Archives For journalism

Last month, Wild Hunt Managing Editor Heather Greene reported on the new Stylebook put out by the Associated Press, pointing out that despite a large number of new definitions and entries regarding religion, the influential guide for working journalists neglected to include any entries relating to the modern Pagan movement.

ap_stylebook_cover_2010

“The 2014 AP Stylebook does indeed have an expansive in-depth chapter on religion which includes definitions and details on a variety of minority religion terminology such as Brahmin (Hindu) or gurdwara (Sikh). The guide includes short informational entries on Baha’i, Buddhism and other non-Abrahamic faiths as well as minority sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It says that Christmastime is one word and suggests using Hanukkah as the standard spelling for the Jewish holiday. However, it says nothing about “Paganism.”

In fact the updated religion chapter makes no mention at all of modern Pagan or Heathen religions. It does not include Druidry or Druidism, Wicca or Asatru. With the exception of Yule, it does not recognize the names of Pagan sabbats or other important festivals and holy days. The word “pagan” only appears once in a recommendation to capitalize the names of mythological gods and goddesses such as Zeus, Athena and Poseidon.

When asked if the inclusion of modern Paganism had been considered for the chapter, the editors responded immediately saying that the Stylebook uses the dictionary for such groups. So what does Webster say? The online version includes a definition for Neo-Pagan and Neo-Paganism both of which use a capital letter. The same dictionary, however, does not include an individual entry for the term “Pagan” with capitalization. The two “pagan” entries define the term as those people who are anti-religious or polytheists from ancient Greek or Rome. Webster does include an entry for Wicca but no other practice.”

Well, it now looks like things might be changing. Maewyn, a copy editor and Witch who uses the AP Stylebook online, alerted me that an entry for Wicca was added on July 14th. Here’s the full text:

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

“Wicca: Religion shaped by pagan beliefs and practices. The term encompasses a wide range of traditions generally organized around seasonal festivals, and can include ritual magic, a belief in both female and male deities, and the formation of covens led by priestesses and priests. Wiccan is both an adjective and a noun. Uppercase in all uses.

Stylebook Editor’s Note
2014-07-14: Added to stylebook”

This new addition was then tweeted out on the AP Stylebook’s official Twitter account on July 16th.

 So that’s a start! So far, according to sources, that’s the only modern Pagan term to make it into the online AP Stylebook proper. Other terms, like Druid, Asatru, or Pagan and Neopagan, are absent, with an official policy of using the dictionary standards for terms not in the Stylebook. Whether the recent campaign by a coalition of Pagan Studies scholars for the capitalization of “Pagan” in major journalism stylebooks when referring to our religious movement will eventually bear fruit remains to be seen.

Why is this issue important? Because as Heather Greene said in her initial article, the AP Stylebook’s decisions change journalistic conventions.

“If you are not a writer, you may ask, “Why should I care?” The AP Stylebook does not affect you directly. However, it does affect you indirectly. The guide is used by journalists and editors all over the country as a writer’s “bible,” if you will. While the AP Stylebook is not the only guide of its kind, it is one of the front-runners that establishes a style standard for journalism that is dependable and regular.

The guide, for example, solves those ever-frustrating grammatical debates over commas and semi-colons. It recommends date and time abbreviations, fixes transition words, and clarifies what should be or should not be capitalized. All of its suggested rules and information are absorbed into the articles published in American newspapers and magazines since the 1950s.”

Guides like the Religion Stylebook, produced by the Religion Newswriters Association, are more comprehensive regarding Pagan faiths, but they are also less influential. I take this new addition as a sign that the AP Stylebook editors are listening, and hope this is a good omen for further entires to come. We’ll keep you posted as this story develops.

In May 2014 The Associated Press (AP) published the latest version of the AP Stylebook – the go-to writing guide for journalists and editors. The updated edition includes a new religion chapter, which, as AP describes,”pulls in some existing terms from the Stylebook’s A – Z entries and adds many new ones, covering the world’s major denominations.” In its announcement, AP expressed an interest in reflecting America’s “changing religious landscape” by including minority faiths.

For “Godbeat” or religion-based journalism, this is big news – more style standards in more detail for more religions. What were the changes and additions? And, more importantly, how will they affect mainstream news reports on stories involving Pagans and Heathens? Will “Pagan” and “Paganism” finally be capitalized?

ap_stylebook_cover_2010
If you are not a writer, you may ask, “Why should I care?” The AP Stylebook does not affect you directly. However, it does affect you indirectly. The guide is used by journalists and editors all over the country as a writer’s “bible,” if you will. While the AP Stylebook is not the only guide of its kind, it is one of the front-runners that establishes a style standard for journalism that is dependable and regular.

The guide, for example, solves those ever-frustrating grammatical debates over commas and semi-colons. It recommends date and time abbreviations, fixes transition words, and clarifies what should be or should not be capitalized. All of its suggested rules and information are absorbed into the articles published in American newspapers and magazines since the 1950s.

Within the “Godbeat” journalism world, the word “Pagan,” when referring to modern religious practice, is rarely capitalized. In October 2013, Oberon Zell reached the tipping point on this issue after seeing the word “paganism” in a CNN Religion Blog news article entitled, “For Some Wiccans Halloween is a Real Witch.” As noted in Circle Magazine, Oberon said, “The issue has annoyed me for decades, and I have tried to launch this campaign numerous times over the years.” When he questioned the CNN journalist, Oberon was told to “contact AP and Webster.” (Circle Magazine, Issue 116, February 2014)*

So Oberon did just that. In November, he launched a campaign to change journalism standards. With the help of friends and colleagues, he formed the Coalition to Capitalize Pagan. The group, then, drafted a letter to the editors of the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and Religion Newswriter’s Association Style Guide. After the Coalition finalized the letter, 61 Pagan writers, teachers, scholars and authors signed it. Those signatories included recognizable names like Raymond Buckland, Vivianne Crowley, Starhawk, Margot Adler, Patrick McCollum and Selena Fox.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's  @Doug88888

[Photo Credit: Doug88888/Flickr]

The letter was mailed in January but received little to no acknowledgement from the organizations. The University of Chicago Press responded with the following: “Thank You for your message. I am forwarding it to the reference department, which oversees the revision of The Chicago Manual of Style.”

During that process, the Coalition also decided to turn to the public for help. It launched a change.org petition that eventually garnered over 450 signatures from people around the world. In February, Circle Magazine published the article entitled “Quest to Capitalize Pagan” including a call-to-action that read:

If we cannot offer linguistic respect to our own labels, how can we continue our quest to demand that respect from outsiders? Circle Magazine asks that you consider making this simple personal change in your daily work. Be part of the quest by always capitalizing Pagan and Paganism.

Oberon eventually purchased his own copy of the 2013 AP Stylebook only to discover a bigger problem. The guide makes no reference to the word Pagan at all. He said:

I am completely mystified … For the past 45 years I have been giving interviews on Paganism to newspaper journalists, always emphasizing that “Pagan” and “Paganism” are the proper names for our religion, and should thus be capitalized in that context. The interviewing reporters always understand this, and agree. But every single time, when the story appears in the paper, “pagan” and “paganism” are printed in lowercase. When we have gotten back to the reporters who did the interview, they are always apologetic, and they tell us that the copy editors changed the capitalization, “because that’s what the AP Stylebook said.”

Since that time, the AP Stylebook has been updated with a new chapter meant to reflect the modern religious experience. Did Oberon’s quest have any effect?  Did the word “Pagan” make the cut?

The answer is no.

The 2014 AP Stylebook does indeed have an expansive in-depth chapter on religion which includes definitions and details on a variety of minority religion terminology such as Brahmin (Hindu) or gurdwara (Sikh). The guide includes short informational entries on Baha’i, Buddhism and other non-Abrahamic faiths as well as minority sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It says that Christmastime is one word and suggests using Hanukkah as the standard spelling for the Jewish holiday. However, it says nothing about “Paganism.”

In fact the updated religion chapter makes no mention at all of modern Pagan or Heathen religions. It does not include Druidry or Druidism, Wicca or Asatru. With the exception of Yule, it does not recognize the names of Pagan sabbats or other important festivals and holy days. The word “pagan” only appears once in a recommendation to capitalize the names of mythological gods and goddesses such as Zeus, Athena and Poseidon.

When asked if the inclusion of modern Paganism had been considered for the chapter, the editors responded immediately saying that the Stylebook uses the dictionary for such groups. So what does Webster say? The online version includes a definition for Neo-Pagan and Neo-Paganism both of which use a capital letter. The same dictionary, however, does not include an individual entry for the term “Pagan” with capitalization. The two “pagan” entries define the term as those people who are anti-religious or polytheists from ancient Greek or Rome. Webster does include an entry for Wicca but no other practice.

Merriam-Webster-logoBut that is only Webster. Other dictionaries have different entries with varying suggestions on capitalization and meaning.  Adding to the confusion is the free Religion Newswriter’s Association Stylebook, which does include references to modern Paganism including associated terminology and practices. However, across the board, the editors do not capitalize the word “Pagan.”

Due to the general lack of clarity and style specification, news editors and journalists are left to their own devices when writing about Pagan and Heathen religions. The editor must decide on which book, entry or guide to rely on for his or her media outlet. The issue facing the Coalition and the quest for consistent representation of Paganism in the media is far more complicated than originally thought.

On June 24 at 2:30pm, AP religion writer Rachel Zoll, who assisted Stylebook editors in creating the new AP Stylebook chapter, will be hosting a Twitter chat to discuss the changes to the guide, the inclusions and exclusions, and about religion journalism in general. Go to Twitter and follow the #APStyleChat hashtag to hear what she has to say.

 

* Editorial Note: I wrote the original Circle Magazine article published in February and personally interviewed Oberon Zell about his work on this subject. That article and every one of my Wild Hunt articles uses the AP Stylebook. I have also developed my own style guidelines on usage and capitalization of religion-specific terms which are all based on my growing knowledge of Pagan and Heathen practices rather than on any given book or guide. That standard is and will continued to be applied here at The Wild Hunt. However I do look forward to a day when my AP Style Guard application forces me to capitalize ‘Pagan’ and tells me what it means in modern terms. 

 

 

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

Publicity still from "Britain's Wicca Man".

Gerald Gardner

Last year a commemorative blue plaque was erected in England to honor the life and work of Doreen Valiente, considered by many to be the mother of modern religious Witchcraft. Now, this June, Gerald Gardner, who first introduced Wicca to the wider world, will receive the same honor. Quote: “Friday 13 might be considered unlucky for some, but Friday 13 June 2014 promises instead to be an especially auspicious day for Wiccans, because it is when the blue plaque for Gerald Gardner, the Father of Modern Wicca, is being unveiled at his former home in Highcliffe, Dorset. The day was picked because it is the anniversary of his birthday – Gerald Brosseau Gardner was born on June 13, 1884. The Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Centre for Pagan Studies, in collaboration with Children of Artemis, have organised the historic occasion when a commemorative blue plaque for Gerald Gardner will be unveiled at the house in which he lived.” You can find out more about the event, here. You can learn more about the UK’s blue heritage plaques, here.

GBGplaqueevent

10302236_4128042894802_6817282739509919849_nOn May 17th the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal published a fairly general “meet the Pagans” type puff piece. But then, the piece was pulled from their online edition after it came to light that Rev. Kim Cabot Consoli had an arrest record. The paper published a long Mea Culpa that not only listed that arrest record, but also that they “did not put witchcraft into a larger context of the faith and values of our community.” Enter Get Religion, who does a credible dissection of what we know, and what might have happened behind the scenes. Quote: “It’s such an ancient pitch: Step on stories that might offend some readers, and you’ll keep them happy. The trouble is that it ends up offending other readers who don’t like newspapers stepping on stories. In trying to avoid one controversy, you create another. Why not simply report the additional news?” So, lots of important questions are raised here in the realms where journalism and modern Paganism intersect. Does a criminal record mean you shouldn’t be written up for religion at some later point? Was her arrest merely a cover for the fact that they wanted to kill the story? Whatever the case, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal hasn’t bathed itself in glory here (but good job giving Gawker something to write about).

18799_253556621440675_939061554_nHeathens United Against Racism has raised over $4000 dollars to benefit the victims of the April hate-motived shootings in Kansas City that claimed the lives of three people. The alleged shooter was tied to Norse Pagan beliefs, specifically Odinism, during the initial rush of news reports. The fundraiser was a way of HUAR underlining the fringe nature of the shooter’s racist ideology, and that Asatru, and related faiths, are not based on racial hate or prejudice. Quote: “We are not a religion of hatred and refuse to tolerate the perversion of our faith to justify senseless acts of bigotry. On behalf of the Heathen community, we vehemently denounce Cross and all his ilk. Accordingly, we also extend our deepest condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy. As Heathens we value deeds over words. Please help us to raise funds to give to the families affected and to the communities targeted. We can never undo what has been done or return those who have been lost, but together we can foster unity and denounce the hatred that catalyzed this atrocity.” You can read official announcements regarding this fundraiser at HUAR’s Facebook page.

In Other Pagan Community Notes:

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus takes leave of Patheos.com, and discusses the reasons why in a farewell column. Quote: “I would, thus, like to close my words at Patheos by thanking everyone who has made my presence here possible, and who has contributed to the conversations held here in diverse ways. I will end with an echo of how I began this column, as the shadow of where I stood here fades and moves elsewhere: Queer I Stood—by the gods, I can do no other. And by the gods, for I can do no other, I shall still Queerly Stand elsewhere in the future.” More here.
  • The 6th Annual Pagan Values Event, which takes place each June, has begun. Quote: “Each June Bloggers, Podcasters, and other content creators from across the many faiths and philosophies of Contemporary Paganism are encouraged to post, broadcast, tweet, or otherwise speak out on the concept of Pagan Values. By naming and exploring the values, virtues, and ethics, we have found on our many pagan paths we are not trying to claim that they are ours exclusively, we simply wish to let the world know that we have them. Our goal is to inspire, to stir conversation, and to explore what it is that the good man or woman will teach their children of body and spirit.”
  • Neo-Paganism.org is seeking help for its timeline of Neo-Pagan history. Quote: “The timeline runs more or less from through the late 19th century to the present. Your help is needed! Corrections as to dates or details are welcome. As are recommendations for additional entries. The 1990′s and 21st century are especially sparse on entries, I think, so your help there is especially welcome.”
  • Dear lovers of Glycon the snake-puppet-god, writer Alan Moore had heard your cries for more information! Quote: “As people become disillusioned by the returned gods, the noticeably unreturned god Glycon piques curiosity and hope in a few would-be-followers, drawing Moore into their desperate plea for a priest and an encounter with Glycon himself.”

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

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

Elk_River_WV_mapSince I’ve started tracking Pagan responses to the West Virginia water contamination crisis, the fundraiser set up by Solar Cross Temple to aid locals has raised over $1100 dollars. Quote: “Since the 15th, Solar Cross has received $1165 in donations for this cause. We will be sending money to West Virginia tomorrow. We give thanks to everyone who spread the word, and to Crow, Ellen, Kristina, Shannon, Christine, Jenya, Samara, Marian, Laura, Helene, Mary, Fortuna, Jody, James, Tony, Sean, Joan, Lily, Karen, Denise, Rebecca, Rosalind, Kimberly, Elizabeth, Jason, Gerald, Lezlie, Kimberly, Justyna, Christine, Rhiannon, Jennifer and Misha.” In addition, organizers of the CUUPs ritual in West Virginia, which drew support from Pagan leaders like Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, said that “the energy surge we felt came from folks all over the U.S., as well as Italy, France, & Australia.” Events and actions in West Virginia, and other affected areas is ongoing. Recent commentary highlighted here from Anne Johnson and Sara Amis give some much-needed perspective as this story progresses. We will keep you updated.

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell.

Back in December, I spotlighted efforts by Oberon Zell and a coalition of Pagan scholars who are advocating capitalization of the word “Pagan” by journalists when referring to the religious movement. Now, Zell and his coalition have sent out a new press release, and are promoting a Change.org petition, which they hope will garner 500 signatures. Quote: “To address this issue, a coalition has been formed of academic scholars in the field of religious studies, who have done research into contemporary Paganism, and written books on the subject. Their purpose was to create a simple petition to the Associated Press and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan” and “Paganism” when speaking of the modern faiths and their adherents in future editions. The petitions were mailed off to the Stylebook editors on Monday, Dec. 2, with 60 extremely impressive signatures. Many people concerned with religious equality subsequently asked to sign the petition, so to facilitate further signatories, the coalition has created an online master version in Change.org.” You can see the original appeal and signatories, here.

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Kraemer

Christine Kraemer, a scholar and Managing Editor of the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com, has launched a new initiative for, quote, “building Pagan intellectual culture face-to-face.” The concept is simple enough, an organized book club with a local face-to-face component. Quote: “Each month, we read a book: popular fiction (dystopian and utopian novels are a favorite genre); literary fiction, like Candide; modern social or historical commentary, like Neil Postman’s Technopoly; or classics of philosophy, like The Symposium (which we actually repeat once a year). Next, we gather in person with a set start and end time – no Pagan Standard Time here. Once gathered, we sit around a table so everyone can see each other, books in hand, pitchers of water in the center, and glasses for each of us. Alcohol consumption and snacks are put off until the formal discussion is finished. To open the seminar, a participant offers an opening question (usually a different person each meeting). And then we’re off!” You can read more about the initiative, and how to participate, here.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

 

PSG 2014 Logo White Small for Web

  • Hey Pagan Spirit Gathering fans, the popular Pagan festival has unveiled its official artwork for 2014. Quote: “While we have been holding Pagan Spirit Gatherings for over thirty years, each year’s gathering has its own unique character and energy,” said Selena Fox, Executive Director of Circle Sanctuary. “To help guide that energy we give each year has a theme that explores different aspects of the celebration and our community. This year’s theme is ‘Heart and Harmony’ and I’m thrilled our beautiful new logo that so perfectly captures the spirit of that idea.”
  • As mentioned in our latest Pagan Voices, Morning Glory Zell is currently in the hospital due to kidney problems, with doctors re-starting chemo treatments. A new update on her status (which seems to be improving) and a suggested visualization for those wanting to do healing work has been posted on Facebook. Quote: “Please visualize a huge IV bag, larger than the hospital, hanging above the hospital. It is filled with pulsating, rainbow, glittering, swirling vortices of energy. A silver tube runs from the bag to MG’s left arm, where it joins the IV. MG is using this visualization – and is feeling the energy coming from ALL OF YOUR PRAYERS, CANDLES AND RITUALS. MG has asked that I thank everyone who is working on her behalf. She knows you are there.” May her recovery be swift and complete.
  • Just a reminder that the Maetreum of Cybele is still trying to raise funds to fight an appeal of their win in the Appellate court. Quote: “The well pump for the Maetreum died last Sunday and we are still trying to raise the 3000 needed for the last legal fees of our battle. Please contribute if you can via paypal to centralhouse@gallae.com. The contributions stopped over the weekend.”
  • Phantasmaphile has news of an upcoming London exhibition of channelled artworks by Ethel le Rossignol. Quote: “Huge kudos to Mark Pilkington and his Strange Attractor for putting together an astounding-sounding show of Ethel le Rossignol’s channeled paintings.  A spirit medium in the early 20th century, she and her teeming, mystical visions fall into vibratory lockstep with the Hilma af Klints, Wassily Kandinskys, and Emma Kunzes of the era – though hers appear to be decidedly more figurative.”
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be speaking at the “Life, Death, Near Death and Beyond: An Exploration” event in March. Quote: “Together we will look at the issues of life, death, near death and beyond. All at a gorgeous eco-retreat center and certified organic farm on Maui.” The event headliner is Ram Dass. You can see a promotional video, here.

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

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Pagan Community Notes is just one of the many regular features The Wild Hunt brings you to help keep you informed about what’s going on in our interconnected communities. If you appreciate this reporting, please consider donating to our Fall Funding Drive (and thank you to the nearly 200 supporters who have already donated). Now, on to the news…

TCE-frontcover-med copyJournalist Beth Winegarner, who moderated a panel on Pagans and the press at the 2013 PantheaCon in San Jose, has a new book coming out in December that explores how different teen pastimes got “caught in the crossfire” after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Quote: “‘There are stories in The Columbine Effect from teens who got themselves through horrific incidentsincluding severe burns or parent who might dieby listening to heavy metal. Other teens told me about discovering themselves and finding a network of friends through Wicca or Satanism. And there’s research to back them up,’ Winegarner says.’The Columbine Effect’ highlights the voices of academics, authors, legislators and others whose work supports the idea that some of the most demonized pastimes are actually good for kids. From Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to pagan author and NPR reporter Margot Adler, the book is filled with experts who see no harm in letting teens explore these interests.” It should be a thought-provoking work, and I’ll be lining up an interview with Winegarner in the near future to talk about Paganism within the context of her book’s thesis. For now, you can see a promotional video and read a sample chapter of “The Columbine Effect” at Winegarner’s official web site.

spiralheartSpiralheart, a community within the Reclaiming tradition, is launching Alchemeet, a once-a-month “Pagan meeting-of-minds that takes place online and is available to anyone who would like to join.” Quote: “The views presented in Alchemeet are designed to spark creative discussion in a safe environment and may be controversial by nature. These views do not represent the Spiralheart community as a whole and indeed may not even be the opinion of the host. Instead, the topics are meant to be edgy mental exercises in spirituality and to foster online community each month. Our hope is that you may feel infused or inspired to take these discussions and allow them to influence your daily practice—or not. It’s up to you.” The first talk will be held on November 5th, hosted by Boneweaver, on “The Necessity of Cutting Off One’s Legs In Spiritual Work.” Quote:  “I’ll explain my symbolic missing legs and what I’m willing to sacrifice for my deep work—and why!—and then I’d like to hear from you. Are you willing to be brave for the spiritual realizations you seek?” Details on how to join the Google Hangout-based discussion/symposium can be found, here.

10279415704_0dda6c8066_mGuatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun, who got quite a bit of press a couple years ago debunking the 2012 Mayan calendar “doomsday” hype, recently visited Oakland, California where he led a Mayan Fire Ritual for a gathering of the People of the Earth Community. M. Macha Nightmare published her impressions of the event back in September. Quote: “What appealed to me was the obvious care and reverence with which everything was brought together and performed, the sense of fellowship I felt, the beauty of the surroundings, both natural and human-made, the quiet filled with actions but not with talking, and the flames.  I’m grateful to have had this opportunity.” Now, photographer Gregory Harder has posted his photoset from that event to Flickr. For those clued into the California Bay Area Pagan scene, you’ll see several notable folks, including Luisah Teish, Don Frew, Gus diZerega, and more. Below I’ve included one of the photos, from the ritual in progress.

Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun

Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, please remember to support The Wild Hunt during our Fall Funding Drive so that we can continue to bring you reporting from our interconnected communities!

When I first started blogging about religion and Paganism, I was an active follower of sites like Get Religion, The Revealer, and the many personal blogs of “Godbeat” religion journalism pros. I didn’t so much consider myself one of their number, more an essential link between mainstream religion journalism and my increasingly diverse community. An advocacy journalist hoping to see better reporting about modern Paganism.  Back in 2009, when the existential crisis of traditional media upheaval was in full swing, I even wrote about the exodus of longtime religion journalists and what that meant for us.

“What has become ever-clearer to me is that it may be years before the mainstream media reorganizes and stabilizes enough to start spending resources on religion reporting again. In those years the only religion stories that will be getting regular coverage are those that will involve millions of people or dollars (or votes). Religious leaders will have to be powerful (or scandalous) enough to demand attention from reporters on the “hard” news-beats. This will leave minority faiths with an ever-dwindling access to news that could have a direct effect on their lives. Religion coverage could increasingly become an editorial page instead of an investigation […] if we can’t report on ourselves, we may find no one else willing or able to.”

GetReligion_bioFast forward to 2013, and niche mainstream journalism, especially religion reporters, are finding it tough as the “news hole” shrinks. As ever, Get Religion, now part of the Patheos empire, sounds a somewhat somber tone.

“It will be interesting to see if the Tennessean, a Gannett paper, fills Smietana’s position. USA Today, Gannett’s flagship paper, lost its longtime religion writer Cathy Grossman earlier this year when she took a buyout. If USA Today has hired a new religion writer, I’d love to know about it. I know that The Associated Press had two full-time national religion writers until a few years ago. As far as I know, Rachel Zoll is the only one left. The Dallas Morning News, which once had an award-winning religion section and three or four full-time religion writers, has no Godbeat pros, as far as I know. And after my last post, Kevin Palau informed GetReligion that The Oregonian’s religion and ethics writer Nancy Haught told him in an email that she had been let go.”

The truth is that disruptions caused by the rise of digital “new” media (which isn’t that new anymore) haven’t really abated. We saw former religion-site king Beliefnet slide into feel-good irrelevance, CNN and HuffPo launch religion sections, the rise of Patheos (which even hosted this site for one year), and the rise of the Washington Post’s opinion-centered On Faith section (which has sort of faded a bit in recent years). Meanwhile, the old Godbeat pros keep moving to greener pastures. The shift has very much been in favor of opinion forums over journalism, because everyone loves a soapbox, and paying professional journalists to cover a beat costs money (while many people are willing to give their opinion for free). Sites like Religion News Service seem increasingly like a newsy oasis in a sea of commentary.

Looking at the state of religion reporting today, my words from 2009 seem somewhat prophetic. Few institutions are interested in pouring more money into religion journalism, and the religion journalism we do get is almost exclusively focused on major scandals, whatever the Pope said this week, and whatever conservative Christians want to argue about. Good incisive coverage of modern Paganism, or of religious minorities in general, has been few and far between. The recent victory of getting Asatru and related terms added to the Religion Stylebook only came about because of a mainstream media blunder regarding reporting on the Thor’s Hammer symbol being approved for veteran’s grave markers and headstones.

“[Religion Newswriters Association President] Ann Rogers. After reading about my interactions with Public Radio international over its poorly researched and disrespectful coverage of Ásatrú (“Æsir Faith,” the modern iteration of Old Germanic religion), Ms. Rodgers asked me to pick ten terms important to Ásatrú and write definitions for the online guide. Before my submissions, the guide contained no entries related to Ásatrú.”

Beyond that? We enter the realm of tabloid sensationalism. Bad coverage of a star’s adherence to an African Traditional Religion,  dirt-digging masquerading as interest in better coverage, and bottom-feeding trolls hoping to get somebody offended. If you look closely, you’ll notice a trend: Paganism, when it hits the national wires, usually does so from editorial writers or tabloids, not from the serious “Godbeat” pros that places like Get Religion lionize. We’re simply not on their radar, despite a number of compelling and important stories involving modern Paganism. For instance, a lot of ink has been spilled lately on the upcoming Supreme Court hearing for Town of Greece v. Galloway, but not a single one has noted the important role modern Pagan faiths have played in shaping invocation policy, or the fact that a Wiccan was one of the non-Christian prayer-givers that Greece put forward to inoculate themselves from lawsuits. We have literally been invisible because the “Godbeat” is too busy parsing the Pope (or scanning the classified ads, I suppose).

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

“These cases, and the “model invocation policy” itself, are haunted by the involvement and activism of modern Pagans. It isn’t just that Greece included a Wiccan sectarian prayer among thousands of Christian prayers. The ADF’s policy blueprint was partially constructed around two 4th Circuit cases involving public prayers and modern Pagans: Simpson v. Chesterfield County, the case that helped create the so-called “Wiccan-proof” invocation policy, and the Darla Wynne case, in which a Wiccan from South Carolina won a battle against sectarian government prayer. These two cases helped set the precedents that advocates of sectarian prayer have been navigating through, and their efforts at mob-rule prayer sectarianism will finally be tested by America’s highest court.”

0f5d2972-2c89-4c6e-aaee-9ad8ede31df9I suppose I shouldn’t blame them, resources are tight, and you’ve got to sell papers/draw page-views, but I think the fact that Religion News Service published a story about the “abused goddesses” ad campaign without talking to a single Hindu is telling (note to reporters, I rounded up some responses here for you). The message to religious minorities (intentional or not) is clear: we’re too busy, and too strained, to care about what you’re doing, even if it has larger ramifications outside of your communities. Local media outlets are somewhat better, and you can still find a number of “meet the Pagans” articles every year around Pagan Pride Day season and Halloween, but we’re trapped in a never-ending introduction loop. Always shaking hands, never getting to that serious discussion we wanted to have. So the job of reporting on our interconnected communities will increasingly fall on our own shoulders.

Just as in the early to mid 1990s, we are entering a period of intense mainstream pop-culture interest in the occult, ghost hunting, the paranormal, and above all, Witchcraft. That means eventually the attention will come, but it may not be the kind of attention we might like. We are more diverse than ever before, and the need for Pagan journalism to inform our community, and to in turn influence mainstream narratives, has never been greater. We need to redouble our efforts, and I’ve been happy to see more sites like A Bad Witch’s Blog and Invocatio working to report on their geographical/theological corner of our larger community. This November, at The Wild Hunt’s annual fund drive, I hope to expand what we can do, but we’ll speak on that another time.

Perhaps the Godbeat as we knew it needs to fade away, so a new kind of God(s)beat can emerge. One not so beholding to the all-Christianity, all the time, reporting lens. So In that sense I’m glad the Godbeat is changing, because for us, it truly can’t get any worse.

Back in July, PRI’s The World did a story on the U.S. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs approving the Thor’s Hammer emblem for veteran’s grave markers and headstones (here’s The Wild Hunt’s reporting on that story). The story didn’t interview any Heathens, was somewhat flippant towards the faith, and included a picture of someone dressed like the comic book/movie version of Thor. This led Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog to lodge a (entirely justified) complaint campaign, and it ultimately pushed PRI to do a somewhat more respectful follow-up to their original piece. Now, this incident has led to what might be an even bigger win for practitioners of Asatru, inclusion in the Religion Newswriters Association’s official Religion Stylebook. At the Norse Mythology Blog Dr. Seigfried, who wrote the stylebook entires, explains how this came about.

logo

[Religion Newswriters Association President] Ann Rogers. After reading about my interactions with Public Radio international over its poorly researched and disrespectful coverage of Ásatrú (“Æsir Faith,” the modern iteration of Old Germanic religion), Ms. Rodgers asked me to pick ten terms important to Ásatrú and write definitions for the online guide. Before my submissions, the guide contained no entries related to Ásatrú. The Religion Stylebook is an important resource for journalists in the United States. […] It’s not every day that the head of a major journalists’ association asks you to literally define a religion for the nation’s mainstream media, and I took this responsibility very seriously. I modeled my definitions on those already in the Religion Stylebook and tried to match the selection of terms, lengths of definitions and writing style to entries for other religions already in the book. Of course, I could have written much more on each of the terms I selected, but I matched the amount of text to equivalent terms already included from other faiths.”

The ten terms added to the stylebook include Æsir, Ásatrú, blót, Eddas, and goði, and are live on the stylebook’s site as we speak. Dr. Seigfried worked with Heathens in Iceland, Germany, and the United States to shape the definitions he would use.

gothi_stylebook

“My second goal was to write definitions that would be general enough to be acceptable by members of the many divergent Ásatrú communities around the world. I fully understand that there is a great diversity of approaches to Ásatrú – as there is to any religious tradition. In an effort to balance out any personal bias, I asked leaders in three different Ásatrú communities to read my definitions and give their comments. Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir (Iceland), Josh Heath (USA) and Sven Scholz (Germany) were all kind enough to share their time and wisdom, and I am deeply grateful for their generosity. Their insights have made the definitions stronger; all remaining faults are my own responsibility.”

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

I was able to speak briefly with Dr. Seigfried about this achievement, and he called the inclusion a “progressive step” by the Religion Newswriters Association.

“I’ve been working for several years to help bring a positive view of this beautiful tradition to the general public. In large part, I started writing The Norse Mythology Blog so that people with no knowledge of Ásatrú could find some good information when doing a Google search on the subject. I’ve been continually disappointed by the lack of respect that Ásatrú has gotten from America’s religion journalists and interfaith organizations, and I am really glad that the Religion Newswriters Association has taken this progressive step.”

Having a neutral source of basic terms and information that journalists can access is hugely important for accurate and fair reporting. Since the Religion Stylebook is used by reporters on the religion beat, and is intended to act as an independent supplement to The Associated Press Stylebook, the chances are very good that future stories on Asatru will be better informed, or at least use the proper terminology.

This advance in better journalism for modern Pagan and Heathen faiths came about because Dr. Seigfried took the step of engaging directly with religion news-writers by becoming a member of the RNA.

“In order to help shine a light on this issue, I recently joined the Religion Newswriters Association. I hope that my membership in the organization will enable me to make contact with the more open-minded wing of the profession.”

Simply put, making professional contact with mainstream journalists results in better-informed journalism. I would go further, and state that building multiple, robust, journalistic organs of our own shapes the narratives that eventually “trickle up” into mainstream publications. The bigger, and more professional, our media institutions become, the better we’ll be able to inform and influence outside media. For religious movements like modern Paganism, a journalistic ecosystem is increasingly vital in helping to define who we are, what we do, and what our values are. It can’t just be The Wild Hunt, or The Norse Mythology Blog, or any other site, because no one resource can serve all sectors of our interconnected communities fully. We all have different parts to play, and it is vital that we collectively realize how important good journalism is, so that we can collectively support and build on the work currently being done.

Congratulations to Dr. Seigfried on this accomplishment!

On August 19th, Lee Thompson Young, a television actor who starred in the police procedural Rizzoli & Isles, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Lee Thompson Young

Lee Thompson Young

“We are beyond heartbroken at the loss of this sweet, gentle, good-hearted, intelligent man. He was truly a member of our family. Lee will be cherished and remembered by all who knew and loved him, both on- and offscreen, for his positive energy, infectious smile and soulful grace. We send our deepest condolences and thoughts to his family, to his friends and, most especially, to his beloved mother.”Official statement from the TNT cable channel.

When a young person with a promising career kills themselves, a natural instinct is to ask why this has happened. Sadly, E! News decided to make wrong-headed and ignorant speculation based on Young’s religious practices.

“Those close to Young noticed things ‘really changed’ a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Africa-based religion which has a saying, “iku ya j’esin”, meaning  ‘death is preferable to ignominy.’ Some have questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame.  However, Yorùbá culture icon and Chief Priest of Osogbo, Araba Ifayemi Osundagbonu Elebuibon, told the National Mirror earlier this year that the religion ‘[does] not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter.’ The Famous Jett Jackson star ‘took [his religion] to the next level and started wearing white all of the time,’ says a source, adding, ‘This religion was everything to him.’  Although he reportedly took a break from practicing Yorùbá, he recently returned to the religion. Just before his death, he visited a small village in Africa for something reportedly related to the religion.”

E! News, being a gossip tabloid, obviously went for the “weird religion” angle, complete with anonymous sources. Amazingly, they went with it even though they partially debunk their own theory. This prompted pop-culture/celebrity/fashion blogger Luvvie to blast E! for the irresponsible and ignorant assertions made.

“Yoruba is not a religion. Let’s get that straight out of the gate. Yoruba is the name of a people; Yoruba is a language; Yoruba is culture. Yoruba people are MY people and that’s MY tongue and that’s MY culture. Yoruba is NOT a religion! […] Ifá is the traditional religion that you probably meant, but assuming that a majority of Yoruba people practice it is incredibly pinhole-minded. Just like we speak different dialects of the language, our beliefs are diverse. Us Yorubas are a religious people and most of us practice Christianity or Islam. Even if Lee was practicing Ifa, he would not be encouraged to take his own life. So let me shut this line of reasoning down now. I’m so upset that it even comes up!”

Clutch Magazine picked up on the story and added that “when covering a topic as sensitive as a man’s death, there is no place for cultural insensitivity and ignorance.” Both Clutch and Luvvie noted that a subsequent clarifying update to the story was not sufficient, and the E! News writer apologized and says she wants to dialog with Luvvie about the issue. That dialog must have been successful, because a followup report on Young’s funeral service was far more accurate and sensitive to the subject.

“Young’s practice of the West African religion Ifa was also highlighted throughout. Dancers dressed all in white performed to the beat of live drum music and the actor’s former karate teacher entered the room ahead of Young’s mother, writer Velma Love, blessing the ground in front of her as she walked in. Some of the mourners were dressed all in white, too, as a nod to Young’s Ifa practice.”

The ray of light in all of this is that some education was able to happen, and the story of Young’s death was not further tarnished by lurid speculation into religions the reporters don’t understand. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream news sources still treat indigenous and traditional religious practices from the African continent, and the faiths that they helped spawn, as suspect or primitive. I hold out hope that some promising signs of increasing interest will yield more understanding and respect.  As for Lee Thompson Young, my deepest condolences go out to his friends and family. What is remembered, lives.

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

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk, noted activist and author of “The Spiral Dance,” took to Facebook to speak out on the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, and to also speak more broadly about race, and “stand your ground” laws. She initially posted: “I’m enraged and heartsick at the injustice of the Zimmerman verdict. I stand with the black leadership and their allies calling for a Department of Justice investigation, for an end to racial profiling, and the end of the dangerous laws that encourage vigilantes to target anyone they consider ‘other’ with impunity! So much work to do!” Then, followed up to expand on her previous statement. Quote: “I am indeed heartsick and enraged at how many young women are given long sentences for fighting back against their abusers. But people, both those cases underline one of the core ways racism and patriarchy work–by defining who gets to use violence and who does not […] 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.” She finished by addressing critics who would rather she focus on “spiritual stuff” rather than her activist work by noting that “this IS my spiritual stuff.”

pent-o-clockA new Pagan-themed community television program and videocast has launched, with a mission of serving Pagans in Oregon while also covering national and international Pagan news. Called “The Pent O’Clock News” the 30-minute program will air on Salem’s CCTV Channel 23 and Corvallis’ CCAT 29 television stations. Quote: The monthly show includes stories on the national and international level that impact our Pagan Community. The focus of the show is on news about the Pagan Community in Oregon. Hosted by Oregon Pagans Carl Neal and Michelle Hawkins […] The show is an opportunity not only to more deeply connect Oregon’s Pagan Community, but it is also an opportunity to introduce ourselves to our non-Pagan neighbors. Understanding begins with knowledge and it is hoped that both Magick Moment and The Pent O’Clock News can help to provide that knowledge.” The Pent O’Clock News joins other Pagan-themed community television programs like Keepers of the Flame in Connecticut, along with several ongoing Pagan videocasts

a2514629697_2Pagan singer-songwriter Sharon Knight has released her new album “Neofolk Romantique.” Quote: “A collection of Celtic traditional and original songs ranging from romantic and fanciful to dark and brooding. Faery lore, lively jigs, and haunting ballads of pirates, murder, love, death, and the quest for poetic inspiration, sung by a feisty redhead. Comes with a 21-page booklet of lyrics and song notes.” This is Knight’s first solo album since 2005’s “Song of the Sea,” though she’s hasn’t been idle in those intervening years, releasing an album with her band Pandemonaeon in 2010, and two album of chants with T. Thorn Coyle in 2008 and 2009. Sharon Knight will be hitting the road to promote her new album at the end of July, which includes a stop at the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon, where she’ll be sharing a stage with Pagan-friendly artists like Omnia and S.J. Tucker. In a recent interview Knight said that she’s already working on her next album, a collaboration with her husband Winter. Quote: “I am finishing up my next album with my husband Winter. He is my main collaborator and a fantastic musician […] over the years we have developed such an outstanding rapport, we practically read each others’ minds in the studio, it is such a great working relationship, I can’t imagine doing this without him.”

Nora Cedarwind Young

Nora Cedarwind Young

Back in March I reported that that Circle Sanctuary Priestess, Death Midwife, chaplain, and Green Burial advocate Nora Cedarwind Young is terminally ill, and wasn’t expected to live for much longer. However, Young has beaten the estimates and predictions, and is still with us. This happy news has created a financial crisis for Young and her family as they deal with ever-increasing medical bills and a fundraiser has been started to help them cover the costs. Quote: “One of Nora’s favorite adages, “The gift you give is the gift you get!” is the theme for our efforts here.  This amazing and beloved priestess has stayed with us much longer than anyone thought possible!  Nora has been somewhat stabilized with a strict routine of medicines and wound care, but the cost of such endeavors, as you can imagine, has been quite a burden on the couple, even though they have insurance. The intent of this fundraiser is to alleviate the extreme stress they have been under by providing some financial help for the non-covered costs that have accumulated, and cover additional treatments, like intravenous vitamin and mineral therapies, that Nora says really make a difference in how she feels.” If Nora Cedarwind Young has touched your life, please consider helping out.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

  • Let’s start off with Salon.com’s follow-up to the outing of rogue Wikipedia editor “Qworty,” which focuses on his strange vendetta against Pagan, esoteric, and occult pages. In the piece Andrew Leonard links to my run-down of the story, and manages to dig up some new information as well. Quote: “Every page deleted or altered by Young on grounds of self-promotion or conflict-of-interest clearly deserves a second look. And that great effort is already well under way. The Neo-Pagans are clamoring for the return of some of their deleted pages and scouring those that survived the purge to see which of Young’s cuts will be reverted. But Young didn’t confine himself to questions of notability or conflict-of-interest when tangling with the Pagans; he also challenged the basic tenets of Pagan spirituality. Wikipedia, he argued, should be debunking such things as Wiccan rituals or the exploration of drug-induced conciousness-raising, rather than reporting them.” This experience has left some Pagan Wikipedia editors disillusioned, to put it lightly. It will be interesting to see how things progress from this point. 
  • The branding of children as “witches” by pastors in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues. The BBC has a new documentary where a British citizen who was born in the DRC finds out her cousin has been accused of witchcraft and races to find her. Quote: “Journeying from her home in London to her birthplace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kevani tries to discover how ancient traditions have been hijacked in the name of Jesus, why families are singling out vulnerable children and hurting them and why toddlers are having to endure excruciating rituals in order to ‘rid them of demons’.” It should be noted that branding children as witches is illegal in the Congo now, but the pastors seem unconcerned.
  • The book “Ritual” by David Pinner, which inspired the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” is going to be getting a sequel. Pinner told Rue Morgue Magazine that he’s written a book set 30 years later entitled “The Wicca Woman.” Quote: “I’ve just completed the sequel to Ritual, after all these years, called The Wicca Womanthe children who are in Ritual are grown up in this. It’s set 30 years later just before the millennium. Wicker Man obsessives will no doubt want to keep an eye out for this one. Meanwhile, StudioCanal continues its hunt for lost footage from the 1973 film’s original cut in hopes of releasing a complete anniversary edition. 
  • Christianity in Britain could be declining faster than originally thought according to a new analysis of the 2011 UK census data. Quote: “A new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.” We may see a truly post-Christian Britain in our lifetimes. That new analysis is from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, by the way. 
  • John Macintyre, former president of the Scottish Pagan Federation, is interviewed by Patheos.com about the importance of Pagan involvement in interfaith. Quote: “Interfaith is not a threat, it doesn’t aim to change what Paganism is, still less to merge it into some kind of ‘one size fits all’ universal religion. It allows us to educate other faith groups and the wider society about the reality of modern Paganism, to challenge prejudice and negative stereotyping close to its sources, and to make a positive contribution as one of the many faith communities that make up our society.”
Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte

  • Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” writes about the Vatican’s ongoing battle with the cult of Santa Muerte. Quote: “In addition to theological objections, the current religious economy of Mexico and Latin America provides a compelling explanation not only for the condemnation of narco-saints but also for other dynamic religious competitors. For the past three decades both national bishops’ conferences and the Vatican have inveighed against the “invasion of the sects” in Latin America. Of course, Pentecostals, the most vibrant of the Church’s competitors, have been the primary object of condemnation, but Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age groups and Spiritists have also been singled out.” 
  • PNC-Minnesota has an update on Pagan-initiated tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma. Quote: “As of Saturday, Solar Cross has collected $545 in donations and was able to send 400 N95 rated respirators, 58 pairs of work gloves, 50 safety goggles, 20 tarps, and 10 shovels. Tillison said, ‘Thank you thank you thank you! Your donations will be distributed within 24 hours of the time they arrive and sent out to Little Axe, Newcastle and the outlying areas that are not receiving the outpouring the greater area of Moore is.'” You can read my initial report on this, here.
  • When talking about legal protections, “who’s a journalist” is the wrong question. Quote: “When considering whether to grant legal protection for the gathering and dissemination of information, the question should not be the person performing those acts, i.e., “who is a journalist?,” but “is this an act of journalism?” Before the user-generated content revolution, focusing on journalists (i.e., people defined by their institutional affiliations) served as a functional if rough approximation of the true interests at stake (i.e., debate on issues of public concern). That is no longer the case.” This issue is an important one for all us Pagan media types who are not affiliated with a recognized institution. 
  • Paul Louis Metzger argues that sometimes Christians create the “idols” for modern Pagans out of ignorance of our actual beliefs and practices. Quote: “We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”
  • Wiccan love spells: sometimes they (kinda) work (at least for awhile). Quote: “Yes, I shed a few tears, but not because I was in love with him. I cried because the spell hadn’t worked, at least not all the way, and I was now forced to revert to being a Party of One after having had a brief, haunting reminder of the cozier aspects of being in a relationship.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.