Archives For Italy

Attacks on identity are not just hate crimes, they are war crimes. They are assaults on the most basic sense of self whether the target is a person, culture or religion. These types of attacks are designed to undermine legitimacy with objectives that range from oppression to obliteration. They are among the most heinous of attacks.

But sometimes these wars storm quietly. Sometimes they rage for centuries, using imagery and innuendo to suppress ideas and populations, but happen so subtly and infrequently that we catch only glimpses of battle. Salvos of marketing and advertising lay the groundwork for cultural hegemons to marginalize and eradicate people, societies and even faiths.Then they turn to politics, spinning to wipe away evidence and reframe the aftermath as a great work for a better future or a common good. It all happens with rhetoric and magniloquence, because in this kind of warfare words are weapons, and they matter a great deal.

We have been cautioned by many faiths, avatars and gods that words have deep power. In Odin’s discovery of the runes, he comments during his self-sacrifice, “From a word to a word I was led to a word, from a deed to another deed.” (The Poetic Edda, c.1200 CE)  The apostle John affirms to Christians that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (The Gospel of John 1:1)  Words organize intent and expose new gateways into the mind and the spirit, and while we often take them for granted, they are the basic tool of ritual work, the basic tool of change and the basic tool of control. They are also the foot soldiers that both convey and condemn identity.

[photo credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The town of Nemi, Italy.   [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Science gives us some insight into how words become more important than even the actual, physical objects that they represent. Recently Edminston & Lupyan (2015) conducted a series of experiments to examine how words and ideas co-inform us about our environment. They argue, as an example, that the idea of “it’s snowing” or “snow” can be activated by different cues like the word “snow,” the crunch of snow underfoot, witnessing flurries or a snow-dusted sidewalk. Our brains can identify “snow” many different ways and by any one of these cues. However, the question is whether there is something unique to the word “snow” that is different from the evidence of it. In other words, do we have a mental representation of “snow” — from the word itself –– that is more powerful than, for example, witnessing the event that is called “snowing,” or even holding some in your hand.

What they hypothesize is that our category labels are more important than other sources of information – like watching those flurries — to activate and access our conceptual knowledge of the thing we’re experiencing. That is to say, verbal labels are more important to triggering our knowledge of topics than other modes of experiencing a phenomenon.

A different example of what they are getting at is the word “dog.” That word evokes more knowledge of canines than hearing, say, some barking by those animals. The label “dog” is more important for accessing our information than the sound of barking.  And, thus, we are more adept – faster as measured in their experiments — when we use the word “dog” rather than when we hear a bark, or perhaps even see a dog.

Now that idea of “dog” that we access in our mind from the word may be general. It’s not a corgi or a basset hound or a retriever, it is the general idea of dog. We might think of those breeds collectively as the category of “dog.” It doesn’t evoke a specific one. It’s a generalization from which we can pull specifics if we choose. However, it does open a deep cognitive path that allows us to access all our information on the object, as well as our prejudices. It demonstrates the extraordinary power – even magic — of words.  Those words — and the act of labeling — bypasses the circuitry of the object (i.e., the dog) and goes directly to our idea of “dog,” and in doing so reinforces all those cognitions and predispositions we have about the object: we like dogs, we hate dogs, “who’s a good dog?”

Why this is important is that this new understanding of these psychological pathways has direct implications for our understanding of human perception. These findings suggest that, while we may perceive information with our senses, the labels we use will always frame our awareness of that information. Words buoy our prejudices and, through them, frame our views of others and things whether they be culture or identity-based. And that could have more serious implications about how our implicit biases tint not only our mental impressions but also how we understand the people and world around us.

Understanding a word means an automatic instigation of our mental construct that it represents for us in its fullest form. Words buttress our personal architecture of the universe around us, the good and the bad, and using them strategically can bless or malign our representations of our inner world that becomes the reality around us.

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A few days ago, I was visiting the temple of Diana of the Wood in the town of Nemi, Italy. It is a stunning and sacred place; Diana’s presence is immanent and palpable. The temple – now ruins – is on the north shore of the lake for which the town is named. The lake itself is volcanic, surrounded by the crater walls and filled only by rainwater. Wind will cause it to shimmer, but it has no real waves; there are long moments where it becomes absolutely still, reflecting the surrounding woods and crater. Even today, it lives up to its Roman name, Speculum Dianae, the Mirror of Diana.

[photo credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Lake Nemi: The Mirror of Diana [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

We were visiting the lakeside museum that exhibits the remains of famous Roman ships used by emperor Caligula to cool off when he visited Lake Nemi during the hot Roman summers. He was a devotee of Isis, but also venerated Diana Nemorensis (Diana of the Wood). Why he built the ships as floating palaces (complete with heated baths, mosaics, and plumbing, galleys and sleeping quarters) is unknown, and apparently the subject of much debate. My husband concluded that Caligula was no fool; all you have to do is look around. The area is idyllic and under the watchful patronage of Diana.

And then it happened. While we were exiting the museum, a German-speaking traveler standing close to me spoke to her family member, and I overheard, “Nemi See ist in der Mythologie von Rom erwähnt…. In den kurze Geschichten über die Göttin Diana.” (Lake Nemi is mentioned in Roman mythology. Short stories about the goddess Diana).

So there it was. Just like the word “dog” discussed earlier, the word “mythology” triggered abstractions that were trying to overtake and degrade the magical experience of place. “Mythology” was trying to make it “fake.”  And, “short stories” reinforced the abstraction of simple-mindedness; as though there was a puerile, even naïve, element to them. For a moment, the place became mundane and the stories — the parables of Diana — lost their theism. The lake had become a place in literature like the Marabar Caves or Elsinore.

This traveler reduced — most likely inadvertently, but echoing centuries of cultural reinterpretation — the Roman religion to fables learned in high school. It brought into relief how language has slowly been used to relegate Pagan and polytheistic beliefs from religious discourse to adolescent literature. Thus those gods become undeserving of veneration because they evoke fiction, not religion.

Now, I’m neither a classicist nor a Roman theologian. The closest I got to those areas academically were Latin classes. But I do know that Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes and Bulfinch’s Mythology were both required reading in high school as introductions to ancient belief. And I distinctly remember that we approached these texts as fiction. As Merriam-Webster puts it, myth is “an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true… a story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence. Looking at the full definitions offered by that dictionary, we can see that myth seems to have nothing to do with religion.

From the same source we see that examples of this usage include, “Contrary to popular myth, no monster lives in this lake.” The language underscores the fictional aspect of the story and undermines the identity of believer for those who may hold those stories as sacred. We are — at best — being encouraged to understand the stories as false.

Members of our broader society would be scandalized if we used the same language in reference to the stories or central figures of monotheistic faiths such as Jesus of Nazareth or the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). We are taught that Moses and the prophets of Judaism are historical persons. The Gospels are not myths, neither is the Quran nor the Torah.  As Mircea Eliade noted, “The earliest Christian theologians took the word in the sense that had become current some centuries earlier in the Greco-Roman world, i.e., ‘fable, fiction, lie,’” (p. 162) and that the myth is “a false account portraying truth,” whereas the narrative — like Biblical stories — are accounts of “descriptive of events which took place or might have taken place.’”

[photo credit: S. Ciotti]

Remnant of a Statue of Diana [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti]

If we visit Wikipedia and search for “Christian Mythology,” we do not get Christian doctrine. Instead, we are given a long list of beliefs that are apocryphal to Christianity, and we certainly don’t see the image on the right hand side of the page denoting the section as “part of a series on” Christianity, Islam or really any of the modern major faiths. For Islamic mythology, Wikipedia informs us that, “This section improperly uses one or more religious texts as primary sources without referring to secondary sources that critically analyze them.” Norse Religion, on the other hand, is described as part of the “Norse Anthropology” portal. Type in Paganism, and you get a pictures of Venus and comments about antiquity. Type in “NeoPaganism” and you get an underdeveloped “Part of a series on” with one link. We are not only underrepresented there, but the language in Wikipedia diminishes us and our beliefs.

Now I am completely aware that Wikipedia is built on contributions, but the editors and contributors are mimicking the longstanding semantic favoritism toward the major faith traditions. It is the use of language to segregate that which is acceptably believable and part of religion from that which is dramatized and belonging to literature. It highlights the institutionalized bias toward monotheism and marginalizes Pagans and Polytheists as aberrant or antiquated or ill-informed or even immature.

My mistake at Nemi was silence. I had an opportunity to reframe “mythology.” I could have answered, for example, “But they are important stories. Many people still find strength in them.” But I didn’t. The unintentional attack on identity and faith did not get a response. In fact, I didn’t realize the scope of what had happened until I spent some time sitting by the lake shore almost an hour later. But we can respond. And we should.

Doing so is an act of reparation and affirmation. We can knit together the story of our identity as both new and ancient faiths. Through the tiniest of steps, we can re-frame a word at a time to a person at a time. And we can unlink associations that have undermined religious identity even in societies that favor no religion. We need some courage, but we’ve never lacked that. We need to take advantage of that moment of opportunity and share of the responsibility. We can each be weavers of language to knit new meanings to old words that will slowly but unfailingly becomes the tapestry of our identity while restoring unity with and honoring our ancestors.

It’s not about anything remotely related to evangelism; that’s not within our traditions. But it is about giving voice to identity. It’s about honoring our ancestors, and the importance of Pagan and polytheistic beliefs in the present day and in the present moment. It is about unifying the past and the present, and demanding that belief and identity not be casualties of linguistic wars.

At that moment in Nemi, I lost two opportunities. One opportunity was to educate about identity and the other to start re-knitting the association of “mythology” from fable to faith. But I’ll work on doing better.

Ubi concordia, ibi victoria.  Where there is unity, there is victory.


Edmiston, P. & Lupyan, G. (2015).  What makes words special? Words as unmotivated cues.  Cognition, 143, 93-100.
Eliade, M. (1963).  Myth and Reality”  Harper & Row: New York.

ITALY – There are many popular mythological figures associated with the winter holiday season. We’ve all heard of Santa Claus, Rudolf, Father Christmas and Jack Frost. This past December Krampus, a figure in Germanic folklore, became a household name through the release of a new horror movie. But there is another figure, who stands out within the canon of European winter holiday lore, and is beloved by those who honor her. She is called La Befana.

“La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!”

traditional song

La Befana, sometimes called “an old woman” and sometimes “the Witch of Christmas,” is part of a long-held Italian holiday tradition. In modern times, she has become an integral figure of the Christian celebration of the Epiphany. In fact, it is believed by some that this religious connection is how the old woman got her name. According to those sources, La Befana is a derivative of the Ancient Greek work for Epiphany, or epiphaneia.

The Epiphany, also called Three Kings Day, is generally celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day that the three wise men, the Magi, visit the baby Jesus in the manager. As the most common story goes, the three men stopped at an old woman’s house on their journey to the manager. She offered them food and rest. Upon leaving the three asked if she wanted to accompany them to meet the baby Jesus, but she refused, saying that she was too busy with household chores. After the men were gone, the old woman changed her mind and set out to find them or to find the baby Jesus. She found neither. But in her searching, she visited every household, leaving sweets for all well-behaved children and coal or onions for the naughty ones.

La Befana’s night is celebrated on Jan. 5, the evening before the Epiphany. It is also called Twelfth Night or Magic Night. Children leave socks out in anticipation of the old woman’s visit, and adults will sometimes leave her wine and broccoli. Before Santa Claus became well-known in Italy, it was La Befana who made the sugarplums dance in children’s dreams.

I love Festa della Befana from Ashley Bartner on Vimeo

Journalist and Wiccan High Priest Davide Marrè said that Santa was not common in his youth, and that it was “young little Jesus” who actually brought the Christmas gifts. Marrè is a native of Arona, Italy and currently lives in Milan. He said that he believed in La Befana for much longer than he ever believed in Santa. “I don’t know why,” he said. ” I was more confident with Befana than Santa.”

Marrè added, laughing, “I still remember that, below the sweets at the end of a sock one year, I found a big onion because – maybe –  I had not been so good! I am still traumatized.”

La Befana’s story comes in many forms, including some suggesting that her own children were murdered or died of disease. In these tales, La Befana actually finds the baby Jesus during her evening ride and gives to him all of her dead children’s belongings. Then, on her journey home, she leaves the sweets or onions and coal for the children.

While La Befana is often called a Witch, this feature of her story is considered quite tenuous. In many cases, she is simply called an “old woman” and depicted as a village crone. Less commonly, she is called a sprite or fairy. La Befana doesn’t always ride a broomstick; sometimes it is a goat or donkey. And she rarely wears a pointed hat; a head-scarf is more common.

However, historically speaking, the cultural lines between this type of solitary crone figure and the typical Witch character have always been crossed and blurred. In the most common modern tellings of the Italian tale, La Befana’s famous midnight ride is done on a broom, which is an iconic element of both the Witch and of the homestead. Over centuries of storytelling, the broom has become one of the common cultural signifiers for both the old woman and the Witch.

The very first mention of La Befana within a modern text is reportedly in a poem written in 1549 by Italian poet Agnolo Firenzuola, who was particularly known for his “burlesque and licentious” work [i]. According several accounts, Firenzuola only calls her “an old, ugly woman.”[ii]  But, at that time, the concept of a Witch as a crone who flies on a broom was already well-established in popular European folklore, as demonstrated by art and literature. The infamous Malleus Maleficarum, originally published in 1486, confirms this fact, stating:

Now the following is their method of being transported. They take the unguent […] and anoint with it a chair or a broomstick; whereupon they are immediately carried up into the air, either by day or by night, and either visibly or, if they wish, invisibly; (Part 2; Section I, Chapter III)

Therefore, it is not a difficult leap to understand how a story of an old woman flying around on a broom looking for a manager could be translated as a “Christmas Witch.”

But folktales are fluid, moving in and out of society and time, through adaptation and cultural nuance. There is no clear picture on the timeline of La Befana’s construction within Italian culture. The evolution of her story is buried within multiple layers of meaning and influenced by diverse regional differences.

In 1823, for example, La Befana is mentioned in a book called Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs: Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicilywritten by Anglican Priest John James Blunt. He calls her “supernatural” and “a sprite.” Blunt also comments on the “burlesque” nature of the “Beffana” traditions. He ascribes these to the “heathen celebrations” associated with the Goddess Strenia, who also brought New Year’s gifts. (p. 119-120)

As suggested by Blunt’s comments, it is widely accepted that La Befana does have pre-Christian influences, even Neolithic. Aside from the already noted Goddess Strenia, La Befana has also been linked specifically to the traditions related to the Italian agricultural cycle. In some regions, her appearance is associated to ancestor worship and divination. In others, Befana is considered to be linked to the magic of Twelfth Night – a holiday highlighted in Shakespeare play of the same name.[iii] In many of these stories, Befana’s arrival marks a seasonal finale of sorts, and she uses her iconic broom to sweep away the old to make space for the new. Anthropologists Claudia and Luigi Manciocco explore La Befana’s mythology and traditions in their books A House Without Doors (1996) and The Magic and Mythogy: Toward an Anthropology of La Befana (2006).[iv]

Marrè shared another theory on La Befana’s ancient origins. He said, “Romans thought that, on the Twelfth Night after Natali Sol Invictus, a woman flew over the cultivated fields to give fertility for the future harvest. For some this flying woman was identified with Diaba because of  the link to vegetation; for others she was Satia or Abundia. The Catholic Church forbid rural rituals and this kind of story.”

A statement made in Blunt’s 18th century account corroborates Marrè’s last comment. Speaking about the Goddess Strenia from whom he believes Befana originated. Blunt writes, “Her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotus, and licentious character.”

[Photo Credit: Simone Zucchelli / Flickr ]

[Photo Credit: Simone Zucchelli / Flickr ]

Many modern Pagans are finding a renewed interest in La Befana. Some enjoy her simply for her Witch aspect and others for her relationship to seasonal cycles. Through this latter concept, Marrè and his fellow Wiccans have been incorporating their beloved Befana childhood tradition into their modern Wiccan practice.

Marrè is board president of Circolo dei Trivi, a Wiccan group based in Milan. Every Imbolc, the group incorporates La Befana into their celebrations. Marrè said that this annual tradition is more feast than ritual, and focuses on the turning of the wheel of the year from the old to the new. The group blends two uniquely Italian folktales together to create a new seasonal story that brings meaning to the February sabbat. In this case, La Befana represents the final joys of the old year giving her final “gifts” at Imbolc. And, another Witch, named Giobiana represents the old year’s baggage and dust that must be removed to make way for renewal.

Marrè explained, “Giobiana is another old tradition that is celebrated in the northern part of Italy, near Lombardia (Varese and Como). The legend says that Giobiana was a bad big Witch with very long legs. She lived in the wood and, obviously this is folklore, scared all the children. On the last Thursday of January, she would eat one child. Then, one year, a mother was so worried for her son that she decided to trick Giobana. The mother prepared yellow rice with saffron and sausage (rissotto giallo con la luganega, a very typical food in this area), and she put it in the window. Giobiana smelled the rice and arrived to eat it. It was so good that she forgot that it was dawn, and she was burned by the sun.”

The Giobiana legend is very similar to many other folk stories containing a frightening old crone in the woods, such as the Baba Yaga of Russian lore or the famous Witch of Hansel & Gretel. In fact, in some traditions, La Befana and Giobiana are considered one and the same. Regardless, the Circolo dei Trivi has reincorporated these two different regional stories into their own Wiccan theology, pairing them with their seasonal celebration of Imbolc.

Marrè said, “For us the two legends, Befana and Giobiana, are linked. Befana is the good face of the crone while Giobiana is the bad one. One is the nature that gives us the last gifts, and the second is the nature that, without renewal, will start to ‘eat children.’ He speculates that this had to be important in ancient times because the cold winter months were “when the mortality rate for childhood was at its maximum.” He adds, “So it is really important that the crone is transformed into the young goddess that we represent as Belisama, the Brigid of Cisalpine Gaul.”

La Befana Night in Northern Italian 2013 [Photo Credit: Bas_Ernst / Flickr]

La Befana Night in Northern Italian 2013 [Photo Credit: Bas_Ernst / Flickr]

Similar to modern community traditions in the northern Italian towns, Circolo dei Trivi burns an effigy, a representation of Giobiana, within their ritual space. They collect the ashes and tell the story of nature’s death and rebirth, through the death of Giobiana and the birth of Belisama. In that process, they also thank nature, represented as La Befana, for bringing the final gifts from the previous year. Grazie, La Befana.

As with many regional traditions, La Befana’s modern construction and appearance were developed over an expansive amount of time and stem from a diverse number of cultural elements. Her story has been adapted over and over to fit into a variety of different social or religious structures.

As the international community becomes more integrated, La Befana has become increasingly recognized outside of the small Italian towns from where she came.[v] And, some wonder and even worry … will La Befana follow Santa Claus’ lead and become a largely commercial and secular figure in our global holiday season? Will she lose her regional meaning and connections to Italian culture? Will the Christmas Witch one day grace the label on a Coca-Cola bottle or appear in her own animated holiday special on CBS?

[i] This description was used by Henry W. Longfellow in his book Poets and Poetry of Europe published by Carey and Hart in 1845. Firenzuola also did reportedly write more serious works. Interestingly, he also recorded conversations on feminine beauty, which wasn’t published until 1892.
[ii] We were unable to obtain a copy of this poem in time for publication.
[iii] Written around 1599, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is believed to have been based on several Italian plays, and was created specifically to celebrate the final festive evening of the Christmas season. (Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Pelican Books. 1986)
[iv] Neither book appears to be available in English translation at this time.
[v] La Befana’s story, for example, is featured in a children’s book by American author and illustrator Tomie dePaolo. The Legend of Old Befana was published in 1980 by Sandpiper. Tomie dePaolo is also the author of the popular Stega Nona series.

[Unleash the Hounds is a monthly feature that highlights media stories of interest originating predominantly outside of our collective communities. If you like seeing this roundup every month, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive today. Only a few hours left in the 2015 campaign! Join the team of supporters. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt on track for another year. Thank You.]

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

According to a number of news sites, Facebook announced Friday that it is making changes to its infamous “real name policy.” Last year, this policy triggered a number of protests after it was used to target various communities, most visibly the LGBTQ and Indigenous populations. As we have previously reported, many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists have also been targets of “real name policy” enforcement.

The reported announcement came in the form of a letter written in response to the most recent protest. On October 5, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published its own open letter, speaking out against the policy and asking Facebook to respond by Oct 31. The open letter was signed by a number of organizations and individuals from around the world, including the ACLU, #MyNameIs Campaign, Transgender Law Center, Women, Action &  the Media and more. The EFF open letter reads in part, “Facebook maintains a system that disregards the circumstances of users in countries with low levels of internet penetration, exposes its users to danger, disrespects the identities of its users, and curtails free speech.

In response, Facebook’s Vice President of Growth Alex Schultz reportedly responded with his own letter announcing the changes. According to that document, the policy itself will remain intact; however, beginning in December, Facebook will allow people to submit descriptive reasoning for a name choice along with their non-government issued IDs. Similarly, anyone who flags a person’s name will be required to submit detailed reasoning and proof.

Schultz explains that “bullying, harassment or other abuse on Facebook is eight times more likely to be committed by people using names other than their own than by the rest of the Facebook community.” However, he acknowledged that the policy, as it stands, does not work for everyone. Along with other tweaks to the system, they hope to make the process easier and “more personal.”  This is good news for Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists who use their public Craft names on the social media site.

Schultz letter was posted online by BuzzFeed reporter and can be read in full there. Despite the news reports, no formal announcements seem to have been made via Facebook’s press sources or on its own social media.

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In Other News ….

  • As reported by the Huffington Post, the U.S. Military has refused to remove a sign reading “God Bless” from a base in Hawaii. The sign was originally erected on the Oahu base “in response to the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.” However, in recent months, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has gotten involve in protesting the sign and has requested its removal. In response, Col. Sean C. Killeen said the sign will remain in place and will not be altered in anyway. He added, “This sign has the secular purpose of conveying a message of support, does not advance or inhibit religion or any particular faith, nor does it foster excessive government entanglement with religion.” MRFF, undaunted by the response, fired back requesting that, to remain within the parameters set by the Constitution, the base now needs to erect similar signs representing other beliefs, specifically including Judaism, Islam, Norse Religious Faiths, Wicca, Humanism/Atheism, and Hindu. Later the MRFF, calling the Killeen’s response “massively unconstitutional,” added three more belief systems: the Baha’i faith, the Jedi church and the Church of Satan.
  • In Colorado, one Pastor is attempting to combat religious bigotry with simple education. In an article for the local Mountain-Ear, Pastor Hansen Wendlandt explains the importance of religious literacy. He writes, “America is still a very religious country. By all measures, we are full of people who believe in God, gods and goddesses, or at least something sacred about the world. And by all accounts, very many of us behave and make civil decisions based on our religious commitments. And yet, according to the careful research, Americans are woefully ignorant of each other’s faith systems and traditions.” He is using his Community Church as a forum to teach young people, mostly teenagers, about different religions. Oct 18 marked the first session, in which he invited a Hindu speaker. In Nov, Pastor Wendlandt will welcome a Wiccan speaker; then in Dec, he will bring in a Jewish speaker, following in January, by a Buddhist. He writes, “Future dates for Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism and Humanism will be announced later.”
  • While the mainstream media continued its October quest to interview witches, a town in Italy is discussing the forgiving of one. In the town of Brentonico, Mayor Christian Perenzoni is seeking the pardon of a woman who was labeled a witch and killed 300 years ago. He told The Independent, “We wanted to render justice and historical truth, and give back the condemned woman her ethical, moral and civil dignity.” According to the report, Maria Bertoletti Toldini was accused of practicing Witchcraft since the age of 13. She was eventually tried, beheaded and burned. Her trial is considered to be one the last in a long line of Witchcraft executions in the area.
  • With everyone’s mind on Halloween, a local CBS affiliate in Minnesota reported on the “Witch Tree.” The report explains, “The solitary tree … has long been growing out of a rock on tribal land along the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior.” Local indigenous groups consider the tree sacred and leave offerings at its base. The article goes on to talk about the rituals and its honored place in that culture.
  • Contributing to the month’s trending religious discussions, The Week‘s Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry asks, “Could paganism make a comeback?” Note that in this article he is defining “paganism” as that which was practiced in the classical period, as he understands it.
  • In the art world, the Deitch Project presented an exhibition, “Cameron: Cinderella of the Wastelands,” which shared the Uncensored Story of LA Artist/Occultist Majorie Cameron.” According to an article in The Observer, “Close friends … gathered to share memories of the ‘Scarlet Woman’ who starred in Kenneth Anger films and was married to rocket scientist Jack Parsons, amid a small but historic first East Coast survey of her artwork.” Her religious beliefs were integrated into her work, and she was reportedly practicing at the convergence of three traditions: Wicca, Thelema, Scientology. According to the Deitch Project website, “The combination of Cameron’s precise line, her visionary imagery, occult practice, and charismatic personality created a singular aesthetic. Her distinctive vision and her strong feminist spirit are now inspiring a new generation of artists.” Examples of her work are on the Deitch website and in the Oberserver article.

That is it for now! Have a nice day.

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218px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skiesOn Saturday, Ireland voted “yes” to legalize same sex marriage, making it the first country to do so by popular vote. Susan Large, moderator of the Irish Pagan Movement Facebook page, said, “As Pagans we are delighted as our small community welcomes many Gay couples and we view this vote as a wonderful vote for Love and for freedom. Ireland has shown the way for others to follow and this vote is a remarkable demonstration of how enlightened a nation can be. We hope and pray that other countries will help this small flame to burn even brighter.”

11193216_1426113094372944_669836385512419440_nTurnout was reportedly very high at 60% of the 3.2 million eligible to vote. For some, the win was a surprise in a country that is considered to be conservative and traditionally Catholic. However, the vote proves that a cultural shift has happened. In response, the Pagan Federation Ireland changed its logo and said, “A happy day for everyone, not just the LGBT community, as Ireland votes Yes to marriage equality. The Yes vote for equality benefits us all, even those who voted No. But once the euphoria of victory and the celebrations are over, we must remember that many remain to be convinced, and that will take time and patience. The fight for equality continues.”

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Last week we reported on the start of festival season and the various upcoming events. Another one that is on the horizon is The Morrigan’s Call. Although many festivals and conferences have themes, only a few focus on a specific deity. In this case, it’s The Morrigan. Organizers say, “Do you hear her voice whispering to you on the wind? Do you feel her presence in the shadows calling to you? Can you feel her warrior spirit stir within you? The Morrigan is calling to us once again …Join us for a weekend of ritual work, devotional practices, kinship and workshops dedicated to the Morrigan, the Irish goddess of sovereignty and battle.”

Similar to Reclaiming’s Witchcamp, The Morrigan’s Call is a retreat intensive to learn about this “dynamic goddess” and “how to embrace her transformation in your life.” Organized by Morrigu’s Daughters, the retreat is open to both men and women. After the 2014 event, Morgan Daimler wrote in a blog post, “We came together to honor Her, and we did; in word, and song, in ritual, and prayer, in communion with each other and by sharing our experiences and insights with each other. And it was an awesome and amazing thing to experience.”  This year’s retreat will be held at Camp Cedarcrest in Orange, Connecticut and runs from June 12 – 14. Tickets and information can be found on Facebook or at Brown Paper Tickets.

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Lapd seal

Last week’s meet and greet, held at the West Valley Area Los Angeles Police Department, was reportedly a huge success. Co-organizer Wendilyn Emrys, a Pagan Priestess and activist, said that more than thirty Pagans showed up and filled the community room at the station. From the LAPD, co-organizer Captain John Egan was joined by both a former and a current Hate Crime Detective, and a Deputy City’s Attorney. Emrys said, “Frankly, the really surprising thing about the event was how many Pagan Officers showed up.” Although she added that more didn’t come for fear of being “outed” as Pagan.

The various officers spoke on different topics of concern, such as the difference between hate crimes and hate incidents. For example, Emrys said, “The City Attorney explained how he/they handle misdemeanor Hate Incidents, and also will arbitrate neighbors disputes. That was a resource none of us were aware of.” There were many questions and Emrys described Capt. Egan as open and willing to answer each and every question. Afterward, he spoke directly to a number of people and offered assistance to those experiencing problems in other areas. Pagan Jill Weiss asked if a similar meeting could take place in the North Hollywood area. Capt. Egan said that he would try to help make that happen.

Last year, the West Valley Area LAPD was implicated in a court case in which a Pagan officer allegedly experienced religious and gender discrimination. The officer involved, Victoria DeBellis, and her husband were not in attendance at the last week’s meeting; nor did DeBellis respond to the invitation. Emrys did asked Captain Egan about the case, and he simply said that “he could not talk about it because it is still in play, but he was hopeful that the decision would be a fair one.”

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It was announced this week that fantasy author Tanith Lee (1947-2015) had passed away at the age of 67 after a long illness. Born in London, Lee was raised by two dancers. She was unable to read until the age of eight due to dyslexia. But that didn’t hold her back.

Lee published her first novel The Dragon Hoard in 1971, and became a freelance writer shortly after. Over the following 44 years, she wrote and published more than 90 novels and 300 short stories, earning her many accolades. In 1980, Lee became the first woman to receive the British Fantasy Award for best novel with her book Death’s Master.

Known for her highly imaginative work and feminist themes, Lee’s stories are very popular in many Pagans circle. Some of her more recent books were published by Immanion Press, including A Different City, which was just released March 2015. When Lee’s passing was made public, her official website simply displayed this quote: “Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.”

In Other News

  • The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment is now over 5300 and counting. The goal is 10,000 by mid June.
  • In support of Gaia Gathering, the national Canadian Pagan conference, thirteen artists came together to record “an anthology of some of the best of Canadian Pagan music and spoken word.” The collection of works spans thirty years, including “out-of-print classics” as well as new works. The artists include: Vanessa Cardui, Tara Rice, the Ancient Gods, JD Hobbes, Brendan Myers, Dano Hammer, the Dragon Ritual Drummers, Gallows Hill, Heather Dale, Tamarra James, Raven’s Call, Sable Aradia,and Parnassus (Chalice & Blade). The album, titled Songs of the Northern Tribes, can only be purchased online, and all proceeds go to support the conference.
  • A group of women in Venice, Italy have launched a project that will potentially result in a brand new Goddess Temple. The Dee Oltre Le Nebbie (Goddesses Beyond the Mists) is a local study group made up of women representing various Pagan traditions. President Anna Bordin said, “We are going to open a permanent Goddess Temple to give the Pagan community a place where [we can] meet each other and where we can celebrate the Goddess of many names, in every aspect.” The group is now raising money to purchase a space and looking for volunteers to assist in the construction, upkeep and maintenance of that space.
  • Pagans Radio Tonight announced that Pam Kelly has taken over as station manager. Rev. Don Lewis said, “All of our familiar shows will continue … but there are also many new shows either recently premiered or soon to come!” As an example, he pointed out two new programs: “Voces Paganas” with Rev. Nube Lazzo and Rev. Eblis, and “Soapbox Witch” with Rev. Chuck Chapman. He also added that the Friday lineup has changed completely.
  • The new summer conference, Many Gods West, is on the horizon for many. The initial programme is available online. One of the scheduled presenters is the Bakcheion (Βακχεῖον), a group of Dionysian devotees, who will perform a ritual called “Filled with Frenzy.” One its members is blogger Sannion of the House of Vines. He described the event as a “celebration of the god Dionysos through wine, masks, drumming, dancing and altered states of consciousness.” It is also being touted as one of his first live events. To offset the cost of the trip to the conference, Bakcheion members have launched an Indiegogo campaign. The money raised will also be used for the purchase of ritual supplies, and anything left over will be “distributed back into supporting the polytheist community.”
Bakcheion Ritual Logo

Bakcheion Ritual Logo

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

On July 11, the Italian organization Unione Comunità Neopagane (UCN) was born after 2 long years of planning. A result of Progetto articolo 8 (Project Article 8), the UCN brings together a diversity of Pagan associations under one organizational structure in order to support Pagan practice within the greater Italian culture. Its ultimate goal is to establish official legal recognition for “Neopaganism as a heterogeneous religion” according to the laws of the country.

Dolomite Mountains, Italy [Photo Credit: philipbouchard Flickr]

Dolomite Mountains, Italy [Photo Credit: philipbouchard Flickr]

Italian Pagans are, generally, solitary practitioners. However, over the last decade, there has been an increase in community building and public events. UCN President Anna Bordin, a priestess and initiate of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple, explains, “We started gathering together and forming Associations and Study Groups on many subjects related with Paganism.”

Bordin lists some of this work as including “the annual meeting of Trivia in Milan, the annual Council of Witchcraft and Druidry in Biella, the Beltane Festival,” and the birth of many new groups and covens of different paths such as Bordin’s own Cerchio Italiano di Avalon. Many associations have supported workshops with international teachers, such as Phillys Curott, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Kathy Jones, Vivianne and Chris Crawley. She adds:

Something that happened in these last years has been the constant increase of demand from the pagan community of ‘services’ such as handfastings, sacred unions, wiccanings, baby namings, requiems etc… many Italian pagan authors have written several books on Paganism that have been published by the newborn pagan publishers.

Paganism has grown in the country and the demand for resources and community has increased accordingly. Bordin says, “Following this thread two years ago we started working on a project for the recognition of Neopaganism as religion, or as a composite religion, bonded by principles, festivals and practices.” This work led to the formation of the UCN.

UCN President, Anna Bordin [Photo Credit: Martina Pace]

UCN President, Anna Bordin [Photo Credit: Martina Pace]

The organization was founded by the coming together of nine distinct associations and groups, including Argiope (Venice); Circolo dei Trivi (Milan);  L’Antico Trivio (Naples); Corvo Nuvola (Milan); Clan Duir – Antica Quercia (Biella);  Il Cerchio delle Antiche vie (Arezzo); La Ruota d’Oro (Rome); Le Intagliatrici (Milan); and Il Corvo e la Civetta (Piacenza). These groups range in religious practice but agree on three founding principles, as borrowed from the Pagan Federation International, and other organizational guidelines.

At this time, the group is home to mostly Wiccans, Druids and electic “Neopagans.” However, membership is open to anyone who agrees to the organization’s ideals. UCN recognizes that Paganism in Italy is quite diverse. Bordin notes that the country has a very unique and rich history that nurtures a connection to its long religious roots. She says:

It is not rare that some groups celebrate their rites in pre-Christian, Celtic or Roman, but also Etruscan or Greek, places of worship … Our territory was a melting pot of ancient cultures, a crossroad among Romans, Greeks, Etruscan, German populations and many others. Here we have also had the Mysteries of Mithra, Isis, etc. Ancient mystery religions and ethnic practices were melted at that time, as it happens now with Neopaganism. So also the Wiccan and Druidic practices are strongly integrated with the local folklore. Italian magical traditions have now found a new frame to express themselves in

None of these minority religious practices have recognized status in Italy. While the country does have a deeply embedded religious history and various entanglements with the Catholic Church, modern Italy supports the religious freedom of its citizens. In legal terms, the state and the Catholic Church are two entirely separate entities, as stated by the 1948 Italian Constitution and reinforced by legal revisions in 1984.

Italian Pagans of any kind are free to practice privately or publicly provided they do not break any secular Italian law. However, this practice is largely considered an activity, like a sport or party. Bordin says, “We can meet in public and celebrate our own rites and ceremonies, asking permission [from] the town Council only if the rites are performed outdoors in public places. Sometimes for bigger events we need to ask permission as a ‘cultural’ meeting.”

Bordin doesn’t like that. She does not want to have to hide the religious nature of her festival or ritual. That is where the the UCN comes in. A organization can enter into an agreement and become the representative of a “denomination” allowing for legal benefits, including the operation of schools, access to state funding and the right to perform legally-recognized marriages. In 2012, both a Buddhist organization (UBI) and Hindu organization achieved this coveted status.

Handfasting [Photo Credit: Michela Horvath]

Handfasting [Photo Credit: Michela Horvath]

However, not everyone believes that legal credentials are important. Pagan Pride Italia (PPI) has opted not to join the UCN and, additionally, is now protesting its work. PPI believes that the formation of the UCN is unnecessary and counter to the eclectic nature of Paganism. President Vanth Spiritwalker says, “There are the reasons why we don’t want to adhere to it, and then there are the reasons why we are taking action to protest against it.”

PPI doesn’t want to join because, in its opinion, the benefits to be gained through organizational formation are negligible. Italian Pagans already have religious freedom as stated in the Italian Constitution. Pagans can already freely practice, organize and hold public events. PPI also points out that all lawful marriages are ultimately civic, regardless of a religion’s legal stature, even the Catholic ones.

Spiritwalker adds, “What the project is actually doing is something different. They are creating a church” that requires certain hierarchical structures and limitations on practice that conflict with the eclectic nature of the Pagan experience. In addition, PPI is concerned that, with a country full of solitaries, the UCN is only allowing groups and associations full membership status.

530315_10151274153392645_813335934_nThose are the reasons that PPI is not supporting the UCN. However, the organization is also actively protesting for an additional reason. Spiritwalker says:

It is in anyone’s right to create a church … the problem arises when they are doing so choosing a name for themselves that says that they are speaking for every Pagan in the country. This is not only wrong, but creates a lot of potential problems by conveying a representation of the community which is different from the truth. Since we believe that what really gives you rights is social recognition, which means educating people so that they are aware of your existence, of what you do and of your rights. Giving out wrong information can only hinder social recognition, not helping the community in general.

PPI is encouraging Italian Pagans to use the hashtags #nochiesapagana #freepaganism and to post a photo of themselves saying, “I am Pagan. UCN doesn’t represent me.”

The UCN Board is aware of PPI’s complaints. In response, Bordin says, “We are using the word Neopagans to avoid misunderstandings, as there are many Pagans in Italy that don’t follow the principles of the PFI. We don’t want to unify all the paths in one, but to be strong in our differences working on a common base.” The UCN only claims to represent a “heterogenous denomination,” to use the government’s language, that is based solely on or limited only by its three founding 3 principles and its mission.

Bordin also adds that UCN does have plans to add a stronger solitary membership program. The Board is inspired by the structure of the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and its full inclusion of solitary practitioners. In fact, UCN has taken many of its cues from international organizations. Along with CoG, the UCN plans to model its teaching practices and festival organization around the work of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. As mentioned earlier, it borrowed the Pagan Federation International‘s membership principles.

At this point, the UCN is a nonprofit organization. Over the next 3-4 years, it will attempt, as Bordin says, “to become a juridical personality (or charity.)”  She says, “If we gain the juridical personality, Neopaganism will “exist” as a non-recognised religion …The next step will be moving from a non-recognised religion to recognised religion, with the start of a long process.” This process could take as long as 20 years.

Back in September, I helped facilitate a crowdfunding campaign for Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum so that he could attend  Awakened World 2012 in Rome, Italy, a gathering of religious and spiritual leaders that seeks to “call attention to shifting paradigms in our world today- including concern for human rights and the environment – and help facilitate the religious and spiritual healing of the world.” That campaign was successful, and I was able to speak with McCollum by phone yesterday from Florence, Italy. He described amazing breakthroughs and opportunities for modern Pagans that were emerging from his time at Awakened World, and says that he looks forward to sharing them in-depth on his return to the United States. In the meantime, Patrick has posted some updates and photos to the Patrick McCollum Foundation’s Facebook page.

Patrick McCollum with Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, & Tenzin Tethong of the Dalai Lama Foundation.

Patrick McCollum with Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, & Tenzin Tethong of the Dalai Lama Foundation.

“As the meetings and dialogue here at the Awakened World gathering in Rome move forward, we are not only working on solutions toward peace and sustainability, we are getting to know one another and making friends. As many of you know, one of my main objectives in representing our community is to create concrete alliances around the world while at the same time putting a face on our traditions and the things we hold sacred and can contribute. As a result, several of those goals are quickly coming to fruition. I now have many new friends from other traditions who are gaining respect for our views and offering to stand together. And even more powerful, several of us have agreed to work together on important tangible projects that both contribute to solutions to our planet’s larger problems and allow our community to be seen in a positive light.”

McCollum also said that “many of our discussions here dovetail with those circling in our own communities, and it is clear that we have much to contribute.” Some of the high-profile guests at Awakened World 2012 include Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mohandas Gandhi, and Tenzin Tethong, former Prime Minister (Kalon Tripa) of the Central Tibetan Administration (both pictured above with Patrick McCollum).

We will be hearing more from Patrick at The Wild Hunt once he returns. In the meantime, you can follow his foundation’s Facebook page for updates. For those unfamiliar with McCollum’s work on behalf of modern Pagans, specifically in chaplaincy, here are a few links from The Wild Hunt archives that detail some of his exploits.

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.

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.

Large interfaith gatherings can often be fraught with long-simmering tensions, just ask the folks who put on the Parliament for the World’s Religions, but it is generally thought that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. That getting leaders and clergy of the major religions in the same room to find common ground and common understanding will bring dividends of lasting peace (or at least bring about greater tolerance). Yesterday, in Assisi, Italy the Catholic Church sponsored a massive interfaith gathering, the third such gathering to directly involve a sitting Pope (hence, “Assisi III” in Catholic circles), and the 25th anniversary of the first such meeting. In his address to the gathering, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that Christianity has used violence to achieve its ends, and that this is against the spirit of his faith.

“As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. For us the Cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put “suffering-with” (compassion) and “loving-with” in place of force. His name is “God of love and peace” (2 Cor 13:11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart, so that it truly serves as an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans.”

Benedict has long been categorized as skeptical of interfaith efforts such as these, and famously criticized the first Assisi gathering, saying that it could lead to the impression that all faiths are valid. As a consequence, great pains were taken to avoid the impression of unified prayer at this event, and to assert that profound theological differences exist between the world’s faiths.

“In the 1960’s a theologian wrote (and I paraphrase as I can’t seem to find my copy of the work this morning), “Polytheism was half-right. It understood that God was immanent in the world. But, it missed the fact that God also transcends the world.” The theologian? Joseph Ratzinger of course. If one of the reasons to gather religious leaders of different faiths together was to focus on the first half, the part polytheists got right, that is well and good. But, for Benedict, we cannot neglect the other half, nor the fact that we Catholic Christians do not pray to the same God as our polytheist brothers.”

However, these measures weren’t enough for some Catholic traditionalists, who felt the very gathering together  of religious leaders with the Pope was a blasphemy too far.

“…the very nature of a pan-religious event with representatives of the world, most of them pagan, is to foster religious indifferentism and religious relativism.  Yet in the months leading up to the third major Assisi affair, we have been told repeatedly by Vatican officials that this latest manifestation of religious relativism will actually be an attack on religious relativism. That this manifestation of religious indifferentism will actually avoid religious indifferentism. Such a promise does not correspond to realty. The only way to avoid religious indifferentism in a pan-religious event is to not hold the event.”

Also unhappy with the event were agnostics and atheists, who, while invited to the event, were also singled out for criticism in the Pope’s address to the gathering.

The Vatican made a big publicity push out of Pope Benedict XVI’s personal initiative to invite atheists to this week’s interfaith dialogue at Assisi, Italy. It was supposed to be a day of reflection and dialogue, but Benedict XVI, with four atheists in attendance at his invitation, turned the meeting into yet another attack against atheists. “God’s absence”, the Pope argued, would lead to violence and even concentration camps, because denial of the Divine “corrupts men, deprives them of restraint, making them lose their humanity”. By contrast, said the Pope, use of violence in the name of religion would only be “an abuse of the Christian faith.” “Again and again the Pope reveals himself as an ‘atheophobe’” says Raffaele Carcano, head of the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics (UAAR), an International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) member organization. “His attacks against atheists, and his pretension to acquire agnostics, are a clear attempt to demonize the unbelief that’s increasingly spreading throughout the world, as acknowledged by the clearly worried Pope himself.”

It seems pretty clear from his statement that Benedict invited the four agnostics “so that God, the true God, becomes accessible” to them. Perhaps I am wrong about this, but it seems like one step forward, two steps back, in regards to outreach with agnostics and atheists.

From a personal perspective, I applaud the spirit of Assisi, interfaith gatherings that have been taking place every year since 1986 and made this anniversary celebration possible. I also think that the current Pope will always be caught between too much and not enough. Any move towards reconciliation and understanding with non-Christians will be seen as a betrayal by traditionalists and hardliners, while his outreach toward bringing extremist groups like the Society of St Pius X back into full communion, and his track record of hostility towards indigenous and non-monotheistic faiths will ensure outreach half-measures bring as much criticism as praise. He is fundamentally limited by his very role and purpose, unable as an individual to bring healing while existing as the living embodiment of his faith. Any step too far in one direction would rupture the Catholic world, destroying a balance that has allowed it to become one of the world’s largest faiths.

So, what, if one believes in the power of interfaith work, can be done? I honestly believe that interfaith can’t be a top-down affair, at least not in today’s world. The heads of the dominant monotheisms are all immobilized by the same problems that haunt Benedict, while the non-monotheistic world faiths, being largely decentralized, have no single leader that guides them all. I think the best leaders and clergy can do is to simply allow interfaith work to happen, through projects like the Parliament for the World’s Religions, or the United Religions Initiative,  so that the ground can shift under them. The absence of persecution for interfaith involvement may not seem like much, but is a core building block for future change. In 25 years a Cardinal hostile to interfaith became a Pope willing to meet and talk with the world’s faiths (albeit with restrictions), what will the next 25 years bring? If we allow the interfaith movement to grow, I’m hopeful we can see massive advances in my lifetime.

I also think that Pagan intrafaith (and intramovement) work needs to become a far more serious consideration. As a diverse movement of unique and individual faiths we have allowed too much to be taken for granted, and made far too many assumptions, threatening to create permanent divisions between natural allies. We need to stop building councils and start building Pagan gatherings that engage in the hard work of actually listening to one another. The days when any small handful of individuals could speak for our now-global movement are over. I think we are ready to emerge as a much-needed perspective in world events, but it can only happen if we respect our own nature and reality.

Top Story: A Pagan temple under construction in Poltava, Ukraine, was vandalized, and its keeper hospitalized, at the end of September, sparking waves of sadness and outrage among the global Pagan movement. M. Horatius Piscinus at the Patheos blog Religio et Pietas had the first report on October 1st, identifying it as a Nova Roma temple dedicated to Jupiter Perennus.

A message of "Die Heathens" left at the site.

A message of "Die Heathens" left at the site.

“The Kalends of September proved long and full, and now another Kalends comes upon us.  The Ides (13 Sept) celebrates the anniversary of the dedication of the Temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva atop the Capitoline Hill of Rome. It is therefore especially sad to learn that the Temple of Jupiter Perennus that is being built for our community in Poltava, Ukraine, was attacked last Monday night by a group of Orthodox Christians. Our chief priest of Jupiter, the Flamen Dialis Marcus Corvus was injured while defending the altar of Jupiter and has been hospitalized. This comes after news that another Christian band attacked a Romuva sanctuary in Lithuania. Even here in Ohio, some years ago, Christians attacked a sanctuary that was erected by a CUUPS group on the grounds of a Unitarian church in Fairlawn, a suburb of Akron.   While sad to hear such events continue today, it is no shock to learn of them. Not when ministers like John Hagey preach that “Tolerance is a sin,” when Pat Robertson, among others, blamed the 9/11 attacks on pagans, or when Rev. Billingsly, the former minister of the Akron Baptist Temple, once preached from the pulpit to his congregation that they ought to burn pagans at the stake.  Such is the face of the “New Christianity” that we are met with each day, and now it has touched my friend Corvus and his family.”

The next day, the Cultus Deorum Romanorum blog posted photos of the desecration, and Kenaz Filan pointed out that this isn’t an isolated incident in the Ukraine.

“Despicable as this crime is, it’s not the first such attack in Poltava.  On April 13, 2002, some 50 young men leaving a soccer game attacked a nearby synagogue:  hurling stones and yelling “Kill the Jews,” they broke some twenty windows and beat up two people, one the son of Kiev’s chief rabbi. In July 2008 a Holocaust memorial was smeared with paint and anti-Semitic graffiti.   And in October 2001 a Roma family’s house was set afire: five people died in the conflagration, including a six-year old girl and three-year old boy.  The Poltava police showed little interest in finding the responsible parties, which is unsurprising since a Poltava police officer allegedly led the assailants.”

Filan also points out that Pagan groups in the Ukraine aren’t completely blameless, and that some nationalistic strains of Paganism in that country have engaged in attacks on Orthodox churches. Still, the deeds of some Pagan groups in the Ukraine do not excuse violence towards any or all Pagans by Orthodox Christian mobs. At his personal blog, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus said he was “horrified”, but not surprised at this incident.

“With the way worldwide Christianity is progressing at present, particularly in some areas that don’t have the same views on religious liberty that the U.S. supposedly enshrines in its highest laws of the land, insecure Christians with something to prove (mostly to themselves, which is truly sad) feel the need to lash out at others. May their vandalism and intolerance be met with redoubled efforts on the part of the Flamen and his associates to honor their gods in the face of adversity, and may all of the gods of healing (perhaps including Ares) assist him in his recovery.”

You can find more commentary from a variety of Pagans and polytheists at Sannion’s blog as well. For those wanting to donate toward the rebuilding of what was destroyed, you can donate here.

In Other News:

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

Here’s a few quick news notes to start off your Monday.

The Passing of a Poet: The New York Times has posted an obituary of poet Janine Pommy Vega, who passed away on December 23rd due to a heart attack. Vega was an intimate of several Beat Generation writers, most notably Peter Orlovsky, who was once her lover. Among the Goddess community, she may be most famous for her 1997 book “Tracking the Serpent,” a memoir and travelogue of “pilgrimages to sites of female spiritual and temporal power.”

Here’s an excerpt from a 1997 Boston Phoenix profile concerning the book:

Following on this touchingly understated tragedy is the book’s spiritual turning point: a near-fatal car crash. During her months of convalescence, she happens on a book about the female images of the ancient Celts: the owl-eyed goddess, the mother/protector, the huntress in her antler mask. She responds to their Jungian echo of millennia of creative female voices; they symbolize her fight to put her broken mind and body back together. They are also the seed of her travels. “As I read into the early-morning hours,” she recounts, “an owl began calling at my window. Slowly the idea coalesced of making a pilgrimage to the ancient sites . . . I needed to reaffirm something in me that felt ripped apart and empty.”

Thus begin years of introspective journeying. Vega visits the ancient sites where the goddess was worshipped: Glastonbury, Silbury, and Avebury in England, the high hills of Ireland, the shrine of the Virgin in Chartres Cathedral. She studies Vedic myth in desolate Himalayan temples, explores the earth cults of the Andes, participates in a yage ceremony in Peru, where believers coax visions from the potent, peyote-like hallucinogen ayahuasca. Fascinated by the survival of these ancient, poetic faiths in remote agricultural regions across the globe, she becomes both scholar and mystic — a Boddhisatva seeking an image of herself among the ruins.

For more tributes, check out here, here, and here.

New York Times Discovers the Green Dragon: The NYT’s Green blog looks in on the growing evangelical Christian backlash against environmentalism, referencing the fear-mongering “Resisting the Green Dragon” video series. According to “green dragon” promoter Calvin Beisner, Christians who support environmental causes, and admit the reality of global warming, “probably did not understand the science,” and that Christian “creation care” is “infected by the false worldview and theology of secular and pagan religious environmentalism.”

“Mr. Beisner, a former professor of theology and a ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, argued that the science is still unsettled on whether greenhouse gases are warming the climate and that projections of dangerous human-driven warming in the future are flawed and unreliable. But an “Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming” on the Cornwall Alliance’s Web site urges all evangelicals to accept that recent global warming is natural and that mankind is incapable of altering the climate.”

We’re incapable of altering the climate! God is in control! All who say differently are secularists or Pagans! Never mind the fact that humanity has been altering the climate for thousands of years, or that major climate change skeptics have been doing about faces recently. Even if you happen to believe that climate change has little or nothing to do with humanity, to audaciously endorse that we do nothing, that we continue as if everything will work out, is to turn a blind eye to the damage climate change is already doing to the world. Every inane joke about blizzards and global warming (refusing to distinguish weather from climate) simply reinforces how uniformed we truly are, and how insulated most of us are from the problems these changes in the climate are causing.

Who’s Invited to Benedict’s Interfaith Pilgrimage? In 1986 a massive interfaith gathering convened by Pope John Paul II was held in Assisi, Italy  in order to foster peace and dialog between different faiths. Since then the yearly event has become something of a political football within Catholicism, loved by the Catholic left, and often reviled by the Catholic right. The current Pope, since his days as Cardinal Ratzinger, has been a vocal critic of the gatherings. In 2005, most likely spurred by false rumors spread by an Italian journalist saying the Franciscans allowed African animists to slaughter chickens on the altar of the basilica of Santa Chiara, and American redskins to dance in the church,” (a rumor shamelessly repeated by Rod Dreher) Pope Benedict XVI removed autonomy from the Franciscans of Assisi. Now, with the 25th anniversary of the gathering approaching, Benedict says he’ll be attending “as a pilgrim” and is calling for “all men of good will” to attend.

Celebrating World Peace Day on Saturday, Benedict said that he would travel as a pilgrim to Assisi in October, inviting Christians of other confessions, leaders of other world faiths “and, ideally, all men of good will, to recall the historic gesture sought by my predecessor and to solemnly renew the commitment of the faithful of all religious to live their own religious faith as a service for the cause of peace.”

So now we get down to it. Who, exactly, will be attending? How many polytheists, animists, and non-monotheists will be in attendance? Will any indigenous religious leaders show up? What about any of the Pagans serving as trustees for  The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (Andras Corban-ArthenPhyllis Curott, and Angie Buchanan)? Would they be allowed to come if they wanted? Could they rub shoulders with the pilgrim Pope? Will the man who predicted that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the Catholic Church’s main enemy this century, and that native populations were “silently longing” for conversion truly allow himself to be on equal ground with other non-Christian religions? I’ll be paying close attention to this issue, as we approach October.

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