Archives For Holli S. Emore

VATICAN CITY — Many, if not most, Pagans consider the Earth to be sacred. This has been true for at least as long as Wicca and other modern Pagan religions have been in the public eye. For many in the mainstream media, this is considered an identifying characteristic of Paganism. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has finally released his long-awaited 180+ page encyclical on the environment, called Laudato Si. This one document has been in the news for some weeks and is the strongest message about the subject ever released by that Church.

[Courtesy NASA / Flickr]

[Courtesy NASA / Flickr]

The Pope’s statement that has been in the works for months, and has been called a “game changer” for the environmental movement. The Wild Hunt asked some members of the Pagan community to weigh in on the weighty document.

Given the diverse nature of Pagans — including those who are often lumped under the Pagan umbrella, whether they wish to be or not — It is not surprising that the responses ranged across a wide spectrum. Some common threads have emerged in these early reactions, but as this message and its ramifications are absorbed and digested, those threads could either strengthen or snap. The bulk of the reactions from those people, who were able to take the time to read and respond to the encyclical, is largely positive, with some important exceptions.

John Beckett

John Beckett

Druid John Beckett was quick to notice that “environment” seems to include much more than animals and trees. He said:

If you think Pope Francis’ encyclical is only about climate change, you need to read it for yourself. It’s about the inherent value of all living things, about a ‘throwaway culture’ that mistakenly seeks meaning in things, about the connections between humans and the rest of Nature, and about how the results of our environmental desecrations are borne predominantly by the poor.

‘Laudato Si’ is grounded in Christian scripture and tradition, but Pope Francis understands these are global problems requiring a global approach. Perhaps most importantly, he understands real, lasting change cannot come from technology, but through changes in culture and spirituality.

Pope Francis gets it.

John Halstead, who has been a driving force behind the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, noted that it includes a number of elements with which a Pagan might identify. Halstead said:

John Halstead

John Halstead

Repeatedly throughout the statement, the Pope observes that everything is interconnected, which is an article of faith for many Pagans (¶¶ 16, 70, 117, 138). He also recognized that we are inherently part of the earth: “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live,” he says, “We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (¶ 139) “[O]ur very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (¶ 2) In my mind, this echoes the Pagan environmental statement. In fact, something like these words might have been spoken at Pagan Spirit Gathering this year or at a CUUPS summer solstice ritual.

Pagan Environmental Coalition NYC member Courtney Weber was reassured that the Pope was placing environmentalism into a Christian context, but also felt that there are parts of Christian teaching which continue to fly in the face of stewardship. She said:

It is absolutely encouraging to see the Pope take such an unflinching, yet hopeful, stance on the future of our ecological revolution. He strikes down the all too destructive interpretation of Christian scripture and insists that we all have a part to play in turning this around, particularly for citizens of wealthier nations. This could not be more important or true. He misses the mark, however, when he says that controlling the population isn’t a major part of solving this crisis. To not include reproductive control as imperative to surviving the climate crisis speaks of antiquated and dangerous Catholic doctrine. Pagans, however, will probably enjoy section 241, which talks about Mother Mary as Queen of Creation.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

Cherry Hill Seminary‘s Holli S. Emore struck a similar tone, saying:

Pope Francis has created a masterpiece, in my opinion, in the recent encyclical on the environment. Rather than lurking in the safety of official doctrine, he has expounded theologically on a solid grounding of science, economics and social justice. While I wish he had been able to go further in calling for population decrease, I agree with his assertion that blaming overpopulation for our ecological woes is disingenuous. The beauty of the encyclical is that, in addition to the many millions of Catholics around the world who respect the teachings of a pope, the document is crafted in language that people of virtually any faith can embrace. On my desk is a small vase of roses from my garden. They were only buds when I cut and brought them in, but they have gradually opened into blooms of great beauty and fragrance. I choose to see the Pope’s statement as a bud with the power to transform many as it opens and blooms, if only we will nurture the vision.

The Reverend Patrick McCollum released a statement while traveling, which welcomed the Catholic Church to the table of people fighting to protect the Earth. Rev. McCollum said:

I would like to offer praise and admiration on behalf of the Earth Based Spiritual Traditions for the Pope’s brave step forward to join us and others in dialogue about the care and future of our planet. Both we and our indigenous brothers and sisters share many of the same concerns and reverence for the sacredness of our earth that the Pontiff proclaims and we have long waited for a time when all peoples might set aside some of our differences in order to work together as a family toward our common humanity and the place we call home.

There is much work to be done and many challenges to be overcome as we move forward, but as a representative of many millions who treasure the sacredness of creation, I reach out my hand to accept the Pope’s gracious invitation and to share his powerful message worldwide.

The “sacredness” which McCollum referenced has surprised many Pagan observers. Attorney Robin Martinez, whose work against the Keystone XL Pipeline has been chronicled here, zeroed on its implications. He said:

Robin Wright

Robin Martinez

As someone with a Pagan world view, little did I think I’d ever be anticipating the release of a communication from the Pope. I starting realizing the significance of this work when barely into the introduction I read these words: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment is one of the more powerful documents I’ve read in quite some time, and presents a major contribution to development of an underlying moral, ethical, and spiritual framework for our relationship with the Earth. In some respects, I balk at using the word “relationship” because it implies a separation of humanity from the Earth, but Pope Francis tackles that head-on in the introduction, where he writes that “[w]e have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

It also struck Peter Dybing, who said, in part:

After reading the complete document my personal understanding of the nature of Catholic Church is profoundly affected. Here, the institution most responsible for the spread of Patriarchy, colonial power, suppression of indigenous cultures, cultural and environmental genocide, takes an about face. This new Pope steps forward and establishes himself as a leader, not just of his church, but also of those seeking environmental, economic and social justice on a planetary scale.

As I was reading I was drawing parallels with some of the most forward progressive ideas being embraced by Pagan sites like Gods&Radicals. Frankly I am stunned. This may be a watershed document of our generation, establishing an urgency that the world has so far failed to muster for environmental action.

Sean Donahue is a writer for the aforementioned Gods&Radicals, and the import was not lost on him, either. He said:

“Pagan” and “Heathen” are words that originally referred to the unchurched and unlettered people of the countryside, and these were the people Francis of Assisi ministered to — a ministry marked not by conversion but by inclusion in an animist form of Christianity, which saw plants and animals and sun and rain and wind and stars as humanity’s kin. It is telling and significant that the saint’s namesake draws quite explicitly on that original Franciscan language, theology, and spirit in an encyclical addressed not to Catholics but to the world.

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Sean Donahue

Pope Francis calls the world to join him in adopting what he rightly describes as St. Francis’s radical stance — “refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” In so doing, he challenges the fundamental tenets of capitalism, and calls for new political and economic approaches which value both human and non-human life. He explicitly condemns anthropocentrism and asserts that all species have inherent worth and a right to live — a far cry from his predecessor who condemned such views as rooted in “attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism.” He also takes the position that Indigenous peoples are the best caretakers of their traditional homelands, and that they deserve to be allowed to honor an protect “a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.”

All of this marks a tremendous theological shift, a reversal of centuries of church doctrine. Pope Francis believes that there is one God (though he also speaks eloquently of Mary, who “grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power.”) My path is one not of belief, but of relationship, and I am connected with many gods — the Feri gods and the gods of my Celtic ancestors. But that is about all that separates my perspective on the world and the perspective the Pope articulates in this encyclical. And that is deeply healing to my once Catholic heart.

Not everything in this dense document was entirely welcome, however. Halstead pointed out that he had two main concerns. Halstead said, “The first is his lingering anthropocentrism. Although he criticizes ‘distorted’ or ‘excessive’ anthropocentrism (¶¶ 69, 116), he nevertheless insists on humanity’s ‘pre-eminence’ (¶ 90) and ‘superiority’ (¶ 220). He argues that, in the absence of this belief, human beings will not feel responsible for the planet. (¶ 118) While I agree that human beings are ‘unique’ in many ways among the world’s fauna, and that we have special responsibilities as a result, I know from personal experience that undermining the belief in humanity’s ‘superiority’ can produce a greater sense of responsibility to the earth. And I know the reverse to be true as well: belief in our ‘pre-eminence’ can weaken our sense of ecological responsibility.”

Pope Francis [Photo Credit: Catholic Church England / Flickr]

Pope Francis [Photo Credit: Catholic Church England / Flickr]

Then, there’s the notion of the fragility of the earth. Halstead goes on to say, “In one place, the Pope says that ‘a divinization of the earth . . . would prevent us from . . . protecting it in its fragility.’ (¶ 90) . . . . The earth, nature, the biosphere is resilient. There is no sense in the Pope’s statement that human beings are facing an existential threat. And naturally, many Pagans know that the ‘divinization of the earth’ can, in fact, inspire us to protect it.”

Damon Leff, former director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) and editor-in-chief of Penton Independent Alternative Media, is also a longtime observer of the Church. He didn’t mince words with his response:

I personally believe, given the very long and painful history of criminal acts committed by the Catholic Church and its repeated denials of guilt and refusal to honestly atone for many of these sins, that this Church has no moral standing to pontificate on any subject at all, to anyone. An apparently liberal and certainly more affable Pope than his Nazi predecessor does not for one instant change the Church’s actual conservative and often hostilely prejudicial position on any number of subjects Francis may or may not have bantered on since he took office; LGBTI rights and marriage equality, Pagan minorities, witch-hunts, traditional religions in Africa and Europe, Women, poverty, racism, paedophilia and illegal child abduction by nuns in Ireland and elsewhere.

The modern Catholic Church has neither proven itself better nor more moral than its historic predecessor. As for Francis’ statement on the environment, it’s too little too late. The world according to that Church is a pile of sinful dirt. For me and countless others who are not of the opinion that matter is inherently sinful, She is a divine body in need of global rescue. Nothing Francis can say can rescue her. The real battle for Her survival is being waged daily by committed environmentalists against both governments and global corporations completely committed and determined to profit from Her demise at any cost. One only has to look at current issues around and affecting global warming, Monsanto and Roundup Ready GMOs, fracking and polluting industry self-regulation to see that, at best, what any of us ‘believe’ about anything is as useless, in the face of an army of capitalists determined to destroy life as we know it for every planetary species, as spitting curses against the wind.

To Dybing, those aspects which didn’t jibe with his theology are still opportunities for learning. He said, “There are some areas where my personal understanding of divinity and women’s rights are in clear opposition to principles put forth in the document. That fact, however, has me wondering if my personal opinions of the church lead me to seek areas of difference when in fact there is so much in this document that sets the stage for world wide intersections of purpose and action for people of faith.”

No matter these early reactions, Dybing’s recommendation to read it and form one’s own opinions may be well worth heeding. In time, history will judge whether Laudato Si is truly a game-changer, or simply a flash in the pan. If time shows that this document succeeded in getting the entire Roman Catholic Church pulling for the Earth, it will be significant indeed.

Before beginning I’d like to express my enthusiasm for the future of The Wild Hunt. Writing for and about this extended community has been both challenging and invigorating. One of the perks of the job is in the education. Every time I write an article or retell someone’s story, I learn something new. That’s the gift that I receive in return for my time and effort. In addition, I am ever thankful to Jason for instilling his trust in me to help usher in a new decade for this amazing resource.

That brings me to the subject for the day: resources or, more specifically, archival resources. Over the past 10 years Jason has been cataloging Pagan news. The Wild Hunt has become an historical archive containing data on many past events. Each post is a point in time providing a snapshot of what’s going on – the good and the bad; the progressive and the not so progressive and the downright ugly. It catalogs our successes and our failings as well as capturing the whimsy in celebration and expansion.

Photo Credit: Flickr's timetrax23

Photo Credit: Flickr’s timetrax23

Archival research has always been essential to much of my work and that remains true to this day. As I child I was told to never make a statement without 3 supporting facts. My teacher would often say, “Prove it.” I took her advice to heart and will do an excruciating amount of digging before making any type of claim. Now I find something very exhilarating in the finding of the “tiny needle in a haystack” after hours digging through archival material.

However the preservation of historical data serves more than just research junkies like me. There is a higher purpose. The founders of The Adocentyn Research Library explain, “We are living in a period of growth, diversity and change akin to the first few hundred years of Christianity. Future scholars shouldn’t have to rely on the discovery of a future Nag Hammadi library in order to understand our diversity and our history.” This is a project whose time has come.

Here’s an example from my favorite subject: film history. At the turn of the 20th century, movies were considered lowbrow entertainment or sideshow novelties. Nobody thought much more about the filmed product. Technical innovators focused on production while producers focused on the building of a commercial venture. Nobody stopped to catalog or archive the footage being shown. Nobody considered or knew how highly flammable the early celluloid material would be. The American film Industry focused on the doing and not the archiving. Consequently most early films are lost in whole or in part. The historical data contained in those early film reels and in the production processes are completely gone. That’s nearly 40 years of lost material.

Photo Credit: Flickr's Sonear

Photo Credit: Flickr’s Sonear

The Pagan Movement, as it’s been called, is now well beyond the stories of Gerald Gardener, Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and the like.  Up to this point the focus has been more on the doing and not the archiving. No doubt much has already been lost. Regardless we still have many long trails of breadcrumbs through our cultural forest that can be captured. Sabina Magliocco, one of the founders of the Pagan History Project says:

It’s clear that we’re now one of the fastest-growing new religious movements in the world. The documentation of our early history is thus doubly important, especially as the movement is changing in important ways. The elders who were involved in the movement’s early days are now in the twilight of their lives; we have already lost a number just in the last year. Recording their histories and archiving documents from the beginning of the diffusion of modern Paganisms in the US will help preserve that history for future historians.

Just in the past two weeks, Judy Harrow’s crossing came as a surprise to many. Director Holli S. Emore says, “At Cherry Hill Seminary we are all too painfully aware of how the loss of someone like Judy Harrow inserts a sort of glottal stop in the narration of how we came to be where we are today. Anything we did not learn from Judy before last Friday is now gone forever.”

There are lessons to be learned from past experience at all levels of practice. What worked and what didn’t? Why did this group fold and this one last for 30 years?  Shauna Aura Knight is an author and presenter whose focus is on Pagan leadership skills. She says:

When I travel and teach Pagan leadership, what I see over and over is reinventing the wheel … I’ve seen local Pagan unity-type organizations–with actual not-for-profit status–folding because the leaders couldn’t sustain the organizations any longer. Thus those resources become lost, and any future group has to start again. 

Fortunately a number of projects have formed or are forming to fill this very need. Located in California’s Bay Area, The Adocentyn Research Library aims to preserve an expansive amount of material from a variety of religious communities “including indigenous, tribal, polytheistic, nature-based, and/or Earth-centered religions, spiritualities and cultures around the world and throughout human history.” They currently have cataloged more than 6,000 books and are working with the “Lost and Endangered Religions Project on conservation and storage of Pagan materials from India, Turkey and Guatemala.”

Similarly, in southern Delaware, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is raising money to finish the construction of the New Alexandrian Research Library (NAL). The “Library will be collecting materials from all religious traditions focusing on their mystical and the spiritual writings.” Founders hope that NAL will serve as both a functional community and research center as well as become a “cornerstone for the new magical Renaissance.”

Photo Credit:  Circle Sanctuary, Circle Magazine

Photo Credit: Circle Sanctuary, Circle Magazine

All archiving doesn’t need to be done by librarians and institutions. Several groups have digitized their own newsletters such as the Georgian Wicca Tradition and the Covenant of the Goddess. Back Issues of old print periodicals are available for purchase such as Circle Magazine whose offers issues dating back to 1980 when it was still called “Circle Network News.” The Founders of Adocentyn say “Archiving our history ourselves is important because we take our movement seriously, know how parts relate to one another, and understand it.”

Another recent development is the effort to capture individual stories. Shauna Aura Knight is co-editing a new anthology for Immanion Press has that very aim. She says, “I hope to start collecting the stories of what works and how leaders can use that, but also, what hasn’t worked. What are the mistakes we want to avoid in the future?”

The Pagan History Project has a similar objective. Sabina Magliocco explains:

The Pagan History Project is modeled after other oral history projects such as the American Folklife Center’s Veterans’ History Project. We rely on community members to record oral histories from other community members. These digital documents will be posted on a website and made available to other community members and scholars. … At this point, we are focusing on interviewing elders in our community who were involved with the inception of Paganisms in the US.

The Project seeks to create a “mythic history” that captures our humanity through the recording of voices. Currently organizers are looking for volunteers to go out into their communities and interview anyone willing. In this way future generations can benefit from the experiences of even those who have chosen to lead a quiet, non-public life. Holli S. Emore says,”For the many mystics among us, and most certainly for reconstructionists, an understanding of our historical roots has proven to be a vital part of our spiritual journey …  We are deeply enriched by learning the many layers and traces of Pagan history.”

The preservation of the past serves to not only enrich our present experience but to help build a stronger future. Together all these records will tell the greater story of a Movement or Movements with all the nuance and color one might expect. And, if nothing else, these archives will help future historians, research junkies and Wild Hunt journalists look back and say, “So that’s how it all came to be…”      

Before we start this week’s edition of Pagan Voices, I wanted to note that today is Veterans Day, and we here at The Wild Hunt would like to give our thanks to all military personnel and their families for their service and sacrifices. Today is also an excellent time to think of the modern Pagans and Heathens currently serving in the military and offer them our support. A great way to do that is to support to organizations that offer services to Pagan military members. Now then, on to our spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy. Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

“I think as Pagans, it is especially important that we engage in this practice of remembrance.  Whatever your view on war (some traditions strongly respecting the warrior path, such as the Asatru; some being adamantly opposed to war, such as Reclaiming Witches), our empathy for the experience of it is a valuable service we can contribute to our culture and the world.  The many reasons connect to the uniquely Pagan experience of our spirituality.  Now granted, these are all generalizations; and as such, not everyone will fit these moulds.  But we seem to have these commonalities that make remembrance, especially of powerful and terrible events such as war, much more immediate and intense.” – Sable Aradia, on Veterans Day / Remembrance Day.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Yes, I think there are many truths, but “many” does not automatically mean every or any; and it certainly doesn’t mean that all things are truly equal, and thus there is no “real truth.” And, I suspect, this is where a huge number of modern Pagans and polytheists over-read pluralism, and think it means “anything goes,” or the all-too-common maxim “nothing is true, all is permissible” (paraphrased slightly from Vladimir Bartol’s Alamut). […] As a polytheist and a pluralist who thinks that there are many possible truths, I am obliged to respect people who hold these viewpoints and not do them physical harm, nor deprive them of their bodily integrity or security of person and possessions. But, I can debate them to my heart’s content, I can disagree with them, I can resist their efforts to restrain my own freedoms or to demoralize me, and I can even repudiate them and execrate them if they think it is their right and obligation to harm or intimidate me or other queer people. (And, I have and I do, regularly!) […] There is, then, the question of polytheism itself, and whether or not it can tolerate monotheism or monism as other potential “truths.” I would argue that it cannot and it need not, because both of those viewpoints invalidate the basis of polytheism, and thus the experiential core that almost every polytheist upholds and responds to in their theological position as a polytheist. Monotheism and monism cannot be given equal credence as “truths” (or “truth,” as they’d probably prefer it!) because they do not allow for pluralism of divine experiences, or for the diversity of approach and ways of life necessary to nature as we understand it to exist at present.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on how polytheism is not relativism.

Annika Mongan

Annika Mongan

“Many Pagans are former Christians. Those of us who converted from Christianity generally have Christian friends and family praying that we will “repent” and “come back.” We’re seen as prodigals on the wrong path who will realize our error and return to the Christian church. Sometimes the pressure is tremendous, especially where family is involved. We find strength in our Pagan community. We sometimes deal with the pressure by feeding our own us-vs-them mentality. We tell each other how much better our new path is and how glad we are to be done with Christianity. And then one of our own leaves our ranks and does exactly what we vowed we’d never do: “coming back” to Christianity. […] As a Pagan I value pluralism. I value diversity. I believe that divinity is expressed in many forms and that we all understand Spirit differently. We have hard polytheists, monists, pantheists, syncretists, and atheists in our midst. We have endless debates on who is a “real” Pagan and who isn’t, and in the end we still find ourselves under the same umbrella. The Christo-Pagan debate has been getting old for a while now and yet the movement continues to grow. Are we really afraid of Christianity or are we worried about exclusivity? Are we so worried about exclusivity that we exclude Christians from the interfaith table because we fear they might be exclusive? Do we recognize irony when it slaps us in the face?” – Annika Mongan, penning an open letter to Teo Bishop concerning his recent re-engagement with the figure of Jesus.

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

“Peace, it’s a word that has been redefined over the centuries to meet the needs of the cultures that seek it. Peace through strength, peace through protest, peace through conquest, and peace through the struggle to compromise have each had multiple turns upon the world stage. Inner peace has been sought through retreat, meditation, visualization, the quest for insight and service. All worthy pursuits that add to the totality of the human experience. Peace in our time, however, depends on an inner journey that confronts the closely held beliefs, privilege and prejudices that permeate the human condition. Directly stated, peace depends upon the individual human potential to abolish the concept of “the other” from our daily lives. Until the day comes, for each of us, that there is no individual beyond deserving respect, human dignity and a voice in their own destiny there will be no peace in our hearts, in our society or upon the face of Gaia herself. Sounds like a simple process to achieve such a lofty goal doesn’t it? Not really, for each of us there are those beyond being acceptable in our society. What I am referring to is not simply the political, religious and socio economic divides that separate us but something deeper. It is confronting the idea of “the other” in the most extreme ways. Coming to a place where the most heinous of criminals, terrorists, religious fanatics and bigots are seen as a part of the greater whole, fully human, deserving of human dignity and engagement in social discourse.” – Peter Dybing, on peace and abolishing the ‘other’.

John Beckett

John Beckett

“What can Pagans offer the world? Not Paganism the religion(s) but all of us who call ourselves Pagans. What can we offer individually? What can we offer in our covens and groves and other groups? As an individual blogger this is an easy question. I write what the Awen brings to me, I write what interests me, and I write what I’m doing. If you like something I write, great – enjoy reading it. Hopefully you’ll walk away better informed and maybe better inspired. If you really like it, maybe you’ll leave a comment and we’ll explore the matter in greater depth. If you don’t like it, maybe you’ll like my next post… and ultimately, there are plenty of other bloggers to read. The question gets more complicated with a group. Now you’re not just dealing with one person’s thoughts and needs and desires, you’re dealing with several. If the group is public, you’re also dealing with the needs of people who aren’t even in the room. What does your group offer? Who do you offer it to? […]  I encourage you to have an intentional conversation about what you can offer.  What is part of your group’s core identity – what do you feel like you must do?  What are the needs of your members – both what they need to receive and what they need to give?  What are the needs of your community and how can you help meet them?  What are the goddesses and gods you follow calling you to do? Then figure out what your capacity is – how much of this can you actually do?” – John Beckett, on what Pagans can offer the world.

Aidan Kelly in younger days.

Aidan Kelly in younger days.

“A viable balance between politics and religion is as difficult to achieve and maintain as is such a balance between the partners in a marriage. Neither too close nor too distant will work in the long run. Here I will argue that Paganism and Socialism are compatible partners, by means of a commentary on the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, to show that we are socialist, and on the Bill of Rights, to show that, in the broadest sense, we are Pagan. One logistical problem here is that the term ”socialism” has been poisoned by the lies of the rich and powerful, just as the actual teachings of Christian faith have been. The classic socialism of the Enlightenment period was simply the concept that a society should be governed for the benefit of all the people who make it up, not for the benefit of any minority, as Lincoln emphasized at Gettysburg. That concept, which Jefferson derived from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, is the foundation of our political system. We have been socialists since 1776. Our social philosophy is embodied not in the Constitution, but in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, which declared our independence not only from the British Empire, but also from the “dead hand” of all previous religious, philosophical, and political beliefs. Ours was not merely a political revolution. The colonists did not want to govern themselves in the way that England had governed them. Rather, ours was a social and cultural revolution, changing even the way people spoke and still speak: everyone would now be addressed with the respectful ‘you,’ not the familial ‘thou.'” – Aidan Kelly, on the Pagan and socialist nature of the Untied States of America.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“The corporate world – when it bothers to pay attention – speaks of “life/work balance.” As if life and work were two separate and opposing forces. They are not. Just the phrase is a problem. We do it with many things: “sacred and mundane”. “Magical life and real life.” We speak in these binaries as though magical life cannot be real, or as though work is not a healthy part of life. We are tearing ourselves apart for no reason. What sort of life would you like to lead? What sort of life would remind you that every part of life is important, magical, and sacred? What things can you let go? For me, my life includes rest, reading, exercise, clients, writing, students, activism, good food, work, music, sitting under trees, bicycling, sex, friends, spiritual practice…Every day includes a healthy measure of most, and every week includes the remainder. All the parts of my self need to be fed. All the parts of myself need reminders that they are important facets of the whole. Exercise is just as important as spiritual practice is just as important as meeting with spiritual direction clients. I spend different amounts of time on each of these, but they all weave into the whole. It took me a long time and some reframing to get here. I still work a lot, but there is a more useful sense of flow among all the aspects of my life, less of a sense of separation. What feels important to you? What would feel healthy and nourishing to include? What would it feel liberating to let go of? What sort of life do you lead and what life are you hoping to craft? Stop thinking of life balance and start pondering life integration. Manifestation will follow.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on the life/work balance, and integration.

Eric Scott

Eric Scott

“In THE DARK WORLD, after a little bit of naked exposition (obviously reminiscent of the prologue to Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring), we are able to get right into it: the Nine Worlds exist, and we get to visit quite a few of them. (There’s even a scene in Vanaheim, which is traditionally the most boringest plane of existence in Marvel Asgard.) There’s very little apologizing for the fantastic elements in this film; there’s no self-consciousness in the Asgard scenes. Design-wise, this film embraces the “science fantasy” aesthetic even more than previous installments have: I can see a lot of STAR WARS in this film. And this completely works! While easily lampooned as Vikings… in… spaaaaaaace!, I found the design of both Asgard and the Dark Elves’ weaponry, armor, and space ships to be delightfully imaginative. They have flying longships, folks, complete with shields hanging off the sides. The settings are equally impressive: Svartalfheim (simply called “The Dark World” in the film because, well, Svartalfheim doesn’t quite roll off the tongue) is a sepia-skied waste of black sand, Vanaheim is a rugged wilderness, and Asgard continues in its golden glory We get a much better picture of the relationships between Thor and his companions, only sometimes filtered through a surrogate like Jane Foster. This leads to some great scenes, particularly between Thor and Heimdall; Idris Elba doesn’t spend an enormous amount of time on-screen, but he adds considerable depth to his character. Really, all of the Asgardians get moments to shine, especially Rene Russo’s Frigga. (And of course, Tom Hiddleston steals the show as Loki, but that was to be expected at this point.) Christopher Eccleston’s villain, Malekith, remains at a distance – he’s good enough for the story, but his scenes won’t leave you with the kind of attachment you might have felt for Loki at the end of the first film.” – Eric Scott, giving his initial impressions of the film “Thor: The Dark World.”

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“The military as an example of daily interfaith relations? Never having been a soldier, it had not occurred to me, but that’s one of the things I heard at a remarkable meeting this week at the U.S. Armed Forces Chaplains School and Center, here in Columbia, S.C., at Fort Jackson. The Chaplains School was hosting the annual meeting of Interfaith Partners of S.C., and “host” would be an  understatement for the outstanding experience they provided. From the time I parked my car across the street I was greeted by chaplain-soldiers about every 100 yards who made sure I found my way to the meeting hall. Inside they had put up a lovely display of religious materials and mementos of various military interfaith gatherings around the world, plus, beautifully-presented refreshments. While the Navy chaplains had a conflict and could not join us that day, the room was full of Army and Air Force chaplains, many of them instructors at the school, who bustled around making us feel welcome as we arrived. The welcome included name tags and nice table tents, two official photographers, and a local television news camera in the corner. […] Cherry Hill Seminary received several favorable and public mentions, which bodes well for potential future engagement with the Chaplain School. Since CHS is beginning to work on an application to the Department of Defense to have our Master of Divinity recognized as equivalent to that of other accredited schools, it is very helpful for me to learn more about the culture of military chaplaincy and its educational requirements. Also gratifying was to hear several chaplains share their encounters with Pagans in uniform. It was a great day to be out of the broom closet, because Paganism was most certainly not invisible in this crowd, and received equal respect with all the other religions.” – Holli Emore, on interfaith and the U.S. Armed Forces.

That’s all I have for now, my best wishes to you all on this Veterans Day.

Yesterday, Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary announced the launch of a new program, Pagan Life Academy, a series of low-cost lessons designed to bring Pagan values, ethics, and ritual to incarcerated Pagans. In explaining the rationale behind this new initiative, Executive Director Holli Emore said that “the prison experience can be a cauldron of transformation for many” and that they “hope that the newly-launched Pagan Life Academy will inspire others to design additional lessons and contribute to the series.”

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“For years and years, incarcerated Pagans across the country have been writing CHS to ask, no plead, for instructional materials.  About three years ago I was talking to Patrick McCollum about prison ministry and he suggested that one of the best things we could do as a learning institution was to create a set of lessons.  He advised that they should be printed to mail and be very low cost (most inmates work, but make only cents per hour and must buy most of their own toiletries).  Meanwhile, the letters continued to come. 

Several of our faculty raised their hand when I inquired about interest in working on such a project.  This would be a labor of love, and it would mean learning about culture and systems largely unfamiliar to most of us.  Several times we thought we were close to releasing a series, then were advised by someone closer to the penal systems to make changes.  We are greatly indebted to Selina Rifkin, who created the concept for eight written lessons and wrote each of them, and who formally transferred her copyright to CHS as a gift.  We also owe deep gratitude to Candace Kant, who began the process initially, to Annie Finch, who contributed a number of ritual chants, and, especially, to Wendy Griffin, who spent many hours as editor and advisor.  Thank you, all, for your caring, and for contributing your talent to this growing, though out of sight, need in our community.”

Each lesson and ritual costs $5, and is structured around the 8-spoked Wiccan/Pagan “wheel of the year.” Though the lessons are written so that they can be adapted to as wide a range of Pagan traditions as possible.

Academy-300x82

“Contemporary Paganism is really a family of religions, the most popular of which are Asatru or Heathenry, Druidry, feminist Goddess worship, Wicca, non-Wiccan forms of religious witchcraft and reconstructionism (the attempted recreation of ancient religions such as those of Greece and Egypt). Of these Wicca is the largest. Because there may be different kinds of Pagans in any prison, we have attempted to create a Pan-Pagan prison program that includes elements from these traditions and emphasizes some of the values they have in common.”

Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum, who has done extensive work advocating for Pagan inmates, said the initiative was “very much needed” and that Cherry Hill Seminary was, quote, “changing the world and also making history.” Chaplain Sandra Harris, who was awarded Cherry Hill Seminary’s first Masters of Divinity, added that this was a “great step forward in Pagan prison ministry.”

“I know that there are many, many Pagans all over the United States serving time that we’re not aware of, and [who] could really use some support. And without a Pagan volunteer, they probably aren’t going to get any from their prison. And I think that our Pagan values are good values to share with people in the prison setting, too.”Holly O’Brien, Pagan chaplain and Cherry Hill Seminary Student

Many professional chaplains within the American prison industry feel that the number of Pagans behind bars is growing. As that growth occurs, the need to find ways of accommodating their spiritual needs without the impressive infrastructure of Catholic and Protestant Christian faith traditions can be an ongoing challenge. These materials are a step towards finding ways of getting materials to Pagan inmates in a cheap and effective way. Here’s a list of the existing Pagan Life Academy materials.

Pagan Life Academy

“These first eight lessons are the beginning of a dynamic, growing and changing response to the needs of Pagan inmates.  If you are inspired to create additional lessons which may increase the breadth and depth of the Pagan Life Academy, we welcome submissions.  Note that the Pagan Life Academy is our gift to the community, with no payments or royalties going to writers.  Cherry Hill Seminary reserves the right to edit copy as needed, or to decline use of a submission.”

Contact information, and more details, can be found at the Pagan Life Academy page.

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Courtney Weber

Courtney Weber

Learn from rituals, but don’t nit-pick them. Trust me, my Coven of media specialists, writers, musicians, and copy-editors is wont to pull our shit apart and play the “pick out the not-perfect” bits. But we’ve finally learned that rituals should not be discussed for at least a few weeks after something is done. We file away moment of imperfections, suggestions for improvements, other ways to get to be even better at rituals into our mental rolodexes and take them back out when the time to plan our next ritual arises. We give respect to the experiences of those in the space, and the Spirit for attending. All other quirks can be worked out at another time. I can’t lie…I’ve been to some rituals that made me cringe. But I have to respect the fact that other people might be affected negatively by my piss-poor perfectionist attitude. I have to respect the fact that the energy of the ritual is still going after the fact. I can learn from the mistakes of others–and the mistakes I myself make–but if it’s a serious mistake that I will want to avoid next time, I’ll remember it.” – Courtney Weber, a Wiccan High Priestess, on learning to not “wine and cheese your rites.”

Gus DiZerega

Gus DiZerega

“The biggest and most divisive ethical issues of our time involve abortion and the environment. Does a zygote or fetus have sufficient moral standing to put its interests above those of the pregnant woman carrying it? If so, how much? Does the other-than-human world have any moral standing able to override human interests? If so, how much? Significantly, of those most opposing abortion, few have interest in or recognition of the other-than-human world’s moral standing.  On the other hand, most supporting a woman’s right to choose will be sympathetic to and sometimes deeply committed to environmental concerns. Individuals in both camps are usually ethically motivated, but they live in different ethical worlds. These contrasting moral visions reflect a schism going to the center of contemporary America, a genuine clash of cultures capable of tearing the country apart. One is ultimately rooted in an agricultural order, the other in our industrial one.” – Gus DiZerega, on how conflict over abortion and environmentalism are related, and what modern Paganism’s role is in these struggles.

Literata

Literata

“My religion encourages oral sex. Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it. Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty? Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private. […]  quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess: ‘All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.’ The idea of ‘acts of love and pleasure’ is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.” – Literata Hurley, a Wiccan and resident of Virginia, on Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign to reinstate Virginia’s unconstitutional Crimes Against Nature law.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

“One of the things that Evangelicals don’t seem to understand is that people are tired of obstacles separating them from other faith communities. I’m not a Buddhist, but I want to walk a religious path that validates the choices of my Buddhist friends. I don’t walk with Jesus, but I’m fine with those that walk hand in hand with the hippy from the Galilee. People are tired of hearing how their friends are wrong, Paganism takes that antiquated rhetoric away. I’m not saying that everyone should roll the religion dice each morning (today I’m an Atheist Hellenic Thelemite!), but Paganism has never shut out wisdom, no matter where it comes from. […]  like every generation we long to touch the sacred. For centuries touching the sacred was limited to Jesus and his Dad, but those days are over with, and people are waking up to the many and varied sacred currents that are around us all. Some find that connection to the sacred within the Earth and the change of the seasons. Some of us find it in more personal deities, gods and goddesses that come to us without centuries of misguided close mindedness. (Give me Pan rutting around in the woods over a god that would kill an entire country’s firstborn.) There will always be people who long for Jesus, and many good things (and some very bad) have been done in his name, but it’s getting harder and harder to lock out the Divine Feminine. Jesus might be calling, but I think She is too.” – Jason Mankey, on why Millennials love Paganism, and in answer to Christian writer Rachel Held Evan’s piece about why Millennials are leaving Christian churches.

Lupa

Lupa

“So many of our decisions have been made in ignorance of the effects of our actions. While the internet, antibiotics, and central heating have their definite uses, the most popular technologies used to create them have been developed with only our benefit–and the profit margin–in mind. It is plausible that many of the things we’ve created that have improved our species’ average quality of life could have been made in such a way that they didn’t negatively affect the lives of other beings (and some humans). Instead, we stand at a point in time where we’re watching thousands of species of animal, plant, and fungus die out every year, accelerated by our activities, and we still refuse as a whole to explore the depth of the connections we’ve been severing with each local, regional or complete extinction. Why don’t we emphasize to our children that the mycelial mat is at least as important as Thomas Edison’s inventions? In part, it’s due to selfishness. We don’t want to think about anything other than our own advancement and comfort. We want that plastic grocery bag to carry three small items in, dammit, and who cares about the oil it was made from, or the fact that it won’t break down for thousands of years? This doesn’t mean we should feel guilty for the things that have made our lives longer and healthier as a whole. We can explore whether a particular item is necessary, and whether its manufacture is as sustainable as it could be, without sacrificing our quality of life. It just means that we need to make more effort on the behalf of beings besides ourselves.” – Lupa, on recognizing that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.

Cat Chapin-Bishop

Cat Chapin-Bishop

“If I have no business turning you into a scapegoat for all the generations past who have ever harmed anyone in the name of Jesus, I also think you have no business turning me into a mascot for your tolerance and good intentions. I don’t want to be a symbol of your goodness; I don’t want to be anything more or less than what you probably want to be: a human being among other human beings. Along those lines, I ask you not to abuse your newfound (or longstanding) empathy for me and mine by rushing to speak for me. Specifically, I would ask that, as an advocate, you not speak to my concerns before you allow me a chance to speak them for myself. This is harder than it sounds, I know. Quakers love to set injustices right. We work hard to empathize with oppressed peoples. We want to be advocates. We want to be the good guys, and we want to speak out for people who have been marginalized, because it feels so good to be the voice of righteousness. However, it is tiresome to the person whose cause you’re espousing, to be spoken for when we’d rather speak for ourselves.  Certainly, we’d rather not be shut out of discussions of our needs by the voices of eager advocates.” – Cat Chapin-Bishop, from the second part of a letter sent to her Quaker Christian Friends (part one is here), on owning Christian privilege, and how to act once you have.

King Arthur Pendragon

King Arthur Pendragon

“As Druids, we believe that the Ancestors should be left to Rest in Peace and that the Sacredness of the site should not be desecrated in such a way, especially when there are many alternatives to this desecration. We have never been against Science or Education. We are however against the removal and display of our ancestors in such a manner. Whilst ‘Picketing’ at Stonehenge we gained support from peoples from each and every continent of many and of no faiths with the simple message “ Let those we Lay to Rest-Stay to Rest” and we challenged the Ministry of Justice’s decision to extend the ‘licence’ for study. That challenge will continue if ‘The Guardians’ are not returned and re-interred by August 2015. In the meanwhile we will ‘oppose’ English Heritage’s plans to display ‘our’ collective Ancestors, once buried at our most Sacred Site. This opposition will take many forms and we will call on the assistance of other like-minded Groups throughout the World if necessary, for let us not forget Stonehenge is designated as a World Heritage site. Like the ‘Guardians’ campaign, we will call for support from Any, All, and No faiths, who like us believe that the Dead should be left in peace. If English Heritage believe that they can ‘open’ their new visitors centre to a ‘fan-fare’ of common assent and complementary reports on the World stage, whilst planning to display our Guardians in such a macabre manner, they had better think again.”  – Activist and Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon, who is currently in a struggle to stop the display of human remains at Stonehenge’s new visitor’s center, calling it a desecration.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“Monday [August 5th] is the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Oak Creek Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin.  I was contacted for comment this morning by a reporter from our local news station.  Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist and founder of Groundswell, notes that a full year later, everyone knows about Aurora and other tragedies, but most never understood what happened at Oak Creek and have already forgotten.  The anniversary is a good reminder to those of us in another misunderstood minority religion of the importance of interfaith relations. The reporter who contacted me at first said she was doing a story about religious tolerance.  The first thing I said to her was that I look forward to the day we can stop thinking about tolerance and begin appreciating our religious differences.  This includes Pagan appreciation of the religions whose members have often persecuted or despised us, whether we like the idea or not. […] While organizations like Groundswell and interfaith groups all over have done much to make our communities safer, the work is hardly begun, the weeping probably not over. Our heartfelt prayers and intentions go to our Sikh friends and to all in this world who suffer because their spirituality is misunderstood.” – Holli Emore, Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, on interfaith work, tolerance, and the anniversary of the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin.

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

“That’s right, I strongly disagree with your interpretation of divinity, the Gods, worship or piety. So what am I going to do about it? Maybe un-friend you on Face Book, write a post tearing you a metaphorical ‘new one’ or demonstrate my need to be right by encouraging others to give no credibility to your views? Instead I think I will choose to celebrate our differences. Harvest. if you will, what has value in our discourse, demonstrate that respect for others views of divinity is a basic value of my Pagan beliefs.  Your actions and views help me to clarify my own beliefs about my path. It is in discussion and debate that we grow, are challenged to develop new insights into both self and the nature of the Divine. Each of us has a unique perception of divinity and spiritual practice. In learning about your perceptions I grow, consider what is new or uncomfortable, stretch my mind and heart to embrace the bountiful tapestry that is the diverse cloth of Pagan belief. Today I hold you, with your heretical beliefs, in Sacred Regard, as some of my most insightful teachers. Our discussions have planted the seeds of new insight, growth and compassion.  Today I celebrate the harvest of these efforts. Tending this garden of dissention is an honorable and meaningful investment of my time.” – Peter Dybing, on what he plans to do with people he disagrees with theologically.

Trey Capnerhurst / Treasach

Trey Capnerhurst / Treasach

“I used to have repeated arguments with others in the pagan community on this topic, though in the past few years, curiosity and hope are beginning to replace the sneering. “Why should WE need an abbey?”, some said with a snort. “There are plenty of Buddhist and Taoist monasteries around..” Well, we are neither Buddhist nor Taoist, although most of us get along quite nicely with them, of course. For a religion to be more formalized, to grow and permeate more areas of a culture or a group, it needs full time members who are dedicated to practising, refining, writing, recording, studying and teaching. Though we do have quite a few of those, they usually have day jobs, rather than being a full time professional community. We have a great many of what could be termed lay sisters and brothers; those who are devoted and dedicated to living their lives in the Way, but we have no priest ‘class’, as it were. So, though we do have a professional priesthood of sorts, we have not yet created spaces to support them full time, or train and hone them, or even facilitate professional community environments of librarians, educators and other academics. It is vital to our religion to establish these communities, and not just as teaching venues, but as places where we can totally immerse ourselves in our religion, and not only for short retreats. But for years. They are already becoming a reality. I was in contact with an abbess of the Cybeline abbey in New York for some time. They already have a large community of nuns with hospitality, retreat centres and libraries. Though there is room for dedicating to one Goddess in particular, like mine, because that’s just for me, a similar kind of non-deity specific community can appeal to far more people under the auspices of Pagan Humanism, where everyone can hear the call in their own way, yet we can work under one banner. Conserves resources and coalesces talent, doncha know.” – Treasach (aka Trey Capnerhurst), a Pagan Abbess, on why establishing Pagan abbeys are a practical solution to several ongoing problems within our communities.

Damh the Bard

Damh the Bard

“Yesterday was a glorious day to hold a Lughnasadh ceremony. Although not in full flow the grain harvest has begun, and John Barleycorn is falling in the fields. I started the ceremony by asking if there were any News of the World reporters at the ceremony, and then remembered that there were no such things any more… So changing that to The Daily Mail I pointed out that this ceremony might reinforce the odd stereotype, with its theme of sacrifice. A falling Corn King, sickles and scythes, all good sensationaistic fodder for the ignorant. But this is a festival of thanksgiving, a spiritual honouring that within its very language understands that for some things to continue to live, other things have to die. It’s all around on our supermarket shelves, we just don’t have to see the blood any more, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot honour the life that has been given, and this thanksgiving also includes the grain harvest, and the falling of the Corn King.” – Damh the Bard, on celebrating Lughnasadh at the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex.

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

Last week I presented the question of Pagan solidarity. Does it exist? Should it exist? What is the impact and evolution of such a concept? Generally speaking, it is widely accepted that Pagan solidarity, in some form, is vital for both the protection and continued growth of the non-traditional religions that fall under the Pagan umbrella. Additionally, solidarity can offer a sense of community and comfort over a host of social networks supporting both Pagan groups and solitary practitioners.

In December of 2011, Lady Liberty League mobilized a Task Force to protect a Southern Pagan family’s religious liberty within a public school system. The Task Force, of which I was a member, was comprised of professional individuals representing different Pagan organizations and Pagan spiritual traditions. Together, in solidarity, we worked for three weeks and, in the end, achieved quite a victory.

After that case was settled, the Task Force itself disbanded. However, Lady Liberty League still operates; watching and waiting. Since 1985, the organization has been ever on the “ready” with the ability to mobilize Pagan resources as needed. When active solidarity becomes a regular occurrence an organization is born.

Let’s turn now to a network of Pagan voices to hear their thoughts on the growth and importance of the Pagan organization.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton (center)

Our desire to be seen as a legitimate religion by government entities has forced us to change to fit their definitions, which, in the United States at least, were designed for Protestant Christians…We have been dealing with this issue since the mid-1970s, when the Covenant of the Goddess was created. – Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and a practitioner of American Eclectic Craft

Jonathon S. Lowe

Jonathon S. Lowe

One of the most basic principles of Paganism is that we are all interconnected to everyone and everything around us. Solidarity helps us to solidify those connections… Organizations are merely facilitators helping to make these connections possible.”  – Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe, Interfaith Minister, Founder Midnight Star School of Witchcraft, Coordinator of The Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas 

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa
North Georgia Solitaries

I am a member of several worthy organizations that…have members with diverse beliefs and yet all of these organizations work every day to help build community by concentrating on the task at hand and respecting each other’s differences. Lady Charissa, founder of North Georgia Solitaries, coordinator of the Pagan Assistance Fund, High Priestess of Silver Pine Grove 

Before we go any further, we need to deal in semantics. Most responders made no distinction between an institution and an organization. Are they same thing?  Covenant of the Goddess representatives, Rachael Watcher and Ginger Wood say no.

On the Fears and Dangers of Institutionalization:

Certainly some individuals and small groups might come together for the sake of mutual interest and form an organization, but would that constitute an institution? … Those who are drawn to think outside the box in expressions of spiritual freedom are not generally going to be ready to discard that freedom of thought for yet another set of doctrinal mandates. – Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess 

Ginger Wood

Ginger Wood

We do have organizations that have worked hard some for over 30 years, to give Pagans a flag to unite under. [But] I will not accept [institutionalization] as “must” and I pray to the Goddess that none of us are forced to institutionalize in order to be heard.  – Ginger Wood, National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Priestess of Gryphon Song Clan and Pagan novelist

Both Rachael and Ginger are using the accepted sociological definition of institution which is explained at length in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Very briefly, an organization is less complex or rigid in structure, scope or activity than an institution.   

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

We need to think deeply about what kinds of organizational structures best support our values…guard against rigidity in power structures and in belief systems. – Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor at Patheos Pagan Channel, Cherry Hill Seminary Instructor

Institutionalization is a big issue for me, always has been. It’s something I’ve resisted…  In more recent years my attitude has softened. Years ago my friend Sam Webster insisted that we needed to establish institutions because institutions are the only thing that lasts.  Individual humans pass on.  M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, witch, teacher, ritualist and author.

M Macha Nightmare

M Macha Nightmare

Macha makes an excellent point. Humans do pass on. Organizations or institutions can be passed down. Can we create viable Pagan institutions that serve solidarity without sacrificing spiritual freedom and, at the same time, last for decades to come?

On the Building of Pagan Institutions:

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“Pagans are perfectly capable of having healthy institutions which serve our needs and goals, indeed, we participate in such institutions every day in our real-world lives…Why wouldn’t we want to enjoy the benefits of stronger infrastructure, better accountability and healthy leadership?” – Holli S. Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, Priestess of Temple Osireion 

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

A wide diversity of Pagan institutions are necessary as the glue that will bind us in our common effort to defend the rights of all belief systems. Peter Dybing, Pagan Service Advocate, Chief Officer, Federal Incident Management Team, 100% for Haiti Board member

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

We need some of the power that institutions bring to any community or movement… Togetherness commands attention …The key is finding a way to use the concepts of community solidarity in balance with some of the undesirable things that come with community dynamics – Crystal Blanton, High Priestess with Solitaries of the Second, Pagan author.

So how do we create that balance? How do we create and maintain healthy organizations and fluid institutions that promote solidarity and allow for that community dynamic?

Building trust person-to-person, which tends to spread to friends of those people who begin learning who each other is, how they think, what their concerns are, how they express their spirituality.… I think one of our greatest assets as Pagans is our diversity.  M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, witch, teacher, ritualist and author. 

I think we should do our best to make strength out of diversity. If you have twelve Pagans together, they normally represent at least thirteen religions. [But] It is natural for people to seek agreement…I recommend we conform to one standard: mutual respect and intolerance only of intolerance. – Freeman Presson, Namen of Temple Zagduku & Fr. Ophis, Church of Hermetic Sciences. 

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox

Like a delicious multi-ingredient salad, when Pagans unite, we can bring our individual flavors and textures as we join together — and we can maintain this diversity in our collaboration. Our diversity can enrich our solidarity.Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister at Circle Sanctuary 

Our diversity is our strength. Our diversity is our asset. Our diversity is our core.  So, with that essential ingredient, can we venture to build uniquely-structured institutions that respect and serve the expansive Pagan world view for generations to come?  If so, these institutions must conform to the rigid expectations of mainstream society; thereby ensuring our legal protection and promoting social awareness. And, as the wheel turns, this increased awareness will eventually lead to a broader and a healthier social acceptance of the diversity that began it all.

Thank you to all the contributors for their valued opinions and to the readers for opening the doorway to this conversation and continuing the process into the future.

Full Comments: (listed alphabetically)

Crystal Blanton
Chas Clifton
Peter Dybing
Holli S. Emore
Rev. Selena Fox
Christine Hoff Kraemer
Lady Charissa
Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe
M. Macha Nightmare
Freeman Presson
Rachael Watcher

 

Last week, I reported on the Atlanta Pagan community’s wreath project.  As explained, the wreath’s purpose is to build a sense of solidarity for that Pagan community. Following the post, several readers launched into a discussion that probed the very nature and meaning of Pagan solidarity. As one reader asked, “What is the purpose?”

Additionally, readers explored the concept of solitary solidarity. Can such a thing exist?  Or, as one reader put it, is the concept of the solitary group “oxymoronic?”

These are serious sociological questions that, in exploring, could help to define modern Pagan practice as it expands and diversifies. These age-old questions are very difficult to answer for a non-dogmatic, non-centralized religious group. But we may now have reached a point at which it is very necessary to confront them.

I opened the conversation up to the greater Pagan community, asking a variety of people their thoughts on the subject. I will share the responses in two parts. This week, in part one, we will examine the question of Pagan solidarity itself and, subsequently, how it relates to the solitary practitioner. Next week, in part two, we will explore the Pagan institution, its viability and purpose.

On the importance of Pagan solidarity

Ginger Wood

Ginger Wood

Nature-based religions have been in practice for thousands of years.  Nature religions will continue with or without “Pagan solidarity.” However, in a political sense… it is important that Pagans stand together when the need arises.  – Ginger Wood, National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Priestess of Gryphon Song Clan and Pagan novelist

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Pagan community solidarity is incredibly important. We don’t have to practice together or hold exactly the same beliefs to defend each other’s rights. – Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor at Patheos Pagan Channel, Cherry Hill Seminary Instructor

Without question, all of those who responded agreed that solidarity within the Pagan community is essential to facilitating growth and acceptance. As Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister at Circle Sanctuary, said, “When Pagans unite in Solidarity for a common cause; a synergy emerges that enhances our work together.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox

However, Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and a practitioner of American Eclectic Craft, pointed out that we need to better define the terms “community” and “solidarity.”   He writes:

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton (center)

We often say “community,” but what we really mean is “network” or “association.”  Right now, what we mainly have are networks — or subcultures that you can join or leave, participate in or not, according to your individual desires. We may be moving toward community but I don’t think we are quite there yet.

He continues on to question the definition of solidarity which he labels “tricky.”

Does it simply refer to religious freedom under the broadest umbrella, like you are a Druid, and I am a rootworker, but I respect you as a Pagan practitioner, and you respect me?  Or does it mean that I have to support everything that you do and all your struggles, like union workers not crossing each other’s picket lines? 

Perhaps we can meld the two definitions. Solidarity would then become the outward respect that binds our network, or our community, together with the potential of offering support.  If we omit terms like “have to” and “must” from “solidarity,” we are left with the strength of possibility and freedom. 

On Solitary Solidarity:

Where does that leave solitaries, those that choose to practice alone? If they seek out community, do they jeopardize their solitary status?  To repeat one reader’s words, are solitary community-groups “oxymoronic?” Can there be such a thing as “solitary solidarity?”

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa

Solitaries are no different than any other Pagan. We all need strength in numbers to help protect our rights. Many solitaries like to come together, every once in a while, to socialize, share knowledge and celebrate our holy days. – Lady Charissa, founder of North Georgia Solitaries, coordinator of the Pagan Assistance Fund, High Priestess of Silver Pine Grove

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

I don’t see solitary spiritual practice as precluding community solidarity. Solidarity is the practice of supporting and helping each other, not necessarily agreeing with each other. Solitaries benefit from the published teachings and public events put on by those affiliated with groups.  We are interdependent, no matter how we define our practice. – Holli S. Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, Priestess of Temple Osireion

Most agree that “solidarity” doesn’t end where “solitary” begins.

M Macha Nightmare

M Macha Nightmare

One need not belong to a formal religious group in order to identify with, and participate in, larger Pagan efforts any more than one needs to belong to a particular political party to vote. – M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, Witch, teacher, ritualist and author.

Jonathon S. Lowe

Jonathon S. Lowe

Nobody loses their solitary practice or identity in the process of taking part in solidarity… The defining point of being a solitary practitioner isn’t to make yourself a hermit every time you practice. It is so that you can develop your own working spiritual system that is right for you, without having others interfere.  Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe, Shaman, Coordinator of The Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas

Most of the people that responded were in some way involved with or directly engaging the Pagan “network.”  In the interest of perspective, I sought out a Pagan who chooses the true solitary experience.  Stevie Diamond has never practiced within a group or been formally initiated, nor does she have the desire.

After hearing the questions, she echoed what Ginger Wood said, “Nature religions will continue with or without Pagan solidarity.” Stevie explained, “I am a quiet, reclusive person. It feels more personal and electric if I do a ritual or spell by myself.  I just can’t imagine chanting in front of someone else.”

Despite this choice, Stevie acknowledges the benefit of having a Pagan network. It was through another witch that she identified her spiritual path.  She has grown her own practice from books written by Pagan authors.  And, if she encounters problems, she stated, “I would feel comfort in a group knowing they believe what I do.”

Next week, in part two, we’ll examine the Pagan institution. Is solidarity the birth-mother of the institution?  And where does that lead?

(Note: I will post links to the full, unedited comments next week)