Archives For Jason Mankey

There are many elements of community that help to build and sustain culture. Local community culture often ebbs and flows with the change of faces around the circle and the opportunities for engagement among the intersecting elements. The Bay Area, like most communities, has events, shops and memories that help to cultivate a local Pagan culture.

10858593_10153030684777552_6867534241222027502_nThe Pagan Festival has been one of the many such events in the Bay Area that has been a staple for the community for the last 14 years. This festival has been running since 2001, when it was previously known as the Interfaith Pagan Pride Parade and Celebration. Its name was later changed to the Pagan Alliance in 2004, and the festival ran annually until 2012. Due to multiple factors, the Pagan Alliance did not host the festival for two years.

The return of this event was a surprise when the Pagan Alliance announced in January the plans for a 2015 festival. People began to talk about the importance of this returning festival, and the need for opportunities to gather throughout the year. After two years, the 2012 “Keeper of the Light” would finally be able to pass the title on to a new nominated person.

T. Thorn Coyle, as the Keeper of the Light for 2012, would pass the torch to me; I had been nominated, and I had accepted the position of Keeper for 2015. Other Keepers of the Light from previous years include Patrick McCollum, M. Macha Nightmare, Anne Hill, Yeshe Mathews, Joi Wolfwoman, and many others.

The May 9 event offered more than a plethora of vendors, conversations and stage performances in the heart of Berkeley. People showed up to celebrate the return of this event, and to re-engage in the building of community relationships. The theme for the festival this year was “Spirituality Through Service” and there were many altars and speakers that engaged in this very topic.

[Photo: Stephanie Kjer]

[Photo: Stephanie Kjer]

The Pagan Alliance has always had a strong commitment to amplifying the discussions of topics that are very important to the local community, and that are crucial to its sustainability. According to its website:

The Pagan Alliance is committed to the education of the general public with the intention of changing public views, opinions and response to the Pagan Community. Through public education, we hope to create an increased acceptance and understanding, and to dispel common misconceptions.  We are committed to justice, and eliminating prejudice and ignorance in all communities, including all ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, age, size, abledness and class affiliations.We are also committed to incorporating sustainable living and “alternative” lifestyles into our events and speaker series.We sponsor activities and events that reflect how our traditions which are supportive and in tune with Nature, and play a positive role in healing human’s relationship with the Earth and with all cultures.

After two years of not having a festival, what motivated the Pagan Alliance to jumpstart it and reignite this mission in action? The Executive Director and President of the Board of Directors for the Pagan Alliance offered these collective thoughts on the matter;

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Arlynne Camire [Courtesy Photo]

The Pagan Alliance was motivated by the needs of the community that expressed itself through phone calls, emails and during the All Witches/All Pagans Meetings that have been happening in Bay Area.The Pagan Festival marks a turning of the wheel in the bay area and provides the community with a chance to come together. Pagans and non-Pagans get a chance to learn about other spiritual paths and enjoy a day together in community and Pagan Pride.
JoHanna Coash-White [Photo: Robin Dolan]

JoHanna Coash-White [Photo: R. Dolan]

All Pagan Paths have a component of service and we wanted to honor not only our Keeper of Light but also all members of our community who work tirelessly to organize events, rituals, provide chaplaincy to the community including Pagans in Captivity. We wanted to foster and teach the children/future leaders a strong sense of the importance of service and how each of them are able to make the world a better place through their actions. – Arlynne Camire, Exec. Director & JoHanna White, President

As the modern Pagan community thrives to understand what it takes to reach sustainability, it can be insightful to look at how we benefit from consistent patterns and engagement within our local Pagan environment. Local areas will have different values but consistent opportunities for connection with other Pagans appear to be a universally appreciated value.

T.Thorn Coyle, the 2012 Keeper of the Light, has been holding the position since it was passed to her by the 2011 Keeper of the Light Yeshe Mathews. As the only Keeper of the Light to hold the position for longer than a year, Coyle spoke to me about her feelings about the importance of the festival returning; how holding this position has impacted her personally; and her intentions in designing the main ritual at the festival.

T. Thorn Coyle and Crystal Blanton(courtesy Stephanie Kjer)

T. Thorn Coyle and Crystal Blanton [Photo Credit: Stephanie Kjer]

I asked, “How do you feel that the return of the festival impacts the local Pagan Community in the Bay Area?” Coyle said:

I think the community has missed the festival. As Pagans, we have personal and community rituals we come to rely upon, and often take for granted until something like financial woes or family illness takes them away from us for a time. Then we realize the impact these rituals have on our lives. The festival put on by the Pagan Alliance is one of these rituals. A few individuals put out a huge amount of work, enabling the community to gather for music, performance, and to listen to one another. Regardless of what traditions we follow, this sort of coming together impacts us all.

The gratitude I offer to the Pagan Alliance for this service is enormous. I felt grateful for the Festival’s return.

I also asked her, “How do you feel being the keeper of the light for 2012 (and the two years after) impacted you spiritually and personally?” She responded:

Being chosen as Keeper of the Light in 2012 was an honor, of course. But at the time, I thought of it as just that: a symbolic office used to honor local Pagans for their contributions to community. By the time I had held that office for three years (because the festival was on hold), I came to realize it is much more.

Keeper of the Light is a real energetic position that gets passed from person to person, imbued with power and responsibility from the community at large. By power and responsibility, I don’t mean authority. What I am talking about is a sense that we truly are holding up a light for others, keeping the larger community in our energetic awareness, paying greater attention, and being available to community members in a variety of ways. By the end of three years, I was starting to need some distance from that, and a diminishment of that power and responsibility. It is no mistake that my path has taken a sideways course into writing fiction right now. My soul needs a break after carrying that public office.

Now, both you and I do this work in a variety of ways, but in my experience, being Keeper of the Light amplified the work I was already doing. I suspect it may have a similar effect on you, Crystal.

This is why when it came time to pass the office, I designed the ritual so that the gathered community members would raise energy that would specifically support your ability to hold this power. As I wrote in the ritual description: “The magical intention of the passing of the staff and gifting of the lantern is to lend strength and support to Priestess Crystal Blanton to enable her to continue her work –not only for our Pagan community, but all of the communities she serves throughout the Bay Area– and to do this work in good health, integrity, prosperity, and love.”

During ritual, everyone gathered in that circle pumped health, integrity, prosperity, and love into that staff, which I then blessed you with. I also gave you a smaller lantern than the one I was gifted with in hopes that carrying the light this year can be done with ease!

I give thanks to you, to the Pagan Alliance, and to the Bay Area Pagan Community for their service, and for giving me the chance to serve. And I bless you, one thousand times over.

Walking around the grounds of the park, in the middle of Berkeley, I caught glimpses of people hugging, laughing, shopping, talking and spending time in the sun. Alongside the park was the busy Farmer’s Market, bringing a very publicly visible Pagan event to those in the local area. The stage show consisted of musical artists, belly dancers, chanting and speeches. The Author’s Circle hosted a list of author talks and book signings of local Bay Area writers.

I have always held positive memories of this festivals from years past. This year was the same. This one day event appeared to have a lot of impact on those who attended the festivities as well.

Heaven Walker

Heaven Walker

The pagan festival builds solidarity in the pagan community. Being pagan, especially if you are a solitary practitioner, can be a very lonely experience. People come to church seeking spiritual connection and community. Pagan circles are often closed circles or very intimate affairs. The pagan festival gives pagans who have not found community the ability to connect with other pagans and feel pride and agency in their spirituality and /or religion. This festival was particularly poignant because of  the theme of “serving our community.” For me social justice and service are the work of a High Priestess. It was good to be reminded as a community that to be in service to the Goddess is also, to be in service to one another. – Heaven Walker

Yeshe Mathews

Yeshe Mathews

I really missed the Pagan Festival in Berkeley when it was on hiatus, and I am glad it’s back.The Pagan Fest gives us “locals” a chance to mingle, support one another’s projects, and enjoy a beautiful day in the park together…right alongside the wider Berkeley community who shop at the adjacent Farmer’s Market. It’s one of the most publicly-accessible, visible Pagan events I have attended, and it’s a great opportunity to show one another and the wider community what we are about. – Yeshe Mathews, 2011 Keeper of the Light

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

I moved to the Bay Area five years ago with dreams.  There are SO MANY Pagans here, but there are also SO MANY other people here that it often takes up to 90 minutes to drive 30 miles.  And while public transit is a nice option for some, it would take me 3 hours to get from my home to a place like Berkeley.  There are some great Pagan scenes in the Bay Area, but the different communities don’t see each other very much.  Some of that is because our traditions don’t allow for a lot of crossover, but a lot of it is simply because it’s too hard to get one another.

The return of the Pagan Festival, changes all of that, at least for a few hours.  Suddenly I’m seeing my friends in the North Bay (two and a half hours away), and seeing my friends in Reclaiming, and even running into people from far away locales like Sacramento.  The Pagan Festival was a nice way to meet up with a lot of people, people I generally only see at PantheaCon.

It wasn’t perfect by any means.  I’ve heard that a lot of newcomers to the Bay Area Pagan scene were kind of lost, but it was a good re-start.  We are all very good at doing “our things” but we aren’t always very good at doing “everyone things. – Jason Mankey

Nathania Apple

Nathania Apple

We are very fortunate in the Bay Area to have practitioners from many and varied traditions and it was thrilling to see them come together for a public Pagan celebration. A festival in the center of a bustling city like Berkeley raises our profile in the broader community and draws attendance from families and other individuals for whom the commitment of time and finances for a weekend away at a hotel or out of town are prohibitive. It was also an opportunity for the community to witness the depth of the work that local Pagans are doing in social justice, and to invite them to take part.

As I walked through the crowd with my daughter and smiled at familiar faces and stopped to chat with friends and acquaintances, I felt that warm glow in the center of my chest, the one that says, “These are your people. This is a place where you belong.  – Nathania Apple

Community organizing allows for important moments of socializing, collaboration and the building of new memories. It was a fun filled day in the sun with friends both old and new, laughter, excitement and opportunity. I had a great time with fellow practitioners in the Bay.  I took the time to remember what a thriving local community looks and feels like. I was reminded of why it can be very important for people to be in same space with others in order to engage in meaningful community, and not just regulated to online spaces. The power of presence can support a lot of coalition building and supportive activism.

The return of this festival in the Bay Area will hopefully continue to inspire collaborative spaces among the factions of the area and promote healthy engagement, as well as show the importance of cultivating those things that will help to empower the local groups. I am personally honored to hold the position of Keeper of the Light for 2015, and to promote the important work of spirituality through service.

The Pagan Alliance has quickly transitioned from months of planning and preparation for this festival, to the planning and preparation for the memorial of one of the founding board members. James Bianchi passed away on May 11, two days after the return of the festival. The Pagan Alliance, the Spark Collective, the House of Danu, and his family are planning the memorial currently to honor his life and contributions within the Pagan Community.

The Craft may be getting a reboot.

the craftAs first announced by The Hollywood Reporter, Sony is “remaking the 1996 supernatural teen thriller, tapping up-and-coming horror filmmaker Leigh Janiak to write and direct the new version.” A relatively new director, Janiak’s recent projects include the film Honeymoon (2014) and an episode of the new TV series Scream (2015), based on the film franchise of the same name. Doug Wick, producer of the original film, is back in the same capacity.

Why is Sony going back to the cult classic? The answer is quite simple. Witches in film and television are hot right now, and they have been for several years after stealing the limelight, almost completely, from vampires and even zombies. (e.g., WGN’s Salem; Lifetime’s Witches of East End; Beautiful Creatures, 2013; Maleficent, 2014)

The American popular entertainment industry, aka Hollywood, is above all else, just that, an industry. Output and decisions are profit-driven. If fictional witches sell tickets and tie-ins, and make the money flow, then witches will be reproduced – over and over again. In the last six months, there have been unconfirmed rumors of a Bewitched remake, and a sequel to the campy Hocus Pocus (1993).

But why The Craft?  Why not a brand new witch story? Or even a remake of an older witch-inspired horror film like City of the Dead (1960)? There is a second aspect to this film, and the marketing of any film, which helps to drive the decision. That element is nostaglia. Sony producers know that The Craft will not only attract the younger audiences, who are currently fueling the Witch-craze, but it will also attract the older audiences – those people who have turned the campy film into a cult classic.

Sony is not alone in this effort. Many studios are cashing in on America’s nostalgia with remakes of other popular films from the 1980s and 1990s. MGM’s Poltergeist is in theater’s now. In December, an updated Point Break is scheduled for release. In July, New Line Cinema will unleash the next installment in the National Lampoon’s series Vacation. The list goes on. Hollywood loves remakes, reboots, adaptations, sequels, prequels and dark twists. How many Police Academy’s were there?

Nostalgia itself offers a nice soft, cushion on which to rest many these remakes. However, it is not always a factor in a producer’s decision to back a film. The studios like remakes and sequels primarily because they are easy. These films provide a pre-written script or narrative, a pre-designed visual concept, and often come with actors. Some have already shown either success at the box office, or the ability to neatly exist in film’s storytelling world.

While many viewers are lamenting the current recycling trend, it really isn’t unique or new. In the 1990s, for example, the 1954 Audrey Hepburn film, Sabrina, was remade and released in 1995. A new version of the 1968 Thomas Crown Affair hit screens in 1999. The 1986 comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills was a remake of a 1932 Jean Renoir film Boudu sauve des eaux. Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho (1960), wasn’t even sacred enough to avoid a make-over in 1998.  And those are just examples.

Many of the most beloved witch films are not original properties. Bell Book and Candle (1958) was first a play. I Married a Witch (1942) was a dime-store novel that also inspired the television show Bewitched. Of course, the recent Maleficent (2014) was a spin-off from Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty (1959), which was simply an adaptation of a Charles Perrault story that was, itself, taken from the oral tradition. Even MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) was not the first film rendition of the famous story (e.g., The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1910).

Remakes and adaptations happen.

Knowing all of that does not make it any easier to accept the remake of a beloved film. Frustrated viewers flocked to Twitter to express their outrage. One woman wrote, “I invoke thee to stop Sony’s presumably horrible remake of The Craft.” At The Huffington Post, writer Stephanie Marcus listed the “5 Reasons They Don’t Need to Remake the Craft.”

Peg Aloi, of Patheos‘ Witching Hour, published an article titled “The Craft is getting a Remake?” While Aloi acknowledged that a reboot could be interesting, she feels it is unnecessary. She wrote, “The cultural implications will be interesting to say the least … but I’d prefer there wasn’t a remake at all. The original is too good to tamper with.” In her post, Aloi noted that the film “holds up well” in exploring such things as teenage angst, loyalty, friendship, body image, sexual jealousy.

Actress Fairuza Balk, who played Nancy in the original film, also spoke out about the news on Twitter, saying:

Balk added that she “wasn’t surprised” that Sony was remaking the film; the studio “made a lot of money off [The Craft] and obviously see it as a way to make more.” Due to the continued outrage from loyal fans, Balk later had to clarify, “I did not say I thought remaking The Craft specifically was a bad idea- I said remakes -IN GENERAL-tend to be a bad idea.” Balk’s argument is different from others in that she simply expressed support for fresh scripts and stories.

Pagan blogger Jason Mankey chimed into the discussion, saying “In between the teeth-gnashing this evening there’s something a lot of people are forgetting: The Craft wasn’t high art. It was a fun, campy, horror-movie. It’s not sacred ground now and it wasn’t then.” Although many Pagans or young would-be witches did adore The Craft, it was not universally celebrated, as Mankey suggests.

In a 1996 statement, Witchvox‘s Wren Walker voiced her disgust with the film, saying, “By linking the terms ‘Witches’ and ‘Witchcraft’ with murder, mayhem and destructive acts, there is a great potential danger. That danger could create encouragement for a resurgence of public mistrust and suspicion of the contemporary religious belief system known as Witchcraft or Wicca.” Walker did say that the film had some “amusing parts,” but overall, she felt it was problematic.

As indicated by her comment, The Craft played into the cultural leftovers of the Satanic Panic, both visually and narratively, and kept one foot stationed firmly in that space. However, the 1996 film was produced during a cultural pivot point with regards to Occult practice. Not only did it show offer a visual and narrative awareness of previous horror trends, it also was very aware of the growing visibility of real Witchcraft, as a practice and a religion.

Wiccan Pat Devin was hired as the film’s technical adviser. In 1998, Devin said, “I decided to try to get as much truth into what was, after all, a teenage date spooky movie, as I could. I knew the results would not be perfect, but I felt obligated to try, as the movie was going to come out in any event.” In the interview, Devin talks about her direct involvement in the writing of this ritual scene:

Due to the proximity that The Craft had to genuine Witchcraft practices, as well as its exploration of female agency, it is not surprising that the film quickly became a cult favorite. Aloi called it one of the “must see” Pagan films. Despite any failings and its overall campiness, the film did touch many people. That fact cannot be denied.

When a film touches us deeply, it becomes part of our personal narrative, in one way or another. While watching it, we pass the threshold of the silver screen, and enter the film’s world. We are part of it and it is part of us. Therefore, it is difficult to accept any change to its nature. People often have a similar reaction to film adaptations of beloved books.

In that way, The Craft  has became part of many people’s personal narratives, turning it into a cult favorite. As shown by the reactions to the announcement, the movie still holds that space. Nancy will never be anyone but Fariuza Balk, and Bonnie can only be Neve Campell.

However, the story’s themes, as Aloi noted, would not be entirely foreign to teenagers in 2015. The film addresses issues of female empowerment that are still very current in today’s age, especially considering Witchcraft appears to be making a resurgence.

Sony is well aware of this fact, and the selection a female director demonstrates that awareness. However, there is speculation that Janiak’s hiring may have only been due to pressure coming from an American Civil Liberties Union complaint about gender inequities in Hollywood. Either way, there is a female director at the helm.

If updated carefully, The Craft, as a coming-of-age tale for young girls, has the potential to touch an entirely new generation of women, who are trying to unearth their own power and place in society. Additionally, it will be very interesting to see what adaptations are made in the representation of Witchcraft and its intersection with horror. The position of Wicca and Witchcraft within American culture is very different today than it was in 1996.

PatheosLogoDarkBG_bioOn Feb. 20, it was announced the Christine Hoff Kraemer was stepping down from her position as Managing Editor of Patheos’ Pagan Channel. She wrote, “With a mix of excitement and sadness, I am writing to announce my resignation as Managing Editor of the Patheos.com Pagan channel. I will very much miss the way this job brought me into daily contact with such thoughtful, dedicated people—both Pagans and people of other religious traditions.”  She added that she plans to dedicate her new found free time to her family.

Raise the Horns Blogger Jason Mankey will be taking up the reins as the channel’s new managing editor. In his own announcement, he wrote, “I hope I can continue the good work Christine’s done as the channel manager here. One of the reasons I love Patheos Pagan so much is that it’s mostly a positive place. I think we tackle big issues and involve ourselves in the big conversations, but I think we do so in a respectful manner.” Mankey doesn’t expect to make any changes to the channel’s direction. He also added that he will still be posting to his own blog, but with less frequency. Kraemer will also continue blogging on occasion at Sermons in the Mound.

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10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500The beloved missing statue of Manannán mac Lir  was finally found exactly one month after it disappeared. According to the Derry Journal, on Feb. 21, the 6 ft. sculpture was located “by ramblers” who then “advised members of A company 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment soldiers.” Together with police, they were able to recover the statue. As told to the BBC, the statue had been lying among rocks of the same color, making it very difficult to spot from a distance.

The statue did sustain some damage to the back of its head. Regardless, the local community and others across the world are happy to know that the quest is over and the statue is in one piece. Local photographer Mari Ward, founder of the popular Facebook fan page Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea God and a representative from the local police (PSNI) were interviewed by BBC radio about its return. Ward said, “I am completely over the moon about it.” Local officials now plan to consult the statue’s creator and discuss a re-installation.

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PantheaConOver the past week, there has been continued discussion on the controversy that erupted at PantheaCon 2015. As we reported last week, blogger Jonathan Korman published an open letter to the creators of a satirical flyer called PantyCon. In that article’s comments, the anonymous writers issued an apology. In addition, Glenn Turner, the founder and organizer of PantheaCon, offered her own public response to all related recent events as well as an apology for any pain caused during PantheaCon. She said, “With the dawning of a New Civil Rights movement this is the question for our times. I’m glad this issue is front and center.”

Since our report last week, there have been a number of additional blog posts discussing these events and others. One of these posts was the recording of the “Bringing Race to the Table” panel, during which the controversial flyer was brought to public attention. This panel discussion can be heard through T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcasts.

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On Feb. 13, the Akron, Ohio Pagan community lost one of its members. As reported by the local news, 22 year old Brian Golec was fatally stabbed outside of his Akron home. His father is now accused of the crime. After his death was made public, there was quick and viral media response in which Brian was identified as a trans woman. However, that fact was later proven to be inaccurate. Golec’s gender identification was eventually clarified by close friends and family, and was proven to have nothing to do with his murder. Unfortunately, the media frenzy only added additional pain to an already tragic circumstance.

The family, the community and Golec’s fiancee have requested privacy in order to mourn his loss. In our initial investigations, we were able to speak with several area Pagans who knew Brian. They called him “likable, easy going, highly spiritual and helpful.” He was a regular at Cleveland Pagan Pride and attended local Pagan community events. Carrie Acree, the owner of Dragon’s Mantle metaphysical shop, said that many people have been buying supplies for memorials, rituals and other workings in Brian’s honor. There is also, reportedly, a benefit planned for May. In addition a close friend has setup a GoFundMe campaign to help off-set the family expenses and a Facebook memorial page to honor his life. What is remembered, lives.

In Other News:

  • Author John Matthews has begun a new project to tell the story of the “the iconic Scottish bard, Robin Williamson.” The proposed film Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave will follow Williamson around “in his 50th year as a storyteller, singer and musician, performing his beloved epic poem about the legendary history of Celtic Britain.” This will be reportedly the first time that the epic poem “Five Denials” will be filmed “despite its thunderous import within our poetic tradition.” To fund the project, there will be an Indiegogo campaign. It’s progress and all updates can be found on a Facebook fan page and on twitter @fivedenials.
  • It was announced yesterday that documentary filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky had died at the age of 58. Sinofsky is best known for his work on Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), a film that tells the story of the West Memphis Three. Over at Patheos’ The Witching Hour, Peg Aloi shares her thoughts on the Sinofsky’s work, his influence on the West Memphis case and offers a tribute to his life.
  • Along with a new managing editor, Patheos Pagan Channel also announced the edition of a new blog titled “Energy Magic.” Writer Katrina Rasbold said, “This column will explore the dynamics of magic using the movement of energy, both from a spiritual and a scientific perspective.” She will be updating the blog twice a week beginning today.
  • This past weekend, ConVocation was held in the Doubletree Hotel in Detroit Michigan. ConVocation is an indoor Pagan conference that has been bringing people together from many mystical and religious backgrounds since 1995. As the week goes by, organizers and others will be pulling together photos, posts and retrospectives on this year’s event and festivities.
  • Witches and Pagans Blogger Natalie Zaman announced that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing her book Mapping The Magic about [the] sacred sites in America. She wrote “[It] will explore the magic of Washington, D.C. and the states of the Northeast: Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine–as you can see it will hopefully be the first of four books, each covering a different area of the country.” To celebrate, Zaman is hosting a giveaway of either her book or a 2-year subscription to Witches & Pagans Magazine.

That’s it for now! Have a nice day.

The use of the internet in modern Paganism has changed the way that people access information and express themselves in modern culture. One of the most widely used mediums for information sharing has become the blogosphere. Pagan blogs range from having an academic theme to the purely personal, and everything in between. The popular transition from reading books to reading blogs has created a culture of fast information gathering and the ability for everyone to have a format. This has also contributed to the idea that everyone is a potential “expert,” making the distinctions of reliability challenging.

This type of fingertip access to information has many benefits in modern day culture, but how do those benefits affect the overall culture within modern Paganism, or does it at all? Different groups of people may have different opinions on the benefits and problems created with Pagan blogging and the instant access to this version of the Pagan world.

[photo credit: pixabay.com]

[photo credit: pixabay.com]

The social sciences often point out how pieces of any social system affect and rely on one another. As the overarching community approach creates a social structure that encompasses many different moving pieces, the increase in blogging as a common form of communication and information exchange has the potential for long standing cultural changes. The ecological theory explores the interdependent relationship between different elements of any community, grouping, or construct, making the idea that the rise of a blogging culture in modern Paganism has changed the landscape of our cultural connection.

What does this mean and what does that look like in community culture? Who are our leaders, experts, and resources in the community, and how does this change the landscape of how we access popularity? How are leaders and experts chosen, and how does the blogging culture influence who gets attention?

The following are some thoughts from a variety of Pagans on this concept of whether blogging culture has an impact on Pagan culture, and our community.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

I think the short answer is that sometimes it does. Recent discussions about race, gender, transphobia, and creating safe spaces at festivals and conventions have transcended their origins online. I think these are all issues we are currently confronting within our circles, covens, and groves. I think we are still far away from the lasting and permanent change many of us wish to see, but the dialogue is encouraging and moving in the right direction.

The issues of theology that often dominate the internet discourse rarely to never come up in the terrestrial groups I’m a part of.  However, I think some of those conversations represent the inevitable schisms that will one day divide the Pagan umbrella.  As a result it’s possible that we will feel their influence in the future, though I think that future is still far on the horizon.

One of the problems with the Pagan blogosphere is that it represents only a small slice of Pagandom. Those who follow most of the “trending topics” that arise within it are a fraction of a fraction. It’s an engaged fraction to be sure, but it takes awhile for ideas to work their way through a community as large and diverse as modern Paganism. In that way the influence of blogs is a bit more subtle and hard to see, but those of us who engage in it on a day to day basis can see its influence. – Jason Mankey, blogger at “Raise the Horns,” Patheos Pagan Channel

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

I think that some blogs are influential and that others identify what is influential on the community. Pagan blogs tend to follow trends of topics, even across various sites, and I find that interesting. Identifying trends (and what isn’t trending) feels like a helpful gauge for what our community thinks is important and what isn’t. Sometimes those realizations are exciting and sometimes they’re very disappointing. – David Salisbury, author Teen Spirit Wicca

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

Blogging connects people from all over the world and provides a platform to humanity’s deep need to be heard. For Pagans, I see that blogging provides the opportunity for people to come together holding widely varied belief and create community and build identity, while using technology as the ‘magic.’ There is an equal playing field in blogging, at least in the beginning, that like the core of our diverse spirit has the power to build bridges and spread Pagan values and ideals.

Personally, blogging changed my life, by allowing in me the freedom to seek wisdom and explore it interactively with people from all walks of life. My ‘covenstead’ has in many ways become the blogosphere where the dialogue is rich, meaningful, sometimes contrary, but always an invitation to more. More magic. More Wisdom. More love.Erick DuPree, blogger at “Alone in Her Presence”

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

Blogging is an act of justice that gives voice to those who are not often heard. In Peggy McIntosh’s “White People Facing Race: Uncovering the Myths That Keep Racism in Place”, a few of the myths that blogging destroys are the myth of white racelessness and the myth of monoculture. Blogging by Pagans of Color eradicates the stereotype that those who worship the Gods are, of necessity, uniform by nature and white by class, race or upbringing. Blogging makes it possible to see the corners,what is hidden from the rest of the world. Each myth destroyed, each level of resistance challenged and each open discussion about privilege in Paganism brings the overall community closer together. We are able to reveal what we know about ourselves to those who might not see beyond the once or twice a year encounters with those who embrace some level of paganism as a person of color. Blogs are a necessary counterbalance to the blandness that stereotypes the definition of “Pagan” in 2015.Clio Ajana, blogger “Daughters of Eve,” Patheos Pagan Channel

Cara Schulz

Cara Schulz

I think it does for a very small minority. If there are a million Pagans just in the USA, give or take, and even a really well read blog only has a few hundred or even thousands of readers, that is a very small percentage.

But if we’re talking about the Pagan community, that’s a bit different. The Pagan community is both a small world and a very segmented “community.” Large segments exist almost as islands, rarely if ever interacting with the wider community. Plus, most Pagans are still solitaries and while some are connected to the wider community, most aren’t.- Cara Shulz, staff writer, The Wild Hunt

Tim Titus

Tim Titus

Blogging tends to have an influence beyond its readers. While even the most read blogs attract only a small percentage of the total pagan community, those it does attract tend to be engaged in the community. As a result, their reactions set a course for discussion. That discussion has the ability to steer the movement. The influence is indirect, but it is real.Tim Titus, blogger at “Intersections”

Niki Whiting

Niki Whiting

I consider blogging a method of discussion. Blogging can often respond to, create, or steer the discussions that various groups are having, or provoke ones that we need to have. Is it the only means of influence? Of course not, but as social media becomes more and more a part of the way our communities interact, I think blogs can distill topics, teach wisdom, amplify certain voices or issues, that are present in the community at large.  – Niki Whiting, blogger at “The Witch’s Ashram,” Patheos Pagan Channel

Aaminah Zulu Shakur

Aaminah Zulu Shakur

Blogging has made it possible for solo practitioners and others who feel isolated to find community with people all over the world. For those of us from marginalized backgrounds, it has helped us to find and connect with other marginalized people and to increase our understanding of our practices and incorporate new ones. One of the really exciting things that I think blogging has done to influence Modern Pagan culture is to provide opportunity for marginalized communities to speak about what it means to be marginalized both in the broader Pagan community and the world at large.

Blogging is where useful discussion of racism, homophobia, transantagonism, and cultural appropriation is able to happen in ways that allow us to see the human face of these issues. Cultural appropriation is one thing that blogging, and the internet in general, have brought to a wider discussion. To a degree, the internet has made it easier to culturally appropriate, as practitioners can google and find so many things that they wish to cobble together into a practice without thinking about the origins or privileges they may have that make it easier/safer for them to use them. On the other hand, blogging is where we are able to talk about those origins, what it feels like to watch someone make money off of something that may still be illegal or at least discouraged for us to retain of our own culture, what it means on a personal level, and what it means on a larger cultural level. Blogging creates accessible avenues for education, and for personal engagement and relationship building.Aaminah Zulu Shakur, artist and healer

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

The internet is a fascinating thing. On the one hand, it is a tool that has created space for platforms — such as blogging — which allow for international connections and communications, bringing diverse groups together in ways that they would not be able to otherwise. The internet is also a place, in the true sense of the word, wherein spaces are hosted and guested and the rules of hospitality must by necessity apply, else the worst kinds of harm are allowed to happen. Blogging, however, can be a lot like any other colonizing land-expansion: it allows equally for people with valid dreams and visions to find a respectful place for these to be seen into fruition as it does for those with nothing but greed and hunger and disillusionment with what they are ultimately turning away from in turning to a blog.

There are some who were using the internet in the “glory-days” of exclusivity, before it was fully mainstreamed, who harken back to those nostalgic times where it took a certain level of know-how to stumble into such places, trailblazing or at least “knowing the right people.” These days anyone can hop on their phone and become a digital “land-owner” and that can be both good and bad. A person can hungrily devour a corner of the blogsphere to espouse hatred at others over things like disabilities or race or religious experience and identity, just as easily as they can stake out a territory and declare it a safe-zone for progressive human-rights and religious-rights oriented work, dialog, and endeavors.

A person with a blog can be a force of change or a force of flaming trollfire, rubbing up on everything and leaving it stained, soiled, and ruined for whoever else might come along next. In terms of how this influences the Pagan community? Well, thanks to all of the above — good and bad — we now have a landscape to not only settle some of our differences, but even identify what they are in the first place, and iron out the nuances of language and identifiers — Polytheists from Archetypalists, for example — and from there we can forge the spaces and the rules to navigate those identifiers, those boundaries, and thereby defend the perimeters of the unimpeachable rights and freedoms that we all must, at the end of the day, agree as paramount to our collective doings.Anomolous Thracian, founder and editor of Polytheist.com

Aine Llewellyn

Aine Llewellyn

Yes and no. Part of me says ‘yes’ because I’m biased. I’m a blogger, I read other blogs, I live a lot of my life online. Online Paganism, the blogosphere, influenced my own religion and how I approach in-person communities.

What I see in the blogosphere are conversations about theology and boundaries and where Paganism might go. Of course those conversations are going to affect the wider community. The people writing these blogs are going to go out into their own communities and take these ideas with them!

I think the idea that blogging doesn’t matter comes from some complex ideas. There’s the idea that online interaction isn’t ‘real’. Then there’s the idea that people who blog or read blogs regularly are not ‘actually’ involved in their communities. This is true in some cases! However, some people don’t have offline community, or the one they do is toxic or unsafe in some way, or it simply doesn’t fill their needs. And these are just two ideas, both of which need a lot of unpacking to understand…

I think to understand why blogging can change our culture, we have to remind ourselves that people, real people, are writing these blogs. They are going to bring these ideas with them wherever they go. We don’t know how blogging is going to fit into our history yet. But I think the resentment and snark directed at blogging itself – the mere act of writing and engaging with other Pagan bloggers or readers – is misplaced.

But I have to also say no, because the petty drama and attention-mongering that we see? That’s not important, that’s never important. Online or offline. But that’s exactly it – the sort of ‘me me me’ that we see online can happen offline too, and it seems we’re very bad at acknowledging that.Aine Llewellyn, artist and blogger at “of the Other People.”

[photo credit: www.jisc.ac.uk]

[Photo Credit: www.jisc.ac.uk]

The internet is a tool. It is easy to forget how tools can be used to help shape culture and community, how the interlocking pieces influence the outcome and change the trajectory of what is to come. How does blogging culture influence the way that we communicate with one another? How do we connect to leadership or the celebrity status of people inside of the community? How do we identify reliability in our sources when the blogosphere is not monitored, fact checked or screened?

The energetic exchange between blogger and reader is just as important as the words on the screen. We cannot deny the impact of information; whether it is academic, social or personal. The reciprocal nature of communication, and the medium in which it is given in, means that the receiver is just as affected as the giver.

Does the impact of blogging on culture rely on numbers or is it more dependent on the way that people internalize information and take it out into the world? Erick DuPree mentioned to me that, “Blogging might only touch a few people’s lives in the grand percentage of the world’s populace, but one person reading about compassion, about self care, about magic, or about social justice, is one more person than had there not been a blog.” I tend to agree.

How discussions are shaped, how problems are identified and how popular trends are accessed in community largely rely on the blogging community and the conditioned behaviors that the internet fosters. The way that the blogosphere affects the other elements of our community in the long run has yet to be seen, but we do know that the culture of communication and connection has changed greatly since blogging has become a more common means of expression among modern Pagans.

What is PantheaCon?

Heather Greene —  February 18, 2015 — 22 Comments

SAN JOSE – This past weekend, close to 3000 Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists and others of diverse religious beliefs descended on Double Tree Hotel in San Jose, California to attend the annual PantheaCon event. This is the largest indoor conference of its kind in the United States. Held over President’s weekend in mid-February, PantheaCon boasts “more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.”

pantheaconWhile PantheaCon is very popular and attracts an international following, there are far more people who do not know what it is, don’t care to attend, or do not have the time and means to attend. As observed by Jason Mankey in his post “Pagan Festivals and the .25%,” the number of people who actually attend PantheaCon and other community-based large events is relatively small compared to the number of Pagans and Heathens in world. While it is impossible at this point to assess whether his figure of .25% is statistically correct, Mankey’s assessment provides a perspective on the place of large festivals and conferences within the global Pagan movement and within our collective communities.

So for those who wonder “What is this PantheaCon?” Here is look at this year’s event.

PantheaCon is held in a Doubletree Hotel near the airport in San Jose, a city located in California’s Bay Area. For decades, this region has been the birthplace of and provided the nurturing soil for many influential American Pagan works and organizations. It is, therefore, not surprising that the largest such conference has grown up in this area.

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

PantheaCon began as a small, local event, but quickly expanded under skilled, experienced management and teamwork. Today, the conference fills nearly the entire hotel, including 48,000 square feet of “function space,” guest rooms and hospitality suites. There are only a few people roaming around the hotel, outside of the staff and personnel, who are not with the conference. And, these people could easily feel overwhelmed by the conference’s crowds, bewildered by the community, or just simply confused when Krampus strolls by their breakfast table.

This year’s theme was Pagan Visions of the Future: Building Pagan Safety & Social Nets. PantheaCon didn’t always have a theme, and the event is so large and diverse in its offerings that it really doesn’t necessarily need one. As organizers will say, this diversity is very calculated and scheduled. They aim to provide a healthy range of representation – a little bit of something for everyone who attends. For example, this year the events ranged from practical application workshops, such as A Witch’s Guide to Wands by Gypsey Teague, to intense panel discussions, such as Honoring or Appropriation? What is the Difference? hosted by T. Thorn Coyle. There were many rituals, such as CAYA Coven’s Wake up to Spirit, Ekklesia Antinoou’s Teenage Gods and Heroes, and Victoria Slind-Flor “Grandmother Ritual.”

There are also a significant number of hospitality suites offering their own workshops, presentations, rituals and parties. Organizations and religious groups, such as Coru Cathubodua, Church of All Worlds, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Covenant of the Goddess, The New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, The Temple of Witchcraft, provide a comfortable place for their members to relax, connect and greet visitors. In addition, there are non-group affiliated hospitality suites that serve as a safe spaces or learning centers. Such rooms included the Pagans of Color suite, Reiki Explorers, Pagans in Recovery, Pagan Scholars Den and more.

PantheaCon officially opens at noon on Friday with a ritual led by Glenn Turner and friends. After that, attendees make their way from scheduled event to event, through meals, socializing, and shopping in a packed vendor room. The bustle of activity begins at 9 am and doesn’t end until well after midnight. The entire conference comes to a close on Monday at 3:30, when Turner leads the final ritual.

Over the course of the next week, many bloggers will detail their personal experiences from PantheaCon 2015 and share their takeaways from the weekend. Social media is currently flooded with talk of PantheaCon; what happened and what didn’t. Each attendee’s experience is different because there is no way for one single person to absorb the conference as a whole.

Despite the weekend only just having ended, there are a few posts already published. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has posted several articles written throughout the weekend, all of which detail the ups and downs of eir experience as both a presenter and attendee. On Saturday, John Halstead published an inspirational post from his hotel room at 5 a.m.

Patheos Pagan Channel’s Niki Whiting and Jason Mankey have both shared their accounts of this year’s conference, including highlights from presenting and socializing. Whiting wrote, “But Pantheacon, guys. I’m still high as a kite, giddy, and ready to fall asleep on my feet after five days of friends and travel and provocation and heart-expanding discussion.” Whiting plans to expand her PantheaCon discussion over the next few weeks, as many others will.

In addition, three other writers have published PantheaCon inspired articles, but in all of these cases, the writing is on a single, very focused topic and event. These blog posts include Jonathan Korman’s “open letter” to the “mysterious writers of the PantyCon schedule” and Taylor Ellwood’s “Pantheacon, Bringing Race to the Table, and Racism.” Finally, Shauna Aura Knight also published an article on this topic. For The Pagan Activist blog, she wrote:

This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing Racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.

What happened? This discussion panel was called Bringing Race to the Table and inspired by Immanion/Megalithica’s newly published book of the same name. However before the panel began, a PantheaCon volunteer informed the panelists and attendees about a problematic write-up in a satirical newsletter called PantyCon. This flyer, written and published each year by an anonymous group, is a mock-up of the convention schedule and pokes fun at the entire event and the community itself. Although originally created by PantheaCon, PantyCon was abandoned by the organizers years ago. It was, then, picked up by an anonymous group and has no affiliation, sponsorship or association with the organization.

The offending write-up in the satirical PantyCon schedule was titled: Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans. As noted by both Korman, Ellwood and Knight, many attendees and the PantheaCon organizers felt the joke was simply not funny and that it had violated the conference’s strict anti-harassment policies. Organizers very quickly attempted to collect and remove all copies, and they also welcomed everyone to an impromptu discussion session on Monday at 11am. Detailed in Knight’s post, the Monday talk allowed for a far deeper discussion of the issues at hand.

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

After the announcement and apology was made, the schedule panel, “Bringing Race to the Table,” was able to continue successfully. However, it ended with Luna Pantera standing up and delivering an emotionally powerful speech on safe spaces, race and the pain she experienced, specifically caused by PantyCon. When she was finished, the room of attendees rose up in speechless applause and support.

Through his post, Korman is now asking for the anonymous writers to apologize. He has also welcomed others to sign their names to the letter in the comments.

As is seen from the multitude of accounts both in social media and in these blogs, PantheaCon is not always easy and not always fun. Although it can be both of those things as well as many others. While only a small percentage of the population attend the conference, the experiences are carried back into the smaller regional communities, through the travelers, blogs and social media. In this way PantheaCon becomes bigger and more influential than ever would be possible with the limitations of its actual time and space.

For those few who can attend each year, the journey to San Jose is a type of pilgrimage, as noted by Whiting. Through this pilgrimage, one can meet old and new friends; network and share experiences; learn and expand horizons; be put in uncomfortable situations and comfortable ones; find a connection through religious culture; and possibly even build an extended community.

[The following is a guest post written by Jason Mankey. He is the writer and podcaster behind Patheos Pagan Channel’s blog Raise the Horns. Jason has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest, and can often be found presenting on the Pagan festival circuit. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two cats.]

For many Americans the Thanksgiving holiday is about food, friends and family, but for some of us there is a fourth “f” in there too: football. I know that football is not all that popular in Pagan circles, but it truly is America’s pastime. In 2012 over 216 million Americans tuned in to at least one college football game. The ratings for the National Football League (NFL) are even stronger, with this year’s Super Bowl attracting 111.5 million viewers for a single (noncompetitive) game. For many of us Thanksgiving is just as much about football as it is about turkey.

[Photo Credit: ishutterthethought, cc lic. / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: ishutterthethought, cc lic. / Flickr]

My own football fandom both exhilarates and terrifies me. I enjoy the highs of seeing my team win and often slip into a funk when they lose. Away from the emotional roller coaster there are other, more serious problems, with football. It’s a violent game, and we are only now beginning to realize the true extent of how much it injures not just the body but the brain. Football players often engage in violent unspeakable acts, such as running back Ray Rice punching his girlfriend in the face early this year. Though it is important to point out that arrest rates for NFL players are actually lower than for the majority of men in their age group.

In addition to brain injuries and bad behavior, there’s another troubling aspect of football that bothers me as a Pagan. It’s an extremely conservative institution from a political standpoint. In the college ranks, football and Christianity mix freely. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a coach is a tactician of the game or a missionary, and some will proudly admit to being both.

Today’s Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) is a good example of this. At Ole Miss, football and Evangelical Christianity often walk hand in hand. Head coach Hugh Freeze wears his faith proudly on his sleeve. Players and coaches meet every Sunday for church services and Bible study. Attendance isn’t mandatory, but they are certainly made aware of it. In a recent Washington Post story the coach is quoted as saying: “I tell them, or our position coaches will: ‘We have worship on Sunday,’ ”

Freeze’s Twitter account feels more like that of a minister than a highly paid head football coach. On Nov. 9 Freeze tweeted:

Not surprisingly many of his followers chimed in with comments like “So excited for what the Lord is doing there,” and “Thanks for leading well and pointing them to God.” Freeze isn’t alone in using Twitter as a missionary tool, Mississippi State’s coach Dan Mullen has been know to tweet out a little scripture too.

In some ways the Mississippi schools and their coaches are outliers, but only a little. In many parts of the country the walls between team, religion, and coach are much thicker, but those walls have all but crumbled in America’s South. Much of that can be laid at the feet of cultural shifts in the region. While Christianity is in decline in many parts of the country, the religion remains a dominant part of South Eastern U.S. culture. Couple that with the rise of “Tea Party” style politics and you’ve got a recipe for in-your-face Jesus testimony on the gridiron.

As a former Southerner, I can attest to the quasi-religious fervor many of us feel towards our football teams, but the insertion of actual religion into the game has been more noticeable in recent years. Much of that is likely due to the rise of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in college football. Over the last nine years, seven of college football’s “national champions” have come from the SEC, with the other two winners from states like Texas and Florida.

Even in the Midwest, aside from Notre Dame, coaches are sharing their Christian faith rather openly. A recent USA Today article profiling Michigan State University coach Mike Dantonio highlighted both the coach’s faith and that of his players:

“He puts God first,” MSU freshman running back Delton Williams said of Dantonio in the   euphoric locker room after the win against Ohio State ‘And we put God first. Why do you think we’re doing this?’ . . . ‘You can talk about your faith or you can live your faith,’ he (Coach Dantonio) said. ‘You can talk about this program’s culture, or you can be in this culture, live this culture. There’s a difference there. Is it smoke or is it real?’”

Perhaps no college football coach has been more open about his faith than Clemson University head coach Dabo Swinney. Two years ago Swinney stopped practice early so one of his players could be be baptized on the practice field. That story was included in an article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education last November:

Last season, Dabo Swinney, the head football coach at Clemson University, gathered his team on the practice field one day for an important announcement. ‘Someone is about to turn their life over to Christ,’ he said …

DeAndre Hopkins, a star wide receiver, stepped forward. A livestock trough had been placed near the 50-yard line and filled with water. Mr. Hopkins, still wearing his uniform and pads, climbed in. As several dozen teammates and coaches looked on, he was baptized.

At Clemson, God is everywhere. The team’s chaplain leads a Bible study for coaches every Monday and Thursday. Another three times a week, the staff gathers for devotionals. Nearly every player shows up at a voluntary chapel service the night before each game.

If the baptism wasn’t enough to stop you in your tracks, “nearly every player” showing up for a “voluntary chapel service the night before each game” most likely did. Many coaches seem to lead religious services, though all of them go out of their way to share that attendance at such things is voluntary. I can’t help but wonder if “everyone showing up” for something keeps it truly voluntary. Peer pressure (and pressure from coaches) is most certainly going to influence young men.

Overt displays of religiosity are a bit more toned down in the professional game, but many NFL players are extremely open about their religious beliefs and often sound like missionaries. Most teams also have team chaplains, and you can bet all of those chaplains are Christian.

On the eve of this year’s Super Bowl, then Seattle Seahawk Chris Maragos credited Jesus for the team’s success. He said, “We understand that we can’t do any of this on our own. You look at what guys have been able to do and the strength that He gives us — that’s really where we draw everything that we have. That’s a cornerstone of what we rely on.” Comments, like Maragos’s, are rather commonplace in today’s NFL.

George Wilson in Prayer [Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon, Flickr via Wikimedia]

George Wilson in Prayer [Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon, Flickr via Wikimedia]

Many team owners and players are also politically conservative. Though Peyton Manning doesn’t say much about politics or religion, he has given money to Republicans such as Richard Luger’s and Bob Corker’s Senate campaigns in 2012. Former Broncos quarterback and current General Manager John Elway is also a big Republicans supporter.

Coming into this piece I had assumed that most NFL owners donated overwhelmingly to Republicans, but that’s not always the case. Many do support Democrats. However, I have yet to find a player or owner interested in donating to the Green Party.

Just after World War II, sports leagues were ahead of much of the rest of country when it came to social issues. While Jackie Robinson is famous for breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball back in 1947, that barrier was actually first broken by the NFL in 1946. However, since those days, football has been slow to embrace change. The NFL’s first African-American coach didn’t take the field until 1989, and hiring of minorities was so behind the times that the NFL was forced to institute the Rooney Rule in 2003 requiring teams to interview minority candidates.

This year saw the NFL almost take a major step forward with the drafting of an openly gay player – Michael Sam of the University of Missouri. Sadly Sam was cut before the start of the season, and then cut a second time after landing on the Dallas Cowboy’s practice squad.

Reaction to Sam was mixed, with former coach Tony Dungy saying that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because he might have been a “distraction” to the team. Dungy, an outspoken Evangelical, went on to say that Sam deserved a chance to play in the league and that he would “not have a problem” with Sam on his team. Sam was a big half-step forward for the NFL and I hope that he ends up on an active roster next season.

Muslim players have been a part of the pro-game since 1972, but even those forty years were not enough to gift the NFL with an understanding of Islam. Just this season Kansas City player Husain Abdullah was penalized for going to the ground while praying after an interception returned for a touchdown on Tom Brady of the Patriots. Players aren’t allowed to “go to the ground” when celebrating a touchdown, but religious observances are supposed to be exempt from that rule.

After much public outcry, the NFL admitted that the official on the field had made the wrong call, and with good reason. Abdullah wasn’t just praying he was performing sujud. The position calls for toes, knees, hands, and forehead to all be touching the ground while facing towards Mecca. Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is well known for taking a knee and praying after a touchdown, and his actions have never drawn a penalty. The NFL often looks a little lost when dealing with religious traditions outside of Christianity.

As a Pagan I often feel like an outsider while watching the NFL. The players, coaches, and many of the fans would probably find me hard to relate to. At this point I have yet to hear of a college Pagan player, let alone a Pagan NFL player. I’d like to think that I’m capable of retiring my football addiction but I realize it’s hopeless. I’m a sucker for the game and would much rather watch the Super Bowl then attend an Imbolc Ritual, and the two are often on the same day. Now if you’ll excuse I’ve got an Egg Bowl to go watch that will most likely end with one of the coach’s thanking Jesus. Pray for me.

Many modern Pagans and Heathens shy away from — or are downright horrified by — the idea of animal sacrifice. Arguments against the practice generally come from a place of concern for the animals involved, or a fear that it would result in an “othering” by mainstream society. On the other hand, the sacrificial priests say that the practice is rooted in compassion and community, and that criticisms of their work reveal a fundamental disconnect with the food system, and perhaps a smoldering of racism as well.

In recent weeks, a debate has heated up around this topic. It is clear that the very idea of killing animals in a sacred ritual evokes strong emotions among proponents and opponents alike, which can obscure the arguments and factual details as well as the religious reasons for carrying it out. Today we take a closer look at this difficult topic.

Technical details of sacrifice

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

. . . under optimum (e.g. correct, humane) circumstances of animal sacrifice, the animal has been raised in small farming set-ups (rather than industrial meat factories), handled by people it is familiar with interpersonally who regard them with respect and dignity from the start, and in the time leading up to the ritual, treated as living kings. A distressed animal, which is the standard state of industrial slaughter, is literally unfit for most sacrificial rites: the calmness and comfort of the animals is the primary logistical concern. — Anomalous Thracian

Trained as a sacrificial priest, Thracian argues that modern standards of sacrifice demand specialists who understand how to end life without suffering. As in the Kosher method of animal slaughter, the throat must be cut with a single stoke that slices through the arteries, veins, esophagus and trachea, but leaves the spinal cord intact. The reason for this precision was explained by another sacrificial priest, Tēlemakhos Night. He said:

A single cut is made at the neck, severing all vitals instantly, without compromising the central-nervous-system (the spine and neck bones). By leaving the CNS intact, the animal’s natural and biologically programmed response kicks in, which settles the animal into a state of euphoria and death, rather than agitation or panic. (Severing the CNS prevents necessary full-body signals, including hormonal release signals, from being delivered.)

Such exactness in the act was also stressed by Galina Krasskova, a Heathen priestess trained in sacrifice, who said:

Galina Krasskova

 . . . the animal is carefully chosen. It is cared for, pampered, fed well, and on the day of the sacrifice decorated, soothed, and kept calm. When the sacrifice is made, it is done with a scalpel-sharp blade and a clean, quick cut. Compassion is not what I look for in a sacrificial priest. I look for training and skill. Having the proper skill guarantees that the animal will not suffer, whereas if one approaches the act of sacrifice awash in strong emotion there’s actually a greater likelihood that a mistake will be made, the priest will hesitate, and as a result the animal will have pain.

The idea that an animal that has suffered physically or psychically is unsuitable for sacrifice may be a modern convention. Did the ancient practice of drowning horses as a sacrifice to Poseidon take into consideration the feelings of the animal? Did those people have the same 21st-century understanding of anatomy?

While a portion of the animal itself is often part of the offering, usually the bulk of the meat is consumed, a tradition which is described by Australian Hellenic polytheist Markos Gage:

In Greece when these sacrifices happened people would had been used to life and death. As a community they raised the beasts themselves, they saw them born, they fed them, treated them when ill, they killed them, they ate them. There was an intimacy that only livestock farmers know today. We live in a time of decadence where our guilt for killing an animal is non-existent because the creatures are slaughtered somewhere else and we see their meat as nothing but a product.

Many who support sacrifice see the disconnect from where our meat comes as being the driving force in the pushback against the practice this rite. Conor O’Bryan Warren, in a column on Polytheist.com, speaks of growing up in an agricultural family, and how his view of the killing of animals differed greatly from many of his college classmates:

Most of the people in the class are inculturated with a Western Protestant worldview which sees the exploitation and torture of animals for profit (and thus a cog in the machine of Corporate Capitalism) as being completely acceptable but which views their sacrifice for religious purposes as being terribly barbaric and backwards.

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas

The Druid organization Ár nDríaocht Féin does not permit any form of blood sacrifice in public rituals. Archdruid Kirk Thomas said that it’s fraught with problems for the inexperienced practitioner and from a public relations standpoint.

The reasons are many. One is it would be bad public relations — most people are more than happy to eat meat slaughtered in abattoirs in inhumane ways as long as it’s cheap and they don’t have to witness the killings. But to kill an animal in front of them would bring the horror of violent death far too close for comfort. Also, none of us are trained in the art of killing an animal in a painless and humane way. In the end we’d probably end up with a bloody mess.

However, we don’t regulate non-public rites. We actively discourage animal sacrifice but should some member own a farm and be trained in the slaughter of his or her own herds, then who are we to stop them from praying over their animals before dispatching them? Personally, I’d rather the poor creatures be commended to the Gods before their deaths than not, with forgiveness asked and, hopefully, given.

While it was often a public event in antiquity, modern sacrifice is largely a private affair, noted Night in his explanation of the mechanics of sacrifice.

Ritual context

The traditions which include sacrifice vary widely, crossing racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While there are sacrificial practices in all of the three major branches of Abrahamic religion, discussing them could distract from understanding the Pagan context. That includes sacrifice as it is understood in polytheist and African traditional religions, both of which categories have some participants who identify as Pagan. Confining the discussion in this way still results in a huge diversity of sacred practices, but clear similarities emerge.

Consent seems to be universal among these religions, and it must be obtained from the participants, the deities, and the animals involved. No one should participate in animal sacrifice if it makes them uncomfortable or violates taboos. This act is also not performed simply to do it; divination is generally used to confirm that a particular deity wants such an offering in the first place. Divination is also one of the ways that the consent of the animal is established. Although, an experienced priest may also observe the animal’s body language and ascertain the emotional state of the creature.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

While sacrificed animals are often offered in part (or, in some cases, entirely) to the god or gods in question, that is not the only reason these rites are performed. This is a detail touched on by Lilith Dorsey, author of the blog Voodoo Universe, when she spoke to us for this story:

I understand that this is a very difficult topic for many, and is obviously one that I could speak about for volumes. Let me start by saying I am an anthropologist, filmmaker and author in addition to being an initiated practitioner of Haitian Vodou and La Regla Lucumi (more mistakenly known as Santeria), both of which include animal sacrifice as part of their rites.

Sacrifice is performed for annual feasts and also to heal individual issues.The way I explain it to people is that if you went to a medical doctor and was told that in order to save the life of a loved one you needed to give them medicine that came from a chicken gizzard, would you do it? If you would offer up the human life refusing on moral grounds, then my hat is off to you.There are several African Traditional Religious houses you can join that do not practice sacrifice of animals. Most people would choose their daughter, their father, or their true love over a chicken, and then the issue really comes to light, which is one of faith.This is a spiritual prescription, you can choose to take it or not. People put much more faith in modern medicine than they do in “scary” (meaning unknown and stereotyped) magicks that may, in reality, be much more effective.This is just one reason we perform these sacrifices, to heal. Another reason is for feasts where the ritual animals are very often eaten, which seems to quell a lot of peoples’ fears. For practitioners, myself included, the animals for ceremony are just what the Orisha or Loa (divine forces) eat. The same way lions are fed steak, the energies call for this type of offering.This is substantiated by time, tradition, divination, and success rate. People who perform these sacrifices are also highly trained, both in the spiritual art and practical design of carrying out these sacred rites.The implementation in most cases is much more humane than your friendly neighborhood slaughterhouse.

While the ADF does not advocate for the practice, Archdruid Thomas is familiar with its place in religious observance:

If we look at the ancients, we see that the sacrifice was seen in a variety of ways, such as the shared meal and as a form of reciprocity. In the shared meal we are sharing our food with the Gods, and this brings about the sense of community. And for animal sacrifices then, it was the chance for a great barbecue. According to Walter Burkert, in ancient Greece the only animal protein available for most people was from the meat of the sacrifice. Even today we often refer to our holidays as ‘feasts’. This is where that comes from.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

But even as some find the practice of sacrifice life-affirming, it’s a clear violation of what other Pagans feel is expected of them by their gods. That’s where Jason Mankey is on the issue.

As a Wiccan I do not practice animal sacrifice, nor would I ever consider such a thing. In the Charge of the Goddess, it’s all spelled out pretty clearly: ‘Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.’ If the Lady demanded sacrifice She would have said so, instead she said it was not required. If it was good enough for Gerald and Doreen then it’s good enough for me.

In addition to my Wiccan practice, I also participate in Hellenic Ritual from time to time.The Ancient Greeks sacrificed animals, like most ancient pagans, and they did so with reverence towards the gods and with a sense of practicality. People often sacrificed to the Greek gods in order to get a good meat dinner, and it was also rare (the practice, not how they cooked the meat). People were far more likely to leave the god Pan honey cakes and wine than they were to sacrifice a goat in his honor.

Should people be free to practice animal sacrifice in 2014? Of course. Eating and hunting are both legal practices, and there is a long tradition of animal sacrifice within many different pagan traditions. As long as the animals in question are being slaughtered humanely and their meat is being eaten, I don’t personally have a problem with it. In addition, if people are sacrificing animals, I hope it’s from a real place of devotion and not simply to ‘prove a point.’ If everyone’s intentions are honorable, I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ To some degree we’ve all got to figure that out for ourselves.

Legal and cultural context

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that animal sacrifice is legal in the landmark decision of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, in which decision Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

That said, many Pagans, such as David Salisbury, object to the practice on moral grounds, or because it may lead to connecting these religions with “Satanic panic”-style hysteria associated with the abduction and unwilling sacrifice of house pets. Others maintain that all life is sacred, and that taking any life is never acceptable. In his recent blog post, Salisbury concluded:

Animal sacrifice boils down to ego. Our human egos want us to think that taking a life in our own hands will impress our gods and show them that we’re willing to do big things to appease them. But we must get over ourselves. Animal sacrifice serves only to tell our minds that we’re more important than the majority of other living beings who we share this planet with.

Sannion

Sannion

Sannion is a Hellenic polytheist who, while is does not perform these rites himself, is an outspoken champion of the practice. He questions the notion that animal sacrifice is less ethical than consuming supermarket meat, or even a vegan lifestyle:

Unless you get all of your meat from local-sourced, free-range, organic farms who practice ethical slaughter you’ve got no room to object. Animals are tortured, raised in filth and never permitted to move about, pumped full of dangerous chemicals and antibiotics, shipped ridiculously long distances so that their meat can end up at your neighborhood supermarket or fast food chain. How is that preferable to what we’re doing? And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you do realize that you’re still responsible for the taking of life, right? Life that science is increasingly coming to recognize as sentient and capable of suffering. All you’re doing is prioritizing one form of life over another — a form of life, by the way, that unlike all other forms of life derives its nutrients from sun, soil and water, and therefore causes no harm to other living creatures. If you’re strictly approaching this from an ethical position, plants are the most innocent things on this planet and so should be spared from predation.

Anomalous Thracian was willing to tackle the question of perception in the overculture:

Whether a person supports or is uncomfortable with animal sacrifice, none of us wants to see the evangelical right come with pitchforks. I guarantee that in the list of ways to strategical prevent this, coming after our own with pitchforks is not a suitable answer.

If anyone on any side of this issue is serious about wanting to see peaceful, progressive, enlightened resolution take place, the issue needs to be framed as it is: a topic of prejudice against certain lawful and protected practices, which is definable as religious intolerance and discrimination. It is never acceptable to attempt to pathologize people whose cultures or religions call for the ethical slaughter and sanctification of animals. Instead we should as a movement be examining the pathology of intolerance, prejudice, and panic.

Thracian also raises the thorny question of racism as it has manifested in dialogue around animal sacrifice, a subject which River Devora addressed in her own piece on Polytheist.com about the practice:

I have heard the argument made that reconstructionist Polytheists who engage in ritual animal sacrifice are problematic, while those who are part of African Diasporic or Derived Traditions and African Traditional Religions get a ‘pass,’ as though somehow letting us ‘off the hook’ for our practice of animal sacrifice makes the speaker ‘enlightened’ or more ‘understanding’ of traditional religions.These kinds of arguments are racist and offensive. It is as though you are saying to us,’European traditions, and the (mostly) white people who practice them, should know better –- Europeans are supposed to be more enlightened.Traditions primarily being practiced by African, African American, and Latino folks can get a pass because we already know those folks are unenlightened savages.’ This is far more offensive than if you simply condemned the practice of animal sacrifice across the board.This may not be what you mean, but this is what we hear when you say it.

While animal sacrifice is legal and, in modern America, generally more humane than industrial slaughter, it evokes strong reactions in many Pagans and Heathens. We may never agree on whether or not animal sacrifice has a place in religious practice. However, the dialogue is opening up, as individuals carefully examine their own feelings toward sacrifice within their own belief structures and within their relationships with the gods.

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. Our 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! 

WH2014_BIG

We’ll start off Pagan Community Notes with a big thank you to all those people and organizations who supported our 2014 Fall Fund Drive. You helped us meet and exceed our goal, and for that we are very grateful. Over the next month, we will be contacting those people who requested perks. Columnist Eric Scott is already hard at work on those Panda drawings.  Again thank you from all of us at The Wild Hunt.  Now on to the news….

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margot-adlerOn Oct 31, Margot Adler’s closet friends and family gathered in a private memorial service to honor her life. The event was held at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New York City. Andras Corban-Arthen was in attendance and has posted several photos on his public Facebook page. In her will, Margot had requested that EarthSpirit’s ritual singing group, Mother Tongue, perform at her service. Corban-Arthen said, “We were all very glad and honored to perform a few pieces in her memory.”

Starhawk has published the words she wrote for the memorial service on her blog. She ended the piece saying, “As [Margot] takes her place among the Mighty Dead of the Craft, she becomes even more fully what she has always been: an ally, a friend, a wise guide, a challenger and a refuge.”

On Oct 30, Rev. Selena Fox, another longtime friend of Margot’s, announced that Circle Sanctuary was “dedicating a memorial stone for Margot and placing it at [it’s] green cemetery, Circle Cemetery, a place that Margot visited and loved.” The stone includes the words, “Drawing Down the Moon, Inspiring Pagan Voice.”

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time-logo-ogOn Oct 28, TIme Magazine online published an article entitled, “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in Real Life.”  The article has generated a storm of controversy that has led to a petition on Change.org and numerous other mainstream articles outlining Pagan response. Blogger Jason Mankey wrote, “I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.” We will be following up on this story later in the week.

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Cara Schulz

Tomorrow is election day in the U.S. As we have already reported, Wild Hunt staff writer Cara Schulz is running for Burnsville City Council. In recent weeks, she ran into some conflict over her religion. Although Schulz hasn’t hidden her beliefs, a local resident only recently discovered that she was Pagan, and sent a concerned letter to the editor. After it was published, Schulz responded by saying “The letter wasn’t explicitly degrading towards Pagan religions, but it’s clear the motive was to induce fear and sensationalism about my religious beliefs and encourage people to vote for my opponents specifically because they aren’t Pagans.” She called the situation laughable, adding, “Religion is irrelevant to a person’s fitness for public office and is private.” Schulz has called on her opponents to denounce the letter’s intent. However, that has yet to happen.

In Other News:

  • The organizers of Paganicon have announced that Lupa will be the 2015 Guest of Honor. They wrote, “We at Twin Cities Pagan Pride are extremely excited and honored to have Lupa join us.” They added that she’s a “perfect fit” to help explore the conference’s theme: Primal Mysteries. Paganicon 2015 will be held March 13-15 at the Double Tree in Saint Louis Park.
  • As announced by the Polytheist Leadership Conference, the New York Regional Diviners Conference is coming up this month.  As written on the site, “For one day in November, diviners from a plethora of traditions will gather in Fishkill, NY to discuss their art, network, exchange knowledge, and learn new techniques.” The conference is held on Nov 29 at the Quality Inn in Fishkill.
  • Treadwell’s Bookshop owner and Wild Hunt UK Columnist Christina Oakley Harrington was interviewed for a short film called “Witches and Wicked Bodies: A ZCZ Films Halloween Special.” The 9 minute film focuses on the British Museum‘s current exhibition of “Witches and Wicked Bodies.” Toward the end of the program, the host visits Treadwell’s and talks to Christina about modern day Witchcraft and Pagan practice.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary announced the start of a new class called, “Indigenous Traditions of the Sacred.” The class is being taught by Leta Houle, who “is Plains Cree from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan.” The program’s goal is to introduce students to the “meaning of what is sacred to Indigenous peoples, including the issue of cultural appropriation.”
  • This October the Northern Illinois University Pagan Alliance decided to try something entirely new. They ran a Pagan Spirit Week from Oct 27-31. President Sara Barlow explains that the purpose was “to raise awareness of and celebrate the presence of Pagan students at Northern Illinois University. We invited others on campus to learn more about aspects of our culture through activities such as meditation, anti-stress charms, divination, runic magic, and our open Samhain ritual.”  Barlow said the response was excellent and that they even picked up a few new members. Now the group hopes to make Spirit Week a yearly tradition.

That is all for now.  Have a great day.

A Blessed Lughnasadh

Heather Greene —  August 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

This week, many modern Pagans are observing the summer festival of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas or Lughnassa. One of the yearly fire festivals, Lughnasadh marks the first of three harvest celebrations and, traditionally, honors Lugh, the Celtic god of light and many talents, and his foster-mother, Tailtiu. The day is often celebrated with feasting, songs, games, thanksgiving and the reaping of the first fruits or grains of the season.

wheat

[Photo Credit: Sybarite48, Flickr/CC]

This Friday night when I break bread with my coven and give thanks to the Earth and the gods for Summer’s first fruits I won’t be dwelling on whether or not the celebration of Loaf-mass is a Christian or a Pagan one. I will be reflecting on the chain of beliefs that links me to my nominally Christian ancestors in the Middle Ages and my pagan ancestors before them. Over the last two thousand years some have tried to break that chain but the sabbats have always been far too strong for that. – Jason Mankey, “First Fruits: A Sorta Christian Feast,” From Raise the Horns.

In Druidry, Lughnasadh is a time for the community to come together in celebration and playful competition, to take a moment to rest from the labor of the summer’s work in the fields and enjoy the first fruits of that labor, to show off the skills and talents that we’ve been cultivating all year. The gods know, we spend enough time in this society with our noses to the grindstone! Even when that work is joyful and fulfilling… it’s still work. So this holy day is a time for playfulness and relaxation, a moment to pause during what is for many the peak of summer’s heat — to seek the relief of cool shade, sweet mead, strong beer and the cheer of good company. – Alison Leigh Lilly, “Lughnashadh, Honoring the Harvest Through Grief and Gratitude,” From her blog.

The long days of Summer are beginning to draw in as we make our way towards Autumn. The first harvest is being collected as the golden fields give up their gift of abundance and John Barcleycorn is cut down at the knee. I always have mixed emotions at Lughnasadh. On one hand this festival is really the culmination of what it’s all about. On the other hand for me this marks the height of Summer, between Lughnasadh and the Autumn Equinox the temperature drops, Autumn begins, and the nights start to get noticeably longer. I’m a child of Summer, and you won’t hear me complaining about the heat we’ve been enjoying, so lengthening nights are never something I look forward to. But let’s stay in the moment and honour the gifts of the Earth, honour the falling corn … -Damh, the Bard, “A Tale For Lughnasadh

Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

In many ways what Lugnasadh marks is the start of harvest season – soft fruit will come in over the end of summer, apples and nuts come later in the year through to the final, bloody harvest of Samhain when livestock were traditionally slaughtered. The exact process of your harvesting will vary depending on landscape, climate, that year’s weather, traditions and so forth. It is in many ways the unpredictable nature of harvest that underpins the earth based religions. We do not know what we will get from one year to the next and can only hope the gods will be kind to us. – Nimue Brown, “The Grain Harvest,” Pagan Square.

The Waters and the Wild is the title of the night-time parade on Sunday 3rd August. Inspired by the famous Yeats poem The Stolen Child and the feast of Lughnasadh, the spectacle will see the ancient Celtic deity Lugh return to lure people away from their normal and structured present to a time and place of wild abandonment. To The Waters and The Wild will feature hundreds of costumed performers, nature-themed floats, special-effects and live music. The parade is expected to attract 30,000 spectators to Waterford’s medieval streets and is the result of three months of design and construction. – Waterford Today, “Tribute To Yeats At The Centre Of Ireland’s Biggest Street Parade” (The Waterford Spraoi International Street Arts Festival, 1st-3rd August)

It is harvest time. The fog has rolled in, a heavy blanket from the San Francisco Bay. It does this every year around this time. I give thanks for the harvest, for the fog, for Margot [Adler’s] life. My heart and mind are quiet. Waiting. I feel curious about what things are yet to come. May your harvest match in sweetness whatever may feel bitter. The scythe cuts all things down. But new things grow. – T. Thorn Coyle, “Sickle: Harvesting Life” From her blog Know Thyself

Happy Lughnasadh to all those celebrating this season.  And, to all of our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, a very happy Imbolc.

This past week ­ several pieces hit the internet that focused attention on Paganism and gathered a response from Pagans. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest and blogger on Patheos, wrote two pieces discussing views about Paganism and judgments about those who follow the path. Many Pagans interpreted Longenecker’s writing to be an attempt to poke fun at Paganism, which has led to the discussions, comments and angst often seen when misinformation is published about the community.  The Huffington Post also posted an article this week about Pagans; it was a small piece about Pat Robinson’s most recent blaming of Witchcraft, or the Occult, for a child’s painful stomach pains on a recent episode of the 700 Club.

kick computer

courtesy of pixabay.com

The internet has a way of broadcasting many different types of drama far and wide. Anyone’s opinion can become the talk of a community, an “expert opinion,” and it sometimes travels far beyond the boundaries it was originally intending to reach. The internet has it’s perks; it has greatly increased access to information. Yet it has also contributed greatly to spreading misinformation as well. The Pagan community is no stranger to being on the receiving end of misinformation, and the challenges of being a minority religious group can be exacerbated as a result.

While the content of articles like those mentioned are not really the focus of my discussion, the effect that they have on the tone of the Pagan community are. Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog, Standing On My Head, received in excess of 150 comments between the two posts on Paganism, and many of them exhibited what we see happen when this type of issue arises on the interwebs. Posts and incidents like these are not new for the Pagan community; yet they gather the same level of intensity in response repeatedly. What happens for marginalized communities when they feel disrespected, misrepresented, undervalued or intentionally called out? Are the responses we see coming from a place of anger, worry, fear, anxiety, or even hyper-vigilance?

The functioning of the internet can act much like a vacuum, making it hard to conceptualize the range of responses and feelings that are triggered when all we can see is what is on the screen. In light of this understanding, the responses and chaos generated on the internet may not be the only response but it is often the predominant one in the community for those who choose to engage.  It appears that a large majority of those who do respond to these types of posts come from a position of frustration. It is important to explore how feelings of marginalization challenge healthy and productive relationships that further connectivity within greater society, and how it impacts community sustainability.

There were many responses on the recent blog posts at Standing on My Head that appeared more informational than emotional in nature, but a large majority of the comments were what we often see during these types of triggering events. Here are some examples of the range of responses posted on one of the pieces.

This post is unworthy of someone who calls himself a priest. That a religion doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of respect and protection for its followers. – John Beckett

Your mistake is that you assume you understand the motivation of a pagan, and you are sure it can’t be an actual spiritual belief. It must be attention-seeking behavior. This is just ignorance on your part. Ignorance CAN be fixed, if you’re willing. – Michael Hardy

I am disappointed in the tone of this article, its lack of tolerance, and its complete lack of research and fact-checking. hardly a great contribution to interfaith dialogue. – Yewtree

It seems that you are under some misconceptions regarding Neo-Paganism. Neo-Paganism (Or just plain Paganism, if you will) is not something practiced by those “looking for attention”. In fact, what we do, we do simply because it seems right to us – in very much the same way that going to confession once seemed normal to a Catholic. – Deirdre Hebert

How do these types of attention-arousing incidents harm the overall tone of the Pagan community and why do we feel that they garner so much momentum on the web? David Dashifen Kees was one of the bloggers from the Patheos Pagan channel who engaged in the comment sections of the post. He took a different approach to the dialog. I reached out and asked David some questions on why he was inspired to approach the discussion the way he did.

Crystal Blanton:  It appeared from your comment on the recent Catholic blog that you chose to take the educational route with the blogger. Is this your normal approach when responding to inaccurate information published on the web?

David Dashifen Kees: Inaccurate information is just that:  inaccurate.  The people who believe it are simply wrong.  Further, inaccuracies can, and should, be corrected and so my response is always to reach toward education before denigration.  This is actually why I like the Patheos model of allowing posts like the ones in the past week that caused such a stir; they create a teachable moment and every visitor to those articles, and others like them, might learn from it.  The key is to try and identify when a person is deliberately, willfully choosing to remain misinformed. In these cases, I’ve found that there’s little you accomplish via direct, verbal communication and appeals to reason.  Instead, experiential education — what the Interfaith Youth Corps calls common action for the common good — usually works better but obviously the Internet cannot facilitate that sort of thing.

CB:  Why do you feel that the Pagan community often reacts to such information with anger? Do you think this is similar to the way that other marginalized groups respond within greater society?

DDK: This is a harder question for me to answer because, other than my religious community, I’m not really a part of a marginalized group in society.  I guess, back when nerds weren’t cool, that was a thing, but these days even my profession and hobbies have a certain cachet.  That being said, I think that it’s perfectly natural to react defensively, with anger or not, when facing intolerant or objectionable behavior.  In fact, I think to stand up against such behavior is at least as important as trying to educate those who are performing it.  My only worry related to this sort of interaction is that it might simply dissolve into a series of ad hominem declarations rather than focusing on the situation at hand.

CB: What do you often want to see when responding to pieces that give out misinformation about Paganism? Do you have an objective in mind that informs your response tactics?

DDK: My objective, whenever I try to engage someone else a topic I care deeply about — religious or otherwise, is simply to be able to state my case.  I can’t really control whether or not they believe me or find my points compelling, though I do spend a lot of time online crafting my responses to try and make them as appealing as possible.  Especially in situations like the ones that arose from the Patheos Catholic channel in the last week, I know that my comments are going to be attached to that article for as long as that content remains online.  They, therefore, stand as a testimony not just to my points, but all the moments when Pagan and others stood up to the not just the author of the posts, but also the others who, frankly, said far worse things in the comments about non-Catholic religious communities than even the author.

courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/wavyday/4557938166/

courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/wavyday/4557938166/

David gives interesting insight into what motivates many people when facing broadcasted inaccuracies: a chance to tell the story. It is quite common for marginalized groups to have a collective response to triggering things, and a shared experience of being “othered,” stripping the chance to feel heard and a part of the actual conversations that need to happen. Is this the same type of hyper-vigilance and response that we see in populations of people who have a history of marginalization, oppression and engagement in protective measures as a part of their cultural experience? It is quite possible that the pattern of responding to intolerance within the Pagan community correlates with many other groups that find themselves in similar positions within the greater societal framework.

The Pagan community goes through periods of recycling the many different ways that collective harm has been perpetuated onto its members from the overculture of society and from within the Pagan community itself. Yet, we do not often look collectively at how patterns and cultures are developed, in part, by being continuously subjected to environmental factors. In social work we refer to what is called “PIE”, Person In Environment, illustrating how behavior, response, thought process, beliefs and culture are co-created by the environment in which people live. It is much like a pressure cooker, and the internet has the ability to create concentrated environments that perpetuate hostility and can be quite triggering.

Jason Mankey, author of Raise the Horns on the Patheos, wrote a rebuttal to the Catholic blogger’s article, and this is not unheard of in the pattern of community response when said incidents occur. In his piece he stated:

Catholicism is not my faith, but I don’t feel any animosity towards it. People should be feel free to choose whatever faith works for them as long as it it’s not harmful to anyone around them. I’d love to live in a world where everyone respected the choices of others, and barring that I’d be happy just to be left alone. Right now I mostly feel sorry for Mr. Longenecker, who knows what sort of wonderful things he’s missing out on by making unwarranted judgments?

While many Pagans express wanting to be left alone, we see behavior within our community that might suggest something altogether different. Validation, respect, acceptance and inclusivity are something that our collective behavior shows we are willing to engage in with others to obtain, and even fight for among ourselves. Yet we struggle in stopping to ask the very questions that might be the most important.

What do we want and why? And who are we willing to fight to get it? When do things become a part of the pathology of a certain culture? Is it a part of the collective Pagan pathology to ride the momentum of reaction to support something we feel is done unjustly to us? What does our behavior suggest?

In Mr. Longenecker assessment of our behavior, he states:

There’s the same kind of ‘Look at me. What are you staring at??’ double think within not only the neo pagans, but also among all the radical, revolutionary types.  They love to be revolutionary, challenge the status quo, shock people, scandalize ordinary folks and do crazy stuff, then they turn around and blame everyone else for marginalizing them, making them feel persecuted and not granting them equal rights. Like a petulant teenager they do everything they can to be weird, then when normal people raise eyebrows they get all surprised like a house dropped on them or something.

Maybe it is time to ask ourselves how much of this quite unfair assessment is laced with big pieces of truth.