Archives For Mike Stygal

[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

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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.

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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 PaganPro.org 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,”PaganPro.org 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.

web-gay-marriage-getty

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.

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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.