Archives For Kathy Nance

Nothing pleases me more than to see voices connected to our community write important stories that explore our experiences, and the influence we can have on the world. Today, I’m honored to spotlight three such stories, published in three different media outlets.

The Plight of Pagans in the Military: Journalist and author Jennifer Willis, a Reconstructionist Jew with “strong NeoPagan leanings,” writes an exploration of the challenges faced by Pagans in the U.S. military for the Religion & Politics site.

Wiccan Pentacle Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

Wiccan Pentacle Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

[Stefani Barner's] experiences with religious intolerance in the military resulted in her book, Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces: A Handbook for Pagans in the Military. Though far from the witch-hunts of the past, Pagan stereotypes continue to be problematic, but perhaps even more so within the U.S. Armed Forces. Though there are now military chaplains for many minority religions—Buddhism and Hinduism included—Pagan military chaplaincy can’t seem to get off the ground, and until recently Pagan veterans could not have the pentacle—the symbol of their faith—inscribed on their tombstones in military cemeteries. But with increased accommodation of minority religions and a push for greater religious tolerance in the ranks, life could be changing for Pagans in uniform. “Things have improved,” Stefani says. “I think that we still have a long way to go, but that’s true for many, many minority faiths.”

For those who haven’t been following my coverage over the years, this is an excellent summary of the current status quo, and the struggles we’ve faced in getting to the point where we are now. An auspicious first story dealing with modern Paganism at Religion & Politicsa project of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Be sure to read the whole thing, and share this on social media.

Religion at the Rio+20: Huffington Post blogger Grove Harris, a UN representative for the Temple of Understanding, and a member of the Interfaith Consortium For Ecological Civilization, reports from the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  Harris talks about a side-event at Rio+20 where spiritual leaders could discuss changing consciousness in regards to the environment.

“In my work with the Temple of Understanding and the Interfaith Consortium for Ecological Civilization I convened a side event of interfaith spiritual leaders to discuss the need for consciousness change in our relationship to the environment. We have spiritual resources to guide us in this dangerous time that can help us enjoy peace as well as take effective action. Dr.Vandana Shiva advocates saving seeds, all kinds of the non-genetically modified kind that have grown food for humans for a long time. Jayanti Kirpalani of the Brahma Kumaris spoke of respect, respect for self, for home, for others and for the natural world. “We have spiritual resources to guide us in this dangerous time that can help us enjoy peace as well as take effective action. I was invited to speak on aligning awareness and action, and offered up a set of concepts: humility, intimacy, interconnectedness, acting into new awareness, composting as a spiritual practice, love as sustainable energy, and spirituality as nourishment offering freedom.” from addiction. This is my early harvest this solstice, the seeds of a book coming your way soon.”

Considering that I just wrote about Pagans and interfaith, here’s an excellent example of a Pagan operating on the world stage within the interfaith movement. Working to help bring our values of nature as sacred to important summits on environmental policy. I’m hoping that Harris issues more reports from Rio+20, giving us a Pagan perspective.

Open-Air Community at St. Louis Pagan Picnic: Finally, here at Patheos, Kathy Nance writes about the 20th anniversary of the St. Louis Pagan Picnic, which happened earlier this month. Drawing over 4000 people, it may be the largest Pagan event held in North America, one that often goes unnoticed by the rest of the Pagan community.

“I’ve been to 10 of our St. Louis picnics. It’s ironic that I lived within blocks of the event from the second one on and had never so much as walked through before becoming Public Relations chairman for the 2002 event, then staying on for 2003. And that I’d been asking, before that, “Where are all the Pagans?” and assumed the answer was, “In California.” I’ve been able to tell, every year, that there are people who are thrilled, even stunned, that there is such a vibrant Pagan community in St. Louis. I had some newcomers in both workshops I gave at Picnic. I saw and talked to others as I walked down vendors’ row. I’ve met a few so happy to find like-minded souls that they have tears in their eyes.”

Many of us, myself included, often fall into the trap of thinking about modern Paganism in terms of 3 or 4 geographical communities that have shaped our history: The Bay Area in California, New York City, or New England/Salem. Rarely do we stop to notice how modern Paganism is growing and thriving just about everywhere, like in St. Louis, Missouri. Luckily, Kathy Nance reminds us that sometimes our most vibrant communities can happen in places we might not suspect. For more on the St. Louis Pagan Picnic, follow their Facebook page, or check out MagickTV’s coverage.

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

Top Story: Some crazy things get said and done during an election season, and Pagans certainly haven’t been immune from that phenomenon this year, but this may take the cake. Washington, D.C., Republican congressional delegate candidate Missy Reilly Smith, in an interview with The Daily Caller, talks about using her candidacy as a way to air her anti-abortion views and lets slip some rather interesting opinions about Wicca.

“The more that you’re involved in this organization [Planned Parenthood] the more demonic you realize it is,” Smith said. “Many of the employees of Planned Parenthood and abortion mills, the actual killing centers, the employees are actual witches. They belong to Wiccan and there’s nothing more valuable to Satan than the blood of innocent babies.”

She also proclaims on her website that the Tea Party’s “number one mission” is to “end legalized child killing” which might come as a shock to the pro-choice Tea Partiers in the movement who are more concerned with taxes. While it’s shocking to hear any (supposedly) mainstream candidate say this about Wiccans, it’s actually a fairly common belief within the hardcore anti-abortion groups. Do a search for “the sacrament of abortion” on Google and you’ll see a near-obsession with an obscure book written by Ginette Paris in 1992 that discusses abortion as a sacred act, and uses the metaphor of the procedure being seen as a sacrifice to Artemis. This, along with other isolated comments by a former abortion practitionerwas pounced on as “proof” that Satanic Witches were behind the abortion industry. Various “insider” accounts still push the Wiccan abortionist meme today, putting Smith’s seemingly random outburst into context.

“Since then the Toledo, Ohio, abortion clinic where Abigail’s mother worked has moved to a new location, although it is still owned by the same woman, a Wiccan when Abigail knew her. Abigail’s mother has also moved on, so I don’t know if the nefarious practices and conditions Abigail observed are ongoing.”

Star Foster at Patheos.com has already expressed her disgust and anger at Smith’s slandering of Paganism in the interview, and I imagine more responses are being written as news of this slur spreads. It should be noted that Smith does not have the support of the Republican Party, despite having won the primary. It is also very unlikely that she’ll win (Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans in the District of Columbia). So, if anything, her candidacy should be a reminder of what the activist base of the anti-abortion movement believes about modern Paganism.

The Future of Pagan Lands: Pagan journalist Kathy Nance talks with acclaimed Pagan author and activist Starhawk during her visit to Diana’s Grove in Missouri;  the key topic of discussion is the fact that Diana’s Grove is currently on the market, and how land prices and the current economy are calling into question the future of Pagan-owned retreats and sanctuaries.

First, she said, the changing of the generational guard is being affected by a change in land values. Many of the groups—Pagan and otherwise—that bought land and set up intentional communities in the 1970s and 1980s were able to live off the land with little or no outside income. Now that land prices have increased so greatly in some areas, buyers need outside income to make the mortgage payments. Or, they need to be retired people with sufficient assets to invest and use for living expenses.

“I see now on my land in Northern California that the community is aging. The people who are moving in who can afford to buy tend to be retired,” she said. “You can’t ask Cynthea and Patricia to just give it (the Diana’s Grove acreage) away. That’s their retirement money. But the people who might be interested in taking it on, may not have the resources.”

It all comes back to the need for infrastructure, and how hard that can be to manage for a movement as decentralized and diverse as modern Paganism. While our growing (and aging) community often wants some of the amenities that other faith communities have (land, buildings, retirement communities, service organizations, charities), the individual faiths within Paganism are still too small to build/buy such resources, and the movement as a whole is often too diverse to effectively pool resources for such things. I have no doubt that eventually we’ll see more infrastructure within modern Paganism, but it may not come as soon as some would wish.

Baltic Paganism Around the World: After doing an article on the rise of new religious movements in the Baltic States (EstoniaLatvia, and Lithuania), the Baltic Times takes a closer look at Baltic forms of Paganism at home and in the diaspora.

“Evangelical movements along with neo-pagan movements locally and abroad are possibly the beginnings of something much larger. Next, we take a look at the rebirth of ancient religions. To call it an actual rebirth is somewhat of a misnomer since the neo-pagan movements are not a true revival of a religion once practiced in the region. Instead, as with the example of the Latvian Dievturiba (literally ‘keeping God’) movement, we see religion constructed from ancient practices.”

The article looks at Dievturiba, Romuva, Maausk, and Taaralased, many of which are seeing thriving communities growing in the Baltic diaspora. Also mentioned is the upcoming observance of Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”), which share many commonalities with the holidays like Samhain.

Hiding Bones Because of Pagans? The Daily Mail reports on the trend of museums increasingly hiding or deemphasizing ancient human remains due to protests from various groups, including Pagans. Centered on the new book by sociologist Dr Tiffany Jenkins entitled “Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority”, the article claims museums are over-reacting to protests by groups like Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD).

Since the late 1970s, human remains in museum collections have been subject to claims and controversies, such as demands for repatriation by indigenous groups who suffered under colonisation, particularly in Australia, North America and Canada. But Dr Jenkins says that such appeals are not confined to once-colonised groups. British pagans formed Honouring the Ancient Dead in 2004 to campaign for reburial and respect for pre-Christian skeletons from the British Isles. Dr Jenkins said: “The profession is over-reacting to the claims of small minority groups – such as the Pagan organisation, Honouring the Ancient Dead. Most remarkable of all is that human remains of all ages, and which are not the subject of claims-making by any community group, have become subject to concerns about their handling, display and storage, expressed by influential members of the museum profession.”

As I’ve noted before on this site, there is no consensus among British Pagans on this issue, with many, most notably Pagans for Archeology, opposed to the reburial of ancient human remains. In fact HAD occupies something of a middle ground on this issue, only calling for the reburial of remains that “have no scientific or research potential,” as opposed to other groups who take a far harder line. Whether museum curators are “over-reacting” to demands by various Pagan groups is an open question. Who sets the metric for what’s an over-reaction? The Daily Mail? They don’t have a great track record for being fair and balanced when it comes to Pagan religion in the UK.

No Deal on Witch’s Wit? While I’m hesitant to bring this topic up again, it seem the New York Times was a bit too hasty in saying there was a deal between protesting Pagans and California brewery Lost Abbey over their witch-burning beer label. Peter Rowe with the San Diego Union Tribune interviews Tomme Arthur, Lost Abbey’s brewmaster and part owner, who says that he isn’t budging on this issue.

“I’m sorry we offended the pagan community. But our labels are original pieces of artwork. I’m standing behind the art and the artist’s imagination.” … At least one of Lost Abbey’s four co-owners would bow to these concerns. “I would change the label,” Vince Marsaglia said. “That’s one of a million labels you could put on that beer.” But Marsaglia said he’ll defer to the person who runs Lost Abbey day-to-day. And what would that person change about the label? “Nothing,” Tomme Arthur insisted.”

Observant readers will also note that Rowe interviewed me for the article. I’m afraid our nuanced conversation about Pagan opinions over this controversy were somewhat cherry-picked in the rather glib final version, but I tried to emphasize to him that there is no clear consensus within our communities over this issue. Whether this controversy dies down, or continues to gain stream, remains to be seen.

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

Top Story: While the mainstream media has been generally focused on controversial statements from Harry Reid in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s “Game Change,” a new book about the 2008 presidential election, there are some other surprising revelations to be found. For instance, did you know that Rielle Hunter, who famously had an affair with presidential candidate John Edwards (and most likely bore his child), was (allegedly) Pagan?

“There was nothing legit, however, about Hunter’s behavior. It was freaky, wildly inappropriate, and all too visible. She flirted outlandishly with every man she met. She spouted New Age babble, rambled on about astrology and reincarnation, and announced to people she had just met, “I’m a witch.” But mostly, she fixated on Edwards. She told him that he had “the power to change the world,” that “the people will follow you.” She told him that he could be as great a leader as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. She told him, “You’re so real. You just need to get your staff out of your way.” She reinforced everything he already believed, told him everything he wanted to hear.”

Not exactly the kind of revelation of modern Pagan involvement in national politics one hopes for. Then again, if you believe everything in the book excerpt about the Edwards campaign, Hunter was hardly the most crazy element in that bizarre love triangle. Hunter’s life seems to have always skirted fame and notoriety, but when her moment in the sun finally arrived it was ultimately as an infamous footnote in a historic presidential election.

In Other News: The particularly brutal murder of an elderly woman in South Africa has some calling once again for laws banning the practice of witchcraft in the country. Columnist Michael Trapido argues that the infringements on free expression such a law would create are a small price to pay for greater safety.

“So until such time as someone can put forward a better suggestion for protecting people accused of witchcraft — and not the current law which makes it an offence to call someone a witch — legislation to make it a criminal offence to be a witch seems to be the only answer. In tandem that anyone now possessed of this legal channel to accuse witches, who practices self-help, be given the stiffest possible sentences available to a court faced with that charge. Denying some form of religious freedom is very ugly but what happened to an 81-year-old woman and many others like her is far uglier.”

So in the course of attempting to stop witchcraft-related murders, Trapido would support a law that is so broadly worded that it essentially bans non-violent religions like Wicca. That, I suppose, wouldn’t be such a large issue except for the fact that there is a thriving Pagan community in South Africa. I’m told that the South African Pagan Rights Alliance will be releasing a statement on the matter soon, but they have made their position regarding witchcraft bans quite clear before.

“Witchcraft in South Africa is a recognized Pagan religion. Most Pagans in South Africa self-define as Witches – as adherents of the religion of Witchcraft. Every South African citizen has the right to freedom of religion and belief, including the right to proselytize their religious beliefs should they choose to do so. This constitutional right includes not only the right of religious communities to define themselves and their own religion, but also to challenge anything they may perceive as harmful to themselves and their religious communities.”

Further, the South African Pagan Council is a recognized Religious Organization with SA Home Affairs and SA Revenue Services. So to enact the “solution” of banning “witchcraft” they would have to knowingly outlaw a religion they have previously acknowledged as deserving legal recognition. These murders are horrible, but the solution is education, aid, and enforcement of existing laws, not arbitrary (and discriminatory) new laws. I fear Ben Franklin would be rolling in his grave at Trapido’s “ugly” solution. I think the country of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu can do far better than reactionary attempts to outlaw a belief in hopes it will solve the problem.

A group of lawyers, scholars, activists, and religious leaders from the across the political spectrum have collaborated on a new statement encapsulating the current understandings of Church-State law and freedom of expression in America.

“As the role of religion in public life continues to spark intense political debate and high-profile court cases, a group of diverse leaders from religious and secular organizations has issued the most comprehensive joint statement of current law to date on legal issues dividing church and state. Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian leaders from the evangelical, mainline and Catholic traditions joined with civil liberties leaders to draft Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law, released Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.”

A project of the Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, the statement should be required reading for anyone concerned about legal decisions made regarding religious expression in America. You can download the 34-page PDF file, here. Almost all of the legal issues facing Pagans today in our schools, prisons, military, and the workplace are touched on in the document. Don’t miss out!

Kathy Nance gives us an update on the ceremonial rattles created by Pagan artist Julee Higginbotham for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. After being blessed and distributed by the Pagans at the Parliament, they ended up being gifted to several key spiritual/religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama.

And each was blessed at Pagan prayer circles in St. Louis, Melbourne Pagan events, and the Parliament itself. At each circle, the hope that the gifts would convey messages of love and unity were repeated. On the next to last day of the event, before coffee and breakfast, came word that the Dalai Lama’s personal secretary was on his way down to pick up a shaker. River, a Pagan from Missouri, handed over the gift. It was wrapped in cloth and twine used at the Pagan Peace Ritual. “The shakers passed through hundreds of hands with blessings for world peace and for understanding between different yet similar religions,” River said. “We were all tremendously moved that we were able to give one to the Dalai Lama.”

In addition to the Dalai Lama, shakers were gifted to His Majesty Robert Daagbo Hounoun, world wide leader of the Vodun Hwendo faith Professor “Auntie” Joy Murphy Wandin, AO Senior Woman of the Wurundjeri People, and “Uncle Bob” Randall, Yankunytjatjara Elder and Traditional Owner of Uluru (Ayers Rock). According to Parliament Board of Trustees member Angie Buchanan, the shakers “opened many doors” between Pagan delegates and indigenous communities across the world.

In a final note, famous Los Angeles Buddhist/New Age/metaphysical bookstore Bodhi Tree is closing down. LA Daily reports that the close came about due to rising costs, rising taxes, and a widely dispersed market.

“Books on Wicca and Astrology and Native American shamanism used to be tough to find. But now every Borders and Barnes & Noble carries a significant selection of religious, spiritual and New Age literature. And what can’t be bought at a bricks and mortar shop can undoubtedly be found online at Amazon. For cheap.”

Where once Pagans, New Agers, occultists, and Buddhists would often be forced to shop at the only place in town that carried “their” kind of books, thanks to the Internet it’s easier than ever to get a hold of material that you find interesting. Indeed, the “community” created around these stores were almost always due to necessity, not a shared theology, practice, or even politics. It was inevitable that as these groups grew into their own, and materials became easier to obtain, the “New Age store” would suffer as a consequence. While there is a part of me that has a somewhat romanticized view of that era, catching only the tail-end of it in the 1990s, I also wouldn’t trade that time for what we have now.

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

Top Story: Outed Pagan political candidate Alice Richmond has closed down her local-issues blog, Page County Watch, and is seemingly retiring from the public eye.

“Last week the voice of the Page County Watch Blog went silent as Alice Richmond, the resident who started the blog, decided to move on. “I’m moving on to other things,” said Richmond. “I don’t want anyone to Google my name anymore.” The site gained attention most recently in September when on a local radio show, Richmond was questioned about her religion and the author known as “Lady Raya.” Richmond later admitted she was using the name Lady Raya as a pseudonym to write books on Wiccan practices.”

Richmond’s race for a seat on Page County Virginia’s Board of Supervisors seemed to get hostile from the start, with the staged ambush-outing of her “Lady Raya” pen-name by political opponents on a local talk show shrouding her candidacy with sensationalism. After a losing the election by a wide margin, a palpably disappointed Richmond inferred that the county was suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, noting that the vote wasn’t close. Considering the emotional wringer she’s been through, I don’t blame her for wanting to withdraw from public, though I do mourn the loss of a Pagan willing to enter into the political fray.  I fear that her campaign, and Dan Halloran’s, proves that out (or outed) Pagan candidates will have to deal with ugly smears from opponents (even if the tactic backfires) unafraid to exploit religious fears.

In Other News: Kathy Nance at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings us a local angle to the “Pagans at the Parliament” story by focusing on the ceremonial rattles created by local artist Julee Higginbotham for the interfaith event.

“On this first full day of the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) in Melbourne, Australia, a group of Pagans met to give blessings to four rattles created by St. Louis artist Julee Higginbotham. The rattles, called “Bridge to the Meeting Place,” were created to symbolize the coming together of religions and people from around our planet. Julee has blended Aboriginal and Neo-Pagan symbols into a clay prayer for understanding. They will be given to Pagans from North America and Australia, and to two PWR delegates. She got the idea from Pagan delegate and PWR board member Angie Buchanan.”

You can read more about these rattles at the Pagans at the Parliament blog, where you can see daily updates about the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

Are you a Pagan metal-head? If so, this is your lucky day, because two documentaries that touch on Pagan/Heathen religion within different metal subcultures are being released. “Pagan Metal:  A Documentary”, and “Until the Light Takes Us”, which focuses on the controversial Norwegian black metal scene.

“In addition to exploring the origins and ideology of black metal, Aites and Ewell examine black metal as what Norwegian visual artist Bjarne Melgaard calls “Norway’s only culturally relevant phenomenon.” Melgaard, who recontextualizes black metal aesthetics in his art, explores the striking parallel between the emotional extremes of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and the album cover of Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger.” “Until the Light Takes Us” succeeds because it neither idolizes nor patronizes the artists involved.”

Considering the fact that a movie is being made about one of black metal’s most controversial figures, a less sensationalist documentary, academic in tone, certainly seems welcome at this point. As for “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, it’s more informal, and had a reviewer comment that “you will feel like you have made new friends”. Both seem welcome assets for those wanting to explore Pagan and Heathen spirituality in underground subcultures.

The Good Blog gives props to Archdruid (and blogger) John Michael Greer for a piece he wrote on adopting a new model of “energy productivity” instead of the per-worker-hour standard.

“This isn’t the first time our common economic metrics have been challenged. GDP gets criticized all the time (and for good reason). But Greer makes a great point about the need for resource efficiency—especially energy efficiency—to be incorporated into the statistics we use to measure our country’s economic success. After all, we live in a world of limited resources. Acknowledging that in our numbers isn’t just about giving environmentally-friendly countries a pat on the back. It’s a real indication of how well-prepared a country is to deal with costly constraints. Apparently these days it takes a druid and Tarot grandmaster to point that out to all the Ivy League B-school grads on Wall Street. Strange times.”

Indeed it does sometimes take a different view-point to actually think “outside the box”, and who better than a (wise) Druid to address issues of resource efficiency and economics as we approach the end our the industrial age? For more on Greer’s religious activities, check out the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) web site.

In a final note, I think the University of Iowa may have the coolest name ever for their Pagan student organization.

“The mention of the term “pagan” often connotes thoughts of the dark arts, ritual sacrifices, and any number of Goth stereotypes. But for UI senior Kirk Cheyney, it’s not about any such thing. It’s more about nature and a deep personal spirituality that he can share with his family. Cheyney serves as the president of the Society of Pagans Invested in Reviving Ancient Lifestyles, which bills itself as the UI’s pagan student union.”

I think we could use more creative acronyms in modern Paganism, especially for college students! Congrats to S.P.I.R.A.L. for making it happen (all you other campus groups better step up).

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to check the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest updates and links from Melbourne. We have a new post now up from Selena Fox, and Thorn Coyle has just sent in another dispatch as well. You can also stay on top of things with the Pagans at the Parliament Twitter feed and Facebook page. Have a great day!