Archives For North Carolina

UNITED STATES – “We boarded up the house and we left town because our house isn’t (concrete) block construction, it’s wood. We live in an area where there are lots of trees and we weren’t confident that a cat 3, 4, or whatever hit land that we would be safe,” said Kathy Lezon, a priestess from Vero Beach, located on Florida’s Treasure Coast.


Hurricane Matthew 2016 [Courtesy NASA/ GSFC]

Hurricane Matthew was a slow-moving behemoth of a storm that flared up on Sept. 28 and quickly shot up to hurricane status, at one point topping off the scale as a category 5 storm with sustained winds of 160 mph before weakening slightly to a category 4 before making landfall in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and bouncing along the Florida coast before skirting north along the Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina coastline. It also affected areas well beyond those that were directly impacted.

Matthew was the first category 5 storm to form in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007.

The biggest impact was felt in Haiti, where over a thousand people are now reported to have been killed by the storm. Haiti, which has struggled to rebuild after a massive earthquake struck in 2010, was ill-prepared to withstand a direct hit from Matthew. Without key infrastructure in place and with no protections for personal property, many Haitians were loathe to evacuate their homes. There were also some rumors that Haitians were unaware or only vaguely aware that there was a storm incoming. More on the Haitian relief efforts will follow below.

Meanwhile in the United States the impacts were variable. We spoke with a number of Pagans about their experience. Those in the very southern parts of Florida reported heavy rains and wind with sporadic power outages.

As Matthew’s forecast direction shifted west, then east, then west again with each new update, Floridians were up late into the night on Thursday watching progress. Fortunately, the storm stayed offshore for most of its track along the the U.S. coastline.

Kathy Lezon said that after boarding up her house, she, her partner, and their dog packed up a camper and headed for the west part of the state to stay at a campground.

As of Monday afternoon, she was still waiting on power to be restored at their home. Many houses in Florida, especially in more rural areas, rely on well water which is normally run by electrical pumps. That is what Lezon is facing.

“No electricity means no air conditioning, which is not a big deal if you can take a shower but when your well pump doesn’t work it’s pretty gross, no toilets, no showers,” Lezon said.

Amber Moon, who is also a Treasure Coast resident and police officer, said she worked through the entire storm.

“We had to help with evacuations and shelter security, things like that. I pretty much boarded up my house on Wednesday, sent my 11 year old son to leave the state with his grandmother and I went to work and we’ve pretty much worked straight through. I’ve been at work since Monday (October 3) and will work straight through until Saturday (October 15) which will be my first day off,” Moon said.

Lezon and Moon are both coordinators of the Treasure Coast Pagan Pride Day, which is scheduled for Saturday, October 15. There were some fears that damage to the park would prevent the celebration from happening. But a Facebook announcement on the Treasure Coast Pagan Pride Day event page said, “We hope everyone is okay after Hurricane Matthew. We have just received word that there was no damage at The Savanna’s Recreation Area!!! So, we are a go for Saturday! Spread the word. Come out, relax and enjoy a day off!”

A live oak tree narrowly missed a house that belonged to a Mr. Righter in Saint Augustine, Florida. He sat by the tree and sang hymnals after the storm.

A live oak tree narrowly missed a house belonging to a Mr. Righter in Saint Augustine, Florida. He sat by the tree and sang hymns after the storm. [Courtesy Lupa]

Lupa, a witch living further north in Saint Augustine, Florida, said, “Entire sections of A1A Beach Blvd are missing, and most of the businesses on the beach side (including the bar where I met my hunny) are still inoperable. Downtown, the historic district… I cried driving through.

“My home and family were safe, thank Goddess, but I’m in mourning for the town and all its history,” she said.

Lupa shared a photo of an enormous live oak that fell down, ripping up the sidewalk nearby and narrowly missing a house where a man she knows as Mr. Righter lives. She said that it’s a stone’s throw from an entrance to the nearby Florida School for the Deaf and Blind where her parents have worked for more than 12 years.

“He was actually home at the time, having stayed there through it all. My mother and I called him a crazy old coot and sat while he sung a beautiful hymnal (sic) to us, with this huge tree just sitting behind him,” Lupa added..

A large live oak tree was knocked over in Meg Knunya's neighbor's yard. [Courtesy M. Knunya]

A large live oak tree was knocked over in Meg Knunya’s neighbor’s yard. [Courtesy M. Knunya]

Only 40 miles north of St. Augustine, Meg Knunya, Facilitator of Jacksonville CUUPS, was experiencing her first hurricane with Matthew.

“I thought I was prepared,” she said, “we bought a solar panel system and a backup generator for when the power goes out.”

Only right before the storm did she realize that the battery was not installed with the generator, so they wouldn’t have power during or after the storm.

“My plan had been to hunker down in place but then as the storm progressed towards us I started getting a little panicky that they were saying it’s going to be worse than predicted,” Knunya said.

With few options locally, she packed up her two kids, dog, and four cats on Thursday night and tried to drive out of the path of the storm.

“I was totally unprepared for a bug-out situation because it was so last minute. There were no hotels so we slept in the car,” she said. Eventually they settled down in a campground in Georgia where they had to camp with a tarp because in the last-minute scramble to escape, they didn’t bring a tent.

“I found the whole thing very humbling, as Pagans we like to live within nature and honor nature. Sometimes, nature is destructive and nature is terrifying. It really kind of knocks you down and makes you see how insignificant us mere mortals are. I’d like to think some of the warding spells and some of the protection spells I put on my house helped but who really knows. I had no damage, it’s just scary to think that your whole life could just be uprooted in an instant, and you’re not in control,” Knunya said.

Knunya is back home now, where she had some downed branches, though she was trying to figure out how to get to work after a local bridge was down after massive flooding.

Alyce's covenmate, Wessa O'Wynn provided this photo of flooding in her home in New Burn, NC.

Alyce’s covenmate, Wessa O’Wynn provided this photo of flooding in her home in Washington, NC. [Courtesy Photo]

Just as in Florida, people were packing up and leaving the low-lying coastal areas of South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.

“My friends that live in New Bern, the National Guard evacuated them and they had to spend the night in a shelter, it was not a voluntary evacuation, they demanded that they leave,” said Alyce Rohan, Priestess Initiate of Triskele Rose Witchcraft. Rohan lives about 80 miles away from New Bern in Rocky Point, North Carolina.

Rohan reported that they were still without power as of Sunday night, with no word on when it may be restored.

“I work at General Electric and they closed the plant down on Saturday, which they never do. It’s an aircraft engine parts plant and they never do that,” she said.

Rohan reported that there were some trees down in her neighborhood, including one that had taken out a neighbor’s garage. She said that she placed crystals at the corners of her property and wrote runes on trees which came out mostly unscathed.

During the storm, she said, “I woke up in the middle of the night and when I went out to go charge my phone, something told me not to go outside. I’m very close with the fey in my neighborhood and had a feeling they were doing something to protect the house. It was strange, it felt like I was being protected.”

Social media ended up being a very important organizing tool for many communities.

Rohan said that Facebook was a great tool for checking in, saying, “We have done the ‘count your self safe’ post. And people have been offering help twixt each other. (Private messages) as well. Electronic age, now we all be!”

Similarly, Knunya said that her community in Jacksonville, Florida has been pretty tight throughout the storm. In addition to prayers and energy work, she said, “many have extended their homes to others, offering others in the community either a place to stay, or at the very least a place to store their food or take a shower or use their internet.”

Lezon said that in Florida’s Treasure Coast people were pitching in and offering to assist one another with prep work as well as cleanup and recover.

“People from Miami to Jacksonville kept in touch with how things were going with storm prep and then on Thursday through Friday, kept in touch with each other as the storm moved up the coast. Its really helpful to know there’s a whole line of people looking out for your safety and well being!”

Meanwhile, in Haiti, the situation is different, and remains extremely dire. More than 1000 people have lost their lives there so far and some aid officials have said that some areas of the country are up to 90% destroyed. Now, doctors in Haiti are warning that an outbreak of cholera, a disease spread by contaminated water, is imminent.

“I really left my heart in Haiti in a lot of ways, seeing the pictures that are coming out of Haiti, it breaks my heart,” said Peter Dybing, an eclectic Pagan and chief officer on a national disaster team. He spent time in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that leveled parts of the country.

Haiti 2016 after Hurricane Matthew [Photo Credit: UK-DFID]

Haiti 2016 after Hurricane Matthew [Photo Credit: UK-DFID]

A close friend of his, Mandy Thody, is the administrative director for a small nonprofit in the country, on the island of Ile-a-Vache, called Good Samaritan Foundation for Haiti. He said that Thody was on the island when it got hit by the storm, and the island is decimated. Fortunately, her daughter received a text message that she was okay, however the situation on the island is not.

Dybing urged people in the Pagan community to donate, but to carefully consider which organizations they send their money.

“I would strongly urge the Pagan community that I know what’s going on with small nonprofits in Haiti. This is the place where the money’s going to make a difference,” he said.

When making donations, he said that “focused giving” is the most effective.

“Small mobile nonprofits that are already on the ground, they’re already doing good work, [they] are completely involved in the community’s rebuilding. That’s what focused giving is. A great example of how the organization I’m working with now controls costs, when they get a bunch of relief supplies now instead of spending money on shipping containers and imports and all that, they get a volunteer flotilla of boats, sailboats using wind power to bring supplies to this island,” he said.

After a joint investigative piece by NPR and ProPublica found that very little of the money donated to the Red Cross actually found its way to Haiti in the five years following the 2010 earthquake,some are concerned about how or where to offer monetary assistance.

“Large organizations like that have what’s called a long logistics tail. Which means while people are in crisis that it takes weeks, sometimes months for them to set up their infrastructure,” Dybing said.

One frequently-seen post on social media was from people criticizing those who didn’t evacuate. Dybing said that when, “we’re talking about relocating, or moving out of the way we’re talking about people who have resources, that’s a comment that comes from people who have privilege.”

There are no credit cards and if the limited amount of money that people have is needed for something else, their family may not eat for five days, he added.

“There are no soup kitchens or anywhere else you can go to fix that. The choices that people face are incredibly traumatic in staying where they are and protecting the absolute, very little that they have, versus abandoning it and knowing it will all be gone when they come back because their house will be ransacked, unprotected,” Dybing said.

He said that he’s supporting his friend’s group, Good Samaritan Foundation for Haiti.

“(It) has no paid employees except for the local teachers at the school and those are Haitians that are being paid,” he said.

“From the very first moment of the earthquake to this specific moment the small tiny nonprofit on the ground, doing the work, building the schools, feeding the children creating sustainability programs is where ethical money spent on Haiti goes,” he said.

RALEIGH, NC — On Mar 23 North Carolina’s governor signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act. The bill is primarily known for its measures, which block local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex as recorded on their birth certificates. The Wild Hunt takes a close look at the bill and gets reactions from Pagans living in North Carolina.

[Photo Credit: Mr.TinDC / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Mr.TinDC / Flickr]

Overview of Bill

The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act was created in response to the expansion of the city of Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which includes protections for marital and familial status, sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. State Republican lawmakers said that Charlotte’s new ordinance would give men access to women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. Supporters of Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance said it provided much needed civil protects for vulnerable minorities.

The new ordinance was set to take effect on April 1.

The Public Facilities bill, which was passed during a Special Session, requires multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings to be used by people according to the sex recorded on their birth certificate. The bill does not apply to privately-owned buildings, businesses, or single stall bathrooms.

While the sections affecting bathroom use are the most discussed, there are other provisions in the bill. It bars cities from raising the minimum wage higher than what the state has set. It also sets a statewide nondiscrimination policy for privately-owned business open to the public, but limits that policy to discrimination against employees based on race, religion, color, national origin and biological sex.

Another provision to the bill eliminates the wrongful discharge/public policy cause of action in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) discrimination cases. Previously, a person could sue in state court if they felt they were wrongfully terminated due to race, religion, color, national origin, or sex. There are benefits to suing in state court, rather than filing a federal discrimination claim under Title VII. One of the strongest of these benefits include a longer window of time to file the suit.

Under the new Public Facilities Act, if an employee believes they have been discriminated against based on a protected class status, they have to go through the federal process or lose the claim.

Local reactions

Star Bustamonte, Pagan, Near Asheville, North Carolina

“The recent bill Gov. McCory signed into law is a travesty of justice and typical of the kind manipulative legislation that has been getting passed since McCory took office. Being a Pagan, I can certainly see how HB 2 might impact the Pagan community if it is allowed to stand, but it goes far beyond that.

Star Bustamonte

Star Bustamonte

“My personal belief is the Transgender aspect of the law was merely window dressing that panders to the conservative right-wing. Mind you, I am in no way discounting the impact it will have on Transgendered people. It has the potential to be a disaster. The other impact of the law is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Preventing anyone from filing a job discrimination lawsuit at the state level is a huge and terrible idea. The NC legislature also seems bound & determined to wrest away any and all control municipalities have on pretty much anything, and doubly so if there is money involved. Charlotte’s ordinance on bathroom use was a just a very convenient way for Raleigh to impose more oppressive and regressive influence and ideology.

“This is nothing new as of late. And other states need to be paying attention because if they can make it stick here, it will be happening in other states very soon. Raleigh has taken control of airports and water departments all over the state to get their greedy little paws on the revenue. If you look at the things Duke Power has gotten away with when it comes to polluting environment, you begin to get a clue about the direction things are going. In less than a decade, NC has gone from being progressive and exhibiting excellence in education to being regressive and at the bottom of the heap. So if you think this law was about anything other than controlling people and money, you are dead wrong. And if you think it can’t happen in your state, you better think again. People need to wake up.”

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Byron Ballard, Goddess-focused Wiccan Trad, Asheville, North Carolina

“The bathroom issue is the tip of a very toxic iceberg, one that North Carolinians have been dealing with since the Republicans took over the legislature and the governorship. In no way is HB 2 good for NC and it is indicative of where we are here that the general assembly snuck this through with such speed and so little effort.  

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

“NC does not have ‘home rule’–every municipality serves at the pleasure of the General Assembly. The GA has-again and again–taken advantage of this to basically steal airports (Charlotte, Asheville), water systems (Asheville and several others) and to throw its collective muscle around. The state is heavily gerrymandered so elections are no guarantee that we can actually make change through the voting booth. So, no home rule, gerrymandered voting districts, a General Assembly and Governor who are nearly lock-step in their vision for the state.

“The Dems were in charge for a century and a half and didn’t change either of those things because they served them, too. Now, the Dems are in disarray–like deer in the headlights–and the government is run by people who have a fat ALEC checklist and are systematically checking things off.  

“HB2 is devastating for the LGBTQ community (specifically the trans community, of course) but it is so much more far-reaching than that. They have demolished Title IX protections, rolled back protections for civil rights. Women, of course, have no protection–NC has some of the harshest restrictions on abortion in the nation. As a Pagan and an American, I have no idea what can be done that will have any really effect. We don’t have any procedure for recalling the governor and impeachment (again) is at the whim of the legislature.”

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Laura LaVoie, Hellenic Polytheist, Asheville, North Carolina

“To put it mildly, HB2 is a legislative disgrace and its long term implications, which reach way beyond which bathroom someone should be using, are troubling at best. Not only does this law, under the guise of protecting women and children, place trans people directly in harm’s way, but it also restricts municipalities from creating any law to protect the people who live in their cities. This includes the possibility of raising the minimum wage above that of the state, which in a city like Asheville where the housing crisis is spiraling out of control, will never give the city government a way to provide better opportunities for members of our community.

Laura LaVoie

Laura LaVoie

“While I identify as a Hellenic Polytheist, my outrage at the passing of HB2 is rooted firmly in my belief that all human beings are complete human beings. My religious practices strongly hinge on integrity, reason, and good character. The values presented as those of North Carolina in HB2 are not consistent with my personal values.

“That this bill has so publicly declared that transgendered citizens of North Carolina are not worth of the same rights and protections as everyone else is, in my mind, a human tragedy.

“This bill passed because North Carolina has been systematically rejecting anything within its state borders that does not comply what the highest levels of state government say is ‘right.’ This began with a measure passed by the City of Charlotte. The state has proven time and time again that it is anti-city, and even though our state is not Home Rule, they still felt the need to send a clear message about this specific matter. Rather than simply striking down Charlotte’s ordinance, they were very calculated in their response.

“There is nothing right or just in denying our neighbors dignity and compassion. And disguising it under the mantle of protection for only certain, chosen, demographics of North Carolinians is sickening.

“On the other hand, I am proud of the way my city has chosen to respond to this law and we will, in every way possible, continue to work toward being a place that is welcoming and compassionate. And without that, I have real concern for our humanity.”

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The Wild Hunt did speak to a few Pagans who supported the bill, but they refused to go on record due to fears of ostracization.

Future of the Public Facilities Privacy & Securities Act
Even as the bill draws fire from other parts of the country, including travel bans for government employees from San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and New York state, the Bill appears to be on safe ground legislatively. Republicans, who championed the bill, are expected to maintain control of the state House and Senate past the next election.

However, the bill is currently being challenged in the courts. On Mar 28, the ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina filed a joint federal lawsuit looking to overturn the bill. In a press release, the groups alledged that the Public Facilities Act “…sends a purposeful message that LGBT people are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded others in the state.” The complaint goes on to say that the bill is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and because it discriminates based on sex and Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex.

[Courtesy J. Pourner]

[Courtesy J. Pourner]

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Tex.– On Feb 9, a grand jury indicted David Brown Jr., the man arrested for the murder of Wiccan Marc Pourner. As we reported in November, Pourner went missing for three days, after which police found his strangled body deep in the woods inside his burned-out truck. He was known as Axel within Pagan circles, and helped run the now-defunct Wiccan World Social Network. Pourner was also instrumental in creating and moderating the popular Facebook group, “The Cauldron – A Mixing Place for Witches, Druids, and Pagans.” When news broke of his death, that group lit up with stories and memorials coming from users who live all over the world.

As  was recently reported in the local news and by the Montgomery County Police reporter, court records have now revealed more about what actually happened to Pourner. Brown, a longtime friend of Pourner’s boyfriend Daniel Kirksey, called Pourner from Kirksey’s home to tell him that someone was “following him and wanted to kill him.” When Pourner arrived at the home, he and Brown had “a heated argument […] It was there that Brown punched Pourner several times and then bound and gagged [him].”  Using Pourner’s truck, Brown then took Pourner to a remote location, where he strangled him and torched the truck. The court records also indicate that Kirksey witnessed the entire act.

Brown remains in jail with a $1 million dollar bond for the murder. His indictment lists his charges as capital murder with a felony, which includes his alleged kidnapping of Pourner. Kirksey has not been charged with anything.

Pourner’s mother, Jolena Pourner, told The Wild Hunt, “My husband and I were simply elated when the grand jury indicted Brown, and that further indictments could be forthcoming.” She also expressed concern over the new information revealed concerning Pourner’s boyfriend: “We knew from the beginning that Daniel was possibly involved because his explanations didn’t add up. We’d been concerned because we felt Daniel was using Marc.” Despite this new information, the exact motivation behind the murder is not clear. However, it does appear that the motivation was not related to Pourner’s Pagan religious beliefs.

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ccs-twitter-logo_400x400CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. —  On Feb. 8, the Cleveland County School Board welcomed Wiccan Priest Tony Brown to give an invocation before its regularly scheduled meeting. The board recently adopted a prayer policy that adheres to the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in The Town of Greece v. Galloway case. As quoted in the local news, Cleveland County Schools director of communications Greg Shull said, “We’re just carrying out marching orders of the board. They responded to what the community asked for. People are aware that there could be folks from all walks of life, but that’s really the nature of public education.”

One of the components of the new policy is to remove any children under the age of 11 from the room until the invocation is over. Shull said, “The board decided to start this with the introduction of the prayer, no matter what religion. At that age, we could put out permission slips, but it’s hard to obtain permission when you don’t know [what’s going to be said.] We don’t know the religion of each child or what their background is at home.”

Rev. Tony Brown told The Wild Hunt that there were no problems during his invocation. He said, “At the meeting itself, I think it’s fair to say that I got a neutral reception. Which I believe is perfectly appropriate. It was quiet and uneventful, just like the reception the two Christian ministers got at the previous meetings since the policy was adopted.” Brown believes that his laying important groundwork prior to the Feb. 8 meeting helped ease any tensions.  He said that he built a “rapport with the board members” and has been an active voice in the community.  He added, “I think part of the reason this went better than the similar policy in a neighboring county is that I was active in the meetings leading up to the policy change. I was there, speaking out and making sure everyone knew that if they started having prayers from local clergy, that our Wiccan church would expect to be included.”

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POM-1528-0268-largeScholar and editor Chas Clifton announced the release of the newest edition of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. The Pomegranate is a peer-reviewed journal, providing “a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”

As Clifton noted on his own blog, “The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Douglas Ezzy.”  Ezzy is a sociology professor at the University of Tasmania and editor of The Journal for the Academic Study of Religion and was president of The Australian Association for the Study of Religion.

The two long essays were written by Russian scholar Dmitry Galtsin and Indian professor Archana Barua. The featured autobiographical reflections were written by Wendy Griffin, Douglas Ezzy, Michael York, Fritz Muntean, Helen A. Berger, Graham Harvey, Kathryn Rountree, Susan Greenwood, Sarah Pike, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Melissa Jane Harrington.

Clifton also noted that, by special arrangement with the publisher Equinox, his own editorial, “A Double Issue of The Pomegranate: The First Decades of Contemporary Pagan Studies,” is available for free via download.

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pagan federation

The Pagan Federation (PF) has announced the launch of a media site: Pagan Dawn online. PF has been producing a print version of Pagan Dawn, in various forms, since 1968. The magazine is published “four times a year, at Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas.” Now the editorial team is taking a step forward into the digital world. PF’s announcement said that the new site will “feature news and reviews for the Pagan community, as well as showcasing some of the best feature content from the magazine.” 

Editors noted that the magazine will still remain the “main focus” of their work and is not being retired. However, the new site will be updated regularly to “reflect the current diversity and sheer fecundity of the Pagan movement.” Editor-in-Chief Kate Large said, “The 2011 census showed over 80,000 people identifying as Pagan in England and Wales, while in other major countries of the world, Paganism and Earth-centred spirituality is growing at a fantastic rate. Pagan Dawn seeks to inform, educate and entertain seekers of all paths, both in the magazine and now, online as well.”

In Other News:

  • Inspired by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local Indiana community has been successfully holding its own interfaith events. Last weekend marked the third such event sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus. The four-hour session included “representatives from 20 different beliefs highlighting how they interpret the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Rev. Dave Sassman of the Pagan Educational Network (PEN) was there and said, “What a multi-faceted experience.” Sassman, who also attended the Parliament, is founder of PEN and a member of Circle Sanctuary. When asked about the Golden Rule, Sassman said, “Harming anybody is harming the divine and yourself.”
  • The South African Pagan Council has announced the 10th annual Pagan Freedom Day. To be held on Apr. 27, the event’s theme is “Freedom and Unity through Diversity.”  The Council produced and uploaded a video advertisement, which can be seen on Penton Independent Alternative Media’s site or directly on YouTube.  The video contains photos from past events, and reads, “All Over South Africa, Pagan folk with gather again.”  It lists the cities where events will be held and the contact person for each one.
  • A new conference is arriving this summer in Nashville, Tennessee. ODDCon, as it is called, was born last spring when Tesea Dawson helped facilitate a smaller festival in the same region. Dawson believed that event could have been bigger and better. ODDCon was born. The conference site reads, “We believe that it doesn’t matter what color you are, how old you are, what religion you follow, what country your from or even who you love… we can all get along.  Let’s give it shot… we challenge all of you who read this to open your heart for one weekend and come be a part of the freakshow!” Special guests include many: Tuatha Dea, Alex Bledsoe, Selena Fox, Celia Farran, Byron Ballard, M.R. Sellars and more. ODDCon will take place at the Hotel Preston in Nashville from Aug. 5-7. Tickets are now on sale and more information is available on the website.
  • Dusty Dionne, High Priest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) has launched a new podcast called “Pagan Jack.” It is accessible from the ATC Pagan Information Network website and “comes out on Tuesdays at 6am EST.” Dionne describes the podcast as featuring “news and notes from the Internet and abroad that may be of interest to children of the Earth.” On its new Facebook page, Dionne reported that he was recording a show at PantheaCon.
  • Speaking of PantheaCon, the colossal Pagan event ends today. In the coming weeks, there will be many posts and articles from attending Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists. Look for them across the blogosphere and in social media. In the coming days, Heathen Chinese will be reviewing the event for The Wild Hunt.
  • And, lastly, for those in the upper midwest, ConVocation kicks off this Thursday in Detroit, Michigan with the theme “Rebirth in the Sea of Divine Knowledge.” The guests of honor include Dragon Ritual Drummers, Selena Fox, Richard Kaczynski, and Raven Kaldera. The conference is held at the Dearborn DoubleTree, and runs from Feb. 18 – 21.

SHELBY, N.C — When the Foothills Interfaith Assembly (FIA) was created earlier this year, it was inspired by concerns over public prayer policy in its local region. However, this was never supposed to be an issue that the group focused on. Nevertheless, the assembly has played a public part in shaping a recent prayer policy debate, which has made clear that religious political tensions are alive and well in the foothills region of North Carolina. A strong sentiment against Islam is evident, and Pagan members of the assembly are equally concerned about discriminatory policies and behavior.

foothills logoThe latest salvo came when the Cleveland County School Board replaced a moment of silence with public prayer at its meetings. North Carolina Piedmont Church of Wicca‘s Tony Brown told The Wild Hunt that the school board was reacting to “a lot of pressure from Christian groups in the community to do so. The public comments section of the last few meetings have been filled with calls for Christian prayer, met by thunderous applause and standing ovations. They even moved one of the meetings into a larger venue to accommodate the crowd.”

Brown explained that how the public expressed these opinions doesn’t, in his mind, bode well for the inclusive policy that was passed. “During three of the last four board meetings, when they called for a moment of silence dozens of people instead stood up and loudly recited the Lord’s Prayer,” he said. He worries about non-Christians having their prayers disrupted, building on what happened when the county commissioners allowed a Muslim to pray. “I don’t think it’s much of a leap for them to do the same over a prayer from another faith.”

The Lincoln County commissioners rescinded their inclusive prayer policy during the same meeting that saw its first non-Christian prayer, when FIA co-founder Duston Barto read verses from the Quran. The chairman of the commissioners walked out to keep his word that he would not “listen to a Muslim pray,” according to the Lincoln Times News. One woman in attendance held a sign which proclaimed, “No Moslem Prayer.” An unplanned vote at the end of that meeting rescinded the prayer policy, which had been offered as an alternative to the many years of prayer led by local Christian ministers.

Foothills Interfaith Assembly was formed in part to allow more people to qualify to lead such prayers, and that was an important test of the effort. That’s why Brown was concerned that the Cleveland School Board, if it didn’t have a plan to enforce decorum, would not be welcoming to prayers from minority religions, regardless of the wording of the policy, which includes requiring the superintendent to invite all religious groups to offer a prayer.

The underlying purpose for FIA, then and now, is to foster understanding and defuse hatred by allowing people of different faiths to get to know one another. Brown said that it’s “important to remember that we’re not really a political organization, even though we were born out of a political situation. We’re not just here to annoy government bureaucrats by praying at them. We want to make a difference at a deeper level.”

That’s a tall order right now, particularly when it comes to acceptance of Muslims. In this town where the man who killed nine people at the Mother Emmanuel Church was finally arrested, people who appear to practice Islam do not always feel safe. According to Barto, two Muslim women, who are members of FIA, have been missing meetings recently because they don’t wish to go out in public wearing a hijab. It is that climate of fear and mistrust that FIA seeks to undermine with members of different religions leading discussions at monthly meetings. However, worldwide attacks by the hate group Daesh pose a significant challenge.

Combatting fear and hate is an abstract goal, albeit an important one. Prayer at public meetings is more tangible. Therefore, Brown and Barto both have an interest in making sure that any such invocation is not offered exclusively to members of one religion. Barto noted that “while people accuse us of being instigators in these events, it is important to point out that in both cases it was Christians who wanted to force an all-Christian agenda on the population that brought us to the microphone. We stood in defense of liberty, not in opposition of religious expression.”

In the meantime, the FIA continues to draw people to its meetings, and those people do practice a variety of faiths. In addition to the aforementioned Wiccan and Muslim members, several Christian sects are represented, along with Ba’hai and Humanism. “We were invited to hold a meeting in the fellowship hall of a Presbyterian church in Lincolnton, which was wonderful,” Brown said. He hopes the assembly will be able to rotate its meetings through a continually expanding list of locations.

There are a number of other Pagan and related faiths in this part of the state, Brown said that this list includes Druids, and groups that follow Gardnerian and Strega traditions. He has gotten expressions of interest from several of them, and he’s ambitiously thinking forward to deeper interfaith work for the assembly, such as hosting a multi-faith presentation on the topic of rebirth, perhaps in the spring.

Whether springtime, for all its associations with new beginnings, is enough to reboot the political-religious tensions that keep cropping up in the Foothills, is a question yet to be answered.

DILLSBORO, NC – Giovanna Sforza knew something was wrong when she picked up several of her boxes from the U.S. Post Office.

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia / user: Coolcaesar ]

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia / user: Coolcaesar ]

“Six of the eight boxes of books were damaged badly. They had been ripped open along entire sides of the box and the contents obviously had been exposed and put back in the boxes and taped back together by the post office. When I received some of the boxes, there were still entire sides wide open,” said Sforza.

When she opened the boxes to check the contents, she noticed around 20 books, covering a range of Pagan topics, were missing. Even more curious, a Baptist hymnal was put in their place.

Sforza had been visiting her mother in Arizona for a year. After that length of time, she found that she had accumulated far more items than she could fit in her car for the trek back to North Carolina. Sforza went to the post office in Chandler, Arizona to learn the best way to ship books. The clerk recommended buying book boxes from U Haul and mailing those boxes at the USPS book rate. Sforza followed the directions, insured the boxes for $300, and mailed them. Then, she set off for North Carolina.

When she finally arrived, Sforza went to pick up her boxes at the local post office. They were clearly damaged, which she immediately noted to the clerk. She also took photographs of the damaged boxes right when she took possession. Then, Sforza took the boxes home to open them.

Upon checking the contents against a list made in Arizona, Sforza quickly realized that just the books that appeared to have Pagan topics had been stolen, and a brand new Baptist hymnal had been placed in one of the boxes before it was resealed. She immediately called the post office to report the theft.

[Courtesy Photos]

[Courtesy Photos]

Sforza believes the theft of her books, and the addition of the hymnal, could only have been done by postal employees. She theorized, “Somewhere along the postal route, while in federal Postal Service custody, a box or more broke open, a federal postal employee saw the contents, removed my books, and placed a hymnal inside in their place. Apparently they felt I needed to be singing the praises of Jesus. I do not know how else this could have happened. I am really shocked, because I would presume, that there are cameras at these places?”

She also said that she is surprised a federal employee would risk a possible jail sentence of 5 years in prison and up to a $5000 fine just to make a point.

When Sforza called the post office to explain what had happened, she got little in the way of help. “The woman on the phone sounded like she couldn’t care less. Didn’t sound surprised, was not outraged or apologetic. She just told me to go online and file a claim. Nothing she could do about it,” she said.

Sforza has filed a claim with the post office and plans to file federal charges. The Wild Hunt will update this story as more information becomes available. Both the Dillsboro and the Chandler post offices did not respond to requests for comment at time of publication.

LINCOLNTON, North Carolina — Prayer at public meetings is often a battleground with members of minority faiths seeking to have their viewpoints represented, while others argue that such religious ceremony doesn’t belong in a governmental setting. Since the Supreme Court’s 2014 Town of Greece v Galloway decision that allowed such prayers provided minority faiths are included, Pagans and others have sought to test those boundaries. For example, the pantheist David Suhor sang an invocation of the quarters at a county commission meeting in Florida.  More recently, when the issue of inclusiveness sprang up in the foothills region of North Carolina, it led to a new level of interfaith dialog in the form of the Foothills Interfaith Assembly.

Lincolnton Historic Main Street [Photo Credit: Roxyloveshistory / Wikimedia]

Lincolnton Historic Main Street [Photo Credit: Roxyloveshistory / Wikimedia]

The commissioners of Lincoln County in North Carolina open their meetings with a prayer, and it’s always been a Christian one. When another county in the state was forced by a federal judge to cease pre-meeting prayers altogether, a reporter asked Caroll Mitchem, chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, if any changes would be made to their meetings. Mitchem’s response was to the point. She said that prayers — and only Christian ones — would continue. He was quoted in The Lincoln Times-News.

“A Muslim? He comes in here to say a prayer, I’m going to tell him to leave,” Mitchem said. “I have no use for (those) people. They don’t need to be here praying to Allah or whoever the hell they pray to. I’m not going to listen to (a) Muslim pray.”

Mitchem’s comments caught the attention of local Muslim community as well as others practicing minority faiths in the county, and two of them showed up at the next meeting to speak to the issue. They were Reverend Tony Brown of the North Carolina Piedmont Church of Wicca, and Duston Barto, a Muslim who doesn’t yet belong to a specific spiritual community. During that meeting, commissioners softened Mitchem’s comments into a policy that said that “the religious leaders or chosen leaders of any assembly that periodically and regularly meets in Lincoln County for the purpose of worshiping or discussing their religious perspectives are invited to offer an invocation before a meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.”

In those words, the two men saw an opportunity to have their faiths included, but the idea quickly grew well beyond a mechanism to promote religious freedom. “The policy said any faith could give a prayer, if it was sponsored by something that met in county,” Brown said. “I don’t know if it was designed to be restrictive, but the thought might have been to put up barriers that ensure only established faiths qualify.”

foothills logoBarto and Brown created the Foothills Interfaith Assembly —  named not for the county, but the more inclusive region of the state — as a way to allow people of different religions to engage with one another around their beliefs. Qualifying to offer prayers was the impetus, but Brown said that from the get-go the deeper idea was to “take advantage of everything else that interfaith can do.”

The first meeting had much better attendance than Brown had expected, and was spent hashing out some of the formative of the assembly. “A dozen people were there, and we went around introducing ourselves and explaining what brought us here, and our personal goals for the group. We hashed those around into group goals, and from that we came up with a list of five guiding principles.”

Those principles were given to a subcommittee which was tasked with writing a mission statement, which Brown expected to be voted upon at the June 30 meeting. That sort of administrivia is expected to become less prominent as the group finds its rhythm.

Based on who attended that first meeting, Brown expects the future get-togethers to offer robust opportunities to learn about different traditions. Besides himself and Barto, the group includes members of the Baha’i faith, a Baptist minister from an intentional Christian community, a Celtic Pagan, and a non-denominational Christian. “The diversity of people was a surprise, especially in Lincoln County, North Carolina,” he said. Interfaith work “always will appeal more to minority faiths, but we can band together, lift each other up, [and have a] better chance of being heard than whispering alone.”

The group’s structure will likely settle into a pattern of education, discussion, and socialization. “Ultimately I hope that people will come together, and in the first part of the meeting a person presents or there is a panel,” Brown explained, for example, “the basics of Baha’i, followed by questions and answers, or a panel on reciprocity with members of different faiths to explain its role in their tradition. It will be dialogue, and meeting as equals.”

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA –At the beginning of this month, when the darkness and cold of winter seemed to be at their darkest and coldest, a group visited a shrine to the goddess Brigid, clearing away blockages to a spring and making offerings of flowers and milk. While that isn’t particularly remarkably in the Pagan community — many northern hemisphere practices include devotional acts at midwinter — it’s a bit more unusual when the practitioners are Christian.

Header_ImgMembers of the Jubilee! Community Church take “interfaith” to a level that is not commonly seen within an Abrahamic faith. Rather than seeking to understand basic tenets of other religions, they incorporate practices that are seen to tie into their interpretation of Christian faith, including celebrations of quarter and cross-quarter days. The church is based on a concept called Creation Spirituality, and led by Howard Hanger, a former Methodist minister who has turned a few heads, and attracted a fair number of congregants with his theology.

“When we first got started, we were definitely suspect,” Hanger said, and considered a cult by some. “There was a street preacher outside saying that we were sending people to hell.”

Now that the church is more established, “people mostly just leave [them] alone.” And, since they are no longer being actively condemned, they have joined Asheville’s vibrant interfaith community. “We find out commonalities with Baptists, Catholics, Jews . . . we all believe in making the world a better place, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, all that sort of stuff. We’ve tried to connect with local Muslims.” he added, but without much success as yet.

Area Pagans, however, have been more than welcoming. “Pagans have been very wonderful,” Hanger said. “We’re pretty closely aligned with Pagan celebrations of nature, celebrating creation is our big banner, a big connection with the earth-worshipping community.”

Asheville Author and Village Witch Byron Ballard agreed with that assessment. “Jubilee began here as a funky Sunday evening service at one of the largest Methodist churches in town. They borrow from all sorts of places,” she said, and the children’s educational program “goes to a lot of sources for inspiration.”

Even with all of this “borrowing,” there have been no accusations of cultural appropriation. Ballard noted, “Pagans don’t own the agricultural year, and I certainly wouldn’t go to the stake over the Wheel of the Year.” Rather, she said, “it feels interfaith rather than appropriative, as [the church’s Nurture Coordinator, Vicki Garlock] gives plenty of credit and doesn’t try to pretend it’s an old Christian concept. [She] often attends Mother Grove events, and I have spoken in her classes several times.”

Garlock wrote this about the program:

Some may wonder why a Christian congregation would focus so much attention on Pagan resources, so let me share our educational perspective. We’ve developed a Bible-based, interfaith curriculum that we use with kids from preschool through 8th grade. They learn the basic Bible stories and then use these themes and narratives to connect with other faith traditions. For example, when they learn about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, they also learn about prayer mats, prayer flags, prayer wheels, and prayer beads. We want the kids in our program to be grounded in our Judeo-Christian culture, but we also want to provide them with the tools they need to follow their own faith path.

In addition, we actively foster relationship with the Earth. We want youngsters to find the sacred in nature, to understand their connection to the environment, and to celebrate all of creation. These values are found throughout the world’s faith traditions, and many religious holidays coincide with seasonal changes. Kids understand seasons. They feel the changes in temperature, see the changes in plants, and associate certain events with certain seasons. Pagan wheel-of-the-year festivals offer us another opportunity to highlight the shared principles that all faith practices glean from the Earth’s wisdom.

In short, Jubilee’s philosophy, while grounded in Christianity, honors the similarities among traditions. Its credo encourages children to “follow their own faith path,” recognizing the divine in everything. A spiritual journey that begins at the Jubilee! Community Church could well take many directions. As Hanger pointed out, “We don’t worship Jesus. He never wanted that. We follow him. He was into that.”

Asheville, North Carolina – A Gardnerian coven recently posted a video of its 1996 public Samhain ritual that it claims was made by local police. The video is one of an estimated 100 surveillance videos that the Asheville Police Department recorded of various political rallies and religious gatherings since the early 1980’s.The High Priestess of Oldenwilde Coven says the lack of transparency and accountability, on the part of the local police department with regards to the tapes, combined with the chilling effect knowing that this was happening, is a cause for concern.

Over the past 30 years the Asheville police department has regularly video taped tax rallies, environmental protests, and street preachers. The practice of video taping by police came to light when a local newspaper, The Citizen-Times, filed a Freedom of information Act lawsuit to make the tapes public.

Oldenwilde Coven, however, has known about the tapes since sometime before 2008. Its High Priestess, Queen Lady Passion, explained that her relationship with the Asheville PD began in the mid 1990’s when an officer assigned to the occult crimes unit asked her to help the department determine the cause of local Church desecrations. She said, “He would bring me crude Books of Shadows found in such locations, and photos of Satanic graffiti scrawled on their walls, and the like, but the vast majority of such cases came down to reprisals by angry teens who’d been abused by Church elders.”

She says the professional relationship between Lady Passion and the officer developed a mutual respect and when the officer found out the coven’s Samhain ritual had been videotaped by a fellow law enforcement years earlier, he made a copy and smuggled it out to her.

High Priestess Lady Passion and High Priest *Diuvei of Oldenwilde Coven

High Priestess Lady Passion and High Priest *Diuvei of Oldenwilde Coven [Courtesy Photo]

Although the coven has had the video for over six years, they only recently decided to make it public. “Knowing the APD’s long-time practice of videotaping people who attend all manner of permitted public events, we kept the footage for future use when it would prove most effective, which is why we posted two such videos this week in support of the Asheville Citizen-Times‘s having filed a lawsuit regarding the issue,” said Lady Passion.

The coven leaders say they aren’t surprised that their activities were under surveillance. They had spent decades participating in pro-police reform activism. They say that they “…feel strongly that the precious nature of religious rights are constitutionally protected and should be treated with utmost respect.” They add that, “Pagans should be treated as valued community resources, not criminals-in-the-making, nor have their right to peaceably assemble or express their free speech overtly impeded by video-taping, gun-toting cops.”

The newspaper’s lawsuit also notes that the Asheville PD’s practice of routinely recording public gatherings has a chilling effect on free speech. The police department has said that the video’s aid in training and are part of ongoing criminal investigations, although there is no alleged criminal activity on the tapes. City officials have also said that no actionable criminal intelligence has come from the tapes.

David Carron, an attorney licensed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and Redesman of the Troth said that while free speech is protected, that protection isn’t absolute. He says:

I would have to say, that this is not legal advice and I have no license for that state, but given the facts you gave, I do have some hypotheses: Free Speech is constitutionally protected but the devil is in the details. State action, when curtailing the content of free speech, is supposed to be narrowly enacted and limited to specific issues. Hypothetically speaking and given the above facts, I suspect that the State’s position would be that this is a general investigation and a criminal issue rather then a free speech one. Assuming the facts as stated, it doesn’t sound like there would be any kind of valid articulable suspicion. I could not speak at all toward any discrimination claim.

Lady Passion says the Citizen-Times was able, through a review of the police department’s records, to confirm that officers had filmed the 1996 Samhain ritual. Yet the coven has a copy of a second video allegedly taken by police that was not listed in police records. Lady Passion says this raises, “worrisome concerns about the laxity of APD’s tracking methods; who sees them; how, when, or if they are ever destroyed.” She says it’s concerning why the police continue to defend the practice of video taping when a city spokesman admitted in an email that all videos taken since the 80’s had yielded no investigative value.

As of press time, the Asheville police department has not responded to questions.

[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.


Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”


Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.


I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

Before eating, do you stop and pray? If you do and you happen to be in Mary’s Gourmet Diner, you may be gifted a 15 percent discount on your total bill.


Originally called, Breakfast, Of Course, Mary’s Gourmet Diner, a family-run operation, has always had the reputation of a warm, atmosphere with fresh, made-to-order, farm-to-table food. Its popularity eventually caused the restaurant to outgrow its small space. It moved to its current location in the “art district” of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 2012, The Huffington Post described Mary’s as having a “A Bohemian cool atmosphere serving vegan/organic/locally sourced cuisine.”

Over the past week, Mary’s has received unprecedented attention due to a single Facebook post that went viral. On July 29, Jordan Smith dined at the Winston-Salem restaurant and was surprised when her bill included a “15 percent public prayer discount.” After snapping a photo of the bill, she posted it to her Facebook page and sent it to friends at an Orlando-based, Christian Radio Station. Z88.3FM posted the photo on its own Facebook timeline:


Since that initial posting, the story has gone viral, inciting both passionate praise and criticism. Opponents argue that the restaurant is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states in Title II:

All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. 

Supporters are partially area-residents who have enjoyed the diner for years and know the owner and her family well. Additionally, support comes from advocates for public prayer, who are heralding the discount as a “win” in the battle for public displays of religion. As written by one Facebook commentor, “Thank you for keeping up the “good fight” against the liberals and democrats who have tried to undermine this great country by removing God from our lives!”

Due to this recent whirlwind of media hype, Owner Mary Haguland’s original intention has gotten completely lost or simply buried underneath the country’s on-going, very contentious, religious-freedom debate. The problem is illustrated by a Christian Post article entitled “Ring Up the Prayer Discount.” It reads:

Mary’s Gourmet Diner has an official policy of giving diners a special savings if they “pray publicly” before chowing down. The restaurant has reportedly offered patrons the holy discount for four years.

As Haguland has repeatedly said, the “prayer discount” is not an official policy; it is a gift given by the wait staff.  As quoted in the Huffington Post, Haguland says, “It’s [something] we only do when we’re moved to do it.”

Secondly, the restaurant has been granting the discount for four years, as noted by The Christian Post, but it is not a “holy” discount as suggested. In other words, the intent was never to encourage a specifically religious act. In an interview with The Blaze, Haguland says, “For me, every plate of food is a gift. And I never take that for granted and when I see someone in a restaurant honoring their gratefulness at my table … it touches my heart.”

Haguland was unavailable for an interview, but her daughter, Lily Pickett, spoke with us. Pickett reiterated that the intention of the discount is not at all religious. She says, “It is spiritual” and that they “honor everyone’s way of praying.” When creating the discount, her mother had hoped to encourage people to “take a break from their busy days and give thanks.” When asked if Pagans and Heathens could be gifted the 15 percent, Pickett said without hesitation, “Yes.”

In a recent Facebook post, Haguland reacts to the negative publicity by directly emphasizing all of these points:


Regardless of positive intent or the question of constitutional legality, the debates rage on with many other questions being asked. For example, one Facebook user posted: “How [does] she know when someone is simply having a moment of silence without bowing their heads? How can she claim to know when someone is meditating unless one looks like they are praying?” Others question the morality of rewarding the prayer act. Still others wonder: “What if I pray after the meal? Do I still get the discount?”

Due to recent legal battles over public prayer, it is not at all surprising that the restaurant’s actions have become the center of this media frenzy. The problem stems partly from the use of the word prayer itself, which has very specific cultural connotations. In addition, the bill reads, “15 percent discount for praying in public.” This is one of the phrases commonly used in that political debate.

Pickett acknowledged the issues with the word prayer but added, “We use the term to mean mindful meditation.” Despite the intent in meaning, public assumptions have been made. Compounding the problem is the diner’s location in a generally conservative southern state or the so-called “Bible Belt.”

In response to continued public comment, Haguland posted a second message on Facebook:

This says it all: ‘Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough & more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. IT CAN TURN A MEAL INTO A FEAST, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.’ -M. Beattie

While Haguland herself is Christian, she continues to stress, over and over, that the owners and staff support the diversity of life, including religion. They encourage anyone visiting, including Pagans, Heathens, Atheists, Hindus and whomever, to thank their Gods, the Earth or just take a moment to be grateful for the gifts of abundance.  If you’re caught, you just might get the discount.

UPDATE (Aug. 7 2014): Mary’s announced that it has completely eliminated the 15 percent prayer discount. As reported by a local paper, Owner Mary Haguland made this decision after being contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She fears a lawsuit. Although FFRF says that it did not threaten to sue the restaurant, the FFRF President did inform reporters that they have won similar legal cases in the past.