Archives For Jason Pitzl-Waters

262458_129183977172876_1231043_nOn Feb. 7, as we reported, Green Egg Magazine had announced that it would be abandoning its traditional format and developing a full-time, online blog-style presence. However, after hearing from disappointed fans, the Magazine decided to shift gears once again. On Feb. 22, Green Egg’s publishers announced that they would be keeping with the original quarterly e-zine format and abandoning regular blog publishing.

In addition, they announced that “Hollis Taylor is no longer publisher. The position of publisher will be co-managed by Sylveey Selu, long-time webmistress for Green Egg, and Ariel Monserrat, the magazine’s publisher for the past 8 years.”  Monserrat was planning on retiring but, after hearing the overwhelming response from the readership, she decided to return as co-publisher. The team also has plans to bring back the The Green Egg Radio Hour and expand the magazine’s website. The first issue will be Ostara, for which they are currently asking for submissions.

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mkpagcn

Mark Kay Lundmark

In February, Minnesota’s Pagan community lost one of its beloved members, Mary Kay Lundmark.  A tribute to her life was recently published in PNC-Minnesota. As writer Nels Linde said, “Described as a most loyal and caring friend and priestess, Mary Kay chose to avoid the lime light. She took a major supportive role in many peoples craft and online spiritual paths, and was known to many who never met her in person.”

The article quotes a number of Mary Kay’s friends and students. Through their words, they share Mary Kay’s personal history, her love of the Craft and of life. One of these quotes is from Thea Sabin, who also published an entire blog post about Mary Kay. In that post, Sabin described a woman who was passionate about her religion and the Craft, dedicated to her students and honest with herself. Sabin wrote, “Perhaps most important, Mary Kay loved with her whole heart, without reservation, and in a way that was utterly authentic”  When Mary Kay died, she was surrounded by her husband and loved ones. What is remembered, lives.

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10858593_10153030684777552_6867534241222027502_nAfter a three year hiatus, the Bay Area Pagan Alliance will be, once again, hosting The Pagan Festival in Berkeley, California. The event will be held on May 9 in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. In celebrating the event’s return, this year’s theme is Spirituality Through Service. Organizers wrote: “2012 Keeper of the Light T. Thorn Coyle will pass the staff to the 2015 Keeper of the Light Crystal Blanton. Our Master and Mistress of Ceremonies are Shay Black and Diana Rowan.”

The day-long event includes “altars, rituals, stage performances, speakers, Authors Circle, Druid Story Telling Pavilion, and vendors and information booths in the Pagan Market Place.” The organizers are excited to bring back this well-attended and popular festival. Local Priest Storm Faerywolf created new flyer art, giving the Festival a fresh look. More information can be found on the Bay Area Pagan Alliance’s Facebook page.

In Other News:

  • Bates College in Maine has begun a public lecture series titled “Unusual Positions: Controversial Approaches to the Study of Religion and Sexuality.” Co-sponsored by the religion studies department, women and gender studies program and the humanities division, the five-part series runs into April. It finishes on April 8 with a lecture by Cherry Hill Seminary’s Christine Hoff-Kraemer on “Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Loving Touch as Divine Birthright.”
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its annual “Spring Mysteries Festival.” This year’s event will feature “a two-day psychodrama, recreating the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece. Participants will get to see priests and priestesses representing the Gods and Goddesses as they recreate one of the most sacred rituals of ancient Greece. Festival-goers will also have the opportunity to commune with the Gods individually.” In addition, Rev. Selena Fox will be there to speak about her many years working alongside ATC Pete Pathfinder, founder of ATC. This year, ATC’s Spring Mysteries will be held from April 2-5.
  • This year, MythicWorlds was held in Seattle from Feb 20-22. During the three day event, Jason Thomas Pitzl “moderated a panel discussion featuring Orion Foxwood, Grimassi Raven, and Stephanie Taylor.” The panel subject was “walking between the worlds.” He recorded the conversation and posted it on SoundCloud.

  • The American Council of Witches 2015 updated its site as promised on March 1. Although not fully finished, the site now lists many of the councils members with extensive bios, as well as the group’s overall mission and stated tasks.
  • Coming up at the end of the month is the 3rd online international conference of the Pagan Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN). The all-online conference is comprised of a number of panels held throughout the day. Attendees and speakers come from all over the world with a diversity of expertise and religious backgrounds. As a whole, the conference’s main focus is “the different aspects of the future and development of contemporary Pagan culture and Witchcraft practices.” PAEAN’s event is open to the public and will be held on March 31.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day.

In part one of this series, The Wild Hunt looked at several successful infrastructure projects in order to see what they have in common. Today, in part two, we examine a Celtic temple and a Pagan community center to see what went wrong and what we can learn, along with a few other examples of infrastructure that appear to be doing well, but may face challenges in the future.

“I’ve been running a ‘pagan’ organization complete with a paid clergy and a permanent temple building for 15 years. Is it because I don’t identify as Pagan or go to this ‘pagan community’ for membership and support? Or is it something else?  I dunno.” – Rev. Tamara Siuda

Temple of the River
Temple of the River (TOR) was the first official temple of the Old Belief Society, a community intended to train Celtic priests by combining academic and spiritual teachings. Founded by Drew Jacob. the group originally occupied a space in Minneapolis before moving to Jacob’s home. In 2006 the group decided they wanted to build their own temple.

Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Constructed to look like a traditional Irish cottage, the temple was built in Jacob’s backyard. Contractors laid the foundation, roofing, and stucco of the temple, while members of the Old Belief Society pounded the earth floor, lime washed the exterior, and painted the trim. Funds to build the temple came from Jacob and from members of the group. Setbacks, ranging from inspections to funding, challenged the building process over the course of three years. The opening purification ritual was celebrated September 2010.

The temple was open to the public for monthly scheduled events, holiday feasts, and classes. The group appeared stable, as did its finances. In June 2011, Jacob wrote, “In less than six months we shifted from a small clique-like organization with no public presence to a bustling, dynamic community … It was because of this surge of enthusiasm and interest—from a primarily non-Pagan crowd—that we were able to finally realize a dream of seeing ancient Irish religion alive and practiced as closely as possible to its original form.”

Interior of the Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Interior of the Temple of the River [PNC Minnesota]

Less than a week later after writing that, Jacob announced he was closing the Temple of the River, disbanding the Old Belief Society, and leaving on a spiritual quest. In a press release Jacob said, “We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the [spiritual] impact I want to see it make.”

A lack of  improving enough lives and changing spiritual needs are the reasons Jacob gave for Temple of the River disbanding and the Temple closing its doors. He sold his home and the temple’s property in January of 2011 and was living in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Minneapolis at the time of the announcement.

The temple closed in June only nine months after opening. Members of the temple were surprised by the announcement and, as far as is known, have not formed another group.

Takeaways from the Temple of the River:

  • The building of the temple followed all local zoning and building codes. If you don’t, you run the risk of having your building shut down or incurring fines.
  • The group was formed around a capable and knowledgeable leader, but there was no succession plan in place to continue if he left, had a profound change of heart, or died.
  • While the group contributed to the creation of the temple, both financially and in sweat equity, the main financial burden were borne by Jacob, and the temple was located on his privately owned property. Therefore, the property and its temple were legally solely his. This meant Jacob was solely responsible for all costs and legal obligations, but it also meant he could sell it or close it at any time.

The Celtic Temple was beautiful sacred space to which members felt very connected and for which they were willing to contribute time and money. The Old Belief Society was an organized group with clear goals and regular meetings. Yet, when a shared piece of infrastructure is owned entirely by one person, the group can lose it at any moment. The person owning it can hit hard financial times, could die, there could be personality conflicts, or they could change their spirituality – which is what happened in this case.

It’s often difficult for group members, or any potential donors, to decide if a project such as this one, owned by one person, is something in which to get involved. On the other hand, that’s usually the only way projects, such as this one, get started. One person is willing to take the risk and has the resources to accomplish the task.

Tawy House Kemetic Temple
In 1994, Rev. Tamara Siuda filed paperwork to make her religious group, the Kemetic Orthodox House of Netjer, a legal non-profit in the state of Michigan. By 2000, the group had achieved federal 501(c)(3) status.

Also in 2000, the Tawy House,  Kemetic Orthodox retreat, was created out of the childhood home of the group’s founder, Rev. Siuda. The house sat on 2.5 acres of woods in Michigan and was mostly open during the summer months. That same year Suida began drawing a modest salary as the group’s spiritual leader.

By 2003 the group had grown larger and started looking for a larger space that they could use year round. In October of that year, they had raised enough funds to purchase a former convent in Illinois. The 100-year-old three-story brick building was converted for their use and now contains a full-size temple chapel, a library, a dedicated kitchen and dining area, the permanent residence and offices for Rev. Siuda, and short- and long-term guestrooms for visiting clergy and temple members.

A core group of around 50 members donate on a regular basis, and these donations add up to between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. Last fall, when the temple’s boiler broke and a ceiling, damaged by leaking water, needed to be repaired, a special appeal for funds was pitched to members. They were able to raise over $3000 for the repairs and also buy a new refrigerator.

The temple got its start by using property owned by its founder. However, it was able to grow past that point within a fairly short time and buy property specifically for use as a temple. The group is still formed around the founder, who lives in the Tawy House temple, and doesn’t appear to have a succession plan.

While it’s generally commonly known that groups are likely to collapse after the loss of the founder, its equally uncommon for groups or organizations to put a succession plan in place to not only preserve the group but also preserve whatever infrastructure they have built.

The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt (TWH), although different from a temple or community center, is one such organization with infrastructure that has survived (so far) intact.

Jason Pitzl-Waters started The Wild Hunt back in 2004. He had been looking for a reliable blog that would link to news stories that were either about modern Paganism or would be of interest to Pagans. He noticed there wasn’t much out there. At first he didn’t post every day, but as the readership grew, so did the frequency of his posts.

In 2011, he held his first fundraiser for the site to gauge if readers valued his work enough to donate. In the summer of 2011, still looking for a modest funding model, The Wild Hunt moved to Patheos. The popular religion site was attracted to The Wild Hunt due to its readership numbers and high quality of reliable, daily content. This continued for almost exactly one year. Then, in the summer of 2012, The Wild Hunt became an independent entity again.

Since that time, TWH has used a yearly Fall Funding Drive hosted on Indiegogo as a way to finance its operating costs, which include robust hosting, an editor, and modestly paid contributors. In the 2012 funding drive, 161 people donated for a total of $9,483. In 2013, 305 people donated to TWH for a total of $12,984. In 2014, the number of people donating dropped to 285, but the total amount raised rose to just over $15,000. In each of the funding drives, TWH clearly lays out its proposed budget for the next year.

None of this happened overnight. Jason Pitzl-Waters wrote almost daily articles for seven years before he engaged in his first funding effort. He slowly added other writers to prevent burnout and then created a succession plan so he could pursue other interests. In spring 2014, Pitzl-Waters handed TWH over to its editor Heather Greene, demonstrating a successful succession plan.

Will TWH continue to survive and thrive without its founder? Will Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists continue to find value in and support the content TWH puts out each day? Only time will tell.

“I wonder if the data shows that Pagans really only fund projects with a clear deliverable they can consume?” Dr. Kimberly Kirner, Department of Anthropology, California State University, Northridge

Dr. Kirner notes that The Wild Hunt has a clear, consistent deliverable which contrasts with organizations that need regular funding to operate programs. “Everyone loves funding something new with a clear timeline. It is much harder to get people to fund things that happen more or less the same, month after month, year after year. People tend to take this for granted and not find it very exciting. I think many Western religious organizations get around this through a concept of tithing, which then integrates this not-so-exciting ongoing giving with spiritual values,” says Dr. Kirner. She wonders if, in the absence of an acceptance of tithing as a concept, if Pagans are only going to support projects with a short-term deliverable that they can use.

In the case of a community center in Minneapolis, the answer was yes, Pagans were willing to contribute regular funding to a longer term operation. Yet it still failed.

 “In Paganistan we need meeting space. It was easier when the Eye [of Horus store] had a room but now groups are meeting at the library or a members house or renting occasional church space. Only one group I know has a permanent rented dedicated space and they do that by charging membership dues.”  – Larissa Bedazzler

Sacred Paths Center
After three rocky years, in May 2012, the Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in Minnesota, announced it was closing. Shortly after the announcement, I spoke with past and present Sacred Paths Center (SPC) board members, volunteers, and their last financial auditor.  I looked over financial records and minutes of board meetings, and interviewed Director Teisha Magee to find out what happened.

Sacred Paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

Sacred Paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

In short, most everyone interviewed says the center’s Director and Board were not functional. The finances were in disarray; the building was too expensive, and the resulting drop in income, from two years of road construction right outside their door, didn’t help matters. Despite all of that, they were are united in saying that the center almost made it due to the efforts of the Director, Board, volunteers and the most importantly, community support.

To find out why the center closed, you have to examine how the center was created. In January 2009, after a few weeks discussing the idea of a community center with family and friends, Teisha Magee signed the lease for what would be the Sacred Paths Center. The $1500 raised in a personal Paypal account allowed her to cover moving expenses and open the doors February 13.

Most of the flaws in SPC were formed at its birth, and contributed to its cycle of funding crises.

It was set up as a private business, and the financial accounts of Magee, the owner, and the center were mingled. Magee was unskilled in bookkeeping, and there was little to no documentation of the center’s finances. According to the person who audited SPC in 2011, this was routine and it caused difficulties that plagued the center for the course of its existence.

The center never converted to a 501c3 and was instead registered as a corporate non-profit in the state of Minnesota.  This meant Magee owned the center and the center’s board was more of an advisory council rather than a governing board with fiduciary authority.

The start-up funding of SPC consisted of the private funds from Magee and $1500 raised from supporters after a few weeks. With fixed expenses coming in at around $4000 a month, that was insufficient cash reserves. Small business experts suggest a new business have between six months to two years operating expenses saved and in the bank before they open their doors. SPC started out, almost from the beginning, behind in its bills and without a cash reserve built up. The center experienced repeated financial crises.

Ancestor shrine inside the Sacred paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

Ancestor shrine inside the Sacred paths Center [PNC Minnesota]

In summer 2009, just six months after SPC opened, the community was told that SPC was holding an emergency fundraiser to help pay its outstanding bills. The funds were raised. During the next year, the center was barely financially stable, and ans August 2010 fund raiser was held to build up cash reserves. But only a modest $3000 was raised.

To make matters worse, a two-year construction project began on the road leading to SPC.  As a result, revenue from the front store dropped. In July 2011, the center said it needed $12,000 within a month to pay past due bills or the center would close. Pagans from across the country donated and the amount was raised. But the center could not get ahead of the bills or create the needed reserve.

In July 2011, when the center had its second financial crisis, the SPC underwent an independent audit. The auditor recommended education on financial best practices for Magee and the board, stronger financial oversight by the board, and that two persons approve all expenses. The director and the board didn’t act on the audit’s recommendations. The auditor believes a lack of financial knowledge and skills prevented them from implementing the recommendation.

Volunteers are one of the reasons the center stayed viable for as long as it did. Every person who staffed the center was a volunteer, even the owner and Executive Director Teisha Magee, who worked all day, on most days without drawing a salary. This is a considerable savings as the average community center director in Minneapolis brings home $78,000 a year.

The location seemed like the ideal place for a Pagan shop and community center, but it wasn’t sustainable from the start and would only grow worse. The neighborhood was welcoming and eclectic, and the landlord was friendly. It was on a bus line, had ample parking, and was very spacious. It was also expensive and only grew more expensive. The rent, set at $1500 when Magee signed the lease, rose to just over $2000 in 2011, and was negotiated back down to $1500 for 2012. Utilities averaged barely under $1000 a month.

The center adjusted to the expenses during the last part of 2009 and seemed to hit a stride in 2010. The store was bringing in the lion’s share of income, but memberships and room rentals were also up. They learned the business cycle and knew how to plan for slower summers and busier winters.

Then construction for a light rail track started. It was a very large straw that broke the camel’s back. Getting to the center became increasingly difficult. Parking was harder to find. In 2011 memberships started to drop as did store revenues. What little cash reserves they built up in 2010 were quickly used. Other businesses around the center struggled and a few of them failed.

By late 2011, the center considered moving and, in early 2012, it became more of a priority. Which brings us to May 2012, with three months unpaid rent,  the phones shut off, and Magee facing up to $25,000 in debt when all accounts were finally settled. SPC had to close, so it did.

Takeaways from Sacred Paths Center:

  • The community gave significant monetary and volunteer support to the center. In 2011 the center brought in approximately $50,000 in revenue. In February 2012 they generated $4000 in revenue and in March, the center received $440 in membership dues alone. 
  • The center was heavily and consistently used, hosting between 45-50 scheduled events per month. There were weekly gatherings, such as the Monday night potluck and the Thursday night Mentoring Elders program. Witch wars were laid to rest at SPC; the most notable being the rift healed between the Minnesota Church of Wicca and the Wiccan Church of Minnesota. Photos and ashes rest on the memorial ancestor shrine. Fundraisers were held for community members facing costly illnesses. 
  • The center diversified revenue streams. The store brought in the lion’s share of income, but there were also memberships with perks and room rental income. 
  • Almost every person involved, from the Director/Owner down to many of the board members didn’t have basic business skills. And didn’t take classes to learn basic business skills. 
  • The center was launched quickly, without enough start up funds. SPC was behind on its bills from almost the very first day. 
  • The center’s expenses were too high. 
  • It depended too heavily on volunteers, which lead to burnout and mistakes. 
  • It hoped for the best, but was unprepared for obstacles, such as the road leading to the center being torn up.

It’s clear that the community center quickly became the center of the Pagan community in the Twin Cities area and that it was heavily utilized and supported by the community. With better management, upfront cash reserves, and more modest expenses a community center could once again open in the Twin cities because local Pagans saw a need. The question now is, will area Pagans be willing to support another community center after the ups and downs of Sacred Paths Center?

 My area DESPERATELY needs meeting space. My group is always at the mercy of library spaces. And now that we’ve gotten so big recently, 200+ active members, we are the largest pagan org in DC, it’s getting harder and harder to find spaces that can accommodate all of us. Now we can only rent out one library’s auditorium because its the only space we know of indoors that can fit more than 50 people at a time. – David Salisbury

Star and Stone Druid Fellowship
Many groups are experiencing similar growing pains as David Salisbury’s group. One such group is Star and Stone Druid Fellowship, an OBOD Seed Group. They are still too small to build much infrastructure, but too large to keep operating in a casual, pass-the-hat way. Too big for the living room, but too small to regularly rent a venue.

Dr. Kimberly Kirner, who’s part of the grove, says that the group funds its operations in three ways. The 12 initiates pay annual dues of $40 per person, passing the hat at each gathering brings in another $10 to $20 per person per gathering, and a few members routinely pay out of pocket to host rituals or provide the necessary supplies. The funds go to pay website hosting, reservations or the annual Lughnasadh camping trip, and food for regular gatherings.

The group is growing. In addition to their twelve members, they also have two other persons who regularly attend festivals plus friends and family of initiates. With 20 or more persons now attending events, they need a regular space to meet.

They’d also like to host larger public rituals and rent cabins or park space more than one time a year, but they are limited by money. They’re also limited by time. Most members work full time jobs, which means the time they can devote to volunteering for the group or for the wider Pagan community is in short supply. 

Often, I see Pagan communities having to compromise, and to center themselves around who has a resource, like a large plot of land, that they are willing to share, whether the person with the land and resources is good at being in community or not. With time, hopefully we’ll be in a position where stronger, more cohesive Pagan communities will begin to attract some of the resources to themselves, rather than having to center around a few folks with the money or land to be able to subsidize us–because even though such people can be great, that does get in the way of that feeling like our communities belong equally to us all.”-  Cat Chapin-Bishop

Mt. Toby Meeting House
Better known as Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends has infrastructure lessons that emerging Pagan communities and groups can learn from. Yet there are challenges Pagans face that Quakers do not. Quakers place great value in coming together for regular, mostly silent, worship. Pagans may come together in worship, but the differences in types of Pagans means most Pagans only come together in very small groups and do so fewer times a year.

The 120 acres of land and the meeting house Cat Chapin-Bishop attends was donated as a gift, as was the financing to build the actual structure back 1964. Additional gifts over the years helped expand the meeting house and maintain a burial ground. The fact that Quakers have been around for over 500 years makes gifts of these sorts more likely than a religion that has been actively practiced for only a few decades.

There are around 60 to 70 Friends who attend meetings each week at Mt. Toby and this particular meeting house has about 200 to 300 people who regularly support it. They donate about $58,000 per year. Funds are not raised by passing a collection plate, attendees are simply reminded what an average family contributes and what the financial needs are.

Every member or attender of the meeting is responsible for a week of cleaning during the year. While some volunteer up to 20 hours a week to help out, others primarily just attend the meetings. Everything that can be done by volunteers, is done by volunteers.

The major expenses are maintaining the meeting house, utilities, and monetary support for members to attend workshops and conferences. There is no paid clergy among the Friends.

Members have a feeling of ownership toward the meeting house; a feeling that the Society of Friends encourages through their actions. Once you volunteer to clean the meeting house, you have access to the building’s keys. Members care for the property. There is no leader in charge, no one person owns anything. And since worship is held each week, a feeling of community develops. The meeting house starts to feel like a second home.

Takeaways from the Mt Toby Meeting House:

  • This type of self-sustaining infrastructure takes generations to build up, but a gift of land or money for land happens first. The group is able to keep expenses low through the devotion of its members.
  • The Society of Friends is known for having a culture of openness and trust. If you show up, you’ll be welcomed in. If you clean the meeting house, you’re given a key. Want to see the finances? Attend a business meeting.
  • No one is pressured to donate. They list out their needs and trust that people who can afford it will donate funds to take care of one another. Cat Chapin-Bishop says it simply feels natural to give.

Mt. Toby is luckier than many Quaker meeting houses. For instance, they have a larger membership. Some older meeting houses can no longer afford to maintain the space, and the property is becoming more of a liability than an asset. It’s important to constantly evaluate if your infrastructure is helping you or hurting you.

Every group and community has to decide if an potential infrastructure, of any kind, addresses an actual need, or is just something they want. They need to plan carefully, have a detailed business plan in place, and have competent and trustworthy people in charge.

Having the physical assets owned by the entire group or a whole community can protect not just the organization, but the founder, as well.  And none of this happens quickly. It takes years, decades, and generations to build something that will last well-past the original founders.

This editorial was originally slated to be published two weeks ago, on the last day of our fund drive and a few days after Jason announced his retirement. However, life happened. As a result, we had to move with the news and not with our own agenda. I consider this a “take two” or perhaps even a “take three.” I have lost count. So before time escapes anymore and the world is lost beneath a flurry of silver solstice cheer, I now squeeze this article into the rotation. Please sit back and relax as I welcome you to join us as The Wild Hunt begins its new journey…

I remember as a child standing in the expansive LAX airport, tears rolling down my face, as we readied to board a jumbo jet and to wave goodbye to my grandparents. The pain of leaving was always oppressive. The bonds, which had been forged over a week’s vacation in sunny California, were now stretching, buckling and tearing under the weight of those goodbyes. Before stepping out into the jetway, my grandmother would always kneel down and hug me one last time. I would muddle out a little “goodbye” between sobs and, she would always say back, “This is not goodbye, Heather. This is just a ‘see you later.'”

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

Of course, the time eventually came when the ‘see you later’ didn’t happen. My grandmother died around Samhain 1999 before I could have one last hug. As painful as that was, the spirit of her yearly wisdom remained with me. Even before she died, I began to better understand the power in those words. When I embraced Paganism, their meaning deepened and eventually evolved into a profound truth. There is never truly a “goodbye.” There is always a ‘see you later.’

This concept is particular powerful at this time of year, as the veil thins and we honor our dead. As one road ends, another is always waiting. The memories and imprints of past journeys, good or bad, remain with us as we embark on new roads. The past becomes the archives of our lives – ready to guide, ready to remind, ready to influence. Although it may be hard to let go and frightening to continue, the journey does continue.

After landing back in New York City and returning to my daily routine, I carried with me the memories of our California vacation. I remember picking lemons off the tree while listening to my grandparents’ tales of working in Hollywood during its golden era. I remember my grandfather’s woodshed and my grandmother’s bright pink lipstick. Memories of those summer days made my childhood richer and stronger. They undeniably shaped my future. Furthermore, the bonds between us never broke no matter how far we traveled; even beyond the veil.

So here I am, at Samhain, facing another transition. The Wild Hunt has said goodbye to its founder and turned its attention to a new era. For me, this change is quite profound. Samhain not only marks my transition to full-time editor but also my start as a weekly Wild Hunt writer. My first article, an interview with actor Mark Ryan, was posted Oct.27 2012. Now, almost exactly two years later, I find myself taking on the role of steering this crazy ship or, better yet, leading this proverbial “wild hunt.” As it has always been for me, Samhain brings ends and beginnings.

When I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason said, “Write a post introducing yourself.” I never did. So I suppose this will serve partly as my introduction. Who will be managing The Wild Hunt going forward? Being a Gemini that is an extremely complicated question. What day is it?

Perhaps you would prefer to know what led me to Paganism? Last year, I was asked to write that story as a guest blog post and can still be read online. It has something to do with Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, high school angst, social anarchy and Manhattan.

What I can say now, in clarity, is that it all started with that book – The Heart of Darkness. There in that place, where all the social constructs are gone, there is nothing but raw, unbridled, animalistic humanity – body and blood, love and lust, hate and rapture, and spirit. It is the elemental point of beginnings. It is only from that point that we can see the world for what it is – a stack of cards. It is only from that point we can see ourselves, explore our past and find our motivation. It is honesty at a critical level. Deep within the Heart of Darkness, we are pure. Coming out from that space is the journey of a lifetime – and it just may blow your mind.

But that saga has already been written.

So let me begin at Samhain 2012. When Jason first asked me to contribute, I was very surprised. “Who Me? Why? Are you certain that you dialed the correct phone number?”

[Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

Deer in Headlights [Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

I had just ended a freelance job writing for an L.A. public relations firm. Sculpting articles for the wireless technology industry had become less than inspiring. I desperately wanted to produce something meaningful; something with more substance than could ever be extracted from stories on “converting old routers to access points” or “the right settings for optimal wireless streaming.”

Do I really need to elaborate on how Jason’s invitation presented a very welcome change?

Now exactly two years have passed and the best part of the entire experience has been in the learning. Before writing for The Wild Hunt, I was only moderately aware of the myriad colors, details and diversity present within the collective communities for whom we write. I did not personally know anyone practicing Asatru, or a Polytheism or Hellenic Reconstructionalism. Now I work with one of each. You can’t get that writing publicity materials for wireless corporations – at least not yet.

Last spring, when Jason asked me to take over as editor, I was equally surprised – honored but surprised. Stepping into the editor’s role brings with it new obstacles that will, no doubt, be difficult and, at times, grueling. However I’m willing to stand in that space and take up the reins, because I know that the work will ultimately be rewarding for me personally, for our writers and for our readers.

While the entire staff was sad to see Jason leave, we recognize and embrace the need for change – both his and ours. We are collectively thankful to him for providing us with the opportunity to be a part of this wild journey.

On Samhain, we finally closed that door and, in doing so, I was reminded of my grandmother’s words: “See you later.” Although one era is over, the cycle of influence never ends. Jason has left an enduring legacy and a strong foundation here. That influence remains no matter where he travels next or where we go. In that way, our “goodbye” is only a ‘see you later.’

This year’s fall funding drive was a huge success. With your generosity and help, we reached our goal in just two weeks and, then, far exceeded it. Thank you. All of those donations and words of support have empowered us to maintain and hopefully expand our work. Our columnists will be returning at their regular times to explore and discuss the issues of the day. Our two weekly staff writers will be covering the news as it happens. Next month, we will be welcoming our eighth and final weekend columnist, who will be focusing on the issues and subjects important to the youngest members of our communities – the college and high school students.

As editor, I will strive to uphold the ethical standards, sensitivity and substance, which has been the hallmark of The Wild Hunt. Our mission will not change. We will aim to provide a broad spectrum of news and poignant commentary as we have always done since The Wild Hunt‘s inception as one man’s blog and through its evolution into a respected independent news organization.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

As we usher in this new era, I welcome everyone to join us on the journey. Every day as we publish, we will be leaving new footprints along the path.Those marks will eventually become the memories of tomorrow – ones that will linger in a liminal presence waiting to inform, remind and advise our future writers and editors. And, as such, the cycle will continue on.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting us. And most importantly…see you later.

Last week I was watching the documentary “Radio Unnameable” about famous New York radio personality Bob Fass, when I saw Margot Adler. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, after all Margot had a long and storied career in radio that overlapped with Fass, and even though she had recently passed, the documentary footage was no doubt shot years earlier. Still, the moment brought into focus that while Margot Adler loved the Pagan community, played an important role in the development of modern Paganism, and enjoyed attending Pagan events, she also had a rich, complex, rewarding life completely outside the context of her religious preferences. That seems like a somewhat small revelation to have, but I found it profound all the same, because sometimes it has seemed like modern Paganism was my whole wide world.

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl

I’ve been working on The Wild Hunt on a nearly daily basis since 2004. Two years ago, I realized I was burning out. When you reach your limit doing something like this it isn’t like hitting a wall, sudden and immediate, it’s more like running out of water in a desert. You wish you could simply quench your thirst and continue your journey, but there’s not a drop of relief in sight. So you stagger forward as best you can, until you can’t even do that. Meanwhile, my public profile within our religious movement had never been more pronounced, and I found that a growing number of people saw me as some sort of leader, or perhaps more accurately as a public intellectual who was expected to hold forth on the issues of the day. Both of these developments made me increasingly uneasy, and I started looking for a way I could keep The Wild Hunt intact as a service to modern Paganism, while also allowing myself the freedom to leave. To re-orient my life in a new and different way.

Your humble-ish author.

Your humble-ish author.

I have been extremely fortunate that a group of like-minded media professionals, most notably Managing Editor Heather Greene, came at just the right time to step forward and help me. Over this last year I have been slowly transitioning out of my responsibilities in a gradual manner, while Heather, our staff reporters, and columnists, took up my old mantle. For the last few months I’ve been more of a symbolic presence and editorial advisor than avid contributor, and I think that this new team has managed to create something that honors the spirit of what I intended with The Wild Hunt while setting it up for a long future as a journalistic outlet for our interconnected communities. Heather now holds “the keys” to The Wild Hunt, its finances, the domain, and all other aspects. I trust her and the rest of the staff implicitly in their ability to carry out our mission. They may not please everyone all the time, but then neither did I.

So this is my “last post” post. This is where I get to walk into the sunset, and decide what I want to do with my life after ten years of active service to my religious community. I suppose I could take this opportunity to pen a “goodbye to all that” type kiss-off, but that has never really been my style. I would much rather hold on to the wonderful experiences and friendships that formed while I was doing this work. I would much rather say thank you to everyone who has supported me over the years, and to ask all of you to stay with The Wild Hunt as they continue their transition into a bright new era. I know they will do good work.

Trees and sun in Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

This is about as close as walking into the sunset I get. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

As for me, I’m not sure what, exactly, my future holds. I’ll still be around, here and there. I haven’t stopped being a Pagan, nor do I have plans to stop any time soon. I’ll still use social media, I’ll still chat with my friends. So I won’t completely disappear. However, after I complete a few last obligations, I plan on my Paganism returning to being one facet of my larger whole. I need a break, and I’d much rather focus on things I had put aside in the name of that work for awhile. I look forward to introducing myself in a different way in the not-too-distant-future. I will leave the unique brand of religious micro-notoriety I haphazardly obtained over the years to others, though I would warn them against coveting such a prize (seriously).

So goodbye, and thank you for reading my writing.

Yours,

– Jason

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.