Former New York City Councilman Dan Halloran was convicted Tuesday on corruption and bribery charges. The jury deliberated for just under an hour and a half to return a guilty verdict on all five counts. Halloran was the highest elected official in the US who is openly an adherent of a Pagan or Heathen religion.
In September 2012, Halloran, along with state Democratic Senate majority leader Malcolm Smith and ex-Queens Republican Party leader Vincent Tabone, was the focus of an FBI sting operation. He was recorded taking payoffs to facilitate a plot to get Smith, a Democrat, on the GOP line for the 2013 New York City mayoral race. Halloran testified during his trial that he expected Smith to appoint him as first deputy mayor.
Halloran says he was trying to uncover corruption when he took the bribes and would have turned evidence over to authorities for investigation. He also said he thought a second bribe was a legal retainer fee for his services to broker meetings with GOP officials.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the GOP and Tea Party groups stood by Halloran after his religion was mocked in the press. While he never lied about being a Heathen, Halloran’s initial response to the attention was to downplay his Theodish faith and stress his Catholic heritage in an open letter titled I Believe In God.
I took comfort in my family’s history and our heritage, yet through all of this pain and hardship, I never lost faith in God. Last week, I was attacked for my faith in the Queens Tribune. These attacks happened on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish people. Having been raised in a Catholic household that shares its religious roots with the Jewish faith, I was deeply offended that religion would be used for political gain. [...]I am a man of faith– and now my faith is under attack by a newspaper working for my opponent. I call on my opponent to disavow the Queens Tribune’s attack on religion. I am running a campaign on the issues.
The tactic, and a possible backlash against Halloran’s opponent for allegedly attacking his religion, worked and Halloran was elected as Queen’s representative on the New York City Council. He went on to a failed bid to the US House of Representatives in November 2012. Just five months later, on April 2, 2013, Halloran was arrested for bribery and corruption. A month later he announced he would not stand for re-election for his City Council seat.
Democratic Senate majority leader Smith and ex-Queens GOP leader Vincent Tabone, alleged co-conspirators with Halloran, face trial in January. Halloran remains out on a $250,000 bond pending his sentencing scheduled for December 12. He faces 45 years in prison.
[We have] been forced to put all our planned projects for this year on hold because the Town of Catskill has appealed our appellate level unanimous three judge win in our court case for equal treatment under the New York property tax laws.
The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.
The Wild Hunt has been covering this case since its beginnings in 2009. Here is a timeline of events as they happened:
In 2007 the Maetreum of Cybele, a nonprofit religious organization, petitioned the Town of Catskill for property tax exemption. The organization was turned down after the “town lawyer, Daniel Vincelette, toured the building and issued a damning report describing a decrepit structure that stank of cat urine, lacked visible religious symbols, and operated as a crypto-housing project” (Watershed Post, May 8, 2010,)
In 2009 the Maetreum filed a grievance with the town’s Board of Assessment Review claiming “religious discrimination.” The Board upheld the tax assessor’s denial leading to the Maetreum filing a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court in Greene County. In a letter to the Wild Hunt Rev. Cathryn Platine and Rev. Viktoria Whittaker wrote:
We own real property and run a brick-and-mortar establishment in the Town of Catskill in Greene County, New York. Our property consists of a historic former Catskill Inn called Central House and approximately 3+ acres of land with an outdoor Temple/Grove in the hamlet of Palenville. We purchased the property 2002 and turned it into a Pagan Temple and Convent … The Town of Catskill has continued to deny our exemption to this day in open violation of New York tax law which mandates the property tax exemption for religious and charitable organizations
In 2010 the case, Maetreum of Cybele versus the Town of Catskill, went to court where it lingered for over a year. During that time the Town repeatedly petitioned to have the case dismissed and attempted to foreclose on the organization’s property. In May the Maetreum issued a press release saying:
The attorney for the Town admitted in court, on the record that the real reason for the denials of our property tax exemption … was to prevent “opening the floodgates to similar groups.” This is an open admission of discrimination. At this point, every single ruling by the Judge has been in our favor and we anticipate eventual victory.
The Court has no reason to doubt the sincerity of the religions and spiritual beliefs of the adherents of the Cybaline Revival who testified in these proceedings. But regardless of the sincerity of these beliefs and the importance that Cybaline Revival doctrine may attach to the property and its religious use … the Court finds that the property’s principal and predominant use at relevant times was residential, rather than religion, in nature.
By the time of the ruling, both parties had invested large sums of money in fighting the case. Neither the town nor Rev. Platine had any plans of backing down. According to a 2011 Daily Mail article, acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh said that “the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.”
Considering the testimony, [the Maetreum of Cybele] met its burden to demonstrate that it uses the property primarily for its religious and charitable purposes.
This legal victory was a watershed event for the Pagan community. Once again the story made national news. This time it was in Forbes Magazine. After the ruling, the Maetreum of Cybele released a statement thanking everyone who had contributed to their fundraising efforts saying, “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.”
At the start of 2014, the Town of Catskill filed an appeal with the New York State Court of Appeals. According to the Watershed Post, this court only hears a very small percentage of the presented cases. In 2012 that number was 6.4 percent. Therefore “the court’s decision to accept the [Town’s] appeal came as a surprise to Deborah Schneer, the lawyer for the Maetreum.”
The chairman of the Board of Catskill once vowed they would never give up their fight against what he called an illegitimate religion and Catskill is keeping that promise by appealing our victory to the highest court in New York once again forcing us to raise a large amount of money for a legal defense.
The Maetreum of Cybele is currently collecting funds for the next phase in their ongoing battle with the Town of Catskill. According to its Monday press release, the organization needs to raise $15,000 to cover all its new legal expenses. The Maetreum adds, “Our appellate level win made Forbes magazine as a significant victory for minority religious rights, don’t let Catskill spend us out of this major win.”
The Appeals Court isn’t expected to issue a ruling until the fall. We will continue to follow and report on the case as it progresses.
[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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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!
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
They included one Wiccan, therefor the Town of Greece is very inclusive (perhaps even too inclusive) and should win this case.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
[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!
Issue 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.
“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…”
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.”
“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.’”
“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.”
“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?
“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.“
“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
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.
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.
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.