Archives For Jerrie Hildebrand

Yesterday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals published their ruling upholding a California district court’s decision to deny Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum standing in his case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. McCollum’s case centers on the State of California’s “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. While the state of California and the judge’s rulings made so far argue that McCollum doesn’t have standing to bring this case to court, that assertion is challenged by a number of legal advocacy groups and faith organizations. One of those groups, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who filed a joint amicus brief in support of McCollum, sent me this statement regarding the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

“We are deeply disappointed by the court’s ruling.  Based on procedural technicalities, the court has allowed the California prison system to continue rank discrimination against Wiccan prisoners and chaplains.  The Constitution requires all persons to be treated equally regardless of what their religion is.  California’s practice of only paying chaplains of certain faiths, while requiring chaplains of other faiths to work for free, is religious discrimination that plainly violates the Constitution.” - Alex Luchenitser, Senior Litigation Counsel, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

In addition to Americans United, a number of prominent Pagan individuals and organizations have been weighing in on this latest development. Reclaiming co-founder, author, and activist Starhawk was one of the first to respond, making plain her deep disappointment in the ruling.

“I am deeply disappointed in the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling.  This is terrible setback for the rights of Pagans and of all prisoners to religious freedom.  I have personally experienced just a taste of the harrassment and obstacles placed in the way of those who would serve Pagans in the California prisons.  (See my account of a visit) Patrick McCollum has been tirelessly fighting for their rights for many years now, and I know he’ll continue, but more than ever he needs our support.  You can contribute at the Patrick McCollum Foundation web site.”

Patheos Pagan Portal Manager Star Foster said she was  “disheartened by the decision” but firmly believes “that the CA Dept. of Corrections policies are unconstitutional and will be changed.” Foster further noted that “this fight isn’t just about Wicca, and it doesn’t stop here.” Archdruid Kirk Thomas, speaking on behalf of Ár nDríaocht Féin, said they could “only express one reaction to this news – profound disappointment.” Thomas and the ADF say they “pray that equal treatment for all California prison inmates, regardless of religion, will eventually win the day.” California-based Pagan chaplain Joseph Nichter was “saddened and angered” by the news, and emphasized that Patrick McCollum “needs your help and support.”

Two groups that have worked very closely with Patrick McCollum over the yars, the Lady Liberty League and Cherry Hill Seminary also spoke out yesterday. Jerrie Hildebrand, Special Issues Coordinator and PR Coordinator for Lady Liberty League joined others in expressing disappointment in this ruling, and vowed that “the quest for religious freedom and equality will continue.” Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, released the following personal statement on the matter.

“In my tradition we hold sacred the balance of Ma’at, the principle which governed every aspect of ancient Egypt, and the goddess who stood by the scales at the weighing of each person’s heart after passing from this life. Patrick McCollum has spent so many years of his life seeking maat for all of us, including teaching for Cherry Hill Seminary, which supports Patrick’s fight for justice.  What does it take for the scales to return to a balance for Patrick and the Pagan inmates he has served these many years?  Only a week ago I wrote about my own decision to push back against those who would have marginalized my religion.  My situation is barely significant in comparison to Patrick’s long-running court case, but the lesson is clear: if we do not stand for our rights, with integrity, we will lose them.”

We still await word from Patrick McCollum on the matter, though he is outside the country right now and hard to access. I’m in contact with the Patrick McCollum Foundation and once I receive any formal statement, I will post it here. For now, what path McCollum and his lawyers might pursue remains an open question, though some think a Supreme Court appeal may happen. The Firefly House clergyperson David Salisbury, based in Washington DC, said his organization is ready to rally to McCollum’s side should a SCOTUS appeal go forward.

“Living in the nation’s capital, we are all too familiar with the legislative and political obsticles that have slowed the progress of equality for all. We were disappointed to learn of the 9th Circuit ruling and hope that McCollum’s legal team will press on. Should this matter be brought to the Supreme Court here in DC, our community will be ready to support this fight in the district.”

It’s clear that Patrick McCollum’s tireless work on behalf of Pagan rights has won him the support and admiration of a large cross-section of the Pagan community. The question now is how Pagans can best leverage that support towards ending California’s discriminatory policy, and fulfilling the constitutional promise of equal treatment under the law. As more reactions come in, you’ll be able to find them here at The Wild Hunt.

ADDENDUM: Statement from T. Thorn Coyle and Solar Cross on the ruling.

I’ve got quick updates on two recent stories. We’ll start off in Salem…

Mainstream Acceptance in Salem: The panel discussion in Salem featuring Margot Adler and Jerrie Hildebrand is continuing to get coverage from the local papers. This time, Lisa Guerriero from the Salem Gazette reports back from the “No Place for Hate” panel, and pairs it with a recent satellite television appearance by two Salem Witches.

“What is life like for a person who considers himself or herself a witch? How do Hollywood images of witches stack up to their real-life counterparts? These are some of the questions addressed by a No Place for Hate panel in Salem last Saturday [see story, Page 1]. Similar questions were posed recently on a Dish Network TV program, “Magnificent Obsessions.” While the panel explored the beliefs and lifestyle of Wiccans and Pagans, the TV show addressed a different kind of witch. Wiccans and Pagans draw mainly from a resurrected tradition of communion with nature, whereas the Salem witches featured in “Magnificent Obsessions” focus more on psychic work and spells than Pagan traditions. They’re typically the kind of witches you see walking Salem’s streets in all black, sometimes with pointy hats.”

The two Witches featured in the television show? Christian Day and Leanne Marrama, two Witches who recently opened their own shop in Salem. Guerriero’s observation concerning a split between “Salem Witches” and “Wiccans and Pagans” is an interesting one. While Salem Witches like Day and Marrama may not be Wiccan, aren’t they Pagan? Should a shift of emphasis in style and practice remove them from the larger Pagan family? Perhaps the problem with press coverage of Witches and Pagans is that it is so polarized between sensationalism and statements of normalacy that people like Christian Day and Margot Adler start to seem from entirely different movements, instead of part of a larger religious continuum.

First Shot Fired in British Psychic Wars: Since I first reported on it earlier this month, the controversy over Britain adopting EU reforms on psychic services and mediumship has grown. Today the Independent, the BBC, and the Telegraph all report on a protest organized by the Spiritual Workers Association in opposition to the new legislation.

“Today, representatives of British mediums will march up Downing Street to deliver a petition containing some 10,000 signatories demanding that the Government change its decision to repeal the 1951 Fraudulent Mediums Act in favour of a new EU directive … The SWA complains that the 1951 law, which replaced the 1735 Witchcraft Act, guarantees “genuine” mediums legal protection, penalising only those who seek to hoodwink the public. However, by treating spiritualism as merely a consumer service, mediums believe they risk being sued if customers are dissatisfied with advice brought from the other side – advice they say they always point out should always be treated with care. The solution to the present impasse, according to lawyers advising the crystal-ball fraternity, is via the prosaic expedient of a pre-consultation disclaimer, describing any dialogue with the deceased in terms of either entertainment or scientific experiment. It does not sit comfortably with purist believers.”

Meanwhile, the Spiritualists’ National Union, the largest UK Spiritualists organization, is supporting the law. Expressing confidence that it will only harm con-artists and not divinations or mediumship performed in a religious context. Despite the protest and the petition, all signs point to these new regulations being passed. So we’ll have to wait and see if it only harms con-men, or if it will be used as a cudgel by crusading skeptics or oppositional religious groups (a possibility acknowledged by EU regulations supporter Susie Collings, of the College of Psychic Studies).

A few days ago I mentioned a panel discussion on Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism taking place in Salem that featured author/journalist Margot Adler and Pagan activist Jerrie Hildebrand. Today, The Salem News reports back on the event, and paints a portrait of increasing mainstream acceptance.

“Witches get more respect than they used to here in the Witch City. That was a recurring theme among about 40 witches, pagans and Wiccans at a city-sponsored forum held Saturday night to educate the public and challenge stereotypes about their religion. Salem resident Mike Gleason said local witches are no longer shunned or feared. During Halloween, little kids ran up to him to ask questions. Ten years ago they cowered behind their parents … Throughout the evening, the panelists described a mainstreaming of their religion that they never dreamed possible.”

What else did the reporter (and us through reading her story) learn? Well, for one, some Witches are uneasy with the mainstreaming of their faith traditions.

“Nial Hartnett, a witch who lives in Danvers, wondered if this growing acceptance is a good thing. ‘You have mentioned the word ‘mainstreaming’ several times. I wonder if we are in danger of losing who we really are, the mystery and the magic,’ he said. ‘Maybe we don’t want to be like everyone else.’ But Hildebrand insisted that the freedoms gained to practice their religion will be lost unless they work within some official structures, like the federal government.”

Adler admitted that the community isn’t as “edgy” now, as it was when she got involved. Speaking of “edgy”, we also learned that an unnamed freelance writer for Modern Witch magazine thinks Witchcraft is a race.

“A freelance writer with Modern Witch magazine wanted to know if either woman thought it was racist to put a broom-riding witch logo on city police cruisers.”

The general consensus seemed to point to the witch logo, instead of being a point of contention, is actually pretty cool (something of a sea-change from the early days when an assortment of Wiccan crusaders sought to stamp out the Halloween witch). Hildebrand also spoke highly of the local high school team being “the Witches” (would that be the “Fighting Witches” or the “Hexing Witches” I wonder).

Another big topic was Wicca and Witchcraft in Salem, where things are good, but not without repercussions.

“In Salem, the city has benefited from a witch-friendly mayor, Hildebrand said. Recently, Hildebrand wrote a short piece about the modern-day witch that was included in the city’s official tourism guide for the first time. In a further sign of her religion’s growing legitimacy, Hildebrand serves as the first Wiccan chaplain for the state Department of Correction … Here in Salem there’s more tolerance, but also a higher standard placed on witches, Hildebrand said. She said she would be reluctant to report a hate crime, not out of fear, but because she would worry that the media would sensationalize the case, and witches around the country would be harmed. “It’s embarrassing sometimes when I have to listen to what other people think a Salem witch is,” she said.”

You have to wonder if Hildebrand was thinking of the recent Salem “psychic wars” when she formulated her response. Like it or not, when people think “real live Witches”, they think of Salem. While sensationalist press coverage is always a problem, I’m not sure that refusing to report a hate crime would be a good response. Justice should always be served, even if it comes with the occasional embarrassing media interview.

On the whole, the event seemed very positive and productive. The real challenge now is to work towards having such consciousness-raising events outside places with Pagan-friendly politicians and large active communities, and into the places where education is desperately needed. Perhaps someday soon we’ll see a Pagan-focused barnstorming tour across the country, visiting places where Pagans don’t dare come out of the closet. Until then, this panel discussion is a great first step. Congratulations to the organizers and participants.

The Salem Gazette published three Wicca/Witchcraft related stories yesterday, each one revealing different aspects of the practice of Witchcraft in the “Witch City” of Salem, and the different ways that modern Paganism enters the mainstream. The first article concerns a panel discussion taking place tomorrow featuring author/journalist Margot Adler and Pagan activist Jerrie Hildebrand.

“The city of Salem’s No Place for Hate Committee will host a panel discussion on April 12 that will focus on practices within the Wiccan faith and the everyday lifestyles of those practicing paganism. The objective of the event is to inform those in attendance about the religion, lifestyle and culture of those who practice Wicca while also touching on the history and its distinction within the Salem community.”

The talk will be opened by Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, a politician who has enjoyed support from the local Pagan community since she first ran for the office. The event is free and open to the public, and will be held Saturday, April 12 at 7 p.m. on the second floor of Old Town Hall, Derby Square.

The second story concerns the opening of a new Witch-themed shop called “Hex”. The store, co-run by Leanne Marrama and Salem impresario Christian Day, promises an “old-world folk magic” feel and approach.


Christian Day and Leanne Marrama

“A new witch shop in town aims to bring this form of old-world folk magic to Salem’s mostly modern pagan community. Hex: Old World Witchery specializes in voodoo dolls, spellbinding candles and European charms used to ward off evil. Shop owners Christian Day and Leanne Marrama, who both consider themselves clairvoyant, aim not only to supply the community with tools of folk magic, but also to serve as proverbial witch doctors, and practice what they preach…”

The ornately designed store is just the latest project from Christian Day, who has become a commercial force to be reckoned with in Salem. Running a tarot consultancy service, a psychic consultancy service, and a popular Salem festival.

The third and final story is a profile of Lori Bruno, a Strega Witch and folk-magic practitioner, who will be offering her services at Christian Day’s new Hex store.

“At 68, Lori Bruno considers herself a kind of real-life version of the storybook witch strega nona. Upon meeting you for the first time she just might call you little cucinella and invite you over for a cup of tea. She smells of warm clothes that just got out of the dryer, has long dyed black hair tied in a loose knot and wears 13 gold rings on her fingers. From her ears dangle gold ankhs and peace signs. Around her neck hangs an Egyptian scarab beetle. And above her kitchen sink, beside the coffee maker, hangs a large stone pentacle. Bruno comes from a long line of streghe, or Italian witches. Growing up in Brooklyn, her mother, a southern-born Italian, would give psychic readings to her Jewish and Irish neighbors, reading tarot cards or using a glass of water like a crystal ball to tell the future.”

These three stories help illustrate the ways that modern Paganism is slowly entering the mainstream. Through activism and education, through commercial ventures and public events, and through sympathetic journalistic profiles. Modern Paganism has utilized these three overlapping factors to slowly inch us towards acceptance since our emergence. Salem, with its large Pagan population (and Pagan tourist trade), represents a “perfect storm” of these elements.

In addition, the stories show how Witchcraft in Salem encompasses everything from the salacious to the sedate. You have practitioners in pointy hats and yards of black fabric wielding wands and brooms, and you have the more reserved wardrobes and methods of the Witches engaging in discussion with academics and politicians. Both serve a clearly defined purpose inside and outside our communities, and both are equally a part of the modern Pagan movement.