Archives For Matthew Ellenwood

CHICAGO, Ill. –Theatergoers who live close to the Windy City will have a special treat this year from the troupe Terra Mysterium in the form of “A Midwinter Mummers Tale.”  The play is being described as “an original folk adaptation of Charles Dickens’ beloved classic A Christmas Carol.” Those who are familiar with the classic story of redemption for Ebenezer Scrooge will no doubt find the theme familiar, but this is really an entirely new play. It draws upon spirits and gods in a way that might be more familiar to the modern Pagan than the average consumer of winter holiday entertainment.


Matthew Ellenwood, artistic director for the performance troupe, explained that seeing this production in person is the only way right now. “We use projections for the our backdrops, which makes filming the production (at a level of quality we’d be proud of) very challenging,” Ellenwood said. As this is the first-ever performance, there aren’t even many photographs to give a hint as to what will transpire, although he promised a number of high-quality images will be available after the performance.

The few details that Ellenwood could provide give a sense of the original tale. It is set in a “parallel history that never was,” different enough to allow for a few tweaks here and there. “Because this is a parallel history . . . we are welcome to populate it as we see fit,” he explained. “It is our choice to see a world where mixed and same sex marriages are not uncommon, where women are equal to men in every regard, and where indigenous traditions as frequent as any Christian denomination. This is a world where real magick is matter of fact, and the spirits walk amongst us. It is a place where joy emerges from pain, and transformation is accepted freely.”

The main character, Esmerelda Pennywise, is a powerful and independent Regency-era businesswoman. Ellenwood explained a bit more about her:

I feel it is compelling to consider how powerfully strong Mrs. Pennywise would have to have been to be able to thrive, without a male partner, in a cutthroat businessman’s world. Her ‘coldness’ would seem to be a trait acquired out of need, and due to circumstance. However, her choice to transform into a woman of integrity and compassion speaks volumes about her soul’s fortitude.

Mummers performing in England [source: Wikipedia]

Mummers performing in England [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

As the title suggests, the play draws upon the tradition of mumming, which Ellenwood describes as “seasonal plays, often performed in disguises and masks with performers (known as guisers) playing archetypal characters (such as Punch and Judy). These simple and humble stories contain universal and profound themes of light and dark, death and resurrection, and the magical power of good over evil, truth over falsehood. They are still performed from door to door in many parts of the British isles.” Yuletide mumming traditions such as wassailing and the horse-rite will be part of the fun.

Founded in 2008, Terra Mysterium “is a Chicago-based collective of performers who create, produce, and perform experiential works of theatre that are rooted in the Earth Mysteries” according to the group’s Facebook page. From the description provided, “A Midwinter Mummers Tale” is true to form as they “seek to bring our audience into the unique, warm embrace of these midwinter folkways and rekindle an interest in honoring (or even creating our own) traditions for the current time as we descend into the dark half of the year.”

Throughout the tale, Pennywise encounters a cunning man, the Trickster, the Holly King, and the Dark Goddess as she is given the opportunity to reflect upon her life and to consider choosing a different path for the future. Tricksters are part of many world traditions, and the one chosen for this production is not malicious as some versions are, “but he does know the answer to every question he asks,” said Ellenwood. “He plays dumb and the clown to see how evil Esme has become.  When he senses that she has the power to change, he uses all manner of tactics — sympathy, joy, sadness, and anger — to push her closer to transformation.”

As for the Holly King, that character is described thus in the dramaturgy guide Ellenwood provided:

Santa and goat

[Source: Wikimedia Commons]

In a literal sense, [he] is one half of the vegetation or Green God. As such, he is a force of nature, and in a cyclical battle with the Lord of Summer, the Oak King. Their story is ancient, but is centrally presented in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” He is the Lord of Winter, the bringer of joy in the dark, the protector of life in the bleak winter. He is also an amalgamation of all the proto-Santas in existence. His magical tool is the cornucopia, a magical horn that contains everything one could wish for.  It also links him to the horned beasts, like the goat for the Lord of Misrule.

Finally, there is the Dark Goddess, who is described as the “lady of fate, time, death, and the afterlife. She is the catalyst for karma, and the potential for regeneration.” The version used is inspired by the Norse goddess Hel, or Hela.

Already sold-out, the play’s the limited three-day performance is scheduled for this weekend at the Lincoln Loft. For those who don’t have tickets, the troupe does expect “A Midwinter’s Mummers Tale” to become an annual tradition. Those Pagans who will be attending are encouraged to write a review to share the magic as best they can.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a new series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

The Bonewits Papers: On their official Facebook page, Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits have announced that Isaac’s personal papers will be donated to the American Religions Collection at the library at University of California, Santa Barbara.

“It’s been a rough week, but we’d like to share one piece of good news. Isaac’s personal papers will be going to the American Religions Collection at the library at University of California, Santa Barbara. So all you researchers will be able to rummage through his stuff :-)”

Bonewits has been, and continues to be, an influential author, ritualist, theologian and thinker within modern Paganism. It is heartening to know that as he continues to struggle with cancer, his rich legacy will live on for future generations to benefit from. For those who’d like to support Isaac and Phaedra during this trial, you can still donate to offset their mounting medical bills.

Pagan Pacifists Speak: A month ago I announced a new initiative, the Voices of Pagan Pacifism project, and now their first issue of interviews, essays and articles has been released.

“Part monthly newsletter, part educational archive, part resource directory, the VoPP project hopes to further the causes of peace, nonviolence, social justice, ecological balance and creative living. By providing a forum for conversation and connection, VoPP seeks to dispel misconceptions about the philosophy of pacifism and the spiritual traditions of modern Paganism. To encourage Pagans and non-Pagans, pacifists and non-pacifists alike in pursuing the challenging work of confronting and engaging authentically with that place in all of our lives where the political meets the spiritual, and both are transformed.”

Contributions include an interview with Dana Rose, an article on pacifism in ancient Greece by Jeff Lilly, a meditation from Alison Shaffer, and more. This looks like a strong start to the project, and I look forward to many more issues in the future.

Exploring Pagan Theology: The Pagan Portal at Patheos has posted three new essays exploring Pagan (poly)theology from different angles. First, portal manager Star Foster looks at the challenges of discussing and exploring theology in a pluralistic (and polytheistic) manner. Then, Alison Shaffer examines the problems of relating to the gods through an American capitalist framework. Finally, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (boy that name sounds familiar) discusses syncretism, Process Theology, and “polyamorotheism”.

“The insurmountable divide that people put between humans and gods in terms of our ability to understand them (e.g., “the Gods’ ways are not our ways” — a passage here paraphrased from the Hebrew Bible!), and of our abilities to communicate and negotiate with them, therefore, is not necessarily in operation. The gods may have a great deal more power, or knowledge, or freedom due to their position and their conditions of existence, but if they cannot be understood, communicated with, or related to, then the entire enterprise of religion and spirituality is useless entirely.”

All are well worth the reading, and should provide some food for thought (and discussion). Kudos to Star Foster and for working to bring us quality Pagan content at this multi-faith religion site.

AREN’s Action: The latest issue of the Alternative Religions Education Network’s (AREN) newsletter, ACTION, is now out, and features a wealth of interesting interviews. This includes Selena Fox, Brian Ewing of the Pagan Pride Project, and Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele.

“Throughout this mess the “reasons” for denial have been almost impossible to pin down. Apparently the Town attorney is under the mistaken impression that I am the religion and my not living on the property for a short time is significant. He also has argued in his legal opinion that the fact we have always done charitable work, even before formal incorporation, housing women in need is some sort of proof of not being an exclusive religious property which is absurd given that the New York tax law covering mandated exempt classes is quite clear that charitable work, education and other activities are all equal and any two or more activities on the property are still in the mandated exempt class.”

Christopher Blackwell at ACTION is like a Pagan interviewing machine! Seriously, his efforts really do deserve more attention, and I hope that the ACTION archives can be saved for posterity since they provide such a fascinating snapshot of modern Paganism in the last decade.

Finding Eleusis at Fringe: The Chicago-based Pagan/magical performance troupe Terra Mysterium will be performing their new Fall show “Finding Eleusis”, an urban and modern take on the Eleusianian Mysteries, at the Chicago Fringe Festival September 1-5th. Here’s a clip from their previous show, “Professor Marius Mandragore’s Salon Symposium regarding Spirits, Spells, and Eldritch Craft”.

If you’re going to be in the Chicago area, you can buy tickets for the performances now. I wish I could afford to jet-set to the Midwest and catch this show!

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

Thank you to Jason, and to my fellow Wild Hunt readers, for allowing me to share my thoughts with you today.

Which came first, ritual or theatre?  Most history of theatre curriculums taught at Universities across the Western world impress upon their students the theory that theatre came from ritual.  In the Journal of Religion and Theatre, Dr Eli Rozik deconstructs this theory, and refutes the work of cultural anthropologist Victor Turner, and performance studies professor Richard Schechner.  As contemporary Pagans, we too have recently reconsidered our history through the work of scholars such as Dr.  Ronald Hutton, and are challenged to replace a mythological awareness of our origins with more factual considerations.

Though I find the above arguments fascinating on many levels, as a clergyman and artistic director I am most interested in how ritual and theatre intersect in contemporary society, and within contemporary Paganism in particular.  Pagans practice ritual in private and in public.  We offer solitary devotions to our gods, and large scale community rituals at Sabbats and festivals.  Our religious community is a treasure trove of inspiration, color, pageantry, and transformational power.  What is it about ritual that captures our collective imagination?  In Dr.  Sabina Magliocco’s excellent article “Ritual is My Chosen Art Form:  The Creation of Ritual as Folk Art Among Contemporary Pagans” (published in Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft, edited by James R. Lewis, pp. 93-119. Albany: State University of New York Press), Magliocco details the many reasons Pagans create and perform ritual.  She also cites the various sources for ritual creation including academia, folklore, mass media, popular culture and popular psychology, as well as interaction with other Pagans and our own internal inspirations.  She also mentions the tripartite ritual structure of the French ethnographer and folklorist Arnold van Gennep: 1)  the separation from the current state of awareness, 2)  the transition to a middle, distinctly different state of awareness,  and 3) the incorporation and integration of the middle state with a return to the world at large.  This three-fold structure was elaborated upon by Victor Turner in his articulation of a key concept called liminality.  I direct readers to the blog for a well-crafted explanation of Turner’s liminal/liminoid theme.

Why is this tripartite structure important, and how does it relate to theatre and to life?  As Pagans we seek that key moment of transcendence, magic, connection, and transformation that comes from truly effective ritual and magical practice.  There are those rare but amazing and mysterious moments where we feel linked to the ancient past, or as if we’ve entered into another world altogether.  We might even have a peak experience and feel profoundly connected to everything and everyone, where we can see the divine everywhere, and in all things.  These experiences help to create our personal worldview.  They inform our ethics and values, and they give us a reason for living.  We can also experience these profound states of consciousness from truly great theatre, film, and storytelling.  As with rituals, all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but it is the central liminal/liminoid space which creates the transformational power found in both theatre and ritual.

In the theatre, the audience enters into a unique situation where they experience a story.  Actors guide the audience on a journey, which, if performed well, will allow the audience to resonate with the story.   For a time, the audience is asked to make a personal investment of imagination and emotion, which is embodied in the journey of the actors in the play, movie, or story.  The success of the experience weighs heavily upon the skills of the actors, and the ability of the audience to willingly invest in (and enter into) the world of the story.  If an actor forgets his or her lines, or isn’t truly invested in the other actors and the story, the audience will be separated from the liminal space either temporarily or for the duration of the story.  The same can be said for ritual.  How many times have you attended a ritual where the entire liturgy was simply read off of cue cards (or a loose leaf script), or else some blunder from the ritual team took you entirely out of the sacred nature of the experience?  Knowledge of both the theatrical and ritual art forms can inform and strengthen the other, without losing the integrity of either medium.

I have implemented these ideas in my work with my theatre company Terra Mysterium, and the Neopagan order Brotherhood of the Phoenix.  Part of Terra Mysterium Performance Troupe’s mission statement affirms the use of ritual structures, symbolism, and multi-disciplinary artistic mediums to transform, enliven, and entertain audiences.  We are aware of the natures of theatre and ritual as separate and distinct, yet we seek to allow each art form to inform the other for the creation of something rich, deep, and cathartic for the audience.  Our company’s name can be translated as “Land of Mystery,” which serves as a metaphor for the experience of theatre, magic, and even life itself.  In the Brotherhood of the Phoenix,  we have a celebrant training program which is required of all brothers who wish to perform our public liturgy.  The Chicago temple uses between 7-15 men as celebrants for each ritual.  It is as necessary to train these men in ritual theory and performance, as much as it to train them in the theatrical building blocks of ensemble creation (text analysis, diction and vocal projection, active listening, unison movement, improvisation, and anticipating the next part of liturgy); the ability to act as one cohesive unit.  To see how theatre is influencing Pagans and visa-versa, see Coreopsis: A Journal of Myth and Theatre.  The current issue is dedicated to Paganism.

The skill sets that both celebrants and actors must possess overlap more often than not.  In order to create a dynamic relationship between the ritual team and the circle of seekers, there must be a deep understanding of the ritual’s structure and its goals.  There must also be a profound awareness of the energies present in each moment, so that the ritual moves forward with grace and skill.  Likewise, actors must be aware of the entire arc of the story, their goals/desires as individual characters, and their own profound commitment to each and every moment.  This allows for spontaneous and genuine reactions to other characters, the set and props, and the circumstances of the story.  Both the ritual team and the actors must commit to letting go of fear, self-conscious judgment, and external distractions.  They must use all of their senses in a highly focused and purposeful way, and they must be fully present for the work at hand.    Anything less risks the loss of liminal space and, therefore, the loss of the potential for deep catharsis, transcendence, and transformation. See the work of Lauren Raine, and the MetaMorphic Ritual Theatre Company for further inspirations.

For the non-actor, or for those actors looking to explore the spiritual and metaphysical potentialities of the theatre, I recommend the following websites:  Peggy Rubin’s Sacred Theatre Rubin’s work explores the journey of life, and how to live a richer “story.”  Antero Alli and his paratheatrical research explores the transformational processes of theatre work, without the need to perform for anyone; the work itself the goal.  His ideas and techniques will bring creativity to an actor who feels stuck and stagnant.  They are also excellent for Pagans looking to explore ritual in a more ecstatic, improvisatory manner.

Last, I feel that Viewpoints training is essential for any group looking to deepen their awareness and cohesion during ritual and collaborative magical workings.  Although humans have always used the ideas and tools behind these concepts, Viewpoints as a technique of improvisation emerged from the post-modern dance world. It was first articulated by choreographer Mary Overlie who broke down the two dominant issues performers deal with – time and space – into six categories.  Overlie called her approach the Six Viewpoints.  Artistic Director Anne Bogart and SITI Company have expanded Overlie’s ideas and adapted them for actors.  Anne and Chicago Steppenwolf director Tina Landau co wrote The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition. This text would benefit anyone interested in creating an ensemble of highly coordinated and intuitive celebrants, circle members, or actors.  Whether you perform public ritual or work in private as a small group, these Viewpoints exercises will create group awareness in a quick and skillful way.  The results are immediately tangible, and are as applicable to ritual and magical practice as they are to theatre.

Matthew Ellenwood is a music director, voice teacher, and the artistic director of Terra Mysterium Performance Troupe. Terra Mysterium will be presenting their third production, Finding Eleusis (a modern day exploration of the Eleusinian Mysteries), at the Chicago Fringe Festival September 1-5, 2010.  Matthew is also one of the founders of Brotherhood of the Phoenix a Neopagan order for gay, bisexual, and transgender men who love men, where he serves as the senior clergyman for the order, and as the senior mentor of the Brotherhood’s seminary training program.  The Brotherhood will be presenting the closing ritual for Chicago Pagan Pride on August 14, 2010.

From June 20th through the 27th I’ll be presenting at the 30th annual Pagan Spirit Gathering, at Camp Zoe in the Ozark Region of Missouri. Because Internet and phone connections aren’t a sure thing out there in the wilderness, I won’t be able to blog as usual. But don’t despair! As I’ve done in the past, The Wild Hunt will be featuring a wide assortment of vibrant, challenging, and innovative voices from within (and sometimes without) modern Paganism while I’m gone. Here’s the run-down of The Wild Hunt’s amazing guest bloggers!

Sunday June 20th – Lee Gilmore

Lee Gilmore is a Lecturer in Religious Studies and Anthropology at California State University, Northridge. The author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual & Spirituality at Burning Man”, she has been in, out, around, and studying the Pagan community (mostly Feri traditions) for the better part of 20 years.

Monday June 21st – The Wild Hunt’s Summer Solstice Post

My usual holiday round-up in honor of Midsummer!

Tuesday June 22nd – Kulasundari Devi

Kulasundari Devi is the president and founder of the Sri Kamakhya Mahavidya Mandir, a non-profit Hindu Shakta Tantric Goddess temple in Alameda, California that operates with the blessing of the renowned Sri Sri Kamakhya Temple in Assam. She is both a practitioner and scholar of Shakta Tantra, and holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy & Religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. In addition to her work with the temple, she is currently pursuing a PhD studying Tantra and Goddess worship in Northeast India, and travels there regularly. Sundari has an extensive background in Goddess spirituality and mysticism of both East and West, which she has practiced for nearly 20 years. You can learn more about the Hindu Goddess, Tantrism, and traditional worship at her website,

Wednesday June 23rd – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a founder of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and related divine figures) and a member of Neos Alexandria. He has published a collection of poetry called “The Phillupic Hymns” (Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2008), as well as a number of essays and poems in the various Bibliotheca Alexandrina devotional volumes to Artemis, Hekate, and Isis and Serapis, with several more due out in the near future (for Zeus, Pan, the Dioskouroi and Ereshkigal). Lupus’ day-job (as a professional academic and adjunct instructor) and general daily life is nowhere near as interesting as any of the above, and is therefore best glossed over!

Thursday June 24th – Jordan Stratford

Jordan Stratford is a priest, screenwriter, filmmaker, and author of books on religion and spirituality.

Having received his Licentiate of Sacred Theology with his ordination as a priest in the Apostolic Johannite Church in 2005, he briefly studied the DMin program at Wisdom University but is currently pursuing Doctorate of Ministry Studies at St. Raphael the Archangel Theological Seminary. He served as the Rector of the AJC’s Regina Coeli Parish in Victoria BC from its founding until 2008.

His work has been cited in college course material (Haverford College) and in doctoral dissertations (Graduate Theological Foundation), and he was interviewed in a feature article on Gnosticism in 2006 in US News & World Report along with NT Wright and Dr. Marvin Meyer. Additionally he has been widely interviewed and featured on blogs, podcasts and websites relating to Gnosticism, Esoteric Christianity, Paganism, New Religious Movements, and the Independent Sacramental Movement.

He is the author of “Living Gnosticism” (Apocryphile, 2007) and an upcoming book on Alchemy for Quest Books.

Friday June 25th – Matthew Ellenwood

Matthew Ellenwood is a music director, voice teacher, and the artistic director of Terra Mysterium Performance Troupe. He is also one of the founders of Brotherhood of the Phoenix a Neopagan order for gay, bisexual and transgender men who love men, where serves as the Senior clergyman for the Order, and the Senior mentor of the Brotherhood’s seminary training program.

Saturday June 26th – Cosette Paneque

Cosette is a reader and a write. She loves technology, coffee, and lip balm. She’s a long-time Pagan avoiding bugs in South Florida. Cosette blogs at From Jupiter, and is outreach coordinator for the Pagan Newswire Collective.

Sunday June 27th – Christian Day

Salem impresario Christian Day has made the Witch City his full-time career and often speaks about Salem and Witchcraft in the media. Hi is the proprietor of two of Salem’s most popular shops, HEX and OMEN, and hosts Salem’s annual Festival of the Dead each October, which includes a psychic fair, dumb supper, and the Official Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball. Every Wednesday night at 9pm, Christian and Salem Strega Lori Bruno host HEX Education on and will welcome Jason Pitzl-Waters as the featured guest on the July 7th episode.

Please give all of them a warm and hospitable welcome, I’m certain they will all contribute something special to The Wild Hunt. If all goes well I should be back to my regular posting schedule by Monday June 28th. While I’m gone, my colleague at the Pagan Newswire Collective, Cosette Paneque, will be holding the reigns of admin power. So if there is a blog or comments related issue while I’m gone, please drop her a line. She will also be dropping in Pagan news-items during the week as she sees fit (so feel free to send her story tips as well). My connection to the outside world will be spotty at very best while I’m at PSG, so please keep that in mind, and don’t be offended if I don’t get back to you.