Archives For Israel

Much has already been said about the current crisis in the Middle East. For decades, a violent tragedy has been playing out between Israel and the Palestinian territories. The death toll continues to rise, year after year, as the headlines pile up.

When cutting through all political propaganda, cultural biases and angry rage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, at its very simplest, a struggle over land rights and nationhood. It is a battle that has been fueled by hardened mistrust and stubborn resolve.

"Damaged housing gaza strip april 2009" by Marius Arnesen - Flickr/CC lic./Wikimedia

“Damaged housing gaza strip april 2009″ by Marius Arnesen – Flickr/CC lic./Wikimedia

As the bombs drop, most of the world watches the struggle play out through the international media. In recent months, there have been countless reports of mass casualties as Israeli bombs fall on residential areas killing Palestinian families and destroying schools. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that there have been over 1900 Palestinian deaths, most of which were civilian. The United Nations Human Rights Council is readying to take legal action against Israel for war crimes.

Over the last 66 years, Israeli actions have caused significant economic suffering for the Palestinian population, including the 1000s of Palestinian refugees, who now live in camps throughout the region. Yesterday, The New York Times featured an article on Belal Khaled, a Palestinian photojournalist who has turned many of his photographs into expressive works of art. He, and other artists like him, consider themselves to be part of the resistance to the Israeli occupation and aggression.

At the same time, Hamas has recently been accused of stationing itself and its weapons purposefully within residential areas. On Aug. 5, an NDTV Indian news crew reported that Hamas had launched rockets from a field near its hotel in Gaza. NDTV only published the article and corresponding video after its crew was safely out of the area. The article reads, “Just as we reported the devastating consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s civilians, it is equally important to report on how Hamas places those very civilians at risk by firing rockets deep from the heart of civilian zones.”

Shai Ferraro, an Israeli Ph.D. candidate in history and student of modern Paganism, similarly reported: “Hammas official television is telling families who live near homes of Hammas terrorists in Gaza to stand on the rooftops of the houses … and become martyrs. This is while Hammas leadership itself is safely ensconced in bunkers under Gaza’s main hospital.”

Still classified by the U.N. as a terrorist organization, Hamas is an Islamic extremist group that has a long history of supporting and promoting acts of violence.Since its inception in the 1990s, Hamas has been responsible for countless suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. Recently, the organization released a music video calling for the elimination of the “roaches” – Zionists and Israelis. It was allegedly made to scare Israelis.

In a climate of such disordered violence, the fundamental disagreements between the people themselves – the Israelis and Palestinians – are buried beneath rubble, ashes and blood. The majority of both populations want the comfort and community that comes with nationhood, including dedicated lands on which they can raise their families, govern their lives and enjoy their culture unimpeded by prejudice, restrictions and threats of extermination. However, all the world sees is failed diplomacy, violence, fear and hate.

Unfortunately, the international media has not helped the situation. In an article entitled, “Israel, Gaza, War & Data,” writer Gilad Lotan demonstrates how one single bombing event can have a number of different headlines and, ultimately, story angles. It is sensationalized media propaganda at its best, and the truth is wedged somewhere in between it all.

As such, the opinion-making process has managed to polarize an already volatile situation. The crisis in Gaza is complex and cannot be reduced to a good-versus-evil scenario, despite the efforts of the media. Max Fischer at Vox.com offers the most comprehensive, balanced explanation of the struggles between these two peoples. His article “The 11 Biggest Myths About Israel-Palestine” discusses various common “facts” that punctuate international debates, including both the truths and lies within them. He breaks the myths down into short digestible, well-explained essays. For example, Fischer says:

Myth #2: This is not, despite what your grade school teacher may have suggested, a clash between Judaism and Islam over religious differences. It’s a clash between nationalities — Israeli and Palestinian — over secular issues of land and nationhood.

Myth #9: Things are basically peaceful during periods of relative calm …. Periodically the situation will escalate so rapidly, with such relatively slight provocation, and to such a level of severity, that the rest of us can’t ignore what every Palestinian and many Israelis already know: the conflict may be quieter some days than it is on others, but it is still active, still destroying lives and communities, and still scarring these two societies every day.

To take a closer look at the realities of living within the walls of this crisis, we turned to several Pagans and Heathens living in Israel. Neferasta, a 26-year-old Kemetic Pagan Priestess, suffers from PTSD caused by previous conflicts. She says, “PTSD is not talked about but dealing with difficult memories from events that create trauma get worse in wartime. When I hear alarms, I feel lost, detached, confused. It brings me back in time to the war zone.”

Neferast, who currently lives in Haifa, was in the army during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and served as a police officer with the Israeli Defense Forces. She says, “It’s really hard for me to talk about it, I’ve seen people die in front of my eye, those horrible images haunt my dreams.”

Moon Daughter

Moon Daughter

Moon Daughter, an eclectic Pagan from Moshav and co-organizer of the country’s yearly Mabon Festival, says,

For most Pagans in the west, war is a theoretic notion. They have never experienced it. As I took my sleeping 2-year-old in my arms and tried to walk calmly to the closest bomb shelter, my earliest memory came to life, being with my mother and neighbors in a bomb shelter when Israel was attacked on Yom Kippur on 1973. I was four.

Moon Daughter calls upon her spiritual beliefs in attempt to understand what is happening within her country. She says:

For a pagan and a champion for peace, war in confusing and its outcomes are heartbreaking. It is a violation of the Goddess’ gifts of love and life. I keep remembering that ancient peaceful Goddess civilizations were ruined by warlike religions and either had to resort to violence as well, or perish.  Where does that leave me when I have rockets raining down on my home? I think of all the women and children on the other side and wish for all peace loving people everywhere would unite against this patriarchal culture of war.

Illy Ra, a Kemetic Pagan living in the small town of Kadima in central Israel, has become frustrated with the polarizing of opinions caused by the sensationalized international reporting. She says:

Many are not aware that by posting propaganda, they are promoting war and violence on both of the sides by using blame discourse. What is blame discourse and how does it promote war? This discourse focuses on each side blaming the other, and searches for faults as a method to win or cause damage to the other. Here comes the bystanders’ role in this war. By participating in blame discourse, through the posting of propaganda that breeds hate, the international community causes people from these countries to cling to extreme views and believe peace is unachievable.

As Illy Ra sent her response, bomb sirens and blasts were heard. All of that happening during a supposed cease-fire.

Shai Feraro, has also been experiencing the violence firsthand and recently reported on Facebook:

Woke up in 3:28 a.m. to a rocket siren here in the northern city of Haifa. No boom tonight, but the concentration of petrochimical/oil industries in the Bay of Haifa makes it a desirable target for the terrorists. Still that is nothing compared to the daily nightmare citizens of southern Israel experience, with countless attacks a day.

While we all watch from our seats across the oceans or continents, we can only know the truth from what is reported to us by the international media or by friends and family in the region. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach any Pagans within the Palestinian territories. However, as is the case with many of the Islamic regions, Pagans are very well hidden. As one person told us, “it would be dangerous for a Pagan to come out of the broom closet in that culture.” This was corroborated by our contacts in Cairo.

Photo from the Vision Camp Facebook Public Album

Over a six-day period in late July, peace workers from both Israel and the Palestinian territories attended a “vision camp.” During that time, over 50 people gathered in the West Bank to hold vigils and discussions about the crisis. The camp was called “We refuse to be Enemies” and eventually inspired the social media activist tag #werefustobeenemies. During the 6 day retreat, the group developed a vision statement which reads, in part:

As peaceworkers from Israel, Palestine and various other parts of the world, we have been holding a peace vigil in the middle of a war in the West Bank over the last several days. We are gathering here under very simple conditions, creating community life, sharing from our hearts, in silence and in tears, in the midst of shootings and bombings. We are bearing witness and trying to stay in Grace. We have been faced with this senseless killing every day….

What we all agree on is: Enough! Stop this killing. No solution can come from war! Each innocent victim of this war is one too many! We refuse to be enemies. We are calling out to all parties: Stop this war! Our feelings are beyond words, but we can no longer be silent. The civil population is being lied to on both sides, and the world is mostly silent and misled by the media…

We have decided to step out of our personal identification and look beyond all the different worldviews toward the fundamental healing of trauma. Compassion is not a question of worldview! Compassion is the emergency call of planet earth and the heart of humanity… 

During our interview, Illy Ra had the same message. “When will this war end?” she wondered aloud. She asks everyone to “avoid blame discourse” and only “promote human solidarity and peace.” She says, “How can this be done? By doing anything else, from global meditation, prayer and candle vigils for hope, anything positive that causes human hope and not human despair.”

While the civilian peace efforts continue, the current cease fire is nearing its expiration. Unfortunately, the two governments have yet to figure out how to put aside their pride, mistrust and weapons to find a compromise that would peaceably enact their people’s wishes in a workable form. As Max Fischer wrote, “Myth #11: Everyone knows what a peace deal would look like.”  Until that can happen, the coldest and, possibly, only knowable truth in this crisis is that generations of people, in two richly diverse world cultures, continue to suffer at the hands of unending conflict.

 

Ever since the dawn of [humanity], even stretching back to the exits from Africa, people of different cultures have passed through this tiny country. There are places of worship to the Canaanite deities, Egyptian temples to Hathor, countless shrines to the Greek and Roman Gods, Phoenician influences and more.

These words were written by Myrtle, an archaeology student, professional artist and Pagan, living in the “tiny country” of Israel. With a population of approximately 8 million, Israel is a modern nation resting within what is considered to be one of the “cradles of civilization.” Somewhere between the ancient and the contemporary rests a unique socio-political culture built on Jewish heritage but enveloped by a legacy of diverse religious practice. Within that rich culture, there is a new, developing Pagan community.

Grotto of the Temple of Pan, Israel

Banias, Grotto of the Temple of Pan, Israel

When outsiders learn that Pagans live in Israel, they are usually surprised. However Israeli Pagans believe that the country is a prime location for their practice because the land has been imprinted with centuries of human engagement. Shai Feraro, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Tel Aviv University, says:

About a year and half ago I took part in a ritual for Ashera on Mount Carmel, which was organized by Pagans. It was probably the first ritual of its kind in 2500 years.

Shai himself isn’t Pagan but he has devoted his academic work to studying modern Paganism and feminist spirituality. From his research, Shai estimates there are approximately 200 Israelis identifying as Pagan and probably an equal number who are either under the age of 18 or not connected to the community. There is also a growing “Goddess Spirituality” movement but many of its followers do not consider themselves Pagan.

Moon Daughter

Moon Daughter

Myrtle says, “There isn’t a critical mass of Pagans,” but the numbers are growing. With that growth comes organization. The newly formed Pagan Federation International Israel (PFI) has sponsored pub moots and other gatherings. Since 2010 a weekend Mabon Festival has been held on ecological farmland in south-central Israel. Co-organizer Moon Daughter, an eclectic Pagan from Moshav, says “The last Mabon was the largest with about 60 attendees.”

Unfortunately local resources are still limited. Ilan, an eclectic Pagan studying Hermetic Magic explains, “There are no traditional teachers, covens or groups [here]. We learn mostly from books and the net … so it’s more a D.I.Y. thing.” However he views this lack of elders as a benefit calling the young Israeli Pagan community “self-grown.”

Ilan

Ilan

Some of this self-growth comes directly from the land. Many Israeli Pagans include local deities in their practice. For example, Illy Ra, the National Coordinator for PFI, is a Kemetic Pagan living in the small town of Kadima in central Israel. She says, “Practicing Paganism in Israel gives one a better insight into Pagan religions such as Canaanite and Kemetism which are connected to the history of Israel.” Ilan adds:

Some Pagans are reclaiming ancient pre-Judaic Pagan beliefs using the Tanach, the New Testament and Ugaritic texts, performing ritual at ancient sites such as Rujum el Hiri, Megiddo … This land has a rich and documented history and we have ancient temples of a myriad of religions … The rich history of the land affects us in many ways.

Liron White Wood Blank

Liron White Wood Blank

Most Israeli Pagans are born into Jewish households – some secular and some traditional. That is where the commonalities in religious practice end. The “self grown” eclectic nature of Israeli Paganism makes it difficult to determine a majority Pagan faith. In his research, Shai found that most Israeli Pagans are “influenced by Wicca, Reclaiming or the Goddess movement. Some … are Reconstructionists – Hellenic, Kemetic, Canaanite and Nordic.” Both Myrtle and shop owner Liron White Wood Blank, indicated a Druidic influence in their personal practice.

Liron, Pagan teacher and solitary Priestess, is one of the few who practices and teaches openly. Her shop White Wood, located in Ramat Hasharon, is the only metaphysical store in Israel. She says, “The shop looks like a forest so it draws people’s attention.” She offers workshops, classes, lectures and readings. Liron adds, “I think it’s important that magic is accessible to everyone. I have Jewish talismans, Kabala talismans next to runes, tarot, Celtic/Druid charms, wands, books about witchcraft and more.” In March, the store will be celebrating its second anniversary.

white wood

Even with all that visibility, Liron has experienced no negative aggression directed toward herself or White Wood. In fact there have been no instances of backlash to any Pagan anywhere. Most of the country doesn’t even know that the community exists. Those friends or family members who do know don’t seem to care.

While cultural anonymity can make practice difficult, Israeli Pagans actively protect their spiritual privacy. Moon Daughter explains, “We live under the radar …As long as we keep it that way we will not be harmed.” Of her mandatory time in the Israeli army, Myrtle says:

No one in the army knew I was Pagan, although it didn’t really matter. There is no better time to praise the Goddess than at dawn in the desert when you are on guard duty and everyone else is fast asleep.

Myrtle

Myrtle

Why do they insist on privacy if there’s been no backlash? Israel has no legal separation of “church” and state. Although it does recognize religious freedom, Israel is governed by both secular and Judaic law. Shai explains, “Jewish identity is considered to be a privileged one … When choosing to express their Pagan identity freely, Israeli Pagans run the risk of replacing these privileges with external negative reaction.” Moon Daughter agrees saying:

It is difficult to resist such a heavy burden of history and Jewish guilt and to do what would be considered turning our backs on our own “identity” as Jews. That is one of the reasons why I think it is very difficult for us here, because energetically we are trying to revive something [in] the very place that rose to destroy it.

Religious law informs Israeli culture, society and government. Marriage and divorce, for example, are regulated by such legislation . Bible studies are included in state-runs schools. Mass Transit and other public services are largely closed during the Sabbath. Aside from the obvious ideological conflicts, Ilan also points out a practical one. “Most of the Pagans I know are carless…and that makes it hard to meet on the weekend, where there is no public transportation.”

Although there have been progressive attempts to move toward a more secular government, there are no signs of immediate change. Currently the tensions between society’s secular and ultra orthodox factions have only gotten worse. The ultra orthodox population, the Haredim, want to protect and even increase religious-based social control. The secularists, including those in the religious minorities, seek just the opposite. As Ilan says, “Politics in Israel are very complicated.”

Gilgal Refaim

Gilgal Refaim (Rujum el Hiri) or Wheel of Spirits (Tumulus of the Wild Cat) circa. 3000 BCE

Despite the unique relationship between Israeli politics and faith, there are many positive opportunities for the developing Pagan community. In 2012 the University of Haifa held a spirituality conference that included a symposium entitled, “Contempory Paganism.” In May 2013 Ronald Hutton was a keynote speaker at Tel Aviv University’s Conference for the Study of Contemporary Religion and Spirituality. In July of that year, Morgana, the International Coordinator for PFI, officially announced the opening of the Pagan Federation International – Israel. Illy Ra is currently the National Coordinator and hopes to “to create a united community.” She says, “More people seek to meet other Pagans and get information about Paganism … PFI Israel hopes to answer these needs.”

In addition to helping Israeli Pagans, Illy Ra also looks forward to building bridges to the international Pagan community. She says “Unlike the image that might be created in the news, Israel is a safe place and has beautiful views [and] ancient Pagan places like the temple of the God Pan in Banias [and] Hathor’s temple in Timna Valley.” Myrtle agrees saying that Israel’s politically charged, high energy environment makes “life and magical practice interesting. There’s never a boring moment.”

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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.

Good Hutton Pic

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.

FFC 215 580x181

“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!

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.

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

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.

Just a few quick news notes to start off your Monday.

A Heathen in the Holy Land: New York Republican congressional candidate  Dan Halloran, who also happens to be a Theodish Heathen, is currently in Israel for a two-day visit where he’ll meet with Israeli leaders.

“The city councilmember is running in the Sixth Congressional District, which covers parts of Queens and has a large Jewish population. His trip is scheduled to include meetings with Israeli leaders and stops in places in Jerusalem and other locations on Monday and Tuesday. Halloran has criticized President Barack Obama and Democrats for their approach to the U.S. relationship with the Middle East nation.”

Halloran has said that President Obama is “not a real ally” of Israel, while Democratic opponent Grace Meng has tried to hang Ron Paul’s controversial views about Israel around Halloran’s neck despite publicly breaking with the libertarian-leaning Republican on foreign policy. This move by Halloran seems calculated to win more support in the heavily Jewish and Democratic-leaning district, and comes after Grace Meng’s family has been hit with a scandal involving her father, possibly weakening her electoral chances. One wonders if the topic of his personal faith will come up while in Israel, and what he’d say if asked what his beliefs are.

Famous Witch Trial Memorial To Be Rededicated: Salem, Massachusetts’ famous Witch Trials Memorial, originally dedicated in 1992, has been restored and improved and will be rededicated on September 9th. In modern times Salem has become known as the “Witch City” not only for the infamous trials, but because modern Witches and Wiccans have turned the city into a place of pilgrimage which now sports a large Pagan community.

“As in 1992, when the powerful memorial was unveiled, the ceremony will involve descendants of the witch trial victims and Gregory Alan Williams, hero of the 1992 Los Angeles race riots and first recipient of the Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice. [...] Hayden Hillsgrove, the memorial’s original stonemason, has reworked and repaired the memorial’s stone. Landscape and lighting elements have also been restored and a plan created for future maintenance.”

You can find out more about the restoration and rededication at the Salem Award Foundation. You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s Salem coverage, here.

Stonehenge on Fire: The 2012 Summer Olympics in London are now over, but one memorable scene from that period was the impressive “Fire Garden” created on Stonehenge for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad that ran concurrently with the Summer games. Lobster Pictures has released a beautiful time-lapse documentary of this installation.

“For Salisbury International Arts Festival, we produced time lapse, stills, video, editing and media services. The French arts group Cie Carabosse transformed Stonehenge into a magical ‘Fire Garden’ for two nights – part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.”

It’s a lovely tribute to one of Britain’s most enigmatic and powerful symbols.

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

I’m back from FaerieCon! First off, I’d like to thank all the wonderful folks who stepped up to do guest-posts while I was away: Sharon Knight, Star Foster, T. Thorn Coyle, Teo BishopLaura LaVoie, and Eric Scott. They all did an excellent job of providing interesting, informative, provocative, and inspiring pieces for you, and I hope you’ll follow them at their own blogs and projects in the future. As for me, I’ve returned to an avalanche of stories of interest to our communities, so I’m going to unleash the hounds in an attempt to get caught up.

That’s all I have time for today, expect a write-up of my FaerieCon adventures in the near-ish future. In the meantime, do check out my interview with Qntal’s Michael Popp at A Darker Shade of Pagan. As always, some of these stories may be expanded upon in future posts.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

A Pagan Festival in Israel: September will see the nation of Israel’s first Pagan festival, at least in our modern era. A new site is promoting a Mabon (Autumnal Equinox) festival, with word being spread by other Israeli Pagan sites.

“The first Israeli Pagan Festival that we shall celebrate together, on September the 22-24th, 2011. [...] Pagans from all over the country are invited to celebrate together the spirit of kinship and community that Mabon invokes.”

It may seem like an odd occurrence for a land considered holy by all of the Abrahamic faiths, but modern Pagan religions have become a global phenomenon, and according to Dr. Marianna Ruah-Midbar, they could find fertile soil in Israel.

“At the moment paganism is not a large-scale practice here, but I believe it has very big potential,” she said. “Pagan religions are the fastest growing religions in the West, and it could succeed here too, because Hebrewism and Zionism could connect to paganism due to the emphasis on land and Hebrew holidays. Paganism is a close, unusual parallel of more common practices, like environmentalism or traveling to the East. In practice, it really is not very different.”

As I’ve pointed out before, the growth of Paganism in places like Israel helps puncture the lie that our faiths flourish merely as a rebellion against Judeo-Christian norms or as a result of secularism’s ills. The truth is that Pagan beliefs, practices, and theologies, offer an appealing alternative to the often exclusionary monotheisms that have come to dominate the West. I’ll be interested to see how their first festival goes, how many show up, and if they experience any trouble.

TheurgiCon Is Today: Today is TheurgiCon in Berkeley, California, a one-day intensive that focuses on the practice of theurgy, the use of magic and ritual to invoke (or evoke) the gods. This year’s theme is “Tools of Neo-Platonic Theurgy” and features presentations by Don FrewTony Mierzwicki, and John OpsopausTheurgiCon was founded in 2010 by Glenn Turner, who also founded PantheaCon, here’s an interview with Turner from 2010 about the event.

You can also read impressions from last year’s event here, here, and here. Read more about this year’s presentations at the TheurgiCon website. I’m hoping to have more coverage of this event in the near future.

Transitions for a Circle Minister: Drake Spaeth, a longtime Circle Sanctuary minister and key participant in Circle’s yearly Pagan Spirit Gathering, has announced that he’s amicably stepping down from his clergy position and taking a break from participation at PSG.

“Yet, open circles sometimes close, and the moment of realization comes that the time to move on has arrived.  I am at such a juncture. I would ill serve the many folks whom I have counseled to recognize and heed the call to take a new risk when the time comes, to make the proverbial Fool’s leap into the unknown, if I now backed away from this moment when it has now come upon me with such clarity. Circumstances have impelled me to the point where, despite any wistful desire I feel that the dream might have continued just a bit longer, that I must step down from being a Circle minister.”

Spaeth is not leaving Pagan ministry, but is instead dedicating his time exclusively to Earth Traditions, an organization he co-founded with Angie Buchanan of Gaia’s Womb. Our best wishes to Drake Spaeth on this transition, we have no doubt his decision will be to the benefit of our interconnected communities.

Gus diZerega Joins Patheos: Gus diZerega, political scientist, Beliefnet blogger, and co-author of “Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue,” has become a columnist at Patheos. His first column, “The Ethics of the Universal Potlatch,” is now up.

“This is my first contribution to what I hope will be a weekly column here at Patheos. I am delighted to be in such good company with other Pagan contributors, both those I know and those I have not (yet?) met. I hope to explore some of the insights I think Pagan spirituality brings to challenge Western modernity, which far more than many realize, incorporates transcendental monotheistic assumptions antithetical to our own, and does so even in its secular guise.”

I’m honored and pleased to have Gus in our ranks here at Patheos, and I have no doubt his columns will be enriching. As for his blog at Beliefnet, he’ll continue on there, though in slightly different form.

More Community Notes:

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

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

In South Africa, News 24 interviews Damon Leff of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) concerning recent comments by ANC MP Adrian Williams (an “out” Pagan politician) that modern Pagans in South Africa should abandon attempts to reclaim the term “Witch” due to its (sometimes violently) negative associations in the country.

“SAPRA rejected Williams’s views on the use of the word “witch”, saying communities must be educated about other people’s religious beliefs and practices. “While Williams self-identifies as pagan, it should be noted that he has no mandate to speak on behalf of all the witches in South Africa,” said SAPRA director, Damon Leff.”

The piece also interviews a representative of the Traditional Healers Organisation (THO) who sympathizes with SAPRA’s goals, and feels that while it might be possible for the term to be used and reclaimed among white South Africans,  colonialist framing of the term “witch” has made reclaimation all but impossible among black South Africans. What’s clear is that this issue isn’t going away any time soon, and it remains to be seen if some sort of “dual understanding” equilibrium over terminology can be reached.

The Lancaster Sunday News has the official follow-up from the showdown in Stoudtburg Village, which pitted a planned Pagan festival against Christian protesters and shop-owners closing to avoid serving Pagan customers.

“Witches and pagans who traveled to Adamstown on Saturday for a festival “Celebrating Earth Spirituality” were greeted by a steady rain and praying Christians in a silent protest. The gathering held at Stoudtburg Village and hosted by Reading Pagans & Witches proved to far less controversial than the debate that brewed in the days leading up to it … Jen Anderson-Wenger, president of Reading Pagans & Witches, said several church groups “laid hands on us and prayed.” She said she was pleased at the turnout, and said her group was received “very peacefully”.”

You can read Jen Anderson-Wenger’s report on the festival, here. The Reading Pagans & Witches site has also posted a list of businesses that stayed open for them. It should be interesting to see what the long-term ramifications of this event will be. Will some stores that closed down end up regretting it? Have local perceptions of who modern Pagans are changed any? It would nice to see some follow-up on those questions.

The Boston Globe’s Articles of Faith blog reports on the massive new Hindu Temple of Minnesota, and the various issues that the growing numbers of American Hindus (1.5 – 2 million estimated) face.

“This temple is unlike anything you would see in India — there, temples are typically centered on a single deity, but because this is the U.S., where the Hindu community hails from all over India as well as the Hindu diaspora, the temple opted for a variety of shrines to meet the needs and devotional practices of a diverse group of worshipers … The biggest challenge, of course, is transmitting the faith from immigrants, most of whom grew up in a predominantly Hindu society, to their children, who are growing up in a predominantly Christian society.”

Reporter Michael Paulson also notes that the Hindu community in America is used to worship being a personal matter, and is still adjusting to the American tradition of clergy speaking out publicly on social and political issues. In the coming years it should be interesting to see how Hindu clergy in America start to adapt to Western expectations of what religious leaders do, and what the leaders that do spring to the forefront want to say. I wanted to highlight this article because there are some strong similarities between the Hindu community’s emergence into the American mainstream and our own. We should pay attention to how they grow and change, because the modern Pagan movement will be facing similar issues as our numbers start to rival theirs.

Canadian magazine The Walrus takes a look at the Theosophist and Transcendentalist beliefs of the Group of Seven,  a fellowship of influential landscape painters in the 1920s who were influenced by European Impressionism.

“Cosmic consciousness might seem an awfully thin rod to hang a flag from, but given the checkered history of nationalist experiments in the twentieth century, that may have been a godsend. During the 1920s and ’30s, when Germans were falling for a myth of the mystical superiority of the Nordic race, Canadian Theosophists were promoting a quaint, aristocratic mysticism that privileged the wisdom of colonized peoples and taught the values of internationalism and universal brotherhood.”

It’s a fascinating exploration of how the Canadian art world became infatuated with Theosophy and how that relationship influenced the art that was made. “New Age”, occult, indigenous, and modern Pagan religions and philosophies have had such a great impact on the history of art that I’m surprised we haven’t seen more explorations of the topic. It’s certainly true that we still await a good overview of fine art and illustration influenced (and created) by modern Paganism, something that I hope I don’t have to wait too long to see remedied.

Three Roman-era statues of Aphrodite have been discovered at the Israeli archaeological site of Hippos, excavators speculate they were hidden by worshipers of the goddess during the rise of Christianity in the 4th century CE.

“It is possible that during the fourth century [CE], when Christianity was gradually becoming the governing religion in the Roman Empire, there were still a number of inhabitants in Sussita who remained loyal to the goddess of love and therefore wished to hide and preserve these items,” suggests Prof. Segal.

No word yet on what will be done with the statues, or if they’ll eventually be put on display. If I were a devotee of Aphrodite I might see the recovery of these intact statues as some sort of sign or miracle, proof of her enduring power. It is, after all, how many Christians see the recovery of their ancient artifacts.

In a final note, there’s a new Pagan e-zine starting up called “Eternal Haunted Summer”.

“Eternal Haunted Summer is the only ezine of its kind: one which gives voice to modern devotion to the many Gods and Goddesses of our ancestors. Poems and stories celebrating the Deities and heroes of the Celts, Norse, Germans, Romans, Etruscans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Sumerians, Egyptians and many, many, many others are all welcome. If you have been inspired to write a poem honoring Apollo or Brigid or Enki; or a short story about Inanna or El or Jove; or if you have written a review about a book or journal with a Pagan focus, please consider submitting it here. Our first official issue will go live on the Winter Solstice 2009, with quarterly updates on each subsequent Equinox and Solstice.”

I wish them every success and hope the poets and writers who read the The Wild Hunt will check them out.

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

One big misconception outsiders hold concerning modern Paganism is that the faith flourishes as a rebellion against Judeo-Christian norms or as a result of secularism’s ills. But such an analysis is not only incomplete, but ignores our own history, and the present state of modern adherents across the globe. For example, British Traditional Wicca emerged in 1950s England, long before there were serious worries about “aggressive secularism” running rampant. While today, modern Pagan communities have sprung up in some seemingly unlikely places, like Greece and South Africa. Now, Haaretz reports that Paganism is alive and well in the state of Israel too.

“Like many other soldiers who took part in the Gaza operation, Omer, 20, occasionally took a few moments to pray, but he did not pray to the Lord of Israel. Omer considers himself pagan, and has sworn allegiance to three ancient gods. During combat, he says they appeared before him, giving him strength during the most arduous moments. Omer is still in the army, and therefore refused to be interviewed for this story. Yet he did say he belongs to a religion whose goal is to revive worship of ancient gods. In an online Hebrew-language paganism forum, Omer’s accounts of his Gaza experience are standard fare. Another user recalled how he prayed to Anat, the Canaanite god of war, while serving in an elite combat unit. The two soldiers are part of a tiny community of pagans that has developed in Israel. Influenced by movements in the United States and Europe, followers believe in multiple gods.”

Reporter Ofri Ilani talks with several Israeli Pagans both in and out of the “broom closet” including Alon Kobets founder of the Wicca Israel web site.  Kobets estimates that there are around 150 Pagans in Israel, most of whom are living semi-closeted existences, aware of the pervasive religious tensions present. Meanwhile Dr. Marianna Ruah-Midbar, organizer of the First Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Spiritualities, believes modern Paganism could thrive in the holy land.

“At the moment paganism is not a large-scale practice here, but I believe it has very big potential,” she said. “Pagan religions are the fastest growing religions in the West, and it could succeed here too, because Hebrewism and Zionism could connect to paganism due to the emphasis on land and Hebrew holidays. Paganism is a close, unusual parallel of more common practices, like environmentalism or traveling to the East. In practice, it really is not very different.”

So even in places where a single (non-Pagan) religion dominates culturally and statistically (like Judaism in Israel or Orthodox Christianity in Greece), modern Paganism still emerges and grows. This can’t simply be blamed on creeping secularism or an overly tolerant culture. Perhaps, as some have argued, polytheism is a natural impulse. One that humanity constantly returns to, no matter how dominant monotheist (or atheist) impulses may be at a certain time or place. Could the Holy Land of the dominant monotheisms soon find itself, like the prophet Jeremiah, having to face those who would make offerings to the Queen of Heaven once more?

On Friday Reclaiming activist Tristan Anderson was critically injured at a demonstration against Israel’s separation barrier (called the “Apartheid Wall” by activists, and deemed a breech of international law by the ICJ) in the West Bank village of Ni’lin. Anderson was shot in the head by a high-velocity tear gas canister. According to the Israeli military the canisters were fired in response to thrown rocks, witnesses on the scene say that Anderson was not near, and took no part in any violent action. A video of the shooting has been posted to YouTube (warning: the images are bloody and disturbing).

“Tristan Anderson from California USA, 37 years old, has been taken to Israeli hospital Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. Anderson was unconscious and bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth. He sustained a large hole in the right part of his forehead where he was struck by a tear gas canister. The heavy impact from the tear gas canister being shot directly at him, from about 60 meters, also caused severe damage to his right eye, which he may lose. Tristan underwent brain surgery in which part of his right frontal lobe and shattered bone fragments were removed. As of 16 March, Tristan is in stable condition, has been taken to the neurological department and is in intensive care.”

Currently, Anderson’s condition has improved somewhat, though the long-term effects of his brain injury at this point are unknown. Supporters of Anderson in the Bay Area are holding a demonstration in solidarity with his efforts today, and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk has released a statement concerning the incident.

“Tristan is always there, at every demonstration, every mobilization, every fight for justice. He has always seemed fearless to me, with that young man’s confidence in his physical body that I now envy. He’s not so young—thirty-eight, still, I have twenty years on him and he seems young to me, strong, hardy, willing to sit in a tree for months to protect a grove of oaks at UC Berkeley, willing to camp out and show up early to clean out the convergence space, to eat bad pasta and dumpster-dived vegetables for weeks on end. Tall, slim, with dark eyes and olive skin, and a sharp, aquiline nose that starts off in one direction, then changes its mind and heads in another, he comes regularly to our rituals as well as actions, and helps build the North altar every year at the Spiral Dance. Softspoken, unassuming, more than anyone else I know he embodies a certain ideal of rigorous equality, never pulling rank nor trumpeting his considerable street cred, never asking for attention, simply showing up again and again and pitching in to get the work done.”

Tristan Anderson’s parents are hoping to return him to America as soon as he’s well enough to be moved. For more background on why Anderson was in Ni’lin, this blog links to a fact-sheet put out by an anti-barrier organization. I understand that the issues of land and sovereignty in Israel and the Palestinian territories are one of those “third rail” topics that can lead to heated and incendiary rhetoric from both sides (indeed, some commenters on the web are already calling Anderson a terrorist sympathizer who got what he deserved), but when (by all accounts) peaceful activists are getting shot I think we need to acknowledge that something fundamental in the process of dialogue and finding a mutual resolution has broken down. The answer to this tragedy can’t be “protestors shouldn’t protest” or sweeping generalizations about either side in this conflict. We can only hope that leaders on both sides eventually find a way through the endless cycles of violence to some sort of lasting peace accord.

Note: I know this is going to be a controversial topic, so I want everyone to keep it reasoned and polite in the comments. Any sign that someone on either side is about to enter Godwin’s Law territory, engage in racist bromides (subtle or not) concerning Israelis or Palestinians, or anything resembling “he got what he deserved” regarding a man with a traumatic brain injury will find themselves off this thread and their comments deleted.