Archives For North Georgia Solitaries

Last week, I reported on the Atlanta Pagan community’s wreath project.  As explained, the wreath’s purpose is to build a sense of solidarity for that Pagan community. Following the post, several readers launched into a discussion that probed the very nature and meaning of Pagan solidarity. As one reader asked, “What is the purpose?”

Additionally, readers explored the concept of solitary solidarity. Can such a thing exist?  Or, as one reader put it, is the concept of the solitary group “oxymoronic?”

These are serious sociological questions that, in exploring, could help to define modern Pagan practice as it expands and diversifies. These age-old questions are very difficult to answer for a non-dogmatic, non-centralized religious group. But we may now have reached a point at which it is very necessary to confront them.

I opened the conversation up to the greater Pagan community, asking a variety of people their thoughts on the subject. I will share the responses in two parts. This week, in part one, we will examine the question of Pagan solidarity itself and, subsequently, how it relates to the solitary practitioner. Next week, in part two, we will explore the Pagan institution, its viability and purpose.

On the importance of Pagan solidarity

Ginger Wood

Ginger Wood

Nature-based religions have been in practice for thousands of years.  Nature religions will continue with or without “Pagan solidarity.” However, in a political sense… it is important that Pagans stand together when the need arises.  – Ginger Wood, National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Priestess of Gryphon Song Clan and Pagan novelist

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Pagan community solidarity is incredibly important. We don’t have to practice together or hold exactly the same beliefs to defend each other’s rights. – Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor at Patheos Pagan Channel, Cherry Hill Seminary Instructor

Without question, all of those who responded agreed that solidarity within the Pagan community is essential to facilitating growth and acceptance. As Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister at Circle Sanctuary, said, “When Pagans unite in Solidarity for a common cause; a synergy emerges that enhances our work together.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox

However, Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and a practitioner of American Eclectic Craft, pointed out that we need to better define the terms “community” and “solidarity.”   He writes:

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton (center)

We often say “community,” but what we really mean is “network” or “association.”  Right now, what we mainly have are networks — or subcultures that you can join or leave, participate in or not, according to your individual desires. We may be moving toward community but I don’t think we are quite there yet.

He continues on to question the definition of solidarity which he labels “tricky.”

Does it simply refer to religious freedom under the broadest umbrella, like you are a Druid, and I am a rootworker, but I respect you as a Pagan practitioner, and you respect me?  Or does it mean that I have to support everything that you do and all your struggles, like union workers not crossing each other’s picket lines? 

Perhaps we can meld the two definitions. Solidarity would then become the outward respect that binds our network, or our community, together with the potential of offering support.  If we omit terms like “have to” and “must” from “solidarity,” we are left with the strength of possibility and freedom. 

On Solitary Solidarity:

Where does that leave solitaries, those that choose to practice alone? If they seek out community, do they jeopardize their solitary status?  To repeat one reader’s words, are solitary community-groups “oxymoronic?” Can there be such a thing as “solitary solidarity?”

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa

Solitaries are no different than any other Pagan. We all need strength in numbers to help protect our rights. Many solitaries like to come together, every once in a while, to socialize, share knowledge and celebrate our holy days. – Lady Charissa, founder of North Georgia Solitaries, coordinator of the Pagan Assistance Fund, High Priestess of Silver Pine Grove

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

I don’t see solitary spiritual practice as precluding community solidarity. Solidarity is the practice of supporting and helping each other, not necessarily agreeing with each other. Solitaries benefit from the published teachings and public events put on by those affiliated with groups.  We are interdependent, no matter how we define our practice. – Holli S. Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, Priestess of Temple Osireion

Most agree that “solidarity” doesn’t end where “solitary” begins.

M Macha Nightmare

M Macha Nightmare

One need not belong to a formal religious group in order to identify with, and participate in, larger Pagan efforts any more than one needs to belong to a particular political party to vote. – M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, Witch, teacher, ritualist and author.

Jonathon S. Lowe

Jonathon S. Lowe

Nobody loses their solitary practice or identity in the process of taking part in solidarity… The defining point of being a solitary practitioner isn’t to make yourself a hermit every time you practice. It is so that you can develop your own working spiritual system that is right for you, without having others interfere.  - Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe, Shaman, Coordinator of The Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas

Most of the people that responded were in some way involved with or directly engaging the Pagan “network.”  In the interest of perspective, I sought out a Pagan who chooses the true solitary experience.  Stevie Diamond has never practiced within a group or been formally initiated, nor does she have the desire.

After hearing the questions, she echoed what Ginger Wood said, “Nature religions will continue with or without Pagan solidarity.” Stevie explained, “I am a quiet, reclusive person. It feels more personal and electric if I do a ritual or spell by myself.  I just can’t imagine chanting in front of someone else.”

Despite this choice, Stevie acknowledges the benefit of having a Pagan network. It was through another witch that she identified her spiritual path.  She has grown her own practice from books written by Pagan authors.  And, if she encounters problems, she stated, “I would feel comfort in a group knowing they believe what I do.”

Next week, in part two, we’ll examine the Pagan institution. Is solidarity the birth-mother of the institution?  And where does that lead?

(Note: I will post links to the full, unedited comments next week)

In this modern, transient, and digitally-driven world, we find ourselves frequently discussing the meaning, development, make-up or even the apparent death of “community.”  For Pagans, this can be a particularly profound discussion due to the incredible diversity in our faith and practice.  How do we develop and nurture a positive and lasting Pagan solidarity across differences in belief and tradition?

Community Wreath

In Atlanta, the answer has come in the form of a wreath. In the spring of 2012, Lady Charissa, senior priestess of North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), began a community wreath project that has now been going for over nine months. She explains:

The idea behind [the wreath] is for people, groups, or covens to add a ribbon to the wreath symbolizing how connected we all are. We are connected to the people we like and work with; connected to the people we’ve never met, connected to the people that we don’t care for. All of these people, friends… make a community. By connecting to this wreath we are bringing …[manifesting] cohesiveness for the Pagan community. (From the NGS Website)

Several years ago, Lady Charissa and a fellow Atlanta Pagan, Kieran Nightstar successfully incorporated a unity wreath into an NGS Samhain ritual. The work proved beneficial and inspirational to all attending. In 2012, Lady Charissa decided to resurrect this idea when she was asked to lead an Ostara ritual at the Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas, an annual festival celebrating Pagan life. Lady Charissa remarked:

I had not considered making the wreath a long term project.  But, when I was leading the ritual and passing the wreath around, the words just came to me. “We will pass the wreath around the community during the coming year.”

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa
North Georgia Solitaries

She started getting calls the very next week. Pagans from all over the Atlanta-area wanted to participate in her community wreath project. A few short months later, that simple grapevine circular form was covered with a menagerie of ribbons representing both solitary Pagans and covens throughout the north Georgia community.

Over the past 9 months, the wreath has been passed around the local community attending private sabbat rituals and open festivals. In September, the wreath traveled to Alabama to attend the first annual Auburn Pagan Pride Day.  As leader of the open ritual, Lady Charissa incorporated the wreath project into the evening’s work. Then, late in October, the wreath was displayed at both Atlanta’s and Savannah’s Pagan Pride events.

To date, more than eight covens and organizations, representing different Pagan traditions and faiths, as well as countless solitaries have participated in building Pagan solidarity through this community wreath.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how many people have wanted to bring the wreath into their circles and to be a part of this project. It has grown far past my original idea.

On Yule, my own group had the wreath. We tied our ribbons into its tapestry.  It was indeed transformative as we looked over the rainbow of interwoven ribbons – some from friends and others from strangers, but all a part of the community.  Through our shared experience, we were immediately connected.

In the upcoming months, the community wreath will continue to makes its way through Georgia’s Pagan world. Lady Charissa hasn’t firmly decided on its final destination. She said, “At this point, I will just see where [the project] wants to go, doing my best to facilitate the journey.”  Right now, she plans to circle the project back to its starting place at the 2013 Ostara ritual for Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas. From there, the wreath will grow in new ways, as Lady Charissa notes, just as “the community energy grows.”

Wreath building is one symbolic way that we can nurture Pagan solidarity within our diverse world. Have your local communities used any methods, magickal or otherwise, to bridge gaps, to build and maintain community in an effort to foster Pagan solidarity?  What ways have you used?

Yesterday, just hours after I posted an update on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school, another press release was sent out that seems to point to an agreement between Carroll County School District, the Turner family, and coalition of Pagan advocacy groups.

Here’s the full press release:

Statement from Bowdon Elementary School, Carroll County School District, and members of the Turner Family Support Task Force as represented by Lady Liberty League, North Georgia Solitaries, Covenant of the Goddess, Dogwood Local Council, and Circle Sanctuary:

The Turner Family, Task Force, and School District want Bowdon School to be a positive, supportive environment which fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students.

With education, cooperation, and open dialogue, all things are possible.

At times, a lack of life experience and/or other circumstances can make it difficult to perceive how words and actions might cause offense or upset. The parties involved acknowledge that words and deeds can be hurtful even without the intent of making them so.

In an effort to reach a positive and collaborative resolution to recent events, an alliance of the parties involved has come to pass which will set the stage for future education for school staff, students, and parents on the topic of equality and respect for all students and families in the Carroll County School System.

First, a sincere apology for recent events and misunderstandings has been given by School Administration and accepted by the family.

Second, the Bowdon Elementary School guidance Counselor will educate staff and students about honoring and accepting the differences that make us individuals.

Third, procedures have been put in place to ensure classroom activities don’t alienate students. As part of this, the administration and teachers will have yearly training about the District’s Code of Ethics and the responsibilities of each staff member to preserve the integrity of every students’ rights.

We appreciate the hard work and open dialogue of all the parties involved to create this positive resolution. The Turner children will return to school. The Carroll County School District will continue to strive to be a place that fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students regardless of religion, race, national origin, gender or disability.

So it looks like this issue has been largely settled, aside from implementation of these new agreements concerning education on “honoring and accepting” religious differences. Stephanie Turner, mother of Christopher, appeared on the Internet radio show Pagan Warrior Radio last night, and thanked the Pagan community for all the support she and her family has received during this ordeal. Here’s hoping that this incident will act as a message to schools, teachers, and administrators that the rights of religious minorities in public schools are to be taken seriously, and that the Pagan community is more than willing to come together in order to protect our constitutional rights.

Today I have some updates and new developments in stories previously covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Georgia School Harassment Case: Last week I reported on an official joint statement sent out by the North Georgia SolitariesDogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the GoddessLady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary, on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school (as originally reported by the Atlanta IMC). Now, that coalition, The Turner Family Support Task Force, has sent out an update calling for ongoing spiritual and fiscal support.

“Please send your prayers, your energy, and your personal messages through the Facebook page. They are being read by the Turners throughout each day. And, secondly, if you would like to contribute funds to help alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on the family, please make your donations via the Pagan Assistance Fund, operated by the North Georgia Solitaries through the Church of the Spiral Tree. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to offset a variety of expenses such as gas, child care, home-schooling supplies, and other related family expenses as they arise.”

The task force is hoping their efforts will lead to “a peaceful resolution and a future of fair and equal treatment in the school and school system.” My contact within the task force says that there will be more news on this front soon, so stay tuned!

Saudi Arabia’s Sorcery Beheading: On Monday, news broke that Saudi Arabia had executed yet another person for the crime of “sorcery,” bringing the estimated total of state-backed executions to 79, a massive increase from the previous year. Amnesty International called the beheading Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser “deeply shocking,” while the BBC reports that it is the country’s religious police force (the Mutaween) who are pushing for executions.

“The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. [...] Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.”

The Wild Hunt has spent quite a bit of time reporting on Saudi Arabia’s harsh laws against fortune telling, sorcery, and witchcraft. There was the case of Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, and finally freed. Also significant is the case of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, which drew the public attention of Pagan and international interfaith figure Phyllis Curott, a Trustee of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, serving on its Executive Committee. In many cases, like Fawza Falih’s, we never learn their ultimate fate. This trend of executing fortune tellers and “sorcerers” is troubling, not only because Saudi Arabia is ostensibly our ally, but because there are modern Pagans living in the Middle East, and having to live under the threat of death for witchcraft in the 21st century is a scandal to any who believe in progress and human rights.

Peruvian Shaman Slayings: Back in October I reported on the murder of fourteen shamans in Peru, allegedly ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claimed these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect. Now, progressive news site Truthout brings us an update on the story, alleging that more than mere religious animus is behind these murders.

Alberto Pizango, Peru’s top indigenous leader and president of the country’s most powerful indigenous organization, the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP) paints a more complex picture of the case, blaming cash and pressure from legal and illegal industries in the Amazon who poach natural resources from indigenous lands. “What is happening now in my community is organized crime,” said Pizango, himself a Shawi medico who studied for seven years under a master shaman.

Pizango goes on to tell how traditions are being distorted to support the murder of shamans who oppose the growing criminal enterprises in Peru, or their political allies. noting that “when the people come out to defend their territorial rights, their rights to their natural resources, then the mayor has the perfect criminal organization to shut them up, accuse them, say that someone was killed because he was a brujo.” At this point the death-count is now estimated at 20, and the government investigation into these charges are still ongoing. No arrests or public statements have been made. For ongoing updates see the Alianza Arkana news blog.

Dan Halloran Responds (by Proxy): I’ve been waiting to hear Dan Halloran’s response to the divisive Village Voice piece that I feel unfairly sensationalized his Heathen faith, and dinged by religion journalism criticism site Get Religion for its unnecessary mocking tone.” Now, it seems a response was sent out this past Thursday, albeit indirectly through Halloran’s spokesman Steve Stites in an email to the Queens Tribune.

“The liberal press, such as the Voice, based in downtown Manhattan, and knowing zilch about Northeast Queens, have stooped to some pretty creative new lows in trying to bash the Councilman,” Stites wrote in a furious email. “It makes you wonder why they’re so afraid of him, or so fascinated by him. My guess is that the left-wing press doesn’t like the Councilman because he’s outspoken, effective and conservative, and he doesn’t play by their rules of political correctness and go-along get-along politics.”

Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher defended his piece, saying he wrote it “because it made such a good story—a politician with a faith unlike any other,” and that comparing Heathens with Civil War reenactors was meant to be a compliment. Sadly, neither Halloran or Stites have directly addressed the religious content of Thrasher’s article, nor do I expect them to any time soon.

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

In my news roundup on December 5th, I noted an Atlanta Independent Media Center story on difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school.

“Christopher’s teacher, Mrs. Ross, pulled him out of class and proceeded to drill him about Paganism, ending the conversation with “Paganism is not a religion.” Remember, this is an 11 year old student, with no parent present while being harassed about his religion by someone who is suppose to be an educator.”

Since that report word has quickly spread through social media networks, with many contacting school officials to complain. Now, an official joint statement has been sent out by the North Georgia Solitaries, Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, Lady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary.

Turner Family Support

Statement from NGS, CoG, DLC, LLL, Circle Sanctuary:

After concerns spread about some problems with accommodating Pagan students needs at Bowdon Elementary School (BES), there was an overwhelming show of community support for the Turner family of Carroll County in western Georgia, USA. Many local Pagans and associated organizations reached out to assist the Turners by providing emotional support and offering practical advice. The Turners have been deeply touched by this out-pouring of spirit and wish to express their sincerest gratitude.

In addition, a Task Force of local and national Pagan organizations have come together to help resolve issues between the Turners and BES. The Task Force also hopes to provide the school with Pagan accommodation information and materials with the hopes of avoiding misunderstandings and other problems in the future. Represented in this group are the North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), both the localand national chapters of the Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League.

Currently, Carroll County Schools, led by the assistant superintendent, has expressed an active interest in resolving the current tensions and is planning to meet with Ms. Turner. The family and the Task Force are requesting that those with concerns about their situation do not directly contact the school or its employees. It is important that everyone involved have the maximum space needed to focus on resolving this conflict in a positive way. However, all concerned individuals are welcome to show theirsupport for the Turners through the Turner Family Support Facebook fan page or through the simple use of prayers and energy toward a peaceful resolution and healing.

Please direct all media questions to pio@dogwoodlc.org.

Hopefully, if all goes well, this matter can be resolved outside of the courtroom, and new connections and relationships can be formed that will benefit other Pagan families in the area. Again, these organizations and the Turner family are requesting individuals stop contacting school officials as these talks and negotiations happen. All expressions of support should be posted at the official Facebook page. I wish the Turners and the coalition of local and national Pagan organizations luck in resolving this matter in a way that benefits all involved.

It’s been an oft-repeated assertion that during tough economic times the church pews fill up. In a recent Newsweek article economist Daniel Hungerman suggested this phenomenon is more due to a yearning for “interconnectedness” than with the popular “no atheists in foxholes” theory. Economics writer Ryan Avent thinks it all comes down to cheap entertainment. But does this pervasive truism of increased religious attendance during hard times apply to modern Pagan faiths? What happens when there is no “pew” to casually fill when times are tough? I’ve asked a number of Pagan leaders, clergy, organizers, and adherents about attendance levels, and anecdotal evidence from across the country seems to point towards the rising tide of economic hardship lifting all religious boats.

Near the San Francisco Bay, Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, recently featured in a new documentary, and  co-founder of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary, said that there’s been a steady increase in attendance for the last few years, though she can’t say for certain if the economy has been a driving factor.

“…it’s hard to separate the influence of the economy from other factors. We’re just passing our first half decade in existence, and we’ve been in a rapid growth phase of our development in terms of infrastructure building and also in terms of exposure, so we might have had just as much growth in attendance regardless of the economy. There’s not enough history to know what our ‘baseline’ really is.”

Ravenna’s experiences though are mirrored in Montana, where author and local leader Raven Digitalis has noted an up-tick in attendance, noting that  “people seem to feel a greater need for community support — understandably!” In Georgia, Lady Charissa of the North Georgia Solitaries says that “we’ve gone from an average attendance of 12-15 to an average attendance of 30-35 at small Sabbats.” Others, like the Correllian Nativist Tradition (founders of the popular Witch School) and Aquarian Tabernacle Church-affiliated Covenant of WISE, Church of Wicca note spectacular increases in membership and attendance.

“Our numbers have more than tripled in the past 12 months. We have even had to expand operations to encompass our over seas members. I think there is a reaching out that occurs during a recession. If there is a decline in numbers at Christian Venues, I would attribute it to feeling like you NEED to tithe to attend. Money is tight. We as pagans offer services that accept donations, but we don’t expect them. We honor them, but we don’t demand them. It is more important today, and tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future that we provide a place for people to connect with the Divine then it has been in 90 years.” - Dusty Dionne, Church Summoner, Covenant of WISE, Church of Wicca

But while there’s been a seeming overall trend of increased attendance in recent years, it hasn’t always brought with it increased donations. Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s Archpriest, Pete Pathfinder Davis, noted to me that while attendance at his Washington state congregation has increased, donations this year have fallen sharply. Raven Digitalis remarked that his group “have had to put our feet down” concerning event fees “a bit more than usual”. A respondent from Illinois noted that he feels there’s been a decrease in attendance lately as the cost of  transportation rises. In addition, many of the groups that have experienced success also mentioned that they have worked hard to provide community services while keeping costs low.

North Georgia Solitaries recently held a successful festival drawing nearly 300 people in a fund-raiser for their newly-launched Pagan Assistance Fund to help their community members in times of financial crisis, while Stone City Pagan Sanctuary has worked hard to keep things affordable for the organizations that depend on their land for events.

“One thing we have done is try to keep costs low, both for gatherings that we organize ourselves, and also what we charge to host other groups’ events. For example, we don’t charge anything for kids, ever, because we know even half-price can still make it hard on families. I think that keeping costs low has helped us stay viable as the economy has gotten worse.”Morpheus Ravenna

While there has certainly been challenges for our communities during this ongoing recession, it seems that hard times haven’t equaled diminished numbers or attendance in many groups across the United States. I think this points to Pagan faiths being deeply rooted and mature enough to provide the sense of fellowship and “interconnectedness” that Hungerman describes in the Newsweek article.

“…maybe people’s desire for spiritual guidance is influenced by their perception of how the world’s doing outside of themselves. Church attendance may not reflect our own circumstances but our own idea of how the world is doing beyond us.”

So maybe the booming circles, groves, and events reflect that we are checking in with our own loose-knit communities, finding fellowship so we can weather this storm together.