Archives For Jason Pitzl-Waters

On Saturday, The Wild Hunt will have been running continuously for ten years. On March 29th, 2004 I decided to re-launch a Pagan-themed blog I had already started (called “Pagan Thoughts,” itself a re-launch of an even earlier blog called “MythWorks”) with a new mission: prove that a daily Pagan news blog could work. To say that my early posts were somewhat rough around the edges would be kind, I literally learned how to write in public. Indeed, at the time I didn’t even consider myself a writer, as my ambition was geared more towards visual art and graphic design. Inspired by already-existing services like Wren’s Nest, PagaNet News, and Tuan Today, I wanted to show that a daily news site could be done, thinking my efforts would inspire nebulous “professionals” out there to take up the task in a more robust manner.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2004.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2004.

When I started, Pagan media on the Internet was very different. Most online Pagans communicated on bulletin boards or via a vast number of e-mail lists. None of the existing print Pagan magazines had a robust online presence, though to be fair neither did a large number of mainstream periodicals. As for blogs, they were still largely a curiosity for many, and extensive searches at that time only turned up a handful of Pagan-themed blogs, at best. Little did I know that huge changes were in store for mainstream media, and for the new media powered by blogging platforms.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2007.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2007.

As for The Wild Hunt, I had the luxury of incubating in relative obscurity, developing a voice as my audience slowly grew. I think the turning point in terms of influence and audience came in 2006 when I interviewed Margot Adler, and started doing more original reporting from within our interconnected communities (instead of simply linking to and commenting on mainstream news stories). As more and more people turned to the Internet to find news, more and more people seemed to find The Wild Hunt and enjoy the service it was providing. In the intervening years, I have strived as best I could to make The Wild Hunt a useful service for as many people as possible. Now, as we pass this landmark anniversary, I want The Wild Hunt, and Pagan media as whole to continue maturing, growing, and providing a vital connection for individuals within our interconnected religious movement.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2011.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2011.

Between now and October, The Wild Hunt will be instituting the following changes that I think will better prepare us for the future, and hopefully create one model for sustainable Pagan media. 

  • The Wild Hunt will receive fiscal oversight from the Pantheon Foundation, relieving us from the stress of handling our increasingly complex fiscal realities, allowing our editors, staff, and columnists to focus on creating the best reporting, commentary, and content we can. As part of our agreement with the Pantheon Foundation, an appointed member of the Wild Hunt team will always have a seat on the PF board so we can have a voice in how the organization is run. The service they are providing is important, and I think being overseen by a religious non-profit will allow us to fundraise more effectively. I (Jason Pitzl-Waters) will be serving as the initial founding board member for The Wild Hunt, though this can change as things progress.
  • Staff writer Heather Greene will become the new Managing Editor of The Wild Hunt. For those who have been following Heather’s work for The Wild Hunt, you’ll know that she’s an amazing writer and reporter, and truly “gets” our mission here. Heather has an impressive media background, and has worked for a number of Pagan organizations. She has the contacts, and skills, to step into this role. As we move towards October, she will be taking on a larger workload, and eventually will be overseeing all contributing writers and columnists at the site. I will become the Founding Editor, and start to focus more on “big picture” issues relating to The Wild Hunt, and Pagan media in general. I’m also hoping to use my additional free time to finally work on some Wild Hunt-related book projects.
  • We will be increasing the number of writers and columnists who work for The Wild Hunt. We have ambitious plans for the way we’re going to be doing things at this site, and that includes making our collective voice as diverse as possible. Whenever I added a new writer to our staff I asked the question: will this individual bring a perspective I can’t? Having a team who simply echoes the editor would be boring, and run counter to what our diverse religious movement is about. Weekends at The Wild Hunt will eventually be populated with a selection of columnists who bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table, joining our already impressive lineup of Rynn Fox, Crystal Blanton, Eric Scott, and Alley Valkyrie. We will also be looking for interns and staff writers to help us produce reporting and news during the week. Think you could be a part our team in the future? Drop us a line.
  • Finally, as things get set up with the Pantheon Foundation, will be making improvements to the site that will make it easier to support us, and submit news to us. We will be rolling out a number of donation and underwriting options, including monthly donations, which several people have inquired about during our yearly pledge drives. All donations, once this is active, will be tax-deductible. Secondly, will be working to develop a new service, Pagan Press Releases, that will make it easy to not only send us your news, but send other Pagan media outlets your news as well.

As for me, while I’ll be cumulatively writing less as times goes on, I will still be completely enmeshed in The Wild Hunt, and in the larger world of Pagan media. I will be working to make sure we are fiscally stable, that we continue to grow and thrive, and also work to expand what can do. With Heather stepping in as Managing Editor, I’ll be able to focus more on the “meta” issues of what we do, and also do more consulting work with Pagan organizations seeking to improve their own media footprint. Because we need a robust media ecosystem if we are going to achieve the ambitious plans many of us have laid out for our collective future.

I want to thank all of you for making The Wild Hunt the success it is today. I am eternally humbled by what you have collectively given me as I’ve done this work over the past decade. I am richer in friendships and connections than I could have ever anticipated, and I feel optimistic for what the next ten years will bring. I hope you’ll continue with us as we journey into what I hope will be a future of positive change and growth. Thank you, and here’s to the next ten years!

It’s rare that I use the forum of The Wild Hunt to engage in columnist-style musings, but I felt called to do it in the wake of recent events, posts, and comments that have swirled around this site. I’m used to flare-ups of controversy, issues that are divisive among different populations within our larger movement sparking heated comment, it comes as part of running a journalistic outlet. Through it all, I have tried to stay true to my inner convictions, because, frankly, the editorial buck has to stop somewhere. As a result I’ve grown a pretty thick skin, and learned to largely stay out of Internet debates, even when folks started becoming downright conspiratorial about my motivations. So today, I thought I’d speak on my motivations, and why I do The Wild Hunt, why I’m a Pagan, and why I care about a larger religious movement that some call “modern Paganism.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary leading a Lammas bonfire ritual.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary leading a Lammas bonfire ritual.

I became a Pagan, or more precisely, a self-dedicated Wiccan at the age of 17. I sat in a damp copse of trees, lit a candle, and used a dedication ritual written by Scott Cunningham. It was hardly a dramatic or theatrical affair, but I do confess to feeling different afterwards, as if I had finally made a choice in a choose-your-own-adventure novel, and took my thumb out that was holding my place in case I did the wrong thing (admit it, you all did that with those books). I went right to the local gift shop in the mall, bought a large-ish pewter pentacle, and I never looked back. Over the intervening years I’ve worked with a variety of groups, some formal, some not, had a couple initiations, and weathered some dark corners within our community that few like to talk about. I never lost sight of what Paganism offered me, what the promise of these emerging religions were.

For me, the offer of Paganism was no less than an entirely different lens through which to see the world. To literally re-enchant the world, to see a place that was full of gods, powers, myth, and yes, magic. To offer a paradigm that was very much at odds with the midwestern baseline protestantism that was a part of everything growing up in Nebraska in the 1980s. Even in my younger (and rather naive) days, I sensed the revolutionary potential of Paganism, that it if allowed to grow would literally change the way we think. Now, I had no grudge against Christianity, I do not have a horror story of my younger days of mistreatment, persecution, or alienation, so this wasn’t a personal matter, I simply found Pagan religions more alluring to my sensibilities. A childhood entranced by fantasy, mythology, and art. Here, I thought, was a place where difference, and different ideas, would be embraced.

I think I should also make clear that I saw Paganism through a lens of an aspiring artist. For the bulk of my younger life, my main aspiration was to create a life in which I could paint and draw in some professional capacity. I was entranced by romantic ideas of large studios, and block-white gallery cubes hosting swanky parties while featuring my work. I thrilled during my 20s to the melodrama of the Abstract Expressionists of the 50s, or the Neo-Expressionists of the 80s, thinking that someday I too would find a creative tribe to break through with. The gods, of course, often have other plans. Instead of the swanky galleries, I did a run of smaller local shows, tried to organize some smaller initiatives, and slowly drifted into a variety of graphic design jobs in my late 20s. So for me, Paganism was as much an aesthetic choice as it was a religious choice. Despite the great Christian-themed art of the past, I felt in my heart that Paganism offered me the spiritual freedom to really work. To imbue what I was doing with the numinous.

Pagans at Stonehenge.

Pagans at Stonehenge.

Given this, I thought what I had to offer Paganism in return for what Paganism had offered me was my creative work. That my art would help shape a fine-art aesthetic within my religious community, one that was still very much enchanted by fantasy-style illustration (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you). That, however, was not what Paganism, the gods, the powers that be, wanted me to offer them it seemed. They wanted me to write, to do this. Something I would have never anticipated, especially since I never considered myself a gifted writer. Certainly not someone who could serve as a journalistic mouthpiece for a movement. Yet, something I started on a lark, as an experiment that I hoped would garner the attention of the “professionals” out there in the nebulous distance, became a phenomenon a couple short years into its existence.  Suddenly “The Wild Hunt” was not a repository for my art and varied musings on culture, a host to a variety of mini-sites that I had created out of boredom or new enthusiasms in the wild, wild, West days of the Internet, no, The Wild Hunt was now the adolescent version of what you read here.

March, 2014, will mark ten years of doing this, nearly every day. In that time I believe I’ve become a somewhat better writer. I’ve been honored to meet, talk to, and interview a variety of people I had once only read about. Better still, I was able to approach them as peers. In many ways this project has grown to a level I could never have conceived of when I started it. That I would be able to raise a budget, pay contributors, and grow to size that is impressive for an independent site like this is remarkable to me. Naturally, when you grow in size you also become a bigger target. Few people cared what I said or thought back in 2005, but in 2013 what I publish here is given a weight that can be daunting at times. I would be lying if I said that the strain of expectation wasn’t sometimes more than I feel I can bear, and for the last several years I have wrestled with intermittent bouts of burn-out. No matter how excellent you strive to be, there will always be someone who is unhappy with the way things are done. The main accusation made against my person is that I’m some sort of sell-out, that I’m secretly batting for some faction, religion, or viewpoint. The truth is far more mundane, and far less exciting.

jason

The simple truth is that I’m a simple Pagan. I still think of Paganism as a lens that I choose to see the world through, I still do my best to honor that point of view, while allowing the people who write for me to be true to their lens. No one is more consistently aware of my imperfections than me, and certainly no criticism I’ve received has completely surprised me. Part of that is because no matter how total my Pagan worldview, real life is messy, and imperfect, and sometimes doesn’t hew to a rational or logical party/theological line. However imperfectly, I have tried to report on modern Paganism with the messiness intact, because I think what those cracks say reveals important things about our own process. I fight the urge to defend myself, for the most part, because I hope that my legacy as a whole will speak for itself in the longer run. That the number of articles about our triumphs, our advances, our struggles, will always outnumber the articles that stop for a moment and question the messiness of our life on the ground. Naturally I will endeavor to always improve, and I hope to make some announcements soon that will make The Wild Hunt even better.

What will the next ten years hold? I cannot say. But this is part of what Paganism has offered me, and what I offered Paganism in return. How has this exchange manifested in your lives?

Today, at the Patheos Pagan Channel, Christine Kraemer interviews Anne Newkirk Niven, editor and publisher of Witches & Pagans Magazine, about the current state of Pagan media (among other things). During the interview, Niven expounds on blogs within the umbrella of Pagan media, and the role they serve.

Anne Newkirk Niven

Anne Newkirk Niven

Today, blogs fill a specific niche: real-time, fast-paced information. No print media can keep up with the blogosphere; on the other hoof, even the most super-heated debate in the legendary Green Egg forum (letters to the editor) never got as crazily divisive as what happens in the comment-rich, disinhibited atmosphere of the Web.

Pagans are an information-hungry group of people; reading led many, if not most, of us onto our paths. (Most of our magazine readers are solitaries, which I suspect is true of Pagan culture as a whole.) The purpose of a magazine is to gather together a group of collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge; blogs, on the other hoof, are radically individualized by their nature and are constantly evolving. I see these two modalities as fundamentally complementary—what one does well, the other does poorly. I hope we can see the continuance of literary paper-based culture even as the digital culture continues to grow, which is why I publish magazines (both in digital and paper formats) as well as hosting a rapidly-growing Pagan blogosphere.

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

When I started The Wild Hunt nearly 10 years ago, there wasn’t really a “blogosphere” to speak of. Most Pagan content on the Internet existed in the form of bulletin boards, static (sporadically updated) sites, and e-lists. There were literally only a handful of Pagan blogs when I started this site, and many folks used the new technology at places like LiveJournal for personal journaling, not a soapbox per-se. I was a fairly early adopter of blogging technology when it emerged, and was fascinated by the possibilities of the medium. Like many others, I quickly recognized that the “blog” had capabilities far beyond listing updates to a large website, or writing short personal entires. While some feared the disruptive nature of blogging technology, I realized that it could be used to prove a point. I could use it to prove that people wanted to read about Pagan news every day, and that there was enough news to write about something every day.

Ten years later, The Wild Hunt has more than enough to write about. More, in fact, than our small team can conceivably do justice to. We’ve grown from a one-person personal project into a media outlet that employes several columnists, and one staff writer. We have a yearly budget, one that we raise from donations, and our traffic continues to grow at a steady rate each year. So I see Niven’s generalizations as not only limiting, but subtly insulting. A blog, at its heart, is simply a technology, like the printing press. When you say you read “a blog” that today says almost nothing about what you’ll get (it’s like someone saying they read “books” and nothing more). The biggest media empires use blogging technology on their sites, and the content can range from celebrity gossip to ultra-professional, edited, and vetted, content. Meanwhile, picking up a magazine gives you zero guarantee that you’ll receive “collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge.” 

A medium is a medium, not the content within it. Mediums can be stretched, changed, challenged, and redefined over the course of different generations. A “real” magazine can be experimental and radical, produced on a shoestring budget, or it can be a well-funded venture that engages in the current norms of editorial and news gathering. Anyone who grew up during the ‘zine revolution of the 1990s knows well enough that mediums aren’t limited by the dominant culture’s standards. Likewise, while many tried to pigeonhole blogs in the early years as the tool of the lone opinionated crank (usually writing about politics), the reality is that many different people used the technology for many different things. Is Talking Points Memo a mere “blog,” or is it a news and political commentary site? If we call it a blog, does that mean it isn’t collated, vetted, and subject to editorial oversight? Is The Wild Hunt still a blog? Are we a part of a blogosphere? We use blogging technology, certainly, but I also think we’ve grown outside the expectations that seem to inform the Patheos interview.

Finally, let me talk briefly about the Pagan magazine. Another reason I started The Wild Hunt was because I was hungry for news about my community, and couldn’t find any in Pagan magazines. They had interviews, and columns, and short stories, and poetry, and recipes, and a letters column, but they rarely tackled actual events happening in and around our lives. When they did, it was often long after the dust had settled. It created the sense that modern Paganism should be handled by the professional Pagans, the “Big Name Pagans,” and that the rest of us should simply give our support. It didn’t have to be that way, even a quarterly magazine can write about big issues, can at least inform their readership of all the things that happened in the last few months, but a reliance on “evergreen” content, and a hesitance to embrace these new technologies left the door wide open for The Wild Hunt’s success. When people ask me why my blog got so big, I tell them the truth: no one else wanted to do what I was doing. At least not on the daily schedule I maintained.

Blogging may have been disruptive, but it also empowered all sorts of people to speak up, to insert themselves into the process of how our community is defined and presented. It rejected the old “club” mentality that had held sway from the 1980s, and demanded a more responsive, more inclusive, community. If things are so “divisive” now, perhaps that is simply because there’s 20 years of frustration built up from having no voice at all in national and international Pagan affairs. Now, we can’t be shut up, because our news isn’t centralized into a handful of vetted and edited publications. If someone doesn’t like something in The Wild Hunt (or any media outlet), they can (and do) publish about it. They can rally their own corner of our community, they can create alternatives, they can have the public discussions they want to have. I sometimes bemoan how uncivil things can get sometimes, but I would never, ever, roll us back to some simpler time before this technology existed. We are collectively better for it.

Digital Pagan media is the dominant format today, and I don’t think anyone could convincingly argue otherwise. The separations between a published print magazine, and, say, The Wild Hunt, is only in the format. I would certainly place may content on the same plain of quality as anything in print, perhaps even better (though I may be biased). It is no longer acceptable to generalize about the “blog” without providing a list of caveats that make the comparisons almost meaningless. The larger Pagan blogosphere is many things, and has many manifestations, but it is no longer some ascendent disruptive format, it has become a ubiquitous tool used by every manifestation of the content we consume. From commerce to hard news. We are the media now. 

I like to consider myself a pretty savvy guy when it comes to journalism. I’ve spoken to a range of local and national reporters about Paganism, I’ve been interviewed, and I’ve been used as a resource for reporters looking for sources. I’ve spent years of my life analyzing, and critiquing, journalism that covers our diverse faiths. Despite that savvy, or perhaps because of it, I allowed myself to get suckered by a sensationalist tabloid journalist looking for dirt.

M.L. Nestel

M.L. Nestel

I was contacted by a reporter from the New York Post who wanted to do a story about Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran, currently accused of fraud and bribery, and was looking for information about Halloran’s Theodish faith. I was justifiably skeptical, since I do know that the New York Post is a sensationalist rag, but after speaking to the reporter, a Matt Nestel, I agreed to put him in contact with a couple sources. Why did I do that? On the phone, he said the right things: He said he wasn’t out to do a hit job on our religions, he expressed how he wanted to learn about Theodism and modern Pagan/Heathen religions, he stressed how he had treated other minority religions sensitively, he even offered to let me vet the piece for accuracy before it went to print. So I put him in contact with Cara Schulz, Managing Editor of The Pagan Newswire Collective, who had interviewed Dan Halloran in 2010, and Nick Ritter, my trusted go-to source on Theodism, and someone who actually knew Dan’s religious history.

Needless to say, things didn’t work out so well…

“The city councilman who bungled his way into federal bribery charges is also a total bonehead in his kooky heathen religion — whose members wear medieval garb, make sacrifices to multiple gods and compete in combat games. Dan Halloran (R-Queens) — who was arrested Tuesday as the suspected bag man in state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s alleged plot to buy his way onto the mayoral ticket — has been publicly flogged and lost a spear-throwing contest as part of his Theodish punishments. Halloran converted in the 1980s from Catholicism to the pre-Christian Germanic religion, whose believers drink mead or whiskey from horns and dress like characters in a Renaissance fair.”

When I saw the article my stomach sank. I knew this was a tabloid, and I knew they’d be going after Dan Halloran, nothing could prevent that, but I thought that at the very least our faiths would be treated with some sensitivity since we had cooperated. How foolish I was. I got played. I never saw a draft, naturally, nor did I ever hear back from Mr. Nestel once he got what he wanted. That’s not entirely true, I did get a cryptic one-sentence reply when I expressed my disappointment at the published piece, but that was it. In an editorial published at PNC-Minnesota, Cara Schulz noted how much time was spent trying to provide good information to Mr. Nestel, only to have it thrown aside once a sensationalist scoop was found.

newyorkpost_screenshot

“To his credit, Nestel spent the better part of two days researching Theodism.  That’s a considerable amount of time in the news industry.  He asked intelligent questions, asked for more information on areas he still didn’t understand, and requested multiple sources to interview.  We spent just over 4 hour son the phone with him during the course of two days answering his questions.  We connected him to some really fantastic, knowledgeable people to interview.   Sources to read to learn more about the religion of Theodism.  Then we stepped back and hoped our assistance wasn’t in vain.  We can help, but we can’t write the article for the reporter.” 

Having settled on the “part of a kooky religion that whips people” angle, The New York Post’s piece quickly became fodder for a series of blog posts and like-minded tabloids across the pond.

  • “I’ve been following politics for 40 years and seen a lot of characters come and go who believed weird things, or acted in a bizarre manner. But Halloran’s beliefs and actions top the list. Not only is it bizarre, but kind of pathetic as well. He is obviously seeking something that he doesn’t get from mainstream Christianity. And hey! Who wouldn’t want to be a prince with their own cult?”Rick Moran, American Thinker
  • “And that’s what the Post gets down to today with an exclusive report on some of the more unsavory details about his religious beliefs. The most ‘juicy’ detail is that Halloran was once publicly flogged after he committed an undisclosed act against a female “thrall” (a follower). He was stripped to his waist, strapped to a tree and flogged with a belt 11 times. Meh, it’s not like he helped make Steve Guttenberg a star, or was shackled to a ‘stone of triumph.'”Ben Yakas, Gothamist
  • “But now he can be best remembered for something else: Halloran was voluntarily tied to a tree and flogged 11 times with a leather belt by the leaders of his pagan sect as punishment for an “undisclosed act” against a female “thrall” (probationary servant, in non-pagan-Religion-terms).”Peter Moskowitz, Gawker
  • “Formerly a Catholic, the First Atheling of New Normandy converted to Theodism in the 1980s. In those early days, Halloran was punished for committing an undisclosed act with one of his lady “thralls,” a probationary servant. He was stripped to his waist, tied to a tree, and flogged 11 times with a belt, a source told The Post.” – Sarah Rae Fruchtnicht, Opposing Views
  • “For Dan Halloran, being arrested was not the most memorable thing about him in the news this week. The Republican councilman in New York City was indicted Tuesday on bribery charges, which was newsworthy enough, until Friday’s New York Post revealed the bizarre rituals he engaged in while practicing the pagan faith of Theodism. According to the report, Halloran was once voluntarily flogged against a tree as punishment for unspecified acts against a female “thrall,” and participated in a spear-throwing duel with a religious rival, all while dressed like a Renaissance Faire employee. He remains innocent until proven guilty on the bribery charges, but the court of public opinion likely won’t be holding back on judging him for that spear-throwing duel.”msnNOW

The only clear-headed take on this was from The League of Ordinary Gentleman, who chided those engaged in merely mocking the Pagan, instead of sticking to the serious charges facing Halloran.

“Whether Halloran is or is not guilty of corruption is one thing. That’s not what these articles are about. What is shameful is the point-and-laugh articles pretty much openly mocking Halloran for embracing a restated version of ancient Germanic polytheism. He worships the old gods. And that’s his right as an American citizen. It’s our obligation as a people to disregard the apparent silliness of his religious beliefs and judge the man on the content of his character. Let us focus on the moral and legal merits of the man’s case. He’s only interesting to anyone outside of New York because of the corruption accusation. Is he guilty or not? If he is guilty, ought what he did be deemed a crime at all? His religion is irrelevant to such inquiries.”

Sadly, voices of reason in this renewed feeding frenzy are few.

All I wanted was for good information to overcome bad information. That a reporter would be brave enough to be accurate and fair, even if they worked for a tabloid. I was wrong, I was too liberal in my trust, and I exposed people I care about to an industry that only cares about grabbing as many page-views as possible. I was foolish, and I am sorry. My hope is that this unfortunate incident can be a learning moment for me, and for the wider community. Consider the source, even if the reporter seems nice, even if they say the right things. If someone writes for the New York Post, or any tabloid, they don’t care about what’s fair, they only care about finding more dirt. Work only with reporters who have proven themselves to be fair, to avoid sensationalism when writing about our faiths. Don’t talk to the news simply because you can, remember that sometimes silence is better.

I was suckered by a tabloid, and I’ll try to not let it happen again. I have failed my community in this moment, even if it was not me who decided to write that piece. Mea culpa.

Yesterday I engaged in a conversation with Paul Louis Metzger, author of “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, ” which I reviewed not too long ago, Mike Stygal of Pagan Federation London, and Foundation for Religious Diplomacy Evangelical Chapter Director John W. Morehead for the New Wine, New Wineskins podcast.

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Today we had an opportunity to follow up on a recent conversation with some of our friends in the Pagan community. This time, Jason Pitzl-Waters joined us too. Listen in for a constructive engagement of the Pagan/Christian divide.

Download and listen to the podcast here.

In the span of an hour we discussed the need to really deal with the issue of evangelization, secular vs. multi-faith space, Christian privilege, and how to move Pagan-Christian dialog further. I think it was, on the whole, a constructive discussion that I think could be thought-provoking for evangelicals who listen. During the event I was very mindful of my relative inexperience within the context of interfaith engagement, and how there are many Pagans I know who are doing important work on a global scale. For instance, at this moment, Don Frew, a National Interfaith Representative for the Covenant of the Goddess and a Continuing Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, is at the URI’s Global Council Meeting.

When we gathered for the morning session, Zubair Farooq (Muslim / Pakistan) opened with a prayer and a candle lighting.  Diana Whitney asked us each to sum up our feelings about THIS Global Council were so far.  There were many expected statements, but one stood out… the Honorable Elisha Buba Yero (Christian & Indigenous / Nigeria) said that he sees something in all of us, a “burning flame in each of our hearts”, a desire for one goal: “to make other people as happy as we are”.

You can read more about Don Frew’s experiences at the URI Global Council Meeting at the COG Interfaith Reports blog. I think it’s important not only that I remember and acknowledge the work that individuals like Don Frew, Andras Corban Arthen, Phyllis Curott, Gus diZerega, or Angie Buchanan are doing, but that Christians just starting to enter into real dialog and discussion with modern Pagans understand the work they, and those like them, have done as well. When animus towards modern Pagans was at its height, and when books written and sold by evangelical Christians were peddling fabrications about what Witches and Pagans do, it was people like Frew and Selena Fox who were on the front lines forging interfaith communication and creating allies who would later help us as we emerged into the mainstream. Today, Pagans are involved in interfaith on many levels, and we have built bridges that perhaps some would not realize if they were not “in the loop” regarding interfaith activism.


Interfaith Action of Central Texas documentary featuring COG member Tom Davis

I’ve spent some time recently talking about the importance of intrafaith, solidarity, and ecumenicism within the Pagan community, but interfaith, reaching out to other faiths, is still vitally important. As I said before heading to an evangelical seminary to speak about Paganism:

“The heart of interfaith is recognizing the common humanity of a believer you may have profound disagreements with. To find areas of commonality, to learn how to move past entrenched hostilities and prejudices. To build a world that is less violent, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I will walk into that seminary with an open heart, and an open mind, and I hope my faith will be rewarded.”

No matter how successful modern Pagans (and our allies) become we cannot pretend the dominant monotheisms don’t exist, nor can we avoid trying to find ways to live and co-exist together. Yes, some of what evangelicals learn in the process of our conversations will be used in evangelization, but it will also humanize us, and hopefully defuse ancient distrusts over time. Pagans working in interfaith, and I suppose I should count myself in that number, are needed, and serve a vital interest to the growth and health of our movement. The simple act of outreach, of talking, can change so much, locally, and increasingly, on a global scale.

Greetings everyone! I feel I’ve been away a long time because I was at PantheaCon in San Jose two weekends ago, and then working at FaerieCon West in Seattle this past weekend. I’ve been in my house only a full two days in between events, and it has left me feeling like I truly was disconnected from the “real” world, so it’s been something like an otherworldly sojourn. But now I’m back, I’m catching up, and returning to my daily routine. I’d like to thank my staff and columnists at The Wild Hunt for filling in while I’ve been away, and tomorrow I expect to be back to (relatively) normal and bringing you relevant (Pagan) news.

For now, I’d like to share a few images from my FaerieCon West adventure, and present a panel I moderated that featured T. Thorn Coyle, Raven Grimassi, and Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi.

Me interviewing acclaimed mythic fiction author Charles de Lint. Stay tuned for the audio of that conversation. Photo: T. Thorn Coyle.

Me interviewing acclaimed mythic fiction author Charles de Lint. Stay tuned for the audio of that conversation. Photo: T. Thorn Coyle.

German "paganfolk" band Faun playing at FaerieCon's Bad Faerie's Ball this past Saturday night.

German “paganfolk” band Faun playing at FaerieCon’s Bad Faerie’s Ball this past Saturday night.

Robert Gould interviews a panel of mythic artists: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, Stephanie Lostimolo, Renae Taylor, and Maxine Miller.

Robert Gould interviews a panel of mythic artists: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, Stephanie Lostimolo, Renae Taylor, and Maxine Miller.

Finally, here’s audio from a panel I moderated that discusses how you take the magic of these events home with you. Appropriate, I think, considering my current state.

Me, Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi, Raven Grimassi, and T. Thorn Coyle being very thoughtful.

Me, Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi, Raven Grimassi, and T. Thorn Coyle being very thoughtful.

“In this panel of spiritual luminaries: T. Thorn Coyle, Raven Grimassi, Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi, and moderator Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt, we discuss how to integrate the otherworldly and mythic into your day to day life. How do you take the magic of FaerieCon, or your favorite festival, home?”

So, it’s good to be back. If you are returning from your own otherworldly events I wish you an easy transition, fond memories, and positive transformations.

Today I’ll be away with the Faeries in Seattle (along with T. Thorn Coyle, Raven Grimassi, Stephanie Taylor- Grimassi, Lupa, and several other Pagan-friendly folk) but I didn’t want to leave you empty handed in my absence! So, since I’m at a convention, it seems appropriate that I share a panel from the convention I just participated in last weekend. So here’s a panel discussion from PantheaCon 2013 entitled “Setting the Record Straight: Pagans and the Press,” moderated by journalist Beth Winegarner, and featuring Eric Colon (a Mayombero and Santero), Mike Aldax (crime reporter for the San Francisco Examiner), Nagasiva Yronwode (a Satanist), and myself.

Setting the Record Straight panel at PantheaCon 2013.

Setting the Record Straight panel at PantheaCon 2013. Photo: Greg Harder

“Most reporters aren’t experts in Paganism, Satanism, or African Diaspora faiths. When these topics come up, especially in connection with violent crime, news articles often suggest that these religions are violent. In this panel, experts from a variety of faiths will discuss how their beliefs have been misrepresented or sensationalized, a local crime reporter will share how he does his job, and we’ll come up with strategies for Pagans and the press to work together.”

I think it’s a thought-provoking a useful panel, especially considering recent events in the mainstream media. I don’t have a transcript of the talk yet, but I’m looking into seeing how quickly I can have one made. In the meantime, feel free to download it and listen at your convenience.

That’s all I have for now, I hope to bring you more material from PantheaCon 2013 soon, and some images and interviews from this weekend’s FaerieCon West. Have a great day!

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

Pagan Federation Withdraws Tribunal Hearing Request Over Charity Status: The Wild Hunt has been covering the Pagan Federation’s quest to receive official charity status in the UK which had run into obstacles from the Charity Commission who didn’t think the organization met “all the essential characteristics of a religion for the purposes of charity law.” After first requesting a tribunal hearing on the matter of their denial, the organization has decided to not pursue this course, saying it now accepts the commission’s stance on the matter.

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“Members of the Pagan Federation Committee have discussed the charity commission response at some length and, having read through the CC’s response again, we accept that the PF as it currently exists does not fit easily into the requisites of the CC for the granting of charitable status. As such, we do not want to waste everyone’s time on a tribunal hearing and hereby withdraw our application and request for a tribunal hearing.

We really appreciate the willingness of the charity commission to continue our dialogue as to how we might best put forward an application for a charitable arm of the PF (as a religious and/or educational charity) once we have thought back through the structure of the PF and how we wish the organisation to evolve and develop in the future.”

While this may be disappointing, it’s clear that the Pagan Federation is thinking tactically, and will be pursing charity status in a different way moving forward. We will keep you posted as this story continues to develop.

T. Thorn Coyle to Speak at Overlap Conference: Pagan author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, has been invited to speak at Overlap, a “multidisciplinary, collaborative experience” that seeks participants who pursue “the insights of other disciplines to enhance and deepen their own area(s) of inquiry.” Here’s a quote from the official press release sent out by Thorn.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“Teacher and author T. Thorn Coyle has been invited to participate in the Overlap conference in January. This is an annual invitation only peer-to-peer gathering, – an ad hoc “think tank” – that started off trying to increase innovation and awareness in the business and design communities. This year the conference will gather military officials, technical innovators, CEOs, doctors, researchers, entrepreneurs, non-profit advisors, historians, architects, and people from a variety of other professions. [...] This year’s theme is “Overlap:Risk, a transdisciplinary dive into the unknowable” and participants will each present their thoughts on risk, creating space for dialogue on some of the deeper questions facing humanity right now.”

Significantly, Thorn will be the only explicitly religious perspective represented at the conference. What does it mean that a Pagan voice was selected for inclusion? I’ll be following up with Overlap organizers for an answer, but I suspect that Pagans bring a unique and much-needed perspective on how to create dialog among diverse paths and peoples. Our congratulations go out to Thorn on being selected for what looks like a unique and prestigious opportunity for her, and for our interconnected communities.

 Temple of Witchcraft Launches Crowdfunding Effort for Parking Expansion: The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, after encountering some resistance from neighbors to expand and make improvements to their new building in Salem, New Hampshire, recently received unanimous approval from the local Planning Board. Now, with the planning board’s permission in place, the temple has launched a crowdfunding initiative to pay for improvements.

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The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

“The Temple of Witchcraft, a nonprofit neo-pagan religious organization, has met one of its most important goals: the acquisition of land and buildings to give the Temple a permanent home. Now we need your help to open the doors of our new home and welcome Temple members for classes and celebration! [...] The Temple has purchased Grandview Manor, a beautiful late 19th-century house with detached barn and cottage and over five acres of land in Salem, NH. To comply with the town’s requirements for holding classes and religious services at the property, we need to put in additional parking between the house and the barn. We have a site plan, approved by the Salem Town Planning Board, what we need now is to raise the funds to hire a contractor to do the work to implement it.”

The Temple is trying to raise $68,000 dollar in 117 days, an ambitious sum in the history of Pagan fundraising, but the Temple of Witchcraft has built a good reputation, and has a large network of supporters, so it seems very possible that they’ll be able to accomplish this. Head over to their IndieGoGo page for more information, a list of donation perks, and ways you can help.

In Other Community News: 

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

I think that modern Paganism has hit some sort of landmark when hip(ster) touchstone Vice Magazine features a new music column spotlighting a show in Ann Arbor, Michigan headlined by a band called ‘Wiccans.’

Wiccans in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Photo: Vice)

“Last night I walked into Encore Records, the best record store in Ann Arbor and one of the best anywhere, where Wiccans front women Aran Ruth and Kelly Jean Caldwell had cleared a space on the floor to spread out a flowery blanket on top of which they were busily setting up an altar made out of spellbooks, incense, a silkscreened tapestry of a tarot card Empress, and candles—one of them in the shape of a kitten because there’s apparently no rule against mixing magick and cute shit. When they had everything properly arranged and lit Aran picked up an acoustic guitar, Kelly picked up a flute, Fred Thomas (who plays in Saturday Looks Good to Me, which Kelly used to sing for) picked up a set of bongos and a djembe, and the thirty or so representatives of Ann Arbors sizable indie rocker, weirdo artsy crust punk, and hardcore witchcraft scenes sat in a semicircle around them.”

Not to be confused with the hardcore punk band of the same name, Wiccans sounds like “Pentangle meets Pentagram” and sings songs with titles like “Invocation of the Horned God,” “Moon Door,” and “Oh Holy Maiden.” In a perhaps unintentional nod to the past of modern Pagan music, their release is available only on cassette. This raises many questions, are Wiccans Wiccan? Will they be releasing their music in a format other than cassette?  Will they play at a Pagan festival if we asked them nicely? In any case, it’s an interesting development, one that speaks to how Wicca is mainstreaming, while still holding on to enough counter-cultural edge that bands are being named after it.

In other news, it’s Pagan Pride season and tomorrow is the Columbia-Willamette Pagan Pride in Portland, Oregon. I’ll be there to have a public discussion with Anne Newkirk Niven, editor of Witches & Pagans, about Pagan media. It should be fun! I was lucky enough to be interviewed by local paper The Oregonian in advance of the event, and you can read the results here.

“Basically, we’re just like you. That is the message all minority faiths try to tell the world: We have the hopes and fears of everyone else. We just follow a different religion. We have a message and wisdom that we can share, about being more aware of the natural world, that the divine can have a feminine face. Some real potent elements within pagan faith can be helpful to the wider world as we deal with ecological calamity and the basic rights of women. The message from the closing ceremony of the Paralympics was universal in scope. There can and should be a space where our poetry and our world are integrated with everyone else’s.”

I thought it turned out very well, do check it out if you have the chance. If you’re in the Portland area, why not drop by? It’s being held at an amusement park! For real! I’ll try to post photos and experiences from the event tomorrow.

“I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.”Neil Gaiman, “American Gods”

From time to time, due to the popularity of my blog, folks have been given to speculating on what my stance or agenda is given a certain political, social, or theological topic. For various reasons, I have tried, or more accurately, learned, to keep the personal stuff as close to the vest as possible. Partially because I write about people I disagree with all the time (though I personally like many of those I disagree with), and partially because I want the focus to be on “us,” rather than on me. I don’t always succeed in this, because I’m human and fallible, and sometimes because my hesitancy to get involved will do more to convince someone of my partisan nature than any action.

Lately there’s been a debate over, well, I guess you could call it a debate between those who believe praxis (practice) is primary in Paganism, above even belief in the deities invoked, and those who believe that practice is meaningless without that belief. I inadvertently became enmeshed in this debate when I featured a guest post by Brendan Myers on Humanistic Paganism. Many took this post to be an insult towards the intelligence of Pagans who believe in the reality of gods and powers, and a wide-ranging debate took place across the Pagan blogosphere on the topic of the “atheist question.” For a number of reasons, mostly due to me wrestling with burnout and being busy with my other job, I didn’t document or follow this discussion at The Wild Hunt. This led some, perhaps understandably, to think I was a partisan in this matter. That I favored an agnostic/atheistic view of Paganism over a more devotional model.

So let me set the record as straight I can, without engaging in troublesome over-sharing.

This debate has been bringing to my mind  Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods,” because the entire work is a treatise on belief disguised as an action-adventure story featuring various gods and powers. At different points several key characters give their view on what is important regarding belief, from the “let’s give everything a shot” monologue of the character Sam, quoted above, to the following quote from Wednesday, which no doubt warms the cockles of reconstructionist and devotional-minded Pagans everywhere.

“And tell me, as a pagan, who do you worship?’ ‘Worship?’ ‘That’s right. I imagine you must have a pretty wide open field. So to whom do you set up your household altar? To whom do you bow down? To whom do you pray to at dawn and at dusk?’ ‘The female principle. It’s an empowerment thing. You know.’ ‘Indeed. And this female principle of yours. Does she have a name?’ ‘She’s the goddess within us all. She doesn’t need a name.’ ‘Ah,’ said Wednesday, with a wide monkey grin, ‘so do you hold mighty bacchanals in her honour? Do you drink blood wine under the full moon, while scarlet candles burn in silver candle holders? Do you step naked into the seafoam, chanting ecstatically to your nameless goddess while the waves lick at your legs, lapping your thighs like the tongues of a thousand leopards?'”

Wednesday is making the point that her “belief,” being nameless and formless, is meaningless to the old gods who cling to existence in the novel. That she isn’t worshiping anything at all, aside from herself. It’s a quote I’ve seen trotted out many times over the years, usually to critique eclectic practitioners, fence-sitting agnostics, and “fluffy-bunnies” of various stripes. It says, practice is meaningless without a devotional focus, without a god or goddess to benefit from your sacrifice. Of course, Gaiman gives plenty of time to the humanistic side, if you want to call it that. Often pointing out just how dangerous belief can be when not corralled and given limits. In fact, you could argue that the underlying message of “American Gods” is that America is “a poor place for gods.”

In any case, what I believe.

I guess I inhabit the mushy middle of this debate. There are days where I believe in the existence of discrete spiritual entities that many of us call “gods” or “powers” or “mysterious ones,” and there are days where I think Jung had the right idea about archetypes and the collective unconscious. I believe that artists, musicians, poets, and storytellers are far more vital than priests and clergy, and that religion is a by-product of art, not the other way around.

“It is the artist’s responsibility to be the oracle, to abstract where you are – that is our responsibility – we’re not there to look glamorous, you know? We’re there to tune into the frequency of the Earth and the connective tissues of those things that we are responding to – language, colour, costume, literature, poetry, cuisine, perfume – these are the things that make up the desire to throw paint on a canvas, these are the things that create the excitement for building a new language!” – Lisa Gerrard, Dead Can Dance

I believe the construct we call “modern Paganism,” that colossal egregore with which we hope to change the course of the world, is far more reliant on art than on either devotion or practice. I also think I’m incredibly biased on that score since my identity was wrapped up in being an artist for the bulk of my adult life (but I still think I’m correct, despite being aware of this bias). I believe people like Morpheus Ravenna or Thorn Coyle, who express far more intimate dealings with the divine that I could ever  claim, are awesome, powerful, and needful no matter what the ultimate reality of the powers they interact with. I believe that our community, if you want to call it that, is at a turning point in where we go next and that’s why these debates seem so intense right now. I believe that when I chant to two very different powers at the same time, I get travel luck, and I believe that I am thanking them for that service when I leave offerings at the crossroads.

“We are more than we think, and that is not the puffed up shell of an out of balance ego. We are more than we think because we are limited by what our very imaginations will allow. Can we stretch the realm of possibility today? Can we risk becoming more?”T. Thorn Coyle

I believe that my highest service to these powers is being done by writing The Wild Hunt every day. I also believe that this is true even if all the gods are a lie, and we are simply co-creating a new paradigm of reality with nothing but our mortal selves. That the enterprise, and what we Pagans collectively do, is important no matter how we choose to be a part of it. That’s what I believe at this moment. This is who I am right now.