Archives For Joseph Merlin Nichter

San Quentin Prison yard

San Quentin Prison yard [Photo Credit: Zboralski / via Wickimedia]

I recently had the opportunity with my graduate program to go into the bowels of San Quentin State Correctional Facility in San Rafael, California. San Quentin is one of the most famous state penitentiaries in California, and the only facility that enacts capital punishment in the state. There are approximately 4,000 inmates currently in San Quentin, the range of crimes span from drug possession to murder.

Crime and prisons go hand in hand. The population of prisoners in any institution is made up of a myriad of races, ages, and religions, thereby needing a host of services to address the many needs of different populations of people. Pagans can find themselves in the criminal system like any other religious practitioners. Spirituality does not make a person immune to the laws of the land.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “About 6,937,600 offenders were under the supervision of adult correctional systems at year end 2012.” This number does not include those who are under parole or probation supervision. While it is not easy to determine the number of incarcerated Pagans from these statistics, there are some resources stating that Pagans within the prison population continue to show growth.

In a Wild Hunt piece from 2012, Jason Pitzl-Waters references the results of the 50 State Chaplain survey done by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. In the article, he talks about “what the new Pew Forum survey tells us about Pagan religions in U.S. prisons.

First, we find out that around 1.7% of the national prison population are adherents to a Pagan or earth-based/nature religion. If you extrapolate that to the currently incarcerated population of the United States (around 2.3 – 2.4 million people) it means there’s close to 40 thousand incarcerated Pagans (Native American spirituality averages around 2.7%, or over 62 thousand incarcerated adherents). In addition, 34-% of prison chaplains say that their Pagan populations are growing, with another 49% saying the population has remained stable. Only 8% of chaplains noted a decline in Pagan inmates.

The reality is that these numbers show a significant need for continued prison ministry, something that Pagan chaplains have continued to do as a part of their service to the community. Yet there is a significant lack of understanding about the needs of prisoners in general, and Pagan prisoners more specifically. It is very common for general society to lock the realities of prison life out of the mind of the average person. Yet the reality of the prison industrial complex should be a concern to everyone, not just Pagan chaplains.

In exploring the needs of Pagan prisoners and religious services within State and Federal facilities, there are many things to consider. The racial disparities, systemic inequities, structural challenges and overall demands of prison take a toll on individuals emotionally and spiritually. Going into the various levels of the prison facility that the average person cannot see gave me a perspective for the toll that spiritual life could take on the psyche, as well as the spiritual impact that it could have.

handcuffsIf equality in access to alternative spiritual guidance is important for the well-being of all prisoners, it also lends a question of how challenging it is to get Pagan clergy to assist with a myriad of clergy needs, not just the standard Wiccan-like framework of practice with which many Pagan clergy come into service. Are prisoners able to get clergy support when they practice African Traditional Religions or even paths like Hellenic practices? Do we have the capacity as a Pagan community to provide clergy support that encompasses some of the cultural differences within our community?

In exploring this topic, I put a call out to Pagans who do clergy work and asked a couple of questions on this topic:

Are the needs for Pagan clergy services increasing within the prison population and do you find that we have adequate-enough services to address those needs?

Yes, more pagans are being incarcerated, and others at converting while in prison. As the former Correspondence Officer for COG, about 90% of all snail mail was from inmates, asking for support in writing, in person or even just somebody willing to talk to their chaplain and tell them their religion is real. We have a real need to find volunteers to answer letter, be pen pals or provide guidance and teaching, and people who can go inside and help facilitate services. Of all the people who have helped volunteer with me over the years there is only one still doing it. me. People need to be consistent. – Lisa “Ariadne” Morgenstern, HPS, and founder Dragon’s Weyr Circle

I have seen the need for Pagan religious services continually increase over the past six years. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does not employ chaplains qualified to meet these needs or provide these services, and therefore depends upon community volunteers, who lack the necessary resources to provide adequate assistance without financial support or employment from the institutions. – Joseph Merlin Nichter, Minority Faith Chaplain

I can’t speak for all prisons, just the system in which I work (Washington State). The state requires inmate religious groups to have an outside volunteer present for all meetings. This means that if a group of Druids or Wiccans or Asatru don’t have a Sponsor, then they may not meet unless the Chaplain can rustle up someone (which is very problematic). Without volunteers there can be no group worship. This alone is a major cause for the increase of clergy services in our prisons here. Also, the attitude of the prison chaplain is crucial. I’m quite lucky in that my chaplain at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, WA truly takes his responsibilities seriously, and tries very hard to make sure that everyone, including our Pagan inmates, gets an equal shake. I’m sure that this is not the case in all prisons. It can be difficult for folks in a prison to be ‘out’ as a Pagan, just as it is for so many people in the outside world. A supportive chaplain is a gods-send. – Rev. Kirk Thomas, ADF Archdruid

I believe that there is an increasing need for services to support Pagan inmates in California. Many Chaplains from the five faiths are doing their best to build relationships with Pagan clergy but many California prisons are located in extremely rural areas without vibrant Pagan (and other minority faith traditions) communities.

It’s an interesting question of how we are defining Paganism as we explore these questions. Are Native American Traditions Pagan? Many First Nations people would argue both sides of this question. Native religion is considered one of the five faiths in California and this is because of years of organizing and activism of AIM, Native Leaders, and First Nations people on the inside. If we as a religious community are going to push to change the five faiths law, we must not do so in isolation or opposition of First Nations leaders and Native Chaplains.  – Claire Bohman MDiv, Reclaiming Priestess and Interfaith Minister

What kind of complications does it pose for prisoners to balance the expectations of prison life and Pagan spirituality?

Inmates frequently are met with intolerant Correctional officers who will not respect an altar set up in a cell. Items are destroyed, thrown away, confiscated, and never returned. Many inmates cannot practice with tarot for example  or runes because officials do not understand the importance of these tools to a pagan or heathen, or Druid. Watch Lockup Raw on MSNBC if you want to learn what prisoners learn. They aren’t really rehabilitating but learning to live in a system that does not prepare them for the outside, but rather forces them into gang situations.  – Lisa “Ariadne” Morgenstern, HPS, and founder Dragon’s Weyr Circle

This perpetuates a variety of conflicts, perhaps the most difficult one is an internal conflict within the inmates.

While the majority or mainstream religions enjoy all the amenities and full benefits of their faith, such as access to reading materials, and a paid chaplains to facilitate their needs; Pagan inmates have very few opportunities to celebrate and practice their spirituality which is detrimental to their personal spiritual growth and therefore, their rehabilitation. – Joseph Merlin Nichter, Minority Faith Chaplain

Outside of the question of the availability of group worship and practice, there is the issue of solitary worship in each individual cell. Most Pagans need some religious tools of various kinds, and it can be quite difficult to get permission for these. Compromises have to be made. In ADF Druidry, we use some form of the three hallows (Well, Fire, and Tree) to indicate the Cosmos, and usually this means a cup of water, a candle, and some form of stick or tree representation for the Axis Mundi. A lighted candle is out of the question. So either a once-lit but now unlit candle may be used, or even a picture of one. Even when these compromises have been made and agreed with the chaplain, rogue Officers may confiscate these items on occasion (for whatever reason) and sometimes they just disappear. Perseverance is the virtue required here. – Rev. Kirk Thomas, ADF Archdruid

At this point it seems like much of the pagan programming in prisons is Odinism (often white supremacist–my skin crawls calling this Paganism) and Wicca. I have seen less programming for Pagans of color who practice Ifa, Santeria, etc. Sometimes elements of Espiritualismo is integrated into Catholicism. – Claire Bohman MDiv, Reclaiming Priestess and Interfaith Minister

Do prisoners have equal access to religious support as Pagans, compared to other faiths?

In California there are just the five faiths represented by paid Chaplains that are Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Christian/Protestant, and A Native American Spiritual Leader. Nature based services are under a chaplain of one of those five faiths. And they are not always inclined to be helpful or supporting of faiths other than their own. Pagans in CA state prisons are reliant on volunteers. At the facility where I volunteer there are pagan services on four out of five yards. One yard has Druid, Wiccan and Asatru, another Asatru, Wicca  and Kemetic, and two other yards that have Wicca. Groups. It works out to about 9 group services a week. I am an unpaid volunteer that simply cannot cover all these services. It means they don’t see me very often. I cannot be there when a family member passes and they need to be notified, or to counsel with them I don’t have regular office hours where someone could meet with me to talk. If there is an inmate who is on lockdown I cannot counsel them at their cell because as a volunteer I’m not permitted to go to their cell doors in the building. If they were in a fight and are in the SHU (solitary) I also cannot meet with them about their issues. It is heartbreaking. – Lisa “Ariadne Morgenstern, HPS, and founder Dragon’s Weyr Circle

No, the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation only employs chaplains for five major faiths. Not having a state religious representative for Pagan faiths restricts access to all the amenities, benefits and support afforded to mainstream religions. – Joseph Merlin Nichter, Minority Faith Chaplain

Again, this depends on the chaplain of the prison. I believe that in Washington State most of our chaplains want to do the right thing, and be supportive. But hidden biases can cause problems. If the chaplain is welcoming of the prisoners and their beliefs, then more of them will come forward. But if they feel that they will be ignored or not supported they may just as well stay in their cells. My chaplain is wonderful, and fully supports anyone in their faith if he believes that they are serious about what they are doing. Having said that, I have seen some bias towards the Abrahamic groups, probably due to their much larger numbers. Also, the Abrahamic religions have strict requirements for weekly (at least) rituals and meetings, and since Pagans are not peoples of any ‘book’ we have more difficulty proving the need for ritual times and meetings outside of the 8 High Days or, perhaps, the monthly Druid Moon. We as volunteers must remember that the government agencies that run our prisons are literal at best. If we don’t claim something as required for our faiths, then we very well may not get it. – Rev. Kirk Thomas, ADF Archdruid

prison

[Photo Credit: Andrew Bardwell/via Wikimedia]

The ongoing discussion surrounding Pagans who are incarcerated and the community’s role in this supportive obligation is one that has gone on for some time. Inadequate clergy services can be just as harmful as not having any at all, and yet the community appears to be limited in resources to address this need. Prisoners are potentially vulnerable to misinformation at a time when they may looking for some way to connect to meaning inside of the prison walls, and without ways to access community, additional resources or even verify information they are being told. The lack of specific requirements of training to make someone qualified to do prison ministerial duties can cause problems for the inmates and for the community at large. Furthermore not everyone has ability or skill to navigate the political and potentially manipulative dynamic of working with the behaviors of prisoners.

This is one of the most delicate,and yet important,roles we have to consider as practitioners of the craft: How do we address our incarcerated community members?

What I experienced of the prison atmosphere when I toured San Quentin is something I have yet to put into words. The looming tone of death in the air was tangible. The dehumanization of the inmates by default of being caged in horrifically-small cells, and the tightrope of pending violence in the environment are all emotionally, psychologically, and energetically taxing to one’s spirit.  Whether or not access to spiritual guidance and worship supports the rehabilitation of the prisoner or provides some peace of mind, the right to this religious support is one of great importance. I imagine that there is a great need for spiritual nourishment when you are caged like an animal and separated from your humanity.

Within the Pagan community at large, we have not seen prisoner support at the top of our service list, and many organizations appear to shy away from being a resource for those who are incarcerated. While there are some incredible individuals that give their personal time and resources to provide support to those who are behind the walls of a county, state or federal facility, we fall short in the area of larger community focus and organizational support. In my personal opinion, this is a social justice issue within the Pagan community that does not often get the attention that it needs.

If resources to clergy, mentors, materials, books, and some sense of Pagan community is not accessible to the average Pagan-practicing inmate, then we must ask ourselves if our sense of community is only viable on one side of the fence. Where are the boundaries of service, and who is worthy of receiving that? Do we practice a form of social Darwinism within our community framework, or do we need more resources ourselves to make this a priority?

The expanding umbrella of the Pagan community is still adjusting to encompass the many needs that spiritual communities contain and, as a younger community, we often find ourselves challenged in meeting a variety of needs within the complexity of society. Yet I wonder if our overall behavior towards criminality and societal concerns about the ethics of those who are incarcerated, influence the Pagan community’s ability to resolve this cognitive dissonance by disengaging with the needs of prisoners as an entire group on the macro level.

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

“The time has come to be more conservative with my resources. Not just with my money, but more importantly, with my time. Because the time has come for high school football games, drivers training, Letterman jackets (two already) and prom dresses. My family has lovingly supported me and my passions for a very long time now, and I owe them a deeper presence in their lives. The time has come to relieve myself of those burdens which I volunteered to carry for others. Now is the time for me to just enjoy being a husband and a father. I’ve earned it and my family deserves it. My motivation for prison chaplaincy has come party from my own experiences of religious discrimination while serving in the military and from wanting to help inmates rehabilitate through spiritual growth. Most inmates incarcerated will be released someday and I felt that I was contributing to the greater good of society by rendering aid.  And I know that to some extent, I have. I keep a box full of letters and post cards in a desk from parolees who continue to update me on how well there doing on the outside and thank me for being there. But now I think the best contribution I can make to this world is through my children. Perhaps when the nest is empty, my idle hands will return to prison chaplaincy, at least until the grand-kids start rolling in (grin). This will most likely be my last post on the topic of Pagan prison chaplaincy for quite some time. But it won’t be my last post, I’m uncertain what I’ll talk about next but I’m sure I’ll find something. Thank you Lord and Lady for Prison: Past Tense.” – Joseph Merlin Nichter, announcing his retirement from active Pagan prison chaplaincy. 

Kenny Klein

Kenny Klein

“In the thirty plus years I have been Pagan, I have always seen the Pagan community struggle to be taken seriously. We want to be counted as a religion. Thanks to Selena Fox, we are able to bury our heroic veterans under a pentacle. We still struggle to be buried ourselves in cemeteries that accept our religions. Many hide in the “broom closet,” afraid of being “out” to family and co-workers, for fear of losing jobs and children. We struggle to be seen as a religious community. But when we arrive late, making the PST excuse, what does this say to the world, the world that we would like to be accepted by? “Hey, we can’t even take OURSELVES seriously enough to be accepted. So why should you?” What about people who are not passive-aggressive, but are just habitually late? Get over it! You represent the Pagan community! Pull yourself together! I know, it is a hallmark of our culture in general that people are rude, late, and self-centered. But as Pagans, shouldn’t we be above that? As people who, after considerable thought, gave up the status quo to pursue our true selves, shouldn’t be be the shining example, not the common problem? I think we should.” – Kenny Klein, expressing his dislike of “Pagan Standard Time.”

Annie Finch

Annie Finch

“Today’s accused “witches” are almost all women, many of them the more outspoken, independent and prosperous women in their communities. Whether victims of simple sexist domination or scapegoats for the old ways in a modernizing society plagued with economic injustice, often they stand for a former way of life, a life more in harmony with nature. Their murder is thus a crime against women and nature, as well as a horrific violation of human rights and religious freedom generally. As a witch, I am passionately committed to working on behalf of justice and safety for contemporary accused witches. And I am also committed to the equally important work of commemorating and remembering those already dead. Such remembrance is crucial for three reasons. It honors the dead. It helps protect against future injustice. And it helps today’s witches — and women in general — to wake up to the living legacy of those events in our own psyches, a first step to healing and recovery.” – Annie Finch, on holding a remembrance for witches.

John Beckett

John Beckett

“There is value in going outside and digging in the dirt.  There is value in going outside and looking up at the sun and moon and stars.  There is value in going outside and watching the squirrels and listening to the birds.  There is value in going outside – are you starting to see a pattern here? – and smelling the flowers, lying in the grass, and hugging the trees.  This can be challenging in the miserable Texas summers… just as it can be challenging in the miserable Minnesota winters.  But when we have a spiritual relationship with Nature, these challenges become something to work with and work around.  When we have a spiritual relationship with Nature, maintaining that relationship becomes more important than constant comfort:  we learn to go walking before dawn, to greet the rising sun before we begin our work day, to speak to the trees as soon as we get home, and to salute the moon before we go to bed. There is no Druid orthodoxy and there is no one right way to honor Nature.  There are many ways – find the one that speaks to your soul.” – John Beckett, from a sermon entitled “The Art of Wild Wisdom.”

Jason Miller

Jason Miller

“It is impossible to be good at everything, so you should definitely not expect to be great at everything. When someone like Fra Ashen creates a tool, it is a masterful and beautiful thing to behold. His work inspires faith and awe because he is not only a first rate magician, but an expert craftsman. Now one could argue that anyone can become a master craftsman with effort and just a little talent, and that may be true, but if that is not your calling you probably won’t want to invest that time. DIY purists will insist that any attempt, even one that winds up looking like my 4 year olds made it, will be better than something someone else has done. I say  POPPYCOCK! Craftsmanship value as much or more than doing it yourself. I have old tools that I made in high school, but I never use them because they look like shit. I would rather buy something nice and consecrate it to the work. In this case the consecration is my contribution to the creation. It is important to keep in mind the difference between competence, mastery, and perfection in a skill and the fact that it is quite desirable to strive for different levels in different things. Most CEO’s are not masters of every aspect of their companies business, but they are competent enough at them to manage those who are.” – Jason Miller, explaining why DIY magic is overrated. 

Erynn Rowan Laurie

Erynn Rowan Laurie

“It’s going to be a test of my ability to find community, as a very introverted person who still loves having a social life. I’ll be starting with the very large disadvantages of a language barrier, knowing nearly no one, and not being able to drive myself anywhere. I’ll admit up front that this is a scary prospect. It can be hard enough for me to talk with someone I don’t know in English, much less trying to open my mouth in a language I know I’m going to slaughter for quite some time. It’s going to be an exercise in letting go and allowing things to happen as they will. And immigrants from time immemorial have had most of these same challenges – language, community, transportation. My own ancestors left their homelands to come to the US, leaving their languages behind and taking a chance to live in a new place and build new communities for themselves. They persevered, they dealt with the challenges, and they made lives for themselves. I have the great advantage of instant international communication to support me, a thing they never had. I will be able to stay in easy touch with friends and family and community here and globally, as I have from the chair I’m sitting in right now for many years. When I’m lonely, there will be someone to reach out to who does speak my language. I’ll have my brother nearby who can help me negotiate a culture that he’s integrated into over the years he’s been in Italy. And I’ll have the gods and spirits to turn to as I learn a new place and a new way of being.” – Erynn Rowan Laurie, on her impending move to Italy.

Ian Corrigan

Ian Corrigan

“We’re trying to build a religion. By ‘we’ I refer to myself and my colleagues in ADF. For the past 30 years we have been researching and designing symbol sets and ritual patterns that provide the framework on which a religion can stand. Our work is proceeding well. We have dozens of local congregations, serving thousands of Pagans across the US. […] If I were to set a primary goal for spiritual practice (and this after long consideration of terms like ‘enlightenment’ and ‘liberation’) I might propose that it should make us happy – or at least happier. Note that here I’m not referring to some mystical adventure goal, of heroic conquest of reality. Rather I’m asking what good should a spiritual practice offer to the non-adventurer, to the “householder”, as they say. Spiritual growth and magical power – those have commonly been the goals of occult spirituality. However any review of the histories of magical arts shows that these goals do not, in themselves, result in happiness for the individual. Happiness for the individual is the common-sense base that seems to me, at least, to be a believable goal of life. As human animals it is our business to enjoy the world we find ourselves in, to learn to understand our bodies and other material things so that we can interact pleasantly and productively, even to apply our imagination and creativity to increase beauty and utility in the world.” – Ian Corrigan, on the primary goal for a spiritual practice.

Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth

“We make much of our desire to re-enchant the world, but do we fully understand how we actively disenchant it? It’s easy to talk of a “them” or a “they,” to speak in deeply esoteric or philosophical terms about how we’ve managed to mess up our ability to see the Other in the world. But I’m gonna suggest we maybe should start by noting not only how we experience disenchantment, but also how we actively do it ourselves. Whether one believes in the real existence of gods and spirits, believes in one well-spring of divine being-ness, believes it’s all beautiful and useful metaphor, or any of the combinations thereof, understanding how we disenchant the earth is vital to understanding our relationship to it. If a forest is just wood, meat, and plants, we’ll treat it as such. If a city is merely crowded dwellings, places to work and to be entertained, we won’t care when whole neighborhoods are gentrified, when cultures and traditions are displaced and destroyed. Actually, disenchantment is precisely the process which makes forests only full of wood, mountains only full of coal and minerals. It’s what turns minority neighborhoods into re-development opportunities, transmutes sites sacred to people into places more valuable for oil or uranium than for the worlds of meaning that have sprung from the soil. Until we understand how we disenchant the world, I don’t think we’ll understand how to re-enchant it, and I think the key to both is understanding how we world the earth.” – Rhyd Wildermuth, on enchantment, disenchantment, and worlding the Earth.

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

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

“There was a definite tension between our views on death, a tension I didn’t understand until after he died. I realize now it’s a tension that also exists in many of the most interesting vampire novels. My husband had what I would call the ‘high tech view of death’; it was to be avoided at all costs. He was a runner; he was in perfect health; he took various supplements and anti-oxidants. He drank a glass of wine for resveratrol, never smoked, was fit, and, unlike me, he never did any drugs in his youth. He thought he would live to be 100, preferably even older. A science journalist, he followed all the discoveries and advances of aging research. And he thought that when he did die, he might have his ashes flown up in space. His attitude was definitely, ‘rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ I, at that same moment, had more of an Earth-centered Pagan perspective. ‘We are all part of the life cycle. Like a seed we are born, we sprout; we grow, mature and decay, making room for future generations who, like seedlings are reborn through us.’ As for the persistence of consciousness, deep down, I thought, ‘How can we know?’ Perhaps we simply return to the elements; we become earth and air and fire and water. That seemed alright to me.” – Margot Adler, discussing views on death at Judson Memorial Church. You can see a video of her entire talk/sermon, embedded below.

Laura Perry

Laura Perry

“The goddess in her major forms (Ariadne and Rhea) definitely dominated the pantheon and the culture in ancient Crete, but not in the same way that a male god dominates many other, later pantheons. For me, the distinction is that of authoritarian vs. authoritative. An authoritarian figure dominates through aggression and putting others down. An authoritative leader draws on his or her own inner strength to bring out the strength in others and lead them. It’s that second energy that I encounter when I work with the Minoan pantheon, a certain amount of respect for all the members of the pantheon and their necessary place in the scheme of things that I don’t find in, say, the later classical Greek pantheon with its authoritarian leader, Zeus. Ultimately, all human cultures are flawed because human beings aren’t perfect. No matter how flawless the underlying energies of deity may be, when they manifest through a human society they will reflect the foibles of humanity as well as our potential. We organize the world according to what filters through our psyches, and that includes our experience of deity. Flaws aside, however, I think the Minoan pantheon and Minoan society in general offer an excellent example of how the balance of energies can work, with an emphasis on respect for the divine feminine that that modern world so sadly lacks.” – Laura Perry author of Ariadne’s Thread: Awakening the Wonders of the Ancient Minoans in our Modern Lives, discussing Minoan religion and culture.

Annie Sprinkle

Annie Sprinkle

“I think there are a handful of people in the sex industry that are very, very spiritual. There’s a lot of atheists, a lot of people who aren’t interested in anything woo-woo or tantric or magical, that’s for sure. But when you’re doing sex work, you’re so stigmatized and marginalized and prosecuted that anything that can help you cope with the stigma and the stupid laws… we need that. We need those archetypes and images to hold on to, to be able to cope with society’s prejudices and hatred and fear. […] I think that our society is basically phobic about birth, death, and sex. America is puritanical. On the other hand, millions of people use the services of prostitutes and sex workers and porn. […] I got spiritual when AIDS hit. I was raised humanist and agnostic, but when AIDS happened I just needed to be able to cope with all the death, and I started to explore really kind of New Age stuff, and spiritual stuff from all different cultures, and it really helped. For me, being around sex and being around gospel singing is the same ecstasy. Ecstasy is ecstasy.” – Annie Sprinkle, performance artist and sexologist, discussing occult, New Age, and Pagan beliefs within the adult entertainment/sex work industry (link might be NSFW, depending on where you work).

Gus DiZerega

Gus DiZerega

“I do not see a revival of American civil religion until new moral and spiritual underpinnings support it. I think these underpinnings exist, and one of the most perceptive early observers of our country intuited what they are, though he did not approve. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Pantheism was a natural outgrowth of Democracy. I think he was correct. Spiritual traditions in harmony with a Pantheistic sensibility are in greater accord with the new society America’s principles helped bring into being than are the spiritual traditions of our Founders’ time. Those traditions have atrophied, undermined by the society they helped to create. Hope rests with a new spiritual sensibility that is not necessarily a new religion, but rather can shape the way in which many spiritual traditions are practiced. This sensibility emphasizes divine immanence and the importance of the Sacred Feminine as well as the Masculine. It is within this context that the best of America’s civil religion can be renewed and given life again […] Hope for us lies in those Christian and other long-established religions opening themselves up to immanentist and feminine insights, as well as new religious movements, NeoPaganism in particular, which explicitly emphasize those values as central. It is for these reasons that I think Pagan insights carry far more weight than our rather modest numbers might suggest.” – Gus diZerega, on the future of America’s civil religion. 

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Teo has indicated that what may result from all of this is a kind of blended religious practice, a Christo-Paganism as many have called it previously. I don’t have a problem with this, as long as it doesn’t end up being monotheistic or monistic, and subordinating all other deities to the “One God” of Christianity. There is nothing which says that the Christo-Paganism of any given person needs to accept a monotheistic theology, or to prioritize Christian views on any given subject. (Indeed, the prevailing Christian thoughts on queerness of various sorts are nothing to emulate or admire, for starters.) Thank all the gods that there is no such thing as the Christo-Pagan pope, and that people can take that particular path as experientially as they wish to, and can avoid the worst excesses of creedalism in doing so. Getting to a religious viewpoint that has Jesus as an important part of its practice from the viewpoint of paganism or polytheism is a good thing, I think, because even knowing that there is as much diversity amongst divinity as there is before evaluating Jesus within such frameworks gives a lot more options and a great deal more freedom to those theological viewpoints than has been the case with almost all of modern Christianity, and that has to be construed as a positive step, I think. Thus, I wish Teo, with all sincerity, the very best of luck with whatever comes in the future on his path. You shall always be welcome under my roof and at my table, wherever it may be!” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on the recent spiritual changes within Teo Bishop’s life.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

“As you get older and dig into these vibrant spiritual traditions that dangle from the vaguely “Pagan/Heathen” umbrella, I am here to tell you it gets easier. And it gets better. Decades of practice give you a handle on how to deal with honest seekers, scary bullies, dizzily pompous Self-Proclaimed BNPs. It gets easier as you find your footing.  You may find your practice itself getting simpler…and deeper.  You may even stop asking all those angst-and fear-ridden philosophical questions that seem to make up so much of online Pagan discourse.  You may find that you don’t care so much what other people believe or don’t believe, but you care more that they are kind and sensible and helpful when help is needed. You can hit the month that contains Samhain without a lot of sturm und drang, and may even find yourself enjoying speaking to different kinds of people about the spiritual path you love and follow.  It gets easier…unless what you love about this path is the sense of drama you can evoke and your ability to stir the proverbial pot. If your every mood must be reflected in your online outrage, and your ability to ground and focus is not highly developed, you may not find it getting either easier or deeper. You may begin to feel that you don’t quite have a handle on this “Pagan” thing–it all seems too complex, too ephemeral, more Air and Fire and not nearly enough Earth.” – Byron Ballard, on how it gets easier.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter

“Prison is not exactly a safe environment to express sentiment, to show emotion is often interpreted as a weakness and weakness not something you want to display while sharing a cage with predators. Therefore, many of those emotional and communal needs to grieve and mourn the loss of a loved one go unfulfilled. In addition, there is also an element of guilt involved. Guilt for their absence in the lives of their friends and family, guilt for not being there in their last moments and guilt for not being able to pay them their proper respect. Over time, the combined weight and pressure of their withheld emotions, lack of closure and incarcerated guilt can be very damaging and diminishes the very concept of rehabilitation.  Over these past six years I have seen the power of Samhain change lives; relieving the pressure of unexpressed emotions and lifting the burdens of incarcerated guilt. Giving inmates an opportunity to share the leaves that have fallen from the trees of their lives. The circle gives them a safe space, a sanctuary, to finally release what they’ve been withholding for so long. It’s never a dry ceremony, emotions so powerful don’t just exit the body through words from the mouth alone, they are always found streaming from the heart and bursting forth through the eyes. On several occasions over these past six years, the leaf, the life that an inmate had chosen to honor was the very life they had been imprisoned for taking. And to that, even I lack the words.” – Joseph Merlin Nichter, on Samhain seasons spent in a cell.

relationshipcore.001

 

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

“The first classes I taught at the shop nearby were four-weeks long. Later, it extended to eight weeks. The people in the area were very much into the subject and they would do homework assignments and share their work for comments in class. One of the first practical magick techniques I shared involved creative visualization. Most teachers and practitioners don’t get into the Kabalistic secrets of the technique in the way that I do, and both I and many of my students have had a great deal of success using it. Being able to have longer series of classes was a wonderful luxury. I’d get to know more about the students and we had chances to build up relationships. They’d get to see what others are doing and we’re able to share. But in the third week of a four-week class the shop informed me that one of my students had to drop out. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘For over a year he’d been trying to sell the mobile home where he lived,’ I was told. ‘He put your ideas for creative visualization into practice and he sold it within a couple of weeks. Now he has to spend his time moving out.’ I understood, but I wished he’d remained in class. Still, telling the class that he’d followed directions and his magick worked was an effective inducement for the others to stay in class.” – Donald Michael Kraig, on the unintended consequences of your class being successful.

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

Interfaith has been a path that Pagans have become accustomed to hearing in our community, and very comfortable with the role that Interfaith plays in connecting our community of practitioners to the greater religious society. Covenant of the Goddess and Circle Sanctuary are examples of some of the prominent Pagan organizations that have invested time, money, and effort into developing trained Interfaith representatives.

While Pagans in the Interfaith community continue to work toward religious tolerance, integration, and networking, we are hearing more about the work of social justice in the community. Is social justice becoming the new interfaith?

University of Berkeley’s Social Justice Symposium defined social justice as “a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.”

Increased attention, advocacy and education have been seen within the themes of festivals, workshop offerings, Pagan blogs, and first-hand involvement in social justice activities. From the Occupy movement, forums addressing discrimination, prison work to peaceful protests, we are seeing some of our fellow Pagans being active in the theme of social equality.

starhawk 5 19 04

Starhawk

As the Pagan community is a microcosm of the larger macro society, how does working in social justice correlate with the paths of those Pagans who are active in the work? Starhawk made a recent statement on her Facebook fan page reflecting on the Martin/Zimmerman verdict, “I advocate nonviolence. But nonviolence is not passivity. It calls us to actively acknowledge that racism and patriarchy are deep, inherent, endemic forms of perpetual violence that infuse our society deeply, and will take much thought and work and courage to transform.

And for those of you who have said, ‘I love your Pagan, spiritual stuff but I’m not sure I’m with you on this’ – this IS my spiritual stuff. The Goddess I embrace is both love and rage, is She who inspires our passion for justice, and sustains us through the long hard work to bring it about.”

Environmental activism has long been associated with goddess worship and Paganism, but this type of social commentary has not always been something considered a spiritual staple in the overarching beliefs of the community. Yet we are seeing more opportunities for social activism, and an increased amount of voices and actions working towards topics of justice.

Joseph Nichter, author and Wiccan Prison Chaplain, took the opportunity to talk about his role of social justice work in the Prison system, and as a Veteran. In referencing the “other” listed on his dogtags in the military, Nichter talked about equal access to rights as a Pagan.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

“Those tags were merely precursor to the religious discrimination I experienced while serving my country.  Although my military service has long since come to an end, those experiences left a lasting impression and social justice has come to play a significant role in my spiritual path as a Wiccan Prison Chaplain. I’ve come to believe with every fiber of my being that social justice is of critical importance to health and welfare Paganism, and that Paganism is of critical importance to the health and welfare of our future civilization.” – Joseph Nichter, author, Prison Chaplain.

Pagan activists are becoming more involved in some of the social causes, needs of the greater community, and more vocal about being involved. I reached out to several other Pagans who have done some recent work around issues of social justice advocacy concerning rights for prisoners, LBGTQ, military, the Occupy movement, and systemic injustice.

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

“Social justice is crucial in my spiritual life to the point of being my spiritual life. I cannot separate the two. Any time I’m able to contribute to the movements I’m involved in, I do so as an offering to my gods and the spirit of the world. It’s a holy act for me.

I was originally taught that Paganism is all about relationships — to people, the gods, and the land we inhabit. I think social justice is important to our many traditions because it’s about healing and strengthening the relationships between the three. In my animistic worldview, I can’t help but act because I can so easily see my gods in the face of every suffering person and animal.” – David Salisbury, author, Activist.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“Social justice has always been very close to my heart. As someone who experiences the sacred in all things, it is incumbent upon me to honor that to the best of my ability. Injustice causes a rift in the fabric of being. It is part of my work as a spiritual person to try to mend that rift, to help reweave the fabric of love. Nothing is devoid of spirit: not the stove or pots at my local soup kitchen; not the ancient forests that require protection; not the family whose teen was killed for little reason other than he was black. I feel a connection to all of these. I must help to right the world.”  – T. Thorn Coyle, author and activist.

Glenn Turner (Photo: OaklandNorth)

Glenn Turner (Photo: OaklandNorth)

“Pagans have a holistic view of the world that I believe polytheism fosters. The joy of a diversity of gods, gives us joy and tolerance of diversity. Through diversity we gain strength and resilience in adversity.

Social Justice is basic to a democracy that believes in equality and liberty for all. Our country was founded on these tenants. People have mostly come here to escape injustice; for slaves brought here against their will, their progeny deserve to find liberty and equality. The nurturing of the poor and disadvantaged can only strengthen our community and environment. Mutual support is a key to group magic and we are all in this world together.” – Glenn Turner, Founder of Pantheacon, Activist

Where Interfaith work has often had a focus on networking Pagans into the greater religious community, social justice work appears to be focused on greater societal issues that are not specifically focused on Paganism. This greater community work is a calling, just as interfaith work, and it is playing a large role in the momentum of how Pagans are investing energy in today’s social issues. While social justice does not replace the role of interfaith, they might just be closely related cousins that will continue to work in tandem with an agenda of spiritual accountability, inclusivity, equal access to religious resources, and social equality.

T. Thorn Coyle best summarized these thoughts in a final statement about the intersection of action, spiritual work and justice:

“We forget. We forget we are connected. We think our states of disconnection are the only reality, but the deeper reality exists in remembering that we are all alive together. When I scrub pots at the soup kitchen, or stand for people in Oakland who have been killed by police, or talk about the importance of the Voting Rights Act, or help send supplies to tornado victims, or organize a blood drive, or write about racism , I do all of this as a reminder to my soul: “You are part of this whole world, and it is of you.”

For full quotes, please see links below.

Glenn Turner

T. Thorn Coyle

Joseph Nichter

[On May 13th I ran a guest editorial from Joseph Merlin Nichter on a proposed Religious Property Matrix (RPM) for California prisons. Knowing that Joseph’s views only represented one perspective within the Pagan community, I reached out to the Rev. Patrick McCollum for his own thoughts on the issue. Patrick has been working as a Pagan chaplain and activist for well over twenty years. He was one of the founding members of the Lady Liberty League, and has been involved inumerous legal struggles involving modern Pagans. In 2008, he testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights, saying he “found discrimination against minority faiths everywhere”and that the problem was “endemic.”]

Patrick McCollum with California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and aide (08/25/12)

Patrick McCollum with California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and aide (08/25/12)

As a longtime activist for both Pagan and minority faith religious rights, a recent post by volunteer chaplain Joseph Nichter about the so called “Religious Property Matrix” created by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has raised serious concerns for me and prompts me to respond in detail to his thoughts and comments.

I’d like to begin first by laying a framework for the discussion by sharing a little history regarding the fight for equal religious accommodation for Pagans in the California prison system and also express why I feel I am qualified to speak to this issue.

First let me provide a little background on my own qualifications and experiences with both the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and religious accommodation in corrections in general nationwide.

In 1981, after several years working in the California prison system, I became the Statewide Wiccan Chaplain for the California Department of Corrections for all 33 California correctional facilities. This was a position that was designated by the Director of the California Department of Corrections, Cal Terhune. At that time, there were no other Pagan chaplains at any correctional institution in the United States, and so I was breaking new ground. In California alone, I facilitated multiple religious prison programs, created dozens of Pagan prison libraries, traveled from institution to institution, and interacted with as many as 1,800 Pagan inmates. I also interacted with Wardens and senior administrators at the highest level at the CDCR headquarters. Later, I was drafted by the Colorado Department of Corrections to establish a Pagan religion program for that state. Over the years, I gradually became the Pagan religious advisor or helped establish Pagan religion programs for over twenty different correctional systems nationwide, and also became a volunteer Pagan Chaplain and Pagan religious advisor for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Over the last 15 years, I have served in multiple capacities in national correctional activities, including holding prominent positions

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

in several of the foremost national correctional organizations. I currently serve as the Director of the National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association, one of the foremost training agencies on religious accommodation in US Prisons. The NCCDA is comprised of the highest level directors and administrators who oversee all correctional religious activities for their respective states. We currently have over 22 state’s systems represented. I am also a member of the Executive Council for the American Correctional Chaplains Association, the oldest and largest chaplain’s organization in the world with roughly 2,000 chaplain members. In addition to being on the Executive Council, I am also the Chair of the Minority Faiths Issues Committee for the ACCA. On another front, I serve as the Chaplaincy Liaison for the American Academy of Religion, the world’s largest academic body for religious studies, with over 10,000 members. I have also advised correctional administrators or been involved in correctional programs in three other countries. In 2009 I was selected by the United States Commission on Civil Rights as both an advisor and a panelist, to prepare a report for Congress and the President of the United States on religious discrimination in US prisons. Lastly, I was selected last year to author a special edition for the American Jails Magazine on religious accommodation in US jails, and am currently contracted to write the chapter on accommodating minority faiths in prisons for the American Correctional Association which represents all correctional facilities in 50 states. With all of that said, here are my thoughts and comments on the Religious Property Matrix for the California Department of Corrections.

Mr. Nichter addresses the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s (the CDCR’s) actions as though they are acting in good faith and making reasonable attempts to “standardize” religious practices to improve access to religious items for inmates. Nothing could be farther from the truth! In order to see what is really going on, one must step back and take a look at the history of the CDCR’s accommodation of minority faiths over the years, and the strategy that they have consistently used to thwart Pagan religious practices and minority faith practices in general.

In roughly 1979, over thirty years ago, Pagan inmates in the California Department of Corrections began asking to be treated equally and to have equal religious accommodation in California prisons as required by law. You see, while people who are incarcerated in the United States loose many of their constitutional rights when they go into prison, the law is very clear regarding their religious rights. All incarcerated persons no matter what their faiths, retain their religious rights in prison! That is … they retain the right to both practice their religion without coercion or discrimination from prison custody staff, prison administrators, prison chaplains, and the California government in general. Included in these constitutional protections, is the right for religious practices of all faiths to be treated and accommodated equally. Then on top of that, the federal court long ago added an additional twist to religious accommodation in prisons. The courts ruled that while in all other instances the government is constitutionally required to stay out of the business of religion, in prisons, they have a special duty to actually help facilitate religious practices for inmates, because inmates are institutionalized wards of the state and as such do not have free access to be able to facilitate their own practices or to obtain their own religious items or access to clergy. This gives the CDCR a special mandate to actually advocate for inmate’s religious needs.

Central California Women's Facility (CCWF)

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

Instead of doing so when Pagans came forward and asked the CDCR for equal accommodations in California prisons, the CDCR took the official position that Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenism, and related beliefs, were evil and “against God and the Bible” and would not only not be accommodated in California prisons, but would be actively quashed. All Pagan books were officially labeled as pornographic or as security threats and our religious items were openly referred to as instruments of satanic practice or devil worship.

Around this time, a Wiccan inmate named William Rouser challenged the state’s position and took them to court in the Ninth Circuit federal court case Rouser vs White. Rouser asked the court to order the CDCR to comply with the Constitution and to make them provide him with at least basic services including a Wiccan Chaplain, scheduled Wiccan religious services, and access to his religious items. The CDCR fought Rouser tenaciously for years using the full power of the State to both intimidate and discourage him. They put him in solitary confinement and took many other actions to try to stop the practice of Paganism in California prisons. After around twelve years of litigation with the state denying Pagan religious services at every turn, the Martin Luther King Civil Rights Clinic at the University of California at Davis took Rouser’s case. When it became obvious that Rouser was going to win, the CDCR utilized a tactic that they have now become famous for … they offered to settle the case.

In the settlement, the CDCR agreed to allow Rouser several very basic religious artifacts, and to provide him with both access to a Wiccan Chaplain and at a minimum, access to participate in the eight Wiccan Sabbats. The court added to the settlement agreement that other inmates could also attend the Wiccan services, and that the services must be posted as a part of the regular chapel schedule.

I was recommended to serve as Rouser’s chaplain, and thus began my career in Pagan chaplaincy and as an advocate for Pagan prisoner’s rights.

Immediately and from the very beginning after the settlement, the CDCR proceeded to break every aspect of the settlement agreement. On one occasion where I reminded administrators from the California Department of Corrections that they were under a court order to provide these services, they responded, “You don’t see any federal judges here now, do you!” It was then that I first learned that the CDCR uses the tactic of settling minority religion cases in order to get them out of the direct overview of the courts, and then proceeds to violate the settlements knowing that it takes years for the inmate to get back into court. In Rouser’s case after he won the settlement, it took 15 years for him to actually get back into court to get the judge to make the CDCR comply, and they are already violating that second order! Rouser’s is not the only Pagan prisoner’s religion case with a similar story, there are many!

During the years that Rouser battled, many other inmates also litigated their rights with exactly the same results. During that time, in addition to helping CDCR administrators develop policies more in line with Federal mandates, I also went to work to fight for equal religious accommodation for all of our Pagan traditions, both in California and in many other states. I successfully won the rights for inmates to both practice and for them to possess many religious items. Each item in California was a battle with total opposition by the CDCR. In every case, there was no legal justification for the state’s position. There was no security threat or penalogical interests involved, just arbitrary denial with lots of conversations about how allowing Pagan religious items and practices in prisons was evil or immoral. Even so, we made progress, and over time we gained a number of rights already guaranteed by our Constitution.

Throughout this long process, the CDCR also utilized another tactic to minimize minority faith rights. This tact involved two fronts. First, they formed Religious Review Committees, both at the institutional and at the state level to review and approve or disapprove religious items. This was to give them legal cover in court so that they could say that they had not arbitrarily made the decision to deny religious items, but instead, that a qualified body of diverse religious experts had made the decision. The only problem was that the CDCR wouldn’t allow any representatives from the minority faiths to participate on the committees. In other words, they stacked the committees with members of the very faiths who had been fighting the advance of Pagan practice in prison to begin with. They had Rabbis and Protestant ministers, and Catholic Priests deciding what was appropriate and allowable for Pagans to have access to. The other and considerably more ominous tactic the CDCR used was to search for Pagans who would be willing to support the CDCR’s position, in exchange for money, recognition, or position. This has happened several times over the years, and when stepping back, was quite obvious to any informed onlooker. The CDCR has always had access to members of our community who are well known to be experts on Pagan practices to consult, but instead, the CDCR always searches out individuals who they can manipulate instead. They have also drafted so called experts on Paganism who are Christian ministers, to both testify against us and to determine what appropriate practices are for our community.

The CDCR has not stepped up in good conscience as Mr. Nichter has indicated; instead, they have actively and intentionally blocked all minority faith advances as much as possible for many years. They have neither conducted themselves with integrity or moral fortitude in the past, and they have done little to give us reason to believe that they can be trusted now!

In recent public documents and court testimony it has come to light that the CDCR has actively destroyed thousands of court ordered documents relating to discrimination toward Pagans, used coercion, committed perjury, and spent millions of taxpayer dollars fighting a religious war to quash Pagan faith practices.

In examining the Religious Property Matrix and its development, it is clear that no credible experts on Pagan practices were consulted, and the end result is the removal of many already established and approved religious items from Pagan inmates. Under the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act, inmates are allowed any religious items that are not a safety and security risk to the institution. Since most of the items being taken away in the new Religious Matrix have been allowed for years without any safety or security issues, there is no credible argument that they have now all of the sudden become a problem. The Matrix also changed the term “Religious Artifacts” to “Religious Items”, a seemingly small and inconsequential distinction. But again, being educated as to the facts reveals that the devil is in the details. Religious Artifacts are protected items under law, requiring that staff handle them with respect and that a specific procedure must be followed to insure their safety. For example, they can only be inspected in the presence of the inmate, and a supervisor must be informed and sign off before they can be removed or destroyed. Religious Items on the other hand, can be summarily handled, removed or destroyed at any time by any staff member without consequence and with no recourse on the part of the inmate. This is a huge change in policy and definitely not designed to forward religious tolerance or accommodation.

druids

Druids and Druid chaplains in prison.

There is a long history of California correctional staff disrespecting Pagan religious items. For years they have regularly destroyed them without reason, made jokes about them, or called them devil worship. The designation of Religious Artifact was instigated to protect against such actions. Now it is being taken away. No small act!

We as a community must take great care in publically supporting CDCR policy that takes away our rights as it makes it appear as though there is a justification for their actions. Also, if we do choose to speak up on behalf of our community, we must first have in hand documents authorizing us to do so. When I fought for the items that already have been approved in the CDCR, I received official letters of authorization and support from many Pagan traditions, leaders, and individual solitary practitioners nationwide. As a result, I have been able to speak on their behalf.

I closing I’d like to say that I respect Mr. Nichter’s work to help serve our prison community and I fully support his efforts to continue in that direction. I was his mentor in that regard. His efforts at Pantheacon this February to establish the new National Pagan Chaplains Association is commendable, and as soon as we get some members and time under our belt I believe we can become a credible organization. I also believe that Mr. Nichter’s family ties to the CDCR administration may help open doorways in the future that may have been more difficult in the past. We need more people like Joseph to step forward and learn the ropes in the prisons and we need more people to educate themselves more widely both about inmate’s religious rights and also the history of religion in corrections so we can make good decisions as a community going forward.

While it’s true that the Religious Property Matrix provides inmates with a list of items that they are supposed to be allowed access to, they already had legal access to those items before the Matrix came out and so it hasn’t changed anything in that regard. But in publishing the Matrix, the CDCR has cleverly taken away access to many other items that were also already approved, and that is the change that the Matrix is truly designed to make!

[The following is a guest-post from Joseph Merlin Nichter. Joseph Merlin Nichter is an author, blogger, ritualist, Freemason, Wiccan and co-founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain, Joseph provides Pagan religious services and assists with religious accommodations of minority faiths for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; he has also served the California Department of Mental Health as a religious program instructor. Joseph is the co-founder and current president of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association. Joseph lives in Central California with his wife and four children, where he continues to actively serve his community.]

The odds are quite favorable that the average Wild Hunt reader has experienced religious discrimination which has manifested in either social, legal, or vocational arenas. We must consider the impact this type of discrimination can have on our spirituality and self-esteem. I would argue that this form of discrimination which occurs on a daily basis within a correctional-rehabilitative environment, is in direct conflict with their goals and purpose. Nonetheless, that has in fact been the unfortunate state of affairs for quite some time.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

In October of 2012 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued an internal memorandum containing new directives pertaining to inmate personal religious property and religious grounds. Attached was a newly drafted list of proposed religious items that would be universally approved at every prison within the state of California. Referred to as the Religious Property Matrix (RPM), the list was developed on an effort to improve the current policy which the department itself recognized as “vague and inconsistent.”

Earlier this year the CDCR released its second draft of the property matrix which contained at least 24 alterations. Some of those changes involved simple terms, but important context; for example many of the items which were limited to a small list of allowable colors had been changed to “multicolored, excluding red or blue.” This has been viewed by many as an understandable change considering that Security Threat Groups (gangs) have proven to be an enduring epidemic and colors, such as red and blue, continue to be employed as a primary mode of recognition.

By March the department felt comfortable and confident with the new property matrix and released a notification of change to regulations. These changes will ratify and implement the new religious property matrix and will also include a change in verbiage. All religious objects previously referred to as “artifacts” is being changed to “items.” Perhaps more significant is the removal of the word “Bible” from list of examples included in the states definition of the term “Religious Artifact Item” located in the 3000 block of Title 15, Crime Prevention and Corrections.

The Pagan Alliance and the House of Danu called for an Emergency Pagan Conclave to address and discuss these new changes. The conclave convened on Sunday of this past Beltane weekend in Oakland, California with several Pagan community leaders in attendance; including M. Mach Nightmare, Pantheacon organizer Glenn Turner, Sam Webster, Diana Paxson, and T. Thorn Coyle of the Solar Cross. The conclave commenced with an hour long presentation by Barbara McGraw, which was followed by narrative commentary on the religious property matrix by event organizer James Bianchi. The remainder of the event was dedicated to an open discussion forum which included a panel of experienced Pagan religious volunteers, including two primary officers from the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association.

Referred to as an “Orwellian list” (that which is not permitted is absolutely forbidden), the primary concern being expressed is that the list will place an unfair restriction on religious accommodations and related practices. But based on my own direct personal experiences, I’m inclined to embrace a more optimistic view. There has never been a consistent statewide policy or single unified list of universally approved items.

The fact is that the CDCR policies regarding personal religious items have been vague (no list) and inconsistent (no collective standard). So whenever an inmate, (for the purpose of this article, a Pagan inmate) wants a religious item such as a pentacle pendant, it must be approved by a state employed chaplain. While it may not be hard to imagine how difficult it might be to obtain such an item in such an environment, the challenge doesn’t end there. Most of the time such an item is not approved, but in the rare instances that it get approved, there is no guarantee that said inmate will be able to maintain possession of the item. If the inmate is transferred to another prison or just moved from one yard to another within the same prison, a difference in policy or social climate often results in the confiscation of such items.

The purpose of the Religious Property Matrix is to establish statewide standardization, resolve the inconsistency and facilitate the rights of inmates to practice their religion within the parameters of the correctional environment. The list will ensure all individuals, regardless of religion, will be guaranteed personal possession of fundamental items. At least eighteen of the twenty-four items listed are applicable to Pagan practices and several of the items listed are explicitly Pagan in nature such as the Wand, Tarot/Divination/Runecards, and Rune tiles. I personally view these items in particular as a significant improvement as they have been among the most difficult for me to get approved in the past.

The other concern that’s been expressed is that items which have been approved in the past, yet are not on the new property matrix will be seized. Although there will be a one year wear out period for all items not included on the new matrix, what this does mean is, yes, there are inmates that will lose some of the items they have been fortunate enough to obtain in the past. But this also means that there will be many inmates that will finally acquire items that they were never able or allowed to possess previously. There will be a loss for some and a gain for many others, but there will be state wide continuity and religious equality. Everyone everywhere will finally be granted and guaranteed basic religious items, without equivocation or discrimination. I for one consider that to be progress, for our incarcerated Pagan brothers and sisters, and for pluralism movement as a whole.

In speaking with department staff regarding the matter, they felt it is important to note that several suggestions received during the public comment period are already in the process of review and are expected to be added to the property matrix. In addition, the property matrix is not a static document. There is a process in place to continuously receive and review suggestions for improvement and the inclusion of additional items into the matrix on a regular basis. It is also important to make a clear distinction here between personal religious items and congregant items, which remain subject to approval at a facility level.

Perhaps it’s due to my own military background that I am sympathetic to the logistical, political, financial and social challenges the CDCR faces in the pursuit of its goals. But it is also due to that same background, having been discriminated against as a Pagan myself, that I am sympathetic to the religious rights and needs of the inmates. And while the department is not without its incarnations of ignorance and apathy, I have seen an encouraging trend of equality and acceptance emerging from a previously inhospitable atmosphere. Finally I’d like to take this rare opportunity to challenge the Pagan community to lend their attention and concern to an equally critical need within our circles and groves by previously incarcerated Pagans; reentry acceptance, assistance and support.

[This editorial from Joseph Merlin Nichter is part of a response to the new CDCR rule changes regarding items allowed to Pagan prisoners. I will also be reaching out to Pagan opponents of the proposed changes for their viewpoint. I’d like to thank Mr. Nichter for submitting his thoughts. As always, opinions expressed in guest editorials are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent The Wild Hunt, its editors, or staff.]

Pagan voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

“I first started volunteering at one particular prison because the Protestant chaplain called me and ask me too. He asked me to because the prison had put him in charge of facilitating religious accommodations for the Wiccans, Druids and Asatru (oh my!). And he could not, in good conscious, perform that task because it violated the doctrines of his faith. While I agree that it is a perverse conflict of interest to put him to such a task, I would argue stronger that he should resign his position as a “Chaplain” and return to being a “Priest.” Because there is a difference.  Being a priest is about being a servant of your religion, being a chaplain is about being a religious servant to others.” – Joseph Merlin Nichter, a Pagan prison chaplain, writing about “Spells for Cells” at PaganSquare.

Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.

Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.

“So, when somebody with some seniority and some knowledge in our community makes an assertion, states a clear if challenging opinion, what claim has that on anyone? None, except if the author is lucky, to make you think, perhaps to feel. You are still responsible for your own views, accepting or rejecting theirs. Likewise, we must be mindful of the power dynamics in such a statement. Does the person making the assertion have the power to enforce it, and the desire to? I was asked if I would be imposing a doctrinal test upon anyone who came into circle with me. Seriously? What makes you think I care what you think? Your beliefs and opinions, except to the extent you inform me, are inscrutable to me and a matter of your conscience. Likewise, so are mine to you, except that I’ve been doing some informing. If I don’t think someone is being a “proper Pagan,” why should they care? They have a right to their own opinion, just as I do.” – Sam Webster, author of “Tantric Thelema” and founder of the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, on the nature of Pagan authority.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“One moment that sticks out to me was the emotion that was evoked within me when speaking about my own privilege, a privilege that the kids I work with do not have. I think people automatically assume that those who talk about privilege are standing in a “victim” mentality role. I recognize that I am often the oppressed and the oppressor. I am humbled by a society that puts people in a position to be on both sides of the fence and awareness becomes the most important tool we can harness.” – Crystal Blanton, author of “Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World,” on the Pagans and Privelege panel held at PantheaCon 2013. For more on this, see T. Thorn Coyle’s reflections. You may also want to read Crystal’s pre-PantheaCon interview at PNC-Bay Area.

J. Rhett Aultman

J. Rhett Aultman

“Atheism has, over the past century or so, seen a very serious restriction in its definition.  There are many reasons for it, not the least of which are religious interests in America using politics to attempt to restrict science and science education.  In a broad historical perspective, though, there have been atheist philosophies within every religious tradition and several religious traditions that classify the cosmos in such a way that there’s simply no room for deities to exist.  Your atheist Pagan might take a highly psychological viewpoint on divinity, or may believe that divinity isn’t an entity and thus not subject to existence, or may think divinity is simply “the absolute,” or may simply not really feel concerned with questions about divinity.  Much as atheist philosophers have shaped the history of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and various aspects of Christianity, atheists in the Pagan community are there, keeping things from becoming ossified into some canonical form of religiosity.  Our lack of commitment to existential divinity is a feature, not a bug, and there’s a good chance that we were quite welcome to the discussion before we brought up that whole atheism thing.  Let us hang out.  Tell us if we’re telling you what your spiritual reality should be; let us have our spiritual reality and speak from it.  We’ll get along fabulously.  I promise.”  – J. Rhett Aultman on the care and feeding of the atheist Pagan.

“People are so afraid: How will I pay the rent? Will our daughter make it home from war? How will we get through this next crisis? Will the planet hold up under these climate shifts? Will my son make it home from school today? What if I die alone and unloved? What if the Gods aren’t real? Love is greater than our fears. All of them. Even the very real fears. Even the imagined fears. Love is greater.T. Thorn Coyle explaining how love is greater than fear. Thorn has a new book out tomorrow entitled “Make Magic of Your Life: Passion, Purpose, and the Power of Desire.”

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“One of the matters which Thorn pointed out in the discussion is one that I’ve very much taken on board over the last twelve years: don’t make very much of the distinction between “the mundane” and “the spiritual” or “the otherworldly,” especially as it applies to events like PantheaCon. PantheaCon is just as much a part of the world as anything else is, and the world with all of its marvels and difficulties is just as much a part of PantheaCon as the gods, spirits, and magic are–and in fact, sometimes even more than we would expect! Thinking back over the PantheaCons I’ve attended since 2007 (i.e. all of them between then and now), I can remember each year just as accurately by what the sleeping arrangements were and how clean I and my fellow room-sharers kept the bathroom (or not) as I can by what events occurred that year or what sessions I offered. I know my memory can be unexpectedly prodigious for such details, even surprising myself on some occasions, but likewise, food varieties and availabilities and amount of rest and patterns of carpet and size of luggage and comfortability and sexiness of clothes and status of ongoing health situations–which, to some, would constitute “mundane matters”–are just as important to me in my memories of these events as the presence of the gods, the movements of spirits, the effects of magic, and the positive or negative influences of specific individuals have been on each occasion. The “mundane” often gives the basis from which we are able to access the “spiritual,” and to ignore this is to ignore one of the very most basic and important teachings of the wider pagan umbrella at present, I think.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus on processing his post-PantheaCon experiences, and the false separation between the “mundane” and the “spiritual.”

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

Pagan voices is a new spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution  in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

“Covered in Light is a Sisterhood of Pagan/Polytheist self-identified women who have chosen, or are called, to cover their hair as part of their religious observance. In no way are we oppressed, objectified, suppressed, or made to feel like a second class citizen. The covering of our hair is a sacred act of devotion to our chosen Deities and therefore is approached with devotion and reverence. We welcome all women from all walks of life to join our Sisterhood if they feel led to do so. Trans-women and women of other faiths who are Pagan/Polytheist friendly and who embrace the Divine Mother are also welcome amongst us with open arms.”Cora Post, from Covered In Light. They are sponsoring the First Annual International Covered in Light Day on September 21st, 2012.

Michael Lloyd

Michael Lloyd

“It is important to recognize that most large gatherings which are billed as “national” events generally pull the bulk of their attendees from the region in which the event is being held. And there is anecdotal evidence to show that, when such a gathering is moved farther afield due to a necessary change in venue, the area from which attendees are drawn likewise tends to shift to focus on the new geographic center. When Julian Hill and I created the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering in 2002, we initially foresaw it as a regional gathering for gay and bi men residing within a 500 mile radius of Columbus, Ohio. However, in the first year we had attracted someone from Texas, and inquiries from as far afield as Mexico and France. By the second year we had people attend from as far away as Washington State. After 10 years we’ve pulled people from Hawaii, as well as from Ontario and Manitoba, Canada. And yet the bulk of the attendees have remained within the 500 mile radius that we had initially targeted. This is due primarily to the economics and practicality of transporting camping gear, ritual accoutrements, and fabulous costumes cross-country. Therefore, I believe that most events–even those with large draws from farther afield–are already essentially regional in nature.” – Michael Lloyd, a co-founder and former co-facilitator (2002-2011) of the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering, an annual spiritual retreat for men who love men. He’s author of the forthcoming book “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life and Times of Eddie Buczynski.” Lloyd was responding to a series on the Talking About Ritual Magick blog that asked if Pagan festivals are doomed to an inevitable decline.

Aidan Kelly in younger days.

Aidan Kelly in younger days.

“However, there is more to the Craft than just being a newly respectable religion for middle-class intellectuals. Tell me, you initiates, did you come to the Craft in order to supposedly work magic by reading a script? In order to take a politically correct attitude toward ecology and the environment? Or were you lured in by the Goddess, by the archetype of Aradia as the rebel against corruption and oppression? Or did you find the Craft because you were sick of being lied to by the established churches? If your primary allegiance is to searching out truth, as mine is, then you are a sixth type of Witch, for which there is not yet an established term.” – Aidan Kelly, exploring “What is a Witch?”

Frater Barrabbas (left) with fellow magician Tony Mierzwicki.

Frater Barrabbas (left) with fellow magician Tony Mierzwicki.

“Large regional festivals and conventions probably face a limited future, and will not be likely to persist in the decades ahead, what with the impact of limited resources and the necessity to adapt to changing times. Large gatherings may be more likely to occur once a decade, if at all. Local organizations and events are much more sustainable and these will likely persist and flourish in the future. Yet the most profound kind of gathering will be the intensive retreat, called Witch Camp by some, and perhaps spawning many variations in the future, each established for different regional areas and different traditions, practices and beliefs. It is my opinion that the future of our spiritual movement will be shaped not by social gatherings or even by individual groups or covens, but by intensive retreats that will give a level of spiritual authenticity to our beliefs and practices which normal activities and engagements fail to offer.” – Frater Barrabbas, “Are Pagan Festivals Dead? – Part 3″

“The [Witchcraft Suppression] Act makes possessing knowledge, or professing to possess knowledge of ‘witchcraft’ illegal, and by its title, seeks to suppress witchcraft. It also prohibits divination, a practice shared by both traditional healers who identify as iZangoma, and Pagans who identify as witches. […]  Traditional beliefs do not assume that a witch may be innocent of such accusation because it is believed that such criminal acts are in keeping with the nature of the practice of Witchcraft. The alliance has advocated against witch hunts and accusations of witchcraft since 2007. Our annual campaign focuses on research, advocacy and education. We believe that accusations of witchcraft cannot be legislated away.” – Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliances (SAPRA), speaking to The Citizen on South Africa’s Witchcraft Suppression Act.

Iris Firemoon with David Salisbury

Iris Firemoon with David Salisbury

“Obesity in the Pagan community is a part of the larger issue of health.  And health is not just about weight.  It is about treating our bodies as sacred.  It’s about what we put into our bodies and making sure that they are in the best condition possible for the long haul.  It’s about putting things into our bodies that were created by nature or the gods, not by putting synthetic replicas into our bodies as a substitute. It’s something that not only Pagans struggle with, but health is a consideration for all humans.  When we are at the height of our possible health (which is different for all of us because of genetics, injury, etc.), we improve the quality of our life.  We reduce disease.  We prolong life.  We feel better for longer.  I strongly believe that our bodies respond better to invasions and prevent disease when they are in optimal condition.  We are better vessls for divine work.  We are better able to serve.  We are better able to participate.”Iris Firemoon, responding to a conversation started by Peter Dybing on obesity within the modern Pagan movement.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

“We have started the NPCCA [National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association] as an affiliate program, a product of our existing organization, Mill Creek Seminary, and have just begun the first in a three phase development plan. Phase one will focus on membership development and organizational growth. We are proud to announce that the NPCCA is now accepting applications for membership from Pagans who actively engage in prison ministry, provide some form of religious service within the field of corrections, or have a strong religious organizations which have a prison ministry program  or who are interested in participating, contributing or supporting Pagan chaplaincy.” – Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe), on the formation of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association.

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

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.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

New Alexandrian Library Project Prepares to Break Ground: Yesterday in Georgetown, Delaware, building materials were unloaded for a dome kit that will form the New Alexandrian Library’s home. Overseen by the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the NAL project hopes to create a library worthy of its namesake” focused on esoteric knowledge, mystical and the spiritual writings from many traditions, and thehistory of our magickal communities.”

Unloading building materials for The New Alexandrian Library.

“Today was a momentous step forwards towards the New Alexandrian Library Project breaking ground. By forklift and by hand, twelve dedicated volunteers unloaded a huge truck laden with building materials. The barn is full to the rafters and the field has several tall and tarped bundles. The trees have been marked for clearing in the woods where the library will stand and the general contractor will soon be taking over the bulk of the physical work. This dome is the first of a long term plan of five domes that will make up the New Alexandrian Library.”

A fundraising event connected to the official ground breaking ceremonies will be announced soon. In the meantime, an urgent appeal has been sent out to supporters to cover the cost of renting the forklift. If you’d like to donate to NAL, you can find contact information, here. You can also follow NAL’s progress at their Facebook page.

Updates on Patrick McCollum’s Thailand Trip: As I’ve mentioned previously, Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has been traveling in Thailand at the invitation of Dhammakaya temple in the Pathumtani Province, where he will be honored as a World Inner Peace Ambassador, and share Pagan rituals and practices with local Buddhist practitioners. McCollum will then travel to the renowned temple at Borobudur on the Island of Java with Lama Gangchen Rinpoche, of the World Peace Foundation. At the Patrick McCollum Foundation website, Patrick has posted several updates about events from his journey, including doing ritual in the Khou Yi jungle.

“The sounds of the jungle at night are like nothing I’ve ever heard before. There are huge frogs croaking as loud as bass drums, and dozens of other smaller ones that sound like a chorus of children. Elephant’s screams pierce the night, and the sounds of large animal hunters seeking prey can be heard intermittently. My rational mind says I’m crazy for venturing out so, with tigers and poisonous snakes and who knows what? I have no weapons or any way to defend myself, and yet the moon guides me forward without fear. After about an hour I find a perfect clearing to do ritual. It’s circular and about 30 feet in diameter. I can see huge colorful flowers high in the trees and hanging vines everywhere filled with tropical fruits and spiny pods. I call the quarters and invoke the Goddess and find myself completely immersed. I did prayers for world peace and for human rights, everywhere, and I asked for blessings on my community.”

Patrick will no doubt be sharing further reflections about his trip with us when he returns. To keep track of Patrick’s journey be sure to follow the Patrick McCollum Foundation’s blog, and the Foundation’s Facebook page.

Damh the Bard is Ready For His Close-Up: Peg Aloi at The Witching Hour interviews producer-director Gary Andrews about his upcoming film The Spirit of Albion, a story inspired by the music of Damh the Bard.

“…the 3 main characters are young, modern people with the kind of problems that are very real today. One, Esther, is working in a high powered, pressured job with no real life outside of work and has reached breaking point. The second, Annie, is a damaged young woman who works in a job she hates (animal testing) and has taken refuge in drugs and casual sex rather than face her reality. Finally we have George, an anti war activist who is fighting the guilt that his soldier brother was killed in Afghanistan and the last time they spoke they had a fight about their life choices. All 3 of them, on the same day (Oct 31st) have a meeting with a stranger who turns out not to be what they first appear. Added into the mix is Annie’s brother, a Christian priest who is having doubts about his vocation. All of these characters are given a chance to see things a different way, through the filter of the Pagan perspective and all of them have a life-changing experience, although not everything turns out as you might expect!”

The film originated as a stage play, thematically structured around 10 Damh the Bard songs, and was recently performed at Witchfest International in November of 2010. Once complete, a direct-to-DVD release is planned. Updated will be posted to the official The Spirit of Albion site. As for Damh, a truly excellent human being and musician, he recently released a live CD, and has a new single coming out soon entitled “The Sons & Daughters (of Robin Hood)”.

When to Participate in Press Opportunities: Joseph Merlin Nichter, a volunteer minority faiths chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, discusses his recent participation in a local interfaith vigil, and the process he went through in deciding if that participation was a good idea.

“This past Wednesday I was contacted by an enthusiastic community organizer who was trying to manifest an interfaith prayer vigil ad hoc. He explained what he was trying to do and asked if I would be willing to speak publicly on the matter along side other religious community leaders. I told him I needed to conform my availability and would call him back shorty. I knew my availability, but didn’t want to make an ad hoc decision because there would be media coverage. I sought counsel before calling him back and agreeing to participate.”

Nichter references my recent participation in a panel at PantheaCon and the Charlie Sheen “warlock” media controversy to make the point that sometimes press attention isn’t what you want or need. However, in his case, it seemed to go well, and his speech is well worth the reading.

Christian Day and the Binding of Sheen: Speaking of the Charlie Sheen “warlock” issue, Salem Warlock Christian Day has posted a video of the ritual to “heal and bind Charlie Sheen.”

The ritual was covered by the press, both local, and national. As for the use of the term “warlock,” an issue that has sparked quite a bit of conversation lately, Day has issued a $1000.00 reward to anyone who can find source material “prior to 1950 that designates the word Warlock as someone who betrays a coven to the Witch hunters, or betrays a coven at all.” No doubt some scholars (amateur or otherwise) in need of some cash might want to take up his challenge.

Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn Expels Founder: The Second Order of the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn have voted to expel founder/leader Robert Zink due to a laundry list of charges that span from misusing his power to misappropriation of funds.

“It is come to the point where we of the Second Order have to take the unfortunate action of deposing former G.H. Frater P.D.R. (Robert Zink) of his highly influential position and expelling him from the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. He received the grievances from the Adepti of the Second Order, but was still given a great deal of time and opportunity to reform his ways. In response to this, he persists to hold himself above accountability and has gone to great lengths to secure his own position through surreptitiously ensuring as much of the Order’s assets were under his sole control as possible.”

However, as Frater Barrabbas notes, it may not be possible to expel him due to the way the bylaws of the organization are written. So we may soon see two competing Esoteric Orders of the Golden Dawn. He notes that this is just another peril of creating (or joining) organizations that aren’t built on democratic principles and consensus-based decision making.

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