Archives For Mike Stygal


[Courtesy CPS]

[Courtesy Centre for Pagan Studies]

It was announced on Monday that High Priest, Elder and Witch John Belham-Payne had died from kidney disease. John was Doreen Valiente’s last priest, the co-founder of the Centre for Pagan Studies, and the founder of The Doreen Valiente Foundation. He was a fixture in the UK Pagan community and dedicated to the mission of upholding the values of his teachings and sharing his magical inheritance and all he had learned with others.

John was born Jan. 5, 1952 in Dudley. He showed an early interest in music and the arts, which gave him the foundation that inspired his early career choices. After studying photography in college, John moved to Italy and worked both as a professional musician and bartender. John then returned to the UK and, after a brief stint working at a local zoo, he returned to music, “playing with a number of prominent [bands] as a drummer, and as a professional session player.” His career thrived. He worked both in the UK and in Hollywood, and befriended some of the industry’s biggest notables, such Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. According to some accounts, John was once asked to join that band, but declined.

by 1980, John had settled back in the UK, and began playing with the Brighton punk band called The Piranhas. However, in 1982, his music career ended abruptly after a serious car accident. Although the incident was career-altering, it opened the doorway for new journeys, one of which was the full exploration of his spirituality.

John had long since giving up going to any church. In the early 1970s, he began to study alternative religions, which led him to Witchcraft. His first formal studies were with traditional Welsh Witches Patricia and John Edwards, who initiated him into the Craft in 1973. After moving away and practicing solitary for years, John found Audrey and Ralph Harvey, who ran the Order and Coven of Artemis, a group founded in 1959. Through their teaching, John returned to group study and was eventually initiated into their coven.

Over time John began to recognize the need for a central and credible educational space for “those wishing to learn for themselves […] about the ancient religions of the world.” He himself had struggled to find good teachers and safe places to practice. With that in mind, he, along with his wife Julie, established the Centre for Pagan Studies (CPS) in 1995, setting up shop in the 18th-century barn that rested on their property in Sussex. Over the next five years, prominent speakers and teachers from across England visited CPS to share their practice and pass on quality information to new seekers. The centre also offered a private space for ritual and celebrations.


At the Gerald Gardner Blue Plaque Ceremony 2014 [Courtesy Yvonne Aburrow]

It was during this time that John met Doreen Valiente. She was invited to a Samhain celebration at the centre and became an immediate fan of its work. After some time, John began to study with Doreen, who eventually initiated him to his 3rd degree and made him her High Priest. But then in 1999, Doreen became ill. Before she died, John learned that he was to inherit her entire Witchcraft and magical collection, including books, manuscripts, artifacts and even items of Gerald Gardner’s.

According to sources close to John, Doreen told him, “You can do anything you want with it, you can sell it, you can give it away, you can set fire to it, but one thing I know is that when the time comes you will do the right thing.” When the time came, John performed her funeral rites and said, “goodbye.” But, he could not forget her words and, therefore, he made a new life commitment. In doing so, his journey would change again.

In 2000, he and Julie moved to Spain and opened a design business called Pueblo Interiors. They began to sort through and restore Doreen’s enormous collection. In addition, the Centre for Pagan Studies, which had lost its physical space in the move, continued to press forward with its own educational mission. John’s life became dedicated not only to the sharing of accurate Craft information but also to the protecting and preserving of its past.

In 2011, John helped to establish the Doreen Valiente Foundation, “as a charitable trust.” Shortly after, it took legal possession of Doreen’s collection and, ever since, its trustees have been working on a number of projects to preserve and share Doreen’s legacy, as was John’s mission. To date, that work has included the publishing of stories, books, poetry, her biography and more.

John was passionate about this work. In recent months, his time was dedicated to the upcoming book release of Doreen Valiente: Witch and the two formal Witchcraft exhibitions that will open in Brighton in 2016. Unfortunately, John would not live to see all of these dreams fully realized. His illness caught up with him and ended his life before a single ribbon cutting on even the very first of the two exhibitions. John died at home peacefully, surrounded by family.

Here are some words shared by friends who were close to him. Ashley Mortimer, a Trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation said:

[John] and I connected when we first met, I think he writes somewhere that it was one of those meetings where we both knew something would come out of it – I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t share his insight at the time. But through our friendship he changed me; he helped me to find my way to being able to recognise the magic at work in those moments of chance. […] John, in his amiable, gentle, kindly and really really strong and firm way helped me to see how others could be helped too – those looking, seeking for a path who don’t need to be placed or pushed onto it, but shown how to find it for themselves. So I’ll keep all my promises to him, I’ll pick up whatever mantle he wanted to give me and I’ll promise to try to wear it lightly as he always did. I can’t do anything else.

Mike Stygal, President of the Pagan Federation, said:

John was a lovely, dedicated, determined, passionate, compassionate man. John was a good friend to Paganism and Wicca and John was also my friend. Death has been cruel in snatching him away before he could get to see the opening of the exhibition that was such a major part of what he’d been working towards since Doreen Valiente died in 1999. But his vision will be realised, and will be a tribute to his work in preserving the memory of Doreen Valiente.

 Yvonne Aburrow, author and blogger, said:

I am very sad to hear of John’s passing. He was a really nice man who worked incredibly hard to get the blue plaques on Doreen Valiente’s block of flats and Gerald Gardner’s house, and ensure that Doreen’s priceless collection of Wiccan artefacts are safe for posterity. I saw him at Witchfest and we had a hug. He was always kind and welcoming. He was so excited about the upcoming exhibitions about Doreen in Brighton that he worked so hard to get off the ground. He will be sorely missed. My heart goes out to his wife Julie (also a lovely kind human being), his family, and all who knew him. May he rest well in the Summerlands and be reborn among us.

From the Doreen Valiente Collection [Courtesy D. Romero]

From Doreen Valiente Collection [Photo Credit: D. Exposito Romero]

John’s reach traveled far beyond the borders of the UK Pagan community. Daniel Expósito Romero, Pagan Federation International, wrote:

I first met John, together with Julie, in 2011, when they both attended the pagan conference I organised in Madrid. From the very beginning the both struck me as genuine and committed people. They drove all the way from Benalmádena to Madrid, carrying some of the renowned artifacts from Doreen Valiente just to offer the attendees a unique chance to see them, and to hear some of John’s stories. […] Later on, I was honored to be able to translate ‘Where Witchcraft Lives’, Doreen’s first book, to Spanish. This project, together with my work in PFI (of which John was a great supporter) allowed me to get to know him a bit more.

John was very kind person, who not only helped other people, but also acknowledged their effort. He truly valued and appreciated them, and was always willing to show it. He always talked about Doreen with great enthusiasm, like some he profoundly admired and who inspired him. With his stories, he had the ability to bring her back to life. During his last years, and since Doreen’s passing, he committed himself to the titanic task of setting up the foundation and taking good care of her legacy. Some may feel that he didn’t get to finish this (and I’m sure that, wherever he is, he feels the same way); but this is the work of a lifetime! And, in fact, he has already accomplished many things with the foundation and the centre. I’m sure others will now take over and continue his work. I’m also sure that he will be back with his loved ones, to remember, and love them again. Blessed Be!

Link, the National Coordinator for the Pagan Federation International – U.S., said:

I met John in 2014 when he and his wife Julie came to Florida to give a presentation about Doreen’s life. They visited my home the night before, and it was an excellent opportunity to learn about important pieces of Craft history. John had a way of telling a story with such charisma that the entire audience was completely engaged…The world lost a great person today, but it is times like these that try our personal beliefs about what life, death and rebirth really are.  While it is natural to mourn John’s death, hopefully we will celebrate his life.

In the Pagan world and beyond, John was admired and loved, as a teacher, musician, friend, husband, father, Witch and priest. His spiritual work began as a typical personal journey, just as many do, but ended with the legacy of a lifetime. He walked a religious path that led him into a legend, whose challenge he took up with grace, integrity and passion. John will be missed by the many people he personally touched over the years. But he and his work will live on through the organizations that he supported and through the realization of his dreams. Just as Doreen passed a light to him to share with the world, he has passed that same light to others who will now carry his vision far into the future.

To the very end, he “did the right thing.” What is remembered, lives. 

 *   *   *

Note: All words of condolences can be sent to the Centre for Pagan Studies or Doreen Valiente Foundation, through their Facebook pages or email. The family has also set up an memorial fund and ask that, in lieu of flowers, people donate to this fund to support the continuation of John’s work. All money donated will be used to help finance the upcoming Brighton exhibitions and others in the future.

Jean Williams 1928 – 2015

Heather Greene —  December 31, 2015 — 1 Comment


On Saturday, it was announced the Wiccan High Priestess Jean Williams had died on Friday, Dec 25. The announcement read, “Gracious, sociable and non-dogmatic, [Jean] relished the variety of paths and personalities in paganism. Also in some ways a very private person, in her personal spiritual life she was a Wiccan high priestess of the Gardnerian tradition, with a quiet and close-knit coven who are very much her intimate family.”

Jean Elen Williams was born in the village of Berkeley, Gloucestershire, and was the third child of a Church of England vicar. From a very early age, she attended private boarding school, and then later enrolled at theUniversity of College London, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, then want on to have a very successful career as a social researcher.

In the late 1950s, Jean became interested in consciousness expansion, as both a spiritual seeker and a psychologist. Through that interest she met members of Gerald Gardner’s original coven, now known as The Bricket Wood Coven, in 1961. She studied with them, eventually being initiated.

Over the next decade, Jean found her professional and spiritual interests merging. In a 2004 interview, she said, “As a psychologist who was also on a spiritual path, I became very interested in the ideas about human potential and personal fulfillment beginning to be put forward by the avant garde psychotherapists.” This new thought developed into the “Human Potential movement” or Humanistic Psychology.

As Jean explained, many involved in this movement “went in their droves to India or joined the Rajneesh organisation in Britain.” She said, “I was already a witch and couldn’t understand why they couldn’t find what they were looking for in our own Pagan traditions.” Observing this trend, she saw a need to connect “the human psychology people” with the “indigenous British spiritual paths,” so they wouldn’t have to visit the Far East. At the same time, she saw the need to connect local Wiccans, who often struggled in maintaining community relationships, with the concepts in the Human Potential movement.

As a result, in 1974, Pagan Pathfinders was born. Meetings were held in London in Jean’s newly purchased Victorian home. For years, she and her husband, Zachary Cox, facilitated Pagan Pathfinders, but, as she said, the group was not “a one woman show.” Jean handed the group over to younger Pagan leaders in the early 2000s. It continued to remain active until 2011.

Around the same time that she founded Pagan Pathfinders, Jean also became High Priestess of the Bricket Wood Coven with her husband as priest. Her friend and initiate Christina Oakley-Harrington said that in the 1980s, “the coven befriended and admitted the young anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann in the 1980s, who wrote about the group in her famous study, Persuasions of the Witches’ Craft.

But Jean’s work did not end there. In 1977, she co-founded The Companions of the Rainbow Bridge, a ritual drama group in the Western mysteries, “to encourage inspirational and uplifting creation of ceremonies.” The organization was active for 17 years.

Additionally, she and her husband began inviting a small group of people to their home four time each year and performed Crowley‘s Gnostic Mass. She continued this practice well into the 2000s.

Jean Williams speaking at Pagan Federation event [Courtesy]

Jean Williams speaking at Pagan Federation event [Courtesy]

In 1988, after retirement, Jean focused her energy on helping the UK Pagan community. She became a core member of the Pagan Federation, working through the next two decades as an elder, adviser, teacher and administrator.

More recently, she and her husband authored several books, including The Gods within: The Pagan Pathfinders Book of God and Goddess Evocations (2008), and The Play Goes On (2015).

Despite all of her public work and teaching, Jean was private about her own religious practice and her personal achievements. According to Oakley-Harrington, “Many pagan friends have only recently learnt she was in the Craft; even fewer know she was the high priestess of Gerald Gardner’s first, original Bricket Wood coven, throughout her adult life. For Jean, being of service to paganism was not attached to titles within a particular tradition. She wanted to be known for herself and what she did, not for a title she held in a secret mystery tradition.”

In the 2004 interview, Jean herself said the same thing, “I don’t think that for humanity as a whole you should present yourself as a priest or priestess – you’re just a human being. Any authority you express is purely what comes through you, not what you status say you have.”

Last week, at Whittington Hospital in London with Zach by her side, Jean died of heart failure.

After her death, a public Facebook memorial page was created, where future memorial ceremonies and rites will also be posted. For now, the page is being filled with memories. People are sharing their personal stories of how Jean has touched their lives.

James Scotchford wrote:

Jean was a genuinely lovely and welcoming person, a warm elder in the Pagan community of which she was dedicated. She was a person without ego and never demanded respect, however she got mine. Jean always came and said hello to me at events, like she did others. Sometimes I got jaded at the lack of friendliness and community spirit amongst many Pagans, but Jean was a different matter.

Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal wrote:

Jean had a knack of helping people to be where they needed to be and do what they needed to do. I remember a couple of times when I found myself pointed in the direction of roles serving the Pagan community, it was Jean who had spoken to me about taking on something I really wasn’t certain I could or should do. She referred to it as catching me at a moment of weakness…. something she did with quite a lot of people who have gone on to serve our Pagan community.

Death has caught Jean at a moment of weakness. In life she was an incredible visionary for what could become of individual Pagans and the Pagan community as a whole. Jean was someone who made things happen. It would not surprise me to discover that the gods had plans for Jean and her amazing range of talents.


Jean Williams and Zachary Cox 

Stygal also added, “My last memory of Jean was seeing Zach and Jean walking, hand in hand, towards a car waiting to take them home after the book launch. Both of them still very much in love with each other in their old age.”

Similarly, Agni Keeling said:

I loved how Jean balanced Zach’s approach to discussing the rituals. On a couple of occasions when I had an opportunity to talk to them after the rituals we did, Zach was always very intellectual about the ritual and wanted to know the ‘ideas’ behind it etc. Jean was always pure feeling and vision. Last summer we did ‘Thunder Perfect Mind’ ritual which both Jean and Zach came to. They wanted to talk to me afterwards, Zach wanted to know whys and whats etc, Jean just said that she closed her eyes at the beginning and was transported back to ancient Greece.. and didn’t want to come back.

Oakley-Harrington said:

Everyone will tell you: she was strong, unfailingly gracious, intelligent and fun-loving. She was committed to the idea that those on a spiritual path have a first task to work on their own development as people. Famously, she refused to participate in gossip, and would not tolerate it in her presence. One of her young friends just wrote yesterday, ‘Bitchcraft could not exist in the air she breathed.’ In her presence, and under her influence, younger pagans had a role model of nobility of conduct: this has had an impact upon the entirety of the British pagan community. It was possible because,whilst taking this line, she was fun, funny and canny. To quote the same young friend, ‘Jean was a cat loving, people-shrewd rockstar of the pagan world.’

Jean was a force within the Pagan world for over 50 years. But she was not one that was loud and flashy; nor did she push her ways on others. As was her philosophy, “Have your own religious experience” and don’t tell others how to do it. She remained flexible and accepting with only boundaries based on simple, unassuming ethics and respect.

Jean’s coven maiden, Ruth, now takes the mantle of the high priestesshood of the Bricket Wood coven. Ruth has been both a member of the group and lodger since 1988. She said, “I learnt how to lead a coven from Jean; she had an understated drive and tremendous ritual abilities; from her we learnt how to experience the Goddess and God in a profound way. And she was a fun friend — we were all involved in many magical projects together. I am honoured to have worked with her all these years.”

Jean also leaves a daughter coven, several grand-daughter covens, and a myriad students and others touched by her honest, vivacious and generous spirit.

What is remembered, lives. 

[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. If you enjoy this series and our other recurring entries, please consider donating to our 2014 Fall Funding Campaign. Your support and donations make it possible for us to keep sharing the news and these important stories with you. Now let’s get started!]

Pagan Federation

In recent weeks, the BBC and other media outlets have published articles on the increase in Witchcraft related violence in the UK. As a BBC article reports, police have had “27 allegations” this year alone which is up from 24 in 2013. After reading the reports, a senior Religious Education official contacted the Pagan Federation with concerns that the stories might cause misunderstandings with respect to Pagan religious practice in the UK. 

In response, Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal said, “I was particularly grateful to him for drawing my attention to the article.” In a public statement, Stygal explained, in detail, his deep concerns with the way mainstream media and officials have handled these child abuse cases. He said, “I’d quite like another opportunity to meet with … the appropriate government representative to see if we can find a way to highlight the issues whilst limiting the potential for misunderstandings about modern Pagans.” Both the Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Centre for Pagan Studies have both come forward to endorse Stygal’s statement. To read it in full, click here

*   *   *

CPWR Logo.Planning is underway for next year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions to be held in Salt Lake City. In the last week, the Council put out a call for programs, saying, “Everyone who attends the Parliament has wisdom to share – from those who are having their first interfaith experience to those who are steeped in interfaith. The purpose of this gathering is to support relationships, connections, and inspired calls to action which can then ripple out from the Parliament into hundreds of grassroots organizations, networks, and communities.”  Of the thousands of submissions, only about 10% will be selected for inclusion in the program. The application and submission guidelines can be found on their website.

*   *   *

Starhawk at Harvard Divinity School.

While many people are focused on Pagan Pride, fall festivals, Samhain and Halloween, another day sits just over the horizon. On Nov. 4, the U.S. will hold its general elections. On her blog Dirt Worship, Starhawk offers a post entitled, “Why Vote?” in which she lists “the practical, political and spiritual reasons” to get off the couch and head to the polls. She says that after you vote,”the world will not have transformed overnight. The Great Turning won’t have turned. The Good Guys will not have completely triumphed over the Bad Guys. But the world might just be a slight bit better than it would have been otherwise. And that small difference might be the divergence in the path that heads us away from destruction and onto the road to hope.”

In Other News

  • The struggle to keep religion out of schools is not only a U.S. problem. As reported on Oct 6 by SAPRA’s Damon Leff, the South African government has conflicting and problematic policies with regards to the teaching of religion within its public school system.
  • Around Samhain, Wild Hunt columnist Rhyd Wildermuth will be releasing his new book Your Face is a Forest, “a collection of prosaic wanderings and essays.” All profits from the book’s sale will be used toward funding his trip to the UK and Ireland in December. Rhyd was selected to attend the Winter Solstice festivities at Newgrange. When he returns, he will be reporting on that unique experience here at The Wild Hunt.
  • The Patrick McCollum Foundation has announced an opening for two interns. The positions are for volunteers, preferably graduate students, who want to work with the organization in its mission “to further world peace, planetary sustainability, environmental protection, and human rights, including the advancement of women’s rights.” For more information, contact executive director Nell Rose Phillips.
  • In the coming weeks, the organizers of will be launching a new website with a series of public surveys that will eventually become the basis of a new online service. Chairperson Lydia M N Crabtree says,” will be the first site to offer real and verified information about Pagan and occult leaders.” The surveys are the first step in building that database.
  • This month, Red Wheel Weiser Books is releasing a book called The Hedgewitch Book of Days by Mandy Mitchell. The book is “aimed at the practicing or would-be witch whose life is more jeans, chaos and the never-ending question of what’s for dinner, instead of black-robes, cauldrons, and incantations.”
  • Here’s a brief update on our own Fall Funding Drive. You have helped us to reach 96% of our campaign goal. Amazing! To all of those people and organizations who have already donated, thank you so very much. We can’t do this work everyday without your support. If you haven’t donated yet, please consider contributing today. If you have already donated, won’t you share our link and give us the extra boost needed to raise the remaining funds.

The Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. Donate Now!

That’s all for now! Have a great day.

This week a law was passed that will make same-sex marriage legal in England and Wales. The landmark legislation, approved by Queen Elizabeth II, clears the way for legal marriages to start in 2014. The way the new law is structured, religious organizations must “opt in” in order to perform a legally binding ceremony. This historic move follows recent advances for same-sex marriage in parts of the United States and for all of France. Just as I collected reactions from modern Pagans in America following the DOMA/Prop 8 Supreme Court decisions, so too did I want to see how Pagans in England and Wales felt about this development.


Mike Stygal, President of the Pagan Federation, celebrated the “wonderful development,” though pointed out that inequalities remained.

Mike Stygal

Mike Stygal

“Finally the Marriage Act (same sex) has made it through all the hoops our political system presents. This wonderful development is the result of many, many years of persistent effort to secure equality for the LGBT community. There are still inequalities towards LGBT that will need to be challenged and that will require persistent effort to overcome. There are still inequalities with regard to spirituality and faith too. The Pagan Federation is no stranger to persistent effort to challenge and change inequalities and we know just how hard it is to achieve success. Congratulations to all those people who kept at the cause of legal same sex marriage, and to all those who challenge inequality, take heart that inequality can be beaten.”

Yvonne Aburrow, a Pagan from Oxford who also writes for the Patheos blog Sermons From The Mound, noted that Pagans in England and Wales cannot perform legal wedding ceremonies of any kind (which became a point of contention in the lead-up to this law being passed), though was still “delighted” over this advance for marriage equality in the UK.

Yvonne Aburrow

Yvonne Aburrow

“I am delighted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people can now marry someone of the same sex in England and Wales, and that some religious groups will be able to marry same-sex couples in their places of worship. Unitarians, Quakers, and Liberal Jews campaigned particularly hard on this, and Derek McAuley, Unitarian Chief Officer, Paul Parker (Recording Clerk, Quaker Yearly Meeting), and Rabbi Danny Rich, should be applauded for their lobbying efforts. It is a shame that Pagans in England and Wales are unable to marry either opposite-sex or same-sex couples in a legal ceremony, but it looks as if the House of Lords have left open the possibility of humanist weddings, and weddings for other religions too.”

Aburrow added that her optimism was “cautious” and that “tomorrow, we keep fighting for LGBT rights around the world, and for human rights generally. Until it is safe everywhere to be Black, disabled, LGBT, a woman, or a member of a religious minority, then our work is not yet done.”

Like Aburrow and Stygal, Sophia Catherine of the Divine Community podcast brought up the fact that Pagan weddings can still only be symbolic in nature, and not legally binding, but also raised true gender equality as a primary concern.

“My one sadness about this Act is that, initially, it was to be called the Equal Marriage Act, but the name was changed to make it clear that ‘same-sex’ marriage was involved. There are more than two genders, and that the Act upholds the gender binary that society is obsessed with. However, this Act does take a step forward, in that regard, Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, for mixed-sex married couples where one member changed their legal sex, the couple had to divorce and obtain a civil partnership. Now that marriage is available to all regardless of sex/gender, this will no longer be the case. It is a shame that couples who were forced to go through this process will not automatically regain their marriages, but they will be able to ‘convert’ these civil partnerships back into marriages. Of course, this does not make up for the indignity of what they had to go through, but in the future, this won’t happen to any more couples where one changes their legal sex.”

Vivianne Crowley, author, Jungian psychologist, and faculty at Cherry Hill Seminary, is currently in Paris, and gave a broad perspective informed by France’s recent legalization of same-sex marriages.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“The last three centuries have seen in western culture a shift towards recognition of the autonomy of the individual and the right to freedom of self-expression. It is a tide that dictators and others have sought to suppress. It has been subverted – sometimes the tide has turned; but slowly consciousness has undergone a shift.

Major social changes occur when almost unconsciously the greater mass of people sense that an idea is self-evidently right. At first, such evolutions of thought are the preoccupation of a few who are ahead of the zeitgeist. In the late eighteenth century and nineteenth centuries, recognition of the unique value of each individual led inevitably to the abolition of slavery in Europe and the United States. The political impetus that overthrew absolute monarchs led to democracy and the recognition that every adult male should have the right to vote for who should rule his country. In the twentieth century, an inexorable tide saw that right extend to women. Now the west is ready for a new right – the right of individuals to choose to marry their life partner regardless of gender and to make a public commitment that is recognized and honored by the state.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa, among others, set the trend. Now the United Kingdom and France have followed almost simultaneously and other European countries will do the same.

Here, in France, Catholics marched against same-sex marriage, but the law has been swiftly passed. July 14th is Bastille Day, France’s equivalent of the 4th of July – a celebration of revolution past and national identity present. There are major celebrations in all French towns, and particularly of course in Paris. This July 14th the iconic Eiffel Tower was lit up with rainbow colors and songs filled the Paris night sky, celebrating equal marriage rights for all.

Where Canada and Europe can go, other nations can go too. But in the meantime, Vive la France –liberté, égalité, fraternité! And well done, Britain!”

Perhaps the most succinct response that encapsulates many of the recurring themes heard from UK Pagans on marriage equality is from Cat Treadwell, a Trustee of The Druid Network, and ordained Awenydd (Priest) of The Anglesey Druid Order.

“Consenting adults have loved each other for centuries, with or without permission, and will no doubt continue to do so; the law slowly moves forward to accommodate this. We can only hope that as society becomes more accepting, Pagan unions will also be recognised in our own lifetimes.”

Let us hope that society continues to move forward on accepting the simple reality of consenting adults loving each other, and that the desire for modern Pagan clergy in England and Wales to perform legally recognized unions within that tapestry of love is soon realized.

Yesterday I engaged in a conversation with Paul Louis Metzger, author of “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, ” which I reviewed not too long ago, Mike Stygal of Pagan Federation London, and Foundation for Religious Diplomacy Evangelical Chapter Director John W. Morehead for the New Wine, New Wineskins podcast.



Today we had an opportunity to follow up on a recent conversation with some of our friends in the Pagan community. This time, Jason Pitzl-Waters joined us too. Listen in for a constructive engagement of the Pagan/Christian divide.

Download and listen to the podcast here.

In the span of an hour we discussed the need to really deal with the issue of evangelization, secular vs. multi-faith space, Christian privilege, and how to move Pagan-Christian dialog further. I think it was, on the whole, a constructive discussion that I think could be thought-provoking for evangelicals who listen. During the event I was very mindful of my relative inexperience within the context of interfaith engagement, and how there are many Pagans I know who are doing important work on a global scale. For instance, at this moment, Don Frew, a National Interfaith Representative for the Covenant of the Goddess and a Continuing Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, is at the URI’s Global Council Meeting.

When we gathered for the morning session, Zubair Farooq (Muslim / Pakistan) opened with a prayer and a candle lighting.  Diana Whitney asked us each to sum up our feelings about THIS Global Council were so far.  There were many expected statements, but one stood out… the Honorable Elisha Buba Yero (Christian & Indigenous / Nigeria) said that he sees something in all of us, a “burning flame in each of our hearts”, a desire for one goal: “to make other people as happy as we are”.

You can read more about Don Frew’s experiences at the URI Global Council Meeting at the COG Interfaith Reports blog. I think it’s important not only that I remember and acknowledge the work that individuals like Don Frew, Andras Corban Arthen, Phyllis Curott, Gus diZerega, or Angie Buchanan are doing, but that Christians just starting to enter into real dialog and discussion with modern Pagans understand the work they, and those like them, have done as well. When animus towards modern Pagans was at its height, and when books written and sold by evangelical Christians were peddling fabrications about what Witches and Pagans do, it was people like Frew and Selena Fox who were on the front lines forging interfaith communication and creating allies who would later help us as we emerged into the mainstream. Today, Pagans are involved in interfaith on many levels, and we have built bridges that perhaps some would not realize if they were not “in the loop” regarding interfaith activism.

Interfaith Action of Central Texas documentary featuring COG member Tom Davis

I’ve spent some time recently talking about the importance of intrafaith, solidarity, and ecumenicism within the Pagan community, but interfaith, reaching out to other faiths, is still vitally important. As I said before heading to an evangelical seminary to speak about Paganism:

“The heart of interfaith is recognizing the common humanity of a believer you may have profound disagreements with. To find areas of commonality, to learn how to move past entrenched hostilities and prejudices. To build a world that is less violent, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I will walk into that seminary with an open heart, and an open mind, and I hope my faith will be rewarded.”

No matter how successful modern Pagans (and our allies) become we cannot pretend the dominant monotheisms don’t exist, nor can we avoid trying to find ways to live and co-exist together. Yes, some of what evangelicals learn in the process of our conversations will be used in evangelization, but it will also humanize us, and hopefully defuse ancient distrusts over time. Pagans working in interfaith, and I suppose I should count myself in that number, are needed, and serve a vital interest to the growth and health of our movement. The simple act of outreach, of talking, can change so much, locally, and increasingly, on a global scale.

Yesterday the BBC News Magazine posted a look at “spiritual, but not religious” people, cobbling together various studies and perspectives to try and understand this rather nebulous (yet growing) demographic. Interestingly, the lump modern Pagans in as part of the larger “spiritual” trend noting that “the spiritually aligned range from pagans to devotees of healing crystals, among many other sub-groups.”

Mike Stygal, is a secondary school teacher who practises paganism in his private life. He believes in a divine force in nature. “I believe everything is connected, I feel very in touch with nature and the changing seasons. Awe is a very good word for how I feel. It’s a sense of deep respect for nature. I can communicate with the deity.”

They also point to a quote from pop superstar Pink where she talks about her spiritual-but-not-religious makeup.

Pink on the BBC, October, 2012

Pink on the BBC, October, 2012

“I love Native American spirituality and paganism, and I’ve studied Buddhism. I think organised religion is one of the top problems of the world actually, so no, I’d say I steer clear of religion and go straight towards spirituality.”

Increasingly, I think more and more people are finding Paganism not as discrete religions, but as a part of an open-sourced kit to build an individualized belief system or practice. They aren’t Wiccans, or Druids, or Asatru, they are practicing “Paganism” as a syncretic and eclectic system in its own right, people like Shirley McMichael a community engagement worker with the Policing Board in Belfast.

“The widow described herself as a pagan rather than a witch — although she does have a small ceremonial broomstick, a wand and casts spells. “Wicca (witchcraft) is more structured than our Pagan Voice group but we have quite a lot in common” she said. For Mrs McMichael, paganism — the worship of natural forces often personified as a god and goddess — is a way of being in tune with the environment.”

I think McMichael’s quote there is important because it highlights that she sees Wicca as a religious system that she chooses to work outside, though finds some affinity with. Likewise, turning back to the BBC News Magazine article, we find a woman reviving “ancient traditions” but with no real interest in labeling herself as a Pagan.

Bridget McKenzie, a cultural learning consultant, does daily walking meditations. “It’s about making time to contemplate the awesomeness of life on earth, the extraordinary luck this planet has in sustaining life.” She is not a pagan but for the summer solstice organises a Garlic Man Parade in south east London to reconnect with ancient traditions. “We all sense changes in the light as the seasons change. It’s important to mark the occasion.”

When the census data for England and Wales was released, I noted that as impressive as Paganism’s growth was, they may have been many more of “us” hidden in other categories.

Bringing to just over 80,000 (or so) Pagans. That number doesn’t count how many Pagans there might be lurking within the category of “Mixed Religon” (23,566), “Own Belief System” (1,949), or “Spiritual” (13,832). Other figures of note in the “Other Religion” category include Vodoun at 208, Traditional African Religion at 588 (both numbers that I think are too low), and New Age at 698 adherents.

The spiritual category might have included the Garlic Man Parade organizer mentioned above, the one who wants to reconnect with ancient traditions, and “mixed religion” would most certainly have encompassed a pop star who loves Native American spirituality, Paganism, and Buddhism. In short, Pagans are indeed much larger that some give us credit for, but our numbers will always be diffused through several categories because Paganism doesn’t demand brand loyalty or exclusive rights to your soul.

People are rejecting “religion” in ever growing numbers, and a growing number of individuals are defining themselves as “spiritual but not religion” even if they claim a religious affiliation. This decline simply speeds the decline further, as it becomes easier and more attractive to jettison religious labels.

Pagans dance in "nonreligious" Estonia. Photo: BBC.

Pagans dance in “nonreligious” Estonia. Photo: BBC.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.”It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. […]  In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.” The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category. They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them. And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

What happens is that you start to encounter cultures where “nones” dominate, and where spirituality is often shaped by the landscape, and by the people living in it. This can be very Pagan as in the Pacific Northwest, where the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” note residents are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

While some Pagans seem to scorn this growing contingent of eclectic, syncretic, label-free, spiritual people, I think it is this growing phenomenon that will deliver vital cultural shifts for those of us who are explicitly members of a Pagan religion. The rise of the unaffiliated in the world weakens the power of the religions that seek to create a homogenous “united” religious identity under their moral guidance. Call them wishy-washy, or unable to commit, or whatever invective you choose, but the “spiritual” people are the buffer that allows for the continued growth of Paganism around the world. Pink’s love of Paganism helps create a future where even more people can learn to love us.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Noted early-music performer Owain Phyfe, a long-time fixture on the Renaissance Faire circuit, science fiction conventions, and Pagan festivals like Pagan Spirit Gathering, passed away this week from pancreatic cancer. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who knew Owain, had this to say about the musician: “Thank you, Owain, for good times, friendship, & carrying on the bardic tradition with old & new songs & stories! Thank you for being part of the Pagan Spirit Gathering & Green Spirit Festival! Blessings of our Welsh ancestor Owain Glyndwr, upon you as you make your way in Annwn, the Otherworld!” You can find out more about Owain at his Wikipedia page, or this article from Renaissance Magazine. What is remembered lives.
  • How do you stop a witch-hunt from happening? In rural India, groups of women who met through micro-loan programs are banding together in solidarity to resist the hysteria that can come with an accusation of witchcraft, and have met with some success. Quote: “In one case, a woman was accused of causing disease in livestock and an attack was planned. Members of the self-help groups gathered in a vigil around the woman’s home and surrounded the accuser’s home as well, stating their case to the accuser’s wife. Eventually the wife intervened and her husband recanted and ‘begged for forgiveness.'” So how do stop witch-hunts? Empowering women seems an important first step.
  • Brian Pulliam, a racist skinhead who has been arrested in connection with a double homicide, is receiving scrutiny for his Asatru faith, which he believes requires him to drink alcohol. The story has prompted a representative of the local Asatru community in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area to speak up and clarify their beliefs, distancing themselves from Pulliam. Quote: “…his claims that Asatru requires him to consume mead for various holidays during the year are baseless. While many of us choose to drink mead or other alcoholic beverages during our celebrations, there is absolutely no requirement to do so. People whose medications won’t allow them to drink alcohol, those who are underage, and active service members in the Middle East, to name just a few examples, are capable of fully celebrating without mead.” The author, Sorn Skald, also noted that Pulliam’s racism would not be welcome in the group with which he worships.
  • The Vancouver Sun has more on the unfolding controversy over Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ move to stop the issuing of new contracts for minority-faith chaplains, including a Wiccan chaplain, because he’s “not convinced” that it is needed. Quote: “For the past six years, Wiccan priestess Kate Hansen has been visiting federal inmates across British Columbia who follow the pagan religion, guiding them in meditation and leading them in prayerful chants […] “If they choose to scrap this, they’re denying the rights of all of these people – their access to spiritual advisement of the religion of their choice,” Hansen told Postmedia News.” For more on this situation, read my post from yesterday, and be sure to check out the comments section, which features input from a Canadian Pagan prison chaplain.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.