Archives For M. Macha NightMare

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In 1999, artist Lauren Raine was commissioned to create 30 leather masks that each reflected the spirit of a different Goddess from around the world. Earlier that same year, she had a dream during which she saw “a long line of Goddesses in all colors, in beautiful costumes.” Then, as if by magic, Raine was presented with a commission to create the series of masks to be used in Reclaiming’s 20th anniversary Spiral Dance in San Francisco.

On her newly updated blog, Raine wrote, “Masks in traditional societies are viewed as liminal tools, as vessels for the sacred powers. With a mask it is believed the Gods and Goddesses can visit, tell their stories, give their blessings, heal or even give prophecy.”

masks graphic

Oshun, Brigit, Pele [Masks by Lauren Raine]

Although the commission was the beginning of her “Masks of the Goddess” project, Raine’s interest in mask making began years before. She said, “My first Goddess mask was Kali … It was a time in my life when there was just so much I had to get rid of, so much maturation I needed to do, so many old patterns and ways of being I needed to get beyond in order to evolve. In retrospect, I think I made the mask of Kali as my own kind of invocation, my call for help from the One who helps us to slay the demons of the mind, to cut away that which has to go.”

When Reclaiming commissioned the masks, Raine welcomed the challenge, saying “I wanted to create them as contemporary temple masks to be used to invoke and re-claim the feminine faces of God.” In the end, the 1999 Spiral Dance used 20 of Raine’s masks for a 3 minute long Goddess invocation.

One of the mask wearers and supporters of the mask project was Aline O’Brien, more commonly known as M. Macha Nightmare. During the Spiral Dance, she wore the Morrigan mask. In 2007 blog post, O’Brien, remembered, “[This was] the baddest-ass Morrígan you ever hope to encounter. Even my friend Urania who helped me put it on was afraid once it was in place … I reddened my palms and displayed them as the Washer at the Ford in the processions.”

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Amateratsu Omikami

After the Reclaiming event was over, O’Brien felt disappointed with the presentation. Although she was personally “inspired by the masks,” she felt that they were underused and “not appreciated.”

With that in mind, O’Brien set out the design her own theatrical ritual that would emphasize Raine’s art, focus on the masks and embody the spirit of the various Goddesses. With the help of Mary Kay Landon, she wrote a script and an innovative ritual structure that focused solely on the Goddesses and the masks.

Then, in February 2000 at PantheaCon, O’Brien had the first opportunity to present her mask ritual, which she named Goddesses Alive! She found volunteers to assist with the both the staging and the various aspects of the performance, which included song, music, readings and dance. The brochure read:

Goddesses Alive! A processional and experiential ritual of masked, embodied goddesses to bring a re-awareness of the Goddess into current Pagan practices. We encounter the goddess embodied by 13 priestesses wearing stunning leather goddess masks created by Lauren Raine

O’Brien told The Wild Hunt that she chose 13 masks for the project, specifically those that would be the most recognizable to her audience. These included Artemis, Hecate, Bridget, Isis, Spiderwoman, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu, Inanna, Oshun, Sedna, Pele and Kali. Despite the limited budget and time, the ritual was a success.

Later that year, Goddesses Alive! was staged for a second time. With support from the New College of California and the Lilith Institute, O’Brien produced the ritual in a dance studio the following December. Once again, she had no budget but the performance was a success. Live music and a chorus of 5 people accompanied the words and movements of the Goddessess. It was attended by around 100 people. Looking back, O’Brien said, “I loved it.”

Despite the success of both performances, O’Brien had no idea if she would ever have the opportunity, time, energy or money to ever do the project again. The Goddesses Alive! script was filed away. The experience was left only to memory with no photos or video recordings ever taken.

Although Raine was not actively involved in either of the Goddesses Alive! performances, she said, “[O’Brien] activated the masks. She created a beautiful, and effective, sacred container for a community to use the masks, and ritual theatre, allowing each participant to evolve them in her or his own way. I think she would be happy to know that her vision has kept going.”

After O’Brien’s rituals in 2000, the masks were used again many times over in other theatrical performances throughout the U.S. Raine even expanded her collection, including elemental masks and other Goddesses. On her blog, she wrote, “I’ve been privileged to share my work with dancers, ritualists, playwrights, storytellers, priestesses, activists, and students bringing the Goddesses into the world in many ways. No artist could ask for more.” Raine created a compilation video of some of that theatrical work:

In addition to using the masks in performance, Raine also began selling them as art pieces. When thinking back on all the many masks created over the past 17 years, Raine said, “The affinity with certain masks changes as I change, but … my favorite masks concern Grandmother Spider Woman, my guide. She always seems to be in the background, the hand at the heart of the great Web.”

Over that same period of time, O’Brien never forgot her own dream of re-staging her very unique Goddesses Alive! ritual. Then, in 2014 when the Parliament for the World Religions sent out a call for presentations, Raine and O’Brien both had the same idea: let’s bring back Goddesses Alive! And, to their delight, the presentation was accepted. O’Brien said, “I was blown away.” She never really thought that she’d get a chance to do it all again.



With experience both as a ritualist and as a interfaith representative, O’Brien had the know-how and skill to adapt her otherwise Pagan-focused script for a broader audience. When asked about the adaptation, she admitted that “not much really had changed.” The biggest difference is the actual room size. The original ritual was designed for an inclusive theater-in-the round with only 100 audience members. The new script allows for the same set up but within a large ballroom and for an audience of over 300.

In addition, O’Brien selected new Goddesses based on mask availability and also to better reflect global diversity. She chose the following 13 masks: Hecate, Sedna, Brigit, Isis, Guadalupe, White Tara, Amateratsu Omikami, Inanna, Oshun, Kali, Pele, Pachamama and White Buffalo Calf Woman.

As Raine went to work on prepping the performance masks and, in some cases, creating new ones, O’Brien dusted off the old script and began recruiting performers and a tech crew. By summer 2015, she had her team and planning began. Jeffrey Albaugh signed on as the stage manager. When asked about the upcoming performance he said:

It is difficult and to serve as stage manager for an event like this, where all the performers are coming from so far away, and with no time for rehearsal. It puts an onus on me to make sure the production goes off without a hitch, and is as close as possible to Macha’s vision. However, with this kind of production, focused on movement, sound, voice and using Lauren’s brilliant masks, I think there is a high possibility of real magic occurring during the performance. The numinous will hopefully break through.

As Albaugh notes, the performers and crew herald from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. Cherry Hill Seminary Director Holli Emore will be wearing the Isis mask. She said, “The rich pageantry of Goddesses Alive! is sure to stir people on a level far deeper than cerebral, the emotional place where we become imprinted with life-giving ideas. I feel that years from now we will all look back on this performance as a piece of our collective Pagan history and I’m very proud that I will have a small part in that.”

Emore will be joined by Anna Korn, Jo Carson, Rowan Liles, Áine Anderson, Mana Youngbear, Faelind, Wendy Griffin, Diana Kampert, Maggie Beaumont, Eileen Dev Macholl, Jerrie Hildebrand and myself, Heather Greene.

Rev. HPs. Gypsy Ravish volunteered to be one of the singers. She said, “I am honored to add my voice to this divine Sisterhood.” Other musical performers and script readers include Vivianne Crowley, Celia Farran, Lauren Raine, Rowan Fairgrove, Gypsy Ravish, Robin Miller, Jenn Vallely, Ruth Barrett and Aline O’Brien.



Led by Albaugh, the crew is equally diverse, with everyone coming together to make this single event happen. Mary Kay Landon, who helped O’Brien revise the script, said “Working on this production–and watching it evolve over the years–has given me a unique opportunity to research goddesses from across the world and, as I did so, to enter into relationship with them as we, together, created their evocations. What a privilege!”

When asked what Goddesses Alive! will offer a global religious audience, O’Brien said that she believes Pagans have “a deep appreciation of the art and design of ritual” and that is “one thing that Pagans bring to the interfaith table.” She explained that we have a “freedom of design” that is often lacking in other religious traditions. “We bring a freshness … and willingness to change.” And she hopes that this ritual performance will bring about an appreciation for that creativity and flexibility.

Goddessess Alive! was designed to be participatory ritual theater. The music, the singing, the readings and the Goddesses will move from behind the audience and through the audience. This technique serves to surrounded viewers in the full theatrical experience, and O’Brien hopes it helps to “open their minds to perceiving the divine” in new ways and to respecting “non-traditional, non-Abrahamic religious traditions.”

For Pagans that attend and others who are more familiar with a similar ritual performance, O’Brien hopes the experience will “demonstrate that the we have something to offer [the interfaith community] that maybe was unexpected.”

Ultimately, O’Brien would like Goddesses Alive! to be “consciousness raiser” for all who attend – Pagans and non-Pagans alike, and that everyone “leaves the room with a sense of community.”

The Goddesses Alive! ritual performance, which is being dedicated to the memory of Sparky T. Rabbit and Deborah Ann Light, will be held at the Parliament of the World Religions Sunday, Oct. 18 at 1:45 p.m. in Salt Lake City. Currently, the production team is still looking for volunteers to film and photograph the event.

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. Our 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! 

On Jan. 21, the Pagan History Project announced its official launch on its public blog site. Organizers wrote, “It was a long time coming, with several false starts, usually hindered by finances and time.” Despite delays, they have pushed forward, and the project officially opened just in time for the 11th Conference for Current Pagan Studies.

Director Murtagh anDoile explained further, “Last year, 2014, was a record year for deaths in the wide Community. And, while this site’s purpose is not solely to commemorate those who have passed, it just brings forth the need to record our history, now, before we get too far from our primary sources. All Pagans are storytellers …Small moments and ideas that, planted in the fertile soil of the Modern Pagan movement, have gone on to change what was once a set of small spiritual communities into a growing social force.”  Over time, the organizers will share details on how to get involved and how to share personal stories.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

For the third consecutive year, Holli Emore, director of Cherry Hill Seminary, has attended an interfaith celebration and meeting held by South Carolina’s Governor. Emore is the Pagan representative for the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina (IPSC), a state-wide advocacy group promoting interfaith dialog. Three years ago, Governor Nikki Haley declared January “South Carolina Interfaith Harmony Month.” The IPSC has been helping to facilitate actions or events surrounding that declaration.

As part of this work, Emore was invited to speak about Paganism during a panel called “How The Earth Speaks To Us,” held at the McKissick Museum of the University of South Carolina. Held on January 22, she was joined by representatives from other religions including “Judaism, Native American spirituality, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity.” She said, “It’s impossible to overstate how important it is for Pagans to get out there in their own communities … When people from other faiths get to know us, they gain a respect for our beliefs and practices.”

redgrailA Nebraska-based Wiccan organization has set out to establish a new physical spiritual center. In December, the Order of the Red Grail began raising funds to build The Red Grail Spiritual Retreat Center. The initial plan, as it notes, is to purchase 5 or more acres “of woodland to define this sacred space.” They also hope to include a barn that can be used for “rituals, classes, feasts, weddings, and other community functions.”

Red Grail organizers believe that their current community-based work needs to evolve to meet contemporary needs. They noted that, over the past two decades, members have been performing hospital and prison ministry, volunteerism, community outreach education, military support and donating time and money to local charities. They added,This [current] work is established and stable. However, progressing into the 21st century requires taking the next step – bridging differences by strengthening spiritual community among life-affirming pagans and non-pagans alike.”

In Other News

  • Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press, announced the release of a new anthology Bringing Race to the Table: Exploring Racism in the Pagan Community. Published on January 23, this latest anthology was edited by Taylor Ellwood, Brandy Williams and Crystal Blanton. It includes essays by “Xochiquetzal Duit Odinsdottir, T. Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton, Clio Ajana, Erick Dupree, Amy Hale, Lilith Dorsey, Lasara Firefox Allen and many others.”
  • Bloggers and Authors Sannion and Galina Krasskova announced that they will not be hosting another Polytheist Leadership Conference (PLC) in 2016 as previously announced. In a blog post on The House of Vines, they stated that their original objectives had been met as seen through the success of past conferences. They explained, “There are things our community needs even more than [the PLC], and that is where we will be putting our attention in 2015.”
  • Speaking of Polytheist conferences, the new Many Gods West conference opens its early registration on Feb. 1. The registration continues through July in tiered format.The conference will be held in Olympia, Washington from July 31 – Aug. 2.
  • Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone are “revamping” their website, including new information, writings and appearance dates. Included on the site are a number of rare slides taken by Stewart Farrar “for use on the cover of the LP Legend of the Witches.” The photos include images of Alex and Maxine Sanders, initiation rites, cord magic and more.
  • For those interested in the work done at the American Academy of Religions’ yearly meeting, M. Macha Nightmare is posting detailed reports and stories based on her experience at this year’s event. Along with short personal notes and observations, she shares some of the information learned in various panels such as one called “Writers and Artists as Agents of Cultural Change” or “The Shifting Boundaries of the Secular, Spiritual, and Religious” At this time, there are only three published articles; however, she has promised more as time allows.
  • Modern Druidry takes center stage in a mainstream news article for The University Times, the student-run newspaper of Trinity College Dublin. Written by a non-Pagan writer, the lengthy article describes the writer’s journey exploring modern Druid culture and community in Ireland. She ends by saying, “Although not converted, I enjoyed the experience. If nothing else the Celtic symbols reminded me of a world that once existed and of which we are all descended from … Perhaps as a country we don’t need to look abroad for ways to progress but inwardly, at small groups like this who seek to revive something from our Pagan past that has long been lost.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day.

The American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in sunny San Diego, California from Nov. 22-25. The event attracted thousands of professors, students, writers, religious leaders and others from across the globe to participate in workshops, lectures and events related to religious studies and theology. In attendance and presenting were a growing number of Pagans.

{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}“The AAR annual meeting is a huge intellectual energy infusion, not to mention a social occasion with Pagan Studies scholars from around the world,” said Chas Clifton, co-chair of AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group. “There are literally dozens of sessions happening at any one time-slot, so people are always having to compromise.” He added that the Pagan-focused programming, which began in 2005, attracts an average of 40-50 attendees per session, which he called “respectable for a small sub-field.”

The sessions, which were run in part or in whole by the Pagan Studies Group, included such topics as, “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World” (Michael Houseman, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes); “Evolving or Born this Way: Conversion and Identity” (Hannah Hofheinz, Harvard University); “New Paganism(s) around the Globe” (Chas Clifton, Colorado State University); “Animism and Paganism: The Dialog Continues” (Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo) and “From the Charmed Circle to Sacred Kink: Theorizing Boundaries in Religion and Sexuality.” And those are just a few highlights.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality at California State University and Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary said, “As the founding co-chair of the Pagan Studies group at the AAR years ago, I have seen the attendance grow with real pleasure. The reception has always been positive.”

Chas Clifton

Co-Chair of AAR’s Pagan Studies Group [Courtesy Photo]

Clifton agreed, saying, “The question of “reception” never was cast in religious terms, in other words, some kind of discrimination against Pagans — despite the AAR’s roots in Protestant Christian theology.” He explained that the founders had to prove that their programming didn’t fall under another already established category, such as “New Religious Movements.” AAR rejected the application in 1997, but than accepted the Pagan Studies group in 2005. Its been going strong ever since.

Clifton added, “The academic study of Paganism is not about either explaining Paganism to others or teaching Pagans how to be better Pagans. For the latter, I suppose you go to PantheaCon.” The discussions at AAR fall more into the academic realms of mapping emerging practices, presenting trends or vital discourse.

M. Macha Nightmare has been attending AAR off and on since 1998. She said, “I [went] mainly to support the group that was then formulating the implementation of a Pagan Studies section … Since that time, I’ve joined the Academy and have attended as many meetings as possible. During that time, I’ve seen the proposals and acceptance of the Pagan Studies section flourish. ”

Part of her connection to AAR is through her work with Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS). Nightmare said, “In fact, on my way to the 2009 annual meeting in Atlanta, I encountered Wendy Griffin in the women’s room of the Dallas Airport where we both had a layover on our trips … She asked what I had been up to and I replied that CHS was seeking an Academic Dean.” After several discussions with Director Holli Emore, Griffin was hired. Now, Griffin admits that one of her motivations for going to AAR is to “promote Cherry Hill.” She added, “This year, I believe, we found 2 new international students.”

People attend AAR for a variety of reasons. Amy Hale, Ph.D., Undergraduate Director of Instructional Technology and Teacher Excellence at Golden Gate University, has been “delivering workshops for AAR’s Employment Services on the theme of career transition away from academia.” Hale also sits on the Pagan Studies Steering Group. Of this year’s event, Hale said:

AAR can be huge and overwhelming but the conversation is lively and stimulating. I particularly loved the Esotericism in African American Religion session which included some excellent scholarship that rightfully expands the boundaries of Western Esoteric Studies.

Jeffrey Albaugh attends, in part, to help his own work for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. He said that attending AAR “helps in how [he] thinks about how the conference is run.” He added, “My work occupies the confluence of psychology and religion, so attending AAR offers me new perspectives to consider.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, only attends on occasion since her “primary professional association is the American Folklore Society (AFS).” Fortunately, this year’s meeting was close to her home and, therefore, she was able to easily attend. Additionally, Magliocco was invited to be a respondent on a panel about folkloristic approaches to the study of religion. She said:

I also had recent research results from my project “Animals and the Spiritual Imagination” that I wanted to present and get feedback on.  AAR fits with my work as a folklorist and anthropologist because of my focus on vernacular religion and expressive culture.  I can network with others who share those specific interests, as well as ones in ritual studies, Pagan studies, and new religious movements.

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

As Clifton noted, this year’s Pagan Studies presentations included an international element. Clifton presided over a Global Paganisms panel that included scholars from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Israel, Norway and the Netherlands. In addition, Clifton presented a paper by Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Galtsin was not able to raise enough funds to make the trip himself.

Israeli Ph.D candidate Shai Feraro said, “It was first time at AAR, after attending several conferences in Europe. I decided to attend the annual meeting due to its status as the largest and most important conference dedicated to the study of religion and spirituality.”

Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was attending the annual meeting for the 4th time. He said, “The AAR is a very important forum for me as a Pagan Studies scholar. It is one of the few places where I can meeting a large group of other academics who share my interests and have a detailed familiarity with the Pagan Studies literature.” Ezzy’s paper and recent work focus on “Relational Ethics, Ritual and the New Animism.”

Of this year’s AAR meeting, Ezzy said, “I heard some wonderful papers on ritual studies, mysticism, gender and religion and Paganisms. I also renewed some friendships and developed new ones.” That sentiment was echoed by several of the attendees. Feraro noted that a Pagan Studies group dinner was held at a local restaurant, where he was able to finally meet some American Pagan scholars whose books influenced his own research.

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Hale agreed, saying “Another highlight is spending time with my colleagues, who are cherished friends. AAR just creates community.”

Next year’s American Academy of Religions annual meeting will be held in Atlanta Nov. 21-24. Clifton says that, over the next few weeks, the organization will be setting the 2015 themes. The call for papers will be issued in January.

This year, the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) held its annual business meeting, Grand Council, in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting was sponsored by Dogwood Local Council (DLC), the Atlanta-based chapter for the national organization. The two-day meeting is the center-piece of a full four-day conference event called MerryMeet.


Before I continue, I must divulge my affiliation with the organization and event. I have been a CoG member for years, and I am currently serving as its National Public Information Officer (NPIO) – a position that I will hold until Samhain 2014. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity as NPIO. What I share below is my own personal reflections. Additionally, I happened to also be one the event planners.

This year, the bulk of the MerryMeet conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia, selected partly for its exceptional green space. The 2014 theme was “Standing on Common Ground,” which reflects both the organization’s attention to interfaith or intrafaith work, as well as its spiritual and practical focus on the Earth – our literal “Common Ground.”

The four day conference opened, as it typically does, with a daylong leadership institute. This year’s topic was the expanding interfaith movement. Over 40 attendees met at the beautiful Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in Roswell to participate in discussions led by leaders in interfaith work.

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

The morning Pagan-only panel consisted of CoG inferfaith representatives Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, M. Macha Nightmare (Aline O’Brien) as well as special guest Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. In the afternoon, they were joined by Garth Young (Buddhist), Cliff Trammel (Jewish), Carl McCollum (Catholic), Syndey Linquist (New Thought Christian), and Iraj khodadoost (Baha’i).

Both panel discussions began with introductions, relevant stories and questions on general interfaith work. However, the conversations slowly gravitated to the intersection of the interfaith and environmental movements. What role does or should faith play in protecting our ecosystem and how can the interfaith movement support that role? *

Several of the panelists lamented that their interfaith work is frequently kept separate from their environmental concerns. However, Frew relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, that interest waned after 9/11. However, Frew added that now the attention appears to be shifting back once again.

In the afternoon, Garth Young, a Buddhist, brought the discussion down to a personal level and said, “Caring for myself is caring for the Earth. Caring for the Earth is caring for myself.” In the end, the panelists all agreed that Earth care is and should be at the forefront of the interfaith movement because, as the theme states, the Earth is our common ground.

Heron  Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Heron Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Outside of Earth stewardship, the panel spent a longtime discussing the obstacles of interfaith work. What are the walls that prevent “bridge building” toward interfaith understanding? Cliff Trammel, representing Judaism, noted that his biggest obstacle is fear. “Will I be accepted or represent my faith well?” He added that, in letting go of expectations and personal anxiety, he is able to bring down those walls and listen to others. All the speakers agreed and shared their own experiences with confronting personal fear.

Before and after the panel discussions, attendees had the opportunity to go out into nature and explore the literal “common ground.” For those guests that didn’t want to brave the 90 degree temperatures, the CNC treated them to an animal encounter. The wildlife rehabilitation manager brought a Merlin falcon into the meeting room and answered questions about raptors and other native species of Georgia.

The very next morning, Grand Council began. Working by consensus, CoG representatives from around the country convened to discuss all manners of business from internal organization, external works, policies and the voting of next year’s officers.

CoG National Board 2014-2015.  Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, XXXX, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

CoG National Board 2014-2015. Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, Gordon Stone, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

This year’s meeting resulted in two landmark decisions. First, CoG adopted an official environmental policy statement. Spearheaded by CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), the statement was the result of a year’s worth of collaborative work. She says, “It gives me a great sense of accomplishment that we, the Witches of the Covenant of the Goddess, have crafted a statement about our beloved Mother Earth that reflects our shared values and expresses our mutual concern for our planet, as well as our responsibilities for its current state and our hope for the future.”

Second, CoG approved the creation of an internal Abuse Advisory Committee to “advise, educate, and support the Covenant on issues of physical and sexual violence.” The committee will be made up of CoG members who are professionally trained in this field and those who “remain current on information pertinent to the issue.”

The CoG Abuse Advisory Committee was proposed and presented by Lady Aradia and Lady Emrys, two licensed social workers from Pennsylvania. Lady Aradia, also psychotherapist, said:

Sexual offenses and family violence happen in every community including the Wiccan and larger Pagan community. Although we pride ourselves in not being a religion with a large institution, this places us at a disadvantage when issues of abuse arise.

During the two-day meeting, Lady Aradia also presented a well-attended workshop called “Boundaries,” and another member presented a workshop on “Mandatory Reporting.” Aradia says:

By COG agreeing that a committee be formed to address and help the community navigate this issue, they/we take an active stance in both reducing these offenses but also providing safe ways for everyone to engage in their religions communities … We know we may not have all the answers but it’s a beginning, a way to keep talking about the issue from an educated and knowledgeable perspective.

In addition to these two landmark decisions, CoG held three important ceremonies honoring various Pagans for service and dedication. Just after the meeting opened, National First Officer Kathy Lezon called for a moment of silence to honor those members and others who had passed over the year. Names were read aloud.

After lunch Friday, CoG was joined by Circle Sanctuary for the first-ever joint presentation to honor Pagan military servicemen and women. Lezon presented CoG’s Military Service Award Medal while Rev. Selena Fox and Rev. Dawnwalker presented Circle’s Pagan Military Service Ribbon. Jack Prewett, a Vietnam Veteran and former Sergeant United States Air Force, said:

As a Vietnam veteran, I didn’t get much of a homecoming. So I felt both honored and humbled to be recognized by both Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess for my service to my country. To have both these organizations recognize servicemen both past and present is truly a gift from the Gods and I know from personal experience how much it means those that do and have served.

In the third and final ceremony, CoG presented its newly-established Award of Honor for outstanding service to community. The membership had only just approved the new award Friday morning. Spearheaded by Ardantane director and longtime CoG member, Amber K, the CoG Award of Honor recognizes people for “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.”

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

After its approval, the membership awarded the honor to eight people including, Margot Adler, Alison Harlow, Sparky T Rabbit, Deborah Ann Light, Kathryn Fuller, Don Frew, Selena Fox and Judy Harrow. After receiving the award, Rev. Fox said, “I was deeply moved to be among the 8 selected by Covenant of the Goddess at this year’s Grand Council to receive the newly created Service Award.  It means a lot to receive recognition and appreciation by peers.” Also present at the ceremony was member Kathryn Fuller. She said, “I was taken aback by the nomination, and both honored by the award and humbled to be in the company of such giants in the Pagan community.”

Outside of the landmark decisions and moving ceremonies, there was an overwhelming sense of presence at the meeting. During those four days the membership looked back at those who had passed or had contributed to our cultural progress.Their efforts were exemplified strongly in the group’s ability to safely meet in a openly accessible hotel deep within the conservative Southeast. Because of those people and that work, “we are here now.”

Covenant of the GoddessAt the same time, the membership looked toward its future – one that looms ahead driving all of us to continue. “Here we are. But what next?” In considering this unknowable future, the delegates discussed the results of the CoG Vision Survey and how to apply its data to the organization’s direction going forward. How can we affect positive, lasting change in a fluid, evolving world filled with so many unknowns? This discussion will continue as delegates return home and digest their MerryMeet 2014 experience.

Next year, CoG’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be hosted by Touchstone Local Council and held in Ontario, California, Aug 13-16. The organization will be celebrating its 40th anniversary.


*Dogwood Local Council has made the MerryMeet Leadership Institute Prayer Book to the Earth available for download.  The book contains prayers, chants, songs and other writings dedicated to the Earth.

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.

Nels Linde

Nels Linde

“Discussion of Paganism often centers around what a Pagan  is. Terms like “nature-centered” always come up, and occasionally reference to the spirituality of the countryside is spoken. I like to think of Pagans as people of the land. It is a vague term and many people can be considered people of the land without having any particular spiritual belief. I take some pride in the term Pagan. I am a Pagan connected to a piece of land. I realized recently what a rare relationship I have with land. I have lived on and had an intimate relationship with the same piece of land for thirty eight years. It is not so rare in rural areas where people often reside in the same location for generations. For people who associate their spiritual beliefs with the land, and for  Pagans, the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours in total solitude on an individual piece land is uncommon. I am not referring to the casual acts of living, work, and recreation, but time spent in meditation and direct observation of the land, its plants, and creatures.” – Nels Linde, on being ‘People of the Land.’

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“I think it is probably a much better idea to make sure that everything in interfaith work is contextualized and specific, even to the point of repeatedly emphasizing “This is how it works for my tradition; others do differ, and often widely.” The more of this kind of specific, authentic, and contextualized interfaith work that occurs, the better the understanding of our diverse religious viewpoints there will be in the wider landscape of modern religious people of all varieties. Likewise, the more that pagan interfaith work ends up being a rehash of Wicca (or, at best, Wicca-like practices) to the detriment of any other possibility, and the more that individuals who have no intention of representing viewpoints other than their own, and who have no interest in nor even respect for such viewpoints, go about speaking on behalf of everyone and are not called out for doing so, the worse off we’ll all be for these supposed efforts that such individuals get praised for and have made their own brand-name. I find myself in the position of not finding it possible to praise the work, or the individuals responsible for it, when the work in question is actively marginalizing some groups (including my own) and is misinforming others. I therefore cannot approve of this type of “pagan interfaith” work unless it is done in an actual spirit of informed understanding and respect for the diversity within modern paganism (including polytheism!), rather than simply giving the thoughts of a majority for convenience’s sake and representing that majority as the only worthwhile viewpoint to take seriously in an interfaith context.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, responding to  Don Frew’s article ‘The Rudiments of Neopagan Spiritual Practice,’ and stressing the need for better interfaith and intrafaith communication. 

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“These books stressed a background in ritual and practice.  They came out of what was primarily, in the Western world, a Protestant Christian culture.  So much of their training (and mine) focused on breaking the conditioning of that culture.  We concentrated on releasing “either, or” thinking and learning “yes, and” thinking.  We fought long, hard battles with ourselves and others about whether or not Witchcraft was evil and wrong because the Bible objected to it.  We were products of our time, fighting for recognition, fighting over feminism, fighting over gender and issues of sexuality.  All of these were results of breaking our conditioning. Well guys, the battle is over.  Millennials did not grow up in a Protestant Christian culture.  Instead, many of them are lotus-eaters lulled by the Cult of Mammon, who are used to being acted upon rather than acting, often apathetic towards the issues that the previous generation fought so passionately about. The books that have informed their Craft were written by Christopher PenczakRaven Grimassi and T. Thorn Coyle, who are all about experience and transcendence.  They grew up with feminism, with Gay Pride, and with a sense of entitlement to all forms of equality.  They don’t need to break their “either, or” conditioning; they’ve already been raised to understand “yes, and.”  They are used to high-speed internet and instant gratification.  They are interested in direct, personal gnosis, and they don’t want to waste a lot of time to get it.” – Sable Aradia, on reaching a new generation of Witches, a response of sorts to the Sarah Lawless article on breaking tradition.

Gus DiZerega

Gus DiZerega

“The tolerant Christian views of men like John Locke gave moral energy to liberalism, but in the eyes of many, the science that liberalism generated wiped out those views’ biblical foundations. If those ethics were a kind of moral social capital, by now they have been largely used up, which is why liberals of all sorts seem so frustratingly passive when attacked by authoritarian nihilism. This is why Pagans engaging in interfaith work can contribute well beyond our numbers to the spiritual well-being of humanity. A transition to a world emphasizing sacred Immanence and the sacred Feminine holds open the promise of rooting modernity in spiritual traditions that are in harmony with such a society, rather than hostile to it. Ironically, such a shift is also in harmony with what scientists are discovering about thegenuinely moral behavior arising within the natural world: that the working out of logic itself in the long run advantages the good guys, and that cooperating in society is by far the most successful evolutionary strategy for success. But of course, that is what we would expect of Spirit if it were immanent.” – Gus diZerega, on why Pagans should work with other religions.

Lance Parkin

Lance Parkin

“When Moore says ‘magic’ he usually means something most people would call ‘creativity’, or a gift of expression, of art affecting the way we experience the world. He’s summed it up as saying that art does all the things magic spells are meant to – want someone to fall in love with you? Write them a love poem. Want to conjure up a million pounds? Write Watchmen. I find it very easy to gloss ‘magic’ as a strategy for Moore to shake up his writing techniques. Writing’s all about finding new ways to say things, or it should be, and it’s easy to fall into self-parody, to find yourself repeating yourself. Moore’s got a system to avoid that. At the same time, there’s clearly more to it. Like Philip K Dick and others before him, Moore’s had mystical experiences that he can’t get his mind around, least of all describe in words. There’s something deeply personal – unique – in his head, it’s clearly something he believes. He, more than anyone, appreciates how silly it sounds. I do not have the gift of telepathy, and I’m humble enough to admit that if Alan Moore can’t find the words, it would be a fool’s errand for me to try. My arch rationalist side looks at the stuff he’s produced under the influence, and concludes that whatever he’s on, it seems to be working. Promethea is gaudy, convoluted and based on a philosophy that seems to be the direct opposite of the way the real world functions to the point at times it insults reason? Well, yes, but if we’re counting so’s Captain America.” – Lance Parkin, author of a new biography of Alan Moore, on Moore’s belief in magic, and how he (as a staunch rationalist) approached that chapter of the book.

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

“Our brains are wired to run on the power of story, the power of myth. I could go on a big bender about Joseph Campbell and myth and the hero’s journey, but I’ll just sum up. Myth is powerful. Myths will tell you a lot about the culture that created them. And myths can change a culture too. Myths–stories–tell a culture what’s important, who’s in power, how we should act. The problem is, our popular myths these days are largely funded by corporate interests. Ultimately, the most pervasive stories out there are the stories like the American Dream, which gets bent and twisted into, “You are not successful until you have brand new shiny things.” It creates one of the primary dysfunctions of our dominant culture–the culture of want. I want, I want, I want. We are always wanting that “big shiny” that is just out of reach. We are being advertised to and marketed to to feel that we are “less than” if we don’t have the coolest (whatever it is). A new couch. A new car.” – Shauna Aura Knight, on media, myth, and mind control.

Niki Whiting

Niki Whiting

“I started this blog two and half years ago while living in Wales. At the time I was debating whether or not quit the PhD program I was enrolled in. I had a 3 year old and a 5 month old. I wanted to write outside of academia and I felt I needed some structure to help me focus. I ended up quitting my program and never looked back. My family moved back to the United States, and I am now pregnant with my third child (due in May). Through the explorations I started in my first year of blogging I found practices that spoke to my spirit and produced the kinds of results I had been hoping to find. A Witch’s Ashram runs with what worked: my continuing study and practice of Anderson Feri witchcraft and tantric Hinduism. I have teachers for the former tradition and am self-taught for the latter one, so far. I consider myself dually observant. You’ll find discussions of both practices here, as well as topics that relate to the wider Pagan community. I use my theological background and former experience as a Christian to explore topics and review books that tilt toward the Christian side of things. I often look at the intersection of being a mystic and Pagan and a parent.” – Niki Whiting, who gives a welcome from her new blog home at the Patheos Pagan Channel.

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

“My point is that, in my experience and observations, those who over-indulge in (the idea or even facade of) relativistic outlooks basically hide behind a sense of faux-tolerance, as if having judgments or opinions different from the mainstream would be earth-shattering. Similarly in my experience, it WOULD be earth-shattering for a great many people: unresolved personal issues and areas of self-ignorance would come to light, judgments that we cast upon ourselves and then disjointedly project outward at others would rise up and boil stinkily over into the fires of self-evaluation. But I’m all about uprisings and shaking the earth. What is the point of relationship if everything remains static? And that’s the thing about relativism as it is popularly practiced: its deployment seeks to establish a “static” (artificial) understanding of things. “Tolerance” is in this context and my estimation just another way of saying “Hey everybody, let’s try really hard not to rock the boat, because then we might have to actually do the real work of bringing about change and an increase in knowledge!”. Relativism is a toolset for suspending one’s own judgment in the pursuit of understanding others; it is a FIRST look, a FIRST step, not the whole damn process.” – Anomalous Thracian, on relativism, tolerance, and acceptance.


Aline “Macha” O’Brien

“Let’s face it: established religions such as Christianity in its many forms, were created and gained ascendency in other times and places.  There was no threat of nuclear annihilation, no looming environmental degradation, no water shortage, no organ transplants, no vaccinations against such diseases as smallpox and polio.  Those religions addressed the concerns of the peoples in other times and places.  Further, few of these religious institutions adapted to changing circumstances.  Nowadays some are trying to be more relevant, often by adopting practices, such as involving lay people in their rituals and dancing during worship. In the years since Paganism has become visible, particularly in academia and interfaith, we have gained credibility in the wider world, and although we remain a religious minority, we have not done much in the way of establishing lasting institutions. There was a time when I was still too close to that against which I was rebelling and too chafed by the institutions I was escaping that I resisted any talk of Pagan institutions.  Sam Webster has convinced me that by creating institutions, we will have a lasting legacy that will survive our individual lives.  The institution to which I’ve devoted the most time and energy for the last 12 years or so is Cherry Hill Seminary, for many reasons, not the least of which is that I find intellectual discernment to be in short supply, drowned out by the noises of UPG (unverified/unverifiable personal gnosis) woowoo.”– Aline “Macha” O’Brien, on building Pagan institutions.

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

Last week I posted an article highlighting the MountainTop Summit, a multifaith conference that took place over three days in mid-June.  Uniquely structured, the conference employed digital technology in order to facilitate meaningful dialog among the participants.  Pagan Priestess and Witch, Aline “Macha” O’Brien was on hand to experience this inaugural event and to offer a Pagan perspective.


The event’s title was “MountainTop Summit:  Advancing a Multifaith Movement for Justice.”  Its primary focus was to “explore developing an expanded blueprint” for this social movement.  Erin White of Auburn Theological Seminary writes:

A coordinated and energetic multifaith movement for justice reinforces a shared commitment to breaking down silos, reaching across religious lines, and amplifying a faith perspective across movements — such as the environment, poverty and human rights — as well as across age, race and sexual orientation. Forging a connected path driven by justice strengthens all movements and lifts us all toward fairness and a healed world.

It is becoming increasingly common for multifaith and interfaith efforts to focus on broader social causes.  In a recent article for The Interfaith Observer, Grove Harris wrote:

Faith-based efforts towards peace, social justice, and eradication of hunger and poverty are directly in line with U.N. objectives…In my opinion, the U.N. needs religious groups to increase their activity and apply more pressure.  Above my desk is Margaret Mead’s famous quote – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

At all levels, organizations are identifying the beneficial role that multifaith cooperation can have in social justice, environmental activism and other similar efforts.  MountainTop is an example of one conference’s efforts to facilitate this progressive movement. 

M Macha Nightmare

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

Returning to my interview, one of the main reasons for Macha’s eagerness to attend MountainTop was its “collaborative efforts towards social, economic and environmental justice among different religions.”  In the second part of our interview, she shares her observations on this topic as well as the personal affects that the entire experience had her own life – both professionally and personally.

Heather:  Explain the title of the conference to us.

Macha:  The title is “MountainTop: Advancing a multifaith movement for justice.”  That’s where the difference between interfaith and multifaith comes into focus…  As I’ve been given to understand it, and this is by no means universally understood as such, multifaith is more “outer directed,” according to one rabbi I asked.

H: Was there a specific focus or was social justice discussed in general?

M: We talked about all manner of injustice that needed to be reversed — immigration and refugees, racial profiling and Islamophobia; hunger, nutrition and food; education and children’s rights; criminal and juvenile justice and prison reform…; women’s rights and violence against women and children; poverty; slavery and human trafficking; farm workers, day laborers and workers’ rights; politics and the media; digital organizing; homelessness, housing and co-housing; student debt; health care, mental illness and addiction; economic justice; environmental justice; peace; unequal treatment under the law …. You get the idea.

H: You mentioned in our preliminary discussion that there was a large LGBT representation.  Were they there as faith-based representatives or specifically for the LGBT community?

M:  Both.  For example, the Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity; Human Rights Campaign; Southerners on New Ground; Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; Congregation Bet Haverim; A la Familia; The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Courtesy Flickr's  winnifredxoxo

Courtesy Flickr’s winnifredxoxo

H: With such groups being there, was there a focus at all on the recent DOMA and Prop 8 rulings?  

M: I don’t recall that DOMA and Prop. 8 were specifically discussed, although I’m sure they were in some of the smaller groups.  However, the overall issue of gender justice was very present.  In particular, on our last day there Exodus International announced the closing of its ministry and its former head, Alan Chambers, issued a profuse and heartfelt apology.  The woman who saw the newsfeed on her phone read aloud the entire statement, which was followed by the kind of cheering at MountainTop that has only increased throughout the country over the past two days.

H:  Did any action-items or specific projects come out of these discussions? 

M: Several projects arose from our working.  Some can be implemented quickly and others need refinement, expansion, and sometimes funding…. The final project on which I worked we titled “Mentoring as an Act of Justice.” We explored the many roles of mentoring, how to approach mentors, how to establish a mentoring relationship, what knowledge, skills or any specialties one might look for in a mentor, boundaries, contracts, terms (time), and other factors.

H:  Generally speaking, what was the prevailing attitude with regards to all of these controversial and difficult issues?

M:  [There was] a great…sense of optimism about how society is moving forward.  That’s because of the many really remarkable young people who were there.  They were knowledgeable, committed, engaged, and fun.  Euro-Americans, African-Americans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs — all gave me hope that a more just society can be created.

Courtesy of Flickr's Arghya a.k.a Orgho

Courtesy of Flickr’s Arghya a.k.a Orgho

H:  What did you personally take away from this event?  

M: One insight came from comparing this event to those inter/multifaith groups with which I have more experience.  Over the course of the workings, I noticed that some of the wishes expressed with respect to inter-religious work were wishes that had been addressed in my own community.  Wishes for more than just making nice talk with people of other religions….Mention was [also] made of interfaith ceremony that wasn’t just a review featuring something by one religious group after another.

I also felt affirmed and validated as a respected interfaith activist, one representing a face and voice of the spectrum of minority religions that fall under the umbrella term Paganism.

H:  How will you use this experience going forward?  Has it changed your views or your methodologies?

M: Since disaffiliating myself from my tradition of origin, if you will, I’ve been reviewing my life and re-examining my priorities.  In a way, I had cut myself adrift.  I’ve experienced this rift as an amputation of sorts.  A necessary one, to be sure, but amputations involve pain and loss.  In a strange sense, I’m redefining myself.

So I went to Nashville with an open mind and no agenda.  I viewed it as an opportunity to further this process of redefining myself and my place and work in the world. As I mentioned above, I don’t work with the backing of some huge institution.  I belong to no church. I’m a Witch at Large.  A Pagan generalist…which is not to say undefined or watered down.

I’m also older and less resilient, and have limited economic resources.  So how can I contribute to this on-going work?  Whatever it is, it will probably come from my desk.  I’m an obsessive networker…and a weaver of connections.  That’s one of the things I can contribute.  I can tell your Pagan readers about these efforts.  I can help to build the networks we can then use to mobilize for change.

H: Thank  You, Macha, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.


At this time, no plans have been announced for a second event.  But Macha has said that she would definitely return if invited.  She also has stressed to me and on her own blog entries that there are much more “insights to gain” as she “integrates the experiences at Mountaintop into who [she] is.”  Over time, Macha has promised to post news and commentary on her own site, as it becomes available, as well as more personal reflections.

On June 17, 2013, religious leaders from around the country met in Nashville, Tennessee at the very first MountainTop Summit. Held at the Vanderbilt Center for Better Health, the three-day event “uniquely focused on exploring the shape and priorities of this nation’s multifaith movement for justice in the 21st century.”  MountainTop was founded and presented by Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School, Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, Imaginal Labs and Synthesis Corps.  In a press release, they explain:

In sessions designed to discuss organizing, collaboration and new media, among other topics, the summit [equipped] leaders with the tools, methodologies, and relationships to inform their work on a range of issues — from immigration to marriage equality.”

MountainTop was attended by over 80 participants who are “working in the sectors of education, media, research, community organizing, arts, and culture [and] whose work is rooted in their faith and values.”

In attendance at this unique and progressive event was Aline “Macha” O’Brien known to many as M. Macha Nightmare. In February, she was invited to attend the event by way of friends and her association with Auburn Theological Seminary. Macha said, “anything that would foster collaborative efforts towards social, economic and environmental justice among different religions was something I’d like to participate in.”  So on June 17th, she packed up her bags and headed for Nashville.

I had the pleasure and the opportunity to speak with Macha about her experience at MountainTop. Our discussions will be posted in two parts over two Sundays.  First, Macha answers general questions about the event itself.  In part two, we’ll discuss the content and the meaning behind its title “multifaith movement for justice.”


Part I:  The MountainTop Summit

Heather:  How was MountainTop different or the same as other multifaith events?

Macha: I’d say it had a more intense focus on working together to identify and implement collaborative projects.  However that might manifest in this particular assemblage more than most interfaith or multifaith efforts I’ve experienced.  Most of my experience working with those of other religions, regardless of what it’s called, has been local and regional rather than national. MountainTop included people from various parts of the country.

H:  Was there a specific goal, aim or theme for the event?  

M: Goals were not specific.  The process, the people, and their creativity determined the specific goals. We were asked to reflect upon three questions in preparation for our time together:

  1. What are the capabilities and aspirations that your organization, or you personally, bring to the multifaith movement for social justice?
  2. What is your theory of change?
  3. What are the challenges that we face?

As a representative of a religion(s) with a smaller demographic and specifically as a representative of CoG [Covenant of the Goddess], an organization that has far more grass roots than the institutions of mainstream religions, I felt that whatever I might bring to this effort would be more spice than stock.

MachaH: How many Pagans participated in total? 

M: Four, all women, three arising from the same “matrix,” if you will, of Reclaiming Craft.

H: What was the reaction to your inclusion? Did participants already have experience interacting with those in Pagan or Heathen religions?   

M: We were accepted.  I didn’t notice any particular reaction.  I think some were more or less familiar with Wiccans, if not other forms of Paganism.  For others meeting a Pagan was a brand new experience. Everyone took care in how we interacted.  We weren’t tiptoeing, but we were sensitive and respectful.

Actually, I think that some of the more conventional people there might have been a wee bit put off by meeting someone from a religion so different from what they know.  In any case, I experienced the overall spirit of the gathering as one of goodwill and commitment to service for the commonwealth.

H: What other religions were represented?

M: In addition to people from faith-based justice projects, there were others not specifically identified with a faith, such as media and leadership consultants, philanthropists and people from the financial community, and immigrant rights and day laborer activists.

As you might expect, religious professionals were mainly Abrahamic  (Islam, Judaism, and Protestant Christianity) and Sikh.  Perhaps there were other [religions represented] that I didn’t identify as being different.  In three days’ time of focused work, we didn’t get the opportunity to meet and become better acquainted with every single other person there.

[While] there were two people who were Catholic-reared, I was surprised there was no one [representing] any Roman Catholic organization.  In my experience sisters and priests are often among the most committed to justice efforts.  In my own home interfaith council, I cherish my friends among the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and appreciate their unwavering support of social justice concerns.

The other religious persuasion noticeably absent was Buddhism.  Again, in my local work I collaborate with people from several different Buddhist sects.  They work on issues of food and nutrition for the hungry, teens, worker justice, peace, and the like.  [In addition] no Hindus participated. Hinduism doesn’t represent a huge demographic, but in my experience they are strong activists and allies to Pagans.

I know that many more people were invited than were able to attend.  When I mention what to me are glaring omissions, I am not criticizing the organizers.  I was not privy to that process and am confident that they intended to be as inclusive as possible.


Vanderbilt Center for Better Health at Vanderbilt University Health Center

Interview to be continued….

You can read more about the specifics of how the conference was organized and structured on Macha’s own blog or on Patheos’ Pagan Channel’s new blog Wild Garden. In that article Macha emphasizes MountainTop’s focus on new and innovative technology. She talks about the implementation of the DesignShop process and its three phases which include: Scan, Focus, and Act. She also mentions that one of “the strongest and most helpful phrases used [during one specific workshop] was “collaborative intelligence,” a form of understanding that arises from the interactivity that digital communication fosters.”

Next week I will post the second part of this interview that examines MountainTop’s focus on social justice. Macha will also share the event’s personal impact as she continues to process an experience that was packed with spiritual and social significance.

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.

  • It’s Groundhog Day! That day of the year in which we all sit down to watch one of Bill Murray’s finest films. It’s also Candlemas
  • If you’re a dealer in outsider art, you simply must have a Witch. Quote: “When asked why she decided to participate in the fair for the first time this year, Santa Fe dealer Laura Steward succinctly explained, ‘One of my artists is a witch,’ referring to sculptor Erika Wanenmacher, a.k.a. Ditch Witch. ‘I like this fair because it’s more interested in people, in the artist’s minds.'”
  • More witchcraft-television is coming your way thanks to the Lifetime network. Quote: “Based on Melissa de la Cruz’s best-selling novel, Witches Of East End centers on the adventures of Joanna Beauchamp (Ormond) and her two adult daughters Freya (Dewan-Tatum) and Ingrid (Boston) — both of whom unknowingly are their family’s next generation of witches. Amick stars as Joanna’s mischievous witch sister Wendy.”Will the television series go as far as the novels? If so, it will be very Pagan-y indeed. 
  • The very first Parliament of the World’s Religion in 1893 wasn’t all handshakes and pluralism, Michael J. Altman at the Religion in American History blog points out that Swami Vivekananda (representing Hinduism  had some very pointed critiques of the dominant monotheisms that were essentially edited out of the official history. Quote: “We who come from the East have sat here on the platform day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look about us and we see England, the most prosperous Christian nation in the world with her foot on the neck of 250,000,000 of Asiatics. We look back into history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellow men. At such a price the Hindoo will not have prosperity.” As is almost always the case, the truth is messier than the narrative crafted by history. 
  • Congratulations to Crystal Blanton on the publication of her new book, “Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World: Spirituality, Ethics and Transformation.” Quote:  “[The book] fuses spirituality and counseling concepts to add a deeper layer of personal growth and connection to living the Wiccan path. This book looks beyond the concepts of ritual and reaches into previously untouched territory within the Pagan book market to address thriving as a Pagan.” Crystal is a friend, and someone who truly walks her talk. Be sure to check this out. 
  • M. Macha Nightmare adds her own take on the recent Claremont Pagan Studies Conference. Quote: “Others have written about Sabina Magliocco’s keynote speech on Saturday on “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism.”  I will only add a few notions I jotted down.  She spoke of the fact that foundational narratives foster group cohesion, and the core experiences are those common to all people of all religions.  She pointed out that the reconstructed traditions are growing faster than witchen traditions, and that their practitioners tends to disdain syncretism.” For more on this, check out the guest post from Patrick Wolff here at The Wild Hunt

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.

Last week I presented the question of Pagan solidarity. Does it exist? Should it exist? What is the impact and evolution of such a concept? Generally speaking, it is widely accepted that Pagan solidarity, in some form, is vital for both the protection and continued growth of the non-traditional religions that fall under the Pagan umbrella. Additionally, solidarity can offer a sense of community and comfort over a host of social networks supporting both Pagan groups and solitary practitioners.

In December of 2011, Lady Liberty League mobilized a Task Force to protect a Southern Pagan family’s religious liberty within a public school system. The Task Force, of which I was a member, was comprised of professional individuals representing different Pagan organizations and Pagan spiritual traditions. Together, in solidarity, we worked for three weeks and, in the end, achieved quite a victory.

After that case was settled, the Task Force itself disbanded. However, Lady Liberty League still operates; watching and waiting. Since 1985, the organization has been ever on the “ready” with the ability to mobilize Pagan resources as needed. When active solidarity becomes a regular occurrence an organization is born.

Let’s turn now to a network of Pagan voices to hear their thoughts on the growth and importance of the Pagan organization.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton (center)

Our desire to be seen as a legitimate religion by government entities has forced us to change to fit their definitions, which, in the United States at least, were designed for Protestant Christians…We have been dealing with this issue since the mid-1970s, when the Covenant of the Goddess was created. – Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and a practitioner of American Eclectic Craft

Jonathon S. Lowe

Jonathon S. Lowe

One of the most basic principles of Paganism is that we are all interconnected to everyone and everything around us. Solidarity helps us to solidify those connections… Organizations are merely facilitators helping to make these connections possible.”  – Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe, Interfaith Minister, Founder Midnight Star School of Witchcraft, Coordinator of The Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas 

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa
North Georgia Solitaries

I am a member of several worthy organizations that…have members with diverse beliefs and yet all of these organizations work every day to help build community by concentrating on the task at hand and respecting each other’s differences. Lady Charissa, founder of North Georgia Solitaries, coordinator of the Pagan Assistance Fund, High Priestess of Silver Pine Grove 

Before we go any further, we need to deal in semantics. Most responders made no distinction between an institution and an organization. Are they same thing?  Covenant of the Goddess representatives, Rachael Watcher and Ginger Wood say no.

On the Fears and Dangers of Institutionalization:

Certainly some individuals and small groups might come together for the sake of mutual interest and form an organization, but would that constitute an institution? … Those who are drawn to think outside the box in expressions of spiritual freedom are not generally going to be ready to discard that freedom of thought for yet another set of doctrinal mandates. – Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess 

Ginger Wood

Ginger Wood

We do have organizations that have worked hard some for over 30 years, to give Pagans a flag to unite under. [But] I will not accept [institutionalization] as “must” and I pray to the Goddess that none of us are forced to institutionalize in order to be heard.  – Ginger Wood, National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Priestess of Gryphon Song Clan and Pagan novelist

Both Rachael and Ginger are using the accepted sociological definition of institution which is explained at length in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Very briefly, an organization is less complex or rigid in structure, scope or activity than an institution.   

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

We need to think deeply about what kinds of organizational structures best support our values…guard against rigidity in power structures and in belief systems. – Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor at Patheos Pagan Channel, Cherry Hill Seminary Instructor

Institutionalization is a big issue for me, always has been. It’s something I’ve resisted…  In more recent years my attitude has softened. Years ago my friend Sam Webster insisted that we needed to establish institutions because institutions are the only thing that lasts.  Individual humans pass on.  M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, witch, teacher, ritualist and author.

M Macha Nightmare

M Macha Nightmare

Macha makes an excellent point. Humans do pass on. Organizations or institutions can be passed down. Can we create viable Pagan institutions that serve solidarity without sacrificing spiritual freedom and, at the same time, last for decades to come?

On the Building of Pagan Institutions:

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“Pagans are perfectly capable of having healthy institutions which serve our needs and goals, indeed, we participate in such institutions every day in our real-world lives…Why wouldn’t we want to enjoy the benefits of stronger infrastructure, better accountability and healthy leadership?” – Holli S. Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, Priestess of Temple Osireion 

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

A wide diversity of Pagan institutions are necessary as the glue that will bind us in our common effort to defend the rights of all belief systems. Peter Dybing, Pagan Service Advocate, Chief Officer, Federal Incident Management Team, 100% for Haiti Board member

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

We need some of the power that institutions bring to any community or movement… Togetherness commands attention …The key is finding a way to use the concepts of community solidarity in balance with some of the undesirable things that come with community dynamics – Crystal Blanton, High Priestess with Solitaries of the Second, Pagan author.

So how do we create that balance? How do we create and maintain healthy organizations and fluid institutions that promote solidarity and allow for that community dynamic?

Building trust person-to-person, which tends to spread to friends of those people who begin learning who each other is, how they think, what their concerns are, how they express their spirituality.… I think one of our greatest assets as Pagans is our diversity.  M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, witch, teacher, ritualist and author. 

I think we should do our best to make strength out of diversity. If you have twelve Pagans together, they normally represent at least thirteen religions. [But] It is natural for people to seek agreement…I recommend we conform to one standard: mutual respect and intolerance only of intolerance. – Freeman Presson, Namen of Temple Zagduku & Fr. Ophis, Church of Hermetic Sciences. 

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox

Like a delicious multi-ingredient salad, when Pagans unite, we can bring our individual flavors and textures as we join together — and we can maintain this diversity in our collaboration. Our diversity can enrich our solidarity.Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister at Circle Sanctuary 

Our diversity is our strength. Our diversity is our asset. Our diversity is our core.  So, with that essential ingredient, can we venture to build uniquely-structured institutions that respect and serve the expansive Pagan world view for generations to come?  If so, these institutions must conform to the rigid expectations of mainstream society; thereby ensuring our legal protection and promoting social awareness. And, as the wheel turns, this increased awareness will eventually lead to a broader and a healthier social acceptance of the diversity that began it all.

Thank you to all the contributors for their valued opinions and to the readers for opening the doorway to this conversation and continuing the process into the future.

Full Comments: (listed alphabetically)

Crystal Blanton
Chas Clifton
Peter Dybing
Holli S. Emore
Rev. Selena Fox
Christine Hoff Kraemer
Lady Charissa
Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe
M. Macha Nightmare
Freeman Presson
Rachael Watcher


Last week, I reported on the Atlanta Pagan community’s wreath project.  As explained, the wreath’s purpose is to build a sense of solidarity for that Pagan community. Following the post, several readers launched into a discussion that probed the very nature and meaning of Pagan solidarity. As one reader asked, “What is the purpose?”

Additionally, readers explored the concept of solitary solidarity. Can such a thing exist?  Or, as one reader put it, is the concept of the solitary group “oxymoronic?”

These are serious sociological questions that, in exploring, could help to define modern Pagan practice as it expands and diversifies. These age-old questions are very difficult to answer for a non-dogmatic, non-centralized religious group. But we may now have reached a point at which it is very necessary to confront them.

I opened the conversation up to the greater Pagan community, asking a variety of people their thoughts on the subject. I will share the responses in two parts. This week, in part one, we will examine the question of Pagan solidarity itself and, subsequently, how it relates to the solitary practitioner. Next week, in part two, we will explore the Pagan institution, its viability and purpose.

On the importance of Pagan solidarity

Ginger Wood

Ginger Wood

Nature-based religions have been in practice for thousands of years.  Nature religions will continue with or without “Pagan solidarity.” However, in a political sense… it is important that Pagans stand together when the need arises.  – Ginger Wood, National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Priestess of Gryphon Song Clan and Pagan novelist

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Pagan community solidarity is incredibly important. We don’t have to practice together or hold exactly the same beliefs to defend each other’s rights. – Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor at Patheos Pagan Channel, Cherry Hill Seminary Instructor

Without question, all of those who responded agreed that solidarity within the Pagan community is essential to facilitating growth and acceptance. As Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister at Circle Sanctuary, said, “When Pagans unite in Solidarity for a common cause; a synergy emerges that enhances our work together.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox

However, Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and a practitioner of American Eclectic Craft, pointed out that we need to better define the terms “community” and “solidarity.”   He writes:

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton (center)

We often say “community,” but what we really mean is “network” or “association.”  Right now, what we mainly have are networks — or subcultures that you can join or leave, participate in or not, according to your individual desires. We may be moving toward community but I don’t think we are quite there yet.

He continues on to question the definition of solidarity which he labels “tricky.”

Does it simply refer to religious freedom under the broadest umbrella, like you are a Druid, and I am a rootworker, but I respect you as a Pagan practitioner, and you respect me?  Or does it mean that I have to support everything that you do and all your struggles, like union workers not crossing each other’s picket lines? 

Perhaps we can meld the two definitions. Solidarity would then become the outward respect that binds our network, or our community, together with the potential of offering support.  If we omit terms like “have to” and “must” from “solidarity,” we are left with the strength of possibility and freedom. 

On Solitary Solidarity:

Where does that leave solitaries, those that choose to practice alone? If they seek out community, do they jeopardize their solitary status?  To repeat one reader’s words, are solitary community-groups “oxymoronic?” Can there be such a thing as “solitary solidarity?”

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa

Solitaries are no different than any other Pagan. We all need strength in numbers to help protect our rights. Many solitaries like to come together, every once in a while, to socialize, share knowledge and celebrate our holy days. – Lady Charissa, founder of North Georgia Solitaries, coordinator of the Pagan Assistance Fund, High Priestess of Silver Pine Grove

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

I don’t see solitary spiritual practice as precluding community solidarity. Solidarity is the practice of supporting and helping each other, not necessarily agreeing with each other. Solitaries benefit from the published teachings and public events put on by those affiliated with groups.  We are interdependent, no matter how we define our practice. – Holli S. Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, Priestess of Temple Osireion

Most agree that “solidarity” doesn’t end where “solitary” begins.

M Macha Nightmare

M Macha Nightmare

One need not belong to a formal religious group in order to identify with, and participate in, larger Pagan efforts any more than one needs to belong to a particular political party to vote. – M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, Witch, teacher, ritualist and author.

Jonathon S. Lowe

Jonathon S. Lowe

Nobody loses their solitary practice or identity in the process of taking part in solidarity… The defining point of being a solitary practitioner isn’t to make yourself a hermit every time you practice. It is so that you can develop your own working spiritual system that is right for you, without having others interfere.  Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe, Shaman, Coordinator of The Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas

Most of the people that responded were in some way involved with or directly engaging the Pagan “network.”  In the interest of perspective, I sought out a Pagan who chooses the true solitary experience.  Stevie Diamond has never practiced within a group or been formally initiated, nor does she have the desire.

After hearing the questions, she echoed what Ginger Wood said, “Nature religions will continue with or without Pagan solidarity.” Stevie explained, “I am a quiet, reclusive person. It feels more personal and electric if I do a ritual or spell by myself.  I just can’t imagine chanting in front of someone else.”

Despite this choice, Stevie acknowledges the benefit of having a Pagan network. It was through another witch that she identified her spiritual path.  She has grown her own practice from books written by Pagan authors.  And, if she encounters problems, she stated, “I would feel comfort in a group knowing they believe what I do.”

Next week, in part two, we’ll examine the Pagan institution. Is solidarity the birth-mother of the institution?  And where does that lead?

(Note: I will post links to the full, unedited comments next week)