Archives For Hurricane Sandy

This week has weighed heavily on me.  As the mother of three school age children, I spent this holiday week in-and-out of classrooms. With the Newtown tragedy still fresh, there was an underlying uneasiness within our elementary school – a profound sadness and unspoken fear.  While I looked at all the children’s projects taped to the walls, one phrase kept passing through my mind:

“How could God have allowed that to happen?”

Pere Lachaise

From Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise
Photo courtesy of Leo Reynolds of Flickr

You wonder how a practicing Pagan, a Wiccan Priestess could ask this question? But I’m not asking it. I’m hearing it. I’m reading it. Whether it’s spoken by neighbors or published on the internet, this burning question is drowning out much of the news reports and political calls-to-action as people desperately grasp for meaning.

I began to wonder how we, as Pagans, approach this question. Not for ourselves within our Pagan community but for others outside of our faith. How can we, as Pagans, talk to a depressed Catholic man who has recently lost his wife in a flood?  How do we help a young Jewish girl find peace after losing her friend in a war? How do we calm a Methodist mother whose child has just been shot in a classroom?

Whether at a private memorial service or on the front-lines of tragedy, we all will be or have been put in the position to console the grieving. Given we are in a minority religion, there is very good chance that the grieving individual is not Pagan. How do we console someone who understands the Divine in an entirely different way?

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

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

Several months ago, when I interviewed Sandra Harris, the master’s graduate from Cherry Hill Seminary, we briefly discussed this topic in relation to the Hurricane Sandy disaster.  Aside from her work in hospital chaplaincy, Sandra was accepted to the Fairfax County Community Chaplain Corps, an interfaith first-response unit that “provides spiritual care and support to community members during and after a local emergency or man-made or natural disaster.”

I turned to Sandra this week to revisit her advice. She shared this:

When something happens none of us knows why, in all its details, cosmic or mundane. Asking the question [“Why?”] is a very normal human behavior.  We count on the Universe to have some order, some predictability. The question arises because the Universe didn’t follow the rules and we fear there are other things we assumed to be true that maybe aren’t. 

[As a Pagan friend, minister or confidant] our best response is one that, first, affirms the need and validity of the question and the questioner. Our second response is to encourage the questioner to talk with the aim of releasing what meaning he or she fears the event has. Finally, our third and most difficult job is to help the questioner re-frame the event in some way that leaves hope alive and allows meaning to grow from what happens next. This is where we walk with the questioner while the he or she questions the Divine. We just facilitate that conversation, gently reigning it in when it sidetracks down dark alleys, trying to steer clear from the “if only” and the “what ifs.” 

In all cases, never take away hope, stay in the “here and now,” and never be so presumptuous as to impugn meaning to an event in another’s life.

Lady Emrys

Lady Emrys, Wiccan Priestess
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Sandra’s thoughts were echoed by another Pagan minister, Lady Emrys, who is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with extensive experience in hospice and palliative care as well as psychotherapy. She has worked to ease the spirits of both grieving families and the dying themselves. For much of her career, Lady Emrys worked in the heavily Baptist Deep South with many of those years spent at St. Joeseph’s, a Catholic hospital in Atlanta. Her patients and clients are rarely Pagan. When I posed my question to her, she remarked:

When we sit with people who are experiencing this level of suffering, it’s not about what you say. It’s about how well you listen; how well you can create a space for them to safely feel and say whatever is in their hearts.  It’s about how well you can stay present with them, when their pain is so difficult to witness, that all you want to do is fix them.

Whether as minister or as a friend, helping another in this capacity is no easy task for even the trained. Lady Emrys added, “On rare occasions [when] I had interactions with people who were nearly impossible to work with due to a combination of fundamentalism and personality issues, I partnered with another team member, especially the chaplain. This was always helpful in my own self-care and safety.”

In the end, whether the client is Pagan or another faith, in order to truly be present as both Lady Emrys and Sandra describe, we must step outside the barriers that separate our religions. We must journey far beyond interfaith constructs to reach a boundless space where only universal humanity exists. Lady Emrys reminds us:

Regardless of our differences, we are humans with similar needs and desires. If we focus on our similarities, on the compassion we have for our fellow human beings, the connection we make will cause those differences to become insignificant.

So, when they ask, “How could God have allowed that to happen?”  We respond, “Well, what do you think?”    And then, once there, we listen.  Most importantly,  Sandra Harris reminds us, “Silence is OK.”

Merry Solstice, Light the lights and may peace find you today and always.

 

 

 

Last week I reported that Pagan author and teacher  T. Thorn Coyle, with Solar Cross Temple, started a FirstGiving page to support Washington DC’s Miriam’s Kitchen in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Miriam’s Kitchen, which provides food and resources to the homeless, is dedicated to helping a population especially vulnerable to extreme weather.

“This week our homeless guests were among the most vulnerable facing Hurricane Sandy. More than 40% of our guests find shelter on the streets each night. That means the high winds, pouring rain, falling trees, extreme temperatures and risk of hypothermia were just a few of the hardships our guests experienced.

Together, Pagans raised more than $1,500 dollars for Miriam’s Kitchen, and now Solar Cross Temple is re-focusing on raising funds for Occupy Sandy, and also looking into ways to assist Haiti, hard-hit by the storms.

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“I’m writing today to announce that Solar Cross Temple is starting a new campaign to send funds to Occupy Sandy to help them continue the amazing work they have begun, which is only beginning, as those affected by Hurricane Sandy move into winter with a broken infrastructure. We are still looking for a good group working on the ground in Haiti to donate funds to, wanting to make sure that the bulk of the money goes to actual aid, and not administration costs. […] If you have $5, $10, $50, $150 to spare, if you can pool resources with friends, covens, households, kindreds, or lodges, please consider helping us. We are taking donations via Paypal (the FirstGiving site we used for Miriam’s Kitchen doesn’t have that ability, which left many unable to donate). Please send them to solarcrosstemple@gmail.com with the subject line “Hurricane Relief.” We will send the funds on $250 or $500 at a time, depending on how much comes in, and how quickly.”

In addition to these ongoing efforts within the Pagan community, the global tarot community (which includes many Pagans) just successfully raised over $5000 dollars for the American Red Cross. To raise the money dozens of tarot readers and enthusiasts offered items or services to raffle off.

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These are just two examples of how Pagans and other interconnected esoteric communities are reacting to the immense damage and hardship caused by Sandy. Banding together to do our part, show solidarity with those suffering, and aid in the efforts to assist and rebuild. Our successes so far are to our credit, and sums up an ethos shared by Thorn Coyle in her latest post on Solar Cross fundraising efforts.

Blessed be those in need.

Blessed be those who offer love in action.

We all weather these storms.

We all weather these storms, an understanding that is integral to how many Pagans operate. Sacred community extends not just to our circles, groves, and hearths, but to the places and people we co-exist with every day, and to the land itself.

If you know of other Pagan or esoteric community fundraising efforts, please share them in the comments. Also, let us know if you’ve donated to Sandy relief privately, outside the rubric of an organized campaign.

Pagans are a part of the web and weave of everyday culture. We’ve emerged from being a largely subcultural religious phenomenon and have steadily gained increasing attention, most notably from the mainstream media. For example, The Huffington Post’s new HuffPost Live initiative held a group interview on Halloween with Teo BishopAmy BlackthornGus DiZeregaMorgan Copeland and Patrick McCollum. As expected, they covered some basics, talked about Samhain, and shared their personal perspectives on modern Paganism.

HuffPo Screenshot

You can watch the entire interview, here. In addition, Teo Bishop shares some of the conversation that happened after the formal interview ended.

“Perhaps the most exciting part of the experience for me was what happened after the Google Hangout ended. The panelists stayed on the call and talked for a good 30 minutes more, sharing perspectives about a whole variety of topics. We re-addressed some of what happened while we were on the air, and there are a few things that stuck out that I’d like to get your take on.”

A shame the follow-up conversation wasn’t recorded! In any case, this was a nice Pagan-centered exploration of our interconnected faiths, and I’m glad that HuffPost Live garnered such an impressive lineup! Congratulations!

On a less serious note – Pagans also got a bit of inadvertent mainstream attention from late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien when he showcased a number of magazines that will outlive Newsweek’s print edition. Among the titles picked? Why our own Witches & Pagans Magazine, featuring M. Macha NightMare on the cover!

conan macha

You can get a closer shot of Conan holding the magazine, here. You can watch the entire video segment, here. Now W&P editor Anne Newkirk Niven (and Macha) can add “as seen on Conan” to her publications resume! For those worried about if this was a negative portrayal, don’t worry, Conan’s show is on TBS.

On a more serious note, while it’s fun to see ourselves on HuffPost Live, or even on Conan, it’s good to remember that we’re more than what appears on popular media outlets. That many Pagans are dedicated to service, healing, and responding to those in need. Pagan elder Peter Dybing, a first responder who has served in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the Gulf Coast during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and several larger forest/brush fires, reports from an East Coast ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

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An overview of the fire damage in Queens, New York, following Hurricane Sandy.

“As new missions evolve and priorities change the mission of my team keeps changing. Primarily we are clearing roads of downed trees so relief supplies and emergency vehicles can get through. The devastation is complete along the shore on Long Island. Thousands of cars along with hundreds of homes lie buried in the sand. Most heart breaking of all is the evacuee’s staying in the same place as the disaster teams. Their stories of hardship and loss have brought me to tears on multiple occasions. Hardest of all is remaining focused on our mission and not assisting the evacuees with issues outside our assignment.  My heart breaks for these families.” 

For some Pagan efforts to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Sandy, see my Community Notes post from Thursday. Our prayers go with Peter and all the other first responders working in the aftermath to help those affected rebuild. Our prayers also go out to those still struggling without power, without resources, or without a home.

Taken together, these impression complicate the picture some try to paint of our faiths, our movement. It reminds the world that we share their common humanity, and that we are a part of a larger community, even as we are a part of our own.

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

Support in the Wake of Sandy: Pagan author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle and Solar Cross Temple have started a FirstGiving page to support Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington DC. The money for the campaign will help Miriam’s Kitchen buy sleeping bags, warm clothes, hypothermia kits and other necessities, along with feeding people, as they do all year long, but which is especially important in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

storm fundraiser

Solar Cross Temple will be coordinating locally with David Salisbury of Firefly House, who volunteers at Miriam’s Kitchen. If this campaign is successful, and raises its goal in a week, Solar Cross Temple will start another campaign to help food banks and/or first responders in New Jersey and NYC next week. They have currently raised 25% of their goal, and this could be an excellent joint statement from the Pagan community in response to the hardships and tragedies many on the East Coast are currently facing.

Cherry Hill Seminary Spring Symposium Features Historian Ronald Hutton: Online Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced that they will be partnering with the University of South Carolina to co-host a symposium featuring scholar Ronald Hutton, author of “The Triumph of the Moon:A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft,” as their keynote speaker.

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Ronald Hutton

“Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes will take place on the USC campus in this old southern capital.  The agenda includes presentations by Hutton, CHS’ own Wendy Griffin, and Jonathan Leader, chair of the USC Dept. of Archaeology, and South Carolina’s State Archaeologist. This is an unprecedented opportunity to meet and engage in discussion with an international figure such as Hutton, an English historian who specializes in the study of Early Modern Britain, British folklore, pre-Christian religion and contemporary Paganism.”

The symposium will take place April 13, 2013, on the USC campus in Columbia, South Carolina. Scholars wishing to participate have until January 1st, 2013 to submit papers. More information will be posted to the Cherry Hill Seminary website in the near future. We’re hoping that a Wild Hunt reporter will be able to attend and report on the symposium.

Faith, Fern & Compass Raise Awareness & Funds for Hunger and Homelessness: The podcast Faith, Fern, & Compass, which focuses on nature spirituality, ecology, art, and other topics, and is hosted by Alison Leigh Lilly and Jeff Lilly, announced that they will be donating half of the first month’s subscription fee for all new Pro Members to the National Coalition for the Homeless through November 18th.

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“On this week’s Halloween/Samhain Special podcast episode, Jeff and I explore the disturbing and tragic stories that homeless children in Miami pass along among themselves about the war between angels and demons, and the role of Bloody Mary as the fearsome, heartless murderer of children, who causes even trusted adults to betray them. We hope to help bring some awareness to the problem of homelessness in this country, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy which, like most natural disasters, impacts the disenfranchised and impoverished hardest of all.

For everyone who signs up to become a Pro Member between Oct. 31 (today) and Nov. 18, FF&C will donate half of their first month’s subscription to the National Coalition for the Homeless, to help spread awareness and support those who work for the cause of social justice. We’re also encouraging our current listeners to donate to National Homeless or another homelessness or disaster relief charity of their choice.”

More information can be found at the Faith, Fern, & Compass site.

In Other Community News:  

  • Patrick McCleary of the blog Pagandad is launching a new series of ebooks entitled “Voices from the Grain” that is “devoted to the idea of getting the voices of Pagan men out there.” Their first edition is scheduled to be released in December with the topic being Yule.
  • The Heathen Anarchist collective Circle Ansuz Bay Area Leidang has issued a press release about their recent leafleting and postering near Counter-Currents Publishing, a white supremacist publisher. Quote: “As Heathens, San Franciscans, and human beings we are outraged by the presence of this mouthpiece for backward, bigoted beliefs in the city.”
  • The 5th Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Religion and Spirituality, organized by the Program in Religious Studies at Tel Aviv University, has announced its call for papers. The conference will take place May 28th and 29th, 2013.  Featured Keynote Lectures will include Prof. Ronald Hutton (University of Bristol, UK), Prof. Jeffrey J. Kripal (Rice University, US) and Prof. James R. Lewis (University of Tromso, Norway). Deadline for proposals is December 15 2012 (email link for proposals).

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