Pagan voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.
“Actually, if you look deeply at the idea of ‘dark Gods’ in general, they are inherently a product of our dualistic culture, heavily influenced by Abrahamic moral paradigm which equates darkness with negative or harmful forces. In fact, when people talk of the ‘Dark Goddess’, they virtually always mean moral darkness rather than natural darkness, if you examine their language and theology. For evidence of this, I invite you to imagine any deity associated with the darkness of night or the night sky whom you care to think of. Nyx, Nuit, Astarte, Ishtar, Arianrhod of the silver wheel; all the ‘Queens of Heaven’. Not a one of them is usually labeled ‘Dark Goddess’. Hekate is arguably an exception, but I think the point still stands. When we say ‘Dark Goddess’, what we really mean is scary Goddess; or perhaps more specifically, morally ambiguous Goddess.” - Morpheus Ravenna, on the nature of “dark” gods.
Metal Mother (aka Taara Tati)
“Getting into the whole ancient Celtic cultures thing, it was very matriarchal and tribal [...] It was a really profound lifestyle. The more I discover about that, the more I want to learn about it, to be able to see that history and sort of represent that in a way, or glean some power from that. [...] I really came into a full-on obsession last year when I was traveling in Europe. I went on this full journey to all these different ancient sites and sacred sites, and it was empowering for me to be there, and to feel the history of that land, and… my ancestors.” – Taara Tati, aka Metal Mother, in the San Francisco Bay Guardian on the inspirations for her new album “Ionika,” released this week.
Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.
“The purpose of sacrifice is to build, maintain, and correct our connection with the Gods, which is why it had to be stopped in ancient times. It is essential for theistic Pagans, but I know atheist Pagans who join in the practice. The common explanation of sacrifice is to somehow ‘feed’ the Gods, but this is generally challenged by the more philosophical understandings of ancient religion that evolved over time. In the West, this view is championed by Iamblichus of Chalsis and found in the book we now call De Mysteriis, arguably the cornerstone text of the western magical tradition. Iamblichus points out that the Gods and all the entities down the hierarchy of being are above humans on the ontological scale and so cannot be affected, never mind fed, by such as we. Rather, sacrifice properly done affects the sacrificer by attuning us to the Gods we invoke (never mind bonding us to those we share it with).” - Sam Webster, author of “Tantric Thelema” and founder of the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, from his piece “Toward the Pagan Restoration of Sacrifice.”
Shauna Aura Knight with Tony Mierzwicki and River Higginbotham at PantheaCon.
“We’re causing the pollution, the carbon overload, the climate change, that will haunt our future. We who call ourselves Pagan and Earth-centered should know better. We should know better. Here’s what I’d like to see in the Pagan community. I’d like to see Pagans across the world standing up to choose the sometimes harder road. I’m asking you, all of you, to stop using disposable cups in your rituals, and to stop supporting rituals that do so by not accepting those cups.” – Shauna Aura Knight, from a post at the Pagan Activist blog entitled “No, I Will Not Take Cakes and Ale From Your Styrofoam Cup.”
Angie Buchanan with partner Drake Spaeth.
“Yes, Pagans were responsible for almost 10% of the total judgment of $276,000. History has been made here. Pagans have shown they can support what they believe in with their voices and their money. Our voices [have] value at the international tables of inter-religious dialog. We are at once overwhelmed with gratitude, humbled, and also proud.” – Angie Buchanan, Emeritus Director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, and founder of Earth Traditions, on the role of Pagans in the successful campaign to save the Parliament from a fiscal crisis.
Pagan voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.
“[Jone Salomonsen] and I have felt from the beginning that Pagan studies is not so much about this group or that, but about Paganism as a way of being religious. For example, we have had presentations that focused on the treatment of images in a Pagan setting and in Mediterranean Catholic settings, which leads to joking about ‘the i-word’ (idolatry) and to discussions of whether it is useful and usable in a scholarly setting or whether one would do better to adopt some term like ‘sacred materiality.’” – Chas Clifton, from an interview conducted by Ethan Doyle White.
“The workshops varied in scope and I found myself torn at every single time slot trying to determine which workshop to attend. Attendee’s had 40 workshops to choose from, varying in scope from Shamanic Body Posture to Strategic Sorcery to Secret Societies and more. This feel of the workshops at this event was unlike anything I’ve experienced at past Pagan conferences and conventions. With a target audience of advanced practitioners, the instructors clearly felt comfortable with skipping past cursory introductions to topics and dove right into the depths of the topic at hand. With the many options available in each time slot, classes stayed at respectable sizes small enough for questions from participants and responses from the instructors. Nothing I attended felt rushed or impersonal. Of course, there were presentations by world-renown occultist Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki which filled an entire ballroom of people, but other workshops tended to stay at around thirty people or less.” – David Salisbury, from his overview of the recent Between the Worlds 2012 conference.
“Some people read the myths, whether our Scandinavian/Germanic ones or those from somewhere else, and find that the old stories just won’t leave them alone. And, while we have very few instructions from a thousand years ago on how to practice Ásatrú, there is broad agreement on how those stories advise conducting one’s life. Hairsplitting theological discussions aren’t necessary. For a lot of people, this thing, this practice, just works. Over all those centuries, how many de facto Heathens spent their lives hiding out in their own minds? Now that we don’t have to hide anymore, at least in much of the world, how many more are still hiding out just because they think they are alone in their feelings?” – Steven T. Abell, discussing proselytizing from a Heathen standpoint.
“If we cannot describe pagan-ness, we end up with an unarticulated sense that Pagan means “Wicca and things like it”, which should satisfy no one. To sneak up on the problem, I want to resist questions as grandiose as Who Pagans Are or What Pagans Do or What Pagans Believe. (Indeed, that last is particularly pernicious; defining a religion in terms of what onebelieves is a distinctively Protestant move; let’s not go there.) Rather, I want to talk about what I call the “pagan sensibility” — note the deliberate use of the lower-case p. Not a statement of the True Pagan Nature or an explanation of the Pagan community, but a description of what kind of thought and action makes things pagan flavored. I think that one can describe that briefly and clearly, including everything one wants while excluding everything one doesn’t.” – Jonathan Korman, laying out his case for a “pagan sensibility.”
Morpheus Ravenna with Chrigel Glanzmann of Eluveitie.
“Come the night, when the crowd roared and Eluveitie took the stage. When the mad, fierce, raging joy poured out of the musicians and swept through the crowd, churning the sea of people into a frenzy of violent celebration in the mosh pit. When the impassioned, screaming songs were sung out in the ancient language. Songs full of raw, deep emotion, telling the story of the Gallic wars and the nation that was, with joy, with pride, with rage, with anguish, with heart, the sounds of Celtic instruments swelling on a thunderous tide of metal. Songs of all that was lost, yet I could not help feeling how alive we were, how full of pride, how the flame of the Celtic spirit blazed in us in answer to the power in that music. Come the night, I felt the lost nation of Gaul singing through her descendants on the stage, echoing back from the ecstatic crowd. Everything lost is found again.” – Morpheus Ravenna, describing her meeting with Chrigel Glanzmann, the lead singer and lyric-writer of the band Eluveitie.
Attending FaerieCon West, a transformational festival of art, spirit, and myth, brings to mind how modern Pagans are also building arts-focused events. In California, Sharon Knight and Winter of the band Pandemonaeon, along with fashion designer Anaar, are organizing the first of what they hope will become a yearly festival dedicated to magick-based music and dance entitled “HexenFest.”
“Hexenfest offers an evening of entertainment and revelry based on magick and a dark sensual aesthetic –both visual and aural– at the Oakland Metro performing arts venue on 630 Third Street, in Oakland, CA 94607, on Friday night March 9th, 2012.”
“Hexenfest will be the first Pagan/Pagan-friendly festival focused on music and the arts in California that we know of. In traveling to festivals all over the country, Winter and I have found that there is far more going on in terms of Mythic faires, Faery festivals, and Pagan festivals on the East Coast than there is on the West Coast. We aspire to change that.
This campaign is intended to launch what we hope will be an annual festival dedicated to quality Pagan/Pagan-friendly music, art, & dance – i.e.themes based in myth, legend, folkloric tradition, earth spirituality, fairytale, and the like. We feel the demand is here, especially in the Bay Area. If you would like to see such an event happen every year, this is your chance to help make it real.”
While there are many Pagan events that feature musical acts, and cultural events that are certainly Pagan-friendly, there are relatively few Pagan events that solely concentrate on music and art that originates from within our interconnected communities. Part of the reason I signed up to participate in HexenFest, even though I don’t live in California, is because I want to see us support our artists, and create new avenues and venues for them to play, perform, and exhibit in. I’m hoping that the first HexenFest leads not only to many more HexenFests, but to more events and opportunities in general for Pagan musicians, designers, and artists. If you live in or near California, or if you simply want to send a message of support, I hope you’ll consider donating to this worthy effort.
“American Mystic is a documentary about three twenty-somethings, each a member of a fringe religious community, who have separated themselves from mainstream America in order to live immersed in their faiths. The film intertwines very intimate, apolitical portraits of individuals in depressed areas of the country trying to lead more extraordinary, mystical lives: Kublai, a Spiritualist in the former revivalist district of upstate New York; Chuck, a Lakota sundancer in the badlands of South Dakota; and Morpheus, a pagan priestess living off the grid in old mining country in southern California.”
“I actually spent time with Pagans in Montana, Tennessee, and other areas of California (as opposed to where Morpheus lives) before I even connected with Morpheus. I also had plenty of phone and email chats with Pagans in other states along the way, and a lot of people were lovely, really forthcoming with tips and thoughts on how to be faithfully represent Pagan practice. You’ve talked about this yourself, Jason — the ways in which the Internet has made it easier for Pagans to interact and find each other. The Internet definitely made some aspects of my search easier. But at the end of the day, when someone is still in the “broom closet” in an area of the country that’s hostile to what locals think being a “witch” involves, you need to build a relationship in person. I met a wonderful witch who lived in the hills of Tennessee who initially had me meet her at a truck stop diner to make sure that I was who I claimed to be. Eventually, I spent time at her home, and she really wanted to tell her story — but the fear of being outted in such a hostile environment was too much for her. She was afraid of threats to her or her family, or of losing her job. And she had good reason to be cautious.
When I finally met with Morpheus, in her khakis (nothing like her ritual gear!) after her day job, we clicked pretty quickly. And when once my producer and I stayed with her and her husband Shannon at Stone City, we all had a hunch that this would be a great fit. There was also the plus of being able to tell the story of this Pagan sanctuary they were in the earlier stages of building up on their land.”
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.
Religion Dispatches is featuring an article on Burning Man from Jay Michaelson entitled “Burning Man in the Age of Rick Perry.” In it Michaelson says that “a dogmatic religionist cannot abide the inspiration of another. Unless it is within the same religious system, it is damned, or confused, or pagan, or worse. Thus the dogmatist is only left with data which confirm her existing categories of thought. All contradictory data is removed from consideration. Whereas, any religious/spiritual progressive must be inspired precisely by the plurality of revelatory experiences.”
“Mr Justice Wyn Williams refused to give King Arthur permission to launch a judicial review action – ruling at a High Court hearing in London that there was insufficient evidence to show that the Ministry of Justice might have acted unreasonably. The judge heard that the cremated remains of more than 40 bodies – thought to be at least 5,000 years old – were removed from a burial site at Stonehenge in 2008 and ministers gave researchers from Sheffield University permission to keep the bones until 2015.”
“All along the Town knew they would lose this battle if we could just get it to trial so they have attempted to bury us under legal motions to break us financially and have spent somewhere between 100 to 150 thousand dollars to do so. I am sad to report that unless we get significant help in this final stages, they might succeed. Donations so far have helped but we have had to hire a new attorney at about three times the cost as our original attorney. She is much more experienced and worth the expense but has informed me that the rest of our case will cost us an approximate additional 10 thousand dollars which simply is impossible for us to come up with ourselves at this stage.
Our priestesses have stepped forward to the point of tens of thousands so far but now we are all broke. Please, this case is important, a milestone for minority religion rights. If this can be done to us, a legally incorporated religious charitable organization with full IRS 501 c3 recognition, it literally can be done to any minority religious group. A victory, which is fairly well assured if we can finish the battle, is especially important when political groups are pushing back against non Christians, clean air and water and the basic concept of taking care of each other and our common planet home.”
The Feri Tradition of Witchcraft (aka Anderson Feri), while a relatively small grouping within modern Paganism, has had an immense impact on our movement through its initiates. Starhawk is a Feri initiate, and many of the individuals that would form the nucleus of the Reclaiming tradition were also initiates. In turn, many of those Reclaiming/Feri initiates (Aline O’Brien, Anne Hill, Deborah Oak Cooper) would go on to hold prominent positions within our interconnected communities. Bard, activist, and Feri initiate Gwydion Pendderwen had a pivotal role in developing the idea of a “Pagan music” in the United States, and his shadow still looms large over many modern Pagan musicians. Over the years Feri initiates have played a role in several achievements and milestones within modern Paganism (the founding of COG, for instance), and in many instances have cross-pollinated with other Pagan traditions, creating new paths as a result.
“We dissociate and emphatically disconnect ourselves from the practice of those who seek to define the name “Feri” exclusively to themselves and from the public face they have created.” – The Faery Tradition
“At core, I feel the sundering of the Feri Tradition is a reflection of the tension seen all over the world right now, which is the tension felt in ages of transition. It has been said that we are moving from the Piscean to the Aquarian Age. Pisces wants to hold things close and in reclusion, within existing structures, striving for a beautiful purity. Aquarius wants to open up the windows of the Witch’s hut—or sometimes bust down the walls – and let in some fresh air, while figuring out how to build something new. While I have great sympathy for the Pisceans, and think that likely there will always be those needed to hold that polarity, my work is firmly on the side of the non-conforming Aquarians, even when we vehemently disagree. The world needs us. The world is in trouble. We must bring the souls of body, culture, and spirit back together, or we shall surely perish, whether alone or together. To do this requires stepping out of the nurturing cave, and into the light.”
“Concerning the ‘Blames’, this sundering has been ongoing for decades before I received initiation into the tradition. I would add ‘not listening to the counsel of peers’, as one of these ‘Blames’. Concerns about this issue and all of the ramifications and possibilities have been continuously put forth over the years, and went unheeded. Those who have decided for themselves to teach Feri publicly, to teach it enmasse, to make Feri practices available to the public indiscriminately decided on their own to withdraw from discussions. Some few claimed autonomy. Some few claimed they as initiates had the right to do whatever they saw fit to do in regards to teaching, to materials held in common, and that any criticisms to the contrary were simply attempts for power over or control.
And yes, there were heated exchanges and impassioned discussions and things were said on both sides that were regrettable, but there were also attempts to reconcile which were refused out of hand, that were taken into the public arena well before this, and mischaracterized to support claims that initiates on the whole were dysfunctional and irrational in their disagreement and sought only power over and elitism.”
“We are still working out our ‘standards’ here. To Stop kinstrife this Had to happen–It Did Happen. That part is done. Nobody is ‘better’,'more Feri’, or ‘less Feri’. We are Different, and that is Good. When tribes get too big, they often divide—bands go different Directions- (hunt different game)–sometimes they meet up and camp together, later, then go separate ways once more. This is not war–only clan division”
As a Pagan journalist I believe that what happens within our communities is important. When this split started spilling out into the public eye, I knew that it would be irresponsible for me to simply ignore it. Feri has become too influential, too seminal in our history, too “big” to escape our notice when something like this is revealed to non-initiates. However, I was also somewhat vexed on how to frame this schism for the readers of The Wild Hunt. There are different narratives and nuances as to why this happened, and I hesitate from making a rush to judgement as to what “the” reason was. So in addition to the links from various opinions and essays above, I have uploaded statements from several Feri/Faery initiates that I personally contacted, or who contacted me, regarding this schism. Some follow a simple three-question format, and some do not, but I hope all of them will provide deeper context into the issues and history involved.
Splits and schisms are nothing new in the history of Paganism, ancient or modern, or indeed in the history of religion as a whole. What separates us from some religions and traditions is that we are generally able to carry on and coexist with each other after these splits, sunderings, and schisms happen. We can still attend the same conferences, attend public rituals together, break bread, preserve friendships, and eventually, find the wisdom and humor in experiences that were once so wrenching, and possibly even find a way to unite once more. Feri, or Faery, may be split, but it will carry on. This notion is touched on in a thoughtful essay from Morpheus Ravenna.
I wish to say that what the initiates of the Feri tradition are experiencing is not just another witch war. It is not a petty personality conflict – it is the fruit of long-standing, deep-seated and substantive differences in philosophy and practice. Some kind of change or divergence of paths was probably inevitable for a tradition growing as fast as ours. In the minutia of the process, of course personal conflicts have arisen, but that is not what’s really driving this, and I feel like it would be demeaning and harmful to our process to frame this as a Big Personality Conflict between two opposed sides. “The Sundering”, as it’s being called, is not nearly as severe as that title implies. The reality is, people are still in communication across all sides of the philosophical debate, and the community as a whole is far from divisible into two camps.
Schisms happen to Pagans, and we should take them seriously when they do, because they can ripple through and affect our own spiritual lives, but we should take heart that these splits are not impediments to our growth, or insurmountable obstacles that trigger the scorched earth campaigns of some faiths. I wish the Feri, and the Faery, well in the future, and hope that these developments bring growth, positive change, and new beginnings for those who need them.
The new documentary “American Mystic”, which had its premiere at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, is a stunning directorial debut from filmmaker Alex Mar. Languid and dreamlike in tone, it immerses you into the lives of three modern American mystics, a Spiritualist, a Lakota Sundancer, and Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna. It may be the best documentary involving modern Pagans that this generation has seen. The subjects are approached on their own terms, and they speak in their own voice. There is no omniscient narrator, or outside experts, all context is provided by the lush cinematography and candid glimpses into the lives of these individuals. Because of this, there is a engaging intimacy, a sense that you are truly getting to know these modern mystics, instead of merely studying them.
I’ve recently had the distinct pleasure to conduct a short interview with Alex Mar about the journey towards making this documentary, how she selected her subjects, and her feelings about modern Pagans.
“American Mystic” is your first feature film. What was the journey the brought you towards tackling this subject matter? Why a film about modern-day mystics?
I’m a bit of a diehard New Yorker — liberal, feminist, wary of any club that would have me — but at the same time I was raised by a Cuban mother whose beliefs are a dizzying mix I would call “liberated Catholic.” So from a young age I was taught to immerse myself in the mystery and ritual that you find in Catholic ceremonies while simultaneously questioning everything. As I got older, I began to see the mysteries and stories of Catholicism as very exotic, and wonder how it is that people come to subscribe to their belief systems. What makes one religion or spiritual practice more relatable than another? Clearly the culture you’re personally raised within has a lot to do with that.
As far as “mystics” — I was working within the media for a long time, and still do occasionally. And I was really tired of the way in which faith in America has been portrayed. It really seems as if there are two angles you can come from: we’re either talking about the evangelical Christian movement, in which case the story is all about politics; or we’re investigating some kind of cult, in which case it’s a freak show. I wanted to make a documentary that would say something else about spiritual practice in America, separate from the mainstream. Because there is obviously so much going on in this country, so many belief systems, that go beyond the Big Three religions. To write America off as a wall-to-wall Christian stronghold is simply wrong.
In the film you follow the lives of a Pagan Witch priestess, a Spiritualist medium in training, and a Lakota Sioux Sundancer, why these three lives? Was it an organic process, or did you have some preconceived notions about who you’d like to profile?
I think all filmmakers who’ve worked in the doc genre will tell you that casting is critical, and very tricky. You want to find the right balance of subjects for a film, while at the same time having very little idea of how their lives will play out once you start filming. For me, the biggest challenge was inherent to the topic I’d chosen: I had to find people who were really dedicated to a non-mainstream spiritual practice, brave enough to talk about it publicly, articulate about experiences that are sometimes beyond words, and (on top of that!) great on camera. That’s not an easy combination to pull off. That’s why the casting process took about six months, all told, and took me all over the country, to some very hard-to-reach places.
As far as which traditions I wanted to include, I left that pretty loose. I knew I was very curious about Spiritualism, had been for a long time, so this was a good opportunity to explore that. And I also had a hunch that I wanted to develop a better understanding of what it means to be a “witch” today — the word is still so loaded. I remember the first few times I met Pagans, I really tiptoed around saying the word “witch” for fear that I might be committing some kind of faux pas! Of course, I learned very quickly that there are so many stripes of Pagan practice that there isn’t just one correct interpretation. That’s another thing — it was essential to me to stick with the stories from each individual’s perspective, and not get too much grander than that. So Morpheus, the priestess featured in the film, was sharing her own experiences — but neither she nor I would have claimed that we were speaking for all of Pagan-dom. That would have been impossible.
As a follow-up to the previous question, you’ve said in other interviews that you come from a Catholic-Cuban background. Did you consider including a Santeria practitioner, or a Catholic mystic in the documentary?
My mother’s family is originally from the north of Spain, so there wasn’t any Santeria practice in our background — that wouldn’t have been a personal angle, if that had been what I was searching for. And more importantly, as I said, I knew I wanted to steer clear of giving even more coverage to the mainstream. So, for me, that precluded any form of Christianity. In addition, I was trying to include traditions that were “made in America” to some degree. Most Native American practices have been around longer than everything else that’s practiced in this country; Spiritualism was founded in upstate New York in the 1840s; and perhaps you could say that Pagan practice in America involves a great deal of re-invention and room to shift your allegiances among specific traditions. In that sense, Paganism seems pretty all-American to me.
Was it easy getting your subjects to open their lives to you? The portraits are surprisingly intimiate, particularly of Chuck, the Lakota Sundancer. I suspect that building trust was a large part of your work on this project.
Building relationships is a big part of making a documentary, as any doc filmmaker can tell you. And it’s especially challenging when you’re asking people you barely know to open up to you, on-camera, about something as personal as their spiritual beliefs. It’s a topic that I think we’re trained to find embarrassing to talk about in this country — unless you’re an evangelical, on the one hand, or a resident of the states of California or New Mexico! (I’m exaggerating, but there’s some truth to that.) In the end, it was a combination of time spent with the subjects and a willingness on my part to open up in return — I did my best to open up to any questions about my own background.
Turning to Morpheus, and your work with Pagans, how did you two come into contact? Was she the first Pagan you approached for this documentary? What was the process there?
I actually spent time with Pagans in Montana, Tennessee, and other areas of California (as opposed to where Morpheus lives) before I even connected with Morpheus. I also had plenty of phone and email chats with Pagans in other states along the way, and a lot of people were lovely, really forthcoming with tips and thoughts on how to be faithfully represent Pagan practice. You’ve talked about this yourself, Jason — the ways in which the Internet has made it easier for Pagans to interact and find each other. The Internet definitely made some aspects of my search easier. But at the end of the day, when someone is still in the “broom closet” in an area of the country that’s hostile to what locals think being a “witch” involves, you need to build a relationship in person. I met a wonderful witch who lived in the hills of Tennessee who initially had me meet her at a truck stop diner to make sure that I was who I claimed to be. Eventually, I spent time at her home, and she really wanted to tell her story — but the fear of being outted in such a hostile environment was too much for her. She was afraid of threats to her or her family, or of losing her job. And she had good reason to be cautious.
When I finally met with Morpheus, in her khakis (nothing like her ritual gear!) after her day job, we clicked pretty quickly. And when once my producer and I stayed with her and her husband Shannon at Stone City, we all had a hunch that this would be a great fit. There was also the plus of being able to tell the story of this Pagan sanctuary they were in the earlier stages of building up on their land.
Could you tell us a little bit about your time working with Morpheus, Shannon, and their community? How would you describe the working relationship? Any interesting stories to share?
Morpheus and Shannon were great — real collaborators. I think that Morpheus performs, as a dancer, helped her to see this as a sort of art project she was taking on, and that gave our relationship an interesting angle. And once the two of them were on board, they helped me to make the other members of their community feel more comfortable when they visited and the cameras were rolling. We also never showed anyone’s face on-camera unless they had actively given their permission, so once people understood that, it was easier to decide to take part. And I think it also helped that I really did want to take part in ritual whenever it was possible, when I wouldn’t be ruining the shot! Samhain was a particularly moving experience at Stone City, and one I won’t forget. There was definitely some kind of powerful energy in the room, with maybe 60 people present calling on their loved ones who had passed.
Having spent some time working and socializing with modern Pagans, what is your perspective of our communities? Advantages? Drawbacks?
Maybe a downside would be something you find in all religious communities: the people who are more invested in their community for the lifestyle than anything much deeper. The Pagan equivalent of going to your megachurch for the X-Box and the Krispy Kreme donuts. But, of course, the Pagan version is racier than that!
Much more importantly, though, I loved the open attitude I found so many Pagans had. There was a lot of tolerance and genuine curiosity about people who practice differently. I really appreciated that. Also, the idea that you’re allowed to evolve and change aspects of your practice as you grow — that was something new for me.
There will be a special screening of “American Mystic” at the 2011 PantheaCon in San Jose, California, followed by a panel discussion moderated by me, and featuring Alex Mar, Morpheus, and members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary. There will also be an opportunity to purchase DVD copies of the film. A wider DVD release of the documentary will follow shortly after this event.
“When you’re making a film about faith, I think it’s only fair to put your own family beliefs and your own questions on the line when approaching your subjects. Most people would only share with me about their own practices once they had heard about my own hopes and doubts about what greater meaning might be out there. For the record, I don’t subscribe to any religious institution, but I do believe that we’re here for some mysterious, larger purpose.” – Alex Mar
I urge all Pagans and fellow travelers in the Albuquerque area to attend “American Mystic”, it even happens the day before the Albuquerque Pagan Pride Day, so the timing couldn’t be better! In addition, on the same day as “American Mystic”, the Albuquerque Film Festival is also featuring the documentary “The Shaman & Ayahuasca” by filmmaker Michael Wiese, which sounds like a great double-feature. Lets spread the word, and show that there is a market for smart, respectful, films that feature modern Pagans.
It’s been an oft-repeated assertion that during tough economic times the church pews fill up. In a recent Newsweek article economist Daniel Hungerman suggested this phenomenon is more due to a yearning for “interconnectedness” than with the popular “no atheists in foxholes” theory. Economics writer Ryan Avent thinks it all comes down to cheap entertainment. But does this pervasive truism of increased religious attendance during hard times apply to modern Pagan faiths? What happens when there is no “pew” to casually fill when times are tough? I’ve asked a number of Pagan leaders, clergy, organizers, and adherents about attendance levels, and anecdotal evidence from across the country seems to point towards the rising tide of economic hardship lifting all religious boats.
Near the San Francisco Bay, Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, recently featured in a new documentary, and co-founder of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary, said that there’s been a steady increase in attendance for the last few years, though she can’t say for certain if the economy has been a driving factor.
“…it’s hard to separate the influence of the economy from other factors. We’re just passing our first half decade in existence, and we’ve been in a rapid growth phase of our development in terms of infrastructure building and also in terms of exposure, so we might have had just as much growth in attendance regardless of the economy. There’s not enough history to know what our ‘baseline’ really is.”
“Our numbers have more than tripled in the past 12 months. We have even had to expand operations to encompass our over seas members. I think there is a reaching out that occurs during a recession. If there is a decline in numbers at Christian Venues, I would attribute it to feeling like you NEED to tithe to attend. Money is tight. We as pagans offer services that accept donations, but we don’t expect them. We honor them, but we don’t demand them. It is more important today, and tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future that we provide a place for people to connect with the Divine then it has been in 90 years.” - Dusty Dionne, Church Summoner, Covenant of WISE, Church of Wicca
But while there’s been a seeming overall trend of increased attendance in recent years, it hasn’t always brought with it increased donations. Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s Archpriest, Pete Pathfinder Davis, noted to me that while attendance at his Washington state congregation has increased, donations this year have fallen sharply. Raven Digitalis remarked that his group “have had to put our feet down” concerning event fees “a bit more than usual”. A respondent from Illinois noted that he feels there’s been a decrease in attendance lately as the cost of transportation rises. In addition, many of the groups that have experienced success also mentioned that they have worked hard to provide community services while keeping costs low.
“One thing we have done is try to keep costs low, both for gatherings that we organize ourselves, and also what we charge to host other groups’ events. For example, we don’t charge anything for kids, ever, because we know even half-price can still make it hard on families. I think that keeping costs low has helped us stay viable as the economy has gotten worse.” – Morpheus Ravenna
While there has certainly been challenges for our communities during this ongoing recession, it seems that hard times haven’t equaled diminished numbers or attendance in many groups across the United States. I think this points to Pagan faiths being deeply rooted and mature enough to provide the sense of fellowship and “interconnectedness” that Hungerman describes in the Newsweek article.
“…maybe people’s desire for spiritual guidance is influenced by their perception of how the world’s doing outside of themselves. Church attendance may not reflect our own circumstances but our own idea of how the world is doing beyond us.”
So maybe the booming circles, groves, and events reflect that we are checking in with our own loose-knit communities, finding fellowship so we can weather this storm together.