Archives For Lisa Spiral Besnett

There are a plethora of experiences within the Pagan community, and this has become a focal point of many different discussions within the last several years. From privilege, racism, hate, disabilities, and gender discussions, our community has seen some recent surges in dialogue around macro level social issues within our greater society, as they apply to us. The increasing population of people that are drawn to Paganism, nature based spirituality, and/or polytheism, has brought additional discussions of need and equal access to community. The complexity of intersectionality has become more visible, and these complexities are being addressed with resources, and publications.

book_rooted_in_the_body_smallImmanion/Megalithic Press released their newest anthology, this one addressing Pagans with disabilities. Tara Miller is the editor of Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul; Magic Practitioners Living with Disabilities & Illness, released on November 23, 2013. This anthology has been in the works for several years, and is a collection of stories, interviews, and rituals addressing living with illness, disability, and/or healing as a Pagan practitioner. Taylor Ellwood, managing Non-Fiction Editor and co-owner of Immanion Press, talked with me about choosing to publish books that address nitch topics, and books that address social issues within the community, to support these much needed conversations.

One of the reasons Immanion Press is interested in addressing these issues is because when such issues aren’t written about and explicitly explored, it is much harder to develop a conversation or push for change in the community. I think it is all too easy to ignore such issues, but when these issues are ignored they poison our community. As a publisher, I’m interested in getting a variety of voices and perspectives into print in order to start conversations around these issues. I feel that by publishing anthologies such as Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul and Shades of Faith, what is ultimately happening is much more than just publishing a book of articles. What is happening is that the texts take on a life of their own via the conversations people have around them, and through the writing that is generated as a result of the inspiration these anthologies prompt in both writers and readers.

Tara Miller is the writer of Staff of Asclepius blog on Patheos Pagan page, a blog that started in 2010, and is written about and for Pagans with Disabilities. Tara has been quite open about her personal struggle with disability as a result of her diagnosis of Turner Mosaic. Part of her biography on the website states, “I have Turner Mosaic which created a massive failure of my endocrine system causing many health problems. I am now considered medically disabled. Disabled was not an easy word to be associated with and it wasn’t until I accepted this that I began to find ways of living a fuller life.” She goes on to talk about being inspired by other Pagans who struggle with mental, physical, and psychological disabilities within the Pagan community.

In exploring some of the complex issues at hand, I reached out to several of the authors in the anthology to talk about some of the reasons this topic is important to them.


Tara Miller

Why do you feel that this anthology is important to the Pagan community at large?

It is important because it will share the unique voices of individuals who are disabled, have an addiction, or illness. The Pagan community can learn from the essays and poems what it’s like to be a disabled etc. Another goal is to help disabled people find comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Covens, circles, temples or any other type of magical group can use it as a resource toward understanding members or potential members with disabilities.

How has being disabled impacted your spiritual path and the way you approach Pagan practice?

I have Turner Mosaic which caused a severe failure of my endocrine system. That means I have diabetes and hypothyroidism and a lowered immune system. I also have epilepsy and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from childhood abuse. Combined it means it’s easy to be depressed. To find myself in the dark feeling worthless or afraid. I’ve learned from teachers and spirit guides that the most important thing a human can do is center their mind, body, and spirit. When you are in physical pain, inner turmoil, or both it seems impossible to do. That’s why I’ve developed a Pagan practice where I meditate for a few moments every day. I’ve been practicing more and more since I was twelve or so. Now it’s daily. This makes it easy to enter a trance when I want to do deep ritual work or astral projection.

Do you feel that those who are disabled within the community are often without a voice? And if so, what do you think will support positive change in this area as a whole community?

There are two reasons they don’t have a voice: One is they don’t speak up about their needs at rituals and festivals. The second is when they do speak up they are told “Sorry, we can’t do that.”

What needs to happen is Pagans in the Deaf community and those who are disabled need to raise their voices, let volunteers know what they need. Then organizers need to agree to work with the community and everyone dig into their pockets a bit to get things done.

The anthology has numerous stories from those who have had to work through the challenges of being within the Pagan community, and have a disability.  Author and mother Janet Callahan is among the writers in this anthology. She also wrote a recent ebook, Pagan Parenting in the ICU, after navigating the system for both of her children at birth. She writes on her own blogs about raising medically fragile and medically complex children as a Pagan parent.

janet callahan

Janet Callahan

My piece is called “Parenting Disabled Children” and I’m also interviewed in the anthology. Mostly, it’s about the choices our family makes when it comes to balancing our faith and our children’s medical needs. Before we had children, we were very open and fairly public about our faith. Now, we are less so, particularly in our home – something we never thought we’d do.

Why do you think an anthology like this is important to the growing needs of our community?

For me personally, it’s important because we are raising our children in our faith, and trying to get them out to community events, and finding that the community often isn’t prepared to deal with disability – and all it takes is an illness or accident for any of us to become disabled. I think it’s important for groups and events to be aware of the many different needs within the community and this anthology is a starting point for that. I also think that it helps us to consider how health, both physical and mental, affect our faith, and how groups may shut out people based on their health because of opinions about what constitutes wellness.

Lydia Crabtree has been writing about family and disability for years on her blog and now in her new Agora Column on the Patheos Pagan site. As a practicing Pagan that has been living with multiple disabilities, Lydia has often talked about the complexity of balancing spirituality with such conditions.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree

My piece is called Turning Disability into Opportunability. My piece address the idea that those struck by disability often are also incapacitated by shame and fear. It asks and addresses the question, “If we cast a spell of healing and it doesn’t work, then what is it?” Guided by the natural world, I seek an answer to that question and come up with several adaptations those of us with disability can utilize. One of them is the idea that disability does not equate to dysfunction. It instead is an opportunity to learn and teach from a different perspective.

It has been my personal experience that a large subset of paganism is those of us who have disability – opporunability, if you will. For a long time, sometimes out of a lack of education into disability and its toll on the disabled, sometimes out of fear of hurting feelings, this subset has had no voice.

This anthology puts a stop to this. It gives an avenue for discussion that did not exist on this scale before. Much like Shades of Faith has taken Daughters of Eve to the next level, Rooted in the Body takes Tara Miller’s blog, The Staff of Asclepius to the next level. Her work finally has spurred a discussion on larger scale by persons who are disabled and those who treat the disabled from a distinctly pagan perspective.

Lisa Spiral Besnett, author of Manifest Divinity from Immanion Press, is also a contributed to the anthology. Besnett has traveled to many different Pagan events and festivals, while navigating the needs of a disabled child, and balancing her own health.

Lisa Spiral Besnett

Lisa Spiral Besnett

I put in a poem – an elemental blessing. I wrote it 25 years ago. When I was pregnant with Orion I got my first taste of what living with a chronic disability would be like. I knew it was temporary (theoretically it would be all over when I had the baby -little did I know). I was so sick and there was so much I simply couldn’t do. There were days (months) where I was too weak to pour myself a glass of milk (I literally couldn’t lift the carton). When I went anywhere out I had to rent a wheelchair for the day. Then I had a premie with some significant issues. Orion had 5 surgeries in his first 6 months. We spent a LOT of time in the neonatal ICU. It wasn’t just my baby, it was all of these precious little souls. There were crack babies, and incubator babies, and babies with severe deformities. What would their lives be like? Where was the joy and the hope? So I wrote the poem. I think our community prides itself on it’s empathy, but it’s hard to be empathetic to something totally outside of your own experience. Instead there’s a lot of “I’m so glad I’m not you” sympathy. Attempts to accommodate often involve presumption and pity rather than dialog and addressing actual need. I’d like to think this piece will help both issues. It will provide a path to empathy as well as being a starting point for discussion. As our community ages we will have more members with “special needs”. They may not see themselves as disabled, but will still need some extra support. Any Mom pushing a stroller will tell you handicapped ramps are the bomb. Making an accommodation for someone who can’t stand through ritual makes it acceptable to sit if you need to. Opening ourselves up to creating access makes life easier for everyone in the long run.

Accommodating the identified needs of those who have disabilities is not just a Pagan issue, but has been a concern in greater society as well. Strong advocacy supported laws and bills, like the American’s Disability Act, that supported accommodations for those who needed them. As the various factions within the Pagan community become more vocal, we are finding that this community thing is not as simple as previously assumed. With current data on the Pagan community, we do not have any statistic about the amount of people that require special needs around mental, or physical disabilities within the community. At some point it would be good to see the community invest in ways to collect data about our practitioners, and have data that can be used in a variety of ways. Until then, there appears to be an overall need for empathetic exchange, and more discussion for those with disabilities and how to be more present in the overall needs of our community members.

I asked Ellwood what he felt anthologies like this contribute to the community.

Anthologies such as Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul, Womens Voices in Magic, and Shades of Faith are intentionally designed to explore the social issues mentioned in your question above. I feel that the contribution to the Pagan community is that each of these books helps to raise awareness around social issues that are implicitly part of our mainstream culture and the Pagan subculture, but are not always explored as consciously as they should be. These anthologies focus on raising conscious awareness and starting uncomfortable, but needed, conversations that need to happen in order to help the Pagan community recognize where it can grow. For example, Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul focuses on Pagans with Disabilities and addresses issues such as the misconception that if you are ill or disabled, you must not be doing something right with your spirituality. The exploration of such misconceptions and social issues is a sign of a healthy community, because it shows that the community can be uncomfortable and learn from those issues instead of blindly supporting them.

This anthology has 21 pieces inside, giving a much needed, diverse exploration of Pagans who come to community with some physical or mental uniqueness. It is my hope that this anthology supports genuine understanding and support in making sure there is a place for everyone in our circles, discussions, or celebrations.

You can find this book on the Immanion Press Website, Amazon, or your local book store.

You can read Tara Miller’s full answers at the following link and Taylor Ellwood’s full comments here.


Author’s note: Transparency is important in many things, especially writing. Therefore it is important to mention that I am an author with Immanion/Megalithica press. In deciding to write about this anthology, it was not because of a connection as an author, but my happiness about this subject being tackled within my spiritual community. Thank you.


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

Patrick McCollum

Patrick McCollum

Pagan prison chaplain Patrick McCollum has penned an open reaction letter in response to a New York Times article about a Southern Baptist Bible college located inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In the letter, McCollum cautions fellow prison chaplains against celebrating this move unless they’d want to see a similar setup for a Wiccan seminary, and ends with the advice he’d give the warden in Louisiana if asked. Quote: “I support the good work of the seminary, and I would encourage the warden or other wardens, if they want to move in this direction, and if it were found that such programs were Constitutional ( which I seriously doubt) to invite minority faiths to have the same support and advantages they are offering the Bible college.  I would also caution the current seminary to review their objectives and adjust them to bring service to all and a good general education, without including conversion as a component.  If inmates feel moved after seeing the good work done by the seminary to convert, more power to them. While there is a serious question as to whether the situation described is Constitutional at all, the more important question is, is it ethical? Is it okay to submit confined inmates who cannot escape or move out of range of this program and who know up front that signing up for it will put them in good favor with the warden and staff and make their prison stay more comfortable and even give them status.” Religious education in prison is an ongoing issue, one that Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has decided to explore with their new Pagan Life Academy.

1391905_10151682113826724_2043938403_nWriter, occultist, and musician Lon Milo DuQuette will be releasing a new album, “Gentle Heretic,” on October 31st. Downloads of the new songs are already available at CD Baby. Quote: “After a twenty five year hiatus from the music business and the recording studio, Lon Milo DuQuette is in the midst of a burst of musical creativity. Eighteen months after his 2012 debut on Ninety Three Records, DuQuette has wrapped production on “Gentle Heretic”, his third collection of original material. While “Heretic” maintains the wit and stylistic traditions established in his first two Ninety Three works (“I’m Baba Lon” and “Baba Lon II”), DuQuette has sharpened his satirical pen on some tracks, pulling few punches politically or philosophically. A prolific author and expert in Western Hermeticism, the Aleister Crowley disciple’s new disc tweaks the beaks of the one percent, pokes fun at the proselytizers – there’s even a scathing salvo served on a certain December holiday. Mixed in with these messages are some delightful frolics covering everything from reincarnation to a quantum theory of courtship. The final forty-one seconds might be described as the acoustic equivalent of a YouTube cat video.” You can find out more about this release at Ninety Three Records.

banner4Pandora’s Kharis, a charity circle run by Hellenic Polytheists, was recently launched. The new group, sponsored by Elaion, aims to raise money for “charities and causes which align with our ideals, our Gods and our communities.” Quote: “Pandora’s Kharis is a movement which arose from within the Hellenistic Polytheistic community, and sponsored by Hellenistic Polytheistic organization Elaion. Its goal is to come together as Hellenists–followers of the ancient Hellenic (Greek) Gods–and collect funds monthly to support a worthy cause, decided upon by vote from the members of the group. Donations will be collected throughout the month and provided to the organization on the Noumenia; the religious beginning of the new month, which coincides with the return of the moon after it’s just gone through its dark phase. It is a time of hope and promise, and Pandora’s remaining gift after the amphora was opened was exactly that. As such, she has been elected to represent what we stand for: to keep an open eye of wonder towards the world, to see the good in it, and to offer hope to those in need.” In an editorial for Witches & Pagans, Terence P. Ward praised the formation of Pandora’s Kharis, noting that “perhaps even more exciting — at least from a business perspective — is that the idea is easily replicated.  Wiccans, Heathens, polytraditional solitaries all could create their own groups for amplifying the power of their giving.  By narrowing the focus from the incredibly broad and often contradictory beliefs of Pagans down to the ethics and values of a particular subset of the Paganiverse, we are likely to see more public giving by Pagans.” More information can be found at the organization’s new web site.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • A new London-based shop based around traditional conjure work, London Conjure, was launched this week. The enterprise was founded by Katelan Foisy (“La Gitana”), who is based in New York City, and Sister Enable, based in the UK. Quote: “Though much of their work is based on Romany “Gypsy” Magic passed down from generation to generation and traditional Hoodoo conjure work, they also work with spirits used in Haitian Vodou, Santeria or other enlightened spirits depending on what will work best to achieve their clients’ objectives.” You can learn more about the founders, here. You can also read a Q&A with Katelan Foisy.
  • A new book of commentaries on Aleister Crowley’s The Book of the Law“Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law,” has been published. Quote: “Boldly defying Crowley’s warning not to comment on the Book of the Law, Ipsissimus Don Webb provides in-depth interpretation from both Black and White Magical perspectives, including commentary from Dr. Michael A. Aquino, who served as High Priest of the Temple of Set from 1975 to 1996. Webb examines each line of the Book in the light of modern psychology, Egyptology, existentialism, and competing occult systems such as the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff and contemporary Left-Hand Path thought.”
  • At PNC-Minnesota, Lisa Spiral Besnett covers the 32nd Annual Women and Spirituality Conference in Mankato, Minnesota. Quote: “This conference is sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, Mankato.   Cindy Veldhuisen, the Business Manager for the Conference, told me that there were about 540 attendees this year.  This is up from last year. Some of the reason for the increase in attendance can likely be attributed to this year’s keynote speaker, Starhawk.  This is Starhawk’s third appearance as keynote speaker for the Woman & Spirituality conference.  She draws attendees from across the five state area as well as from the east coast, Colorado and Canada.  Many of the women I spoke with who were familiar with Starhawk were also alumni of the Diana’s Grove Witch Camp.”
  • Cosette, in Australia, gives an update on the Pagan/New Age event in Wedderburn, which experienced opposition from local Christian groups. Quote: “It sounds to me like there was a lot of interest in the New Age festival and that’s what people really went out there for. What Tonkin and other Christians like her fail to realize is that there’s a church on every corner and a Bible in every motel room, library, and book shop. Christianity is the dominant and privileged religion in Australia; finding information about it and other Christians is easy. Finding Witches, Wiccans, good resources, and a supportive Pagan or New Age spiritual community is much harder, and made all the more difficult by people like Tonkin who seek to defame alternative religions, and frighten those seeking them while attempting to silence those who practice them.”
  • Issue of #27 of Witches & Pagans Magazine was released on October 15th, and features an interview with Teo Bishop, conducted by T. Thorn Coyle. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a triplet of fascinating Pagan notables. Paranormal and detective novelist Alex Bledsoe sold his first magickal “Lady Firefly” story to PanGaia in 1998. Catch up with his journey in this conversation with Deborah Blake; then listen in as the inimitable T. Thorn Coyle talks with Pagan blogger, mystic, Druid and musician (aka Matt Morris) Teo Bishop; and visit with Renaissance woman, writer, and community leader Tish Owen.”

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

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

Ivo Dominguez Jr. of The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel participating in Rabbit's "I Stand Against Rape" campaign.

Ivo Dominguez Jr. of The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel participating in Rabbit’s “I Stand Against Rape” campaign.

“Live that truth. Speak up about rape. Take risks and say things out loud. Make sure you vote for those who respect the rights of women. Don’t worry about the economy so much: as the majority labor force in this country, and the majority in colleges and universities at this time, women will be able to figure things out with the economy once we are able to stop wasting our time on, you know, worrying about being raped or forced to have children who are products of rape. It is amazing how resourceful and smart we are about things like money, medicine, and astrophysics when we don’t have to trouble our pretty little heads about this other crap.” – Yeshe Rabbit, speaking about the “I Stand Against Rape” campaign, which invites men to make a public declaration against rape and share it with the world. You can see a selection of the participants, including my entry, at Rabbit’s Pintrest page.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“Patrick has offered service to the larger Pagan community at great expense to himself for many years, working in the US and on the international stage. It is a powerful thing to have a Pagan in such a high profile position at events like Awakened World. I feel grateful for his willingness to do this work, and will lend my support. Patrick, you’ve worked long and hard for us, and it is time for us to do some work to support you.”T.Thorn Coyle of Solar Cross Temple and Morningstar Mystery School writing in support of Patrick McCollum’s fundraising effort to send him to the Awakened World 2012 gathering in Italy.

Sam Webster (far right) with Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, and Lon Milo DuQuette at a PantheaCon gathering.

Sam Webster (far right) with Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, and Lon Milo DuQuette at a OSOGD PantheaCon gathering.

“As Socrates said (in the Apology), “the unexamined life is not worth living.” These kinds of questions are how humans have examined their lives by challenging themselves in their insight, or in their despair, to answer them. Or fail to. Here are the deep dark waters of the human experience. The record of humanity, especially the religious record, is the record of all the many ways we have attempted to answer them, as far back as writing goes, and arguably even farther. Long have we plumbed those depth and weighed those answers.”Sam Webster, founder of the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn (OSOGD), and author of “Tantric Thelema,” on the topic of religion and spirituality.

Star Foster

Star Foster

“When you look at other religious cultures who have survived over the millennia, including polytheistic cultures, you find that the process of creating, expanding and strengthening family was extremely important. Like anything else, these traditional processes could be, and sometimes still are, used to abuse and harm. Just as with a knife that can both slice bread and cut flesh, we don’t simply abandon traditional things because they have the potential to be used to harm. We already work positively with elements that could be used to harm in the wrong hands: divination, initiation, magic, etc…” – Patheos Pagan Portal editor Star Foster, asking if arranged marriages would work for the Pagan community.

Frater Barrabbas (left) with fellow magician Tony Mierzwicki.

Frater Barrabbas (left) with fellow magician Tony Mierzwicki.

“I guess you could say that I prefer my current employment environment where my technical expertise is easily determined by tangible results that I produce every day. A professional magician would function more like a clinical psychologist, often with only some subjective testimonials indicating that the magick worked for this person or that it greatly helped them. As for me, my professional skill-set is constantly being challenged and measured, even certified by an official testing regimen. Since there is nothing like that in the occult world, then claims of self-mastery and teaching accolades would have to be verified by the subjective opinions of various individuals. For myself, I would find this too intangible and tenuous. There is also the problem that if I initiate and teach someone, any fees that I might apply to that teaching would have to be done on a purely “quid pro quo” basis. I could never charge another initiate anything more than what would cover my out of pocket expenses, if even that.” – Frater Barrabbas, on why he won’t become a Professional Pagan Magus.

Book cover for "Manifest Divinity".

Book cover for “Manifest Divinity”.

“I don’t believe just because you choose not to do something that you are a bad person.  I think you made a different choice.  You have to live in our society so you get to decide what you will do and won’t do.  Society is differnet for different people.  We know people in the Pagan community who are very closeted, whose family doesn’t know what their actual spiritual practice is.  And we know people who just can’t understand why you can’t be spiritual every minute of the day and out there and open and loud and proud.  The culture you are living in is not necessarily as uniform as we’d like to believe.” – Lisa Spiral Besnett, author of “Manifest Divinity,” responding to a question from PNC Minnesota about personal boundaries and choosing not to do what a deity has told you to do.

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