Archives For Kyrja Withers

During last year’s holiday season, “Jorge L. Aladro, Grand Master of Florida’s Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons issued a ruling stating that Paganism, Wicca, Odinism and Gnosticism were not compatible with Freemasonry,” as Jason Pitzl-Waters reported here at the Wild Hunt. Several months later, word spread of the violence directed at Pagan childrens’ author Kyrja Withers  in Port Richey, Florida. Just as that issue was resolved, Florida was back in the news again when a group of conservative Christian ministers from Pahokee Florida spoke out against a new Pagan Summer Solstice Festival at Lake Okeechobee.  What was going on in Florida this year?

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/69590

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/69590

Fortunately all three of these news-making stories ended positively in support of religious diversity and freedom. The Florida Masons overturned their ruling. Kyrja Withers received consultation and protection. The Pahokee Summer Solstice Festival went on without any further incident. None of this could have happened without the help of the local Florida Pagan community.

Looking back on this tumultuous year, I turned to Kathy Lezon, long-time Florida-resident, Wiccan High Priestess and the newly elected First Officer for Covenant of the Goddess (CoG).  As well as being the High Priestess of Circle of the Moonlit Sea, Kathy spent this past year serving as First Officer of Florida’s Everglades Moon Local Council of CoG and attending many events around the state.  As such she was intimately involved in the outreach needed to resolve all three of these situations.

Heather:  Before we talk about the dynamics of the year, please share with us your personal spiritual path.

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Priestess Kathy Lezon

Kathy: I was raised Roman Catholic and religion was very much a part of our family, from the holidays we celebrated to where we went to school.  As I grew older, I began to feel like I didn’t really belong there. In middle school I wrote to the Cardinal asking to be considered for an altar boy position and wasn’t satisfied with his description of the limited roles of women within the church.  As a young critical care nurse, I frequently dealt with disability and death. I began to search for answers outside of the paradigm I was familiar with and spent some years thinking of myself as spiritual rather than religious. I discovered Wicca through reading a book and shortly after that began to study with a coven not far from home… I see my path as an opportunity and a responsibility to have a reciprocal relationship with Spirit, in the form of deity, ancestor, place, nature- that web in which we live.

H: You’ve lived in Florida for nearly 30 years. Where does Florida generally fall in the socio-political spectrum?

K:  Florida is full of paradox.  We have south Florida with its diversity, arts, tourism, and hip international flair. We have north Florida which is very much a part of the Southern US and all of its [conservative] values.  And we have a whole lot of space and variety in between.

H:   Let’s talk about the year’s headlines.  Florida was in the Pagan news quite a bit.  In June, I can recall thinking, “Not Florida again.”  What happened? What has changed?

K: It’s funny that you ask this. Last year was certainly quite a ride and I’ve been thinking lately about what is so different now, compared to five years ago.  In a [short] period of time, we had several tense situations, most rooted in intolerance or misinformation that basically involved Pagans just doing what we do.  What’s different may be people’s comfort level with showing who they are.  What we saw was the public reaction to it.

There have been Pagan Masons, Witches doing [community] work, and Pagan festivals for years now. What happened last year? A Mason didn’t keep his religion secret.  A Witch on Florida’s west coast publicly asked for help when she [became the] victim of a crime.  A group of people decided to gather Pagans for a Summer Solstice celebration in a part of the state that is dense with fundamentalist Christian values. These folks were just a little more open than others previously had been….This openness got a reaction and shined a light on the amount of fear that still exists, and also created space for dialogue that will perhaps make it easier for the next one who wants to be public about his or her path.

H: You worked on some of these cases personally.  What was your role?

K:  As First Officer for Florida’s Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC) of CoG, I was the contact person for the Council.  When the Kyrja Withers incidents were occurring, EMLC wanted to reach out to Kyrja to offer encouragement and support.] I contacted Kyrja…  After that things went from 0-100 mph in an instant! The next day I was on the phone with Selena Fox from Lady Liberty League, and learned what kind of networking help was needed on the local level.  I was able to contact EMLC members in order to have resources with special skills on standby. We also helped advertise her crowd funding campaign to obtain [security] equipment.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

I was stunned at how quickly things happened, how organized the response seemed to be, and I was so impressed at how many people wanted to help.  I was also involved in a similar way when the ministers of Pahokee wanted to protest the Summer Solstice Festival. EMLC assisted by providing volunteers and support before and at the festival.  In both instances, my most striking impressions were the power of fear, how dangerous intolerance can be, and the power of people when they come together to work for a common goal.  I also learned that there is no hotter place in Florida than in the center of the state on the longest day of the year! Boy that was a sweaty festival!

H: During any of this time, did you personally get attacked?

K: I didn’t experience any kind of personal attack. However one thought kept crossing my mind as I dealt with the Kyrja Withers issue: “This could be me.”  First the thought frightened me, then it angered me. When someone else’s struggle could be yours, you sort of own it. I live in a small, conservative town.  It wouldn’t take much for someone who noticed a piece of jewelry or overheard a conversation to follow me home and vandalize the place that I feel safest.  So despite the fact that I haven’t been personally touched by religious discrimination and intolerance in a significant way, I feel like it’s a responsibility to work so that I-and anybody else-never have to.

H: Has there been any new concerns crop up since June?

Nothing has happened since Pahokee. The Florida Pagan gathering moved to a new site further south in conservative central Florida at Samhain. There were no problems, except one inebriated local man who stumbled onto site, found the fire circle on Saturday evening and yelled at the drummers for all of the noise. He didn’t stay long.

H: What has this year of adversity done for the Florida Pagan community in general?

K:  For a long time, Florida’s Pagan community has lived in regional pockets. We have those acres of cow pasture and orange grove between our coasts, big cities and towns! Over the past year, I’ve seen friendships forged across those acres – people who, prior to the conflict, wouldn’t have been in the same room. It’s my hope that more connections continue to be made as we realize that all that separates us is a few miles.

Kathy Lezon, NFO Covenant of the Goddess at Pahokee Festival June 2013

Kathy Lezon, NFO Covenant of the Goddess at Pahokee Festival June 2013

H:  Adding to the Florida Pagan news, you were elected as First Officer of CoG for 2013-2014. In fact there are now two Florida Pagans serving on CoG’s national Board. What perspective do you bring to this National organization?

K: We are blessed with an amazing National Board this year, and I’m thrilled to have another Floridian there with me.  I think [our presence] is representative of the culture of [EMLC], of how willing we are to be involved..  EMLC is full of people that have been CoG members for a long time and with that comes the wisdom of how organizations like this work.  More than that it’s a group that is able to define a value, set a goal, and get something done. EMLC demonstrates that much can be accomplished through collaboration, creativity, and mutual respect, and that you can successfully combine deep Spirituality, love for each other, and lots of fun. This is what I would like to bring with me in all of my work with CoG.

H:  With that said, what are your goals for CoG at a National level this year?

K: This year, I want as many people as possible to see CoG as the living, vibrant organization that it is. I want them to hear what our Local Councils are doing and about the talented people that are doing this work. I’d like to help make and strengthen relationships, connections, within our organization and between CoG and our communities. I want us to be sure that the work that we are doing is what our communities need from us, and I want those that want to join us in these endeavors to jump aboard.

Yoga Class at EMLC Turning of the Tides Festival

Yoga Class at EMLC Turning of the Tides Festival

H:  Moving into the future, where do you see Paganism, in general, ten years from now?  What do we need to get there?

K: Ten years from now, it would be nice if being a Pagan, of any kind, was not any bigger deal to society than any other path and that we could focus our energies from being understood and dispelling fears to the work that we really are here to do. Whether that work is caring for our environment, collaborating with other people of faith for social change, healing and teaching, or just celebrating our connectedness to all things, doing that without fear of harm or discrimination or the barrier of intolerance would be just fabulous.

To get there, we need to just keep taking baby steps, keep having conversations with those that don’t understand us and keep joining hands with those that do. We need to continue our inter- and intra-faith work, speak up about who we are, correct misconceptions whenever we find them, and realize that someone’s negative response to us is probably based in fear.

We also need to support each other in our own diversity and not be afraid of our differences. We need to listen to our elders and our youngsters and realize that the right way is often a blending of the two points of view.  And we need to remember that we are connected; all of us, to everything. It really simplifies a lot of situations when you look at them that way.

H: You mention Intra-faith and supporting “our own diversity.” How do you see that as beneficial to your work either with CoG or your Florida Community?

K: By intrafaith work I mean dialogue, collaboration, bridge building between the diverse groups within Paganism locally. Competition and judgment do not serve us well.  I find it ironic that we expect tolerance and acceptance in society when we are not always so tolerant and accepting of each other. If we don’t have some kind of unity among our local Pagan population, we don’t have a foundation to ground us in the difficult times and we don’t even begin to develop the skills to have the interfaith conversations.

In Miami this is easier than in other parts of the states.  At one of our EMLC Turning the Tide festivals, we had workshops by clergy from Lucumi, Druid, Wiccan, Hellenic reconstructionist paths. It’s a small sample, but it was a small gathering and everyone could sit around to appreciate others’ point of view. We saw something similar in Pahokee as we gathered on the banks of Lake Okeechobee to celebrate Summer Solstice in a ceremony led by Druids and attended by Heathens, Native Americans, Wiccans, eclectic Pagans and folks following a variety of other paths. The point of being together was not to celebrate a particular path, but to celebrate that we had come together to make this event happen on this very special day.

I’m hoping to be involved in more of of this kind of happening – one sparked by the mere desire to know each other rather than rallying against a common “enemy”. I’ll bet we have a lot to learn from each other.

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H:  Your hopes may come true sooner rather than later.  You are in the middle of creating a new festival – one that is pan-Pagan and part of the Pagan Pride circuit.  Before we say goodbye, tell us about that venture.

K: I’m finishing up the approval to become the Pagan Pride Day Local Coordinator for Florida’s Treasure and Space Coast. Although there are 5 or 6 Pagan Pride events in Florida each year, we are a big state and the closest Pagan Pride event is about two hours in either direction from here.  There’s a void.

The objective of these events is to encourage interaction between Pagans and non Pagans in local communities as well as being inclusive pan-Pagan events. This is an opportunity to combine the kinds of activities you and I have been talking about- let our neighbors see and know who Pagans are and get a feel for what we’re all about.  And get local Pagan groups and solitary folks together, talking to each other and working on something together. I’ve put an informal call out to the people that I know to see who wants to be involved, and I’m really excited about the level of interest.  We will start planning in January for a Fall 2014 event.

H: Thank you very much Kathy for you insight and retrospective.  On a personal note, I look forward to working with you on the CoG Board and watching all of your other work develop in Florida.

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

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

“The Renaissance Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, a recreation of a 16th-century medicinal garden, is so lush and colorful, it only takes a stroll through to absorb its good medicine. The garden, part of a summer exhibit called Wild Medicine: Healing Plants Around the World, is a small-scale model of the 16th-century Italian Renaissance Garden in Padua, Italy, Europe’s first botanical garden. The landscape includes Mediterranean flowers in multiple colors, fountains and odd plants that many people have never seen, like the opium poppy, with its unusual seed pods. The garden in Padua was created in 1545 as part of the University of Padua medical school, one of the earliest and most important medical schools in Europe. [...] Medicinal plants are used by every culture around the world. Long says 25 percent of modern medicines are based on compounds that were originally derived from plants. Only about 1 percent of plants have actually been tested for medicinal properties they may contain.”Margot Adler, reporting on The Renaissance Garden at the New York Botanical Garden for NPR.

Elinor Predota

Elinor Predota

“So what are we to make of this apparent paradox – the co-creatrix of one of the most influential nature religions in the world, living happily in what most of us would consider to be a deeply unnatural environment? There is, of course, the argument that Wicca is not, in fact, a nature religion at all – at least not a religion which is directly to do with the actual non-human environment. Wicca can be at least as much about human nature, psychic development and magical power as it is about our relationship with non-human nature. There is also the possibility that Doreen Valiente valued her interactions with nature all the more, and found even greater spiritual depth in them, precisely because she lived in an urban environment. I am sure many of us who have lived or do live in cities, yet consider our Paganism to be very much a nature religion can relate to that experience.” – Elinor Predota, discussing Doreen Valiente, the “village Witch who lived in a tower block,” who was recently honored with a blue commemorative plaque.

Layne Redmond

Layne Redmond

“Some of you know I went into the hospital for a week when I got home from teaching at Omega, June 7 – 9, and have been released into Hospice which I cannot praise highly enough. I went into the hospital because fluid had filled all around my lungs and heart so I had only a few days to a week left before my heart was unable to beat any longer. We decided to do a surgery in which they cut away a part of the bag around the heart so it would drain over to my right lung side where they put in a permanent drain thinking that would give me one or two more months. All went well with the surgery, and I am getting things in order and trying to finish my film, Axe´ Orixa´, which is well underway at this point. I’m not in any pain and am recovering my strength, (I worked out with my trainer last Tuesday and I’m out for walks most days) and am incredibly well taken care of by a wonderful network of angelic friends! My heart surgeon says there was much less cancer in the fluids they drained than they expected and so he won’t prophesize how much longer I have left! [...] I want to thank all of you who emailed, phoned and sent me cards — it means the world to me. I’m not able to answer emails at this time and may never catch up but I am reading them all. I’m really at peace, busy eating anything I want and looking back over my life with true pleasure. It has been so great to meet so many of you who love the frame drum, and it has been really amazing to see how the simple desire for wanting to learn to play the drums has unfolded in my life. One of the projects that we are taking care of now is getting When The Drummers Were Women back in print. My dvds and cds will continue to be available through my company Golden Seed Productions which will also care for and house my slide collection from the many years of my research.” – Layne Redmond, author of “When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm,” and director of “Axé Orixá: Dreaming Awake the Gods & Goddesses of Brazil,” discussing her time in hospice, life-prolonging surgery, and final projects she wants to finish in the time she has left, in a newsletter sent to supporters.

Amy Martin

Amy Martin

“I am not an abortion-on-demand proponent. The procedure is misused. Regulations should be focused on preventing those who use abortion as birth control and term limits are understandable. But I also do not believe that politicians have the right to control my body. If I have to yell loudly to get the government out of my uterus, I will. Call me uppity. And let’s be honest. The bill was not about banning abortions after 20 weeks. Had that been the sole focus, it would have easily passed. The bill was aimed at placing punitive restrictions on abortion providers that other similar day-surgery enterprises are not subjected to, effectively shutting down all but five clinics. Vasectomies have the same rate of complications. Where are those clinics’ regulations? If the sanctity of life honestly concerned these grandstanding abortion opponents, then before anyone in Texas could buy or sell a gun they’d be required to watch real (not Hollywood) videos of people dying from gun violence and have doctors on call at hospitals whose emergency rooms are burdened with victims of gun violence. Nor would they have been trumpeting their pleasure with our state’s 500th execution that same day. It’s hard to respect that kind of hypocrisy.” – Amy Martin, Director Emeritus of Earth Rhythms and Writer/editor of Moonlady News Newsletter, responding to the question of whether it was “moral” for protestors to shut down the Texas Senate over proposed abortion legislation.

HecateDemeter

HecateDemeter

“Koontz is a Takings Case.  That means that it’s based upon the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution.  This Amendment provides that, inter alia, private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.  That means that, for example, if the government wants to take your home and yard in order to expand a local highway, the government can do that, but it has to pay you “just compensation.”  You can go to court if you think that the amount that the government offers you is too little to be “just compensation,”  and the court can rule on that, but the government can take your property.  Fair enough, and for most of the Twentieth Century, Takings Cases were more or less confined to how much the government had to pay in order to pay “just compensation.”  Fast forward to the end of the Twentieth Century. Too many people.  Not enough planet.  Everyone begins to realize that the impact of allowing you to build a bunch of condos on wetland HERE has an impact on wetland THERE.  Turns out, those “bundles of sticks” that used to make up property rights begin to look a lot more like  an interchangeable and interrelated bunch of conditions.  Various local [Pagans!  Pay attention!] districts, wetland areas, townships, counties, etc. begin to impose conditions whenever someone wants to further develop their property.  The Supreme Court, with its newly-appointed hyper-conservative members, is called upon to say when enough is enough — at what point do conditions imposed upon development of your property become a Fifth Amendment Taking?”HecateDemeter, Witch, ecofeminist, and lawyer, discussing KOONTZ v. ST. JOHNS RIVER WATER at PaganSquare.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“As much as we respect the non-dogmatic nature of a great deal of modern Paganism, and as much as we laud the freedom and autonomy that every Pagan and every Pagan group has to practice its religion in the ways it determines are best, it is clear that the “mainstream” of modern Paganism prefers the social acceptance of LGBTQ people. Yet, the blatant intolerance shown toward LGBTQ people by some modern Pagans is actively tolerated. Not simply because I’m a vocal queer activist and queer Pagan theologian do I find this to be a problematic situation. It would be very fair to say that I think a great deal of modern Paganism would do itself a favor, as well as making itself far more appealing to a wider audience amongst religious options in the world for LGBTQ people, if it embraced queer theologies and cosmologies on a more widespread basis as the norm rather than as an exception and a fringe possibility. Here’s an example: in a Greek context, we usually think of Chaos bringing forth Gaia, and then Gaia bringing forth Ouranos, and then the two of them going on to have most of the divine entities we recognize as the Greek Titans and later Olympian gods, amongst many other powers of the universe. What if that wasn’t what happened at all? What if the first two beings to come forth from Chaos were Gaia and Nyx, and they together produced a variety of divine beings, and it wasn’t until Gaia on her own produced Ouranos, who then raped his mother and forced her to be his consort, that some of the more problematic beings started to come into existence? In a set of religions that often promotes the importance, prominence, and even supremacy of Goddesses over male gods, wouldn’t this actually make a bit more sense?” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou, asking the question “where do we go from here” in the wake of several major Supreme Court decisions.

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

“When all the national/international media attention was focused on us and people began to send their energy, good wishes and loving sentiments our way, it helped us to remember to focus on the solution instead of on the problem. To manifest what we desire, instead of being worried about what might happen next. People who have been our neighbors for years, whom we never met before, have stopped by to tell us they’re sorry for what is happening to us, that they love our house, and hope that we’re all right. Strangers everywhere have expressed their outrage, and their concern. Even on blogs and news stories, when some would point a finger of blame at me for having bright pink hair and painting our house in a manner which was “childish” or “wild” or “sure to offend neighbors,” others spoke up to remind them that these were not valid reasons to shoot at me or to throw bombs at us. We also discovered that even under the kind of duress we experienced at the moments which were most-tense, we still enjoyed just being together. We remained united both publicly and privately. And we carried on with all of our previously-scheduled events and activities. We intimately felt the impact of being part of the larger, worldwide Pagan community, and were strengthened. As the Spiral Rhythm song says: “One spirit in the dark, like a candle waivers. Many spirits joined as one, burn with the power of the blazing sun.” We FELT that power, that community, and have been empowered by the Circle.”Kyrja Withers, discussing reactions from inside and outside the Pagan community after her family were repeatedly harassed for being Pagans, in the latest edition of AREN’s ACTION newsletter.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“It is time for the religious left to become a stronger force for equity and justice in the US. We do our best: We take to the streets. We volunteer. We feed one another. We vote. We work for fair wages. We give back. Yet despite these varied efforts, the sand keeps eroding beneath our feet. What are our ethics? What is the firm ground we can stand on? As a Pagan, my ground is a profound experience of the Sacred infusing all things. It is a sense of divinity here with us, in every face, voice, tree, insect, drop of water, and distant star. This causes me to seek out connection and to center my actions around love as much as I am able. The radical Christians I work with – and the Muslims, Buddhists, and Atheists – may not use the same language as I, yet we share a common ethic of action based on equity and justice. In each of them, too, I see the great returning to love. We can carry this love outward and take a stand for the disenfranchised, the poor, the oppressed, and those whose voices – singly – do not carry far. Together, our voices can become a harmonious concert singing a song for the present and for the future we are orchestrating.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on voting rights, solidarity, and the religious left, at her Know Thyself blog.

John Beckett

John Beckett

“A commitment to Nature is a commitment to the study of Nature.  To be more plainspoken, it means a commitment to science.  Note that “Nature” is capitalized and “science” is not – that’s intentional.  Too often, what is called “Science” refers to a canonization of a hypermaterialistic worldview – if it can’t be measured according to the rules of science then it doesn’t exist. Do I have to quote Shakespeare?  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Despite the limitations of science, it remains a critically important tool for understanding Nature.  If life speaks to you, study biology.  If the sun and moon and stars speak to you, study astronomy.  If energy speaks to you, study physics and chemistry.  If creation myths speak to you, study the Big Bang and evolution. We may long for experience of the Otherworld, but the vast majority of our lives are spent in this world.  It benefits us to understand this world as it really is.  A strong understanding of science also helps us separate helpful beliefs and practices from unhelpful fantasy:  bad science makes bad religion.” – John Beckett, on having a commitment to nature, at the Patheos Pagan channel.

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

Just last week I was on the phone with Rev. Selena Fox, executive director of Lady Liberty League, discussing media strategies to help Kyrja Withers.  During this discussion, we were noting the excellent reporting done by Tampa’s ABC Action News.  In that discussion, Selena mentioned the need to share the news report with the Pagan Media.

At that point I had to pause. She knew what she meant and I knew what she meant.  Regardless, I blurted out the question:

“What is the Pagan Media?”

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's Micky.!

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Micky.!

As an off-shoot of my publicity work for Covenant of the Goddess, I have been considering this question for quite some time. Public relations professionals usually maintain a solid database of journalists who could be targeted for press releases and media statements. I’ve started such a database for the Pagan Media but the more that I work on it, the more that I scratch my head.

There are some clear candidates.  These include traditional media outlets such as print magazines (e.g. Circle Magazine, Sage Woman, Witches and Pagans) and community-based print newsletters. In the digital world there is the Pagan Newswire Collective family of blogs, AREN, South Africa’s Penton Independent Pagan Media, Pagans Tonight Radio Network and Pagan Musings Podcast Channel, Patheos Pagan Channel and, of course, The Wild Hunt… (toot toot).. to name just a very few.

Although I consider the above entities to be definitive members of what we now call “The Pagan Media,” they do not mark the boundaries of this emerging “industry” – to borrow Jason Mankey’s descriptor. There are an endless number of information sources that can now perform the job of the Media. Figuring out who or what they are has become more of a challenge than originally anticipated.

“How do you take a cloud and pin it down?”

Why is it so difficult? The digital revolution has broken the traditional modes of operation and uprooted the foundations of journalistic output. The barriers to entry are next to nothing.  What we now experience is media anarchy!

It is true that this new world has been a boon for the Pagan Media.  It is maturing within a brave new world that even the mainstream media has yet to understand. It is a big wild wood of information … a place where every blog, every post, and every tweet could become tomorrow’s big story.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

In the traditional system, writers were dependent upon editors for visibility. Those writers or broadcasters whose works commanded the most profit were contracted. Only the popular stories were printed. To fix the famous slogan:  “All the news that [the editors believe] is fit to print.”

In today’s world, more voices are being heard.  More writers are being read.  There are no boundaries of thought. If you can’t get published in The New Yorker, you can open your own Blogger account. This level of freedom has been vitally important to marginalized sub-cultures, like our own, who haven’t necessarily had the funding, time or clout to grow a strong traditional Media presence. Bronwyn Katze, Penton International Media’s Editor, celebrates this change by saying it “helps to keep the stories grounded, real and more relatable to the average community member.”  We can write about ourselves, for ourselves, without limitations or censorship.

The Bad

To quote Eleonor Roosevelt, “With Freedom comes responsibility.”

In the traditional system, there were standards and expectations of the writer.  There were ladders to climb and credentials to earn.  Being a journalist meant something very specific as determined by the industry.  As such readers knew what they were getting and could easily instill their trust in one news source or another based upon those expectations. If you picked up the Green Egg, you knew what to expect and could trust its editor to maintain that standard. The same goes for mainstream media such as The New York Times or CNN.

Now there are no standards or accountability for integrity of the data, of the news agency or of the writer. As Bronwyn Katze observes:

Instead of journalists with degrees and diplomas in the field of journalism, we are now seeing a shift to community members with little-to-no writing experience keeping the community up-to-date on the latest news happening within the community.

How do you know where to put your trust?  By what criteria do you have to judge the writer or the news site? The proscenia, if you will, which defined something as a “credible news source” are non-existent.  How do you know if something is straight news or merely commentary?  What are the credentials of the writer?  Does the site have an agenda?

In this world, it becomes the exhausting responsibility of the reader to sift through all these sites and determine what is valuable.  It becomes the burden of the writer to earn and safeguard the trust of each and every reader in order to build and maintain credibility. Freedom can be liberating but it can be overwhelming and … dangerous.  It’s media anarchy.

The Ugly

In the internet news world, anything can become news and anyone can become a news source.  The Bowdon Lady Liberty League case began with one brother’s blog rant. For my Fox News Story, I was tipped off by a Facebook post.  After the Marathon bombings, the Boston Police Department tweeted updates faster than the news stations could report. It’s media anarchy.  And, if you aren’t careful – as a writer or reader – it could get ugly.

Photo by Flickr's striatic

Photo by Flickr’s striatic

All-in-all, the internet has provided fertile ground for the Pagan Media.  In addition to growth, Pagan Media is more visible which demonstrates that Pagans are a very real presence in greater society. But I’m still left looking for those boundaries… what or who is emerging to become this Pagan Media? Within this anarchy, how do I determine who makes the database?

Perhaps this new world needs a new question. Instead of asking:  “what or who is the Pagan Media?”  I should ask, “How do you get your news?”  Are you a traditionalist who waits on the paperboy and buys print copies of Pagan Dawn? Are you moderately progressive with digital subscriptions to The New York Times and assorted Pagan newsletters?  Are you digitally-deft using readers to aggregate your news from well-respected media sources such as Mashable, Huffington Post and The Wild Hunt?  Or, are you digital surfer who waits for the news to find you through Twitter or Facebook?

With that question answered, I may be able determine the scope of the Pagan Media, how these entities are thriving and how they help the Pagan community?  So I ask:

In which Pagan news sources are you instilling your trust?  Where and how do you get your news? 

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.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

  • The historic site of Wounded Knee is now for sale on the open market. The current owner, James Czywczynski, makes some rather insulting claims about why he’s selling it. Quote: “For some reason, they cannot see economic development and they cannot see tourism and they cannot relate. They want everything for free is what it amounts to I guess.” The Oglala Sioux see the price as artificially inflated, trading on the massacre when the land itself is valued in the thousands, not millions. Quote: “We see that greed around here all the time with non-Indians. To me, you can’t put a price on the lives that were taken there.” What happens next is uncertain. There are claims that some buyers are interested in buying the land and giving it back to the tribe, but it’s just as possible someone will buy it in order to make money off someone else’s tragedy. 
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center shares the experiences of a lone Jew in a highly racially segregated prison. Quote: “It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you’ll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you’ll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don’t have any play.” I think it’s important to share this after my story yesterday about Even Ebel. This is the toxic atmosphere in which Paganism behind bars is being practiced. 
  •  Jack Jenkins, a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, writes about how mainstream journalism still doesn’t do religion coverage very well. Quote: “Yet religion seems to be having an increasingly hard time getting a fair shake from another major player in American life: the media. The breadth and quality of religion reporting in the United States has atrophied in recent years, with once-robust religion sections now all but erased from the pages of the nation’s leading newspapers. Meanwhile, religion reporters have either been laid off or forced to re-shift their professional focus to covering religion ‘on the side.'” The truth is that it’s even worse if you’re a member of a religious minority. We just hope the new episode of “Wife Swap” treats us gently, and we scarcely dream of the coverage larger faiths get. 
  • Just thought you should know that being for gun control laws is very, very, Pagan. Quote: “Frankly, it almost would seem that animism won’t go away. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will. That’s animism, that’s a return to the most pagan of paganism and look at what nutty political views it ends up supporting.” That’s Larry Pratt, thexecutive director of Gun Owners of America, an organization that believes the NRA is too soft on protecting the 2nd Amendment. Here’s one Heathen’s response to Pratt’s animist ramblings. 
  • In response to a number of recent articles, Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead confront the issue of predatory proselytism. Quote: “Moreover, friendship is sometimes abused, when it is reduced to the end of evangelism. In one instance where an Evangelical has been involved in a high-profile relationship and dialogue with a Mormon scholar, many Evangelicals have called for an end to the relationship after a period of time because the Mormon has not converted. Aren’t relationships valuable in and of themselves without being used merely as a tool to convert others? For all our emphasis on personal relationships, one might be left to wonder how relational the Evangelical movement as a whole is.” For more on my personal interactions with Paul Louis Metzger, click here.
Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

 

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.

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!

A Fundraiser for Kyrja Withers: Since Florida Pagan and children’s author Kyrja Withers had her home shot at this past March, followed by a chemical bottle-bomb attack, which required Withers’ daughter to seek medical care after inhaling fumes, the Lady Liberty League, Everglades Moon Local Council of COG, and other local Pagan community members have been mobilizing to assist Withers. At the behest of Lady Liberty League, their household is now raising funds to install security measures to protect against future attacks.

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

“Lady Liberty League [...] has provided a variety of resources to my husband, Randy, and I during this time.  They also provided a comprehensive on-site Threat Assessment Report of our home in an effort to de-escalate the situation and provide long-term safety for our family. We are seeking assistance to comply with the security measures recommended by Lady Liberty League.  The bulk of the funding received will be to purchase the security cameras necessary to provide surveillence of our unique, colorful home.  The cameras would provide visible deterents to those who would seek to further harass and intimidate us, as well as a means to secure evidence should additional incidents occur.”

They are seeking to raise $1,100 dollars, and have already raised nearly half of their goal. For those seeking to concretely help in this situation this seems to be a pragmatic and sensible way to do so. The Lady Liberty League asks that those who are interested in contributing suggestions of resources, ideas for strategies, and volunteering security consulting and other help” to send them an e-mail, or comment at the organization’s Facebook page.  A focus image has also been provided for those who want to do magical/prayer work for Kyrja and her family. We will update you here with further developments.

Emergency Pagan Conclave Called in California: The Wild Hunt has received a notice that an emergency conclave is being called for Sunday, May 5th in Oakland, California to discuss proposed regulations by the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) relating to religious items allowed by incarcerated Pagans. The call is being put forth by The Pagan Alliance and House of Danu.

Central California Women's Facility (CCWF)

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

“The California Department of Corrections (CDCR) has issued proposed regulations that threaten the ability of Pagans who are incarcerated to possess many of the religious items customary for the religious practices of our people. The proposed list excludes items out of ignorance, or for convenience, without regard to the required legal standard permitting personal religious items. Public comment on the proposed regulations ends May 7, 2013 at 5:00p.m.

The last great struggle for religious freedom in this country may very well be in the California prisons. At this historic Conclave. Dr. Barbara McGraw will give a presentation on the history of abuse endured by Pagan inmates, and there will be a panel of Pagan chaplain volunteers to share their experiences. Each of you will be given a guide showing how you can help the people of your tradition within the scope of any budget or time availability. We ask that each tradition send one or more representatives to the Conclave.”

Details on location, time, and how to participate can be found at this Facebook event listing. The proposed changes to what inmate religious property will be allowed can be found, here. The rights of Pagan prisoners has been an ongoing area of coverage at The Wild Hunt, and we’ll have more on this as the story develops.

Houston Pagan Conference: The first Pagan conference in the Houston, Texas area in over 30 years is being held May 18th  at the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands. I reporter earlier on the fundraiser to get this event started.

“There has not been a conference for Pagans in the Houston area for over 30 years. Now is the time to change that. The Houston metropolitan area has a wonderful, rich, and vast Pagan community which should be celebrated. The Houston Pagan Conference was started to not only bring this community together but to also bring forth ideas and discussions on various aspects of faith and practice.”

Guest of honor will be author Raven Grimassi. In addition, OBOD Druid, CUUPs Vice President, and Patheos blogger, John Beckett will be in attendance, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about how the event went. Congratulations to the Houston-area Pagan community on getting organized!

In Other Community News:

 

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!

Update on the Kyrja Withers Story: On March 30th I reported that Florida Pagan and children’s author Kyrja Withers had her home shot at, the latest in a string of escalating incidents seemingly connected to her Pagan faith. Now, PNC-Florida and the New Port Richey Patch are both reporting that the attacks have not stopped, and that her home was recently the subject of a chemical bomb attack, which required Withers’ daughter to seek medical care after inhaling fumes from the home-made bottle-bombs.

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

“She said there was a young man in the driver’s seat and another in the front passenger seat with his body sticking out of the window. She said the driver was also coming out of the window. There was also a young man in the backseat. She says two bottles with fluid inside were thrown at the house from within the vehicle on its return alongside the home. One landed near a bush in the front yard of the house. She saw the bottle expand and tried to get away before it exploded. “Every time I close my eyes, I see the bottle expanding,” she said. She said she did not escape the fumes when the bottle burst. She told the New Port Richey police that both bottles exploded. The second bottle exploded so hard that it went flying across the street and into a neighbor’s yard.”

Police are still investigating these incidents, and no arrests have been made. The Lady Liberty League is currently working on providing Kyrja Withers with support, and ask that those who are interested in contributing suggestions of resources, ideas for strategies, and volunteering security consulting and other help” to send them an e-mail, or comment at the organization’s Facebook page.  A focus image has also been provided for those who want to do magical/prayer work for Kyrja and her family. We will update you here with further developments. May Kyrja and her family remain safe, and may these perpetrators be brought to justice. 

Hexenfest Happens This Saturday: The second annual Hexenfest, a celebration of mythic music and dance, is happening this Saturday, April 27th, at the Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda, California. Featured performers are  Arcane DimensionPandemonaeon, Morpheus RavennaAnaar, a Tombo Studio fashion show, and DJing by Skellington.

“Welcome to Hexenfest, a music and arts festival dedicated to myth, magic, folklore, fairytale, and the numenous.   We feature artists who are exploring the wild archetypal through their art; musicians, dancers, visual artists, and crafters who look to the realms of myth and dream and reflect their visions into our world. Hexenfest has a flair for the darkly exotic. Gothic, Pagan, and Tribal belly dance themes are featured prominently, evoking the forbidden forest more than than the enchanted wood. If you feel at home in dark fairytales, join us in the realm!”

I was honored to be involved in the first Hexenfest, and I think the event could be replicated by local communities who want to grow and support Pagan-made music, dance, fashion, and other arts. So if you’re in the area, why not consider dropping by in a show of solidarity? I can guarantee that a lot of excellent people will be there. Here’s the official Facebook event page. 

6th Anniversary of Veteran Pentacle Quest Victory: On April 23rd, 2007, a settlement was reached with the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs concerning the inclusion of the Wiccan Pentacle to the official VA list of Emblems of Belief. Nine years of bureaucratic stalling over this issue were endured, very likely due to the personal beliefs of former Texas governor, then-president, George W. Bush. While some have tried to gloss over this struggle, litigation and public pressure was necessary to move this issue forward, and open the door for more minority religions to have their symbols included. Now, on this 6th anniversary of the victory, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who was an instrumental part of the campaign, is hosting a special radio show this evening to share stories and remembrances.

2006 Pagan religious freedom rally at the September 11 memorial in Reno, Nevada. Pictured, left to right: Selena Fox, executive director of Lady Liberty League; Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, first Wiccan killed in action in War on Terrorism in Afghanistan; and US Army Chaplain William Chrystal, Pastor Emeritus of First Congregational Church (UCC) of Reno, Nevada.

2006 Pagan religious freedom rally at the September 11 memorial in Reno, Nevada. Pictured, left to right: Selena Fox, executive director of Lady Liberty League; Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, first Wiccan killed in action in War on Terrorism in Afghanistan; and US Army Chaplain William Chrystal, Pastor Emeritus of First Congregational Church (UCC) of Reno, Nevada.

“Celebrating 6th Anniversary of Veteran Pentacle Quest Victory Day with Roberta Stewart, others who helped make this happen. Tune in to special podcast tonight, 8-9pm CDT”

You can find the link to the show, here.  Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, will be participating. You can read a history of this quest for inclusion, here. The Wild Hunt’s extensive coverage of the Veteran Pentacle Quest can be read, here. We give our thanks for those who fought to make sure individuals like Sgt. Patrick Stewart would be properly honored.

In Other Community News: 

 

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

Tampa Bay, Florida resident Kyrja Withers, an out Pagan and author of the Pagan-themed children’s book “Rupert’s Tales: The Wheel of the Year Beltane, Litha, Lammas, and Mabon” announced that on Thursday her home was shot at, the most recent escalation in a string of seemingly religiously-motivated incidents.

Kyrja's window.

Kyrja’s window.

“Someone shot at me tonight – and though they missed, The Glitter Dome is a bit more …. holey … tonight. We’ve had intermittent problems with someone honking their horn outside our house at very late hours and screaming obscenities  Once, they threw a firecracker in our front house. Last night, they screamed “F’ing WITCH” – quite clearly. No mistake. Today, we received several telephone calls where the caller said something unintelligible and then hung up, as well as an inappropriate post on one of my Rupert videos. This is obviously personal. And now, they have crossed the line and have caused property damage. And yes – the first window they hit is where I sit. It is time to deal with this. And so we shall. We ask for your assistance in calling for swift justice.”

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

I contacted Kyrja personally for a follow-up statement where she said the police investigation is ongoing, and that she does not regret being an “out” Pagan despite the attack.

“The only statements I know to make at this point is that the investigation by our local police department is ongoing at this point, and we do appreciate their efforts.  I have seen a few posts throughout the day from people who have stated our situation is the very reason they prefer not to make their Pagan faith known.  And, while I certainly respect their own choices, I can tell you that I would never have known the level of happiness and peace I do now if not for having made my own choices both public and well-known.  Too, if we are unwilling to get to “reveal” ourselves for the people we are – to include the spiritual paths we walk, we will never diminish the level of stigmatism for all of our brothers and sister.  Normalizing our faith sometimes requires courage; more often doing so provides more opportunities for celebration. If we had the opportunity, what I would like to do is to educate the individual(s) responsible for these incidents and to have them do community service within the Pagan community.  Chances are, it would be quite the eye-opening experience for them.”

We will keep you posted on this incident as further developments occur. We wish safety for Kyrja’s family, and that justice be brought to her attackers. For those wanting to know more about Kyrja’s work writing children’s books, you can visit her web site, or Facebook page.