Archives For media

Four suburban mothers are standing at the corner bus stop awaiting the afternoon return of their elementary-school children. One of the women says, “Did you meet the new family that moved into the Smiths’ old house?” The others shake their heads. They had not. The first woman continues, “They’re a young family from England with two children. The dad travels a lot and the mother is Wiccan. They seem nice.” When the bus arrives, the conversation ends without any further discussion.

Photo Courtesy of  Infrogmation via Wikimedia commons

Photo Courtesy of Infrogmation via Wikimedia commons

Would the Wiccan practitioners of the 1960s ever have imagined that such a conversation would unfold on the street corners of conservative Middle America? Well it did. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changin’.”

On Jan. 11 Jason posted an article exploring Paganism as counterculture versus Paganism as mainstream. Or better yet, it explored the dynamics between the two realities. His post set-off quite a debate after he asked, “What do ‘we’ want?” No matter the opinion of this collective ‘we,’ if it exists, or the opinion of any single individual, the choice may have already been made. How can we exist as a counterculture within a culture that accepts our presence?

In the fall of 2013 in Roanoke Virginia, English teacher Bruce Ingram included Wicca in a world religions unit. During the study each student had to complete a research project on a single religion. As reported by the Roanoke Times, student Nikki Jani described Wicca as a “spirit and nature form of religion.” She added, “I am agnostic. Anything is possible and Wiccan is based on god and goddess being equal.” Roanoke’s Lord Botetourt High School is the second high school now that reportedly includes Wicca in the exploration of world faiths.

More telling of this cultural shift is the appearance of the term Wicca in non-religious, non-occult related media stories. In these cases Wicca is mentioned with no consequence. For example, Emory Naylor, a fifth-grade student, won the Charleston county’s spelling bee by correctly spelling two words: dreidel and Wiccan. The Charleston Media offered no commentary on Scripps’ inclusion of this word or the child’s ability to spell it. They didn’t even comment on the most delicious of all ironies. By correctly spelling “Wiccan,” Emory progressed to the March 11 regional event called “Spellbound.”

School Spelling Bee. Photo Courtesy of Flickr's Lizzy Gilligan

School Spelling Bee. Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Lizzy Gilligan

Does being included on the 2014 Scripps Spelling Bee word list or in a class discussion qualify a religion as having “arrived?” Not necessarily but it’s an indicator. Mainstream culture is often treated like a single controllable entity. While it is malleable, culture, with its many variables, has a life of its own – one that is constantly bringing things to itself and spinning things out. As such it is an effective measure of social change and the direction a society appears to be going or not going.

Looking back in time, there was a huge upswing in newspaper articles mentioning Wicca in the 1970s. Their focus was predominantly on the Craft as an “ancient practice.” There is no distinction made between Wicca and Witchcraft. One 1971 article about Stewart Farrar begins with “After all these centuries, witches it seems finally have achieved social acceptance.”(Des Moines Register, Dec. 24, 1971, pg 9) Common terms found in these articles are white magic, black magic, warlocks and “voodoo.”

In the 1980s the Media’s interest in Wicca waned. However over that decade the discourse changed. In a 1989 The Associated Press article, Wicca is called “a modern religious witchcraft cult that emphasizes Nature worship.” (Salina Journal, Oct. 30, 1989, pg 1.) Moving forward into the 1990s, journalists increasingly incorporate terms such as faith, spirituality, God, Goddess and worship. The focus on witchcraft gave way to a focus on religion. A cultural negotiation was underway.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's  @Doug88888

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s @Doug88888

As the millennium turned, there was another surge in the media’s interest in Wicca. From 2001-2010, the discourse changed again. “Pagan” enters the conversation and articles focus more on religious freedom, interfaith communication and comparative religious studies. In an article written for the Tacoma News Tribune titled “Pagans Seek Credibility,” the author writes “Paganism takes in a variety of teachings including Wicca…” (Salina Journal, March 10, 2001.)  The article goes on to compare Christian, Jewish and Pagan traditions.

Today we have almost reached a place of media complacency in which Wicca doesn’t need five paragraphs of explanation or any legal justification. The media “mentions” come and go at a more rapid rate – some positive, some irrelevant and some problematic. In December an NBC commentator made an off-handed remark saying, “Barring a driving blizzard of hens, toads and other tools of Wiccan cooking, all it will be Sunday is cold.” No, it is not a flattering comment. However the article was about football and its writer assumed that readers would understand that term. They probably did.

This week Carlton Gebbia made news again in her role on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHBH). When a fellow cast member says, “She thought you were going to cast a spell on her,” Carlton says, “I f-ing will.” Bravo titled this show “Carlton puts hex on Joyce” and the following one is “Pentagram or Star of David?” Regardless of the merits of the Bravo show, RHBH has planted the word “Wicca” into the households of 1000s of Americans. It contributes to a subliminal social consciousness through the insidious feeding tube known as pop culture.

Carlton Gebbia

Carlton Gebbia

As shown by the changes in media language, Wicca has increasingly been promoted as a legitimate belief structure. This change is an example of the slow evolutionary process of acceptance. Has the religion changed allowing this to happen? Or has American society found a way to swallow what was once deemed counter to its culture?  If the recent changes in Army accommodations are any indicator, society is changing – not Wicca. As reported by Reuters:

The policy was mainly expected to affect Sikhs, Muslims, Jews and members of other groups that wear beards or articles of clothing as part of their religion. It also could affect Wiccans and others who may obtain tattoos or piercings for religious reasons.

I’ve focused predominantly on Wicca because it’s the most populated and well-known Pagan faith. It does get the most media attention. However this trend does not necessarily omit other faiths. If examined, Druidry is probably on an identical trajectory. The process can and may happen to any of the Pagan and Heathen religions – on their own merit or as a function of association. One day we may see an Asatru or Roman Reconstructionist real house wife.

With all of this said, we have not come anywhere near a state of utopia. Religious discrimination continues. In fact The New York Times just published an article describing Jewish anti-semitism in a public school system. This demonstrates clearly that social acceptance does not eliminate bigotry.

All these media “hits”  are simply cultural indicators – the temperature of a nation, a sign of evolution within public discourse. Does this mean that the Gap will consider selling ritual robes? Will UGG make a comfortable pair of shoes for outdoor worship? Will department stores carry “Obsession” designer incense for $75.00 a stick?  Probably not. Just because the mainstream is “catching on” to Paganism, doesn’t mean that all aspects of the lifestyle will be assimilated. Many aspects will always remain sacred and mystical.

Since we can’t stem the tide of cultural change, the question can no longer be whether or not we want to be counterculture. The question is whether or not we will allow social acceptance and legitimacy to change who we are – at the personal, group or organizational level. How will our practices adapt to coming of legitimacy? How will it affect our lifestyles?

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

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

“What is the Pagan Media?”

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's Micky.!

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Micky.!

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

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

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

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

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

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

news-65343_1920

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

Photo by Flickr's striatic

Photo by Flickr’s striatic

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

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

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

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

University of MissouriLast fall, the University of Missouri added the eight Wiccan Sabbats to its “Guide to Religion” in an effort to encourage respect for religious diversity within its community. The Guide says:

The holidays and accommodations section of this guide is provided to faculty, staff, and student leaders as an educational resource for the myriad of religious holy days celebrated at Mizzou. Not only does this section offer crucial information about dates and practices, we also hope that the information about recommended academic and food accommodations will be valuable to those planning classroom activities and other academic and co-curricular events.

In the past week, the mainstream news media have picked up the story and “ran with it.”  It’s odd that it took them this long to identify the Guide’s update. It’s even odder that they are treating Mizzou’s diversity efforts as an anomaly. The University of Missouri certainly isn’t the first college or public school system to include Wiccan Sabbats.  But the media work in their own way, which is why they need to be watched.

Most of the articles have been benign news accounts, if not always completely accurate. However, Fox News and Fox & Friends Weekend have created quite a stir with their version and discussion of the story.

When is enough, enough? 

There are two ways to view these videos. First, it’s fascinating to see Wicca, Paganism and parts of its theology entering mainstream discourse. Right across the bottom of the screen, we read: “Wiccans & Pagans.” I see this as cultural progress in the same vein that someone might say “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” It’s part of a sociological and psychological process that I describe by stealing the term “hedonic adaptation.”  At first the change, in this case the acceptance of “Wicca or Paganism,” is disruptive and uncomfortable.  But over time, as the change remains visible within the environment, we become use to it.  Eventually we accept it as normal and move on.

However, on the other hand, the comments are troublesome.  Yes, they are insulting.  It appears that Fox News has moved beyond the “Wiccans are Evil” phase to “Wiccans are clowns.”  The words are mocking and, really, only serve to demonstrate the sophomoric level of this type of journalism.  In her P.C. Report, Tammy Bruce says, “I don’t know any Wiccans. I think on a really bad day I may turn into one.”  That is just one of the many ridiculous, unprofessional, and off-handed remarks.  (I’ll leave it to the readers to watch the videos and hear the rest.)

Tammy Bruce goes on to suggest that Wiccans and Pagans should be outraged by Missouri’s Guide. She claims that we are being used by the establishment as a pawn in their political agenda to downgrade the Christian traditions of this country.  Tucker Carlson actually accuses the University of “hating orthodox Christianity.”

Fox is spinning a positive interfaith story into an example of anti-Christian behavior.  If we offer inclusion to one religious group does it necessarily mean that we are “downgrading” the others? This is what Fox News is implying. It’s the argument we’d expect from evangelical Christian groups. Some might say that we’d expect it from the conservative Fox News Network as well.

However, these opinion are woven together with poor research and being sold as journalism. What bothers me more than their position on the issue is the lack of accurate facts about “Wiccanism” and the University of Missouri’s diversity work. For example, the “Guide to Religion” never says that Wiccans will necessarily be absent on Sabbats.  However, written across the Fox & Friends screen is “No Exams on Wiccan and Pagan Holidays.”

Interestingly enough, during the video, Clayton Morris calls himself a journalist and attempts to bring facts into their discussion.  Later on in the day, he remarked on twitter: “I defended Wiccans on the show this morning as peaceful folks devoted to the Earth.” (@ClaytonMorris) While he did say that, he did nothing to correct the other glaring inaccuracies.

Nancy Grace reporting on Jodi Arias trial

To be fair, Fox News was not the only network highlighting Wicca these past two weeks. CNN’s Headline News Network (HLN) and ABC took “potshots” at Wicca while reporting on the Jodi Arias case.  Ms. Arias is on trial in Phoenix for allegedly killing her boyfriend, Travis Alexander.  At some point in the last month, the accused testified to dabbling or being exposed to Wicca through a past boyfriend.  She has also testified to sampling many different religions settling on Mormonism, which is what she was practicing when the crime was committed.

On Feb 5, ABC reported:

Her odyssey through boyfriends and the spiritual world included a five year period from age 18 through age 22 when Arias said she became very interested in fundamentalist Christianity, Wicca, Buddhism, and Hinduism, all of which she explored as she dated men who practiced those beliefs.

Although the word “Wicca” was only a very minor detail in a very lengthy on-going trial, the media clung to the word Wicca.  In a later report, ABC actually published a news video entitled “Jodi Arias Testifies She Tried Wicca, Buddhism With Boyfriends”  However, the video itself had nothing to do with any of her religious exploits.

Jodi Arias

Jodi Arias in court
Courtesy of HLN.com

In another case, CNN’s Headline News (HLN) correspondent Nancy Grace interviewed the victim’s best friend, Zion Lovingier.  In her report entitled “Did Jodi Arias study Witchcraft?” Nancy spends a good deal of time trying to corner Zion into talking about Ms. Arias’ involvement in Wicca.  Just like the Fox reporters, Nancy uses her journalist’s platform to mock Wicca and Witchcraft.  In the interview, she says, “That would stand out in my mind, if someone was into witchcraft.” Then she calls Wicca “creepy.”  Fortunately, Zion doesn’t bite, remarking back, “Jodi’s issues run much deeper than Wicca.”

Watch Full Nancy Grace Interview Video Here

In the past twenty four hours, there has been a backlash and simultaneous outrage from the Wiccan and Pagan community in the way of calls-to-action and petitions. I expect this will continue over the next week. Contrary to Tammy Bruce’s prediction, these frustrations have been directed at the media and not at the University of Missouri or elsewhere.  As Wicca enters a more central place in mainstream discourse, there will be continued and very public rejections or mocking of our theology and practice.  The bulk of these negative reactions are derived from the disruption of the status quo and, of course, misinformation. This is nothing new.

However, while we stew over the mainstream news media’s latest barbs, it is also important to note that a new discussion is now happening. Wicca’s presence in our culture is being recognized more frequently.  The door is open.  It is at this point that Wiccan and Pagan organizations, as well as individuals, doing interfaith work and community outreach become essential.  Petitions are good. But, we must also handle these big media outlets from a positive, non-threatening standpoint with the aim of educating and enlightening. The more that Wicca and Paganism remain in the mainstream media’s eye (or line of fire, if you will), the more accustom our culture in general will become to having a realistic and positive Pagan presence.

(I think I just gave myself work…)

 

Pagans are a part of the web and weave of everyday culture. We’ve emerged from being a largely subcultural religious phenomenon and have steadily gained increasing attention, most notably from the mainstream media. For example, The Huffington Post’s new HuffPost Live initiative held a group interview on Halloween with Teo BishopAmy BlackthornGus DiZeregaMorgan Copeland and Patrick McCollum. As expected, they covered some basics, talked about Samhain, and shared their personal perspectives on modern Paganism.

HuffPo Screenshot

You can watch the entire interview, here. In addition, Teo Bishop shares some of the conversation that happened after the formal interview ended.

“Perhaps the most exciting part of the experience for me was what happened after the Google Hangout ended. The panelists stayed on the call and talked for a good 30 minutes more, sharing perspectives about a whole variety of topics. We re-addressed some of what happened while we were on the air, and there are a few things that stuck out that I’d like to get your take on.”

A shame the follow-up conversation wasn’t recorded! In any case, this was a nice Pagan-centered exploration of our interconnected faiths, and I’m glad that HuffPost Live garnered such an impressive lineup! Congratulations!

On a less serious note – Pagans also got a bit of inadvertent mainstream attention from late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien when he showcased a number of magazines that will outlive Newsweek’s print edition. Among the titles picked? Why our own Witches & Pagans Magazine, featuring M. Macha NightMare on the cover!

conan macha

You can get a closer shot of Conan holding the magazine, here. You can watch the entire video segment, here. Now W&P editor Anne Newkirk Niven (and Macha) can add “as seen on Conan” to her publications resume! For those worried about if this was a negative portrayal, don’t worry, Conan’s show is on TBS.

On a more serious note, while it’s fun to see ourselves on HuffPost Live, or even on Conan, it’s good to remember that we’re more than what appears on popular media outlets. That many Pagans are dedicated to service, healing, and responding to those in need. Pagan elder Peter Dybing, a first responder who has served in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the Gulf Coast during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and several larger forest/brush fires, reports from an East Coast ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

121031085525 30 sandy damage 1031 horizontal gallery

An overview of the fire damage in Queens, New York, following Hurricane Sandy.

“As new missions evolve and priorities change the mission of my team keeps changing. Primarily we are clearing roads of downed trees so relief supplies and emergency vehicles can get through. The devastation is complete along the shore on Long Island. Thousands of cars along with hundreds of homes lie buried in the sand. Most heart breaking of all is the evacuee’s staying in the same place as the disaster teams. Their stories of hardship and loss have brought me to tears on multiple occasions. Hardest of all is remaining focused on our mission and not assisting the evacuees with issues outside our assignment.  My heart breaks for these families.” 

For some Pagan efforts to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Sandy, see my Community Notes post from Thursday. Our prayers go with Peter and all the other first responders working in the aftermath to help those affected rebuild. Our prayers also go out to those still struggling without power, without resources, or without a home.

Taken together, these impression complicate the picture some try to paint of our faiths, our movement. It reminds the world that we share their common humanity, and that we are a part of a larger community, even as we are a part of our own.

Every single Pagan organization that aspires to serve its chosen community, whether that community is local, regional, national, or even international, needs someone who will interact with the press (and social media). If you don’t, or if it’s seen as an odious task that’s always last on the list, or it it takes months to craft a statement, you become as good as mute to the very people you wish to serve. Your organization defaults to letting other people shape the discourse on issues that your community may have strong opinions about.  If you look at any well-organized religious organization, like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, one thing that becomes obviously very quickly is that they are constantly framing discussions that concern them for their audience.

Everything on the site is an effort to define themselves to visitors so that others have a harder time defining them in ways they can’t control (or don’t like).  Cognitive linguist George Lakoff has noted time and time again that groups who don’t take time to frame themselves, have it done for them.

“It’s a general principle: Unless you frame yourself, others will frame you — the media, your enemies, your competitors, your well-meaning friends. […]  ultimately, framing is about ideas, about how we see the world, which determines how we act. […] In short, framing is a moral enterprise: it says what the character of a movement is.”

Let’s repeat that: “Framing is a moral enterprise: it says what the character of a movement is.” So it is more than vital for Pagan organizations of all kinds to be increasingly media savvy, and to always frame their actions (and reactions) with a mind towards how it will shape perceptions. We must be ever-responsive to media narratives that sow confusion or misinformation about our faiths, because you never know which story will “stick” and be the one that inadvertently shapes how other people perceive our moral universe. For example, the recent story of infamous child-murderer Charles Jaynes asking to change his name to Manasseh-Invictus Auric Thutmose V because he claims to be a Wiccan now.

“Court documents show that child murderer Charles Jaynes wants to go by the name Manasseh-Invictus Auric Thutmose V. Jaynes is serving a life sentence for the 1997 kidnapping, molestation and murder of Jeffrey Curley. He won’t be eligible for parole until 2021. […] A filing with the Plymouth division of the Probate and Family Court Department says Jaynes is seeking the change due to his Wiccan beliefs. Wicca is a religion that incorporates the practice of witchcraft.”

That story is currently the number two result when you search Google News for “Wicca” (thankfully the #1 result is a positive piece in the New York Times). Heading into Pagan Pride season, when many Pagans are getting interviewed by the media, it’s very possible that Pagans might be asked about this, and they’ll need to have a good answer. Off-the-cuff responses can sometimes be disastrous, which is where Pagan and Wiccan groups can step up and begin framing the response should this become more than an isolated blip. Obviously we shouldn’t try to interject ourselves into the actual debate, which is fraught with deep emotional pain, but we can offer good information about what Wicca is and isn’t, and what our morals are. For example, if asked, a Pagan representative could say:

“Many Wiccans do decide to adopt a new name to reflect their changed outlook on life, a phenomenon often found in many adult conversions to a wide variety of religious traditions. Wicca abhors the kind of crimes committed by Mr. Jaynes, as many of us believe in an ethic of reciprocity that places harming none central to our lives. We pray for the families hurt in this terrible tragedy, and hope that Mr. Jaynes has truly embraced a philosophy of empathy and non-violence.” 

Or some variant thereof, whatever works best theologically and culturally for the organization or group presented with such a scenario. Another tactic is to pivot away from controversy towards a recent positive development that better reflects what your group/religion/movement is about. If asked about the above name-change story, one could give a shorter variant of my answer above, but then pivot to a still-emerging story about how a Wiccan group in Arkansas won a grant from Home Depot to repair the homes of elderly and aging individuals in their community.

“It’s tragic that so much sorrow and pain has been caused by this situation, as Wicca is a religion devoted to healing, communing with the natural world, and being of service to our communities. An excellent example is The Southern Delta Church of Wicca winning a grant from Home Depot to repair the homes of the elderly in their community. That’s the kind of world our faith tradition is trying to build, one where we are accountable to our neighbors and work to improve the lives of those around us.”

Again, with changes depending on who’s saying it, and in what context.

No matter what the tone or tenor of the news, good or bad, a responsive organization will work to frame both for their members, and for any who come to their site seeking more information. It’s a lot of work, but necessary work if you want to help shape how our faiths are experienced by outsiders and the media. You can’t let anyone else do that work for you, even if they are supportive of your goals. No matter how much you may like The Wild Hunt, never let me or any other media outlet have the only say into a project or action that you’re involved with. A positive article is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one, and you’ll want to make sure that people understand exactly what your stance is in case important details are omitted. At the very least, you’ll want to post regular updates for those introduced to you by media attention.

Before I end this post, one more example: I recently reported on what a bad idea it is for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to participate in what is a de facto religious test held by Christian mega-church pastor Rick Warren. Shortly after several media outlets started discussing the issue, Obama campaign officials announced that they weren’t going to participate. This left a lot of egg on Warren’s face since he’d told reporters that both campaigns had already signed off on participating (never say something is going to happen unless you know it’s going to happen), so to re-frame this blow to his stature as a moral heavyweight, he’s taking the high-road and claiming the event is cancelled due to all the mud-slinging the campaigns are engaging in.

“In his announcement, Warren said the campaign’s current climate, highlighted by “irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads,” is not what a civil forum aims to promote: respect between those with differences. He said he does not expect that climate of incivility to change before the election. “It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day,” he said.”

So Warren gets to flounce out of his dilemma with a Shakespearean “plague on both your houses,” shifting the blame onto the nasty campaigns instead of the fact that Warren may not be trustworthy, and both candidates wanted to avoid being caught in a “gotcha” moment by a pastor with his own agenda. Warren understood that he had to frame the collapse of his event in a way that bolstered his image instead of tarnishing it. Hopefully no Wiccan or Pagan organization will be in a situation as embarrassing, but all the same a useful example of how to use media narratives to define your “brand” to the wider public. So make sure you have a media person, that you understand social media, that you’re constantly updating your site and satellite  pages on social networking hubs, and that you understand the power of framing the news (both good and bad) in furthering your goals and message.