Archives For Occupy Wall Street

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

 

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

05. Dominionism! The Reponse! Christians Behaving Badly! I don’t revel in writing about extremism and anti-Pagan fervor within the politically and culturally dominant Christian religion(s), much preferring to instead highlight achievements and challenges within our interconnected communities. Still, even the most temperate of commentator would have to agree that this was the year when some ugly elements within Christianity inched ever closer to the mainstream, and, for a time, received some much-needed scrutiny from the mainstream press. There were three main and intertwining narratives, the Christian religious phenomenon known as Dominionism, the continuing emergence of the New Apostolic Reformation, and the embrace of these elements by mainstream politicians.

“What [Pastor] Thomas [Muthee] was probably doing, and he and I are friends also, what he was probably doing was speculating that there would be some people who practiced witchcraft and other forms of the occult who would try and take Sarah Palin down through certain rituals or curses or other techniques that witches have and try to destroy her through those things. And I think Thomas was praying a shield of protection around Sarah so that she would not be affected by them.” - C. Peter Wagner, one of key architects and Apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation movement, on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Fred Clark at Slacktivist pointed out that Dominionism has been a serious concern within conservative Christian circles for some time now, but many Christian commentators chose to frame questions about it as conspiracy theory  or anti-Christian paranoia by leftist/liberal elements. Meanwhile, for many Pagans, the New Apostolic Reformation’s spiritual warfare techniques started hitting too close to home, spurring a counter-campaign to preserve religious liberty and diversity. A serious discussion of these issues that goes beyond denial and alarmism is clearly needed, especially since we are at a point where serious presidential candidate have clear and definable ties to figures within these movements. As I’ve pointed out before, paying lip-service to extreme elements may seem politically expedient, but it can have serious repercussions once a candidate has taken power. I fear the “Religious Right” is becoming something very different from what people understand, and I hope that these controversies in 2011 were but passing storms and not a harbinger of what is to come.

04. Patrick McCollum, The Ninth Circuit, and the Future of Pagan Chaplaincy: At the end of 2010 I said that the struggles of Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum “represented and defined the public face of Paganism” and that there’s “every indication the 2011 will see even more from this tireless advocate for Pagan rights.” 2011 did indeed see much more from McCollum, as his legal challenge to the State of California’s “five faiths” policy saw a serious setback when the 9th Circuit Court upheld a lower court decision stating he doesn’t have standing to challenge California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents and is part of what McCollum has called an “endemic” level of religious discrimination against minority faiths in our prison system. Ultimately, McCollum decided to not appeal this ruling, and is instead working to shepherd new cases through the court system.

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

“I’m currently in a place where if an inmate brought a case, my case could go forward [...] I saw this coming down the pike, and so I have helped inmates bring forward cases that meet the criteria to make it so my case is viable and valid [...] I’ve managed to keep those cases under the radar and the first of those cases his the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week. [...] If the court rules that those inmates who are on that case do have a right to a chaplain then I can walk right back into the court and forget the ruling made by the 9th Circuit or anybody else.”

These battles are vital, as the basic question of equal treatment for Pagans and other minority religions lies at its center. Access to chaplains, to religious guidance and instruction, should be a fundamental right and the human cost when that right is denied can be greater that some would imagine. The rights of prisoners are a canary in the coalmine of our society, what we imagine is acceptable to deny them eventually become acceptable to deny others. Precedents are won and lost behind bars, and McCollum has worked tirelessly to ensure that minority religions have access to chaplaincy. I have no doubt that 2012 will see even more reverberations from this story, and from the larger battle over access to chaplains.

03. Candidate Gary Johnson and the Pagan Media: On October 16th a live Google+ video interview/”hangout” with GOP Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson and members of the Pagan media was held. Pagan media organizations participating in the Q&A with the former New Mexico Governor included Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota, Star Foster of Patheos.com, Devin Hunter of ModernWitch Podcast, David Salisbury of PNC-Washinton DC, Crystal Blanton of PNC-Bay Area, and myself. In addition,Ramesh Rao of the Hindu American Foundation also took part. It was, as far as I can tell, the first time any serious presidential candidate agreed to speak with Pagan media representatives, and Johnson’s willingness to reach out to us ended up making headlines in the political-minded press (and snarked about at WonketteNew York Magazine, and Gawker).

The former New Mexico governor spoke with members of the Pagan Newswire Collective, ModernWitch Podcast and Patheos.com, among others. He said it was important to reach out to voters that fall outside the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, and slammed his own party for being too beholden to the Christian right. “I think the world looks down on Republicans for their socially conservative views, which includes religion in government,” Johnson said. “I think that should not play a role in any of this. When Republicans talk about values — you know what? I bet you and I have the same values.”

In an editorial at The Washington Post I tried to contextualize the importance of this event, noting that alienating religious minorities is not a good long-term strategy for any political party, and that modern Pagans have real, serious, concerns that should be addressed by our political system. Since that press conference, Johnson has indicated that he’ll try to run as a Libertarian in 2012, noting that obstacles his candidacy has faced within the current Republican Party. Johnson’s chances to win the presidency of the United States are slim, but his willingness to reach out to Pagans, whatever the motivations were, opens a door to our faiths being taken seriously within the context of American politics.

02. Occupy Paganism: Time Magazine named “The Protester” as its Person of the Year, including in that archetype the growing and ever-evolving Occupy movement that started with Occupy Wall Street in New York. The movement, centered on issues of economic justice, has gripped the news as Occupy camps were (sometimes violently) removed by police, and Occupiers “mic checked” various events and political figures. Several modern Pagans have involved themselves with the Occupy movement, including noted figures like Starhawk, who noted with amazement how the organizing ethos she’s long preached suddenly sprung forward organically to effect massive changes in a matter of months. Former COG First Officer Peter Dybing stood ready to be arrested with Occupiers in Florida, while T. Thorn Coyle noted why so many Pagans seemed to take to Occupy so readily.

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

“Not all Pagans or Magick Workers support the Occupy movement. I would not expect them to. However, I am unsurprised at the large number of us who do. We are used to linking the spiritual with the material, honoring the sacred in the baking bread, the programmed pixels, the words we speak, the trees, the earth, the sky. Some of us find comfort in humanity and some from our Gods. For me, the Occupy movement includes all of this. Also, Occupy is about the spirit of individual people striving to connect with one another, to feed each other, to fight for each other, and to lift each other up.”

Here at The Wild Hunt I’ve tried to document Pagan involvement with the Occupy movement, highlighting Pagan chaplains at Occupy Wall Street, launching a group blog to document Pagan and Heathen voices, and even interjecting with a rare moment of pure editorializing in favor of the movement’s goals. As things progress I think we’ll see more Pagan voices emerge from within the Occupy movement, using the organizational and spiritual technologies taught them by their traditions to effect change. I think this is a unique moment for politics in America, and for modern Pagans who involve themselves with it. I think history is being made, and when it is written, Pagan voices will be a part of that narrative.

01. West Memphis Three Go Free: On August 19th, 2011, the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.) were released from prison on an Alford plea. The West Memphis 3 case is perhaps the most high-profile trial known in which the 1980s Satanic moral panic played a significant role, using Damien Echols interest in the occult and Wicca as proof of his murderous interests. The case was decided with no physical evidence, and a coerced confession from the mentally challenged Misskelley. Jessie Misskelley’s former defense attorney Dan Stidham, in an interview with John Morehead, paints a picture of the Satanic hysteria that surrounded the trial.

“…you really have to put this case into historical perspective. In 1993, the Satanic Bandwagon Folks like Dr. Griffis were mainstream and largely supported by both the media and established religion. We now know better, just like we now know that there are such things as “coerced confessions.” In 1993, virtually everybody believed that the phenomena of Satanic Ritualistic Homicide was very real, and perhaps even more regrettably, that no one, not even a mentally handicapped person, or a child, would confess to a crime that they did not commit. Thankfully, due in large part to pioneers with real credentials like Dr. Gisli Gudjohnson, Dr. Richard Ofshe, and Dr. Richard Leo, we now understand the dynamics of false confessions. By the way, not many people remember that Dr. Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize for his work studying religious “cults.” He had a dual expertise.”

It’s easy to forget how pervasive anti-Satanic propaganda was back then, with many journalists and talk-show hosts (even Oprah) diving right into the hysteria. The result was thousands of lives ruined, directly or indirectly, by this phenomenon until it finally lost steam and faced a backlash from investigators and skeptical Christians. As a society, we are still dealing with the fallout of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” panic, and sadly, some judges and prosecutors are continuing to engage in the same tactics that convicted the WM3. The freeing of the West Memphis Three presents a vindication of those who have long fought against individuals being prosecuted simply for their outsider beliefs or mannerisms, and a warning that these moral panics can happen in a supposedly rational and free society.

That wraps up my top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2011. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2012!

[The following is a guest post from Courtney Weber and Mary Caliendo. Mary Caliendo and Courtney Weber are Wiccan Priestesses living in New York City, who chaplain the Occupy Wall Street movement through the Support and Medic Working Groups. Mary can be reached at maryacaliendo@earthlink.net and Courtney can be reached at courtneyaweber@gmail.com. Courtney is also a contributor to the Pagan Newswire Collective's new blog documenting Pagan and Heathen involvement in the Occupy movement. I hope you'll join her, and the other contributors, there.]

We are Wiccan Priestesses who have been Chaplaining at Occupy Wall Street.

Courtney’s story:

I became personally engaged with the movement from day one—when one of my Coveners could not attend our September 17th Mabon because he was going downtown to camp in a park that I’d never heard of with “a bunch of other people” to “show Wall Street that we’d had enough.” I didn’t understand what he was doing, but as I am supportive of peaceful action toward change, I applauded his efforts, but didn’t see myself getting any further involved than offering him use of my shower. Within a few weeks, however, I found myself sitting in Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park) several nights a week. It was clear that this was more than a few disgruntled people hanging out in a park. It was an uprising for social and economic justice and in any movement as such, there is a role for Chaplaincy.

People often ask me to explain a Chaplain’s function. “To listen,” is my response. Chaplaincy provides personal support in a way that crosses religious and social barriers. A movement like Occupy needs individuals who are experienced in working with people, attuned to subtle needs, who can help keep a calm and peaceful environment. Quite often, just listening is enough to let people know they are cared about and that working for this movement is worthwhile. Chaplains frequently have a natural inclination toward caring for individuals’ needs and are often quite experienced in things like mediation, delegation and also knowing when a professional mental health counselor, medical person or otherwise should be called into a situation.

There is no typical day in Occupy. I have consoled persons through anxiety attacks and episodes of depression. I have stepped into heated conflicts to mediate and deflect potentially violent fights. I have taken in Occupiers post-eviction who had nowhere else to go. I have helped organize housing. I have stood outside the city jail in the freezing cold all night to support persons arrested in demonstrations. The police brutality cannot be underestimated and quite often, those targeted are small of stature and quite frequently, female. Broken ribs, damaged wrists, head wounds and effects of the ever-present pepper-spray are the norm. While I am not a doctor or mental health professional, I am legal clergy and I am there to listen and to witness. Most importantly, I am someone who cares about these people and about the movement.

Pagan Chaplaincy is a unique animal. Our faiths are widely diverse and do not contain a central belief code. Therefore, what is the role of a spiritual worker whose very beliefs are defined by respecting the personal beliefs of others and not attempting to influence them? As it turns out, this unique quality of Pagan spirituality is an excellent fit for the Occupy movement. There is a prevalent antagonism within the movement toward organized religion. Sympathizing Chaplains of various religions frequently face hostility, many of them often hearing, “Religion is one of the reasons we’re in this mess!” In these sorts of situations, Pagan Chaplains are able to fly under-the-radar. Where one Chaplain might face hostility and rejection in a situation due to their religious affiliations, that situation might be more open to a Pagan Chaplain. Paganism itself mirrors the Occupy movement in its lack of centralization and leadership. Pagan Chaplains are effectively able to get close to the heart of the various matters that come up within the movement as we do not have the same barriers of suspicion and prejudice that face many of our colleagues from mainstream religions.

It is important to remember that this is not a “Goddess movement.” This is a movement for all persons, regardless of their religion. But even in our diversity of beliefs, one common value among Pagans is that balance is essential to life. We do not, however, exist in a balanced age. Occupy is meant to restore a balance that has been lost—both economically and ecologically. One of many objectives of the movement is to call attention to the fact that corporations have for years broken environmental laws and blocked green energy initiatives: (http://www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/) This in itself is sufficient enough reason for Pagans to contribute to this effort in some way. At the November 17th march across the Brooklyn Bridge, an illuminated message on the side of the Verizon tower stated “Occupy Earth.” For decades, Pagans have spoken about reclaiming Earth. The Occupy movement may just be the socially active opportunity to do that.

Pagan Chaplaincy and the Occupy movement is also providing a unique opportunity for us to continue to show ourselves as a productive and legitimate faith community. Over the last few decades, countless Pagans have come forward with important blogs and websites and numerous Pride days dot the country festivals every year with the similar desire to present ourselves as “just like everyone else.” But where our desires for acceptance really shine is in connecting with members of other faiths over common goals. Getting to know us not just under the guise of “That Pagan Person” but “Friend and Ally—and also Pagan” is a huge step toward making our voices heard and our practices respected. Divisions melt away under the pressure-cooker goal of making a difference.

Priests and Priestesses, everywhere: Find your local General Assembly. Attend a Working Group session. Holding vigils and rituals are great—but they’re not enough. Talk to the people. Listen to the people. Find them blankets when they’re cold, food when they’re hungry, medics when they need them. Be a witness and share what you’ve seen and heard. Let us join our brothers and sisters of all faiths in making a difference in our communities, our country and our world. So mote it be!!!

Mary’s Story:

My involvement as a Wiccan Chaplain in OWS began when a call for chaplains went out on a private list. I decided to go down and help. The reasons behind it were many yet the solitary reason that prompted me into action is the pure fact that religion has hijacked our government and has produced policies that are discriminatory and marginalizing. For years, Wiccans and Pagans alike have always embraced all colors, creeds and genders long before it became fashionable. Most of us recognize that all creatures that live and breathe on this planet are the Goddess’s children. She is about unity of all living creatures working in harmony. I also knew that I had an obligation as a spiritual person, given I live in New York City, to come out of the underground and by example portray that religion and spirituality is all inclusive of everyone.

On the fated day that I reported to the Medical Tent to volunteer, I was put to work in 30 seconds. I was called to de-escalate a serious situation involving a protestor who felt marginalized due to her emotional difficulties. Mental diseases have such a stigma in this society that a lot of those with these illnesses feel out of place in the greater whole. From that day forward, I built a very close working relationship with the staff of the OWS Medical staff. It was through my on-going relationships to the Medical staff that I learned that I was the first Chaplain to ever volunteer with them. It was comforting to them that I was not biased in any way. Although this surprised me, in reality it did not given the nature of what has been done within the last 10 plus years in the name of religion, god and theology. My work however has not been overtly spiritual, as I chose to work strictly through humanitarian efforts. I never bring deity into the equation when I am counseling a protestor or calming down those who are stressed. I feel if I work from my heart and a place of empathy, the gods are already present. As a result of my observations of the movement and the general feeling of religion; it prompted me along with Courtney Weber, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone to draft a Chaplain Code of Conduct. It was presented to the medical and support working groups as proposal and passed. Since then I was asked by other Occupies around the country for the Chaplain Code of Conduct that we wrote so that it may be used as a model.

The key to being apart of this movement as a Chaplain is to remain neutral in regards to politics as well as religion. As a result, I have been called upon to liaison with the NYPD, Firefighters, and EMTs. If there is a patient that requires their care to be upgraded, often times the medical staff is asked to leave the tent. As a chaplain, I am able to remain with the patient to ensure that they are treated properly and with respect, I am also allowed to accompany them in the ambulance with a nurse. This also is helpful to the patient because they feel like someone is present that will advocate on their behalf if they are unable to do that for themselves.

As most know from the headlines, OWS has had many difficulties from police officers. These can be quite traumatic experiences for the protestor especially after being pepper sprayed, beaten or contained in pens unable to move. Similarly, there are young people who have never been far from home, living in a tent in the middle of Manhattan surrounded night and day by scores of police. The LBGT community of OWS has found a place where they are accepted and embraced. When that happens, there are realizations of the depth of discrimination, trauma and difficulties that they have encountered in society. I have worked to soothe and support their feelings, trauma and disorientation of all protestors and society in general who came to Zuccotti Park. Even though OWS is no longer encamped in the park, the work still continues in the movement.

The most significant experience that will forever be etched into my mind was the night of the raid. I received a call in the middle of the night from Pauly Kostora, Chief Administrator of the OWS Clinic. He said: I need you down here, we are being raided. People are traumatized—there are police in riot gear are everywhere. I said “I will be right down”. I jumped out of bed and immediately went on Twitter to find out what was happening. I had learned that all subways were closed so I called for a cab to bring me down to the park. Lower Manhattan was in lock down. No one was allowed in and no one out. Contrary to what was cited in the press, the protestors were given less than a 20 minute warning. People were fast asleep in their tents.

When I finally arrived, the driver warned me, “Be very careful. The police look intimidating and ready to enforce their mission with violence.” He gave me his cell phone number and said, “Call me I will come pick you up when you are done free of charge, I fully support this movement and your work.” I profusely thanked him and approached the barricades. There I went up to a group of police officers and said “I’m a Chaplain you have to let me in by law” as I showed them my credentials. The police officer said, “I don’t care, you are not getting in.” I said, “I’m allowed to go anywhere as a Chaplain.” I was then physically pushed away from the barricades with force and the officer told me, “Don’t make me arrest you.” I said, “Go for it. Won’t this be great press and go viral over the internet that you arrested a Reverend trying to assist doctors and nurses with patients?” He turned away and ignored me.

Out of the corner of my eye, across the street, I saw the same thing happening to members of the press. There was a total press blackout. I shouted to a reporter, “ARE YOU with press? I need you to bear witness and document!” I told them exactly what happened. The next thing I knew I was surrounded by cameras. Whether it ever aired or not, I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter, what matters is that I went on record. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from Pauly Kostora and found out his location. I made my way to where he was located inside the barricades. I then told a different officer that I was a Chaplain and needed to get through due to a medical emergency. I got a blank stare passed me, while he was avoiding contact. I received information that the protestors were heading to another park to regroup. I aided them as they came past the barricades comforting and telling them where to regroup. I then was able to talk again to Pauly. I was informed that he was carried out of the medical tent along with a patient that was recently released from the hospital with heart trouble. The patient was ignored and no care was given by the police. During that time, NYPD took chainsaws to the medical tent. They did not check to see if there was anyone inside. A doctor and nurse was inside treating a patient got out in the nick of time. Confiscated from that tent were patient records, 5,000 dollars worth of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment and hundreds of dollars of supplies donated by medical professionals and individual citizens—all of which have gone missing. The pharmaceuticals and medical records were kept under lock and key accessed only by licensed physicians.

The medical tent was one step away from being a completely free clinic to serve the whole of the community protestor and NYC resident. We have numerous doctors of all specialties from psychiatry to pediatricians, nurses, physician assistants, paramedics, social workers and a course a tiny group of Chaplains. People came in scores for free medical care; we filled a vast hole in our society. As middle class resources are dwindling and health insurance premiums are too expensive, all found a place where they can get top notch medical attention.

I do profoundly hope that the work I am doing with OWS Medical will echo through America. Medical care should be a right not a luxury and I pray that the work we are doing will somehow change the course of history so that medical professionals will see the day when they can treat a patient properly instead of having their hands tied by appeasing and treating in such as way that insurance will pay for it. Due to the primary fact that no health insurance was involved at the OWS medical tent, the patients were able to receive the attention and care that has been unseen in this country in a very long time. I am humbled and inspired by the humility and compassion of the all the medical professionals that have volunteered their time and resources. They work full time jobs and then tirelessly work long hours with OWS Medical.

They may have shut us down, but all is not lost. We are currently regrouping and coming up with a new strategy to continue to provide medical services to the community, even the NYPD if they so require.

OWS Chaplain Code of Conduct

Written and Assembled: Rev. Gavin Bone, Rev. Janet Farrar,  Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Eire Courtney Weber and Mary Caliendo –Pagan Chaplains New York , NY USA

  1. We do not preach or proselytize As Chaplains, we provide comfort, support, counseling and consolation to the community as a whole as compassionate people. Our involvement is strictly humanitarian, we actively remain neutral. We do not interject our religious beliefs, cultural view points or self identified biased opinions upon each other, protestors or the community that we serve. We do not attempt to invite or coerce any individual to any religious activities, services or path of belief. While on duty and marked we do not engage in politics or political beliefs of any kind. We continuously scrutinize our own blind spots in order to foster service in a humanitarian manner.
  2. We recognize that there a multitude of paths that lead to the same place. We respect each religion, philosophy and belief as each individual perceives or recognizes a higher power. We honor and find value in the diversity of all beliefs.
  3. Our appearance is vital. We strongly encourage wearing plain clothes and keeping on persons religious symbols to a minimum in order to appeal to all diverse religions, cultures, genders, colors and lifestyle preference so that it will provide an atmosphere of sacred space, equality and acceptance for all.
  4. We recognize that individuals have been marginalized and stigmatized by religions, congregations and society. We actively challenge the perpetuation of any form of social and/or religious domination or oppression. This includes, but is not at all limited to sexism, racism, transphobia, ableism, classism, ageism and any other institutional oppression. We cultivate an awareness of our own economic and/or cultural privilege and the impact it may have on an individual, thus we work to create a welcoming, comfortable space through acceptance, trust and non-judgment for all, while calling out any action of other chaplains that perpetuate oppression.
  5. While on duty we do not solve the issue with prayer, chant or mediation as a first, second or even third line of service; we act only within our scope of universal counseling training, provide comfort, passive listening and safe space. We always partner to the best of our ability with trained support team, certified mental health professionals and/or medics.  We administer to spiritual needs only at the request of the individual.
  6. We recognize that energy is important. We keep an upbeat, positive attitude when dealing with those we service and in our care. Universal kindness, love and compassion are essential to the energy we project. We ask before we make any kind of compassionate physical contact such as hugging, hand holding, etc.
  7. We practice empathy and cultural and spiritual humility by checking your own identity-based assumptions. We seek to listen to individual experiences from a place of openness and non-judgmental religious beliefs, and help people to meet their needs as they define them for themselves rather than our own idea of what might be best. We refrain from assigning a name or gender to a higher power and use universal language(s) in which to express our faith based beliefs so that our language is appealing to all.
  8. We serve with no ego or religious hierarchal structure. We organize ourselves horizontally without religious dominance or hierarchies of command, experience ability or level of involvement. Every Chaplain has equal power in all decisions affecting them
  9. We maintain a high level of confidentiality at all times. We respect the privacy of confession, needs and issues of those we aid and service. We ask the individual in a non-threatening manner prior to the involvement of any medical treatment or any other necessary intervention to aid in any crisis.
  10. At all times we adhere to the Medic and Support Code of Conduct and procedures. We are an active part of the Medic working group and Mental Health sub-working group therefore follow all codes of conduct, guidelines and procedure.

[Again, my thanks to Courtney Weber and Mary Caliendo for sharing their unique perspectives and insights with us. For more on Pagan and Heathen involvement in the Occupy movement, do check the new PNC group blog dedicated to documenting their experiences.]

What I love about having conversations with vibrant, intelligent, people is that you often find yourself verbalizing your beliefs in a distilled and succinct manner that may never have occurred in solitude. In this case, I was having lunch with a retired Lutheran minister, a member of my wife’s family, and our conversation turned to social justice and the Occupy movement. Specifically, we were talking about “Occupy faith” initiatives that have been springing up to support the movement, and  what the role of faith communities should be regarding outcry over economic injustice. I posited that this moment in history provided a rare opportunity for the dwindling mainline Protestant congregations, and for progressive Catholics, to provide the infrastructure, support, and moral guidance they did during the height of the civil rights era, before a confluence of political and social shifts resulted in a profound shift in our collective priorities and goals. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final campaign before being assassinated was the Poor People’s Campaign (and enshrining economic justice in our constitution has been around at least since Roosevelt).

Lately I’ve been covering Pagan reactions to the Occupy movement, watching as our faith communities negotiate what our place is in this growing phenomenon. I’ve talked to Pagans directly involved in Occupy, people like T. Thorn Coyle and Glenn Turner, and I’ve listened to Starhawk speak in amazement about how the organizing ethos she’s long preached suddenly sprung forward organically to effect massive changes in a matter of months. For myself, I’ve hesitated speaking directly on Occupy, partially because I generally try to avoid being partisan at The Wild Hunt, and partially because I didn’t think I had anything to add to the existing discourse. However, I now think that I do have something to say, and if my words carry any weight with our faith communities, as some attest, then I can stay mute no longer. I think that the Occupy movement has come at a vitally important time, and if there was a time for every available voice to speak up for social justice, surely it is now. In short, we need to Occupy everything, we need to embrace a new ethos of structurally engaging with issues of economic injustice, and stop simply hoping that the problems will go away if we cut taxes, or eliminate government agencies, or raise taxes, or shop more, or vainly hope that wealth will “trickle down” and we can simply wait these hard times out. I believe in a Second Bill of Rights, in making explicit that there can be no “pursuit of happiness” in a society that does not enshrine basic fundamentals of care and humanity.

Grinding poverty isn’t an abstract in my life. My wife is an independent solo physician who’s dedicated her life to providing quality care to those who can’t normally afford it. While a percentage of her patient panel are lucky enough to have decent health insurance, many more live on the margins, are uninsured, and often haven’t had decent medical care in years. Every time I see someone demonize the flimsy reforms of “Obamacare,” a watered-down half-measure that doesn’t do nearly enough, I think of the millions who are slowly dying because they simply can’t afford good health care. Just look at the vast number of 99% narratives that talk about health care, the lack of it, or the debt incurred obtaining it. The health care industry is the wild, wild West that some libertarians dream of, where “patients rights” are purely secondary to the profit margins, and “death panels” have long existed thanks to the insurance industry. I’m not surprised that people are voicing their anger and frustration, I’m only surprised that its taken this long, and that it has managed to stay as peaceful as it has.

Several polytheistic cultures have some version of the “hospitality test.” Where a wandering god or goddess is disguised as a beggar, or a weary traveler, and seeks aid at someone’s home. The moral of these tales is to welcome all who come to your door, to practice the virtues of hospitality and charity, for the beggar you reject might be really be a god. If the divine resides within us all, if every man and woman is a star, if what’s above is truly what’s below, then we should live in a culture where no one fears losing their home, or their medical care, or should wonder where their next meal will come from. Some have said that such an ethos should be an individual mandate, and not enshrined in our government, but isn’t our government an extension of our collective will? If we are to have governments, then they must mirror what we say our ideals are, and not cater to simply “keeping the lights on.” That the Occupy movement is now occupying homes says much about how broken the collective expression of our values truly is.

There have been those who’ve spent a lot of time pointing out that the Occupy movement has feet of clay, or has lost the moral high ground due to one incident or another, but I think such arguments miss the point. This isn’t about the good behavior of every Occupier, its about what needs to happen now. We need a shift in our priorities, we need the dramatic excesses of our current capitalistic system to be reigned in, and we need justice. I think modern Pagans have much to offer the Occupy movement, and that this movement has much to teach us in return. We are, after all, part of the 99% too. I know that there will be Pagans who disagree, who’ve written off the Occupy movement in one fashion or another, but  I can no longer sit on the sidelines and pretend to have no opinion. For me, the Occupy movement is the movement I was waiting for during the anti-globalization protests of the 1990s, a true continuation of the work sparked by social justice pioneers like Dorothy Day, Gandhi, King, and  Jane Addams. Now is the time for Pagans of a like mind to envision what our social justice looks like, to craft a theological and historical framework for a future where we have a voice, because that future is happening now.

I guess what I’m saying is that we need to Occupy Paganism, and in turn, Occupy everything.

Welcome to The Wild Hunt’s semi-regular round-up of news and opinion, unleash the hounds. As you read this I’ll be on my way to San Francisco, California to attend the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting. The AAR is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion, and their annual meeting has become a vital place to hear about the latest scholarship in the field of Pagan Studies (and just about every other religious and philosophical tradition as well). This year will feature an abundance of Pagan-friendly events, including the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s stellar-looking line-up of presentations. I’ll be attending as many Pagan-oriented presentations as I can, and will report back with some initial thoughts, photos, and hopefully some interviews.

In the meantime, here’s some links of note to tide you over!

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Author, activist, and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk has been attending several Occupy gatherings in California and writing about those experiences at her blog. In addition, she has also written about Occupy Wall Street for the Washington Post’s On Faith section.

Occupy Oakland

Occupy Oakland

“At its essence, the message of the Occupations is simply this: “Here in the face of power we will sit and create a new society, in which you do count. Your voice carries weight, your contributions have value, whoever you may be. We care for one another, and we say that love and care are the true foundations for the society we want to live in. We’ll stand with the poor and sleep with the homeless if that’s what it takes to get justice. We’ll build a new world.” The Occupy movement is not overtly religious, like the Tea Party. The 99 percent includes people of all religious faiths, and people who have none. But I believe its core message and ethic is profoundly spiritual, even prophetic.”

Starhawk goes on to say that the Occupy movement “renews my faith in the human spirit, in our creativity, our craving for justice, our determination to root our world in love.” As mentioned above, you can read her ongoing reports from the various Occupy gatherings in California at her personal blog.

For more on Pagan reactions to the Occupy movement, check out these reports from PNC-Bay Area and PNC-Minnesota. You may also enjoy these recent blog posts from Alison Leigh Lilly, T. Thorn Coyle, Jonathan Korman, and Gus diZerega.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.