Archives For Minnesota

Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), recently announced their imminent closure, a decision that came in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. PNC-Minnesota reporter Cara Schulz has just posted a lengthy and informative exploration of exactly what happened, talking with several individuals involved in running the center.

Newly elected (Feb.2012) SPC board members Nikki, Lola, Carol, Mary, Heather, and Emily. Not pictured, Teisha Magee

Newly elected (Feb.2012) SPC board members Nikki, Lola, Carol, Mary, Heather, and Emily. Not pictured, Teisha Magee

“At 6:25 pm (April 25th) the Executive Director dissolved the board of directors,” reads the last entry in the minutes of the final board meeting of Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in Minnesota. A few days later, on Beltane, Executive Director Teisha Magee sent out an email saying the center closes May 31st.

“Why is Sacred Paths Center closing?” is a question asked by Twin Cities Pagans after reading the announcement.  That question is quickly followed by, “What can we learn from their experience?” by Pagan organizations such as Solar Cross Temple in San Francisco and the Open Hearth Foundation community center in Washington DC.  PNC-Minnesota spoke with past and present Sacred Paths Center (SPC) board members, volunteers, and their last financial auditor, looked over financial records and minutes of board meetings, and interviewed Teisha Magee to answer those questions.

In short, most everyone interviewed says the center’s Director and Board were not functional, the finances were in disarray, the building was too expensive, and the resulting drop in income after  two years of  road construction right outside their door didn’t help matters.

The entire article is essential reading for anyone curious as to how this closure came about, and a lesson for anyone thinking of opening their own community center. You may also want to read JRob Zetelumen’s obituary for the center, which looks at its accomplishments and historical importance.

The Sacred Paths Center opened for business Friday February 13th, 2009 and celebrated its grand opening Friday March 13, 2009. Within weeks, on Saturday April 4, 2009, the SPC began fulfilling its commitment to the community by hosting a fundraiser for local Elder Ken Ra who was facing financial crisis after a kidney failure, with a significant mass of the community coming together to support one of its own. It has since hosted countless rituals and community gatherings.

Although the SPC was not the first Pagan community center in the nation, or even locally, it’s closing leaves The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC as having the only Pagan community center in the nation.

The previous local community center was The New Alexandria Library. The New Alexandria Library opened in September of 2000 as a subscription library. It was a subsidiary of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota. Its stated purpose was “to create an archive that preserves our Pagan history, culture, and heritage, to ensure community access to hard-to-find and out-of-print materials, to provide access to a wide range of information and training materials, and to serve as a center of studies and research for scholars of Neo-Paganism.” The library quickly became a center for Paganistani activity. For financial reasons, the library closed its doors in July 2004.

The SPC was a direct successor of Evenstar Books, opened in 1979 by Loui Piper, which was a center of Pagan activity for almost 30 years. In 1991 Loui Pieper founded the Evenstar School of Sacred Paths and in October 1992 it received federal recognition as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization. After Piper’s retirement, Magee continued running the shop. Within a month of Evenstar closing, January 24, 2009, the SPC was opened around the corner, in its 5000 square foot facility after soliciting enough memberships and donations to be able to sign a lease, in the middle of a recession.

Considering how few Pagan community centers there currently are, the closing of Sacred Paths Center is an event that reverberates far wider than Minnesota. It is my hope that this closure will provide both inspiration and education to others looking to start similar initiatives where they live. With most Pagans rejecting a congregational model of worship, and due to the broad theological diversity under the umbrella of “modern Paganism,” multi-faith/tradition community centers may be one of the few viable communal physical spaces we can work towards. With the recent opening of The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC (which recently debuted its own library), and with several other groups looking into creating a permanent or semi-permanent physical meeting space, the “community center” experiment is still ongoing.

This Sunday is Earth Day. Originally spearheaded in 1970 by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson as a national“teach-in” on urgent environmental issues, it has since become an internationally recognized holiday in192 countries. Earth Day is partially credited with jump-starting the modern environmentalist movement, and helping to pass legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. So naturally, it is stalking horse for Pagan religion and must be stopped at all costs, at least according to Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson from Alexandria. In a response to conservative activist Sheila Kihne on Twitter, Rep. Franson said the holiday “absolutely infuriates” her, calling it a “celebration of a Pagan holiday.”

Nor did Rep. Franson walk back her comments after they gained attention from local press, saying that people should “honor and give thanks to God…not Earth” and “big deal, so I don’t like Earth Day.” Of course, this isn’t simply about not liking Earth Day, all sorts of people don’t like Earth Day for a variety of reasons. This is about the idea, the meme, that Earth Day is a religious holiday, a Pagan religious holiday. Conservative pundits, politicians, and activists have been describing environmentalism, and especially the belief in human-caused climate change, as a “cult” for years now. This has led to the inevitable environmentalism equals Paganism accusation, the purest expression of which comes in the form of a documentary entitled “Resisting the Green Dragon.”

In it the speakers make it plain that this is a spiritual struggle, a battle between competing religions. Christianity on one side, and the“green dragon” of pagan environmentalism on the other. Participating in the video series is a roll-call of conservative Christian heavy-hitters, including Bryan “superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of Native Americans played in making them morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil ” Fischer, and David “paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses” Barton. This view of the world reached a new height recently when then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum accused Obama of adhering to a “phony theology.” When pressed on what he meant by that, he elaborated that our president might just be worshiping the Earth.

“…a world view that elevates the earth above man … I was talking about the radical environmentalists. [T]his idea that man is here to serve the earth.”

So this idea seems deeply entrenched, and increasingly popular as an attack on any who would attempt to seriously address the many challenges we face regarding our environment. Will it always be so? According to Lisa Weaver Swartz, author of “‘This Is My Father’s World’: American Evangelical Ambivalence Toward Climate Change,” there is a “sharp decline” of this idea among evangelicals, “a reframing of environmental issues into existing evangelical frameworks.” This shift is typified by Rev. Richard Cizik, former chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, who works to encourage environmental stewardship among Christians.

“Dominion does not mean domination. It implies responsibility — to cultivate and care for the earth, not to sully it with bad environmental practices. The Bible also teaches us that Jesus Christ is not only redeeming his people, but also restoring God’s creation. Obviously, since the fall of man and entrance of sin into the world, all of creation has yearned for its redemption from sin and death and destruction. That will occur with the Second Coming of Christ. But in the meantime we show our love for Jesus Christ by reaching out to and healing the spiritually lost and by conserving and renewing creation. Christ’s call to love nature is as simple as his call to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

But the environmentalism = Paganism meme dies hard, and the fact that it is still widely parroted by a variety of commentators, and entered into the 2012 presidential race, says that the tipping point within American evangelical culture, and conservative Christianity as a whole, is still a long way off. Until then, any who espouse a belief in climate change, who want stricter environmental regulations, who want to protect our national parks, runs the risk of being labeled an adherent of “radical environmentalism – a form of neo-paganism.”

Despite this, elements of immanence, pantheism, and various indigenous perspectives have become increasingly popular and “mainstream” in our modern culture. Bron Taylor, author of “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”, notes that this development is as “American as apple pie.”

“The remarkable language in the Ecuadorian constitution and in Boliva’s new Mother Earth law did not, however, result from indigenous Andean spirituality alone. They were also influenced by a generation of thinking and debate around the world about human responsibilities toward nature. In the U.S., much of this has taken place among philosophers and legal theorists, including in the landmark argument by Christopher Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?: Law, Morality, and the Environment, which was first published in theSouthern California Law Review in 1972. Indeed, I contend that the recent developments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and within the United Nations are as American as apple pie: they are to some extent in the spirit of a diverse range of American voices that led to the pioneering Endangered Species Act of 1973 signed into law by Richard Nixon. Yet today, those who call themselves conservative are generally hostile to environmentalists, often considering them to be politically or spiritually dangerous socialists or pagans.”

The danger of this rhetoric is that we cut ourselves off from the simple truth of our place in the natural world, to the interconnectedness of all things. Acknowledging that, and the responsibility it places on us, is not theology, or pantheism. To engage in this smear-tactic, to make simple reality controversial is increasingly dangerous. Rep. Mary Franson thinks she is defending her faith, but in reality she is politicizing a topic that should be a major concern for all human beings on this planet. The longer we fight this false battle over “paganism,” an imaginary green dragon for crusaders to defeat, the worse things will actually be when we finally are forced to face the ramifications of our inaction.

Welcome to a new supplemental feature here at The Wild Hunt, The Wild Hunt Podcast (you’re dazzled by the unique name, I can tell). This (hopefully) weekly podcast will take a deeper look at stories, links, and personalities that I feature in my daily updates. In this first episode of The Wild Hunt Podcast, we interview Elysia Gallo, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Llewellyn Worldwide, and Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota about the Minnesota Pagan convention Paganicon, now in its second year. In the second segment, we interview Caroline Tully from the University of Melbourne about her recently-published paper “Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions.”

Elysia Gallo with her husband Tamas at Paganicon 2012. (Photo PNC-Minnesota)

Elysia Gallo with her husband Tamas at Paganicon 2012. (Photo PNC-Minnesota)

You can listen to, and download, the episode at Archive.org.

Segment Listing:

  1. Intro
  2. “Naiades” by Monica Richards from her new album “Naiades.”
  3. Interview with Elysia Gallo and Cara Schulz about Paganicon
  4. “Nereides” by Monica Richards from her new album “Naiades.”
  5. Interview with Caroline Tully about her Pomegranate article.
  6. Outro

Relevant Links:

I hope you enjoy the show, stay tuned for next time where I’ll discuss fascism and Dan Halloran’s potential run for Congress (not necessarily in that order).

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.

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

In yesterday’s community roundup I noted that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), had been able to reach its fundraising goals, and would be staying open. This was the culmination of an emergency fundraising campaign started at the beginning of July to save the center, it was estimated that they needed to raise approximately $12,000 to remain open and have enough breathing room to restructure. However, just one day after announcing that they have successfully reached their fundraising goals, Sacred Paths Center sent out a statement saying the center was closed “indefinitely” pending internal and external financial audits.

“As a result of an internal audit during the Change & Grow program, the Sacred Paths Center board has directed the closing of the center and called for a full inventory of the center’s assets and an external audit of the corporation’s finances. The board has also empowered an internal audit of the corporation’s organizational documents, governance and administrative procedures, and policies. This affects all operation at the Sacred Paths Center’s current facility. The gift shop, all class rooms and the healing center will all be closed indefinitely. All classes and events are suspended indefinitely. Normal office hours have been suspended. The staff have been directed to focus on preparing materials necessary for the external audit and will not be available to answer questions about the closure. Rather than stopping by the center or attempting to reach us by phone, please contact the center at ClosingQuestions@SacredPathsCenter.com if you have any questions or concerns about the audit, and SacredPathsCenter@gmail.com if you have any questions about upcoming classes and availability of healers, readers, teachers and other services.”

Shortly after the statement went out figures closely associated with SPC commented on the closing. At PNC-Minnesota, board member CJ Stone made the following comment:

“SPC is NOT out of business. They are doing due diligence with donors’ monies. They spotted problems with what’s going on, and they are moving to fix it NOW instead of “Oh, you know, in a couple weeks or so. What’s the difference?” The alternative is for them to pretend nothing is happening, have the money and the SPC go down the drain, not come clean in public about it, and prove there’s no way to do a Pagan community center.”

This was echoed by another board member, Carol Haselmann, on SPC’s Facebook group.

“It’s temporary until we can get the audit done. “Indefinitely” was probably a poor word choice at the moment. Thanks for your patience.”

PNC-Minnesota tells me that it’s unlikely further official statements will be made until after the center’s next board meeting on August 10th. Hopefully at that time we will learn more about SPC’s future, what triggered the audit, and why that necessitated a closure. While this is a local matter, it has generated interest far beyond the Twin Cities as other Pagan communities explore opening their own community centers. I’ll keep you posted on any further updates.

To learn more about the history of Sacred Paths Center, check out the special video series produced earlier this year (part 1part 2) by PNC reporter Cara Schultz.

You can read all of my coverage on this story, here.

ADDENDUM: Sacred Paths Center announces they will reopen on August 8th.

“We sincerely apologize for the confusion caused by our sudden closing. We want to thank Keys of Paradise for making their space available for the events that we inconvenienced this week. We are reaching out to the coordinators for all events scheduled at the center between now and the reopening on Monday to assure them that the space they reserved will be available to them as promised previously. If you have something scheduled at the center this weekend you will have space.

The reason for closing this week is simply to catch up on some neglected organizational items. We need to do a physical inventory of the store, clean up our book keeping and filing systems, and we are restructuring our organizational tools to better serve our members and the community. These projects become very difficult when being done amongst the hustle and bustle of the normal Center functions.”

On Monday they promise to publish “a breakdown of the success of our Change and Grow campaign.” As always, we’ll keep you posted.

On July 8th I reported that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), was in danger of closing down unless they could raise $7,500 immediately. That was followed by an interview conducted by PNC-Minnesota with SPC board member CJ Stone, where it was estimated that the center needed to raise $12,000 total by the end of July to remain open and viable for the longer term. Today, CJ Stone left an update in our comments section, to say that they’ve almost raised their immediate goal, and are hopeful about reaching the $12,000 needed to restructure for long-term survival.

“I’m happy to say we’ve received more than $7000 in donations. We’re close to our minimum $7,500, and I”m hopeful about getting up to the $12,000 that will let us grow and change into the community center everyone needs. Please ask your Pagan confrers near and far to consider a donation or a matching grant. We are doing some local fundraisers, but for folks farther away, there’s a “raffle” of some Paganistani homebrew, $10/ticket. We’ll announce that officially soon, so please keep an eye peeled. I’ll be back here to announce it, too. There’s also an auction of a lovely wedding/handfasting cup set. This is a personal item from my wife’s estate that I donated for the benefit of SPC. I thank very kindly everyone who has worked to help us stay open and continue, to change and grow. Please be sure to check for donation and action updates at our website, www.SacredPathsCenter.com.”

You can find out more about the center’s fundraising initiatives at their website. Sacred Paths Center had recently unveiled a new national public ancestor shrine and sacred spirit altar.  Sacred Paths Center’s journey was also profiled by PNC reporter Cara Schultz  in a special video series produced earlier this year (part 1part 2).

We will continue to cover this story as it develops.

On Tuesday PNC-Minnesota reported that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), had unveiled a new national public ancestor shrine and sacred spirit altar. Open for just over two years, Sacred Paths has been seen as one possible model for creating Pagan-centered and dedicated space within a local community. Their journey was profiled by PNC reporter Cara Schultz  in a special video series produced earlier this year (part 1, part 2).

However, just days later, Sacred Paths Center posted an urgent message on their website saying they were out of capital, and that the center is in danger of closing down unless they can raise $7,500 immediately.

“Sacred Paths Center, the Spiritual/Pagan Center, open to all, first of its kind in the United States, is broke. “What, AGAIN?” Yes. “Now why?” Simple: lack of YOUR support. This message will reach thousands and thousands, but how many of you will care enough to do anything? A physical banner has been put in the ground here, proclaiming this area as sacred to us; SPC is that banner. “Pagan Community”, “Paganistan”…it seems they are just words. There are thousands of us here in the Twin Cities metro, and among us all, we can’t give $3000 a month to keep that banner standing open. What does that say—really say—about “Pagan Community”? Less than a dollar each, and yet… Less than a dollar each, and yet… There will be no plea running pages and pages; no dog and pony show; no Benefit Event. If you can’t step up, Sacred Paths Center closes. We need $7500 now, right now for a reasonable chance at a future.”

That statement, posted by memebers of the SPC Board, bluntly highlights that this crisis comes from a lack of local fiscal support. As a member-supported, non-profit community center, recurring donations are vital to their long-term health and viability.  Now, it looks like the “next chapter” of this community center’s story depends on the locals of Paganistan.

“We donated today when I saw it. It’s a valuable, necessary resource and the community needs to put forward the money so that we can keep it going.” - Shelly Tomtschik, Sacred Paths Center volunteer

Cultural anthropologist Murphy Pizza, a Pagan scholar who lives in Minneapolis, says that the Twin Cities boast “the second largest contemporary Pagan community in the US, “ and that there is a “unique Minnesotan Pagan culture.” I was able to speak with two local Pagans who are part of this unique culture to see what their views and reactions were on this development. For Nels Linde, an editor at PNC-Minnesota, the main question is if the Sacred Paths Center can broaden its support at this urgent crossroads moment.

“The Sacred Path Center has been funded by, and the center of activity for, a relatively small but active section of our community. Many wonderful events, services, and concerts, as well as the Ancestor Shrine have been hosted there. The Center appeared to be burdened with high overhead at this location from the start, and now may be also threatened by extended light rail construction and possible gentrification inflation after completion. It has rallied once already, but it remains to be seen if a much larger number of the thousands of area Pagans value it enough to support it on a monthly basis. Without grant funding, or a continual fundraising effort, consistent moderate donations seem the Center’s best hope.”

Elysia Gallo, an employee at Llewellyn Worldwide, the world’s oldest and largest independent publisher of metaphysical books, located in nearby Woodbury, Minnesota, wonders if they tried to do too much, too soon.

“It would really be a shame if Sacred Paths Center were to close down, because so many Pagans have held it up with pride as an example of what a strong and sustainable community we have here in the Twin Cities… but if people aren’t supporting it monetarily, then we’re all just kidding ourselves. We have metaphysical bookstores which also serve as community hubs and meeting spaces, but they’re not putting on concerts and things like that, they’re more constrained in their usages. I just wish Sacred Paths Center would finally figure out a sustainable model of growth, which would include them figuring out what the community values enough to pay for, and keeping their expenses trimmed to just sustain those things until they’re strong enough to deliver the whole enchilada. I think they tried to go for that far too soon.”

Both responses seem to boil down to what the local Pagan community in the Twin Cities is willing and able to support. The issue of money and funding for Pagan organizations, community centers, temples, and service-based initiatives within our interconnected communities is still largely unsettled. Jonathan Korman, Secretary of Solar Cross Temple, a non-profit religious organization based in California, thinks there are two roadblocks to creating a culture of fiscal support: That many modern Pagans are still “deeply anti-institutional, and regard the lack of institutions as a feature, not a bug” and that “Pagan institutions are below the critical mass where Pagans are able to see the benefit of the institutions and the need for their financial support.”

Can Sacred Paths Center, located within a large Pagan community, reach that critical mass? For now we are left with the question asked by the SPC Board in their appeal: “Does it end here? Or does SPC go forward with your help?” For those interested in giving some support to Sacred Paths Center, you can find donation information at their website. Or you can contact them via email.

ADDENDUM: PNC-Minnesota has posted an interview with Sacred Paths Center board member CJ Stone.

“The immediate needs to keep the doors temporarily open were covered. The Center needs 7500 dollars to continue to operate through this month. The Board has decided that 12,000 was what we needed by midnight of July 30thor we will close the facility. If we can secure that 12k dollars, we can pay our bills to zero and have a positive balance to keep the center open and by able to steer the Center in a direction that will be financially viable.”

Read the whole thing for insight into what the center’s plans are, what they need, and why they got into trouble.

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

Bachmann’s Gay-Bashing Friends: Mother Jones reports on the cozy, friendly, relationship between Rep. Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.) and Christian musician/activist Bradlee Dean. Both Dean and Bachmann are scheduled to appear at the upcoming Tea Party Founding Fathers-sponsored Freedom Jamboree in Kansas, billed as the national Tea Party straw poll convention. Journalist Tim Murphy notes that Bachmann has been an ongoing supporter of Dean, despite the incendiary and hateful anti-gay rhetoric spouted by the Minnesota-based talk-show host and Christian youth leader.

“But over the last five years, Bachmann, the politician, and Dean, the metal-head, have formed an unlikely but powerful alliance. Bachmann has helped raise money for Dean’s traveling youth ministry, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International; guest-starred in his television series; and prayed for his ministry to multiply 10-fold. Dean, for his part, has embraced Bachmann, whose district includes his suburban community of Annandale, as an ally against the gay agenda. But his inflammatory rhetoric and past links to an anti-government organization make Bachmann’s own controversial views seem downright pedestrian—and raise serious questions about the congresswoman’s choice of associates.”

Dean is perhaps best known for his admiring comments concerning Muslim countries that call for the execution of homosexuals (though he says his words were “twisted”, but it’s all on tape for anyone to judge for themselves) and seems to be all for locking gays and lesbians up. Dean’s ministry is directly linked to the scandal of Target donating to anti-gay hate groups. As for Bachmann, we already know she’s no friend to modern Pagans. With Bachmann seriously considering jumping into the presidential race, we’ll have to keep our eyes open to see if conservatives anoint a woman who would seem to have no qualms radically changing our country.

The Unfortunate Return of Eilish De’Avalon: Australian Pagan priestess and Witch Eilish De’Avalon, who garnered international attention last year for dragging a cop by the arm during a routine traffic stop, is now appealing her conviction, despite the fact that she’s quite plainly guilty of dragging the police officer.

“A self-proclaimed witch who says she is not subject to earthly laws is appealing against convictions for dangerous driving and recklessly causing injury. She was sentenced to jail after pleading guilty to dragging a traffic policeman by the arm for 190m. Highton marriage celebrant Eilish De’Avalon told Sen-Constable Andrew Logan in February last year she was not subject to earthly laws because she was from another world.”

Australian Pagans have been concerned about the negative publicity this incident has garnered, especially now that there’s documented widespread distrust of modern Pagans in that country. Ms. De’Avalon’s appeal simply gives the anti-Pagan pundits and culture warriors more fuel for their rhetorical fires. Here’s hoping the unfortunate return of De’Avalon to mainstream press attention is short-lived.

Catholicism and Fertility Rituals: Reuters reports on a centuries-old May fertility ritual at Obando in the Philippines.

“The rite has taken place in Obando for centuries and apparently originated from a pagan fertility ritual where couples once rubbed their body parts against an idol. But the act was later changed by the Catholic Church when they introduced Saint Claire, the patron saint of fertility, to the locals. [...] The Philippines, with 80 percent of its 100 million population devoted Catholics, holds many festivals honouring patron saints that are believed to grant miracles.”

One wonders how many of its Catholic festivals originated as pre-Christian celebrations, and simply substituted a saint for a local deity. There are still a smattering of “animists” preserving the old ways, do they celebrate these festivals in their original forms still? It would have been interesting to know, too bad the report couldn’t have dug deeper.

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

 

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.

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.

A few quick news notes for you on this Wednesday.

About That Wall of Separation: This election cycle in the United States has brought forward an old argument, is there a “wall of separation” between religion (“church”) and our government (“state”)? While many argue that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution decreeing that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, and years of subsequent legal precedent, make such a separation very plain, certain factions of Christian conservatives claim that the Establishment Clause was only meant to prevent denominational favoritism among Christians, and that ours is a Christian country. This division in understandings was in full display in a recent debate between Delaware Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell (who has gotten too much coverage from me already) and Chris Coons.

In a debate at the Widener University Law School, Ms. O’Donnell interrupted her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, as he argued that the Constitution does not allow public schools to teach religious doctrine. “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Ms. O’Donnell asked himaccording to audio posted on the Web site of WDEL 1150 AM radio, which co-sponsored the debate. The audience at the law school can be heard breaking out in laughter. But Ms. O’Donnell refuses to be dissuaded and pushes forward. “Let me just clarify,” she says. “You are telling me that the separation of church and state is in the First Amendment?”

O’Donnell has been roundly mocked in the press for this latest gaffe, but it’s very representative of a certain understanding of the US Constitution, and many feel she was sending “dog whistle” signals about her stance on church-state issues. Far more explicit was Minnesota Republican Secretary of State candidate Dan Severson, who spoke plainly what O’Donnell only alluded to.

Quite often you hear people say, ‘What about separation of church and state?’ There is no such thing. I mean it just does not exist, and it does not exist in America for a purpose, because we are a Christian nation. We are a nation based on Christian principles and ideals, and those are the things that guarantee our liberties. It is one of those things that is so fundamental to the freedoms that we have that when you begin to restrict our belief and our attestation to our Christian values you begin to restrict our liberties. You simply cannot continue a nation as America without that Christian base of liberty.

This is the same sort of viewpoint that drives Christian groups like WallBuilders, who claim that modern Pagans have no expectation of Constitutional protection under the religion clauses. Separation of Church and State isn’t just about Christmas displays on public lands, it’s about the very character and nature of our country. If we swing too far into an understanding that would please Severson or O’Donnell, it could jeopardize the free exercise and equal treatment of religious minorities in the United States. We would go beyond sanctioning “moments of silence” and see reinvigorated battles over teaching Christianity in our public schools.

Is James Arthur Ray Hurting Sedona? Chas Clifton links to a New York Times article about a decline in tourism at the New Age hub of Sedona, Arizona. Is it the bad economy, or “negative energy” from the James Arthur Ray sweat-lodge deaths?

“It was a very unfortunate and sad situation that could have happened anywhere,” said Janelle Sparkman, president of the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association, who attributes the woes that New Age practitioners are experiencing to a lack of disposable income for spiritual needs and not what happened that awful afternoon. “It was not indicative of Sedona or Sedona’s practitioners at all.” But sweat lodges are now far less common, with the authorities shutting some down to avoid further trouble. And the spiritual association is pushing the importance of ethics among spiritualists.

Could this controversy, along with the economic downturn, bring some reforms to the New Age movement? Or will it be business as usual once this controversy fades and the economy picks up? As for James Arthur Ray, his trial over the sweat-lodge deaths is scheduled to start in mid-February. You can be sure I’ll be following it here.

Spirit Day: Today is Spirit Day, an effort to show support for those who have taken their lives due to anti-LGBTQ bullying. While much of the Internet is rallying to turn their profiles purple, some LGBTQ Pagans, like author and academic P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, are questioning how useful the day, and the message of “it gets better”, really are.

“Which leads me to the second point: “it” doesn’t get better; you just learn to put up with it more, and as you grow stronger in your own sense of self and identity, it bothers you less that other people think these things, say these things, and could potentially threaten you with physical violence and worse (as happened recently in New Jersey to several people)…but, you push through it and you don’t let them frighten you or bother you or dissuade you from living your life the way you want to live it. Every time I step into an LGBTQI event, or a march, or a gathering, it is possible some homophobe with serious insecurities and some religiously-inspired foolish notions may come in and decide to attack me or my friends. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I prepare for the contingency that it might. And as far as I’m concerned, they can bring it all they want–they will not get me without a damn good fight.

So, yes, one hopes that it does get better, but I cannot assure that it will for everyone or that such is the case everywhere in the world. Giving the message to teenagers that you just have to put up with it and tough it out (and that one is possibly deficient if one doesn’t feel up to it or can’t do it) is not a good thing, in my estimation–it seems like blaming the victim to me, and I am totally against that.”

Lupus suggests finding strength and solace in prayer and spiritual work, and has provided a spell against homophobia, and a prayer against persecution. What do you think? Is Spirit Day a worthwhile endeavor that will change opinions, or is it merely a purple-colored band-aid on a much deeper problem? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

ADDENDUM: For another Pagan perspective on Spirit Day, check out T. Thorn Coyle, who is taking up the call from two powerful goddesses to go into battle and teach power and respect.

“I want to see us teaching power and respect. I want to see us supporting each other to stand tall, rather than cutting the tallest person in the room down to a more comfortable size. Many people I know are teaching this to their teens and children, and trying to do this in their communities. This Samhaintide, can we all commit to doing a bit more? Can we examine the ways in which we – personally or communally – are acting out of disrespect, fear, force, or powerlessness?

Last year, some of us made a pledge to the Morrigan to help each other grow strong. For myself, I have done more work getting body and soul to a place of health and fitness than ever before. I have gained muscle and am gaining weight. My core is bigger. I’ve trained. I’m back studying hand-to-hand combat with a teacher who is even more skilled than the one I had before. I know that others have been training, too. This Samhain, my community is honoring our promise by teaching and learning basic self-defense. This starts with physical posture and extends to our energy bodies. The presence of centered pride in our midst immediately ratchets up the presence of self-respect in the room. That is where we will begin. From there, we will learn to move, to defend, to break out of locks and set ourselves free.

My hope is that this workshop, this simple introduction to self-defense, will be able to be taught in multiple places. It feels important enough to my partner and I that we have submitted a proposal to teach it at Pantheacon and I am already planning to take it to Houston. We don’t have any certificates saying we are qualified to do this. All we have is our own training, a push from two powerful Goddesses, a call from community, and this need. This need arises from the images of every youth who committed suicide this year. If parents, children, and friends all carry a sense of internal power and help foster that in each other, everything in the world changes.”

Feel free to share other Pagan perspectives on Spirit Day in the comments!

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