Archives For Kirk White

BETHEL, Vt. –Whether or not there is such as thing as “Pagan community” is as slippery a concept as the definition of “Pagan” itself. The core question is whether or not people who follow vastly different traditions have enough in common to share a common label, or a common table. Some festivals are positioned to reinforce a feeling of community. For example, at the end of Pagan Spirit Gathering participants don’t just leave; they head out on a “year-long supply run.” This week, participants at CWPN’s Harvest Gathering are told, “Welcome home,” as they arrive at the camp.

This begs the question: can community exist if its members gather only once a year?

Lunch at Laurelin is a colorful affair [Terence P Ward]

Lunch at Laurelin is a colorful affair [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

One group of Pagans, who gathered in rural Vermont at the end of last month, certainly think so. They were attending the annual Lughnasad festival at Laurelin Retreat, where notions of community were reinforced by this year’s theme: “The Journey Home.”

For some, Laurelin is considered one of the most beautiful Pagan places that no one has ever heard of. It is located on over 50 acres of land that was once farmed a generation ago. It slopes gently upward from ritual fields into verdant forest. Earlier in the summer the site was descended upon by well over a thousand people who disappeared into the woods for the Firefly Arts Collective, a Burning Man regional feeder festival.  But the aggressive leave-no-trace ethic makes that hard to believe.

The Lughnasad festival is a much smaller event with some 70 in attendance this year.

That number of people together for meals, rituals, workshops, and discussions for five days is small enough to form personal connections, but large enough that this bounding won’t happen widely without some effort. Attendees were randomly assigned to “houses,” color-themed groups responsible for aspects of the main ritual. Encouraged to wear their house color, they were also asked to sit together for lunch, whether or not they were on the meal plan. It’s not a new idea, but it encouraged people to forge connections they might have otherwise overlooked.

Laurelin's community shrine

Laurelin’s community shrine

This is a far cry from the halls of Pantheacon, where people juggle massive schedules and often meet each other waiting for elevators. Only one or two workshops were held at a time, under the dining fly or the shade of the box elder tree. There were also daily guided discussions, and one of those was focused specifically on community. Since blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop — who wrote a love letter to the Pagan community — was in attendance, Laurelin host Kirk White tapped her to facilitate.

Chapin-Bishop is a teacher, she explained, and “during the school year, online is the only community [she] can find.” It was in that space that she has seen Pagans debate whether there is a community among these religions, and if it’s even important to strive for one.

“Some say we don’t share enough theology” to make that viable, she went on, but “that’s not at all my impression.”

White has been hosting events at Laurelin for at least 30 years, and said a loose definition of membership had been adopted: “If you’ve been here at least once, and identify yourself as part of the Laurelin community, then you are.”

People from many different Pagan traditions have crossed through the gate, he said, in part because of how he differentiates community from tribe in his thinking. “Tribalism is us against them,” he said, but he models community more on the annual town meeting tradition in Vermont. “People disagree with me on a lot of things, but we work together for the common good of the community.” It’s a broader concept than tradition or tribe, he explained.

Shrine to Aphrodite [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

Shrine to Aphrodite [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

Walking the land and meeting the attendees reinforces that notion of community. Shrines to several deities, which were erected by a Hellenic reconstructionist group, dot the landscape in among old ritual circles used by White’s family in days gone by and sites which once held more temporary shrines to local spirits or foreign gods. The most prominent shrine is a standing stone on the cusp of the woods; this is the community shrine, where news of the year is shared as offerings are made.

High magicians and Witches alike participated in a Heathen sumbel, drinking to the many gods worshiped and honored by those around the fire. Some of the same people joined the five Quaker Pagans in silent worship. Conversations during meals or over a shared drink helped forge connections among people who traveled from as far as Texas and Michigan to be in attendance.

A common aspect of community, agreed those at Lughnasad, is the coming together over death and grief. One community member was even buried on Laurelin lands.

Not all aspects of community are tied to place, observed one traveler. “I feel a sense of community in Pagan gatherings all over the country,” she said. Chapin-Bishop characterized that as the cross-pollination which makes the next generation stronger as a result.

A herm stands at a crossroads [Terence P Ward]

A herm stands at a crossroads [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

“I don’t feel woven into a community until I return a third time,” Chapin-Bishop said, but even that depends in part on the nature of the event. She drew a distinction between what she called “consumer Paganism” — paying to be entertained at a festival — and the notion of “duocracy,” in which people who want to improve the experience simply do something to make that happen. The difference is partly cultural, and partly pragmatic. The more people in attendance, the more likely a festival will take on a consumer feel.

Another way White has tried to avoid the consumer feel is by employing something he has borrowed shamelessly from the Rites of Spring.  Prior to the event, a group of village builders transform the site and make it ready for everyone else. By doing so, they create bonds which they attempt to infuse into the entire site. Then these builders are broken into different houses, so that they don’t just talk only to the people that they know for the rest of the week.

“It’s easy for the locals to hang out together,” White said, but he’s mindful that many Pagans are introverts. The goal is that it “doesn’t feel like you’re going to someone else’s family reunion.”

White’s daughter Killian has watched this community shift and change over 25 years. She likened the way people step into a central role for a time before backing away to “part of a tree breaking off.” That can happen for any number of reasons, including when it arises out of conflict.

“Are conflicts a bug or a feature of community?” Chapin-Bishop pondered.

Conflict can arise over theological differences, leadership styles, or personal relationships. One goal of community might be to find ways for people to experience conflict without one member feeling that they must leave, and never return. As one attendee said, “Real communities have ragged edges,” both as a result of conflict, and because the definition of who belongs can often get fuzzy.

Impromptu Buddha shrine erected by an attendee [Terence P Ward]

Impromptu Buddha shrine erected by an attendee [Photo Credit: T. P. Ward]

The community feel at Laurelin was palpable during Lughnasad. The site is more primitive than some with only porta-potties and limited running water available. But, this fact also may be considered a feature rather than a bug. It meant that worshipers of Caffeina tended to gather around the great central percolator each morning, and that dish washing after meals was also a communal experience.

That’s only possible because of the small number of people.  However, White is confident that triple the number wouldn’t change that vibe or tax the facilities.

What a small festival doesn’t mean is a lack of options. A half-dozen or more vendors opened up shop for the week, and their number swelled Saturday afternoon to accommodate a psychic fair that’s open to the public. Lughnasad also has a history of attracting talented musical guests; this year Jenna Greene and Willowfire graced the stage for a concert that brought the energy levels up. Many later used that juice to climb the road leading to the fire circle in the deep woods, where drums and dancing continued until light returned.

One particularly poignant observation about community was made by Sybelle Silverphoenix. “I was one of the last 250 finalists for the Mars One project,” she told people at the community shrine.  During the first round, 4,227 people applied, and she was ultimately not selected as part of the “Mars 100” finalists. Nevertheless, “It made me think long and hard about what home is,” and by extension, community as well. Silverphoenix is planning on applying to future rounds, and if she’s successful, she’ll become the most distant member of the Laurelin community to date.

This idea of community remains a moving target, particularly among Pagans who attempt to create it largely through the internet or annual gatherings. While this group of Vermont Pagans probably don’t have a universal key to the idea, they have at least found a sweet spot for creating community with Yankee flair.

Covenant of the GoddessSAN BERNARDINO –In the forty years since Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) was formed, its members have been on the front lines of battles for equal rights as prison chaplains, as veterans, as parents, and as people. The organization has helped to define the Wiccan and wider Pagan communities, has weathered the Satanic panics and the infamous Helms amendment, which threatened to remove tax-exempt status from “occult” churches, and endured the more recent attacks launched by such luminaries as George W. Bush and Bob Barr.

However, in recent months, this venerable collective of covens and solitary practitioners has faced an internal upheaval, which has since become quite public, and could be one of its most difficult struggles to date. The spark which ignited the firestorm was the very current ignition point: race.

Early in December, Pagan and polytheist individuals and groups issued statements of support and calls to action in response to the treatment of people of color in American society. As the Wild Hunt coverage at the time noted, its own columnist Crystal Blanton was the catalyst of this show of solidarity. CoG was among the organizations that released a statement, which began with this paragraph:

We, the members of the Covenant, acknowledge and share the concern that many in our world and within our Pagan communities have voiced regarding inequalities in justice. We find that all life is sacred, and as such, all lives matter.

To say the statement fell flat is an understatement. Critics quickly noted that it avoided any reference to specific events, such as the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri or Eric Garner in New York City. The statement replaced the viral phrase “black lives matter” with the more inclusive “all lives matter,” which was interpreted by a number of Facebook observers to be code for white privilege.

In that social media venue, comments ranged from people decrying the “whitewashing” of systemic racism to others who took great umbrage at the idea that broadening the scope was inappropriate. A similar debate was also taking place, out of public eye, on one of the Covenant’s internal email lists. These lists were not made available for review due to the expectation of privacy by members.

Tiffani Thomas Parker

Tiffani Thomas Parker [Courtesy Photo]

In reaction to that first statement, several members resigned from the organization in protest. CoG Member Tiffany Thomas Parker, who was not one of those to leave, offered her own perspective. She provided further insight into what led to such a strong pushback:

First of all, I will say that I am happy of some of the things that CoG has done for Pagans as a whole. But with that said, I was very disappointed with them with the statement they originally gave.

My first initial reaction was to reread what I read. Then came disappointment and anger. I was thinking to myself “Of all people, Pagans as a whole should know what it is like to be stereotyped and singled out. They should be behind the movement to ensure that ANYONE doesn’t get targeted like this.”

They should have consulted, asked, or even suggested to get opinions from those of color (regardless of race) to get a better understanding of what was going on to get a better perspective. It may not have happened to those who are the head of the organization, but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. To simply ignore an issue such as this was a slap in the face.

Furthermore, I do think that if they had acknowledged the issue, it would have shown the Pagans of Color that they have our back and it would have given them a light of hope that they felt supported and could have joined CoG. CoG isn’t as diverse as I would have liked it to be, and it would have been a HUGE opportunity and they blew it.

Yvonne C. Conway-Williams, an assistant to CoG’s National Board, also felt the statement came up short, and said so on the internal CoG list. However, Conway-Williams understands the limitations of the organization’s consensus-driven process, saying that “. . . there was a sense of urgency, which is why I think they did not send it to a committee and instead chose to deal with it as a national board.”  She added, “My stance has long been that we are not truly hearing from a vast majority of CoG members on the private elists. One person is required to be on our announcements list per member coven. Other members of a coven might wish to subscribe… Even fewer people are signed up for our discussion and debate elist. What this means is there’s only a select few who are having say and input on these issues. By doing so, I personally do not feel all members are being heard. I think it would be great if more members were involved at a deeper level with national activities such as this statement.”

Public Information Officer Gordon Stone echoed Conway-Williams’ concerns about how representative an e-list can be, saying, “I think it is also important to mention that not every member of CoG is on the e-lists. This is why CoG does not set organizational policy through email discussion.”

Outside of the organization, the board’s statement was also attacked as generic and meaningless. Devotional polytheist Caer said:

The only way we can win this fight is to actively engage in it. We must commit. As above, so below. As without, so within. We can’t just say the words and make the gestures and leave them both hanging there, unsupported. That won’t accomplish anything, brings us no closer to our goals. We have to acknowledge the problem, clearly state our intent, and we have to move from problem to goal by actively doing something.

Longtime CoG member Marybeth Pythia Witt, also known as Lady Pythia, commented more recently about that initial statement, saying in part, “We also learned too late that the all lives matter hashtag is used by a conservative anti-abortion group, ergo, the original post was incorrect for more than one reason.”

Lady Pythia during an event doing outreach for CoG in 1987 [Photo Provided by Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

Lady Pythia during a Wiccan event in which she did media outreach for CoG [Photo Provided by Lady Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

The discussion appears to have continued on, largely unabated on the Covenant’s internal debate & discussion e-list. Members of the national board recognized that a different approach was needed to address these widespread concerns. According to First Officer Kasha, after the initial statement was published,

We immediately received feedback from individuals inside and outside of the organization and began to reconsider the content of the statement and its impact on our members. On December 11, we issued an apology, published on our internal announcement list, to those members who were hurt by this statement, explaining that the original statement was created in an effort to express the opinion of our diverse membership, and we realized we had missed the mark.

At that time we solicited members for a committee to draft a new statement to be released internally and then potentially approved at our National Meeting in August. In the following weeks, Gordon Stone, our Public Information Officer, and a committee of volunteers developed the new statement.

That revised statement was released in draft form on Jan. 20 with a note of explanation about the process for formal adoption. It stated, “In order to allow the membership of CoG a chance to have input on this new statement, it was released internally on our organization’s e-mail list last week. The membership will have the opportunity to review, revise, and adopt it as a statement made by the entire organization at the annual meeting in August 2015.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

However, any fanfare that might have accompanied this new draft was deafened by a blog post written by former First Officer Peter Dybing and published the day before. Writing under the title An Indictment of Covenant of the Goddess, Racism Exposed, Dybing lambasted his fellow members, asserting that his comments on the private list had been censored as part of a wider effort to silence dissent over these issues. He further claims that one of the individuals guiding the discussion was known to use racist epithets in casual conversation.

Let me be clear, there are many great people in CoG that I have worked with over the years. What this post represents is an indictment of the power structures that at all costs will engage in ensuring that the organization does not change. When truth is spoken to power the result is oppression. It is evident that those engaging in these behaviors have little insight into their actions, yet it remains that their actions are sheltering racism within the organization.

Not surprisingly, considerable outcry resulted with some taking to social media to applaud Dybing’s words, and others claiming he had breached CoG’s code of ethics. The two points of that code which appear to speak most closely to that questions are, “All persons associated with this Covenant shall respect the traditional secrecy of our religion” and “Members of this Covenant should ever keep in mind the underlying unity of our religion as well as the diversity of its manifestations.” Dybing maintains he has not violated ethical standards because he has not named anyone.

Whether Dybing was “censored” or “moderated” is also a matter of internal debate. The organization does have a policy covering e-list discussions, and Kasha said, “We did apply our policy uniformly. Many Members were warned about inappropriate posts and, rather than removing members from the list, those not complying with the Net Coordinator’s (Netco’s) requests for civility were placed on moderated status. Posts that continued to violate the Netco’s request for civility were not put through to the list. After 2 or 3 days, when calmer conversation and cooler heads prevailed, the moderation of all subscribers was lifted and the discussion list was reopened to courteous discussion of all topics.” The policy actually allows the Netco to remove offenders from the list entirely, pending an appeal to the national board, but that allegedly did not occur.

CoG member Daryl Fuller, a participant in those e-discussions, publicly published a point-by-point refutation of Dybing’s post, calling much of it “half-truth and rumor-mongering.” In that response, Fuller took particular exception to the allegations being tossed around about another unnamed member. He also admits to being moderated himself, adding “No one is currently being censored on any COG email list.”

When asked about this controversy, NPIO Stone said, “I would respectfully request that your readers bear in mind that these two CoG Members were speaking as individuals rather than as official representatives of the organization. CoG also has ethical standards outlined in our bylaws, and all members are expected to know and adhere to these standards.  I encourage your readers to make a decision about what CoG stands for by speaking with several of our Members, or contacting the nearest local council for more information.”

The second statement, a draft, has also received considerable Facebook attention, and again, reactions were mixed. Comments range from gratitude to expressions that it doesn’t go far enough to complaints that saying that black lives matter discounts the struggles of other groups.

As part of a lengthier commentary, Cat Chapin-Bishop observed, “I am in no way surprised to hear statements from CoG members that seem to deny and minimize the reality of racism today. From the ‘Irish people were discriminated against, too,’ to ‘I don’t see color,’ the whole range of well-meaning white cluelessness is on display. But I’m not surprised or shocked by that, because I have come to understand, since the events in Ferguson this past summer, just how out of touch I, and other white people, truly have become on this subject.”

Penny Novak, a former Second Officer of CoG, acknowledged that there is surely racism within the ranks.  She said that “any organization without a political filter on it has racists in it.” However, she characterized Dybing’s behavior on the e-list as “really off the wall” and “very obnoxious.” What he failed to understand, Novak thought, was that many older people with racially-biased world views are unaware of that fact. “Give them a break, Peter, they don’t even know!” she said. While some of her contemporaries haven’t exactly kept up with the times, she didn’t believe that his “kicking and screaming” approach was likely to change hearts and minds. She explained further:

I’ve been thinking about the many ways in which language around the issue of race has changed during my lifetime. You may feel it’s obvious but it really isn’t. It isn’t even obvious between the generations of the Black Community.  Believe me, when I was young calling a person Black was disrespectful …  Those of us who were white and didn’t want to further the blot of what had been done to those of African-descent in our communities were very particular about the language we used…  

I’m not excusing the use of disrespectful language but when social use of language changes rapidly from generation to generation there will be bleed-over and sometimes what was socially acceptable positions become anathema. If you’re not keeping up, if you don’t keep an eye on the young folks you’ll miss when things start switching …You need to be very careful and you need to step lightly. 

More significantly, Novak thinks that, while questions over race caused this controversy, the issues run far deeper, saying that CoG “has basically been ruined by a few people who want power, and it’s ridiculous because CoG is an organization without power.” The decisions lie with local councils and member covens, she explained, and the national board has little sway. “Look what happens when they try to make a statement like big organizations do,” she said, “complete wimpdom.”

It still remains to be seen what kind of statement this organization will finally release on the subject and how it will move forward with tackling the accusations of racial inequality and systemic racism within the organization. Consensus must be achieved, and that won’t happen until the national meeting in August. That’s what Novak means when she says that CoG has no power.

This is a thread picked up by Kirk White, a former co-first officer who wonders about the covenant’s future. He said:

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

Part of the underlying problem is that CoG is adrift in its purpose and seeking to regain its relevance. Its foundational purpose was “to increase cooperation among Witches and to secure for Witches and covens the legal protection enjoyed by members of other religions.” Back in 1975 it was hard to connect with other Witches, get ordained, and we were still establishing our rights as a valid, legal religion. It was easy to rally the members around clearly Witch issues but now these battles are mostly won, ordination is laughably easy and we have the internet. So there is a struggle in CoG over how to restore relevance and attract younger members. The few younger members we do have and the more liberal members want CoG to be more activist to regain relevance.

But without clear Witch issues, the political polarization of our secular world is invading CoG’s inner processes over which causes to support. Environmental issues, women’s rights, gun rights, and racial inequality have all been split into “liberal” or “conservative” views by today’s media and CoG’s membership, being politically diverse finds itself unable to find consensus — which is how CoG operates — on just about anything. Thus, issues like #blacklivesmatter — originally seen as a “liberal” cause — are almost impossible to agree on quickly, if ever. This is frustrating to those more activist members, and combined with some bad blood left over from previous conflicts, has led to the recent resignations and bitter fighting within some of the more vocal parts of CoG.

Others see hope for the organization’s future. NPIO Stone said:

CoG as an organization is strengthened by the dialogue of our diverse membership. Sometimes that dialogue is easy and sometimes it is challenging; however, in my view, it is always educational. All Board members maintain an open door policy, and members are welcome to email the Board directly when they have concerns or questions. The appropriate Board Member will reply, usually in a relatively short time frame. Keeping that dialogue going is one of the best ways for CoG to insure that the organization will continue for many years to come.

While describing the process of examining issues such as social justice and the path to membership, First Officer Kasha said, “Clearly, the needs of CoG’s membership have evolved over the past 40 years, and our go forward plan is to continue to assess our needs, and ultimately, potentially revise our mission …In a consensus driven organization like CoG, this can take a long time, but our committed membership has been through several tides of change and will weather this one as well, being stronger for the work.”

“CoG is ready to evolve,” said Lady Pythia. “We’re not Witches for nothing.”

The Satanic Temple logoTALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA —The Satanic Temple struck another blow for religious equality when it secured the right to erect a Satanic holiday display in Florida’s capitol. It will sit alongside a display celebrating the birth of Jesus, the noodly appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and a pole marking Festivus. This is the same Satanic organization that has previously offered to make a bronze statue of Baphoment for the Oklahoma capitol, announced it would distribute Satanic literature to Florida schoolchildren, and performed same-sex weddings over the grave of Fred Phelps’ mother. Reviled by stalwart Christians and mistrusted by other Satanists, The Satanic Temple invariably makes a media splash when it comments on the separation of church and state.

So many Pagans have spent time either rehearsing or actually having conversations explaining how Paganism differs from Satanism. Therefore it is no surprise that The Satanic Temple has received negative reactions from Pagans. But is there anything this group can teach Pagans about public relations or defending religious freedom?

To find out, we first asked how this organization relates to Pagans, if at all. The spokesperson for the temple, who goes by the name Lucien Greaves, explained that there’s always been a bit of push back from Pagans:

It happens less now — probably because of our apparent successes — but in the beginning, we would receive occasional messages from Pagans and Atheists, both concerned that our activities were attaching their own values or symbols to a caricature of ultimate evil. The concern seems to be that, by invoking Satanism, we serve to justify the worst fears born of superstitious bigotry.

The notion that we should coddle such divisive witch-hunting impulses by maintaining a taboo against Satanism is, I feel, a completely backward approach. In fact, there is a culture of Satanism, culled from various elements, including Pagan symbols. The identification with Satanism isn’t arbitrary to the point that we feel it could simply be exchanged for a more palatable label. Satan symbolizes unsilenced inquiry, rebellion against tyranny, and personal freedom.

For a Pagan, or any other minority religion, to openly engage in efforts to distance themselves from Satanism serves only to affirm the misguided notion that Satanism stands for cruelty, abject depravity, and unabashed evil. As Satan, mythologically, stands in opposition to the Biblical God’s authority, Satanism too is feared to challenge Biblical doctrines of faith. To concede that such opposition must, by its nature, be corrupt and criminal is to conversely affirm that traditional religious institutions hold a monopoly on moral virtue.

In fact, we feel our campaigns embrace the highest of moral callings — from gay rights, to women’s rights, to the protection of children against institutionalized abuse. In each of these cases, we fight against regressive mainstream religious thinking. I think that by embracing Satanism, we represent another phase in our civilization’s social growth. This is another step toward ensuring that each individual is judged for his or her actual actions in the real world, free of fear from persecution for symbolic crimes and/or “blasphemy.” If our past has taught us anything, it’s that the most cruel and evil acts are committed not at the hands of secret religious minorities, but by the witch-hunters whose paranoia allows them to imagine such minorities are willfully acting against the common good.

With that background, we asked a few Pagans and Polytheists the following question. What can Pagans learn from The Satanic Temple? It turns out that they had a lot to say.

Author and activist T. Thorn Coyle recognizes the activism in the temple’s work:

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

The Satanic Temple is approaching the public square head on, with no apologies. I appreciate that. Their take on things is, “OK. Religious materials in schools? Here’s an educational children’s book that we are handing out. You ruled that it was fine,” and, “Monumental religious statues at the state capitol? Here is one of our own.” They are also mobilizing around issues such as reproductive rights and the rights of children to not suffer corporal punishment.

The Satanic Temple are unapologetically themselves and move ahead by assuming they already have the same civil rights as other religions. In approaching the public sphere in this way, they serve to highlight where the real cracks in the wall of “separation of church and state” are. The Satanic Temple, by acting forthrightly, are taking a hammer and chisel to those cracks. For this, I applaud them.

Philosopher Hannah Arendt spoke of the need to become ‘conscious pariahs’ rather than parvenues (assimilationists) or pariahs outcast by society. The conscious pariah rejects and directly challenges the status quo, not from petulant rebellion, but because the status quo is corrupt. There is great power in choosing to be a conscious pariah. I see some Pagan groups wishing to be “just like everyone else” and that can take away some of the power and bite we have in not being like everyone else. The role of the conscious challenger is important to society. I think that Pagans could take some lessons from the ways the Satanic Temple are issuing their challenges and refusing to assimilate. They are acting from their power, rather than begging for it or giving it away.

Their most recent holiday display, though? I find it offensive. Why? It’s bad art.

Kirk White, author and (now unaffiliated) founder of Cherry Hill Seminary also appreciates that The Satanic Temple is true to its path:

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

I have long been an advocate for Pagans walking a middle path. On the one hand, I think it behooves and benefits us to resist being cast as ‘other, outcast, the antithesis of normal.’ On the other hand we absolutely must retain our integrity and not sell out those features of our beliefs and practices that define and distinguish us just to gain respectability and acceptance. And of course, we must always be willing to stand up against institutional oppression.

What the Satanic Temple is doing greatly benefits religious freedom across the spectrum and Pagans should support those and similar efforts. Their outrageous, funny, ‘in your face’ approach is proving effective. But they do so purposefully building on their otherness and with no expectation of being accepted or even taken seriously as a religion. Their social power is in their marginality and their oppositional approach. If Pagans decide to replicate their ‘in your face’ approach we allow the overculture to define us in contrast to themselves rather on our own unique qualities and merits. We become the enemy rather than the neighbors. We should support them, but I do not believe that we should replicate their methods.

Boeotian polytheist and Neo-Cyrenaic Ruadhán J McElroy would like to see more people pushing boundaries:

Ruadhán J McElroy

Ruadhán J McElroy

I pretty much only know the highly publicized activities of The Satanic Temple, but from that alone, I think between that and the later, philosophy-focused writings of LaVey, it would do the Pagan Community, and all pagans, polytheists, and others involved in alternative religion, a lot of good to do more questioning of the status quo and pushing boundaries of both society and oneself. Sometimes comfort zones exist for a reason, but a lot of times we construct them as a crutch, which does us no good.

If a person who can walk chooses to instead live in a wheelchair, their muscles atrophy and they come to need extensive physical therapy to be able to walk again, and if a wheelchair bound person doesn’t get certain physical therapies and daily time in a standing frame, they open themselves up to all sorts of health issues, from muscle spasms to potentially fatal blood clots. With my chronic back pain, you have no idea how much I want to just give up and get a wheelchair, some days, but if I can at all walk through the pain, I make myself cos it’s better for me to walk than to not. Since we clearly need to do physical things every day that push our boundaries, lest we risk atrophy or worse, we also have to push our boundaries mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and of the culture we are in. Or as the Cyreniacs might say, sometimes you gotta make a little rough motion to make a big smooth motion.

It’s good that The Satanic Temple is willing to push those boundaries of the culture in such a public way, though I wish I could say at this point that I’m disappointed that I’ve not seen as many pagans and polytheists doing similar –I’m too used to pagans (and especially Pagans) who are content with the status quo and too fearful of rocking any boats, even if someone set the starboard on fire and you gotta douse it (like what’s been going on in Missouri), to be disappointed in pagans, anymore.

Ritualist and speaker Shauna Aura Knight thinks it’s worth learning how The Satanic Temple handles the media:

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

The Satanic Temple effectively uses shock and the legal system to their advantage. There are few Pagan groups out there with much media savvy, and fewer still able bankroll lawyers. I have a background in marketing work, and I’d say that The Satanic Temple is cleverly using the fact that many people think that Satanists are about the worst thing ever. Specifically, they’re using the outrage to call attention to infringements on the separation between church and state.

It’s pretty clear that the dominant religions want those infringements—so long as it’s their own religion. When TST introduces themselves into that infringement they appall people. It’s incredibly effective tactic as an activist. You want prayers before city council meetings… religious holiday scenes…statuary at public buildings? You want to give out religious texts at school? You want your religion to provide a legal loophole supporting your beliefs on contraception and abortion?

Ok. Then Satanists can do that too. People rarely see a problem with the status quo until provoked.

This strategy of contrast doesn’t work quite as well for Pagans because most Pagans have been trying hard to put out the PR that we’re not that bad, we’re good people. Satanists don’t seem afraid of their own bad press and use it to further their goals.

However, Pagans can still effect the same legal pressuring which could provoke the, “If I have to include you, then we just won’t have any prayers at all.” However, that still requires us to have professional media and PR folks as well as lawyers on retainer.

What we can learn from The Satanic Temple is that with trained media professionals and a legal budget, we too can combat the system. TST understands a strategic aspect of activism; sometimes you have to play the legal game. TST grasps the rules of the system and is willing to exploit those rules and find the loopholes. We can do this too with enough budget and expertise.

Knight’s comments about being able to “bankroll lawyers” was not a unique sentiment, but Greaves says it’s not entirely deserved.

Our cadre of lawyers (from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) representing us in Florida were pro bono, working for us at no charge, simply because they believed strongly in our position. To be clear, it would be a mistake to think that these lawyers were motivated by the prospect of receiving compensation in the form of monetary damages from the lawsuit. In fact, we weren’t seeking monetary damages at all, only to secure the right to place our holiday display in the Capitol Rotunda. And this, largely, is how we’ve managed to get so many things done: our campaigns have resonated deeply with people who support our positions, to the point that they will volunteer their efforts, even if many of them don’t care to identify as Satanists themselves.

In the case of the Baphomet monument, we crowd-funded around $30k through Indiegogo, after which we found an amazing sculptor who was willing to work on the project at-cost. Even with that solid foundation, the monument ended up costing 10s of thousands more. I, and the other core membership of The Satanic Temple, have consistently put significant amounts of our own money into our campaigns. It seems we’re always scraping up the bottom dollar to push things through, but we keep moving forward. Despite the heavy burden this imposes, we think that the imposition of dues for religious affiliation is inappropriate. We sell merchandise in hopes of generating revenue toward our campaigns, but this hasn’t proven lucrative by any means. We clearly have the beginnings of some enormous legal battles now in the works, for which we have set up a legal fund.

As for Greaves’ advice for Pagans talking to the media, he recommends, “Stay on point and control the dialogue. Don’t be pulled into superfluous and irrelevant arguments. If you’re asked an unreasonable question, simply answer with whatever message you wish to put forward, whether it addresses the question in any way or not.” He might file all questions about theology under ‘unreasonable,’ because he also says, “Move away from meticulously describing what it is you believe and practice. Your material has long been publicly available to the genuinely curious. You simply do not have to justify your religious perspective to anybody to assert your rights as equally regarded citizen[s].”

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (a Wiccan tradition/church) has sent out a press release concerning new developments regarding the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. The online school is getting a makeover, and gaining a new vice-president and administrator.

“The Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, given degree granting authority by Washington state in 1999, is having a face lift this spring … In addition, WSTS proudly announces the appointment of Kirk White as interim Vice President and Administrator of the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. White, a well known Wiccan author and respected High Priest, is co-founder of the National Association of Pagan Schools and Seminaries, a past co-National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, North America’s oldest and largest association of Witches and Wiccans. White also founded and served for 10 years as President of Cherry Hill Seminary. In 2006, named him one of the “25 most influential modern living Pagans today”. Since 2007 he has served as a consultant to new and established Pagan seminaries across the United States and we are pleased to have him working with us.”

Bringing Kirk White onboard seems like a move for WSTS to gain some more credibility as a Pagan seminary, though that might be hampered by the fact that the school’s dean is Belladonna “Wife Swap” Thompson. It should also be noted that “degree granting authority” isn’t the same thing as accreditation. So always check to see who exactly your teachers are, and what qualifications they have to be teaching you the subject at hand. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am on the BOD of Cherry Hill Seminary, but I have no particular animus or rivalry with WSTS.

When is “witchcraft” our “Witchcraft”? By that I mean, what do journalists and authors like Bob Morgan mean when they say a young woman was kidnapped and initiated by a “a coven of witches”? A South Alabama paper reports on the e-publication of a book by one of their reporters concerning a young woman who claims to have been held hostage for years by a Californian “coven” called “The Brotherhood”.

“At the age of 15, Nikki Russo checked into a California hospital for treatment of an eating disorder. It was in this hospital that she was eventually abducted by a nurse, initiated into a coven of witches and thrown into a dark world filled with drugs, alcohol, abuse and intimidation. Nikki Russo hopes The Pomegranate Seed will be a warning to readers not to take anything for granted where cherished institutions are concerned. Today, Russo’s story and struggle to recovery is chronicled in the new book The Pomegranate Seed — Nikki Russo’s Sojourn Through Institutional Failure and the World of the Occult.”

Morgan is apparently sensitive to accusations of “Satanic Panic” since he first reported on Nikki Russo, and claims that the book is filled with legal documents and depositions. However, neither the initial 2007 report by Morgan, or the 2009 piece on his subsequent book, goes into any detail as to what exactly this “Brotherhood” was practicing, and how they are linked with California’s occult community. This lack of detail is all explained as a way to honor the victim, but it also denies us any clear notion as to what this group was. I have no doubt that Russo was abused if she says she was, I’m just skeptical concerning how “witchy” these “witches” were.

World of Wonder shares with us some “homo history” in the form of ancient examples of same-sex marriage.

As Africa was the birthplace of civilization it should come as no surprise to find that the earliest known reference to same-sex marriage in history can also be found there. Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were royal manicurists in the court of Pharaoh Niuserre during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty. The artwork in their tomb leaves no doubt that they were viewed as a couple. The men are depicted in near constant embrace. They are shown with their noses touching (the most intimate embrace permitted in Egyptian art of the time, a form of kissing). Even their names speak to the intensity of their bond. When the names Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are put together, it translates into “joined in life and joined in death.”

Just goes to show you that there is nothing new under the sun, and that different cultures and times had different reactions to same-sex relations. To claim a singular constant for legal and social public bonds is myopic at best and revisionist at worst.

I understand that some people don’t like Barack Obama, but the intense white-hot loony anger he invokes in some people is just plain amusing (when it isn’t frightening). A recent letter published in a Virginia newspaper now compares our “Marxist” president with Pagan hero Julian the Apostate!

“God has given America her very own 21st century ‘Julian the Apostate’, better known as the Marxist, Barack Obama. Now before any of Obama’s supporters hastily come to his defense, consider the fact that his ideologies are blatantly Marxist, yet, he is not alone in his Marxist tendencies … If the reports of Obama’s Marxist passion were not enough to wake up the Christian community to the fearful danger of a ‘Julian Administration’, the issues of abortion and homosexuality should have made it crystal clear that professing Christians should not accept such an individual as the leader of America. The community of Christendom should have rejected such a blasphemer out of hand. Yet, for the sake of party, race, historical precedence or simply a hatred for the prior administration, those Christians professing allegiance to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe have grossly erred in their judgment, and along with hypocrites, heathens and traitors are responsible for destroying the roots of traditional American Christianity … At the outset of the Obama administration, a vicious war was declared against both Christ and all those that call themselves by His Name. Even now many of those Christians who supported him initially are finding themselves the target of his wrath. His goal is, and always was, the eradication of Christianity through government policies aimed at solidifying a Marxist, Totalitarian, immoral Statist order. This is nothing short of fascism.”

Ah! I love the smell of paranoid conspiracy theories in the morning, it smells like victory. Somehow I doubt Obama is going to “eradicate” Christianity, but if paranoid pastors keep invoking Flavius Claudius Julianus, they may not like what his spirit (once called) will do. This is the fellow who wrote “Against the Gallileans” after all.

In a final note, since yesterday was Earth Day plenty of reporters were out looking for a religious angle. These ranged from those who interviewed Pagans about their connection to the Earth, to snarky bloggers mocking right-wing hysteria that Earth Day was a conspiracy to get red-blooded Christian Americans to start worshipping Gaia.

“Earth Day, Green Week, Global Warming, Cap and Trade, Radical Environmentalism, Gaiaism. These and similar beliefs are rapidly becoming a state sponsored religion. This is a worldwide religion, not just an American movement. The end goal of this religion is to halt the industrial and economic advance of man, and to make man subserviant to Gaia, the earth as a living super-organism: Earth as God.”

I can’t believe our super-secret conspiracy to slowly re-paganize the Earth has been discovered! Curses! Foiled again! How will we ever spread our plans for a worldwide religion based on a living super-organism now!

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

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 30, 2008 — 1 Comment

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Vancouver Sun looks at how colleges in Canada are adapting to the changing realities of our religiously diverse society.

“At Carleton University and the University of Western Ontario, the official calendar listing holy days when students can be excused from classes or exams includes those central to Wicca and Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that originated in Iran and is now estimated to have about 200,000 members worldwide … In an effort to serve students’ spiritual needs, the University of Toronto counts two pagans, two Hindus, two Buddhists and a First Nations spiritual leader among more than 20 chaplains associated with the new multi-faith centre that opened last year. It features half a dozen prayer, meeting and worship rooms, says director Richard Chambers, along with facilities for foot-washing and a de-pressurized space that allows for fire and incense during worship ceremonies.”

The University of Toronto’s Pagan chaplains are Brian Walsh, who serves Celtic and reconstructionist groups on campus, and Catherine Starr, who serves the Wiccan community there. So if your thinking of going to college in Canada, this article is practically a guide for potential Pagan students.

A South African teen who killed a classmate with a sword and blamed it on Satan has brought forth the old “Satanic Panic” peddlers.

“[Pastor of Destiny Harvest Church in Umhlanga, Marc] Bredenkamp, who has been helping children involved in Satanism for the past 20 years and has housed recovering witches, said Satanic groups operated on fear and people could not get out because the group threatens to kill their family or do something to them. Apart from numerous death threats and attacks from Satanic groups, Bredenkamp recalled the time his eight-year-old son was abducted by Satanists. He said they threatened to kill his son and wanted him to offer his life in exchange for his son’s. He approached the young girl who had abducted his son and began praying for her. In so doing, he helped expel the evil spirits from her.”

“Uncle Marc” is a classic Satanic Panic con-man who used to be a part of the now-disbanded South African Police Service Occult Unit, and loves to warn of the dangers of heavy metal (and wearing black clothing). Bredenkamp is no doubt enjoying the renewed media attention, though he is “disappointed” that schools no longer tolerate his nonsense.

The Danville Commercial News in Illinois reports on the Correllian tradition Lustration ceremonies taking place this weekend in Rossville.

“[Rev. Don] Lewis conducts the ceremony, but a First Elder — a woman from Danville — performs the actual Lustration blessing. During the ceremony, Lewis also invokes an oracle, which means he receives a prophecy or message from the ancestors. Messages may involve events taking place in the next year or next few years. Some messages might talk about emotions.”

This event of “purification and blessing” will also highlight a new clothing line entitled “Wycked Velvet” (not to be confused with the similarly-named erotica web site).

While I’m on the subject of central Illinois, my former employer, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is featuring an exhibit on the paranormal and occult sciences at its Main Library.

“…the occult collection contains more than 16,000 items relating to occult sciences and parapsychology and was originally endowed by Merten J. Mandeville in 1966, a retiring professor of commerce. Not all the items that are part of the exhibit today were around when the collection started, but it continues to grow. “(The exhibit) is everything ‘X-Files,'” said JoAnn Jacoby, former selector for the Merten J. Mandeville collection. “It includes works on paranormal phenomena, werewolves, the possibility for occult powers, witchcraft, astrology and 19th century spiritualism,” she said.”

For more information about UIUC’s occult book collection, check out The Merten J. Mandeville Collection in the Occult Sciences’ web site.

Greek Pagan group Ellinais (aka The Holy Association of Greek Ancient Religion Believers) is planning to hold a service to Athena at the Acropolis this Sunday to protest the removal of statues and ask the goddess to protect the sacred site.

“Peppa’s Athens-based group, Ellinais, is campaigning to revive ancient religion and has defied Culture Ministry bans to hold prayers at several ancient temples. She said she would not seek state permission for the ceremony, to be held near the ancient Parthenon temple, built between 447-432 B.C. in honor of Athena. ‘We will just sing three hymns. It won’t be a big ceremony,’ Peppa said. ‘I don’t know how many of us will be there. People are afraid. The fact is that we are subject to religious persecution.'”

It was only in 2006 that Ellinais was granted the legal right to exist in the Orthodox-controlled country. There is still great resistance to the group, and they have had to partake in civil disobedience in order to worship at the old sacred sites.

The Delaware News Journal interviews Cherry Hill Seminary co-founder Kirk White at the sixth annual Delmarva Pagan Pride Festival.

“[Pagans] having outgrown the stages he called “forming and storming,” paganism now is “norming,” or becoming like some religions. Although pagans may continue to believe in magic, he said, “if we’re not careful, we’ll become the big white circle on Main Street where all the pews face forward.” He urged listeners to be of service — whether their calling is dance, music, drumming, ministry or filling out paperwork for government agencies so events such as the festival can take place.”

Also interviewed is author and Wiccan elder Ivo Dominguez Jr., who helped organize the event.

That is all I have for now. Have a great day!