Archives For Michigan

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!

Chris Keith

Chris Keith

Last week Lansing, Michigan resident Chris Keith, and her son, Isaac, were murdered by Keith’s estranged husband, who then killed himself. This tragedy has sent shockwaves through the Michigan Pagan community, where Keith was active and had many friends, including Elayne Glantzberg, who writes of the intense grief and sense of loss. Quote: “She will never come to church with me.  She will never come help teach me how to work my own urban homestead garden. Kender will never dance in her Zumba class.  No more movie nights, no more nights out, no more dancing, no more.  Isaac will never finish growing up.  Oakley may not remember his mother when he grows up.  No more. Gone. It’s not right.  It’s not fair.” The Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, of which Chris Keith was a member, has set up a memorial fund to help support her surviving children. The member of the Michigan Pagan community who sent me the link to the memorial fund added that, quote, “Chris was active not only in the Pagan community but also was an environmentalist, a home-schooler, a naturopath, and a crusader for LGBTQ rights. She was an amazing person.” What is remembered, lives. My thoughts go out to her family, and friends, during this time.

Book-Fault-Lines-Gus-DizeregaWiccan author Gus diZerega’s new book, “Fault Lines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine,” is now out through Quest Books. At Witches & Pagans Magazine, diZerega talks about new book. Quote: “Faultlines argues that this alternative Pagan perspective is particularly appropriate for modern men and women. Further, American Christianity as well as Judaism and Buddhism is moving closer to views in harmony with these.  From this perspective we Pagans are in the forefront of a spiritual transformation taking place across many religions to the degree they have not been polluted by the demonic spirituality of the religious right and equivalent movements elsewhere.  We are in the midst of a struggle between a new spiritual sensibility in harmony with the needs of the modern world and an old one rooted in the hierarchy and domination and spiritual isolation that long characterized agricultural civilizations, a position that has lost what truth it once had and so focuses solely on issues of power. This struggle defines the spiritual crisis of our time, and underlies the more visible secular political and cultural struggles we are living through.” You can read endorsements of the new work at the publisher’s website.

1487255_10151888593279285_1684773642_nFor the first time, Circle Cemetery will be taking part in Wreaths Across America, a nationwide program that lays wreaths at gravesites honoring deceased veterans. On Saturday, December 14, 2013, Wreaths Across America ceremonies will be held at Arlington National Cemetery and at more than 900 public and private cemeteries across the nation. A multicultural and interfaith Wreaths Across America ceremony will be held at Circle Cemetery, located at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in the forested hills of southwestern Wisconsin near Barneveld, at Noon central time that day. “I am glad that Circle Cemetery is taking part in this program this year,” says Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary. “Thanks to Circle Sanctuary Community member Roberta Stewart for her work with this program and her help in making Circle Cemetery participation possible.” Roberta, who lives in Nevada, is the widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, the first Wiccan soldier killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. His grave is among those at Circle Cemetery that will be decorated with a wreath.

249444_113766545446334_287218438_nBay Area Heathen Holidays, a non-aligned Heathen organization in the San Francisco Bay Area, presents the third annual Bay Area Heathen Yule Dinner on Saturday 14 December. Steven T Abell, group founder, says “This is an annual opportunity for the local Heathen community to get together beyond the boundaries of kindred or faction. All who come in peace and honor are welcome here.” Along with dinner, the event will formally recognize and welcome the local land spirits and gods of the Heathen Pantheon. Hosts Abell, Hilary Ayer, Gail DeCamp, and Robert Russell provide the major meats for this dinner: ham, lamb, goat, goose, and turkey. Attendees are asked to bring a side dish, salad, or dessert to share. Heathen events are noted for excellent fare in more-than-adequate amounts. This year’s BAHY Dinner will be no exception. Beer, wine, and mead are also welcome. BAHY is held in a civic facility rented from the City of Fremont. Heathen artisans are encouraged to bring and show their wares, but city regulations do not permit sales or the exchange of money at the event. Visit Bay Area Heathen Holidays on Facebook for more details and to RSVP. Bay Area Heathen Yule Dinner 7:00 – 10:00pm Saturday 14 December Olive Hyde Art Center 123 Washington Blvd. Fremont CA 94539.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • The anthology “Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul,” edited by Tara “Masery* Miller, has been published. Quote: “One purpose of this anthology is to help people find comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Some of the authors turned to a magical practice as a way to find healing and the anthology includes rituals and stories about healing. Covens, circles, temples or any other type of magical group can use it as a resource toward understanding members or potential members with disabilities.”
  • Another new anthology my readership may be interested in: “Essays in Contemporary Paganism.” Quote: “In this absorbing anthology twelve Pagan writers from across the globe offer a unique perspective on Paganism today in both its theoretical and practical aspects. Each writer began with a blank canvas, other than their essay must reflect a contemporary theme. In turn the essays are philosophical, practical, personal and reflective, with issues ranging from parenting to polytheism, from being a Pagan in London to the sacred landscapes of Australia, from mysticism to the World Wide Web. In their breadth these essays reflect a concern with living in a modern world, with modern technology and with understanding oneself within a tradition that is evolving and adapting to meet the needs of its adherents whilst staying true to its fundamental principles.”
  • Sex blog Slutist (probably NSFW) recently named Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile one of their “favorite feminist Witches.” Congratulations! While I’m on the subject of Ms. Grossman, the Occult Humanities Conference, which she co-organized, was written up in ArtForum. Not too shabby.
  • Remember the Warrior’s Call anti-fracking ritual at Glastonbury Tor, with solidarity actions in other locations, that was held this past September? Well, Warrior’s Call now has a website up and running, with resources for Pagan who want to fight the practice of “fracking.” Quote: “On the 28th of September, 2013, one of the largest pagan rituals in history was held to weave protection around Albion and all areas currently under attack. Thousands of people on four different continents gathered on that day to stand as one against the blight of fracking. From this global event, the Warrior’s Call pagan anti-fracking movement was born.”
  • Hellenion’s Musings Magazine has released issue 3! Quote: “Welcome to the third issue of Musings, Hellenion’s E-Newsletter. As we move further into December, a month traditionally seen as a time of giving, I encourage you to turn your eyes towards the less fortunate. In the state of Texas alone there are 3.4 million people living in impoverished or homeless conditions.  I encourage you to seek out organizations that help the homeless and needy in your area.”
  • Back in August, Friends of the Gualala River started a public action campaign to convince a winery to spare 154 acres of Gualala River’s redwood forest in California. Pagan author and activist Starhawk was on hand to do a ritual to turn “wine back into water.” Now, Starhawk notes that Friends of the Gualala River have won a favorable ruling in their court case against the winery. Quote: “The issue isn’t done yet, but the case is a victory for the people and the trees! Thank you, all who have worked on this!” More on this here.

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

In February 2014, the Tempest Smith Foundation (TSF) will be holding its very last ConVocation fundraiser before permanently closing its doors. Annette Crossman, TSF’s current executive director and widow of founder Denessa Smith, says that it is “time for the torch to be passed on …and return to normal life.” For over ten years, TSF has been a voice for diversity tolerance in its Michigan community and an advocate of anti-bullying campaigns.

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Launched in 2003, The Tempest Smith Foundation was the brain-child of Denessa Smith, the mother of bullying-victim Tempest Smith. In February of 2001, Tempest committed suicide after enduring 6 years of persistent abuse in school.  Over the following two years Denessa was able to transform her grief into building a foundation that would advocate for tolerance – a foundation that might save other children from her daughter’s fate.

Annette Crossman

Annette Crossman

Looking back at Tempest’s life, Annette remembers a child with an “old soul.” She was a natural flute player who loved writing poetry. At the age of five, Annette recalls Tempest wanting to “give thanks to the Goddess.” The Smith-Crossman family was not Pagan and had no Pagan friends. When asked how she knew about the Goddess, Tempest responded, “I just know.”

When Tempest was older, she began asking for Pagan books. Finally Denessa purchased one from a local metaphysical shop. After reading the book herself, Denessa became comfortable with her daughter’s growing interest.  Annette admits to being less open and a bit nervous with a “witchcraft” book in the house.  However, she eventually read it and realized that Wicca was a recognized Earth-based religion.  Annette says, “I was a raised a hippie kid. I got it.”  The book was expressing everything that she had learned within a different theological context.  She adds:

I did more homework and I became educated. I was OK with it because I believed in Tempest.  I believed in what she believed. 

Unfortunately, this only tells part of Tempest’s story.  From the beginning of grade school Tempest was the victim of bullying. Long before she flirted with a gothic clothing-style or openly discussed Pagan concepts, she was harassed by her peers at school. As early as first grade, Tempest was teased for being the daughter of a lesbian couple.  She was also teased about her mother’s weight. Throughout elementary school, Tempest was an easy target for abuse.

Tempest Smith

Tempest Smith

At the end of 5th grade, Tempest begged to go to private school. Not realizing the full scope of the problem, Denessa and Annette agreed to send Tempest to a private music academy after a year or two of public middle school. Unfortunately, that day would never come.

In middle school, the bullying only intensified. New kids joined the old ones.  At this point, the bullying began to refocus on Tempest’s interest in Paganism. Annette remembers one occasion where her daughter came running home from school with her face and body beaten and slashed.  Taking matters into her own hands, Annette grabbed Tempest and returned to the school.  She directly confronted the girl who had done this to her daughter.

tempestmainpageBut the problems persisted.  Later that year, a group of girls encircled Tempest in a hallway, called her a witch and chanted “Jesus loves you.”  A teacher saw this happening and did nothing to stop it.  When Denessa and Annette confronted this teacher, she called Tempest “a cry baby.”  The distressed mothers did all they could.  Even with that they were unaware of how deeply Tempest was experiencing this pain.  The women never expected what was to come.

Early one cold February morning Tempest ate breakfast and then went back to her room to finish getting ready for school.  When it was time to leave, Annette called her downstairs. Tempest didn’t respond.  After a few minutes, Annette went upstairs to get her.  She was not prepared for what was behind the closed door. Tempest had hung herself.

A few hectic days later, Denessa and Annette found Tempest’s private journal tucked into a hideaway drawer in her desk.  The notebook was a log of years of abuse including names and dates.  Together the women read its contents.  Annette says, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Shortly after Tempest’s memorial and The Detroit News* ran the story, there was an unexpected outpouring of support from the local Michigan Pagan community.  Annette says “I was amazed by the outreach. I had never seen such kindness in my life.”  Pagan groups and individuals sent them food, money, cards and flowers. These people were to become instrumental in supporting Denessa in the building of the Tempest Smith Foundation.

By 2002 the Police investigations were over and the lawsuit against the Lincoln Park School system had settled out of court.  Denessa was ready to refocus her energy.  She turned to the Federation of Covens and Solitaries (FOCAS) and the Magickal Educational Council.  With their help and others, Denessa built her new foundation for tolerance. The opening ceremony was held at ConVocation in 2003.  Two of its organizers, Oberon Osiris and Banshee of the Circle of Wondrous Stories stated:

The ritual… drew over 100 people. (Witches, Pagans, Tempest’s doctors, Denessa’s lawyers, journalists, and Denessa’s friends and family). It was a cathartic experience for many of those present. (See Full Statement Here)

Oberon Osiris and Banshee

Oberon Osiris and Banshee

In the coming years, Denessa raised money to support her personal outreach efforts.  She spoke at schools throughout Michigan and Ohio.  She shared her story at local events such as the Wyandotte street fair. She partnered with non-profit, good-will organizations such as Gift of Life and sponsored community functions like “Tie-Dye for Tolerance.”  Denessa became the local voice of diversity tolerance.

Unfortunately TSF’s momentum was abruptly cut short in the summer of 2008.  Three years earlier Denessa had gastric-bypass surgery after which she lost an extraordinary amount of weight.  By 2008 she needed a skin-reduction operation. In August Denessa went back into the hospital for that surgery.  Within a few days of the operation she became terribly ill.  Her intestines had unexpectedly twisted causing her to become septic.  Eight days later she was gone.

Annette was devastated and “mentally-beat down.”  Not only was the foundation in full swing, the couple had just begun the process of opening a small business.  With the support of friends, family and the Pagan community, Annette kept on going. She became TSF’s executive director and within a year was co-owner of a successful store, Total Health Foods.

2713620073_ec72fbd9a5

Denessa Smith

Before passing away, Denessa’s dream was to award TSF college scholarships. The recipient would be chosen through a contest in which students would submit a 300 word essay on the meaning of “tolerance.”  Annette fulfilled this goal.  Since 2010, TSF has given out 6 $500 dollar scholarships to Michigan high school seniors.  At ConVocation 2014, TSF will award three more scholarships – its last action before closing down operation.

For Annette personally, it is time to move on or as she says, “pass the torch.”  She quickly adds that Denessa and Tempest “left her with a great gift – John, Denessa’s son.”  Their memory lives in him.

It also lives in the enduring legacy left by the Tempest Smith Foundation.  Twelve years of Tempest’s life transformed into twelve years of being the voice and face of tolerance.  Her story has been recounted in many books (e.g. Bullying in American Schools by Ann Garrett) on bullying and Paganism (e.g. Wicca for Couples by A.J. Drew.) It has been told time and time again over the internet.  As a result of Denessa’s work and others like her, schools across the countries have implemented aggressive anti-bullying measures, protocols, and tolerance clubs.  Local governments are now offering training for parents, counselors, administrators and teachers.

Recently a young woman approached Annette in her store.  At first Annette did not recognize the young woman. But after saying her name, Annette knew exactly who she was.  Here was the girl that physically abused Tempest in Middle school.  She had come to apologize and say that both the confrontation and Tempest’s suicide had completely changed her life.  After years of therapy, this young woman had become a counselor specifically for young victims of bullying.

The torch has been passed.

 

* The original story, “Teasing and Taunting led a girl to suicide” by George Hunter ran on March 7, 2001 and is available through the Detroit News archives.

I think that modern Paganism has hit some sort of landmark when hip(ster) touchstone Vice Magazine features a new music column spotlighting a show in Ann Arbor, Michigan headlined by a band called ‘Wiccans.’

Wiccans in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Photo: Vice)

“Last night I walked into Encore Records, the best record store in Ann Arbor and one of the best anywhere, where Wiccans front women Aran Ruth and Kelly Jean Caldwell had cleared a space on the floor to spread out a flowery blanket on top of which they were busily setting up an altar made out of spellbooks, incense, a silkscreened tapestry of a tarot card Empress, and candles—one of them in the shape of a kitten because there’s apparently no rule against mixing magick and cute shit. When they had everything properly arranged and lit Aran picked up an acoustic guitar, Kelly picked up a flute, Fred Thomas (who plays in Saturday Looks Good to Me, which Kelly used to sing for) picked up a set of bongos and a djembe, and the thirty or so representatives of Ann Arbors sizable indie rocker, weirdo artsy crust punk, and hardcore witchcraft scenes sat in a semicircle around them.”

Not to be confused with the hardcore punk band of the same name, Wiccans sounds like “Pentangle meets Pentagram” and sings songs with titles like “Invocation of the Horned God,” “Moon Door,” and “Oh Holy Maiden.” In a perhaps unintentional nod to the past of modern Pagan music, their release is available only on cassette. This raises many questions, are Wiccans Wiccan? Will they be releasing their music in a format other than cassette?  Will they play at a Pagan festival if we asked them nicely? In any case, it’s an interesting development, one that speaks to how Wicca is mainstreaming, while still holding on to enough counter-cultural edge that bands are being named after it.

In other news, it’s Pagan Pride season and tomorrow is the Columbia-Willamette Pagan Pride in Portland, Oregon. I’ll be there to have a public discussion with Anne Newkirk Niven, editor of Witches & Pagans, about Pagan media. It should be fun! I was lucky enough to be interviewed by local paper The Oregonian in advance of the event, and you can read the results here.

“Basically, we’re just like you. That is the message all minority faiths try to tell the world: We have the hopes and fears of everyone else. We just follow a different religion. We have a message and wisdom that we can share, about being more aware of the natural world, that the divine can have a feminine face. Some real potent elements within pagan faith can be helpful to the wider world as we deal with ecological calamity and the basic rights of women. The message from the closing ceremony of the Paralympics was universal in scope. There can and should be a space where our poetry and our world are integrated with everyone else’s.”

I thought it turned out very well, do check it out if you have the chance. If you’re in the Portland area, why not drop by? It’s being held at an amusement park! For real! I’ll try to post photos and experiences from the event tomorrow.

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Saturday.

Hinduism in Africa: The Times of India reports on the rapid growth of Hinduism in Ghana and neighboring Togo, exploding from just small group in the 1970s to between 2000 and 3000 families today. How did Hinduism grow in Ghana, which is 70% Christian? Through example.

“We have not achieved this through the winning of souls as other religions do, but have attracted people into the practice of Hinduism simply by the lives we lead,” [Kwesi Anamoah] said, adding: “Our lives shine in the community to attract people.” [...] “We do not evangelise like other faiths do, but we have attracted people because they see how we live our lives as Hindus and come to make enquiries and then find their way into our folds.”

One has to wonder if this is something we’ll see more and more of in the future. In Indonesia the ancestor-worshipping religion of Borneo’s indigenous forest people, the Dayak, is being cannily re-branded as Hinduism in order to stave off Christian missionaries and cultural eradication. Could African forms of Hinduism be providing a similar umbrella to indigenous forms of religion and spirituality in Ghana and Togo as well? What new religious hybrids will emerge from the intersections of Hinduism and indigenous beliefs? As India grows as a world power could we see Hinduism became a new alternative for those seeking to escape missionary efforts from the dominant monotheisms? We should keep an eye on this trend.

Michigan’s Bullying Law: An increasing amount of attention has been paid recently to Michigan’s proposed anti-bullying law, which recently passed through the Senate, due to the “moral” and “religious” exemptions inserted into the language. These exemptions, critics argue, make the law a meaningless piece of paper, giving bullies a loophole they can easily exploit.

“The Senate Republicans took an already ineffective bill and made it an abusive bill that justifies bullying against our students. While the national spotlight is on the neglectful actions of the Senate Republicans, House Republicans can pass the strong, comprehensive, enumerated bill Governor Snyder references when he recommends Michigan legislators model this legislation after the State Board of Education policy. Oregon wasted ten years following a policy that accomplished almost nothing before it took responsibility for Oregon kids and passed the effective enumerated language Michigan advocates are requesting. Michigan has the data and case studies to do what is right for our students the first time. The nation is watching.”

These exemptions bring the case of Tempest Smith immediately to mind, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after being repeatedly bullied for her interest in Wicca, and manner of dress. The Michigan law, as it stands, would simply allow religiously-motivated harassment of kids like Tempest, you can almost see the scenario of ineffectual school officials saying they can do nothing. All students should have 1st Amendment freedoms, but a bullying law that exempts “moral” bullying under the guise of free speech is worthless. One can only hope that the language is refined to close off loopholes, and becomes something truly useful in empowering teachers and officials to stop bullying in their schools.

Keystone XL Pipeline: On Thursday the State Department announced that it was postponing construction of a new pipeline that would move tar sands oil from Canada to Texas refineries. The pipeline, known as Keystone XL, was hugely controversial among environmentalists and American Indian groups due to its proposed path through sensitive areas and reservation land. Now, with the pipeline postponed for further study, Native American activists are voicing cautious optimism at the development.

“I have come here to be part of this peaceful circle of people to shine a light on President Obama to be visionary and deny a corporate plan whose promise of destruction of our lands is certain,” Lakota activist Debra White Plume said in a speech at the protest. “President Obama will be an Earth Warrior, standing in the way of something bad coming toward the people, or he will step aside for TransCanada to foul our water, land, and health for generations to come.”

The Pagan Newswire Collective’s nature and environment blog, No Unsacred Place, has been covering the pipeline and its environmental ramifications, with contributor John Beckett noting that “it’s hard to look at the photos of tar sands extraction and not think it’s bad. It’s hard to calculate the risk to the Ogallala Aquifer and not think it’s bad. It’s hard to think about exacerbating climate change and not think it’s bad.” Here’s hoping that this delay will result in a compromise that’s acceptable to all parties interested in this issue.

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

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!

ADF Military Fundraiser: Three ADF groves, CedarLight Grove of Maryland, Three Cranes Grove of Ohio, and Sassafras Grove of Pennsylvania, have banded together for a Lughnasadh charity event to send care packages to Pagan military personnel serving overseas.

“For our Lughnasadh Charity event (I know, we are preparing early), CedarLight Grove will be sending care packages to our overseas pagan military thanks to Operation Circle Care of the Circle Sanctuary. Three Cranes Grove of Ohio and Sassafras Grove of Pennsylvania have also joined in the effort to make this a multi-Grove of ADF charity event!”

The event page has a list of the type of items they will be collecting. The items collected will be charged at their Lughnasadh High Rite before being assembled into packages and shipped out. For those not near any of those groves, you can always donate directly to Operation Circle Care.

Rolling Coin Ritual for Isaac Bonewits: Pagan author and elder Isaac Bonewits, currently in hospice care due to cancer, is having trouble keeping up with the large medical bills associated with his treatment. So the folks who organized a massive healing ritual for Isaac in May are now putting together a “rolling coin” ritual for July 26th.

“Isaac felt the energy we generated in May. And he sends his thanks. That was aRolling Thunder Ritual. Now we’re looking for a Rolling Coin Ritual. Medical bills date back to the fall. Since then Isaac has been in and out of the hospital with numerous surgeries and procedures. All of this has cost money, and theirs is beyond used up. So we’re trying a new twist on an old theme.
The next full moon is July 26. Any time that day or night, please go to Isaac and Phaedra’s website and make a donation. This is a simple kind of magick, and it is something that will make a major difference in their lives. Any donation of any amount will be gratefully appreciated. It’s away of paying tribute to one of our most significant Pagan elders.”

Anyone who’s dealt with cancer, or with any serious illness, without the benefit of insurance, or with insurance that wouldn’t cover all the treatment, knows how stressful an issue money can be. Blessings to those organizing this fundraiser for Isaac and Phaedra. For updates on Isaac’s health, please check out his Facebook fan page.

Michigan Metaphysical Shop in Danger: The Triple Goddess Bookstore in Okemos, Michigan (near Lansing), in business for 17 years, is in danger of being closed down due to the property being in foreclosure.

“Triple Goddess bookstore’s and the Traveler’s Club property is in foreclosure. We are trying to convince the bank and the township to save the historic corner and it’s buildings. There are people who do not have the money to purchase the properties out-right but are interested in helping to turn the businesses into profitable ones. What we need is support, and lots of it! I will be at the bookstore this Saturday with a petition for people to sign. We are also hoping to have a HUGE turnout for the event on August 7th to show the bank and the community our support.”

An all-day rally in support of the shop is being held on August 7th. Whether that can convince the bank to hold off on selling the property, or spur local politicians into action, remains to be seen. One wonders how many other shops like this are in danger of going out of business due to their property going “underwater” or into foreclosure.

SJ Tucker on Making Mischief: As I mentioned in my last community notes post, Pagan musician SJ Tucker has released a new album, entitled “Mischief”, on July 16th. For those who wanted a little more background, she has shot a promotional video talking about the process of making the album.

Tucker is currently on tour, and you can find a schedule of upcoming dates, here.

Witches & Pagans Watch: The latest issue of Witches and Pagans magazine is now out.

This issue is chock full of spellwork, practical advice, and ideas for all things green, growing, and magickal. Headlines by “the Garden Witch” Ellen Dugan, this edition is our greenest ever; from Pagan permaculture to gardening with the Elements, plus hardcore money magick, Wandering Witch goes the New Orleans, a look a Pagan metal rockers Icarus Witch and much, much more!

For those who don’t subscribe to the magazine, you can purchase a PDF version of the magazine at the site. This issue sees the premier of fellow Pagan blogger Ruby Sara, who recently did a guest column for The Wild Hunt, as a regular columnist for the magazine ( along with author Deborah Blake). Congratulations to Ruby!  I’m sure she’ll be a welcome addition to their pages.

That’s all I have for now, and remember, if your group or organization is doing something noteworthy, why not pass that information along? Have a great day!

Top Story: The company Serpentine Music & Media, founded by author and dream expert Anne Hill back in 1992, has officially ceased its role as distributor of Pagan-created and Pagan-themed music. Originally created as a way to help Starhawk and Reclaiming distribute a collection of songs and chants that Hill had helped produce, it grew into an essential resource boasting a catalog of 350 items at its peak, while establishing the ever-nebulous “pagan music” genre tag. In a letter to customers, Hill describes recent changes in the music industry as a prime motivator for her decision.

“It is no secret that the music industry has been suffering for several years now. During that time, I have changed the business model for Serpentine Music to adjust for reduced sales due to MP3 downloads, pirated music, and other factors. This year, however, sales have dropped yet again, while I have had new and exciting opportunities opening up in different areas.”

Serpentine Music & Media will continue to distribute albums the company had a direct hand in producing, most notably “Circle Round and Sing,” “The Best of Pagan Song,” and “The Music of Gwydion.” The company will also continue on a venue for Hill’s self-published books like “What To Do When Dreams Go Bad: A Practical Guide to Nightmares”. Serpentine is now in the process of liquidating its remaining stock.

As someone with a deep interest in Pagan music, I think it’s safe to say that this shift represents the end of an era. Serpentine was one of the last active (explicitly) Pagan music distributors surviving from the 1990s, and its contributions towards building a modern audience for, and general awareness of, music made by and for modern Pagans can’t be understated. Serpentine was also one of the few distributors that were adventurous enough to dip its toes into goth and non-folk/circle-chant genres at a time when the generational gulf of musical taste within our community seemed pretty vast. Today there are dozens, if not hundreds of Pagan and Pagan-friendly musical artists operating around the globe, many of whom use the Internet to market directly to their fans. While this situation has created a wealth of riches for the adventurous music fan, it hasn’t created a atmosphere where such a specialized niche distribution company could thrive as it once did. I salute Anne Hill for her contributions to Pagan music, and wish her the best on her future endeavors.

Some Scandinavians Not Overly Fond of Wicca: Helsingin Sanomat reports that plans to republish the young-adult “Sweep” series of books by Cate Tiernan in Finland, Sweden, and Norway have been derailed after it was discovered that Wicca plays a central role in the novels.

“Christian Democratic Party MP Leena Rauhala submitted a written question to the government on Friday, stating the view that the books should not be published in Finland. Rauhala mentioned content of the book, including drug use, nudity, smoking, alcohol, and strong language.  The publisher had removed references to tobacco and alcohol, as well as the strongest language from the translation. As for drug use, the publisher said that the books portrayed illegal drugs in a negative light. The Wicca religion proved to be the deciding factor in the matter. “We do not want to promote any individual religion or political ideology in the books that we target toward children”, says the publisher’s CEO Jens Otto Hansen. He said that the publisher was not familiar with Wicca. “I only learned on Monday morning that such a thing as Wicca exists.”  Hansen sees the case as an “industrial accident” for the publisher.”

Interestingly the publisher has no problem promoting Twilight-related events in Sweden, so Mormon vampires are OK, but witches are beyond the pale. Guess a little unwelcome political controversy can make all the difference. Whether tweens and teens in Finland, Sweden, and Norway will someday get to join America, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and France in following the adventures of “blood witch” Morgan Rowlands remains to be seen.

The (Legal) Poly Marriage Debate Begins In Earnest: Way back in 2006, and then again in 2007, I said that our community would have to seriously confront the reality of Pagan polyamorous families (30% of poly families identify as Pagan according to one survey) coming into the spotlight and eventually seeking legal recognition. Now a case in Canada might be the one to break this issue wide open, and yes, Pagan religion is mentioned.

“Maridas explained all of this [her poly lifestyle] in an affidavit filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court. It was one of six filed by the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, which is intervening in the case to determine whether the anti-polygamy law is valid. While others — such as Surreybased Wiccan priest Sam Wagar, who also filed an affidavit Tuesday — contend that they have a religious right to practise polygamy, the polyamorists say that for them it’s a matter of freedom of expression. And what they have to say in their affidavits about how they live offers a glimpse of just how far some Canadian families diverge from the tradition of Mom-Dad-kids or the more recent “traditional” families of two Moms or two Dads and kids. And this peek behind normally closed bedroom doors is a hint of what’s to come in November, when Chief Justice Robert Bauman begins hearing the case.”

If polygamy becomes legal in Canada, will we see a repeat of the early steps of the Gay Marriage movement, with groups crossing the border to find some semblance of legal recognition? How will Pagan groups established or operating in Canada react to such a legal reality? Even if this challenge to polygamy laws fails, Pagan groups in Canada and America need to be ready for the culture-war blow-back  and to decide where they stand on the issue. The time where we could just not mention it for the sake of political expediency is quickly fading.

Prison Ministry in Michigan: Crossroads Tabernacle Church, an affiliate of the ATC located in Southeast Michigan, has announced that Founding High Priest Robert Keefer has been appointed to serve on the Michigan Department of Corrections Chaplain’s Advisory Council.  The first time that Wiccan clergy has been appointed to this position in the state.

“For his two-year term,  Robert will meet with clergy from other faiths and lend his expertise in Wiccan spirituality to advise the Department of Corrections on requests made by inmates and staff, work to ensure equal access to materials and worship space as appropriate for all Pagan and other Earth-Based religions, as well as make it possible for other Pagans to volunteer as faith group leaders in Michigan’s correctional facilities.”

This is an important positive breakthrough, and I congratulate Robert Keefer on his appointment. May it lead to similar advances throughout our country, and cast a light on how needed such clergy are in our prisons.

Witch-Child Protectors Launch Their Own Propaganda Campaign: I’ve mentioned before about how Nigerian witch-hunters like Helen Ukpabio have created a media industry with propagandistic “expository”  horror films featuring witchcraft possessed children, while selling non-fiction religious titles like “Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft” that make assertions about the reality of child witches. Now Stepping Stones Nigeria, one of the few groups working to protect children accused of witchcraft, is fighting back. They’ve partnered with acclaimed Nollywood director Teco Benson to create their own film entitled “The Fake Prophet”.

Stepping Stones hopes the film will be a corrective to the spate of Nollywood films that peddle in the myth of child witches, and create a public debate over the prevailing belief that such “witches” exist. The premiere of the film is taking place at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre in London on July 24th. For more information about the event and the film, you can contact Justine Atkinson with Stepping Stones Nigeria. Will fighting propaganda with propaganda work? I suppose we’ll have to see.

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

City prosecutors cut deals, they do this all the time. For every case that goes to trial, several more, depending on the size of the city, are dealt with by way of plea deals. It often saves both the prosecution and the defense time, money, and resources. So I doubt that Otsego, Michigan’s prosecutor, Stephen Kastran, thought much about it when he cut a deal with Melissa “Carli Ray” Lesterhouse, owner of the Bewitching Wares shop.

“Lesterhouse, who owns Bewitching Wares at 128 E. Allegan St. in Otsego, and her employee, Jacqueline Janeczek, were each cited in late December for providing a psychic reading for money, a misdemeanor punishable by up to $500 in fines and 90 days in jail. Janeczek, of Kalamazoo, pleaded guilty on March 5 in Allegan County District Court. Her sentence included $310 in fines. She also said, if she did not offer any psychic readings for money in the next six months, her conviction could be expunged. Kastran, a partner at Burnett, Kastran & Klein P.C. in Allegan, said that because of Janeczek’s guilty plea, he and Otsego Police Chief Gordon Konkle agreed the charge against Lesterhouse should be dropped. The charge against Lesterhouse, of Plainwell, was dropped on March 5.”

Aside from Otsego’s asinine law against fortune telling, this all seems rather business as usual. What’s unusual is what happened next.

“The city of Otsego’s former prosecutor says he was fired after dropping a charge against a woman who had been accused of violating a 93-year-old city ordinance that prohibits the offering of psychic readings for money … The charge against Lesterhouse, of Plainwell, was dropped on March 5. Kastran said the following week he received a letter from the city of Otsego saying he had been fired from his job as the city’s prosecutor … [City Manager Thad] Beard denied Kastran was let go because of his decision to drop the charge against Lesterhouse.”

The fact that Otsego Police Chief Gordon Konkle agreed that the charge against Lesterhouse should be dropped, and then worked with the City Manager to have Kastran fired for it is somewhat suspicious. Did Konkle agree to drop the charges under protest? Was it a set-up? Is Kastran simply jumping to conclusions? Perhaps a throw-away bit of background at the end of the article can shed some light on the subject.

“Lesterhouse, whose name previously was Melissa Cronin-Warfield, was at the center of a flubbed 2003 prostitution sting by the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team. She was never arrested in the case, which prompted changes at the top of the command structure of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, which runs KVET.”

Is this less about fortune telling and more about an old grudge resurfacing? I mean, why were cops doing a sting operation on a couple of local psychics in the first place? Were they hoping to have their old prostitution theories vindicated? Is there no real crime in Otsego?  Shouldn’t they be more worried about the meth-labs in downtown Otsego? Did Stephen Kastran accidentally interject himself into the middle of a personal crusade? There are more questions than answers here, but the more you dig, the less this seems like a simple case of breaking a 100-year-old fortune telling ordinance.

The State of Michigan, in a severe budget crisis, has approved an expansion of its 6% sales taxes on a number of previously un-taxed services.

“Starting Dec. 1, lift tickets at Michigan ski resorts will be taxed 6%. Fees to play golf or to bowl won’t. Personal fitness training will be taxed, too. Fitness centers won’t. The TV repair guy will charge tax. Cable and satellite providers won’t. Businesses will have to pay taxes on consulting, landscaping and janitorial services. But not for lawyers, lobbyists and accountants. Weird? Two lawmakers in the middle of final negotiations to extend the state’s 6% sales tax to many services as part of the solution for the state’s $1.75-billion budget deficit said they tried to focus on services not used by low and middle income people. But they acknowledge the result is muddy — produced by sleepy legislators in marathon, pressure-packed sessions last weekend aimed at avoiding or quickly ending a state government shutdown.”

Among the services “not used by low and middle income people” that made the list are fortune-telling, astrology, numerology, palm-reading, psychics, and phrenology. A situation that isn’t exactly thrilling local practitioners of such arts.

“Of course, I don’t want it. Nobody wants it,” said Okemos astrologer and psychic Lynne Crandall, who will pass along the bookkeeping work to her accountant. “But I’ll get in line with what I’m supposed to do.” Crandall, who writes an astrology column for NOISE, a weekly publication of the Lansing State Journal, said she knew Granholm would be forced to make some tough calls on taxes. The governor’s astrological chart showed she has a moon in the sign of Capricorn, she said, which means “financially, she’s a really tough cookie, and she would make sure all the bottom lines are covered.” “I just pray the state returns to some kind of financial health so we don’t have so many people leaving,” Crandall said.

Metaphysical shops in Michigan who offer psychic readings and other related services will also feel the pinch.

“Mona Lindsay, co-owner of Wisdom of the Ages in Howell, said she’s equally perplexed as to why psychic readings and the related services her business offers will be taxed. The business charges $35 for a 30-minute psychic reading, and the same amount for Tarot card readings. The tax comes to $2.10 per reading. “I thought that was just ridiculous. I was totally shocked when I was listening to the news yesterday morning that that stuff would even be taxable,” Lindsay said. Lindsay said she didn’t think that amount of service tax will boost Michigan’s overall tax base. She said she’ll be meeting with her business partner to re-examine how they charge for readings.”

Defenders of the tax expansion say that they are only taxing “nonessential” services used primarily by high-income people. However, anyone who has met or frequented tarot or psychic practitioners know that these fields are filled with lower- and middle-income people catering to those of similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Services that are used often by the upper classes, like country clubs, lawyers, licensed stockbrokers, lobbyists and accountants are immune to the new tax expansion. Much of the list defines services that legislators apparently feel people shouldn’t use. Despite the claims of defenders, this expanded list is regressive in nature and doesn’t really increase the tax burden of the rich.