Archives For New York

[The following is a guest post by Courtney Weber. Courtney Weber is a Wiccan Priestess, writer, Tarot Adviser, and teacher living in New York City. She runs open events in Manhattan and teaches workshops on Witchcraft from coast to coast. Photography in this article is courtesy of George Courtney.]

Warning: This Post Contains a Scary Movie, a Scary Monster, and New Yorkers. (But also cupcakes.)

Six months ago, I organized an event that ended with weepy Witches fleeing the room. I showed a film, which should have come with a trigger warning: “Empaths beware: This film will break your heart chakras.”

The film was Gasland, the documentary exposing the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (“Fracking”) for natural gas extraction. A few of the scariest scenes included kitchen faucets belching blue flames, rivers turned to mass graves of wildlife, bizarre diseases, horses and kitty-cats losing chunks of fur. The gold rush-esque drive for natural gas has pounded on New York State’s front door for years. The film showed how it impacted our neighbors in Pennsylvania along with other regions and how quickly it could happen in our state, too. Witch tears flowed at views of the toxic rape of our very regional land. Guests thanked me for screening the film, but also thanked me in advance for never, ever showing it again.

(By the way…if you haven’t seen Gasland, you need to make time to see it. I do recommend having your favorite two or four-legged creature nearby for comfort-snuggles. And a cupcake.)

A few months later, I was mean enough to consider showing the sequel: Gasland 2, an even more violent depiction of an actual assault on Mother Earth, but with a much more apocalyptic and panicked conclusion. My friend Damon Stang sagely recommended that we do something else. Maybe we throw a party, instead? Maybe a ritual, too? Get active without bringing people down? The Pagan community is attuned and aware of the environmental problems we face. Why not focus on solutions instead of bad-scary problems?

It was a wonderful idea, I agreed. Let’s have a “fix-it” gathering instead of a depressing gathering focused solely on scary awareness. We’ll have speakers talk to us about ways to help and raise energy to motivate ourselves and Magickally help the cause. Let’s have a pretty Witch do burlesque and more pretty Witches sing songs onstage! And this time…..CUPCAKES. LOTS OF THEM.

As it turned out, the timing could not have been more pertinent.

Fracking hasn’t started in New York, but an equally ugly monster is making its way over here. A company with a strange business address in the Cayman Islands has applied to build a liquefied natural gas plant off the coast of Long Island. This is a terrible, terrible idea. Here are few reasons why:

  1. STORMS, GUYS! One of these days we’re going to get another Sandy and it will totally beat the crap out of an LNG port and spill its natural gas guts into the sea. Bye-bye beaches. And whales.
  2. BIG-ASS-TERRORIST TARGET. Oh, sweet. Let’s go paint one more scarlet bull’s eye on this town. That bull’s eye would also have massive tankers lurking around the port. One guy taking a boat and slamming it into the side of a tanker could potentially causing 2nd degree burns on all the people within a mile radius—“the kind of intensity our industrial fires have never seen…there is no way to put out that kind of fire.” It sounds a lot like Wildfire and Stannis Baratheon’s fleet. AWESOME. And by “awesome” I mean “suck.” Leave it in books and television.
  3. WIND!!!! Another proposed project is a big, beautiful, wind farm fifteen miles off the coast, which will lovingly green-power our region. It has applied for the same stretch of water as the LNG port, and the powers that be say we have to pick one or the other. The wind plant would actually create an artificial reef which would help local fisheries and would be far enough away at sea so as not to impact tourist views. Turbines would be set far enough apart for whales to navigate around, easily. Whales historically haven’t had that kind of luck navigating around fossil fuel spills.
  4. IT’S NOT ABOUT US. The Port Ambrose project claims to be an import station to help the region gain energy independence…but directly across the Atlantic sits a ready-made natural gas import station, posed like a hungry-hungry hippo to gobble up all the fracked shale gas from North America. It’s not going to import, but export. It will help a select few gain a ton of money by sending cheap, fracked gas overseas: overcharging our friends in Europe and polluting our land, water, and air at home. The rich get richer and the poor get flaming faucets.

I could go on about how it’s only going to create 20 permanent jobs while the wind farm would create 250…plus methane emissions from natural gas contributing to climate change….but let’s focus on solutions. We wanted to make our voices heard, but we wanted to have fun doing it. We wanted Governor to hear us say “NO TO LNG.”

Still disturbed by the Gasland viewing, but also inspired, Witches gathered at Catland Books, on Monday, March 24 for a party. We included burlesque by Sweet n’ Lo, the Queer Mermaid of the NYC Pagan Scene and had music by Thorazine Unicorn—the Electro-Goth Chiptunes band, 100% composed of Real Witches:

Thorazine Unicorn provides the dance break

Thorazine Unicorn provides the dance break.

Caption: David Alicea of the Sierra Club

David Alicea of the Sierra Club

The plan was to each call the Governor on entertainment breaks, but the voicemail boxes were full. Lame. Still, petitions were signed and speakers spoke. How do you solve a problem like fracking? Our speakers shared their views on the problems with the LNG port and what local people can do about it.

As opposed to the Gasland night, people laughed and cheered instead of wept. Our community truly had had enough doom—they needed outlet for the concerns. It was helpful to have ears outside the Pagan community. Within any community, it’s easy to believe we’re the only ones who care. Activists often feel the same way as many Pagans do—all of us operating in our sad little fishbowls thinking we’re alone in this. Bridging these communities—all lovers of Gaia in different ways—helped us become acutely aware of one another and how we can work together. Edie Kantrowitz of United for Action said, “NeoPagans certainly know the importance of protecting the Earth. It’s exciting to see that the Pagan community is becoming increasingly interested in environmental activism.”

Our night culminated with a ritual to cleanse ourselves of dependence on fossil fuels, and charge green apples with “hunger for green energy.” The apples were taken to Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—the trajectory of the fracked gas to the proposed port.

Cleansing away addiction to fossil fuels

Cleansing away addiction to fossil fuels

It was an important step for our community. We love our land and waters. Sandy has made us acutely aware of the side effects of climate change. We moved from “What do we do?” to “What do we do, next?” While the call-in element went far more 8 of Swords than 8 of Wands, the event sparked interest, desire, and most importantly, concrete tools of action. In the coming weeks, the planning group will be meeting again to brainstorm next steps.

Charging apples with hunger for green energy

Charging apples with hunger for green energy

It’s not just a New York thing. Due to fracking, the US is posed to be the leading exporter of natural gas, globally. American companies have submitted 21 applications to build export plants around the country—as of this posting, 6 have been approved. Check your beaches. Are they building one near you? If so, what will you do to stop it?

The idea of stopping this landslide seems daunting—but then again, so has every major switch in civilization. A century and a half ago, our country was fed the same lies we are fed about fossil fuels. People were told the enslavement of human beings was necessary for a country’s economic survival. Not so long after that, other people were told that empowering women with the right to vote would decimate our societal structure. Change came from small groups of people who knew in their souls that these things were wrong on their basest level. Historically, social justice and change is rooted in places of faith and Spirit—Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques. We can include Circles, Groves and the back rooms of occult bookstores to that list as it’s happening here and now.

If you are in New York State, You can find your NYS Senator and phone number by clicking on this link. You can find your NYS Assembly Member and phone number by clicking on this link. Call to Governor Cuomo at 518-474-8390 or leave a comment and tell him you oppose the LNG Port Ambrose project and ask the governor to veto the project.

If you are not in New York State, find out what threatens your region. Find your local grassroots organizers and invite them to your next Circle. Find what breaks your heart and address it in a way that gives you joy. Raising energy and Circling together can only go so far—we have to break the Circle of dependence and sometimes that means stepping into uncharted Groves. If we truly honor the Earth as Mother and Goddess, we have an obligation to fight for change in the way she is treated. But we can also have fun doing it. My community loves dancing, music, and ecstatic ritual. What does your community love and how can you connect it to the work that needs to be done?

Blessed Be, Kitty Kats! Happy Spring!

[We would like to thank Courtney Weber for sharing this slice of New York Pagan life. The views in this guest post reflect those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Wild Hunt or its staff.]

 

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. I know it’s April 1st, and thus, April Fools day in the land of journalism, but I promise we’ll keep the fooling to an absolute minimum.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

  • Let’s start with the religious origins of April Fool’s Day traditions, which the Religion News Service explores. Quote: “Some argue that April Fools’ Day is a remnant of early ‘renewal festivals,’ which typically marked the end of winter and the start of spring. These festivals, according to the Museum of Hoaxes, typically involved ‘ritualized forms of mayhem and misrule.’ Participants donned disguises, played tricks on friends as well as strangers, and inverted the social order.” 
  • The Associated Press checks in with the town of Greece in New York, as the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s decision regarding prayer at government meetings. Quote: “After the complaints, the town, in 2008, had a Wiccan priestess, the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation and a lay Jewish man deliver four of the prayers. But from January 2009 through June 2010, the prayer-givers were again invited Christian clergy, according to court documents.” I’ve written extensively on this case, and the outcome could have far-reaching affects on religion in our public square. When the decision comes down, you can be sure we’ll cover it.
  • An LAPD police officer who identifies as Buddhist and Wiccan has filed suit claiming sexual and religious harassment in her workplace. Quote: “DeBellis told Tenney that she no longer practices Catholicism and was now a Buddhist-Wiccan and a priestess, the suit states. ‘Tenney was visibly upset and appeared disgusted by plaintiff’s comment and told (her), ‘Women cannot be priests,”  according to the complaint. Tenney later told DeBellis she ‘cannot switch religions’ and that she ‘will burn in hell,’ the suit states.”
  • The New York Times Magazine interviews Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book “Living With A Wild God” which documents her exploration of an intense mystical experience she had when young. Quote: “I didn’t see any creatures or hear any voices, but the whole world came to life, and the difference between myself and everything else dissolved — but not in a sweet, loving, New Agey way. That was a world flamed into life, is how I would put it.”
  • Metro has a story on Pagans and Witches serving in the British military. Quote: “Prof Ronald Hutton said pagan worship is ‘pretty well’ suited to being in the military. ‘There is no pacifism necessarily embedded in modern pagan or Wiccan religious attitudes, and ancient pagans could make formidable soldiers,’ he said.”

  • The Miami Herald has an interesting piece on Santeria, and the challenges it faces as it grows and changes in an increasingly interconnected world. Quote: “The growth of the back-to-roots movement has kindled infighting, widening rifts between the Yoruba faiths’ spreading branches. It’s a friction particularly felt in Miami, where Lukumi has become more mainstream since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the religion in a landmark 1993 case. Highly visible Miami priest Ernesto Pichardo considers many so-called traditionalists nothing more than ‘religious tourists,’ being fleeced by Nigerians, who return with strident views that their faith is somehow more authentic.”
  • The Wiccan Family Temple in New York won’t be able to hold a Summer Solstice festival at Astor Place because the group couldn’t prove they were “indigenous” to the neighborhood. Quote: “But the chairman of Community Board 2′s Sidewalks and Street Activity Committee Maury Schott told DNAinfo that the organization had to prove that the proposed street fair was ‘indigenous’ to the street between Broadway and Lafayette, although he could not explain what that meant.” There’s still a chance they could get approved though, so I guess we’ll see how “indigenous” to that part of Manhattan they really are.
  • Sorry Reiki healers, but Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is not on your side. Quote: “Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals—that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse.’ It isn’t.”
  • At HuffPo, Tom Carpenter endorses a military chaplaincy for “all the troops.” Quote: “Emergent faith communities in the military are properly seeking recognition. Many of these communities not only include but celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members. Humanists and Wiccans seek to join Buddhists, Hindus and other minority groups seeking recognition and representation in our military [...] The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy strongly supports the recruitment and retention of highly qualified, clinically trained chaplains who are representative of and committed to a chaplaincy reflecting a broad and inclusive range of interfaith, multicultural and diverse life experiences.”
  • There’s worry over proposed military housing that could potentially block the solstice sunrise at world-famous Stonehenge. Quote: “A plan to build thousands of new homes for soldiers returning from Germany could have to be changed – because they will be built on the horizon where the sun rises on summer solstice at Stonehenge. The Ministry of Defence said they were ‘aware of the issues’ and were organising a meeting with experts on the stones.” In other news, the nearly-as-famous Nine Ladies Stone Circle was recently vandalized. This is why we can’t have nice things, folks.

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.

The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, which has been in an ongoing battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, over religious property tax exemptions, was today vindicated in their multi-year struggle when a State Supreme Court ruling against them on this issue was overturned on appeal. The decision, which was issued on Thursday by the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Divsion, says the religious organization “satisfied the legal requirements in order to receive a real property tax exemption.”

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“The testimony established that the Cybeline Revival stresses communal living among its adherents, as well as providing hospitality and charity to those in need, and the members consider this property the home of their faith [...] They also conduct religious and charitable activities throughout the property on a regular basis. Accordingly, petitioner has satisfied the legal requirements in order to receive a real property tax exemption for 2009, 2010 and 2011 [...] Lahtinen, J.P., Spain and Egan Jr., JJ., concur. ORDERED that the order is reversed, on the law, with costs, petitions granted, and determinations of the Board of Assessment Review for the Town of Catskill denying petitioner’s applications for real property tax exemptions for 2009, 2010 and 2011 annulled.”

This is a huge reversal of fortune for the Maetreum, which has been fought relentlessly by the Town of Catskill on this issue. By the Maetreum’s estimate, the town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, and when the initial Supreme Court victory was handed down to them last year, their lawyer crowed to local press that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” Even some Pagans were skeptical of the Maetreum’s chances after that decision, but the Maetreum of Cybele were determined to fight on, and with some fiscal help from the larger Pagan community, they moved forward with their appeal. Now that the appeal has been won, Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine from the Maetreum of Cybele issued the following statement:

Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine from the Maetreum of Cybele.

Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine

“The Maetreum would like to thank the greater Pagan community for the spiritual and financial help to win this case. It is truly a win for all minority religions setting forth the standard that we Pagans are to be treated in law the same as the so called mainstream religions.

Throughout this battle we at the Maetreum of Cybele have kept doing our charitable works and recently have applied for a low power FM radio license to further serve our community with true community radio. If we recover our costs that money will go towards further green projects at the Maetreum, continued charitable housing, funding the community radio station and setting up a local food pantry.

The lessons from this battle are keep true to your beliefs and values and never give up even when it looks rocky.”

Rev. Platine, speaking with Terence P Ward at Witches & Pagans Magazine, elaborated on her formal statement, saying that the most important aspect of this win is the ability to, quote, “just go back to our religious work.” 

“If they were trying to erase us, they did exactly the opposite.  Cybele is back in Neopaganism now, as well as ancient paganism.  It will be hard to write about Paganism now, and not include us.  That was part of the larger purpose.”

This property tax win, as Rev. Platine intimates, is not only a win for the Maetreum, but for all religious minorities, especially Pagan organizations making their first forays into building a lasting infrastructure of buildings and services. Whatever our tradition or beliefs, our interconnected community owes the Maetreum our thanks for fighting this battle. May they now be able to truly get back to their religious work, unmolested by a local government that thought a small Pagan groups would be easy pickings. Congratulations!

The Supreme Court of the United States opened a new term this week, and America’s highest court will be hearing a number of “weighty” cases that could have far-reaching implications.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court judges.

“There isn’t one single blockbuster case on the docket, as in recent Supreme Court terms, but the high court will consider a number of weighty issues. The nine justices will hear cases dealing with campaign finance, abortion, prayer in government, presidential power, affirmative action, and housing discrimination.”

One of those cases, Town of Greece v. Galloway, which involves prayers given before government meetings, is one that I’ve been paying very close attention to. One, the stakes for the ruling are very high, and could change the way prayer before government functions are approached.

I think the legal experts at SCOTUSblog put it quite well:

“The Court’s decision in Galloway could conceivably matter in several ways.  First, the custom of legislative prayer itself is widespread in national, state, and local governments.  All of these will be looking to the Supreme Court for guidance on what is constitutional.  Second, the Court’s law on legislative prayer provides the most relevant guidance for a range of religious expressions by government that have not yet been evaluated directly by the Court – customs like opening Supreme Court sessions with the phrase “God save this honorable Court,” inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, adoption of the official motto of the United States, “In God We Trust,” and public prayer by military chaplains.  Third, the case presents the Court with an opportunity to revisit the legacy of Justice O’Connor, who was especially influential in this area.  Her “endorsement test,” which was embraced by the Court during her tenure, prohibits government from sending messages that endorse one or all faiths in a way that disadvantages outsiders and harms their standing as members of the political community.  That test, which informed the circuit court’s analysis in Galloway, is vulnerable and could be weakened or explicitly eradicated now that the composition of the Court has changed.”

Secondly, this case directly involves modern Pagans, specifically Wiccans, in the case and in the legal maneuvers that led to it. Something I’ve been harping on for some time, even to the point of chastising religion reporters for not picking up on it. Well, it seems that angle is finally getting a bit of attention now that arguments are looming. First up, the Wall Street Journal’s law blog zooms in on the one Wiccan sectarian prayer that took place in Greece, noting that it might be enough of a fig leaf for the town to escape accusations of coercion and Christian endorsement.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

“It’s not too often that a Wiccan priestess factors into a U.S. Supreme Court case. But that moment will come next month when the high court considers a public prayer case involving a Rochester, N.Y., suburb [...] A key point made by Greece in its defense is that its invocations are inclusive and not discriminatory, as claimed by two of its residents. To back that up, the town is highlighting a board meeting in 2008 that began with a prayer recited by Jennifer Zarpentine, identified as a Wiccan priestess from the Sanctuary of the Crescent Moon. Ms. Zarpentine was invited to deliver the prayer after two residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, began complaining about the prayers and filed their suit.”

Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress notes that Greece “includes residents who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, and Baha’i” and that a Wiccan prayer was one of the very few non-Christian invocations.

“For 10 years, Christian clergy have offered virtually every prayer that has opened the town board meetings in Greece. Two-thirds of their 120 recorded prayers contain specific references to “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “Your Son,” or the “Holy Spirit.’” In 10 years of the board meeting once per month, only four non-Christian prayers have been given, including two prayers from a Jewish layman, one prayer from a Wiccan priestess, and another from the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation.”

Other news outlets that have mentioned the Wiccan angle to this case including CNN and The Economist.

“In 1999 the town of Greece, in upstate New York, invited citizens to open its monthly town-board meetings with a prayer. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Baha’i and Wiccans have all had a go. Most prayers have been Christian, but no citizen who wishes to offer an invocation has been turned away. [...] This time, the Court will probably side with Greece. Christians used to burn witches; some see it as progress that the two groups now pray together.”

With Witches being the hot thing in pop-culture right now, and with this being October, expect more outlets to dig into this angle. I’d expect three basic takes among the opinion-shapers.

  1. They included one Wiccan, therefor the Town of Greece is very inclusive (perhaps even too inclusive) and should win this case.
  2. They included a Wiccan, and other religious minorities, as a desperate gambit after it became clear a lawsuit was heading down the pike, and so Greece should lose.
  3. Look! Wiccans! Witches! Halloween! Let’s include a picture from [Harry Potter/Wizard of Oz/Bewitched/American Horror Story/etc] and make jokes about cauldrons and brooms. Do we still have that strobe light and fake spiderweb from a few years back?

Ambitious outlets will no doubt go for the trifecta.

I would advise Pagan and Wiccan/Witchcraft organizations to have responses to this case (whatever they may be) crafted beforehand should the need arise. Journalists may very well come calling for an “official” Wiccan take on the case, and we should have a clear, coherent, and focused take on the case and its ramifications. For those who want a quick recap of my own take, here are a selection of recent posts I’ve written about this issue.

This case will be important, and Wicca’s role in this case should not be underestimated. A lot may hinge on our inclusion in this case, and on the lawsuits of the past that shaped invocation policy. However the ruling goes, we should be prepared to understand how we’ve shaped the result.

[I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Zan Fraser, a fixture in the New York Pagan scene who was a regular contributor to The Juggler, a culture-oriented Pagan blog I had initiated, and one of my main go-to sources for news from his community. I'm pleased to run this tribute assembled by Brian Brewer, Chris Goffredo, Michael Lloyd, Paul Patton, Bruce and Kay Skidmore, Gary Suto, and Courtney Weber. With photos by Brian Brewer, George Courtney, and Gary Suto.]

Zan at opening of Magickal Realms occult store in the Bronx.

Zan at opening of Magickal Realms occult store in the Bronx.

Summerland gained a true jewel this past week and the Pagan community at large suffered a great loss in the crossing over of Bruce Alex Skidmore, aka Zan Fraser, aka Puck. The tie-dyed, impish-grinned fixture of the New York and national Pagan communities received a packed and emotional tribute on Tuesday, September 17th at the LGBT Center in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. A gorgeous collage of ecstatic dance, cathartic chant, stories, sonnets, laughter, and solemnity in memory of the man who was remembered for dancing effortlessly between the worlds he walked. Countless others who were unable to attend coordinated candle lighting and recitation of the character Puck’s final speech Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Born in South Carolina, Zan adored Shakespeare from an early age—he was often caught reading The Tempest alongside comic books. Later, Zan trained classically as an actor at the New York City National Shakespeare Conservatory. A scholar of medieval drama, Zan wrote and lectured extensively about literature about the magical and mystical – focusing primarily on the presentation of Witchcraft in Elizabethan plays by authors such as Shakespeare and Marlowe – and was a frequent contributor to The Juggler blog covering the history of Witchcraft and its intersection with and influence on pop culture. Zan had an uncanny eye for sussing out threads of interconnection between disparate subjects and a style which made everything that he wrote interesting, entertaining, and downright quirky – but always, always educational. To that end, he wrote five books on the subject of Witchcraft:

Zan could pluck an entire Shakespearean scene from thin air with the ease of Prospero (the way many of us might recite a scene from Monty Python – only much, much better). He could spellbind the crowd in one moment and have them roaring the next with a change in inflection, or the merest raising of an eyebrow. His announcing for the Between the Worlds Players every September was a delight, and his recitation at the close of that festival could send chills down one’s back. He had a healthy appreciation for the absurd, and said to be the skinniest Wonder Woman many had ever seen. He was in the main a gentle man and the loyalist of friends, but he also had a low tolerance of fools and “nasty queens.” When his writer friends were recipients of criticism from the latter, he staunchly defended them and their work.

Zan Fraser at 2013 Gay Pride Parade with "Pagan for Gay Rites" group.

Zan Fraser at 2013 Gay Pride Parade with “Pagan for Gay Rites” group.

Zan was known for his flagrant playfulness in rituals, never shying away from dance, silliness, and throwing rigid structure out the window—as well as his overabundant generosity. At the queer men’s gathering Between the Worlds in 2011, Pan was the deity of honor. Zan, along with the rest of the New York brothers organized and put on a ritual dedicated to the god. Afterwards, they donated a pair of the satyr pants they had worn in the ritual to the annual auction. One attendee got into a bidding war with another attendee of the gathering, and lost. On my way back to his tent, Puck stopped the attendee and asked why he wanted the pants. The attendee said he considered himself a loyal follower of the God. Zan led him to a small grove of trees, gathered the New York brothers, pulled out a bag that contained the satyr pants he had worn in the ritual and proceeded to “initiate” the man into the “brotherhood of Pan” as he called it. He gave the coveted satyr pants as a gift to their brotherhood. Zan was known for doing all that he could to make a moment of happiness or a smile from someone, even if only for a moment. He was well-known for helping out neighbors in need and looking out community members in need. One young man in the NYC Pagan scene shared a story of when Zan heard that he was to spend a Christmas alone in the city, he invited the young man to join him for a movie so he would not be alone on the holiday.

In New York City, Zan was known for “attending everything.” On any given Sabbat, Esbat, or anything in between, he could be seen smiling happily in open Circles and was known for approaching new faces, frequently being among the first to welcome them. Known as New York City’s “Pagan Scribe,” he wrote detailed articles about NYC Pagan functions, showing particular support for fledgling groups and leaders. A fervent Gay Rights supporter, Zan joyfully marched with various Pagan groups at the annual Gay Pride Day parades. Deeply concerned about the rise is homophobic attacks in the city, particularly after the hate-crime killing of Mark Carson, Zan was a primary organizer of a Peace and Protection march and ritual, enticing the Spirits of New York to protect its LGBT citizens. Next on his agenda was to organize a Samhain “Witch-In” in Central Park.

Zan's memorial with Gary Suto (left, with flaming mandala) and parents Kay and Bruce Skidmore (to right of Gary).

Zan’s memorial with Gary Suto (left, with flaming mandala) and parents Kay and Bruce Skidmore (to right of Gary).

Zan attended nearly every one of the monthly Gay Men’s Pagan Circles and was scheduled to lead the rite on the 17th. The evening instead became a celebration of his life, attended by his parents Bruce and Kay Skidmore and members from well over a dozen Pagan, spiritual and activist groups. The memorial included readings of Shakespeare sonnets, excerpts from Zan’s extensive Juggler blog, hilarious stories of glittery and ball-gowned antics, and the lighting of Mandala coins and Money for the next life to the chants of Hare Krishna, honoring Zan’s love for Eastern practices. It was an exhilarating function Zan would have written about, but his city is without its beloved Scribe. The night ended with a reading by his close friend Gary Suto of a piece Zan adopted from Cymbeline,

Fear no more the Heat of the Sun, nor the furious Winter’s Rages: Thou thy worldly Task has done; Home art gone, and ta’en thy Wages. Golden Lads and Girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to Dust. Fear no more the Frown of the Great; thou art past the Tyrant’s Stroke. Care no more to Clothe and Eat; to thee the Reed is as the Oak. The Scepter, Learning, Physic, must: all follow this, and come to Dust. Fear no more the Lightening-Flash, nor the all-dreaded Thunder-Stone. Fear not slander, censure rash; thou hast finished Joy and Moan. All Lovers young, all Lovers must: consign to Thee, and come to Dust. Hear, nature, hear: Dear Goddess hear. Crown them(Him) with flowers and make them(Him) your joy. Who taught thee how to make me love thee? Quiet Consumption have and Renowned be thy grave.

A recording of the memorial can be heard at http://newyorkpagan.podbean.com.

 IO PUCK!!!!!

IO PUCK!!!!!

Zan, the worlds you walked were ever more enriched by your presence and permanently changed by the legacy you left. Those dancing, prancing shoes will never be re-filled, but they certainly left footprints on our hearts and souls. Blessed Be, Sweet Prince, and flights of glittery fairies sing thee to thy rest.

Zan hanging with the local Pagan flavor.

Zan hanging with the local Pagan flavor.

[Thank you to the friends and family of Zan for contributing this memorial, what is remembered, lives!]

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

6a00d83454ed4169e201901ee8f344970b-500wiThe Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions will be taking place October 18th-20th in New York City, hosted by Hosted by Phantasmaphile, Observatory and the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions. Quote:  “The conference will present a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice [...] The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.” Participants include Robert Ansell of Fulgur Esoterica, Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile fameIthell Colquhoun expert Dr. Amy Hale, and author Gary Lachman, among others. If I had the budget for it, I’d be there in a heartbeat! If you’re in New York, you should check it out!

wp27cover1bIssue of #27 of Witches & Pagans Magazine is scheduled to be released on October 15th, and features an interview with Teo Bishop, conducted by T. Thorn Coyle. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a triplet of fascinating Pagan notables. Paranormal and detective novelist Alex Bledsoe sold his first magickal “Lady Firefly” story to PanGaia in 1998. Catch up with his journey in this conversation with Deborah Blake; then listen in as the inimitable T. Thorn Coyle talks with Pagan blogger, mystic, Druid and musician (aka Matt Morris) Teo Bishop; and visit with Renaissance woman, writer, and community leader Tish Owen.” Meanwhile, the rest of the issue is water-themed. Quote: “What would it be like to experience water viscerally? Susan Harper teaches us to become conscious of the sacral nature of this ubiquitous element in her article ‘Sensing Water.’ Loremaster P. Sufenas Virius Lupus writes about the ability of water ­ and even of drowning ­ to assist in the apotheosis of humans in his fascinating look at classical Greek and Roman paganism ‘Deification by Drowning.’ Leni Hester introduces us to the Lady of Fresh Water, Ochun, in ‘No One is an Enemy to Water.’” You can pre-order the issue, here.

The Warrior's CallLast week I reported on an upcoming Pagan-led public ritual in the UK to protect the land near Glastonbury Tor from the practice of “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing to extract oil an gas from the earth). Since then, more Pagan leaders have stepped forward to weigh in on the topic. Author and activist Starhawk said it was “almost unbelievable” that the UK government “would threaten the purity of Chalice Well in Glastonbury, a site sacred to both Pagans and Christians!” So far, over 1000 people have committed to attending the ritual, with many more promising energetic work in solidarity. In addition, Druid leader John Michael Greer writes at length about the false promise, and dangerous effect of the practice. Quote: “The increasingly frantic cheerleading being devoted to the fracking industry these days is simply one more delay in the process of coming to grips with the real crisis of our time—the need to decouple as much as possible of industrial society from its current dependence on fossil fuels.” Could fracking become a new rallying point for Pagans drawn to environmental activism? We’ll keep you posted as this issue develops.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • “Tales of Albion,” an 8-part web-based film series follow-up to the Pagan film “The Spirit of Albion,” has posted several production pictures taken over the Summer. Quote: “We are now scheduling like crazy for the next few shoots which will see us tackle a legendary outlaw and the once and future king. We will travel to an 11th Century monastery, the Bronze Age and even Neolithic caves. We will see two world wars, the 95thRifles and a priest with writer’s block! It’s going to be quite a ride…”
  • The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC has a library. Here it is in six seconds.
  • October 11-14th will be Twilight Covening, a yearly event held by the EarthSpirit Community. Quote: “Twilight Covening is a three-day institute of Earth spirituality held within a continual three-day ritual. It is a time for exploring ways to deepen Earth-centered spiritual practice and a time to develop our collective wisdom in a shared sacred space as we move into the dark time of the year.”
  • Friday, September 20th will see the launch party for Abraxas Issue Four, at Treadwells in London. Quote: “A night of partying,  40 minute session of speeches, short presentations and a few words from each of the contributors who can join us.  When you’ve finished looking at the art on the walls we will serenade you wtih three short readings. Think of it as a salon for magic and the imagination. Join us, meet the contributors, and revel in the delight of magic and the imagination.”
  • The Delmarva Pagan Pride Festival in Delaware happened yesterday. They had symphonic gothic metal band Cassandra Syndrome play, which you have to admit is pretty hard-core for a Pagan Pride Day event.

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

The U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway could have far-reaching affects on prayers and invocations made before government and state-sponsored events. At its heart is the question of government endorsement of a particular faith, and whether sectarian prayers overwhelmingly weighted towards one faith can be made so long as a fig-leaf of neutrality is maintained in written policy. I have written about this case before, and how modern Pagans have been deeply intertwined with the development of the “model invocation policy” being challenged and with this case itself.

“In just a few seconds’ time during the April Town Board meeting, Jennifer Zarpentine made Greece history. Zarpentine, a Wiccan, delivered the first-ever pagan prayer to open a meeting of the Greece Town Board. Her hands raised to the sky, she called upon Greek deities Athena and Apollo to ‘help the board make the right informed decisions for the benefit and greater good of the community.’ A small cadre of her friends and coven members in the audience chimed in ‘so mote it be.’”

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio

Now, with the case on the Supreme Court docket, “friend of the court” briefings have been trickling in, most notably from a bi-partisan group of United States Senators (over 30 Republicans and one Democrat), and from a coalition of states lead by the Attorney Generals of Indiana and Texas. The first, spearheaded by Marco Rubio, seems to argue that the Supreme Court upholding (or expanding on) the Court of Appeals verdict in this case could eliminate the Establishment Clause carve-out for a paid government chaplains (as established in Marsh v. Chambers).

“This Court should eliminate the uncertainty and affirm the strong constitutional footing on which legislative prayer stands. In a nation of broad religious diversity, the best means of ensuring that the government does not prefer any particular religious view in the context of legislative prayer is to allow all those who pray to do so in accordance with their own consciences and in the language of their own faiths.”

In essence, Rubio and the other senators are playing the religious freedom card, hand-waving away the fact that Greece’s “neutral” policy “virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint” according to the appeals court judges. However, even more problematic is the brief submitted by 23 states, which not only argues that sectarian prayers before government meetings to be upheld, but raises the bar in terms of challenging prayer policies.

“The amici States urge the Court to re-affirm the central holding of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 792 (1983), that legislative prayers are permissible as “simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country,” and to disclaim any role for the so-called endorsement test when it comes to analyzing legislative prayer practices. The Court should also consider using this case as an opportunity to clarify Establishment Clause doctrine more generally by requiring a showing of religious coercion as a touchstone for proving any type of unlawful religious establishment.

In other words, government-sponsored prayers should not only have an Establishment Clause carve-out, individuals should have to prove “religious coercion” in order to bring an establishment of religion challenge against a government body. Such a high bar would throw current precedent on Establishment Clause challenges into chaos. It would also mean that rather famous cases involving Pagans, like Darla Kaye Wynne’s successful struggle against the town of Great Falls, South Carolina, would most likely have been thrown out. Because how, exactly, does a religious minority prove coercion in a town dominated by Christians set on praising Christ before every function?

Justice Brennan

Justice Brennan

Marsh v. Chambers, a SCOTUS decision which both the States and Rubio’s coalition places front-and-center in their amicus briefs to argue the Establishment Clause does not apply to government-sponsored prayer, featured a telling dissent by Justice William J. Brennan and Justice Thurgood Marshall that spoke directly to the question of coercion.

“The “primary effect” of legislative prayer is also clearly religious. As we said in the context of officially sponsored prayers in the public schools, “prescribing a particular form of religious worship,” even if the individuals involved have the choice not to participate, places “indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion. . . .” Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 431 (1962). More importantly, invocations in Nebraska’s legislative halls explicitly link religious belief and observance to the power and prestige of the State.

In short, the coercion is already happening, but it is being ignored in the name of tradition. These State Attorney Generals, and Senators, and conservative Christian organizations like the Family Research Council, and the Liberty Institute want desperately for that coercion to continue, and indeed, for it to be trumpeted as “freedom.”

“Courts that impose religious “neutrality” categorically exclude certain religions that require the use of those prohibited terms and violate the mandate of the Establishment Clause that all persons be treated equally by the government, regardless of religious creed.”

In short, making Christians not say “Jesus” before government assemblies and functions hinders their freedom. Somehow.

As I’ve noted before, the outcome of this verdict will likely decide the fate of opening invocations before government meetings. Will the “model invocation policy” used by Greece (and several other towns) be allowed to stand? If so, we can look forward to a huge groundswell of sectarian Christian prayer being instituted across large chunks of the United States. After all, this model policy clearly states that public bodies are “not required to extend any extraordinary efforts to include particular minority faiths” and  “no apology is necessary for the demographics of the community that the public body serves.” This could be a chilling roll-back of advances by religious minorities, and those who hold no religious affiliation at all.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

I’m hoping that the Supreme Court is prudent here, and commits no drastic change to our understandings of the Establishment Clause, though I’m less optimistic since their Voting Rights Act decision. Recent rulings in the 2nd and 4th Courts of Appeals should be respected, and their understanding of how invocations slanted towards the largest demographic can create the appearance of establishment (and coercion) listened to. The current Supreme Court is made up of Roman Catholics and Jews, two religions that once fought very hard against the unthinking privilege of the Protestant Christian majority. Now, there is a chance to make the United States a truly pluralistic nation, not one that claims to be pluralistic, but looks the other way in the name of tradition.

Whatever happens, modern Pagans, and all religious minorities, should pay very close attention to Town of Greece v. Galloway.

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.

Chantal Commons, left, and Star Raven Hawk. Photo by Lael Hines.

Chantal Commons, left, and Star Raven Hawk. Photo by Lael Hines.

  • The Villager profiles two Wiccans on the Lower East Side of New York who are working with their local community to try and open a Pagan community center in the Village. Quote: “This religion allows people to connect with each other,” she said. “In most religions it’s about the man being above the woman or parents being above the kids in a constant struggle for power. In this religion we can have power with each other. A lot of women flock to this religion because women are honored, respected and treated as equals; it’s like a breath of fresh air. We are open to people of all orientations, all races and all ages. I have a lot of gay friends who come to this religion because other religions condemn them; this religion isn’t about that, it’s about your growth.” Their goal will start with funds raised at the 2nd annual WitchFest USA on Sat., June 29, on Astor Place.
  • In England, David Novakovic King, who is a practicing Pagan, has been found guilty of murdering his partner’s father in 2009, after having squandered an inheritance the man had received. Quote: “A practicing pagan murdered his partner’s dad before dumping the remains in woodland he used for regular rituals. David Novakovic King, of Middleborough Crescent, Radford, even hid tools in Wainbody Wood – the patch of land where he buried the remains of Hiralal Chauhan. He faces a life sentence after being found guilty of murder earlier today (Thursday) at Leamington Justice Centre. Police said the 44-year-old, who will be sentenced tomorrow, had thought he carried out the perfect murder before a determined investigation by officers.” It should be noted that there were no religious elements to the “Killer of Keresley’s” actions, despite his victim being buried in a grove, and the motivations were all too mundane (and terrible). His Paganism, simply a detail of questioning during the trial that was seized on by the newspapers. I’m glad he has been brought to justice, and hope he pays fully for his crimes.
  • Archbishop Charles Chaput says that “many self-described Christians” are “in fact pagan.”  This comment was not taken very well by some Christians it seems, so Philadelphia’s NBC affilate got some Catholics to expound on all the wonderful things “pagan” can mean. Quote: “Pagan can mean anyone who isn’t a believer, anyone who doesn’t practice Catholicism or even a term some Catholics who believe in a more ethereal interpretation of the religion use for themselves. ‘The word pagan can mean several things to different Catholics in different contexts,’ said Father James Halstead, associate professor & chair of the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University. ‘In my university here when people claim to be pagans or neo-pagans they claim to be very spiritual, very religious and very moral.’ ‘It is not always a disparaging term,’ added Priest Michael Driscoll, theology professor and co-director of the sacred music program at Notre Dame University.” I think this may be the first time Catholics have (sorta) praised modern Pagans in order to soften an insult towards other Christians.
  • Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath fame wants you to know that while the band dabbled in the occult back in the day, they weren’t Satanists. Quote: “Asked about whether the band had performed in a way that played up to their Satanic image, the band’s guitarist Tony Iommi told HARDtalk’s Shaun Ley they had ‘dabbled’ in the occult in the early days, but said they had never been Satanists. ‘It was creating music, and that’s all I do. I don’t try to create anything to destroy people or to upset anybody,’ he added.” 
  • Chas Clifton points to an article by Thad Horrell, a Heathen and graduate student, published in the Journal of Religion, Identity and Politics, that explores Heathenry as a postcolonial movement. Quote: “In this paper, I explore the relationship of the contemporary white racial identification of the vast majority of Heathens and the postcolonial stances taken in common Heathen discourses. I will argue that Heathenry is a postcolonial movement both in the sense that it combats and challenges elements of colonial history and the contemporary expectations derived from it (anti-colonial), and in the much more problematic sense that it serves to justify current social and racial inequalities by pushing the structures of colonialism off as a thing of the past (pro-colonial). Rather than promoting a sense of solidarity with colonized populations, Heathen critiques of colonialism and imperialism often serve to justify disregard for claims of oppression by colonized minorities. After all, if we’ve all been colonized, what is there to complain about?”
Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

  • Summer is here again, time for a new, new, theory about what Stonehenge was for. Quote: “Stonehenge wasn’t built in order to do something, in the same way you might build a Greek temple to use it for worship. It seems much more likely that everything was in the act of building—that you’d construct it, then you’d go away. You’d come back 500 years later, you’d rebuild it in a new format, and then you’d go away. I think we have to shake off this idea of various sorts of priests or shamans coming in every year over centuries to do their thing. This is a very different attitude to religious belief. It’s much more about the moment. It’s about what must have been these upwellings of religious—almost millennial—belief, and once the thing is done, then everyone disperses and goes back to their lives.” If you’re interested in hearing more, there’s a book out from the scientists involved.
  • Shanghaiist interviews a Witch in Shanghai who uses tarot cards as her primary medium. Quote: “Mache’s own credentials as a witch include working with a doctor, treating people with terminal illnesses by using different techniques of energy healing and alternative therapies. As much as she would like the tarot cards to reveal a happy ending for all her clients, ‘life is not always happy.’ ‘More important than anything I’ve learnt as a witch, is how to communicate with people. Someone can think square, say triangle and the other person will hear circle. Still I am very far from being a perfect human being, of course. But I’m learning like everybody else.’”
  • You may not believe in magic, by why tempt fate? Quote: “I don’t believe in any of that witchcraft mumbo-jumbo junk, but this morning I woke up with a stiff neck of unholy proportions. I’m talking supernatural stiff. Like, I can’t look to the right because I have a bad case of taco-neck kind of stiff. Any person with a hint of common sense would say it’s from sleeping on it wrong. But I’ll have you know I have a memory-foam mattress, meaning I sleep like a stoic statue surrounded by contoured foam. In all honesty, I have this haunting feeling it’s because I trolled an Internet con man and he turned out to be a goddamned voodoo shaman.”
  • The gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court has repercussions outside the South, Native Americans in Arizona and Alaska are deeply concerned about discrimination at the polls. Quote: “By a 5-4 vote, the justices held that Section 4 was based on an outdated formula that does not reflect current attitudes about racial discrimination. The decision means that several states — including Alaska and Arizona, where American Indians and Alaska Natives have been subject to discrimination at the polls — won’t be subject to extra scrutiny by the Department of Justice until Congress updates the law.” Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has formed the White House Council on Native American Affairs to foster more effective government-to-government relations. 
  • In another piece brought to light by Chas Clifton, it seems that Pagans in Poland held a historic conference to overcome theological differences and find ways to work together towards common interests. Quote: “In the registry of the Ministry of Administration and Digitization there are currently four religious Rodzimowiersto organisations: the Polish Slavic Church, Native Faith, Slavic Faith and the Native Polish Church. They try to find the principles of the faith of their ancestors in historical sources. They believe in the gods, who are identified with the forces of nature. Mother Earth is Mokosh, the Sky — Swiatowid, the Sun — Svarog, and Lightning — Perun. However, there have arisen theological differences between the adherents. ‘Some Rodzimowiercy claim that their religion can be combined with other faiths. I think that is unacceptable. I am counting on the congress helping to dispel theological doubts,’ says Stanislaw Potrzebowski of Native Faith.” 
  • Oh, and before I go, it isn’t just Archbishop Charles Chaput who has a “pagan” problem, Irish Catholic priests are also perturbed by “pagan” urges within their flocks. Quote: “The people, they told us, have bought into the evils of materialism and consumerism, and don’t have time or interest in faith any more. They have, to all intents and purposes, become pagan. And they believe that ‘evangelisation’ is the answer [...] there didn’t seem to us to be any practical ideas, or indeed energy, around how this evangelisation could be progressed.” Things are tough all over it seems. 

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.

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case stemming from sectarian prayers before local government meetings in Greece, New York. At the heart of the case is the question of if a policy regarding invocations can be pluralistic and inclusive in letter, but not in spirit.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

“Town officials said that members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer. In practice, the federal appeals court in New York said, almost all of the chaplains were Christian. [...] Two town residents sued, saying the prayers ran afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition of the government establishment of religion. The appeals court agreed. “The town’s prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint,” Judge Calabresi wrote.”

This is a very big deal. One that strikes to the very heart of a “model invocation policy” peddled by conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF – formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund). The thesis is that sectarian prayers (rather than the “ceremonial deism” that permeates many government bodies) are constitutional so long as the written policy is inclusive of all faiths. However, they calm nervous Christian government officials worried about an influx of religious minorities by noting that no special efforts to be inclusive are necessary.

“If a public body implements a legitimately neutral policy and procedure to invite local clergy from established congregations in its community to offer an opening invocation, that public body is not required to extend any extraordinary efforts to include particular minority faiths. In other words, no apology is necessary for the demographics of the community that the public body serves.”

In short, opening invocations can overwhelmingly reference Jesus Christ, and they can send invitations only to “established congregations” (ie brick-and-mortar churches) so long as they include a religious minority who inquires/complains. Something I’ve dubbed the “include a Wiccan gambit,” which is exactly what Greece, New York did.

“In just a few seconds’ time during the April Town Board meeting, Jennifer Zarpentine made Greece history. Zarpentine, a Wiccan, delivered the first-ever pagan prayer to open a meeting of the Greece Town Board. Her hands raised to the sky, she called upon Greek deities Athena and Apollo to ‘help the board make the right informed decisions for the benefit and greater good of the community.’ A small cadre of her friends and coven members in the audience chimed in ‘so mote it be.’”

For a time, this gambit seemed to work in the lower courts. Then, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals both handed down rulings that called into question whether this invocation tokenism could really offset a regular schedule of Christian prayer.

“We conclude, on the record before us, that the town’s prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint. This conclusion is supported by several considerations, including the prayer-giver selection process, the content of the prayers, and the contextual actions (and inactions) of prayer-givers and town officials. We emphasize that, in reaching this conclusion, we do not rely on any single aspect of the town’s prayer practice, but rather on the totality of the circumstances present in this case.

The town’s process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint. Christian clergy delivered each and every one of the prayers for the first nine years of the town’s prayer practice, and nearly all of the prayers thereafter. In the town’s view, the preponderance of Christian clergy was the result of a random selection process. The randomness of the process, however, was limited by the town’s practice of inviting clergy almost exclusively from places of worship located within the town’s borders. The town fails to recognize that its residents may hold religious beliefs that are not represented by a place of worship within the town. Such residents may be members of congregations in nearby towns or, indeed, may not be affiliated with any congregation. The town is not a community of religious institutions, but of individual residents, and, at the least, it must serve those residents without favor or disfavor to any creed or belief.”

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

These cases, and the “model invocation policy” itself, are haunted by the involvement and activism of modern Pagans. It isn’t just that Greece included a Wiccan sectarian prayer among thousands of Christian prayers. The ADF’s policy blueprint was partially constructed around two 4th Circuit cases involving public prayers and modern Pagans: Simpson v. Chesterfield County, the case that helped create the so-called “Wiccan-proof” invocation policy, and the Darla Wynne case, in which a Wiccan from South Carolina won a battle against sectarian government prayer. These two cases helped set the precedents that advocates of sectarian prayer have been navigating through, and their efforts at mob-rule prayer sectarianism will finally be tested by America’s highest court.

How will the court decide? It’s hard to say. SCOTUS took a pass on considering the similar 4th Circuit decision, letting their decision stand, but they may have simply been waiting for a case that would suit the Court’s needs better. For the most part, the modern Supreme Court doesn’t like to corner itself into making sweeping decisions, and it could be that the justices see a needle-threading solution to the issue at hand. Then again, we could be in for another “ministerial exception” moment where broad new freedoms are outlined and defined. At this point it’s anyone’s guess, but I’m sure advocates on both sides of this issue are readying themselves for a fight that could shape invocation policy for a generation.

 

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Esoteric Artists Gather for Exhibition in London: From May 19th through the 25th in London an international collection of esoteric artists will be on display in a special exhibition sponsored by Fulgur Esoterica, publisher of the Abraxas journal. Entitled “I:MAGE,” the show boasts a impressive lineup of artists, both classic and contemporary.

Jesse Bransford

Art by Jesse Bransford

“Fulgur Esoterica is pleased to present I:MAGE, a week-long exhibition showcasing the best international artists working in the emerging category of esoteric art. More than 16 artists will exhibit their work at Store Street Gallery, Bloomsbury, London, from Sunday 19 May to Saturday 25 May 2013. The week will culminate with the publication of a special issue of Abraxas titled, Charming Intentions: Occultism, Magic and the History of Art. Select Papers from the Cambridge University Conference, December 2012. The common thread between these artists is the internalisation of esoteric themes and the externalisation of the mythical, the magical and the mysterious in their many forms. Ranging from the post-1940 work of progressive women such as Ithell Colquhoun and Steffi Grant, to the contemporary dark symbolist wanderings of Agostino Arrivabene and Denis Forkas Kostromitin, and the exploratory audio-visual practices of NOKO, I:MAGE promises to be a landmark exhibition.”

In addition, famed London esoteric book store Treadwell’s will be hosting a range of talks, presentations, and discussions during the exhibition, and Abraxas will be publishing a special edition of its celebrated journal for the show. I’ve been in contact with Fulgur Esoterica, and hope to soon bring you an interview about the show. If you’re around London, I’d highly recommend attending this exhibition. I surely would if I could.

Llewellyn Titles Win Independent Publisher Awards: Llewellyn Worldwide has announced that four of their published titles have won an “IPPY,” from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. The four titles largely deal with various New Age topics (with one book being about sexuality), none are a the esoteric/Pagan titles the publisher is largely famous for.

“The 2013 Independent Publisher Awards (IPPYs) were revealed via an announcement on their website. The awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York on May 29. Our Llewellyn winners are below: Our Children Live On, by Elissa Al-Chokhachy (Bronze, Aging/Death & Dying), The Awakened Aura, by Kala Ambrose (Silver, New Age [Mind-Body-Spirit]), The Good Energy Book, by Tess Whitehurst (Bronze, New Age [Mind-Body-Spirit]), Great Sex Made Simple, by Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson (Gold, Sexuality/Relationships). In addition, one book from Llewellyn’s Midnight Ink imprint was also a winner (Hide & Snake Murder, by Jessie Chandler took Gold in the Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Fiction category).”

Congratulations to Llewellyn Worldwide and the authors on this recognition! You can find out more about the awards, here.

New Orleans Celebrates First Ever Pagan Pride Day: There are many Pagan Pride Day events each year, and while each brings its own local charm and significance to this movement, some firsts stand out. Such is the case with the first Pagan Pride Day being held this September in New Orleans, Louisiana. Being that this is a first for New Orleans, a place steeped in a history of cultures meeting and connecting, the event will include practitioners of Vodou, spiritism, and other syncretic traditions.

“While it is always a joy to to bring together the Pagan community with entertainment that appeals to their tastes, the over-arching goal of this day is to develop a dialogue between Pagans and non-Pagans in a city with deep (and overlooked) Pagan roots. It is also our great pleasure to include this city’s syncretic spiritual systems (i.e. Voudon, First Nation spiritism, Thelema, etc.) in our celebrations as well, so that we might bridge more gaps in New Orleans. Our theme of “spiritual gumbo” is meant to reflect our deep reverence for ALL the beliefs that make this city one of the most unique in the world.”

The event will feature Selena Fox, The Dragon Ritual Drummers, Edain McCoy, Christopher Penczak, and more. They are holding an IndieGoGo campaign to cover their festival’s ambitious first-year roster. So, if a New Orleans Pagan Pride festival is something you’d like to see happen, you should check it out, and add your support.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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