Archives For interfaith

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

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

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

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

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

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

hexenfest

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

Here are some updates on stories previously mentioned or reported on at The Wild Hunt.

Hollicrop-589x1024At Patheos, Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, writes about her meeting with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, as part of an interfaith proclamation that was issued for the month of January. Quote: “I don’t support Haley politically. But that is not the point; politics is not what brought us together on this occasion. Once elected, Haley became my governor, and I am deeply grateful for her support of interfaith work. To our knowledge, South Carolina is the only state in the U.S. to acknowledge the importance of religious plurality and issue a formal proclamation. Haley may understand, better than any other governor in the nation, that nurturing diversity will strengthen us, not just spiritually, but also economically and in the public sector.” Last month, Wild Hunt staff writer Heather Greene wrote about Gov. Haley’s proclamation, and the role Emore (as a Pagan) has played in South Carolina’s interfaith community.

marianne-williamson-smilingBack in December I noted the Congressional candidacy of New Age superstar Marianne Williamson, author of the immensely popular self-help book “A Return to Love.” Now, the Religion News Service has a piece up about her “prayerful” bid for political office. Quote: “With about four months before primary elections, Williamson is seeking to tap into widespread discontent and disillusionment and apply her own brand of well-packaged, transformational wisdom to stoke ‘a people’s movement. It’s the people who have to intervene, because the political status quo is part of what has taken us to where we are,’ Williamson said in an interview this week, highlighting corporate money as a primary cause for the present state of affairs. ‘It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment.’ Williamson launched her campaign in October. She wants to end the status quo of capitulation to corporate money in politics and encourage an engaged, loving electorate.” With the recent retirement announcement of Democrat Henry Waxman, who currently holds the contested California seat, what was once a long-shot now seems somewhat more likely.

religion-50-year-change-Figure2We talk a lot about the “nones” here at The Wild Hunt, those folks who refuse to be pinned with a religious label, and who have experienced rapid growth in recent years. The ongoing question is: what will their ascent mean for our society and how we conceive religion’s role in it? Americans United points to some new data from Baylor University researchers, which shows the United States becoming more religiously diverse, including the rise of “nones” and “others.” Quote: “The proportion of Americans who identify with “Other” religious traditions has doubled, an increase that is closely tied to the increased immigration of Asian populations who brought non-western religions (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) with them. While still a small proportion of the overall population, they contribute greatly to the increased religious diversity of the American religious landscape. In 20 states, scattered in the Midwest and South, Islam is the largest non-Christian religion. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast, and Buddhism is the largest religion in 13 western states. In Delaware and Arizona, Hinduism is the largest non-Christian religion, while in South Carolina it is the Baha’i.”

blog-jesusinschool-500x280_1At the end of January, I profiled how a Buddhist student was harassed by the Christian majority at a public school district in Louisiana, prompting litigation from the ACLU. Since then, the story has exploded across the Internet. Now, prominent culture blog Boing Boing points to an ACLU-penned petition to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for a federal investigation. Quote: “No child should be subjected to the type of humiliation that our son has endured. The Department of Justice has the power to end this unlawful religious discrimination at schools in Sabine Parish and set an example for the rest of Louisiana— but we have to make sure they take the case. Please join us in calling on the Department of Justice to launch an immediate investigation into this unlawful religious discrimination so that no other child has to go through the harassment that our son has endured.” We will keep you updated as this story develops.

President Obama at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast.This past Thursday was the National Prayer Breakfast, for those who missed it (that would include me). You can read President Obama’s full remarks, here. Quote: “Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion.  And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.  Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights.” As I’ve pointed out in the past, despite the bipartisan good-naturedness and calls for religious freedom, the National Prayer Breakfast has deeply problematic elements for anyone who isn’t a Christian. Activist groups have called on politicians, to seemingly no avail, to boycott this event. At least the existence of gays and non-believers was invoked this year. Maybe we’ll actually get to a point where it’s robustly interfaith too.

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

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

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

As mentioned in last week’s installment of Pagan Community Notes, Pagan elder Morning Glory Zell is currently in the hospital due to kidney problems. Her partner, Oberon Zell, has posted an update on her status, saying that ”she had a double-dose of blood extraction and filtration: phoresis all morning, and dialysis all afternoon. By the time they were done, she was really wiped out, and she had a very rough night. Today she was due for another phoresis treatment, and then they were going to alternate days of phoresis with days of dialysis. But she begged them to let her have a day off, and they agreed. So tomorrow she’ll be back on phoresis.” As treatments continue, a fundraiser has been organized to help cover costs associated with her long hospital stay. Quote: “Money for Morning Glory Zell is accepting donations to offset living and medical expenses for our Pagan Priestess.” As of this writing, over $4000 dollars of the $5000 dollar goal have been raised. Our best wishes go out to Morning Glory, her family, and loved ones.

Deborah Ann Light (photo via Anna Korn)

Deborah Ann Light (photo via Anna Korn)

It has been announced that Deborah Ann Light, a Wiccan Elder who has been heavily involved with the interfaith movement, has entered hospice. A Facebook group has been set up for those wishing to send messages or share remembrances as she prepares for this next stage in her journey. Here’s a short quote from Andras Corban Arthen of EarthSpirit on Light and her contributions to modern Paganism. Quote: “Deborah has been a great benefactor to the pagan movement over the years, and helped to open many doors for us, especially in the area of interfaith. At the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, when, after much negotiation, the Parliament agreed to give one seat at the Assembly of Religious Leaders to be divided among the three co-sponsoring pagan organizations — EarthSpirit, Circle and COG — Deborah (as a member of all three organizations) became our joint representative and signed the Global Ethic document on our behalf. As a philanthropist, she has given substantial funding to many pagan organizations and causes, never wanting public credit or fanfare, only the satisfaction of knowing she had been able to serve her community.” Our best thoughts and wishes go out to Deborah Ann Light, her friends, family, and co-religionists.

Wendy Rule

Wendy Rule

Pagan musician Wendy Rule has just released a new album, entitled “Black Snake.” Rule calls the album one centered on “transformation.” Quote: “Black Snake is an album of transformation. It follows my personal journey of the past couple of years – of stripping back and letting go of everything that was holding me back, and of reaching a point of vulnerability that allows for true growth. It’s an album of great optimism, and although some of the songs are soft and dark and sad, many are full of the great exhilaration of Life and Nature and the incredible Universe. Even though the 12 songs explore my own journey, they are really celebrating universal themes of death and rebirth, of descent and re-awakening. It’s your story, too! And it’s Mother Earth’s story.” You can purchase the new album at her recently re-designed website, or at CD Baby. A launch party for the Australian singer-songwriter’s new CD will be held in March.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • “Entering the Sacred Grove,” the 2014 Summer Intensive from Cherry Hill Seminary, will be held July 10th-13th in Butler, Missouri. Quote: “Myth signifies a story which encompasses deep meaning and insight into the human situation and life on this Earth. The sacred grove is a place where we may explore the interfaces where what is mundane and domesticated in us confronts the wild divine within and the transformation that results. The authentic spiritual life embraces both, searching for an alchemy that will move the seeker beyond the mundane.”

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  • “The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism,” which focuses on the lives of Oberon and Morning Glory Zell, written by John C. Sulak, will be released on February 1st from Llewellyn Wordwide. Quote: “Telling the stories of their singular lives in this unique oral history, Oberon and Morning Glory—together with a colorful tribe of friends, lovers, musicians, homesteaders, researchers, and ritualists—reveal how they established the Church of All Worlds, revitalized Goddess worship, discovered the Gaea Thesis, raised real Unicorns, connected a worldwide community through Green Egg magazine, searched for mermaids in the South Pacific, and founded the influential Grey School of Wizardry.” Looks like a must-own for Pagan scholars and historians.
  • Chas Clifton notes that the funeral rites for Jonas Trinkūnas, the krivis (supreme priest) and founder of Romuva, can now be viewed online. The Lithuanian news site has also posted a lot of photos. You can read The Wild Hunt’s obituary for Jonas Trinkūnas, here.
  • Pagan musician S.J. Tucker has entered the “Song of Arkansas” contest. Quote: “New Song! Hope you all enjoy this. Pretty well sums up how I feel about the positive aspects & beauty of the place I came from. I wrote this for a song contest which closes today. The pro judges will pick the top 5 entries over the next two weeks, and then general voting begins on February 10. We’ll see if I make it into the top 5!” Good luck! I’ve embedded the video below.

  • The Imbolc 2014 issue of Pentacle Magazine“the UK’s premier independent Pagan magazine,” is now available for order. Offerings include: “Green Man: Albion Fracked!,” ”Thoughts on Being Called a Heretic,” and ”By Spellbook and Candle: a Guide to Cursing.”

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

On a few different occasions now, I have been the face of modern Paganism in a world religions course at an evangelical Christian Bible seminary in Portland, Oregon. The class, at Multnomah University, is filled with individuals who are hoping to go into leadership and missionary roles within their respective church communities. I know that they want to convert me, and all like me, but I agreed to be there because I felt that humanizing Pagans was important, especially to those who might have heavily distorted or antagonistic ideas about what my beliefs were. It’s (relatively) easy to sit down with a liberal Episcopalian, peaceful Light-loving Quaker, or questioning Unitarian-Universalist, it’s quite another thing to engage with folks who might adhere to a spiritual warfare theology regarding non-Christian faiths.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

When I step in front of that class, one of the first things I do is point out that modern Paganism is not a monolith. That we are a religious movement made up of distinct groups, traditions, and belief systems. That “Paganism” as a classification does not mean the same thing as the label “Christianity” might mean to them. If you speak to a Christian, they might have widely diverse views on a number of subjects, but there’s a central text (The Bible) and figure (Jesus) that makes them recognizable as a group. However, if you talk to a Pagan, you might be speaking to a Wiccan, a Druid, a Heathen, or one of a growing number of polytheist reconstructionists and revivalists. Of course, statistically speaking, they might also very well end up talking to an eclectic, solitary, practitioner who mixes and matches from the many definable communities that exist underneath our umbrella.

“The problem with big tents is, well, they’re big. Try to embrace the whole tent and you can find yourself bouncing back and forth between pouring libations to Zeus, protesting fracking, organizing the Beltane picnic and meditating on The Fool.  Those are all worthwhile things to do, but they can lead to a personal religion that is the proverbial mile wide and an inch deep.”John Beckett

As I move forward with my talk, I notice that I steer away from my personal beliefs as much as possible. Not to protect myself, I care little if a group of evangelical students know my views on divinity, but because I realize that I’m a filter for something incredibly vast. How do I do justice to both P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Cat Chapin-Bishop? To Don Frew and Cara Schulz? The more I personalize, the more they’ll equate my views with the entire movement, so I try to avoid making it about me. Instead I draw diagrams explaining hard and soft polytheism, explain how there can be humanist Wiccans, and even note that there are groups who increasingly want nothing to do with the term or community that has formed around the word “Paganism” for a variety of reasons. In the end, I point out that religious discourse with a Pagan can’t be about a list of preconceived ideas about what we believe, or do, it has to start simply, as an organic attempt at friendship, or else it will ultimately fail.

“While it has been building for the last few years more and more, I wonder if we have not, at last, reached a kind of definitive “breaking point,” so to speak, where polytheism and general paganism can no longer realistically say that they’re at all related.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Paganism is often explained as a collection of “nature-based” faiths, and while that sweeping classification is both limiting and alienating to some groups and individuals within our movement, it does make for a handy metaphor. Like nature, Paganism can be, and is, endlessly diverse. It can be both embracingly populist and extremely individualistic, focused on the esoteric and concerned with the dirt beneath our feet. Pin-point local or hugely universal in its scope. The mere notion of unity can be a difficult prospect, and one that is often mired in politics. There have been times, even recently, where I felt somewhat intimidated to enter into dialog with my fellow Pagans because I wasn’t sure if my own theological views would be seen as safely within our boundaries, or hopelessly heterodox. Not in the same fashion as some of my outspoken polytheist friends, but I too have questioned the utility and usefulness of the term Paganism as an umbrella. I have even entertained the thought that perhaps we’d all get along better if the term, if not the movement, went away. Because I’ve been to the big intrafaith events, and I know that despite our immense theological and cultural diversity we can share fellowship, discuss common problems, and even mobilize around things that we know to affect us all.

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World's Religions (2009).

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (2009).

“I like to say that as religions seeing the Divine manifest in and as the material world, we have to expect that the Divine is both as unified and at the same time at least as diverse as is the natural world. There is one Earth, but innumerable climates and geographies, flora and fauna. It should be no surprise that our spiritualities reflect this.”Don Frew

All of the recent debate over community, terminology, and theology, is, I think, a sign of our collective success. When our religions were under constant threat, when we truly feared jail, or worse, because of our beliefs, we huddled together for safety and solidarity. We created advocacy groups to speak for us, and empowered authors and activists to be our public face(s). We worked very hard at simple acceptance, and have gained a lot of ground in the last 30 years. Even in the ten years of doing The Wild Hunt, I have seen amazing progress, stuff that would have seemed remarkable to our founders from the 50s and 60s. With these advances comes a branching out from that place of huddled safety, where thousands now work at evaluating what they want from a modern Paganism, and if it still suits them. Margot Adler, famous author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” has publicly said on more than one occasion that had she the option back in the 1970s, she would have become a Hellenic polytheist instead of a Wiccan, but Wicca was all she could find at the time. The Margot Adler’s of tomorrow don’t have to worry about those limitations. Thanks to our ascendancy, growth, and technologies, our choices are more expansive, and at least in most Western nations, relatively safe to explore.

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Going forward, our leaders and elders need to take seriously the need not only for interfaith outreach to religions like Christianity, Hinduism, indigenous traditions, and Buddhism, but a renewed intrafaith discussion among the many faiths that operate within our movement, who still stand (for now) under the Pagan umbrella. We can no longer assume that everyone is going to simply go along, or that criticisms are coming from an ignorable minority. A not-often discussed fact, is that Paganism is largely solitary and eclectic in its makeup. The “large” Pagan organizations have membership rolls that number hundreds, not thousands, and there’s no group that can truly claim to speak for our movement in any unified way. This means that constant engagement and re-engagement within is critical towards achieving the many movement goals we might have (infrastructure, legal rights, pan-movement activism), and a failure to see the importance of such engagement will ultimately lead to our shopworn umbrella truly shredding apart in the decades to come.

If we want a full and rich “Paganism” moving forward, we’ll have to work for it anew. We will have to respect our increasing diversity, and the changing mores of the individuals willing to stand with our movement. Alternately, we can redefine Paganism to mean a smaller number of faiths, and accept that a growing number of religious communities are going to exist apart from us. Whatever “we” want, we should act on it, otherwise time and inaction will make the choice for us.

During his recent visit to Brazil, Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, did something unprecedented. The Pontiff met with a representative of the Candomblé faith, the first time a Catholic Pope has ever done so.

Babalawo Ivanir dos Santos and Pope Francis.

Babalawo Ivanir dos Santos and Pope Francis.

“At odds since colonial times, Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian religions have embarked on a process of mutual acceptance. Pope Francis added words and gestures to this reconciliation of two groups that share a common interest: confronting the growth of evangelical and neo-Pentecostal churches. The photo of Francis wearing a “cocar” headdress given to him by Ubiraí, a Pataxó Indian, went around the world. Ivanir dos Santos, a “babalawo” or priest of the Afro-Brazilian candomblé religion, was also received by the pope in the Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro as part of the rapprochement between the Catholic Church and other creeds and cultures during his Jul. 22-28 visit to Brazil. ‘For the first time, a representative of candomblé was received by a pope. This is unprecedented,’ dos Santos, a member of Brazil’s Committee Against Religious Intolerance (CCIR), told IPS.”

Pope Francis went even farther, he embraced the secular state as a vehicle for religious tolerance.

“Peaceful coexistence between different religions is favoured by the laicity of the state, which, without assuming any one confessional stance, respects and values the presence of the religious factor in society.”

This is a major tonal shift from the papacy of Benedict XVI, who avoided meeting with “non-institutional” (ie Santeria/Lukumi) faiths in Cuba, wouldn’t deign to a meeting with Vodun leaders in its birthplace, and was openly critical of Franciscan interfaith efforts when they included African traditional faiths, buying into Catholic hardliner anti-interfaith propaganda. Further, he had a combative relationship with what he called “aggressive” secularism. So these moves, even if largely cosmetic, resonate strongly to non-Christians watching to see how Francis sets the tone for his church.

Pope Francis wearing a “cocar” headdress given to him by Ubiraí, a Pataxó Indian.

Pope Francis wearing a “cocar” headdress given to him by Ubiraí, a Pataxó Indian.

“Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option, and the key to developing a just and fair society as a leader is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue”Pope Francis

For non-Christians, it also has the effect of humanizing the religious “other.” If the Pope embraces reconciliation with Candomblé, with real, human, interface between leaders, why shouldn’t Catholics also embrace practitioners of Vodou? Or indigenous African religions? Or modern Paganism, for that matter? Indeed, the Pope’s new attitude is needed more now than ever before. We live in a world where human beings, fueled by religious beliefs, are persecuting and killing one another in increasingly disturbing incidents. What better time for a Pope to emphatically embrace an interfaith mission? A mission that had been blunted during the Papacy of Benedict, but now, hopefully, will bear new fruit.

 

Interfaith has been a path that Pagans have become accustomed to hearing in our community, and very comfortable with the role that Interfaith plays in connecting our community of practitioners to the greater religious society. Covenant of the Goddess and Circle Sanctuary are examples of some of the prominent Pagan organizations that have invested time, money, and effort into developing trained Interfaith representatives.

While Pagans in the Interfaith community continue to work toward religious tolerance, integration, and networking, we are hearing more about the work of social justice in the community. Is social justice becoming the new interfaith?

University of Berkeley’s Social Justice Symposium defined social justice as “a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.”

Increased attention, advocacy and education have been seen within the themes of festivals, workshop offerings, Pagan blogs, and first-hand involvement in social justice activities. From the Occupy movement, forums addressing discrimination, prison work to peaceful protests, we are seeing some of our fellow Pagans being active in the theme of social equality.

starhawk 5 19 04

Starhawk

As the Pagan community is a microcosm of the larger macro society, how does working in social justice correlate with the paths of those Pagans who are active in the work? Starhawk made a recent statement on her Facebook fan page reflecting on the Martin/Zimmerman verdict, “I advocate nonviolence. But nonviolence is not passivity. It calls us to actively acknowledge that racism and patriarchy are deep, inherent, endemic forms of perpetual violence that infuse our society deeply, and will take much thought and work and courage to transform.

And for those of you who have said, ‘I love your Pagan, spiritual stuff but I’m not sure I’m with you on this’ – this IS my spiritual stuff. The Goddess I embrace is both love and rage, is She who inspires our passion for justice, and sustains us through the long hard work to bring it about.”

Environmental activism has long been associated with goddess worship and Paganism, but this type of social commentary has not always been something considered a spiritual staple in the overarching beliefs of the community. Yet we are seeing more opportunities for social activism, and an increased amount of voices and actions working towards topics of justice.

Joseph Nichter, author and Wiccan Prison Chaplain, took the opportunity to talk about his role of social justice work in the Prison system, and as a Veteran. In referencing the “other” listed on his dogtags in the military, Nichter talked about equal access to rights as a Pagan.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

“Those tags were merely precursor to the religious discrimination I experienced while serving my country.  Although my military service has long since come to an end, those experiences left a lasting impression and social justice has come to play a significant role in my spiritual path as a Wiccan Prison Chaplain. I’ve come to believe with every fiber of my being that social justice is of critical importance to health and welfare Paganism, and that Paganism is of critical importance to the health and welfare of our future civilization.” – Joseph Nichter, author, Prison Chaplain.

Pagan activists are becoming more involved in some of the social causes, needs of the greater community, and more vocal about being involved. I reached out to several other Pagans who have done some recent work around issues of social justice advocacy concerning rights for prisoners, LBGTQ, military, the Occupy movement, and systemic injustice.

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

“Social justice is crucial in my spiritual life to the point of being my spiritual life. I cannot separate the two. Any time I’m able to contribute to the movements I’m involved in, I do so as an offering to my gods and the spirit of the world. It’s a holy act for me.

I was originally taught that Paganism is all about relationships — to people, the gods, and the land we inhabit. I think social justice is important to our many traditions because it’s about healing and strengthening the relationships between the three. In my animistic worldview, I can’t help but act because I can so easily see my gods in the face of every suffering person and animal.” – David Salisbury, author, Activist.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“Social justice has always been very close to my heart. As someone who experiences the sacred in all things, it is incumbent upon me to honor that to the best of my ability. Injustice causes a rift in the fabric of being. It is part of my work as a spiritual person to try to mend that rift, to help reweave the fabric of love. Nothing is devoid of spirit: not the stove or pots at my local soup kitchen; not the ancient forests that require protection; not the family whose teen was killed for little reason other than he was black. I feel a connection to all of these. I must help to right the world.”  - T. Thorn Coyle, author and activist.

Glenn Turner (Photo: OaklandNorth)

Glenn Turner (Photo: OaklandNorth)

“Pagans have a holistic view of the world that I believe polytheism fosters. The joy of a diversity of gods, gives us joy and tolerance of diversity. Through diversity we gain strength and resilience in adversity.

Social Justice is basic to a democracy that believes in equality and liberty for all. Our country was founded on these tenants. People have mostly come here to escape injustice; for slaves brought here against their will, their progeny deserve to find liberty and equality. The nurturing of the poor and disadvantaged can only strengthen our community and environment. Mutual support is a key to group magic and we are all in this world together.” – Glenn Turner, Founder of Pantheacon, Activist

Where Interfaith work has often had a focus on networking Pagans into the greater religious community, social justice work appears to be focused on greater societal issues that are not specifically focused on Paganism. This greater community work is a calling, just as interfaith work, and it is playing a large role in the momentum of how Pagans are investing energy in today’s social issues. While social justice does not replace the role of interfaith, they might just be closely related cousins that will continue to work in tandem with an agenda of spiritual accountability, inclusivity, equal access to religious resources, and social equality.

T. Thorn Coyle best summarized these thoughts in a final statement about the intersection of action, spiritual work and justice:

“We forget. We forget we are connected. We think our states of disconnection are the only reality, but the deeper reality exists in remembering that we are all alive together. When I scrub pots at the soup kitchen, or stand for people in Oakland who have been killed by police, or talk about the importance of the Voting Rights Act, or help send supplies to tornado victims, or organize a blood drive, or write about racism , I do all of this as a reminder to my soul: “You are part of this whole world, and it is of you.”

For full quotes, please see links below.

Glenn Turner

T. Thorn Coyle

Joseph Nichter

On the Summer Solstice over 20,000 individuals went to Stonehenge to revel and watch the sun rise (alas it was too cloudy this year to actually see the sun, though that didn’t seem to dim the celebrations). While in the past these massive throngs of travelers, tourists, and true-believers were seen as a charming (or annoying depending on your views) facet of British life, recent demographic upheavals regarding religion in the island nation have some re-evaluating what these crowds represent.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

“A new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.”

So I was not completely shocked to hear that the Anglican Church in England is working to create a “pagan church” in the name of reaching out the kind of folks who like to gather at megaliths for festivals.

“The church is training ministers to create “a pagan church where Christianity [is] very much in the centre” to attract spiritual believers. Ministers are being trained to create new forms of Anglicanism suitable for people of alternative beliefs as part of a Church of England drive to retain congregation numbers. Reverend Steve Hollinghurst, a researcher and adviser in new religious movements told the BBC: ‘I would be looking to formulate an exploration of the Christian faith that would be at home in their culture.’

No doubt certain corners are already hunting “Episcopagans,” but I think this is more like the churches that hold “goth” services. It’s the same Christian theological center, but with trappings designed to make this growing demographic comfortable. Further, I don’t think this is really about Pagans at all. It’s about the millions of people with “no religion,” the folks who take an increasingly individualistic view of religion, and have no trouble attending a Pagan event on week, and (maybe) going to a Christian church the next.

sctrfigure1 tcm77 290493

2011 Britain Census data.

“Compared with the 2001 Census the most significant trends were an increase in the population reporting no religion – from 14.8 per cent  of the population in 2001 to 25.1 per cent  in 2011, a drop in the population reporting to be Christian – from 71.7 per cent  in 2001 to 59.3 per cent  in 2011, and an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent  in 2001 to 4.8 per cent  in 2011.”

Who knows, maybe a strategy embracing a more Pagan-friendly form of Christianity would win some new converts, but I think most people’s alienation comes from something deeper than aesthetics. On Thursday I spent four hours speaking to evangelical Christians who were studying to become clergy and full-time missionaries within their faith. At one point a young woman asked me what theological common ground modern Pagans and evangelical Christians shared. It was a question that stopped me short, and I had to finally admit that there was no theological common ground of note between us. That indeed, Christianity was in part formed in opposition to the then-dominant paganisms of the ancient world. Exclusivity, rigid monotheism, creator-steward dynamics, an infallible central text as ultimate authority, there are things are simply aren’t embraced by the bulk of the modern Pagan movement. I eventually said that instead of searching for theological common ground, we should focus on things that jointly concern us as human beings (human rights, the environment) and work on relationships instead of bridge-building through belief.

I suppose a “pagan” Christianity could emerge within festival culture like the Jesus People did within the 1960s hippie movement, but it’s not something that can be constructed from the top down. Training Pagan-friendly ministers might be nice for certain interfaith interactions, but I can’t see it convincing anyone to reclaim an Anglican Christian identity. What really needs to happen is more authentic relationships across faith lines, not training in how to conform to perceived subcultural norms. A relevant Christianity is one that re-focuses on its core radical message of love and embracing those outcast by society, not one that knows how to drum at Stonehenge during the solstice.

What do you think? Should Christians be more like Pagans, at least aesthetically? Would it matter to you?

The late 1980s through the mid-1990s was a commercial high-point for the genre of music known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). Bands like DC Talk, Jars of Clay, and Amy Grant were garnering breakthrough success outside of traditional genre boundaries, often selling millions of albums. It was during this era that the singer known as Carman was a Christian superstar. Between 1985 and 1997 six of his albums were certified Gold, and one, 1993′s “The Standard,” went Platinum. He was nominated for two Grammys, and won several Dove Awards (essentially the Christian Grammys). I think it’s important to give you this information, because when we talk about things that happened twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, it’s easy to lose context. So knowing that Carman was reaching hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of listeners during this period, is how you should view the single “A Witch’s Invitation” from the 1989 album “Revival In The Land.”

By today’s lights it’s pure cheese, a G-rated version of Goodfellas meets Rosemary’s Baby. But at the time it was no laughing matter. America was still deep in the “Satanic Panic” that was destroying lives, and implying that Witches and Druids worshipped Satan and cursed people with AIDS could (and did) have damaging ramifications on people’s lives. Certainly Druid leader Isaac Bonewits, who was obviously the inspiration for “Isaac Horowitz” in the song, and by all accounts felt personally slandered, was not amused. Perhaps that’s why he wrote an epic Jeremiad concerning Christian fundamentalism in 1990.

Isaac Bonewits

Isaac Bonewits

“It’s the Christian Fundamentalists, however, in whom we inspire the greatest anger, hatred, and fear. They routinely denounce Buddhism, Taoism, the New Age, and all other competing belief systems, just as they have always done, but seem to save their greatest vituperation for occultists in general and Neopagans (especially Witches) in particular. As most Neopagans know, Christian Fundamentalists are constantly publishing and broadcasting blasphemies against our deities, slanders against our members, and half-truths and outright lies about our beliefs and practices. Over and over, they strive to convince the general public, the media, and the civil governments that we are devil worshiping murderers, rapists, child abusers, and even cannibals. Their kids beat up our kids in school, their adults vandalize our stores and temples, shoot bullets through our windows, and manipulate the courts to remove our children from us. Why? What is it about Neopaganism that makes some Christian Fundamentalists so desperate that they will repeatedly violate most of their own Ten Commandments to try and stop us?”

I dig up this history for two reasons, first, Carman, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, is making news for his recent comeback via a Kickstarter campaign that has raised over $300,000 dollars for a new album.

“Carman said he knows that after a dozen years away from the big stage, his new material “has to be current; it has to sound like it belongs in 2013.” At the same time, he said, his fans expect to hear timeless biblical stories and a gospel message in his music. From 1982 to 1992, Carman’s albums regularly sold more than a million copies each, and he topped the Christian singles charts with songs such as “Satan, Bite the Dust,” “Revival in the Land,” “The Champion,” and “Witches Invitation.” He was one of the first contemporary Christian artists to incorporate the kind of elaborate — and expensive—lighting, staging and entertainment that fans expected from top-level secular artists. Legions of screaming teenage fans would call him the “Italian Stallion” as Carman developed a niche for high-drama emotional ballads that featured demons, witches, spiritual warfare and always, a victorious Christ.”

Notice that his brand is still identified with “A Witch’s Invitation” and spiritual warfare against Witches. A brand that the “Carman” generation, Christian music fans now in their 40s and 50s, are willing to pay to see return. Which brings me to the second reason I’m writing about a Christian pop-star’s comeback album: the next generation of Christians and how they will see modern Pagans. In October of last year I was invited to speak at Multnomah University, a Bible college and Biblical seminary in Portland, Oregon, to talk about modern Paganism with several Christian seminary students. While everyone was very gracious and nice, there were moments where I could tell that some student’s information about Pagan religions had come through a distorted Christian media lens.

Now, I’ve been invited back to Multnomah this June to talk to a new batch of students in Paul Louis Metzger‘s class on world religions. I wonder how many of them, or their parents, were influenced by someone like Carman when they think of modern Paganism? Do some of them secretly think I’m diabolical? That I’m working malefic spells for money in league with demons? It’s easy to laugh at the notion sometimes, until you read about Christian clergy opposition to a Pagan festival in Pahokee, Florida, where some very basic interfaith outreach had to be done to avoid a protest. I think Carman and his “funny” little song about a Witch are quite indicative of how many Christians still see us. Which is why, despite the (often justifiable) distrust many Pagans feel about interactions with Christians, I appreciate Professor Metzger’s earnest efforts to more accurately understand us.

“We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”

Christian churches and denominations centered on evangelizing, on missions of conversion, will never stop their efforts. But I think our goals shouldn’t be to make them stop trying, it is to make them acknowledge our humanity, and to accurately understand who they are speaking to. If they start to understand us, if they see us as practicing valid religious traditions (as opposed to demonic underground cults) alongside all the other world’s religions, then the chances of a new moral panic decreases, and the ability to have real discourse grows. That discourse will be vitally important as our faiths continue to grow, and as tensions created by an increasingly post-Christian West become more pronounced.

We need to put the old slurs to rest if we are to evolve our understandings of one another, and this requires Christians to properly contextualize the books and records that have profited by slander against us. I have no wish to heap abuse on Carman as he mounts his comeback, but “A Witch’s Invitation” should be seen as the embarrassment to Christianity that it is, and our community is long overdue for an apology for the slander it perpetuated. Moving forward, all of us engaged in interfaith work need to constantly ask: where are my perceptions of this person, this religion, this tradition, coming from? Do they come from a place of knowledge and discernment, from first-hand experience, or from propaganda and distortion? I am hoping, by my presence at Multnomah, to replace fear and distortion with knowledge and experience. To ensure that we are speaking to each other instead of about each other.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

  • Let’s start off with Salon.com’s follow-up to the outing of rogue Wikipedia editor “Qworty,” which focuses on his strange vendetta against Pagan, esoteric, and occult pages. In the piece Andrew Leonard links to my run-down of the story, and manages to dig up some new information as well. Quote: “Every page deleted or altered by Young on grounds of self-promotion or conflict-of-interest clearly deserves a second look. And that great effort is already well under way. The Neo-Pagans are clamoring for the return of some of their deleted pages and scouring those that survived the purge to see which of Young’s cuts will be reverted. But Young didn’t confine himself to questions of notability or conflict-of-interest when tangling with the Pagans; he also challenged the basic tenets of Pagan spirituality. Wikipedia, he argued, should be debunking such things as Wiccan rituals or the exploration of drug-induced conciousness-raising, rather than reporting them.” This experience has left some Pagan Wikipedia editors disillusioned, to put it lightly. It will be interesting to see how things progress from this point. 
  • The branding of children as “witches” by pastors in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues. The BBC has a new documentary where a British citizen who was born in the DRC finds out her cousin has been accused of witchcraft and races to find her. Quote: “Journeying from her home in London to her birthplace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kevani tries to discover how ancient traditions have been hijacked in the name of Jesus, why families are singling out vulnerable children and hurting them and why toddlers are having to endure excruciating rituals in order to ‘rid them of demons’.” It should be noted that branding children as witches is illegal in the Congo now, but the pastors seem unconcerned.
  • The book “Ritual” by David Pinner, which inspired the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” is going to be getting a sequel. Pinner told Rue Morgue Magazine that he’s written a book set 30 years later entitled “The Wicca Woman.” Quote: “I’ve just completed the sequel to Ritual, after all these years, called The Wicca Womanthe children who are in Ritual are grown up in this. It’s set 30 years later just before the millennium. Wicker Man obsessives will no doubt want to keep an eye out for this one. Meanwhile, StudioCanal continues its hunt for lost footage from the 1973 film’s original cut in hopes of releasing a complete anniversary edition. 
  • Christianity in Britain could be declining faster than originally thought according to a new analysis of the 2011 UK census data. Quote: “A new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.” We may see a truly post-Christian Britain in our lifetimes. That new analysis is from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, by the way. 
  • John Macintyre, former president of the Scottish Pagan Federation, is interviewed by Patheos.com about the importance of Pagan involvement in interfaith. Quote: “Interfaith is not a threat, it doesn’t aim to change what Paganism is, still less to merge it into some kind of ‘one size fits all’ universal religion. It allows us to educate other faith groups and the wider society about the reality of modern Paganism, to challenge prejudice and negative stereotyping close to its sources, and to make a positive contribution as one of the many faith communities that make up our society.”
Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte

  • Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” writes about the Vatican’s ongoing battle with the cult of Santa Muerte. Quote: “In addition to theological objections, the current religious economy of Mexico and Latin America provides a compelling explanation not only for the condemnation of narco-saints but also for other dynamic religious competitors. For the past three decades both national bishops’ conferences and the Vatican have inveighed against the “invasion of the sects” in Latin America. Of course, Pentecostals, the most vibrant of the Church’s competitors, have been the primary object of condemnation, but Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age groups and Spiritists have also been singled out.” 
  • PNC-Minnesota has an update on Pagan-initiated tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma. Quote: “As of Saturday, Solar Cross has collected $545 in donations and was able to send 400 N95 rated respirators, 58 pairs of work gloves, 50 safety goggles, 20 tarps, and 10 shovels. Tillison said, ‘Thank you thank you thank you! Your donations will be distributed within 24 hours of the time they arrive and sent out to Little Axe, Newcastle and the outlying areas that are not receiving the outpouring the greater area of Moore is.’” You can read my initial report on this, here.
  • When talking about legal protections, “who’s a journalist” is the wrong question. Quote: “When considering whether to grant legal protection for the gathering and dissemination of information, the question should not be the person performing those acts, i.e., “who is a journalist?,” but “is this an act of journalism?” Before the user-generated content revolution, focusing on journalists (i.e., people defined by their institutional affiliations) served as a functional if rough approximation of the true interests at stake (i.e., debate on issues of public concern). That is no longer the case.” This issue is an important one for all us Pagan media types who are not affiliated with a recognized institution. 
  • Paul Louis Metzger argues that sometimes Christians create the “idols” for modern Pagans out of ignorance of our actual beliefs and practices. Quote: “We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”
  • Wiccan love spells: sometimes they (kinda) work (at least for awhile). Quote: “Yes, I shed a few tears, but not because I was in love with him. I cried because the spell hadn’t worked, at least not all the way, and I was now forced to revert to being a Party of One after having had a brief, haunting reminder of the cozier aspects of being in a relationship.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Today, May 2nd, is International Pagan Coming Out Day (Facebook), a day when modern Pagans are encouraged to share their religious identity with friends, co-workers, and family.

pagancomingoutday

“Coming out to someone is a decision only you can make and it’s a decision best made when you are ready to do so. IPCOD encourages Pagans who are ready to come on out! There are benefits, personally and for our religious community as a whole, as more Pagans come out. Some of these benefits include the reduction of anxiety caused by living a double life and creating a climate of greater acceptance for all Pagans.”

Event co-founder Cara Schulz noted on Facebook how important this day has become in only a few short years.

“People may think that Pagan Coming Out Day doesn’t do much of anything. But they aren’t reading the emails sent to me from people who experience real and serious discrimination or have been disowned by family and are hopeful that if more people come out it will be safer for them one day, too. Or the ecstatic emails from people who came out and are so much happier. They couldn’t believe what a weight it lifted from their shoulders they didn’t even know was there. And even better, the email updates I get from people who came out 2 years ago who are thanking me for how their life has continues to improve and get better now that they are living more openly and authentically.”

In the recent wake of an out Pagan being threatened with bullets and chemical bombs in Florida, our continued growing solidarity in the public eye is essential if we are to combat those who would seek to isolate and intimidate us. As Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League said recently in relation to the Florida attacks,  “whenever hate against Pagans surfaces, we need to work together to dispel it and to stand strong, collaborate, and support those who have been targeted.” That work can only be accomplished if enough Pagans are willing to stand up to change people’s perceptions of modern Pagan faiths. Obviously, not everyone is in a safe place, but I believe there are many of us who have chosen to not come out for reasons not connected to safety or security.

Pagans in danger are certainly one reason to come out, but that isn’t the only one. It just so happens that today is also the annual National Day of Prayer in the United States.

“All of us have the freedom to pray and exercise our faiths openly. Our laws protect these God-given liberties, and rightly so. Today and every day, prayers will be offered in houses of worship, at community gatherings, in our homes, and in neighborhoods all across our country. Let us give thanks for the freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, whether individually or in fellowship.” – Barack Obama

This day, despite the somewhat inclusive rhetoric from the White House, has long been co-opted by conservative Christians who would like to shape the United States into a “Christian nation.” A place where religious minorities are marginalized even while those who reject any easy label continue to thrive. The way to prevent marginalization is through engagement, whether that be activism, outreach, or interfaith work.

“When interfaith cooperation is done well, it not only helps people from different faith and philosophical backgrounds get along, it creates space for the diverse identities within each of us to become mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive. When interfaith events raise the question, what do I have in common with people of different religious and national identities, the natural internal dialogue that ensues is: What do my own diverse identities have in common with each other?”

Modern Pagans recently played a key role in saving the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a feat that could only have been accomplished by Pagans willing to not just be out, but to engage with other people of faith as Pagans.

“I’ve just received official word that the Council for A Parliament of the World’s Religions was able to raise the necessary funds to pay off the debt that had threatened the survival of the organization, and its important work of promoting peace through interreligious dialogue throughout the globe. Pagans contributed approximately 10% of the needed amount — a very impressive response, we should be very proud of ourselves!” – Andras Corban-Arthen, EarthSpirit Community

Coming out isn’t about ego, or seeking attention, it’s about how identity shapes our culture, our society. The amazing recent victories for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals have only come after decades of “coming out” because they understood that putting a human face on their communities was the only way forward. Likewise, modern Pagans, whatever their faith or practice, need to engage in the work of putting a human face on our religious movement. Thanks to some brave pioneers and visionaries we’ve already come a long way, but the next steps come only when it becomes apparent that we truly are everywhere, that we are indeed your brother, sister, parent, child, co-worker, partner, or friend.

As many bow their heads in prayer today, we should hold our heads high, and state that we want our full inclusion in the tapestry of faiths and philosophies that many take for granted in our societies.