Archives For Michael Smith

If there was a dominant theme to the 2014 Sacred Space Conference in Laurel, Maryland, it would be Appalachian folk magic, and the teachers from that culture who have emerged within our community. Featured presenter Orion Foxwood, author of “The Candle and the Crossroads: A Book of Appalachian Conjure and Southern Root-Work” spoke to packed rooms that seemed reluctant for their experience with the charismatic teacher to end. Likewise, Byron Ballard, author of “Staubs and Ditchwater: a Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo” gave a rollicking overview of “the joy of hex” to a standing-room only crowd.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard with presentation materials.

So, it stands to reason that a panel featuring Foxwood, Ballard, and Linda Ours Rago, author of “Blackberry Cove Herbal: Healing With Common Herbs in the Appalachian Wise-Woman Tradition” (among other works) would come to seem like the capstone of the entire weekend. Moderated by Michael G. Smith, an Elder in The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the resulting experience was one filled to the brim with stories, laughter, more stories, explanations of differences in geographic terminology for similar folk-magic practices, even more stories, and emotional evocations of their land and culture.

The Appalachian Folk Traditions panel participants combining their powers for the camera.

The Appalachian Folk Traditions panel participants combining their powers for the camera.

There’s no way I could accurately capture the experience of this panel, so with permission, I recorded the proceedings and now share them with you here. 

Within modern Paganism, and certainly within the many religious movements that overlap with ours, authenticity is important. I think that these practitioners so inspire students and observers because they bring with them a cultural authenticity born of their own experiences. Naturally, when spiritual technologies seated within a specific cultural context are taught in these events, the issue of cultural appropriation comes up (as it did in the Q&A section of this panel). The goal, I think, is to hold onto values of honesty and transparency when given the opportunity to learn from circumstances like these. Their experience is rooted in the land from which they came, and nothing can replicate that. We may learn new spiritual technologies and viewpoints for which to encounter our own day-to-day practices, but we can never become “Appalachian” in the way they manifest, no matter how fervently someone might wish.

Moments like these are opportunities to enrich our understanding of the vital tapestry of magical traditions, and how similar roots can produce very different flowers depending on where they grow. All of these teachers are here to teach, and we should learn from them, while also remembering that we can never become them. So long as we hold that truth, we will be able to become mutually enriched, and events like the Sacred Space Conference can continue to organize unique moments in time like this from a place of curiosity and respect.

[The following is a guest post from Michael Smith. Michael Smith, Gwydion Stormcrow, has been practicing Wicca, Magick, and various esoteric disciplines since 1989. He has been active in the pagan community since 1993 when he became a member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (ASW), a Wiccan organization in the Mid-Atlantic region. He is an Elder of the ASW and is currently serving as High Priest of Coven of the Rowan Star, a coven in that Tradition. He is also involved with the Tradition's New Alexandrian Library.]

(Skimmers, the bold is for you! ;-) )

The New Alexandrian Library (an Indigogo fundraising drive) is a project that has been in process since 2000, when the idea was first presented to the larger pagan community at the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (the Assembly) at the first Between the Worlds Conference. The dream was and remains to create an academic-quality repository for the writing, art, cultural artifacts and wisdoms of religions and practices in the esoteric traditions (‘Pagans’, for lack of a more convenient label).

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL's foundation.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL’s foundation.

The primary aims of the Library are: 1) to secure the resources to ensure the Library is wholly owned and administered by Pagans and contributes to the real-asset community infrastructure; 2) provide ongoing stewardship for our communities’ work and essence; and 3) make the collected materials as convenient as possible for the community to access. Ultimately, the Library will be a resource to support new academic study and research to further develop our community for centuries to come.

It is vitally important at this time that we create and maintain real pagan infrastructure. The transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius threatens the continued dominance of the current mass religions and they have reacted by trying to institutionalize their faiths in the secular realms of government and law. The ‘major religions’ fear diminishing dominance in the new Age and that has resulted in collections of pagan materials being marginalized or made unavailable in and by the large non-pagan institutions that now hold them – even more than when we were just considered ‘unimportant’. Many collections are difficult to access or are maintained in obscurity. Much of the accumulated wisdom of pagan people has been lost in past times of transition. We must make serious effort to create structures to ensure as a much as possible gets through this transition.

This Library will be/is owned and stewarded by a Wiccan organization, in services to the wider esoteric community. The collections will not be marginalized in some dark, inaccessible backroom of an indifferent institution. The whole purpose of this project is to ensure that our culture, philosophy, wisdom and creation have another stage to be seen, studied and expanded!

New Alexandrian Library foundation.

New Alexandrian Library foundation.

Assembly members believe so strongly in this need that 80% of the funds to build the project has come from Assembly members (>$150,000 to date) and several members have donated shared ownership of ~100 acres of forest to the ASW and the Library project. The land, the structures and all of its materials will be in the stewardship of a Pagan Tradition. Plans are also being made, of course, to establish long-term resources for maintenance of this living treasure of our community.

Mind you, of course, none of us are rich. We share this to let you know that we are not just spending other people’s hard earned donations – that we put our money where our mouth is. But, make no mistake, this cannot happen to its potential without the financial support of the wider community to create and maintain this vital resource.

As our many of our seminal teachers, visionaries, leaders and thinkers pass to the next life – their collected wisdom is often lost. We have all heard stories of decades of newsletters, articles, teachings, research, vision, and other inspiration being lost because there was simply no place for these collections to go. Often times, non-pagan family members do not recognize the value of their loved ones’ work to the larger pagan community. Sometimes, it is simply thrown out.

Each time this happens it is a tragic loss to the entire community. Every living tradition must have connection to its roots, ancient and modern, to help feed it’s grow and evolution. The Library, in network with other efforts like it, will be a solution to this challenge, providing our community Elders with a resource that can receive, preserve and honor their work.

And, of course, researchers, academics, teachers, seekers and the curious must have access to the collection to inspire deeper understanding of our history, theologies, worldviews, and concepts – as well as greater appreciation of the viewpoints of other esoteric paths. The Library will continue its efforts to make sure that as much of the collection as possible is accessible via the web, inter-pagan-library lending and onsite visits. In this way, the Library will be a cornerstone of the new magickal renaissance, encouraging expansion of esoteric theory and philosophy and of honest and open interchange of ideas and experiences between paths.

We are nearing fruition of over a decade of work. The Library is rising! It is heart stirring to walk out to the site and see the physical manifestation of this idea coming to life, the dome rising into the air like the dawning sun, the coming of a new light of understanding into the world – and our pagan world.

We do not ask for your financial support lightly. We are in this for the long haul to benefit the current generation of witches, pagans, magicians, shamans, druids, and everyone else and to leave behind a growing legacy of learning, scholarship, experience and ecstasy for future generations. We are the Ancestors of the lines of magickal thinkers and doers in the future. Even as we have built upon that which was left to us from ancient and not-so-ancient times, so too will our work become the foundation upon which our heirs will build. Help us all leave a heritage worthy of honor to those that follow. With your donations, New Alexandrian Library will become a part of the foundation and legacy we leave, with optimism and blessings, to the future.

If you believe in this vision of our esoteric community surviving and thriving into the new Age with vigor and foresight, make a donation to the New Alexandrian Library at our Indigogo fundraising drive (http://igg.me/p/190140).

To date, 686 people have visited the indigogo campaign. If everyone that visited donated only $50-75 (and got a sweet chant CD or two as a thank you!), we would have enough to birth this important pagan asset and have a weatherproof, concrete, long-lived repository for a great collection of the esoteric community’s thoughts, teachings and essence – for all of us!

Be a part of the coming Magickal Renaissance. Thank you!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

New Alexandrian Library Lays Foundation: At the end of 2011 the New Alexandrian Library officially broke ground on their physical space in Delaware. A project that hopes to create “a library worthy of its namesake” focused on esoteric knowledge, mystical and the spiritual writings from many traditions, and the “ history of our magickal communities,” the NAL project has already started building an impressive collection, one that includes the recent acquisition of rare Dion Fortune paintings gifted by Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki. Now, the foundation for the dome structure has been recently completed, and PNC-Washington DC interviews Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (NAL’s sponsoring organization) Elder Michael Smith about the process.

New Alexandrian Library foundation.

New Alexandrian Library foundation.

“…sacred waters from around the world, sacred protective objects and crystals charged for this very purpose at our Between The Worlds gatherings’ main rituals in 2000, 2004, and 2007 are placed throughout the foundation. This work was designed to root all of the power and intention we have raised to support the Library over the years. Additional ritual and magickal work will be done at each step of the construction. The specific dome construction allows us to place objects and implant workings into each seam between the triangles – to help the project grow and prosper each step of the way.”

Smith says the project is on-schedule, and construction of the dome kit will begin soon. You can receive regular updates on the library’s progress at their Facebook page. As always, monetary donations, no matter how small, are needed to make this happen. One can donate through the NAL’s website or through the Causes campaign ‘Support the New Alexandrian Library.’ You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s coverage of the New Alexandrian Library project, here.

Circle Minister Joins Eagle Scout Protest: Due to an ongoing policy of the Boy Scouts of America “not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals,” one recently affirmed by its leadership, a growing number of Eagle Scouts, the organization’s elite members, have been resigning their membership and sending back their badges and medals. One of that growing number is Bob Paxton, a Circle Sanctuary Minister, who was interviewed yesterday by Pagan Newswire Collective Managing Editor Cara Schulz about his decision.

“I can say that as a Pagan my experience as a Boy Scout directly lead to my choosing the Pagan spiritual path.  Experience that I had in the woods, experiences I had in summer camps, experiences I had in some of the ceremonial occasions very much led me in that direction [...] We are hoping to accomplish, not only by sending the letters but by publicly sending the letters a public shaming such that if nothing else it’s my hope that down in Irving, Texas as these letters and these medals come in with the mail delivery every day that somebody opens them up, puts them on a table, and takes a look at this and says, “You know, something’s wrong here. We have to do something else. People that we nurtured up to the verge of manhood are coming back to us now from 10, 20, 30, 50 years and saying no, you can’t be like this.”  If that doesn’t stand a chance of changing their hearts, I don’t know what will.”

As Paxton notes, his Pagan experience began as a Boy Scout, and no doubt many Pagans nurtured a reverence for nature in a scouting organization. Today, groups like the Spiral Scouts attempt to recreate the scouting experience from with a Pagan lens. Paxton says that as a Pagan minister, and an LGBT ally, he felt the national organization ratifying the exclusion of gay men allows a culture of bullying that could not go unanswered. No doubt other Pagan Eagle Scouts are considering the same steps that he has.

Nature Spirituality Podcast Interviews Former Sierra Club Director: Tomorrow, the Faith, Fern, and Compass podcast, hosted by Alison Leigh Lilly, and her husband Jeff Lilly, will post part one of an interview with Former National Director of the Sierra Club Melanie Griffin in a two-part special.

Melanie Griffin

Melanie Griffin

“After a wildly successful premiere season during which the new podcast hosted by Alison Leigh Lilly and her husband Jeff Lilly grew in leaps and bounds reaching listeners worldwide, Faith, Fern & Compass celebrates with a two-part special exploring the changing face of environmentalism and the growing interest in nature-centered spirituality. Former National Director of the Sierra Club Melanie Griffin has been a leader in the national environmental movement for more than 25 years; as an activist and lobbyist, she has been instrumental in the passing of ground-breaking legislation to protect the environment and regulate industry in the United States. In an exclusive interview with FF&C co-host Jeff Lilly, she shares personal reflections on her experiences working for the Sierra Club, exploring the ways that science, technology, the economy and social media has shaped the conversation about ecology and environmentalism over the past few decades, and how her own faith has played an important role in her commitment to the planet.”

Lilly has long been a champion of environmental concerns within the context of modern Paganism, and is the coordinator/editor of the Pagan Newswire Collective’s No Unsacred Place group blog, which explores the relationships between religion and science, nature and civilization from a diversity of modern Pagan perspectives. Griffin says she “sees the divine most strikingly in the natural world,” and this should be a must-listen program for anyone interested in how our faith, and environmental activism can intersect. You can subscribe to Faith, Fern, and Compass on iTunes, or download directly from their site.

In Other Community News:

That’s all I have for now! Speaking of Pagan community events, I’ll be at Faerieworlds this weekend, and hope to share with you the many Pagan elements of this wonderful event. So stay tuned! As always, if you have community news you’d like to share, please drop me a line.

Delaware Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s recent Hail Mary pass of a political addirectly confronting accusations of “witchcraft” that surfaced after an old clip where she admitted to “dabbling” in the practice and having lunch on a “Satanic” altar as a teenager, isn’t having quite the intended humanizing effect on several Pagans. A growing Youtube response meme has Pagans reminding O’Donnell, and America, that “I’m you” includes Witches. Here’s a run-down of the videos posted so far.

Star Foster, Pagan Portal manager at Patheos.com, was one of the first, and her video gained the attention of USA Today religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman.

Right around the same time COG First Officer-elect Peter Dybing (acting as a private citizen and not as a COG representative) also posted a video response.

From there the phenomenon has seemed to take on a life of its own. There are videos from Angela from the Pagan Mom Blog, Kei Dallmer, and Rebecca Chow so far.

No doubt more videos are being made and posted as we speak.

In addition, this revival of “dabble-gate” has spurred even more coverage and interviews with modern Pagans. Time Magazine has a very good interview up now with Delaware-based Wiccan Priest Michael Smith, a member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and a Cherry Hill Seminary Board member.

“There was a lot of eye rolling. It obscures the actual issues involved [in Wicca]. Who knows what she did or dabbled in when she was in high school. I doubt very seriously that she knows what it was. Certainly I do not think that she has any concept about what witchcraft, Wicca or paganism actually is. I doubt very seriously whether she has any concept of what Satanism actually is.”

Meanwhile, some mainstream media has become so over-the-top and theatrical in reporting this story that comedian Jon Stewart has to act as the voice of reason on this whole issue.

“You know, I feel like again, this woman, Christine O’Donnell, she may be qualified. She may not. I’m not all that impressed with what’s in the Senate right now. But the last thing that I would suggest is that her witchcraft or masturbation stance is what we should be even thinking about or focusing on, and I think that’s an enormous mistake that the Democrats will make.”

Again, if O’Donnell is indeed elected, what actual worrisome things about her will we miss because the media is having so much fun dressing folks up, interviewing Wiccans, and vainly trying to contain their smirks? I’m glad that Pagans are taking the initiative to use this media storm in a positive way, and I’m also glad that we are getting some more thoughtful coverage in some mainstream outlets, but I wish the mainstream media, and those who consume it, would demand more from their journalism than this ongoing spectacle.