celebrate. Last year many great poems were published all over the web. This year, I have set up a Community Facebook Page to help people easily view each other’s poems and to share them around as much as possible. If you post a poem on your blog, please share the link on the community page so we can all go there and read it. If you don’t have a blog or website of your own, go ahead and post your poem in its entirety to the community page.

I look forward to yet another year of poetry in honor of the goddess!

Final Note: If you haven’t been following along, do check out the Patheos Wicca series running through January. It features some interesting perspectives on what Wicca is, and where different individuals think its going.

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

Well-known Pagan author and lecturer Isaac Bonewits, who was hospitalized on October 21st, has apparently been diagnosed with a rare form of colon cancer.


Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits

“Isaac is doing much better with his white cell count still going down. However, they have confirmed that one of the three tumors is cancerous; there will be more biopsies on Monday as they want to make sure all three have been biopsied individually. …Good news, it’s a rarer form of cancer that responds well to chemo and radiation. No surgery!”

In addition to sending healing energies and prayers, they will no doubt end up needing help with their medical bills (not to mention lost income). If you wish to make a contribution to the couple to help defray the costs of this hospitalization, there is donation information here. For up-to-date news and information, you can follow their Facebook fan-page. We here at The Wild Hunt wish Isaac a full and speedy recovery.

Word has been buzzing around the Internet that popular Pagan musician SJ Tucker (aka Sooj, aka “skinny white chick”) has been hospitalized with what appears to be appendicitis. Like many independent musicians and artists, she doesn’t have any health insurance and is facing a massive medical bill of $25,000 dollars or more. Friends, fans, and loved ones are now rallying to raise money through donations, charity auctions, and special sales of Tucker’s work.

SJ Tucker

I know that some of you have already heard about SJ’s recent emergency and hospital stay. It looks likely that it may actually be appendicitis, although the doctors want to confirm this with another CT scan before they do any surgery. We -do- know that the hospital bills are going to be significant, since this first trip to the hospital involved two emergency rooms, four doctors, a 45 minute ambulance transfer between the two hospitals, a CT scan AND an X-ray, multiple IV antibiotics, nearly daily bloodwork tests, and five and a half nights in the hospital … Please help us raise money to pay for these medical bills. Buy CDs. Spread the word. Share links and diggs and do all that interweb magic. What we need is 1000 people with $25. Do you have $25? Do you know someone who does? If you can’t give us money, please tell people who might.

I think it is safe to say that some of the things close to my heart  are Pagan music, and the awful state of health care in America. Living in fear of getting sick or having an accident is stressful, and when it happens, devastating. While we wait for our politicians to reform medicine in America, we have to do our best to take care of our own. I know for a fact that I have way more than a thousand readers, and while many of us have been hard-hit by the recent economic troubles, surely a percentage of us can spare a few bucks? Let’s unleash The Wild Hunt here, and help out in this effort. Make a donation, or purchase a CD (I bought a digital download of her album “Blessings”), and when you do, tell them you came from here.

ADDENDUM: Over $14,000 dollars was raised in the first week! Congratualations to SJ Tucker’s supporters on this amazing start, and thanks to all my readers who went out of their way to give to this cause, you helped make this happen.