Archives For OBOD

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

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Yesterday, I shared the sad news that author and magician Donald Michael Kraig had passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. Today, I wanted to showcase a tribute to Kraig by his longtime employer and publisher Llewellyn Worldwide. Quote: “Don has been an important part of Llewellyn for over 40 years, and has been a tremendous colleague, teacher, mentor, and inspiration to many. Don first started his journey with Llewellyn as an author, when he submitted Modern Magick with encouragement from his then roommate Scott Cunningham. Shortly after he was hired as a writer and moved to St. Paul to work at Llewellyn headquarters.  He eventually became the editor of FATE magazine as well.  Later, he moved back to California but continued on as a writer and editor of New Worlds magazine and as an acquiring editor, where he continued using and sharing his extensive subject-matter knowledge. Don has touched so many lives and will be dearly missed. We are grateful to his life lived, and for his teachings and words that will continue to live on through his many books. Our thoughts go out to Holly and their friends and families.” Updates on a memorial service, and a place to leave donations to help with expenses, can be found here.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

Modern Druid group The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids turns 50 this year, and a special golden anniversary grove is being planned to honor the occasion. Quote: “2014 is the 50th year of The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. We have asked ‘Trees for Life’ in Scotland to plant a sacred grove to commemorate this anniversary, and have started the project with a donation of 98 trees. We’re calling it ‘Nuinn’s Grove’ after the Druid name of our founder, Ross Nichols. Have a look at the special web-page for this grove here. You’ll see that you can donate a tree for just £5 and ask for a dedication to be read out at its planting. The Order has 17,000 members, a mailing list of 10,000 newsletter susbscribers, and 16,000 listeners to our podcast every month – if every one donated a tree we could plant a whole forest with many sacred groves in it! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!  Do help make this vision a reality, if you can, by gifting at least one tree now and spreading the news! Trees for Life have made the process incredibly simple!” 

logo-bsfGede Parma, author of “Ecstatic Witchcraft: Magick, Philosophy & Trance in the Shamanic Craft,” will be presenting this week at BaliSpirit Festival on the Indonesian archipelago of Bali. According to Parma, ze is the first Witch to present at this high-profile yoga/dance/music festival. You can see Parma’s listing on the official web site, here. Quote: “Gede spends his time actively promoting conscious engagement with Place and the Planet, teaching and writing about Witchcraft and Magic, and deepening connection with the Many Bright and Cunning Spirits that people this Cosmos. Ze is also a Reclaiming Witch, a modern tradition of the Craft co-founded by several individuals in California, most famously Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance. Reclaiming does the work of (re)uniting politics with spirituality and is an activist and ecofeminist expression of Witchcraft and Paganism.” Parma recently relocated to Bali, and is half Balinese. The festival runs from March 19th through the 23rd.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • The always-interesting Norse Mythology Blog, run by Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried, is once again up for a religion-category Bloggie in the fourteenth annual Weblog Awards. If the blog wins this year it will, according to Seigfried, “be the first religion blog (on any religion) to be installed in the Weblog Awards Hall of Fame.” Voting is open through Sunday.
  • The 2014 Ostara issue of ACTION, the official newsletter of AREN, is now available. As always, it is chock-full of interesting interviews (plain text version). Featured interviews this time out include Cairril Adaire, Laura Perry, Rufus Brock Maychild, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (who talks about Wiccanate privilege, and if it’s a problem). ACTION, as I’ve said many times before, is a quiet gem of a resource, don’t miss out on reading it.
  • Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC, which recently announced that it would be closing its community center space, has made announcements regarding plans for new initiatives moving forward, and the election of new officers to guide the foundation. Quote: “The Open Hearth Foundation Board of Governors has decided to focus the organization’s efforts on building community support and funding for its mission, with the goal of reopening a Pagan lending library within the next two years.”
  • The Temple of Witchcraft in Salem, New Hampshire will be holding a Spring Open House on April 6th. Quote: “On Sunday, April 6, 2014, The Temple of Witchcraft will be opening its doors to the public for our Spring Open House in Salem, New Hampshire. Join us in sharing the magick with coffee, tea, refreshments, and lively company. Curious? Have your questions answered by our knowledgable ministers and learn the facts and fantasy about modern Witches and Witchcraft. Come learn about our various ministries, including our work in Healing, Art, Women’s Spirituality, Grief Support, Prison Ministry, and Rites of Passage.”
  • A Pennsylvania coven fighting to perform legal handfastings, whom I’ve mention before here, has won their struggle to navigate the red tape. I’m glad this has been resolved for them.
  • Cosette writes about an unrepentant Australian Pagan predator in the community. Quote: “In my quest to discover the movers and shakers of the Pagan community in Australia, it was bound to happen that I would eventually stumble upon him. He is a man that everyone talks about through cautious whispers and shameful glances. Nobody says his name. I didn’t know his name until the internet magically revealed it. He’s the Voldemort of Victoria, but worse because he is real. His name is Robin Fletcher.”
  • Challenges for Pagan youth, in their own words. Quote: “I don’t think there is a catch-all solution for providing youth with more resources. Everyone has a different need, style of communication, and a learning pace that we just can’t issue a panacea for. I think the first step is acknowledging that young people are still coming to Paganism and polytheism in droves and that it’s up to us to help meet that demand in whatever ways we can.”
  • Panegyria, the newsletter of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, turns 30 this month. Quote: “For thirty years, Panegyria has aimed at connecting the Pagan communities and individuals in the greater Seattle area. During the early 80’s the scene was filled with a disjointed community consisting of small groups, and scantily published newsletters. Pete “Pathfinder” Davis saw a need for a more comprehensive publication to showcase and bring together the voice of the Seattle-area Pagan community.”

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

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Patrick McCollum’s Visit to Thailand: As I mentioned back in January, Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be traveling to Thailand in February at the invitation of Dhammakaya temple in the Pathumtani Province, where he will be honored as a World Inner Peace Ambassador, and share Pagan rituals and practices with Buddhist Lamas. McCollum will then travel to the renowned temple at Borobudur on the Island of Java with Lama Gangchen Rinpoche, of the World Peace Foundation. At the Patrick McCollum Foundation web site, Patrick shares his thoughts as he embarks on this historic journey.

“My journey continues to get increasingly more interesting as more and more opportunities present themselves, and I feel much like I am in an adventure story just waiting to find out what will happen next.  On this trip to Thailand, I will not only be meeting with venerable Buddhist lamas and monks, I will now also be meeting with several distinguished spiritual leaders from other traditions to forge sacred bonds and find common ground.  So far, I will be meeting with Cheif Kapiteotak Dominique Rankin, also known as T8aminik in the Algonquin language, former Grand Chief of the Algonquin nation and Elder in the Circle Of Medicine Men of the Canadian tribes. I will also be meeting with Master Li Hechun, Master of the Longmen (Dragon Gate) branch of the Ch’uan-chen (Complete Perfection) School of Taoism in China and with Guru Chintamani  Yogi of the Hindu VidyaPeethmovement from Nepal, founder of the Shanti Sewa Ashram and Peace Service Center. I will also have the honor to spend part of my journey with Patrick Kuaimoku, Kahuna Lokahi from Hawaii, Keeper of the Ancient Hawaiian wisdom tradition.   In such company, it is hard to imagine any part of my journey being anything less than extraordinary.”

Patrick will be sharing more information and insights about his trip with us when he returns. This is a major interfaith event for modern Pagan faiths, one that could have far-reaching effects on Buddhist-Pagan relations for years to come. Congratulations to Patrick on this great honor. To keep track of Patrick’s journey be sure to follow the Patrick McCollum Foundation’s blog, and the Foundation’s Facebook page.

Sacred Spaces Series: Cara Schulz of PNC Minnesota has started a new video series (Part 1, Part 2) on the creation of modern Pagan sacred spaces, speaking with Priest Drew Jacob from Temple of the River.

Many Pagan groups share the dream of building some type of sacred space.  A temple, a community center, a permanent altar.  It remains a dream because they lack the information, skills, and experience to bring it into reality.  Yet other groups have accomplished what can seem, at times, impossible.  They have learned how to raise funds, deal with city inspectors, and overcome challenges that stymie most groups who attempt these ambitious projects.   In this series, PNC talks with groups who have successfully created their own Sacred Spaces.

You can see part one of this video series, here. Part three will most likely happen after this year’s PantheaCon, as Cara and several other PNC bureau members will be attending that event this weekend. This is an excellent video series, and shows the potential and scope of locally-focused Pagan news bureaus.

The Green Heart of England is Not For Sale: Controversy has raged recently in England over the proposed plans to conduct a massive sell-off of state-owned woodland. A move that sparked almost universal condemnation, and a rare public climb-down from the environment secretary. British Druid Philip Carr-Gomm, leader of The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, had this to say on the issue.

“David Bellamy articulated the feelings of most people when they first heard the news of the government’s proposed disposal of all of England’s public forest: “The green heart of England is not for sale.” It looks as if the message is getting through. Over half a million have signed the ‘Save Our Forests’ petition organised by grass-roots movement 38 degrees and today David Cameron signalled that the plan may be ditched [...] The irony of a party with a tree as its logo behaving in this way has occurred to many. Our Druid group has been working with the idea since it began. Melanie Philips, of the Daily Mail telepathically picked up our thoughts (ha!) and voiced them on TV on the BBC’s Question Time, suggesting a felled oak and a dead stag as the Conservative logo…”

Carr-Gomm promises that efforts to “apply pressure and voice our concerns” will resume should the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government decide once more to sell off large swathes of its green heart, but for now, there is a celebratory mood of victory.

Pagan Newswire News: I’ve got some Pagan Newswire Collective-related announcements to make. First off, a warm welcome to the PNC’s newest bureau, PNC-Bay Area!

“Welcome to the Bay Area Bureau of the Pagan Newswire Collective. We are an all volunteer group (of currently 10 people), reporting on news and events of interest to the pagan communities here in the Bay Area of California. We have bios of our volunteers posted on its own page of the site here. If you would like to join our collective and write for us, email our Bureau Coordinator at bayarea (at) paganewswirecollective (dot) com.”

I am very excited to finally have coverage from the San Francisco Bay Area of California, long a hot-spot of modern Paganism, and look forward to their contributions! Several members of the new bureau will be at this year’s PantheaCon, and I’ve created a special page listing all official PNC-related events for those attending. You may also notice that we’ve quietly debuted the new site design, and you’ll hear more about that as things progress. I think 2011 will be a great year for the PNC, one that will greatly benefit all Pagan media outlets.

Cooking for a Pagan Seminary: In a quick final note, a number of Austin-based Pagan groups are organizing a cook-off and potluck benefit for Cherry Hill Seminary.

“One thing everyone in the Austin Pagan community shares is the love of a good potluck. Diverse organizations and individuals in the Austin area are coming together to co-sponsor a cook-off and silent auction to benefit Cherry Hill Seminary. Cherry Hill Seminary serves all our communities by providing quality higher education and practical training in Pagan Ministry. They offer several master’s degrees, certificate programs, and community education primarily available through distance learning. Many of us have received outstanding training in our chosen tradition, but there are some individuals who feel compelled to go above and beyond with their service to others. While many resources exist to train and assist students as they pursue their chosen Pagan tradition or path, there is an acute need for specific training in areas such as counseling, ethics, marriage and family issues, religion and the law, interfaith work, Pagan scholarship, media and public relations, ritual arts, leadership development, and nonprofit management.”

As a former CHS board member, and occasional teacher, I fully support the idea of communities rallying together to support this venture. One that will ultimately benefit all modern Pagans. Kudos to the Austin, Texas Pagans for putting this together!

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

Word has come to us that San Francisco poet and Druid elder Jehanah Wedgwood passed away on Monday, November 15th. A cherished member of the SF community, James L. Bianchi from the House of Danu, an alliance of OBOD Groves and Seed groups, shares this obituary.


Jehanah Wedgwood

When the House of Danu emerged, we were blessed with a formidable grove of elders who offered guidance, inspiration, artistic prowess, and scholarly wisdom: our Druid Grove. Jehanah Wedgewood was the foremost poet of our Druid Grove and our House. We mourn her passing on November 15, 2010.

Jehanah came to us as grove mother of the oldest and most revered OBOD grove in the West, Manannan Mac Lir, in San Francisco, operated by Dr. Rodney Karr that presides over the sacred stones of Monarch Bear Grove in Golden Gate Park San Francisco. She was there at the first planning retreat in the Santa Cruz redwoods when we formed the vision for the House of Danu, was active on the Gorsedd committee, and an esteemed member of our governing Council.

Jehanah was born as Stephanie Virginia ‘Jenna’ Wedgwood on January 28, 1941, and upon her passing, is survived by her children, Mary Shea, Thomas Wedgwood, and Susannah Wedgwood, her daughter-in-law Jill Raznov, and grandchildren Ely, Colby, and Evan.

She received Bachelor’s degree at Indiana University 1968 for Comparative Literature, and spent a year in graduate school studying Creative Writing at Texas Christian University. Jehanah continued her studies at the Gestalt Institute of Multiple Psychotherapy, and the San Francisco Gestalt Institute, followed by an internship with Ron Kurtz (Gestalt Psychotherapist), and an internship with Dr. Rodney Karr (Jungian psychotherapist) five years. Jehanah also relished the workshops of R.J. Stewart.

Jehanah was Rolfed, learned Feldenkreis exercises, Tai Chi, studied nutrition and herbal healing. She developed special interests in the areas of Celtic Studies, Druidry and Faery tradition, anthropology, ancient history and philosophy, comparative esoteric literature, brain function and evolution, New Age healing, environmental concerns, and International relations and world power structure. Special influences: Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, William Shakespeare, Gertrude Stein, the poets Jack Micheline and Allen Ginsberg.

Jehanah lived in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood for 39 years where she became a cornerstone of San Francisco’s literary culture, presiding over weekly poetry readings at the Sacred Grounds Café for over three decades. Jehanah was editor of the Sacred Grounds Anthologies 1-15, published chapbooks of her own poetry, Mother of Winter, The Sun Colors, and Song for the Day, and her final work, Next Century’s Child (Meridian Press Works), that was published just days before her passing.

Her literary life was an integral part of her spiritual life. She was grove mother of the Monarch Bear Grove, and the Manannan Mac Lir Grove in San Francisco, minister of Shamanistic Poetry, and ordained by the Association for the Integration of the Whole Person. Jehanah was always a teacher, and so she will remain.

What is remembered lives.

James L. Bianchi, Council
House of Danu

Blessings to all who knew her, may she rest and return to us again. What is remembered lives. Details of her memorial event on November 21, 2010 at 10:00a.m. in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco can be found on the House of Danu (Official) Facebook page.

[The following is a guest post by Alison Shaffer. Alison lives, moves and practices her Druidry in the lovely, thrice-rivered city of Pittsburgh, where she dwells on the edge of a wooded park with her fiancé, her cat, her pet frogs and her houseplants. A member of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, her spiritual studies revolve around a fascination with theology, peacemaking, ecology, Celtic mythology and ritual aesthetics, as well as a love of song and a great deal of poetry. She writes frequently on these themes at her blog, as well as contributing essays to publications such as Sky Earth SeaPatheos.comPagan+Politics and, of course, The Witches' Voice.]

Being a Druid is good for society, says UK Charity Commission. Or so the headlines should have read in the BBC, the Telegraph, the Times, the AFP, the Associated Press and CNN this past week, as each major media outlet reported on the [Charity Commission]‘s approval of The Druid Network‘s application for religious charity status. Instead the news, which has earned a surprising amount of attention (and not a bit of bile) since the decision was announced in a press release on 1 October, has run under headlines declaring, Druidry recognized as a religion in Britain.

Which is, strictly speaking, true. But it also isn’t news. In fact, modern Druidry has been a recognized religion in Britain for as long as there have been practicing Druids to call it one.

Religious Freedom in UK Law

Similar to the religious freedoms protected in the United States’ Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the freedom to believe and practice according to one’s personal conscience has long been protected in the legal systems of the United Kingdom. Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (based on the European Convention of Human Rights, in effect since 1953) states that a person’s right to freedom of religion includes: “…freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

In other words, under British law a system of belief or practice is “recognized as a ‘religion’” — and protected as one — if one or more adherents to that system say it is a religion. That goes for Druids, Pagans, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Scientologists, Jedi and Pastafarians alike.

So why all the fuss? Because the rights and freedoms granted to religious practitioners of Druidry and Paganism in the UK are, as in the US, not necessarily guarantees that they will also have access to all of the same benefits available to more mainstream faiths — benefits such as nonprofit status, state-recognized holidays, prison and military chaplaincy, clergy who are legally empowered to perform marriages and burials, and so on. In short, although British law provides freedom from discrimination for practitioners of all religions, the freedom to participate fully and equally in civil society is something that rests on a foundation of legal precedent. For many religious minorities, securing the latter means buckling down to a long process of challenging numerous individual instances of oversight and exclusion, in order to push past the tipping point from legal tolerance into social acceptance and support.

In the United States, the work of Patrick McCollum and the Lady Liberty League, among others, helps to establish just such a critical mass of legal precedent for Druids, Witches and Pagans within mainstream American society. Similar strides have been made in the UK, where Pagan chaplains already work in hospital and prison ministry and Druids have played prominent roles in public discourse about the protection and preservation of ancient monuments and other important aspects of British heritage and culture. In both countries, several Druid and Pagan organizations also already enjoy not-for-profit status, including The Pagan Federation, the Children of Artemis, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), the Henge of Keltria, and the Avalon Druid Order. Yet, despite the exaggerations and well-intentioned misrepresentations in much of the mainstream media coverage this past week, The Druid Network’s success in becoming the first Pagan organization to earn charity status under the new Charities Act 2006 is a momentous stride towards wider social acceptance of Druidry and Paganism in the UK.

TDN’s Journey to Charity Status

The Druid Network officially began the arduous, four-year-plus process of seeking charitable status under English Charity Law in February 2006, when they submitted their application to the Charity Commission of England and Wales (more briefly known as the Charity Commission or CC) just as the new Charities Act 2006 was passing through British Parliament. A great deal of research, reflection and discussion had already gone into the formulation of TDN’s constitution and by-laws before that point, however, as Phil Ryder, Chair of Trustees for TDN, explained to me recently in an interview.

Ryder said he became involved in the process early on: “I simply asked if we were registered and got the reply, ‘Should we be?’ So I investigated the options and found that we did indeed need to register.” As an unincorporated association that accepted membership fees and donations from contributors, The Druid Network was legally obligated to pursue one of two courses of action. “We could have registered with Companies House as a Limited Company,” Ryder explained, “or we could register with the Charity Commission. ‘TDN Ltd’ didn’t seem right, so the trustees decided to register with the Charity Commission.”

After that decision came the challenge of drafting a constitution in a way that, as Ryder put it, “reflected our vision of TDN as an organisation with no hierarchy based on pagan principles of honourable relationship.” Easier said than done. Harder still was the process of crafting a forward to that constitution that included a definition of religious Druidry describing, as simply and inclusively as possible, the basics of Druidic belief and practice that would be both acceptable to the CC and approved by as many of the major Druidic organizations as possible. As an article published to the TDN website clarifies:

Druids by nature (pun intended) don’t wish to be tied down or submit to definitions; however, they all relate to the term ‘Druid’ so it must mean something, or it would simply be a meaningless word. Great thought, mediation and spiritual guidance went into the drafting of the definition of Druidry adopted by TDN (Annex 1 to the decision [.pdf]). It was intended as a statement of common ground held by the majority of Druids who felt that Druidry was a religion or deep spirituality; it was not a full definition. [...] It is not, and was never intended to be, a creed or definition that all Druids must accept, but a legal explanation of common ground of those Druids who consider their path to be essentially religious.

The carefully-crafted religious focus of this definition was necessary, Ryder explained in our interview, because English Charity Law requires charities to register under what are called “Heads of Charity” (for instance, “the advancement of religion,” “the advancement of education” and “the relief of the poor”) which outline potential causes in the service of “public benefit.” Although the British government provides no formal, legal mechanism for defining “religion” — and indeed, the term remains ambiguous and problematic even among academics — English Charity Law has its own working definition for the purposes of determining charitable status.

At the time of TDN’s initial application, the CC’s understanding of religion was determined by the Charities Act 1993 and precedent set by several legal cases since, including the application and rejection of the Church of Scientology for charitable status in 1999. In fact, the CC originally rejected TDN’s application as a religious organization under the assumption that Druidry was esoteric or occult (that is, a mystic or mystery tradition intended for only a small number of initiated members) and therefore not beneficial to the public at large. This initial rejection led to a review procedure of TDN’s application, during the course of which the new Charities Act 2006 came into effect and began to change the rules of the game.

The Druid Network’s application for charitable status stalled as the CC scrambled to determine what the new Charities Act, which amended and expanded upon much of the previous Act, meant for their definitions of “religion” and “public benefit.”

An opportunity for change came with the implementation of the Charities Act 2006. It stated for the first time that a religion could involve a belief in more than one god or a belief in no god at all. After its implementation, the Charity Commission embarked on a lengthy process of consultation on how this Act affected charity law, which it followed by drafting various guidance documents that set down how it would interpret the law.

TDN remained deeply involved during the public consultation process that followed, submitting numerous documents and emails expanding upon their definition of Druidry and provoking detailed examination of how it compared to other non-Abrahamic faith traditions. “The CC just didn’t understand us,” Ryder said,

they are lawyers, not theologians, and have their own beliefs. It must have been hard for them to break down those barriers of monotheism. We simply provided information and answered any questions they raised. Of course, many times it served to confuse them even more and raised even more questions. At times we had to make comparisons with other world religions that the CC already had registered, and demonstrate that our understanding of deity and practice was not that far removed from those religions. It was hard, but on both sides, and full credit to the CC.

After four years of rigorous inquisition and debate, the Charity Commission finally informed TDN on 1 September of this year that its Board Members would be holding a meeting to determine its final decision on TDN’s pending application. The CC’s approval of The Druid Network’s status as a religious charity, ratified on 21 September 2010, was published in a 21-page document (available in .pdf) detailing the many areas in which TDN has demonstrated itself up to the task of “advancing a religion or belief system for the benefit of the public.”

Perhaps most interesting about this decision is the fact that the Charity Commission lists among TDN’s publicly beneficial activities not only those such as “promoting the preservation of heritage and culture” and “promoting conservation and preservation of the environment” but also “the provision of information on the practice of Druidry to the public” and “facilitating the practice of Druidry through conferences, camps, workshops, retreats and courses, and through its affiliated groups.” In other words, according to the CC, a non-ministerial department of the British government, greater access to information about Druidry and the practice of Druidry itself are both beneficial to the general public.

News Spreads, The Druid and Pagan Communities Respond

Given the impressive influence The Druid Network had on the Charity Commission’s evolving approach to definitions of religion and public benefit, and the implications of the CC’s decision to acknowledge TDN’s understanding and practice of Druidry as not only legitimately religious but also beneficial to the larger community — it’s no surprise that the mainstream media coverage of this story entirely missed the point.

News reports soon spread in several major media outlets (both in the UK and here in the US, where the story even made it on to a local nightly news program in California), announcing that Britain had “officially recognized” Druidry as a religion for the first time in thousands of years. Stock photographs of bearded men in white robes hoisting staves above the silhouettes of Stonehenge graced every page. CNN reporter Phil Gast even indulged in a bit of good ol’ tacit American competition with Merry Olde England about who was more tolerant of Pagans, when he quoted Professor Marty Laubach of Marshall University saying, “‘In some ways, Druidry in Britain is catching up to Druids and other neo-pagans in the United States, which already provides tax-exempt status for religious groups,’” completely overlooking the fact that, while Pagan non-profits already exist in the UK, there is no comparable process of earning charitable status in the U.S. Amidst the hubbub, one columnist for The Daily Mail produced an article of astounding prejudice, decrying Druidry as a bunch of “barking mumbo-jumbo” and demonstrating not only the writer’s gross ignorance of even the basics of Druidic belief and practice, but her fundamental misunderstanding of religious freedom under British law. Yet all in all, the coverage was positive and congratulatory in tone, if often far off-the-mark on the facts.

Meanwhile, Druids and Pagans in the UK and abroad had begun to weigh in with their own views. For many, The Druid Network’s success was cause for celebration and optimism. “It’s an awe inspiring thing to have seen happen,” wrote Brynneth at The Pagan & The Pen, one of the first public responses to the news. “One of the things that charitable status for the Druid Network shows is that we can engage and be heard, without having to become something other than we are. That gives me hope.”

“I, for one, am quite excited at the development,” said Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of Ár nDraíocht Féin, one of the most influential Neopagan Druidic organizations in the U.S. “We have an ADF Grove in Hampshire, and have long wondered what it would take to get ADF recognized in the UK. We suspect that TDN has ‘broken the ice’ as it were, and this might make it easier for other Druid groups to become recognized.”

Tony Everett, who has been a member of TDN for a number of years but has usually kept in the background of the organization’s activities, felt both pride and humility: “When the news came I was so humbled by all the work that must have gone into the application over the last couple of years and proud to call myself Druid. Once all the negative press has settled and the antagonists have had their fun, I am certain that this can only do great things to promote Druidry and inform the public of the truth behind our beliefs.”

“It’s a good first step, wonderful in fact.,” said Farrell McGovern, another member of ADF residing in Canada. “[W]e have to be responsible adults if we want to be recognized as a religion. We thus need to jump through all the hoops and pay our dues just like every other religion out there.”

However, amongst the congratulations was also a hint of ambivalence and caution among some Druid and Pagan voices. In a post titled “Is Druidry a Religion?” on his blog, Philip Carr-Gomm, head of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), one of the largest Druidic organizations in Britain, expressed mixed feelings about the news, saying:

I ‘and many other OBOD members’ have always liked the way Druidry has avoided being ‘boxed-in’ to one definition: a spiritual path to some people, a magical tradition to another, a religion to a third, a philosophy or cultural phenomenon to another, and so on. As soon as you start on the path of trying to define Druidry you run into problems. [...] Not all people who call themselves Druids would agree with all aspects of the definition of Druidry that The Druid Network have agreed with the Charity Commission. As with many things there are positives and negatives and it’s a question of weighing these up and looking more closely at the implications of the decision.

Carr-Gomm’s post prompted several other OBOD members to leave comments both on his blog and Facebook page expressing their concern, discomfort and even fear at the CC’s decision to approve TDN based on their definition of religious Druidry.

Graeme Talboys, Druid scholar and author of Way of the Druid: Renaissance of a Celtic Religion and its Relevance for Today, also had a few misgivings about the decision, although he emphasized that it was generally “a step forward”:

On the surface, all that has happened is that TDN has been granted legal permission to operate as a charity. At a deeper level this has been achieved by persuading the Charity Commission for England and Wales that Druidry (sic) is a bona fide religion. It is another recognition in law of Druids and what they believe. [... I]t is now just a little bit easier, in England and Wales, to be Druid.

Pointing to several statements contained within the The Druid Network’s definition and description of Druidry, however, Talboys expressed his qualms with some historical inaccuracies and conceptual inconsistencies, worrying that “any pedant” could use them as an excuse to pick apart or challenge the definition on purely factual grounds.

Whilst I am grateful to [TDN] for the work they have done in this respect (and it cannot be denied it is a big step in terms of recognition in England and Wales), it is only a single step for one particular group of Druids. Whether it brings benefit to the whole Druid community, including those of us in the Hedge, remains to be seen.

Members of The Druid Network have, in turn, attempted to respond to some of the concerns raised by other Druids in the larger community, particularly those who do not consider Druidry to be distinctly Pagan or explicitly religious in nature. A comment shared on TDN’s website by a writer under the name ‘Celtic Knight’ notes:

I have seen some criticism that this move makes Druidry part of the establishment. I don’t accept that. What it has done is to force the establishment to take Druidry seriously. Some fear that this will somehow define or box in Druidry. It will not. The Commission accepted the diversity of beliefs and practices that represent Druidry and that these are a reflection of the diversity inherent in nature. [...] Many dislike the label ‘religion’, with its associations of rigid dogma, archaic institutions and being told what to believe. However, the decision accepts that Druidry is an experiential religion: Druids’ beliefs come from their experience and not from what they are told. They change and adapt over time and in different environments, just as nature differs according to time and space. This is not a case of Druidry being forced into the straightjacket of religion, but of the very definition of religion as accepted in charity law being changed to accommodate beliefs such as ours.

In our interview, Phil Ryder replied to my questions on the matter by appealing to what is positive about the decision, rather than what might be divisive. He asked that others obtain facts before voicing uninformed opinions, but acknowledged that “even then there will be those who disagree with TDN’s approach. And I celebrate that! How can we learn and evolve if we all have the same beliefs? We all perceive this reality in different ways, and that is Nature.”

In some ways, it is precisely this aspect of Druidry and the greater Druidic philosophical tradition — with its ever-evolving, self-analytical understanding of how the specifics of landscape and local community give rise to a diversity of religious experience and belief without jeopardizing the bonds that unite us together in a dynamic, thriving community — that may transform religious and interfaith discourse and bring the most benefit the British society in the future.

Further Resources

Pagan Podcasts: There are some recent Pagan and occult podcasts of note that I’d like to share with you, starting with the latest episode of Elemental Castings from T. Thorn Coyle, featuring a recording of a panel discussion on Pagan leadership at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

“Special podcast on Pagan Leadership: Thorn and Jason Pitzl-Waters organized a panel at the Pagan Spirit Gathering in Missouri. Panelists were Thorn, Selena Fox, Patrick McCollum, Cynthea Jones and River Higginbotham.”

I was honored to moderate this panel, and I think it provides some excellent starting points in which to hold conversations about leadership within your own communities. I’m very glad we could record it and now share these voices of leadership with you. You can download it directly, here. You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

Meanwhile, at the OBOD Druidcast, hosted by Damh the Bard, there’s a show of interviews and music culled from his own experiences at PSG. Starting with an interview with me, and culminating in an interview with Pagan singer-songwriter Arthur Hinds of Emerald Rose fame. I think it’s one of my better interviews, but you should check it out for the music. You can download the show directly, here. You can subscribe, here.

Finally, for a podcast that doesn’t feature me in some manner, please check out the latest episode of Thelema Now!, featuring an interview with Faith & The Muse vocalist Monica Richards.

“Musican/artist Monica Richards from Faith & the Muse discusses Permaculture, being an old punk rocker, and different ways to express creativity.”

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Richards, and I’m glad to see her being interviewed in this context. You can download the podcast directly, here. Subscribe via iTunes, here.

Meet Me At Merrymeet: The annual gathering and business meeting of the Covenant of the Goddess, Merrymeet, is arriving in less than a month. I’m honored to say that I’ll be speaking at this event.

“I am happy to announce that I and other members of NCLC h?ave arranged to have Jason as a guest at this year’s Merrymeet to discuss Pagans and the media. I believe his presentation will be extremely important and is not to be missed.”

For more information on this year’s Merrymeet, and a list of presenters and workshops, click here. If you’re a reader of this blog who’s attending Merrymeet, please feel free to drop a line in the comments. I’m very much looking forward to the experience!

News Roundup

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 26, 2010 — 1 Comment

Funding Cut for Stonehenge: For 20 years, Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) has been campaigning for improvements at Stonehenge. This week it was announced that the coalition government is cutting funding for a visitor center.

Tourists are often shocked at the state of the centre and amazed that traffic is allowed to roar past so close.

Last year Gordon Brown promised £10m towards a £25m scheme to build a glass and timber centre and to shut the nearby A344. The scheme was expected to win planning permission soon and the project was due to be completed in 2012 to coincide with the staging of the Olympics in the UK.

Last week the government announced the funding would be pulled. English Heritage, which manages the site, said it was “extremely disappointed”, arguing that transforming Stonehenge was “vital to Britain’s reputation and to our tourism industry”. It said it would try to find the funding from elsewhere.

Pendragon, Rollo Maughfling, archdruid of Stonehenge and Britain, and Peter Carson, head of Stonehenge for English Heritage, all expressed disappointment, but say they will continue to campaign for improvements at one of England’s most treasured and sacred places.

Pentagrams and Free Speech: An Arizona woman is going head to head with the local courts over a feud with neighbors that led her to paint an upside down pentagram on the side of her barn and landed her in jail for five days.

Stacy Brown says the symbol has personal religious significance, but seems to admit she painted the pentagram to annoy her neighbors in their ongoing feud. The pentagram is only the latest thing Brown has painted on her barn, following upside-down crosses, an expletive, and images of Bettie Page, which were deemed unacceptable. She was ordered to remove them. Brown says she believes her free speech rights are being violated.

Court records show Brown also received an injunction against harassment in March, ordering the neighbors to have no contact with her, not to photograph anyone or anything on her property or pet any of her animals.

Brown said she eventually allowed some of her shelter volunteers to splatter paint over the pentagram as a way to celebrate the end of the school year. She said she was also tired of the tension with her neighbors and was ready for the pentagram to be gone.

But a couple of days later on May 26, Judge Pro-Tem Craig A. Raymond sentenced her to five days in jail, to begin immediately. She asked for 24 hours to arrange care for her dogs and a child who was with her, but was denied.

“He did not listen to me. … He put me in jail for a pentagram that wasn’t even up. I was not allowed to present any evidence.”

When her neighbors presented photos of Brown’s pentagram, they were apparently in violation of Raymond’s own order in March not to photograph Brown’s property. “I don’t know if he even realized that,” Brown said.

The Florence Reminder called Raymond seeking comment, but it was Deputy Court Administrator Stephanie Jordan who returned the call. Asked if a religious symbol on private property was constitutionally-protected speech, Jordan replied, “You would think so,” but said there was more to the judge’s decision. I was more about Brown “being in continual violation of the order,” than just the pentagram itself, Jordan said.

The American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona says the judge may be correct on this one, but Brown says she intends to pursue the matter.

Priest at Witch Camp: Mark Townsend isn’t your average priest.

During the time I served as a vicar, I naturally began to use my own magical illusions as a tool to evoke wonder and awe – and to try to get people to think twice. I did this because many Christian folk seem to me to be living largely disenchanted lives. Perhaps it’s all the dogma, the rather stale services, and the general heaviness of establishment religion that closes so many people to mystery and wonder. Pagans, on the other hand, are radically alert to the magic of life, the planet and everything around them. They use symbol and ritual in such a way that connects powerfully with the human soul and makes sense not just to the mind, but to the heart and imagination, also.

Townsend is an Anglican priest recounting his experience at Pendle Witch Camp. He’s also a member of OBOD and has written a book called The Path of the Blue Raven where he talks about his encounters with Paganism. Another book to add to my very long reading list. Have you read it?

Ten Commandments at Courthouse: Here at the Wild Hunt blog, Jason has reported in the past on constitutional issues regarding the installation of religious symbols on public lands. This week, commissioners in Madison County, FL voted against installing a marker of the Ten Commandments outside a courthouse.

The religious group claimed that the ten commandments statue was an “acknowledgment of history marker with historical truths.” Opponents felt that it was not right to have religious guidelines erected at the courthouse.

The ministerial association wanting the statue said that it would pay for the construction and installation of the statue, and that there would be no cost for the county. As to possible legal repercussions, the association told the county commissioners that various Christian liberty groups would defend the county at no charge.

‘Lord’ Out of Diplomas: There’s been quite a bit of discussion lately about America’s move toward a post-Christian future. This week, one New Haven, CT high school made a small, but significant change. For the first time since anyone can remember, the high school diplomas were printed without the phrase “in the year of our Lord.”

It’s a small change that could easily go unnoticed, but Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo feels it was a necessary one.

“It’s a religious thing,” he said Tuesday. Then, regarding the deleted language: “I’m surprised it took this long for someone to notice it. We certainly don’t want to offend anyone.”

This will be the first year without the language. For example, diplomas from last year state that the diploma was awarded “this twenty-fifth day of June in the year of our Lord, Two Thousand Nine.”

School districts across the country are facing various challenges to graduation traditions.

One Nation Campaign: Meanwhile a new billboard campaign from the North Carolina Secular Association is challenging the “under God” part of the American Pledge of Allegiance.

This ad campaign is intended as a consciousness-raising effort to point out how every U.S. citizen who doesn’t believe in a monotheistic god is being “officially” marginalized, disrespected, and discriminated against by the insertion of “under God” in the Pledge, by the supplanting of our former de facto national motto–E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One)–with “In God We Trust,” by language in certain state constitutions (like the one in NC) which restricts anyone that doesn’t believe in a monotheistic god from holding public office, and in many other ways.

We believe the evidence clearly demonstrates that our Founders intended to establish a secular government, one that separated church from state. We believe the kinds of officially sanctioned marginalization and discrimination covered above is unconstitutional, that it violates the intentions of the Founders, and that it is fundamentally unfair.

The Pledge of Allegiance was composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892. It has been modified four times since then, with the most recent change adding the words “under God” in 1954. Here’s a clip of children in 1945 reciting the Pledge before that addition. It’s been challenged many times, most recently in March when an appellate court ruled that the words were of a “ceremonial and patriotic nature” and did not constitute an establishment of religion.

Philip Carr-Gomm, head of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD), recently released a new book entitled “A Brief History of Nakedness” that explores the psychology, history, and politics of the unclothed form. Here’s Carr-Gomm explaining how he came up with the idea of writing the book in an interview with The New Yorker.

“It should be the simplest thing in the world for us to do: to take all our clothes off to soak up the sun or skinny dip, and yet it is such a fraught activity for so many people. This started to intrigue me about ten years ago when I was hiking on a hot day and stopped to rest. No-one was around, and I was so hot that I took my clothes off to cool down and enjoy the breeze. As I did this, I wondered whether I was breaking the law, and was suddenly hit by the oddity of the idea that I could somehow be committing a crime simply by being myself. Could I only legally exist in public if I was covered? Thoreau talks about this same issue when he notes in his “Journals”: “What a singular fact for an angel visitant to this earth to carry back in his note-book, that men were forbidden to expose their bodies under the severest penalties!” I began researching the taboo against nakedness, and discovered an extraordinarily rich vein of material that I have been mining ever since.”

Considering the Druid chief’s religious interests, nakedness in the context of religious ritual, specifically Pagan ritual, is mentioned in the book; and the subject seems to have created some very divergent responses from critics. Ed Caesar of The Times found the topic fascinating, while Peter Conrad of the Guardian views it though a distorted lens of hippie-hatred.

“Carr-Gomm is a hippy who, rather than growing up and outgrowing the 60s, has discarded his tie-dyed garments and cantered off to worship orgiastic pagan deities … Cheerfully indiscriminate, Carr-Gomm’s “Brief History” romps through religion, politics and aesthetics. At times he is woozily mystical – he seems to take seriously the fertility rites performed by adherents of Wicca…”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as up to the occasional round of Baby-Boomer backlash as the next disgruntled Gen-Xer, but I try to keep tabs on when my personal biases are influencing the way I encounter something I’m supposed to objectively review or report on. That fact that Conrad’s review boils down to a giant “TMI” screed undercuts some of his more serious critiques of the larger work. It makes him seem more prudish than anything else.

In any case, the book may be worth a look, especially if you attend clothing-optional events or participate in a “skyclad” tradition. You can find more information, including more reviews and an excerpt, at Philip Carr-Gomm’s web site.

The House of Danu in California, an alliance of OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) groves and seed groups is hosting a historic Gorsedd for the Festival of Lughnasadh featuring some noted figures in modern Pagan Druidry.

“This is an unprecedented gathering of numerous Druid organizations in the West, and anyone interested in exploring the California Druid experience is invited to attend. This is a rare opportunity to acquire knowledge from the most celebrated scholars of Druidry.  The Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Philip Carr-Gomm is traveling from Sussex to help ground participants in Druid culture.  The Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), John Michael Greer, is coming down from Oregon to share his extraordinary knowledge of Druid history and magic. Archdruid Emeritus and founder of Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF), Isaac Bonewits, is coming from New York to do assist in our discussion of Druid rites and ritual.  The Gorsedd will be a festival of learning, drumming, storytelling, games, initiations; Bardic evenings around the campfire, a magnificent Eisteddfod of our best performing artists, and a grand procession for the sacred ritual of Lughnasadh that you can help create.”

One has to wonder, with such a esteemed assmblege present (and no doubt several other prominent Druids will be attending in addition to the three “headliners”) if we will hear any pronouncements or plans for the future of Druidry in America. Movement on getting the Awen approved for military headstones and markers? Perhaps some statement on American environmental policy under the Obama administration? Maybe plans for greater cooperation and resource sharing between the different Druid groups in America? The speculation, and possibilities, are endless. Whatever happens, this is a rare confluence of influential individuals, and the results should be noteworthy to say the least. The Gorsedd will run July 31 to August 3, in the coastal redwoods above Watsonville, between Santa Cruz and Monterey, at the Buddhist retreat center Pema Osel Ling, in California. You can register now online.

The Telegraph reports on new religious General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) courses being introduced in the UK. What’s unique about these classes is that they strive to paint a portrait of an increasingly secular and multi-religious Britain, and include new religious movements as a key part of that education.

“In one key area, lessons will focus on the influence of minority religious movements, such as Falun Gong, the banned Chinese spiritual group, and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, which believe in the spirituality of nature. As part of a topic on Rastafarianism, students are asked to look at the influence of Bob Marley in the 1970s.”

These courses (which are voluntary, and are available after mandatory education,  but before A-levels) also explore the rise of atheism, and discusses various “hot-button” issues like gay marriage and gender equality. While it must be refreshing for adherents of minority faiths to be taken seriously as part of Britain’s religious landscape, various Christians and members of the Church of England say the courses “snub” them, and aren’t really a “serious” religious education.

“I have no objection to the presence of disbelief in the curriculum, because it provides important context to a study of theology. But when I took A levels we did Divinity and went on to university to read Theology. The groundwork was principally the study of Christianity, though I seem to remember there was a comparative religion option that would have included the other two Abrahamic faiths.  I think OCR might find considerable take-up for such a course. It could still run its Religious Studies alternative, with all its Druidism, Rastafarianism and embarrassed avoidance of ancient scriptures, and indeed could do so more freely, while those who wanted to study serious theology could do so. But maybe that wouldn’t be sufficiently right-on. And a lot of the rising numbers of students who opt for Religious Studies might go for it, which might present a problem for ‘equality and diversity’.”

Because exploring anything but Christian (or possibly Jewish or Islamic) theology just isn’t very “serious” I suppose (maybe it’s our funny names). I also think it’s interesting how this CoE priest (and religion editor for The Telegraph) thinks the high demand for GCSE courses on religion (24,000 to 171,000 in the last two years) means they yearn to study Christianity. Hadn’t he heard about the startling news concerning 50,000 UK women leaving Christian churches every year? I doubt they left because they weren’t offered “serious” GCSE courses on Christian theology.