Archives For Open Halls Project

TWH – The annual celebration of Veterans Day started out as Armistice Day in 1919 at the end of World War I. It was officially renamed Veterans Day in the United States in order to honor all veterans. Many countries still honor Nov. 11 as a day of remembrance, especially those that fought on the Allied side in World War I.

This is a special year for Circle Sanctuary, as they recognize the 10th anniversary of the Veterans Pentacle Quest. After a long struggle attempting to get the pentacle as an approved device for military headstones, Circle Sanctuary and Selena Fox teamed up with Americans United for Separation of Church and State to file a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs. Assisting in the suit was Roberta Stewart, wife and widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, who died in Afghanistan. Nov. 13, 2006 was the day they filed the lawsuit; the VA policy was changed to allow the pentacle on gravestones the following April.

New Operation Circle Care patch on the 10th anniversary of the program.

New Operation Circle Care patch on the 10th anniversary of the program.

Ten years later, attitudes have shifted somewhat within the military, but more so within the VA. For those unfamiliar with its structure, the Department of Defense oversees all branches of the military, while Veterans Affairs is a distinct department.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of Operation Circle Care, the support program for active duty Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, Polytheists and other Pagans serving in the military. In honor of the anniversary, Circle Sanctuary has created new patches for active duty members of the military.

While the progress made has been significant and each of veterans interviewed below were proud of their service in their respective branches, they also acknowledged a need to keep pushing for change and recognition within the system.

Reverend Tiffany Andes coordinates military circles for Circle Sanctuary. She figures there are 18 active circles that she works with right now.

“We’ve had some on naval ships, we have some in deployed locations and we have some in more stable overseas locations” in addition to the circles at places like Fort Bragg and Fort Hood, which are two of the oldest, she said.

Now Andes will be adding another achievement, crossing an important threshold for Pagans in the military. She is believed to be the first Pagan chaplain in residence at a VA hospital, and thus the first Pagan chaplain working as a paid employee of the VA.

“I feel it’s a very important process for us as a community. I’m doing the work because it’s the work that I love to do anyway. I feel very strongly about working with veterans and giving back to that particular community, especially because of the effect of being at war for over a decade,” Andes said.

Tiffany Andes

While she does publicly own her Paganism within the military structure, she wants to be clear that she’s not doing it for personal recognition. “I’m doing this because I love the work,” she said.

Another reason is that she doesn’t feel that Pagans get accurate representation within the military. Just by her presence, she’s challenging norms at the Tennessee hospital in which she works, she said.

“The additional challenges that come with my position include a lot of education. It is an active effort to be pleasant, to be loving and to educate every single day. There’s a lot of misinformation and misconceptions and prejudice that we have to move against in the system, to change the system,” Andes said.

“I have airmen, and I have soldiers and marines, they’re deploying or they’re separated from their families and they call me and say, ‘my leadership isn’t supportive of the fact that I’m Pagan, or Wiccan or Heathen or Asatru, I don’t know what to do, because I can’t be honest about my faith, which is what gives me the strength to do what it is I need to do.’ What do you tell them? They’re going off to fight for us, to fight for our freedoms and they can’t have the freedom of religious expression that they’re fighting for,” she explained.

Rev. Andes was honored at Circle Sanctuary’s annual Samhain celebration, and she will be recognized at Circle’s upcoming Veterans Day ceremony and observances, according to a statement from the organization.

“Ministry to veterans, active duty service members, and their families has been an important part of Circle Sanctuary’s work for more than forty years,” said Circle Sanctuary Senior Minister, Rev. Selena Fox. “Her VA hospital work is moving Paganism forward in the ongoing quest for full equality in military and veteran chaplaincy realms.”

Fox said that Circle Sanctuary will be holding a ceremony on Veterans Day at noon.


Currently a civilian employee of the VA, ‘Mick’ is a veteran who asked that we not use his real name out of fear for his job. He claims that while working for a branch of the military in the 1990s, he was removed from an assignment, ostracized, and passed up for an advancement program after speaking openly about his Paganism.

Now, he feels comfortable in the job that he has, but will probably not talk about his faith within the VA.

480px-seal_of_the_u-s-_department_of_veterans_affairs-svg

“My work requires me to work with the media extensively. I also work with dozens of Veterans Service Organizations and the public at large. I’m hoping that things have changed. People are more tolerant. More informed. More loving. But everything I see in the news tells me this is just a dream. It’s a dream that I can’t pin my family’s well-being on again.”

But, he says, his military years were not spent in complete hiding. During a ceremony for reenlistment he had to put his hand on the Bible to take his oath. Mick did so, but went to his commanding officer afterward and informed the man that he was Pagan and felt odd about using the Bible.

“He was taken aback and I assumed I was about to encounter another episode of intolerance. Much to my surprise, my (commanding officer) apologized and admitted he’d never thought about that before. He subsequently began asking sailors who were reenlisting whether using the Bible was appropriate for them. I also was able to assist the base chaplain on several issues that came up involving Wiccan and Pagan sailors on base,” he said.

After the election Mick reached out to say, “I didn’t think Trump would win but this definitely crystallized my anxiety about people doing the right thing.”


Josh Heath of the Open Halls Project said it’s not easy being a member of a non-traditional faith in the military. He said his experience in the army wasn’t terrible, but he did have some difficulties. “There are a lot of Pagans of various sorts in the military and they are making a difference, little by little,” Heath said.

Heath reported that the Open Halls Project had become an incorporated, non-stock, non-profit in Maryland this year, the next step will be to become a federally recognized non-profit. This step will allow them to collect money for the first time in the organization’s existence and fund projects, like providing the Havamal, a poem containing life lessons, or Poetic Edda to hand out to Heathens in the military for free, he said.

Another goal they’re working toward is establishing a yearly retreat for veterans and active duty soldiers. He said he would like it to be a time for military members to reconnect, but specifically to reintegrate into their communities and society as a whole.

Open Halls Project

Heath said he sees Veterans Day as a “time for me to recognize the people who have served and are still trying to make a difference in the lives of other veterans. I like to particularly highlight organizations that are doing great things to support other veterans. Wounded Warrior Project, though they aren’t perfect, are certainly an organization that does a lot to help veterans. I’m part of an organization called The Mission Continues, they do a lot of community project work. For me it’s about remembering and furthering support for veterans.”

Locally, he said that there will be a blöt to Woden this Sunday and as part of that he’ll be honoring veterans.


Alix Wright said that when she immigrated to the United States from South Africa as a teenager, she wanted to do something to give back to her newly adopted country.

“I needed a challenge, and the Marines were both challenging and inspiring,” said Wright, Pisces Minister with the Temple of Witchcraft.

During her service, she said that she was given a hard time for not being Christian, but, “there were many more who were supportive of me, and still more who just didn’t think it was their business. I hope that by standing my ground, it helped move those things forward.”

“The chaplain at my battalion told me I could have Samhain off if I proved to him that it was a sacred day.,” Wright explained. “He was a little stunned when I put a pile of books on his desk with notes sticking out of them marking all the references, (remember this was before Google) but he read enough of them to agree to inform my commanding officer that I wouldn’t be coming in on Samhain.”

Wright said that she doesn’t do a major working for Veterans Day but that she does wear her dog tags on the 10th for the Marine Corps’ birthday and on the 11th she lights a candle to honor all who have served.

“I’m at least fourth generation military by how far back I can trace (my son was also in the National Guard so he is fifth) so it’s also an honoring of my ancestors who served and acknowledgement of all those who are serving now and will serve in the future,” Wright said.

Michael Cantone, the Aries Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, said that the temple will be doing a ritual on Facebook this year so that those outside of the New Hampshire and Massachusetts area will be able to take part.


Like Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess issues service medals to its members who are or have served in the military.

CoG medal

Jack Prewett, first officer of the Covenant of the Goddess and a Vietnam veteran, said that at every yearly meeting, they award veterans submitted by local circles with the Order of the Pentacle. “Paganism has grown a lot since I was in the military, and it’s actually now recognized by the military. When I was in the military that would have been unfathomable. I will say I find it wonderful that we are recognized. There’s now a conduit by which we can have Pagan chaplains, it’s wonderful to see it progressing.”

Prewett advised those thinking about coming out as Pagan in the military to do what makes them comfortable. “The reality is the individual has to take into account his own personal experiences and his own personal safety before he decides he can stand up and say, ‘yes, I’m a Pagan’. I’m hearing that a lot of the military is becoming more and more accepting, so it gives you hope,” he said.


Rev. David Oringderff, executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation, said that, to him, Veterans Day is “a time to honor those who have taken the oath and served to ‘protect the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic.’ For that very reason, the U.S. veteran is different from all of the other veterans of all of the armed forces of the world, past and present.”

Oringderff continued on to explain: “We swore allegiance to a document (that the vast majority of veterans hold as sacred and sacrosanct) that establishes and preserves the ideals and vision of the founders when they embarked on a noble experiment in government that the world had never seen before. Those citizen soldiers fought a bloody and bitter revolution to establish the right to govern themselves in a manner that they chose. That noble experiment has endured for 228 years. And yes, it even survived the 2016 presidential election. One of my favorite quotes of General Washington: ‘when we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen.’ And when ‘we assumed the soldier’ we became part of that kindred that cannot be fully comprehended unless you are a part of it. That kindred has protected and defended the Constitution from its inception right up to this very day. And so shall it ever be.”


For Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist veterans unable to attend a local event, Rev. Fox said that, following her Nov 15 broadcast of Circle’s Nature Talk radio program, she will honor veterans live on the air with her annual presentation of Military Service Ribbons.

 

open_halls_squareThe Open Halls Project has announced that “the Department of Defense has requested, reviewed and accepted [its] Heathen Resource Guide for Chaplains.” For over seven years, the Open Halls Project, headed by Josh and Cat Heath, has been working diligently to have Asatru and Heathen added to the U.S. Army’s religious preference list.

During that process, as Josh Heath explained, his working group was asked to “produce a document explaining the basics of Heathenry.” Heath said, “We produced a document for him modeled on the Army Chaplain’s Handbook excerpt for Wicca. This basic framework assisted us in developing information that was generally applicable to the largest amount of Heathens possible.”

The new guide will educate Army Chaplains and help them better assist Heathens in military. The guide, and more details on its creation, are fully documented on the Norse Mythology Blog. As for the quest to have the two terms added to the preference list, Heath has reportedly said that the process is moving forward, and that there is now a real push to include both Heathen and Asatru. However, no time line has been made available as to when that will actually happen.

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David-Bowie-in-Labyrinth

It was announced this morning that music legend and actor David Bowie had died from cancer at the age of 69. Born in London in 1947, Bowie is said to have shown an interest in music from a very early age, playing the saxophone at 13. His first music hit was “Space Oddity” in 1969, and his acting ability was first really showcased in his album Ziggy Stardust (1972).

Over the years, Bowie continued to draw audiences and attract loyal fans with both is engaging work and eclectic nature. Since 1969 he has recorded 26 albums and has appeared in a 24 films, and countless shorts and TV shows. He is most known for his role as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s cult classic Labyrinth (1986).

Due to a unique performance style that seemed well-suited to science fiction and fantasy, Bowie was often asked about his religious and spiritual beliefs. After the release of his album Heathen (2002), Bowie was interviewed by Beliefnetand said “Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me.” Then in 2004, he told Ellen DeGeneres, “I was young, fancy free and Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me at that time. I thought, ‘There’s salvation.’ It didn’t really work. Then I went through Nietzsche, Satanism, Christianity… pottery, and ended up singing. It’s been a long road.”  And that it has.

The announcement of Bowie’s death was posted publicly to Facebook. It said that he died peacefully surrounded by family on January 10 after 18 month battle with cancer. What is remembered, lives.

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salem

In an update to a story we first reported in August, Wiccan Priest Richard Watson pleaded not guilty to charges of heroin trafficking. The latest arraignment was held on Jan. 5 at the Salem Superior Court.

Watson was arrested on Aug. 7, 2015, during a sting operation which led police to his home. There they found a small amount of heroin. Watson denied the charges and cooperated with police. After news of the arrest broke, Watson’s religious community was very divided in its reactions. Some people offered support and other didn’t. Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, the Wiccan organization in which he was involved, immediately revoked his clergy credentials. High Priestess Lori Bruno said, “I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.”

Watson is currently out on $10,000 bail, which was reportedly posted after his original arraignment in August. He is due back in court, along with the other man arrested in connection with this case, on Feb. 17.

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Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

In an article titled “24 Festivals And Retreats To Revitalize Your Soul In 2016,” The Huffington Post Religion included four popular dedicated Pagan festivals. These include Witchcamp in both Wisconsin and California, Summerland Spirit Festival and Pagan Spirit Gathering. The article begins, “As the new year stretches out before us, it’s the perfect time to start setting intentions. Among them should be a renewed commitment to self-expression and healing — and there’s no better way to do that than in a community of like-minded souls.”

Each of the 24 festivals is featured with a photo and a short descriptive blurb. Speaking about Summerland and PSG, one commenter said, “For me, the beauty of these festivals is the tolerance. No one believes the same thing and that is okay. No one wants to change you. You can be gay, dress outside of your ‘normal’ gender, wear fairy wings or nothing at all and no one will judge you. They will embrace you and your right to free expression.”

Of the other 21 festivals listed, some may be very familiar to Pagans and Heathens, and others not. These include events like Burning Man, Spiritweavers Gathering, Wanderlust, ILLUMINATE film festival, Shakti Fest at Joshua Tree and more. Check out the list before making your spring and summer festival plans this year.

In Other News

  • Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the programming for the upcoming international conference “The Greening of Religions.” The event, held in conjunction with and at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, attracts “activists, sociologists, bioethicists, anthropologists, seminarians, clergy, planners, philosophers, scholars and students from across the continent and beyond.” This year’s theme is “Hope in the Eye of the Storm,” and the keynote speaker is Bron Taylor, who “brings an interdisciplinary approach which blends religious studies, activism and the application of nature’s lessons to a rapidly-shifting societal landscape.” More information and registration details are on the CHS site. The event will be held in Columbia, S.C. from April 1-3.
  • Prairie Land Pagan Radio has taken some big strides recently. On Jan 4, broadcasters announced that the station will be on air 24/7, which will includes music, interviews and talk. In addition, they are also currently organizing a 2016 Prairie Land Music Festival and Campout in June. This brand new event will be held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City, IA and already has some well-known, national Pagan musicians scheduled to perform, including Celia and Mama Gina. More information, including pricing, is on the website.
  • The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is now seeking submissions for two new devotional anthologies. One,honoring Hestia, which will be titled First and Last: Devotional for Hestia. The announcement reads, “[Hestia] is the hearth of the Hellenic home, the keeper of the sacred flame of the gods, guardian of hospitality, and keeper of oaths.” A wide variety of submissions are being accepted including essays, rituals, recipes, art and poetry. For the other, which is entitled is entitled Dauntless: A Devotional for Ares and Mars, “The editor is interested in a variety of material, including but not limited to: prayers, rituals, hymns, essays, visual artwork, short stories, plays, recipes, and new translations of ancient and public domain works.”  The deadline for both is June 1. Contact the publisher directly for more information.
  • The Grey Mare on the Hill anthology is now available for purchase. Last February we reported that Grey Mare Books, an independent publishing imprint in the U.K, was looking for writters to help with their project. Titled “The Grey Mare on the Hill,” this project was inspired by the work of the Brython group that “has offered a number of writings on its blog including liturgical material, ritual practices and modern myths.” The resulting anthology, edited by Lee Davies, includes 120 pages of essays, poetry and devotionals from “devotees of the Great Goddess of the Land, the Mare Goddess, the Giver of Sovereignty.” It is available through Lulu.
  • Cró Dreoilín, a Colorado-based Celtic Polytheist organization, will be holding its annual Paths and Traditions Fair this coming weekend. Organizers Kelley Forbes and Chris Redmond describe the event as a an open house “designed exclusively to provide a chance to meet and chat with representatives of various Polytheist and Pagan paths, groups, and traditions, for those who are curious or seeking.” They noted that this year will be the biggest fair yet with over 30 groups already scheduled to attend. Paths and Traditions will be held Jan. 16 at the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado. It is co-hosted by the local CUUPs chapter.

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the 2015, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our thoughts or guided our actions? In our collective worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? How did Pagans and Heathens specifically face world issues and local crisis? What were the high points and low?

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

As the light began to return, the world faced, almost immediately, the reality of global terrorism. On Jan. 7, the home offices of France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. This event seemed to set a tone for the remainder of the year, as the world faced additional attacks, the growing influence of Daesh, the Yezidi genocide, institutional sex slavery, the current refugee crisis and the painful reality of Islamaphobia. Who are these are these people and what do we call them? How do we stop them? And, what is their relationship to Islam?

The year also began with another unresolved struggle. The U.S. was grappling with the deep social justice issues brought to light after the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri in November 2014. Related conversations concerning race and diversity increasingly punctuated Pagan and Heathen communities. Some Pagan activists joined community protests and action throughout the year. Many organizations developed diversity statements and policies. Unfortunately for the Covenant of the Goddess, its own effort fell flat, causing internal strife and eventually serious public scrutiny. However, by the summer, the 40-year-old Wiccan and Witchcraft organization did apologize and make significant changes.

Social justice themes permeated the February PantheaCon conference, culminating in a special session after a satirical pamphlet, called PantyCon, offended a large number of attendees. The conversations concerning race and ethnic diversity continued to run concurrent with other narratives throughout the coming year, sometimes with celebration and sometimes not.

As if those two realities weren’t enough to begin 2015, another issue was already brewing internal to the collective U.S. Pagan community. A group of witches were attempting to rebirth the American Council of Witches. Bathed in secrecy, the group of founders would not reveal any details, causing community confusion, frustration, anger, backlash and eventually the demise of the project.

While the year may have begun with a bang or better yet a very difficult sigh, there was also much to celebrate in those early months. Many Pagans and Heathens applauded the presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the exoneration of #Flood11 protestors. Iceland would soon see its first official Asatru temple. The UK marked its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage. Northern Ireland saw the acceptance of the first Pagan priest. And Manannan mac Lir, who had been stolen in January, was found only a month later.

In March, Paganicon attendees even learned how to calm their inner dragons.

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

Then, spring rounded the corner and religious freedom took center stage. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church spoke out publicly against RFRAs, attracting significant mainstream media attention. In Iowa, Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard offered the opening invocation before the state legislature, drawing protests and walk-outs. The Open Halls project had to renew its efforts to have Asatru and Heathenism placed on the Army’s list of accepted faith group codes. And, in his first column for The Wild Hunt, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.

Then, as the Beltane fires were lit and festival season was underway, the U.S. faced a brand new round of social struggle and violence. In late April, residents of Baltimore experienced both peaceful protests and a devastating violent riot after the weekend funeral of Freddie Gray. Two months later, Charleston’s historic Mother Emmanuel Church was shocked by a hate-driven terror attack, leaving nine dead.

But time marched on and, as the summer approached, nature seemed to be making itself felt in the most extreme forms. Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April, and the California drought only continued to worsen.

Pagan communities began to directly feel the sting of these natural disasters. In June, Pagan Spirit Gathering was flooded, causing it to close for the first time in 35 years. The Alaska Pagan Community Center was completely destroyed by the Sockeye Wildfire. Later in the year, the Bay Area community witnessed the destruction of its beloved Harbin Hot Springs by the Valley Fire.

As many were coming to terms with the reality of such extreme weather conditions, climate change became an international “buzzword.” In May, a large group of Pagans published the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment that has since garnered 6,860 signatures. Then in June, the world finally was presented with the long awaited Pope’s Encyclical on the environment.

In that very same week, the U.S. also witnessed another landmark moment. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

For many, the summer months continued on with festival season in full swing. Early August saw the premier of Many Gods West, and Heathen Chinese shared his thoughts on this new event in his first column for The Wild Hunt. The summer conference raised the volume on an ongoing conversation about Polytheism as a definitive practice, which had been previously addressed by guest writer Anomolous Thracian in his Polytheist Primer.

The summer also brought with it some obstacles in the digital world. Etsy changed its policies on the selling of charms and spells. Instagram banned the hashtag #goddess, and a popular Witchcraft Facebook page was hacked.

Then, violence hit the U.S. again. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next town victimized by a terror attack. In October, a man opened fired at a college in Roseburg, Oregon. Then, in December, terrorism hit San Bernardino, California. In these latter two cases, a member of the local Pagan community was killed in the attacks. Both Kim Dietz and Daniel Kaufman, were reportedly shot, while trying to save the lives of others.

As the temperature cooled and the leaves began to fall, the mainstream news predictably began to ring the doorsteps of Witches, for better or worse. Additionally, stories with even the tiniest link to Witchcraft made headline news. In early August, a Florida sheriff prematurely ascribed a triple homicide to Witchcraft, igniting protest. Then, just days before Halloween, the sheriff announced an arrest. October also saw a public controversy over Pagan Libertarian candidate Augustus Sol Invictus. And, on the day before Halloween, local Massachusetts news decided to cover a minor legal battle between two well-known Salem Witches. And, at the same time, Heathens were also grappling with their own media issues.

The month also saw the publication of Alex Mar’s Witchcraft in America, which generated a string of publicity and reactions.

October 2015 also hosted something entirely different: The Parliament of the World’s Religions. In record numbers, Pagans and Heathens arrived in Salt Lake City to experience a unique event and to share their own perspectives with others, as both presenters and performers.

Autumn brings with it an end to the festival season, culminating in the well-known celebration of Samhain or Halloween. But there are other Pagan and Heathen holidays observed at the time. For example, this year the small Pennsylvania-based Urglaawe community shared its celebration of Allelieweziel.

Throughout the entire year, The Wild Hunt spotlights unique Pagan and Heathen practices and communities, like the Urglaawe. This year alone we shared stories from Thailand, Finland, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Norway. We covered Pagan news from Iceland and Italy. And with the help of our three international contributing writers, we were able talk Canadian politics, discuss religious freedom issues in Australia and celebrating the winter solstice on a hill in the UK.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Outside of the festivities and cultural hullabaloo that occurs around Halloween, these days also have a sobering effect as we mark the passing of our loved ones. The Wild Hunt Samhain post honored the following people: Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Thor von Reichmuth, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler and Pete Pathfinder. Since we published that list, we have also lost Marc Pourner, Richard Reidy, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Morgan McFarland, Scott Walters and L. Daniel Kaufman.

In addition, this year marked the end of two beloved Pagan media outlets: Circle Magazine and ACTION.

As cold winds creep in and November changes to December, the U.S. honored Transgender Awareness month, which was particularly poignant this year after Caitlyn Jenner had previously generated mainstream visibility. Within the Pagan world, conversations on the subject became heated in November, leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then, the holiday season arrived in all its warmth, glitter and commercialism. As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, terror struck the world again. Both Paris and Beirut were hit by multiple attacks. Due to anger and fear, Islamaphobia has now reached all time highs, and anything with the name Isis could become a target, as discovered by a metaphysical bookstore in Denver.

And so, while much has happened in the story of 2015, the year seems to have come full circle from Paris to Paris.

Despite all the struggles that we have seen this year, hope still remains alive for many in Pagan and Heathen communities, especially with those involved in progressive interfaith work. This Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CBS will air a United Religions Initiative “groundbreaking interfaith” special called, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Several Pagans are prominent and longtime members of this grassroots organization, and will be appearing in the show.

Above are only some of the many stories, reports and events that touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. Here is the best of the best from each of our regular, current contributing writers:

Promoting Healing and Justice for Change by Crystal Blanton
Imbolc’s Invitation by Erick DuPree
Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse by Heather Greene
UK Pagan Community Confronts Child Abuse by Christina Oakley Harrington
The Fire is Here by Heathen Chinese
Canadian Truth and Reconciliation by Dodie Graham McKay
Australia’s Pagan Festivals by Cosette Paneque
Improving Access to Death by Lisa Roling
Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructes part one by Cara Schulz
Iceland’s Temple on the Hill by Eric O. Scott
Terpsichorean Powers by Manny Tejeda-Moreno
Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie
Treating Depression in a Pagan Context by Terence P. Ward
Tomb and the Atheist by Rhyd Wildermuth

Bring on 2016!

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

vice logoOn May 1, VICE Media published an article titled, “How a Thor Worshipping Religion Turned Racist.” Writer Rick Paulas writes, “Together, Odinism and Asatru constitute the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland, officially recognized by Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It’s gaining steam in America, too, where Thor’s Hammer is now allowed to be carved onto military gravestones and prisoners are granted special accommodations to carry out rituals … But there’s a dark side, too.” He goes on to discuss “the way that [Odinism] became a religion entangled with racism, exclusion, and American prison culture.”

Within hours of publication, the article triggered responses from a number of Heathen individuals and organizations. For example, in the article’s comments, Steven T Abell, steersman of The Troth, called the piece “poorly-researched, poorly-written.” Josh Heath, co-director of the Open Halls Project, agreed, saying, “There is so much wrong in this article.” He also pointed out that interviewee Josh Rood was misquoted.

Rood himself confirmed Heath’s assertion. In a Facebook post, Rood said, “There are a few huge things that I want to publicly make as clear as possible….and this is the only venue I really have to do that. I do not ‘teach an Old Norse Religion MA program’ … I am a student…” Rood also added that he had tried to be as clear as possible in the interview, suggesting that some of his words were used out of context.

Heathens United Against Racism voiced its own objections through an open letter to VICE, which was published and shared over social media and sent directly to the news outlet. The letter asks the editors to retool the article because “the problem is much more complicated” than expressed. HUAR has not yet received a response.

In other news…

  • In 2011, the Queen of Norway unveiled The Steilneset Memorial located in the small town of Vardø. The monument was erected to honor the 91 witches who were killed “nearly 400 years ago” in the town’s notorious witch trials. Although built and opened four years ago, the town’s history and news of the monument have once again captured media interest and generated a few news stories.
  • The Indian Network reported last month that more than a dozen Native actors and actresses walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six. They felt that “the satirical western’s script repeatedly insulted native women and elders and grossly misrepresented Apache culture.” Over the past two weeks, the story gained momentum and hit many major news outlets. The Indian Network continued to follow story. On May 1, it published an interview with Apache Culture Consultant Bruce Klinekole, who “was one of the key dissenters.” Klinekole explains why he joined the walk-out. In another article, The Indian Network reports that Native actor Ricky Lee called the entire controversy “overblown.” Additionally, a Care2 petition was started by protestor Allie Young, asking Sandler to change the script. It’s goal is 56,000 signatures of which it has already earned has 55, 611. Sandler has not made any public comment on the issue.
  • On April 15, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled “that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.” In direct contrast to last year’s ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, Canadian law now prohibits any prayer or invocation before a state body. According to the RNS report, the Canadian Supreme Court explained that “the country’s social mores have ‘given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.'”
  • In other religious freedom news, Tennessee lawmakers have attempted to push through HB615, which would designate the Bible as the state’s official book. On April 15, the House approved the bill 55-38, advancing it to the Senate. Despite a strong show of support, the bill was then sent back to committee, putting it on-hold for at least another year. According to the local Knoxville News-Sentinel, Senator Majority Leader Mark Norris said to his fellow committee members during the debates, “For God’s sake, think about where you’re headed.”
  • Continuing on the religious freedom theme, a Missouri woman is attempting to use RFRA laws to be exempted from the state’s abortion regulations. “Mary,” as she is publicly known, is a member of the St. Louis branch of the The Satanic Temple, and reached out to the national organization for help. In a press release, the organization explained,”that [Mary’s] deeply held beliefs would be violated if she is forced to receive inaccurate information as required by the State, and if she is forced to endure a mandated 72 hour waiting period.” The Temple is also raising funds to help Mary through the process.
  • Choreographer and dancer Keith Hennessey has been travelling with a new exhibition called Bear/Skin, which confronts recent social and political problems in the United States. In this piece, Hennessey uses his own Pagan and feminist beliefs to construct the performance’s narrative. He also uses parts of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring,” to which he said that he had “to reconcile his relationship” through his spiritual beliefs. The next and final performance will be in Toronto as part of a trio of dance exhibitions titled, “Capitalism, Sex and Magic.”
  • During spring, many small towns engage in, what the media often label, “ancient Pagan rituals.” These are regional and traditional folk celebrations that typically mark the changing of the seasons. Two that were recently featured include Germany’s “Osterraederlauf” in Luegde and Poland’s ‘Smigus-Dyngus‘ festival. Both are annual festivals that have been, reportedly, celebrated for centuries. During Osterraederlauf, locals set fire to six large wooden wheels and roll them down a hill. The wheels and fire are said to bless the farmers with good luck. For Smigus-Dyngus, or Watery Monday, locals dress in festive clothing, while young boys throw water on young girls and spank them with willow branches in hopes of increasing their marriage chances.
  • In Florida, Rollins College Provost Carol Bresnahan  has developed a continuing education class on “the history of witchcraft and magic.” The course, taught for the Rollins College Center of Lifelong Learning at the Hamilton Holt School, has no grades or homework. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, “During class, [for example] they talk about how people believed witches slept with the devil. They read through a 15th-century witch-hunting manual [Malleus Maleficarum] …” The class has been very popular, which initially surprised Bresnahan. One student is quoted as saying, “I’ve always been interested in witches, and I don’t know why.” On its site, the Sentinel published a short video interview with the provost.
  • And, the Beltane celebrations are well-underway. The Grove of Gaia Fest was held last weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with record levels of attendance. In addition to its traditional May Pole dance, festival goers happily participated in a wild color toss to welcome the Merry Month of May.
Grove of Gaia Fest

Grove of Gaia Fest 2015 – Color Toss

 

open_halls_squareAs first reported on the Norse Mythology Blog, the U.S. Army has not yet added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list. Dr. Karl Siegfried writes,”Over two months after being notified of approval, Army Heathens are now in a state of limbo.”

We spoke with Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project, who said, “The Chaplain backed away from his initial statement that the addition was approved,” and “he misread the speed in which the addition was going to be processed.” Heath said that the Open Halls Project will continue pressing for this recognition. He added, “The Army Corp of Chaplains has largely been helpful to us during this process. We particularly want to officially thank Chaplain Bryan Walker for his assistance. However, we also are growing increasingly frustrated that it has taken so long for this process to reach its finale. The Open Halls Project will continue to advocate for this addition, and will do everything in our power to ensure every soldier knows when it finally has been approved. Our soldiers deserve this recognition of their right to claim their faith. Heathenry is about a commitment to one’s community, a gift of service. The US Army has the duty now to return that gift as is our custom.”

*   *   *

Judy_Harrow_Award_Photo_CleanAs we reported last week, Judy Harrow was “honored by The Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ) division of the American Counseling Association (ACA).” She had been nominated in January by Michael Reeder, LCPC. At a special award luncheon Friday, a member of the Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) faculty accepted the Ohana award on Harrow’s behalf. CHS Director Holli Emore said, “Ms. Harrow was crucial to the development of Cherry Hill Seminary early on, building our pastoral counseling department into a program which would meet professional standards as well as the needs of the growing Pagan community.”

The award itself will be housed for viewing at the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) in Delaware. Board member Michael G. Smith said, “Ms. Harrow was an avid supporter of the New Alexandrian Library. She recognized the need for the Contemporary Paganism to preserve its history and cultural artifacts for future generations so they would be able to have a greater appreciation and understand their roots, their beginnings. She felt so passionately that she left her personal library in her last will and testament to the NAL. It is a great pleasure for us to see her work celebrated by her colleagues and we are honored to house her award, along with her collection, at the Library.”

 *   *   *

downloadThe Dragon Hills Retreat and Right Time, Right Place Productions will be hosting a spring Pagan Music Festival in 2016. Over Memorial Day weekend, musicians from around the world will come together in Bowdon, Georgia to perform at this private 30-acre campground and event center. According to the most recent updates, the festival will host over 20 bands, as well as100 vendors and more.

Currently booked to perform are: SJ Tucker, Sharon Knight, Celia, Tuatha Dea, Wendy Rule, Damh the Bard, Witch’s Mark, Murphy’s Midnight Rounders, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, Spiral Rhythm, Dragon Ritual Drummers, Elaine Silver, Mama Gina, Beltana Spellsinger, and Robin Renée. Organizers say that more performers will be added and tickets are already on sale. They added that “a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit Katie’s Krops.”

In Other News

  • This Friday will be the soft launch of the new site Gods & Radicalsborn out of a PantheaCon presentation made by Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie. On Friday, they will publish their first essay by Jason Thomas Pitzl. Other essays will follow periodically until the site is in full operation. Writers currently scheduled include Asa West, Lorna Smithers, and Sean Donahue. Gods & Radicals has been garnering much buzz in the community. When its facilitators made a call for submissions, the response was overwhelming. The site will publish works that focus on anti-capitalism, environmentalism and social change. They write, “We Pagans are trying to re-enchant the world, to bring back the magic of the forests and the mountains. We are trying to hear and revere the wild places the sacred forgotten places, the spirits of ocean and rivers and lakes.” 
  • Manannan mac Lir was back in the news again when the Limavady Council decided that the original statue was far too damaged to repair and that they would be erecting a replacement. According to the Derry Journal, the Council said that “a new sculpture should be made by John Darren Sutton at a cost of £9,950 and erected on Binevenagh.” The old statue will be on display as tourist attraction. However, as the decision was made, there was some outcry. According to the Belfast Telegraph, one local councilor believes that the “plan to use the damaged sculpture of a Celtic sea god as a tourist attraction would promote paganism and false gods.”
  • In another part of the world, ancient statues, relics and other historic sites are being pillaged and destroyed by ISIL. The destruction of these treasured artifacts has upset many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. One California Pagan, Jack Prewett has called for a Global Day of Mourning on April 18. Prewett calls the destruction a “tragedy for humankind” and says,“Let us mourn the loss of our history, our heritage. Cry for those that will come after us and know that once we had our history in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.” Why did Prewett choose April 18?  That is the U.N.’s World Heritage Day.
  • Last fall, in the heart of Arkansas, a group organized to host the first ever Pagan Pride event in Conway. According to reports, they had over 300 attendees, which far exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, the city of Conway has since passed an ordinance prohibiting all vendor sales on park property. Organizers said, “This means that we wouldn’t be able to have vendors, our singers and presenters wouldn’t be able to sell their merchandise, and there wouldn’t be any concessions! The only option that the city has given us is to rent out the Conway Expo Center.” If the organizers follow through, the event will cost significantly more money. The organization is now reaching out to the community for help through a GoFundMe campaign.
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based in Washington state, has recently released several statements responding to the most recent attempts to enact a religious freedom restoration act (RFRAs), specifically in the state of Georgia. The ATC’s statements have created buzz in the mainstream media, the Pagan blogosphere and local Georgia Wiccan community. We are currently working on this developing story and will bring you the details of the debate on Wed.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

The U.S. Army has finally added Asatru and Heathen to its religious preference list after a five year effort led by the Open Halls Project. The Army is now the second branch of the U.S Military to include these two religious options. The Air Force led the way in July 2014. With these changes made, Heathen soldiers serving, or having served, in either of these two branches can accurately communicate their religious preference and, by doing so, earn a host of benefits and protections.

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/FreePhoto.com]

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/FreePhoto.com]

“This is a first step into showing how deeply integrated with serving our country Heathens are. We represent a significant minority of the world, but the large majority of Heathens have served their countries in some form or another. Taking care of our community is a Heathen worldview trait, serving in the military is one way to serve those communities. I hope that this recognition helps to encourage more Heathens to serve their communities in all ways,” said Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

It is currently estimated that there are around 500 Heathens serving in the U.S. Army alone. That number is purely speculative based on Open Hall Project registrations. Heath said, “I’m hoping that getting the religious preference added will allow us to eventually ask the military to do an official census.”

Heath’s quest began in 2009 after he and his wife Cat joined The Troth. At that time, Heath was on Active Duty with U.S. Army, and wanted to see both Heathen and Asatru added to the religious preference list. Since that application required the backing of a 501c3 organization, he asked the Troth for help, which they gave. Unfortunately, the Army made an error and put The Troth on the list, rather than Heathen or Asatru.

As a result, Heath had to begin the process all over again. This time, however, he looked for support from a group whose name contained the word Asatru, as advised by Army officials. With the help of Vince Enland of the Asatru Alliance and Patricia Lafayllve of The Troth, he submitted a second application in 2010.  This was also the year that he and Cat formally established the Open Halls Project.

Open Halls Project
A year went by with little to no response. In 2011, the team decided to submit a third application. This one contained a petition with the signatures of over 30 soldiers. But, once again, they were simply told that the application was being reviewed.

After two years of waiting, the Army had still made no decisions, and the team was faced with two new challenges. Heath said, “In 2012, we were told by the Chaplains Corp that a new system to request Rel Prefs was being developed and would take some time to get anything new approved.” Additionally, Heath himself was no longer on Active Duty. Therefore, they “would need to get someone [else] who [could] reprocess the whole request.”

Over the next two years, they put the project on “the back burner.” They periodically checked in with Chaplain Bryan Walker, personnel director of the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. They also worked to garner more support and allies for the mission.

By 2013, momentum began to build in the form of both interest and corresponding actions. In terms of earning increased support, Josh Heath credits a 2013 interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried, published on the Norse Mythology blog.  While the article is predominantly about the couple’s personal history and religion, it does mention the Open Halls Project and its deep involvement “in American Heathenry and … the struggle for its recognition as a religion in the U.S. military.” In fact, that very interview is what inspired Msgt. Matt Walters, the Air Force NCO, to seek out the Open Halls Project for help in getting Asatru and Heathen added to the Air Force religious preference list.

While support increased, other serendipitous events began to happen. In spring 2013, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs added the Mjöllnir, (the Hammer) to its list of symbols available for gravestones and markers. Then, in early 2014, the Army added Humanism to its religious preference list, and the Air Force added Heathen and Asatru.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

In a recent interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried, Heath admitted that the adding of Humanism, “riled him up!” He said, “I’d been working on this issue for Heathens for five years, and they still hadn’t approved us! I threatened a lawsuit, politely, and even contacted the ACLU and the humanists that won their campaign to ask for some guidance on how to proceed.”

Due the increase in support from the Heathen community, Heath was able to find four new Active Duty soldiers willing to work on the project. The team consisted of Christopher Gibat, Omar Bailey, Andrew Turner and Daniel Head, who would became the new principle point of contact. In a recent interview, Head told Dr. Seigfried that after some “back and forth” and questioning the chaplains signed off. Asatru and Heathen were added to the list.

While this designation is purely administrative, the benefits can be far reaching in the experiences of a Heathen soldier, and in the education of military officials. Heath said:

Some Heathens will still have a hard time getting the right to worship, but having their religious preference added will mean the Chaplains Corp, MUST, assist them within the regulation requirements. That is a huge advocacy pool, even a chaplain that doesn’t really want to help will have to or face disciplinary action for failing to uphold their oath. I think this will help, when good soldiers, are seen as good soldiers, and then someone finds out they are a Heathen, this will hopefully show that we are good for our units, good for the Army and good for our country.

He also noted that Heathen Veterans can apply to make a change to their religious preference. Doing so will help with any official census taken, as well as supporting Heathen specific needs for funerals and other religious-based services.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

After the announcement was made, Open Halls members were asked for reactions and thoughts. Heath shared some of those responses:

I have [had] to choose ‘other’ as my religious preference, that makes me and many others feel excluded. I will no longer have to worry, “Will there be someone who understands what I believe, and to speak for me, if the worse were to happen.” – Daron Regan

It is a great feeling not to be marginalized as “that weird guy that believes in comic book characters.” – Andrew Turner

I am thankful for those that have stayed the course, it seems to have paid off and brought honor to us all.- Omar Bailey

This is the seed from which something great may grow. Whether it be something as simple as full recognition or a full chaplain representation. Our deed will feed the well that feeds the seed.- Joshua Spencer

A few members were skeptical on how much this will really affect their day-to-day experience, but most reactions were celebratory and focused on the next chapter of the project. Heath said, “We are planning on pursuing the Navy and Marines next, as they use the same system for Chaplains, a win there will affect both branches at the same time. I seriously doubt they would add the preferences themselves without prodding, but I do not think it would be hard for personnel to make those requests now.”

For more extensive detail on the entire process and experience, turn to the recent interview with Daniel Head and Josh and Cat Heath at the Norse Mythology Blog

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. Our 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!

open_halls_square

Last week, it became official that the U.S. Army has added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list. The efforts to get this added were spearhead by members of the The Open Halls Project. Josh Heath, co-founder of the organization, told The Wild Hunt, “I think this is a first step into showing how deeply integrated with serving our country heathens are. We represent a significant minority of the world, but the large majority of heathens have served their countries in some form or another. Taking care of our community is a heathen worldview trait, serving in the military is one way to serve those communities.”

The Norse Mythology Blog published an interview with Heath and co-founder Cat Heath, as well as Daniel Head, an active duty soldier who was part of the effort. We will have a full report later this week.

*    *    *

iceland

In Iceland, it has been announced that a new Pagan temple will be constructed in Reykjavik. According to the Iceland Magazine, “This will be the first pagan temple to be built in the Nordic countries in nearly a thousand years.”  The project began in 2006, when the application for the land plot was filed. Nine years later, construction is finally ready to begin.

According to the report, the structure will be 350 square meters and will hold 250 people. It will serve the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélag organization and its community. Columnist Eric O. Scott is currently researching the project and will have more on this story later in the month.

*   *   *

coph niaAs registration opens for Coph Nia, the organization announced two more of its guest presenters for 2015. Joining author and activist Michael Lloyd, will be guest presenters Devin Hunter and Storm Faerywolf. The guest musical performer will be Brandyn Metzko. There year’s theme is “Chrysalis.”

Coph Nia is a “mystical gathering for gay and bisexual men.” Held in Artemas, Pennsylvania, the event is held over five days and includes rituals, concerts, vendors, workshops, bonfires, drumming and more. This year it takes place from Aug. 5-9.

In Other News:

  • A Georgia-based Pagan group has recently started a website called the “Pagan Business Network.” Its goal is to “bring Pagan business owners together to share knowledge and help promote each others businesses together.” The website and companion Facebook page offer basic business tips and promotional advice.
  • Amanda Morris is looking for participants for her Pagan Health Survey. She writes, “The responses will be used for my lecture at Duke University Hospital.” As she explains, she was asked by the hospital’s director of pastoral services to help provide a Pagan perspective on various topics. She wrote, “this fabulous opportunity to help educate doctors, nurses, social workers, staff members, psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals about Pagans, Paganism, their health and their religion.”
  • Megalithic Books, an imprint of Immanion Press, is seeking submissions for its upcoming anthology The Pop Culture Grimoire 2.0. According to the website, “This anthology explores pop culture magic and Paganism in the 21st Century.” The deadline for rough drafts is Mar. 15.
  • On Jan 30, the Manx National Heritage Museum will hosting a lecture by historian Dr. John Callow titled, “Gerald Gardener, Witchcraft and the Isle of Man”
  • Patheos Pagan writers contributed to a Patheos’ series called The Best Practices for Peace 2015. The introduction to the project says, “Instead of reflecting on personal goals, Patheos has invited contributors to consider some ‘resolutions’ around faith-based practices that could lead to greater peace in 2015.” Contributing writers include Holli Emore, Cat Chapin Bishop, Rev. Selena Fox, and Sable Aradia.

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

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!

pageHeaderTitleImageThe Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, has just published a special double-sized edition, catching the publication up after a delay. Quote: “Welcome to a double issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. We regret that our publication has fallen behind schedule, but this 2013 double issue will help bring it more in synch with the calendar. Thanks to guest editors [Manon Hedenborg-White] and Inga Bårdsen Tollefsen, both of the University of Tromsø, Norway, this issue includes a section of interesting papers on gender issues within several varieties of contemporary Paganism and occultism, ranging from Canada to Russia.” Also covered are articles responding to a 2012 critique of Pagan Studies. There are also a number of interesting (and free to download) book reviews. 

The Druid NetworkThe Druid Network performed a global ritual in honor of peace on August 10th. Quote: “Last night, on 10 August 2014 members of the international organisation, The Druid Network, performed a ritual all across the globe in honour of peace. Crises of war are happening all over the globe, and members of TDN gathered together on the member-only social network site to discuss matters. What evolved was the creation of a ritual for peace, that could be enacted by anyone, anywhere, at this August Supermoon. Over 300 people responded to the Facebook event, and even more Pagans from all over the globe performed either this version or their own with the intention of creating peace.” The press release includes the ritual format shared amongst the participants, and they intend to perform the ritual at every following full moon.

Kraemer-Eros-Touch-coverEditors Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow have announced a call for entires in a new anthology concerning Pagan consent culture. Quote: “This collection will define Pagan consent culture; articulate widely-held Pagan theologies of the body; examine theological resources in various Pagan traditions for building consent culture; explore strategies for making seeking consent to touch a normal community practice; give recommendations for safeguarding policies at events for children and adults; provide procedures for communities to use when responding to accusations of sexual abuse; consider the role of unequal power dynamics in relationships in Pagan communities; and examine the ethics of sexual initiation, erotic healing, and other Pagan religious practices involving the ritual use of touch.” The deadline for first full drafts is Feb 1, 2015.

Janie Felix

Janie Felix

We had previously reported on the case of Janie Felix and Buford Coone, members of the Order of the Cauldron of the Sage, who had challenged a 10 Commandments monument being erected on government property in New Mexico. Well, on August 7th, a federal judge ruled that the monument was unconstitutional. We reached out to Janie Felix, who sent us the following statement: “We are delighted (the many people I represented) with the court’s decision.  It feels that the law was upheld and that the court reflected the Founding Father’s plan for our country.  This is an important victory for all the non-Christian folks here in New Mexico and around the country … I, personally, hope that the monument will be removed to a prominent spot on the grounds of the largest local church where it can be admired and not impinge on the lawful rights of the non-Christian community here in Bloomfield.  It saddens me that the local comments in dissent to the ruling reflect the prejudices of the folks in favor of the monument staying where it is rather than understanding the reasons for the suit in the first place. Comments were made, i.e. ‘if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to look at it’ … ‘she can just move’ … ‘she is ruining our country.’   We, the plaintiffs, have always expressed that this was impinging on our rights as citizens and was not opposition to the commandments per se.  By staying out of all matters of faith and spirituality, the government gives all religions an equal chance to thrive in our country.  Indeed, that was the purpose of the religious liberty causes in the 1st amendment.” 

open_halls_squareLast week we reported on the news of the Air Force adding “Asatru” and “Heathen” to their religious preferences list. For more on the background of this story, check out The Norse Mythology Blog’s interview with Master Sergeant Matt Walters, who worked with the Open Halls Project to make it happen. Quote: “I got a notification that it would be shortly that the approval would go through, and on a whim I decided to check. Apparently only hours before I checked, the personnel office had made the inclusion of the two requested denominations, and I was able to officially be recognized as a heathen. Now any airman can identify themselves as Ásatrú or Heathen in their military records, if they wish.”

Victor_WellesleyVictor Kazanjian, the Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative (URI), was hosted at a reception held by the Northern California Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG). Quote: “This was an opportunity for him to meet the Pagan community of the San Francisco Bay Area and for us to meet him.  A reasonable sample of the many groups of the Bay Area attended.  The Fellowship of the Spiral Path graciously donated their monthly time-slot at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists (BFUU) hall as a welcoming space to hold the reception. […] I have the highest of hopes for Victor, and the URI, and for the growing relationship between the URI and the Pagan community of the Bay Area and the world.  I will give everyone a chance to introduce their groups soon, but first it is both a pleasure and a privilege to welcome Victor Kazanjian.” Be sure to also check out COG Interfaith Reports blog for their summary report on the Global Indigenous Initiative meeting

Book-Fault-Lines-Gus-DizeregaThe results for the 2014 Independent Book Awards have been released, and Gus diZerega’s “Fault Lines: The Sixties, the Cultural War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine” won the Silver prize in the New Age/Mind-Body-Spirit category. DiZerega’s book was tied for Silver with “Garden of Bliss: Cultivating the Inner Landscape for Self-Discovery” by Debra Moffitt, which was published by Llewellyn Worldwide. Quote from the book’s blurb: “The United States is suffering its greatest upheaval since the Civil War—politically, economically, socially and religiously. In Fault Lines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine, author Gus diZerega explores the complex causes leading us to this point, comparing them to giant fault lines that, when they erupt, create enormous disturbance and in time new landscapes.”

Pantheon FoundationWith the Pantheon Foundation’s funding campaign for The Diotima Prize successful, the process to award the prize has begun. A selection committee has been announced, as well as an essay contest to decide the winner. Quote: “The Pantheon Foundation, dedicated to building 21st century infrastructure for Pagans, calls for you to apply to receive the Diotima Prize. By the power of the Pagan community’s generosity $1,000 has been crowd-funded to support your studies this year. Send us a 1,000 word essay on the nature of Paganism and Pagan ministry, and the author of the best, selected by our committee, will be awarded this year’s prize.” Deadline for essays is September 1st. Applicants must be currently in an accredited seminary program.

Patrick McCollum in IndiaA crowd-funding campaign is has been launched to help fund Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum’s participation in several world peace-oriented Fall events. Quote: “While Patrick’s service and presence at these powerful events is clearly of high value, the organizers of the events do not have the financial means to provide for his airfare. Our desire is not only to get him there, but to insure his safe travels and maximize the outreach of the important messages he has to share. We are aiming to raise $6,000 for this trip. What this would afford us are the round-trip tickets to India for Patrick and to have some money for other travel expenses. It will also be used to support the youth. If we receive more than our funding needs, the extra money will go towards the foundation and to supporting the various work that Patrick is a part of.” McCollum’s efforts were recently mentioned in the LA Times.

10541858_10152353140474755_4646233186467081917_nDebbie Chapnick, owner of Datura Press, has released a new book that melds tarot and food entitled: “The Journey of the Food, Snacking your way through the Tarot.” Quote: “In a deep sleep a voice said to me ‘The eight of swords… that’s a Mississippi mud cake’. The phrase repeated over and over again. When I finally woke up in the morning I was exhausted, but I knew what I had to do… write a cookbook! That’s where it began, ‘The Journey of the Food.’ I cook for my friends all of the time and get hired to do desserts for the occasional party. It was the perfect for me. The two things I love doing the most all together.” You can order yours by emailing Chapnick at: daturapress@gmail.com.

David Oliver Kling

David Oliver Kling

Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced that that faculty member David Kling, M.Div., will serve as the new Chair of the Department of Ministry, Advocacy & Leadership. Quote: “I started the long journey to become a chaplain after my mother and I made the decision to take my father off life support. During the seven months he was in critical care not once did we see a chaplain. His death was particularly difficult for me and every death I experience since transforms me. It is my intention to be of service to others who are suffering physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It is a wonderful yet often very emotionally painful career path, I cannot imagine doing anything else. I may not have had a chaplain when I needed one, but I hope I can be there for others when they need one. […] It is my hope that I can assist current and incoming students navigate through their programs successfully and graduate and settle into various ministry and leadership roles that will be as fulfilling for them as mine is for me.”

1980427_666404363420110_559223200_oCamilla Laurentine has issued a call for submissions for a new devotional anthology dedicated to the Beloved Dead. Quote: “Calling for submissions for Crossing the River: A Devotional to Our Beloved Dead, edited by Camilla Laurentine (and possibly others to sign on at a later date). Submissions open August 7th, 2014 and close February 28th, 2015. The intention of this devotional is to build a source book of modern meditations, hymns, prayers, and other resources for death workers working in our greater community. All Pagan and Polytheist traditions are welcome and encouraged to submit to this project. Submissions should fall into one of three categories: Vigil of the Dying, For the Recently Deceased, and Funerary Tools. They may include, but are not limited to meditations, poems, hymns, prayers, original retellings of myths, rituals, and scholarly articles with a focus on historical practices within one’s tradition. Artwork is also welcome and encouraged with a preference for pieces that are easily reproduced in black and white.”

a3269500119_2Sharon Knight and Winter have announced a collaboration with urban fantasy author author Ellie Di Julio, a collection of songs based on the work  “The Transmigration of Cora Riley.” Quote: “Sharon Knight and Winter, have teamed up with author Ellie Di Julio to produce original songs inspired by her urban fantasy novel, “The Transmigration of Cora Riley.” This album tells three different character stories – Cora’s, Jack’s, and the Mistress’ – through their own eyes, echoing the book’s themes of change and desire. The sound ranges from light-hearted pop to driving metal to haunting folksong, giving each character their own flavor and adding new layers of meaning to the original text.”

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

[The following is a guest post from Josh Heath. Josh Heath is the Co-Director of The Open Halls Project, a military Heathen outreach and advocacy program, with his wife Cat. Both are world travelers and highly invested in the Heathen community at large. Josh is a few weeks away from beginning a Master’s program in International Peace and Conflict resolution at American University in Washington, D.C.]

“He was a very moral man… but not what you’d call a spiritual person,” Master Sergeant (Msgt) Matt Walters said, referring to his father during our discussion about the additions of Asatru and Heathen to the religious preference list for the US Air Force. Msgt Walters and I talked for nearly an hour about his pathway to Heathenry, and the complex process he had to dredge through to update the Air Force system.

usaf-logo-2004According to Msgt Walters, the Air Force used to have an automated system to add new religious preferences through their Virtual Military Personnel File (the central online paperwork system for Airmen). However, at some point that system became defunct and no new system was put in place to make updates. Msgt Walters placement as a high ranking Non-Commissioned Officer in the Pacific Command for the Air Force meant he was perfectly located to help kickstart everything needed to recreate the system.

Msgt Walters grew up in a mixed Buddhist Vietnamese and German-American family. He joined the US Air Force 20 years ago this coming January. Describing himself, and his father as largely irreligious, Msgt Walters mentioned several key moments in their lives that helped bring him down the path toward Heathenry. On a trip traveling through Germany, his father looked over his shoulder to see the Black Forest at his side. His ancestors were standing there like a beacon letting him know that he would one day return to them, like a scene out of the Icelandic Sagas.

His father’s journey ended, or began depending on how you see it, with his death a few years ago. This former enlisted veteran from WWII and Vietnam was on his deathbed with his son by his side. Having waited for his son to arrive, Msgt Walter helped his father find his way to the halls of his ancestors. “I knew some day we’d share a glass of beer again,” he said. With that impetus, he began a journey to find a connection to his ancestors and found a faith that made sense to him, Heathenry.

open_halls_squareHis journey took him through several resources, including the Havamal, which he described as, “that’s my father, those are the kinds of things he would say.” He finally came upon the Norse Mythology blog written by Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried. From there, he found an interview about The Open Halls Project and military Heathens between Seigfried and Cat . Msgt Walters quickly became a member of the OHP, and learned about the movement to have Asatru and Heathen added to the US Army’s Religious Preference list. As an aggressive and dedicated leader, he decided to see what he could do to add that preference to the Air Force lists as well.

Using the fact that Humanism was recently added to the combined list of DoD preferences via ACLU lawsuit, he focused on the hope that our request could be completed without needing such heavy handed tactics. He utilized allies throughout the Air Force command structure to recreate a process to have new preferences added. A graphic below describes the process.

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I don’t think it’s any surprise that this system is arcane. Even to the trained military eye it is hard to follow and elicits a quick response of, “Why is it this hard to do this;” especially considering that there are dozens, if not a few hundred individuals involved along the way for such a request to be completed. Msgt. Walters had to assist the Air Force in finding the applicable regulations to add religious preferences, which had been lost and forgotten. Once the system was in place once more, the request was made, and finally, approved on July 29th 2014.

“This is an awesome victory for us, and one that has required a lot of awareness raising and a lot of paperwork. We want to officially thank Msgt Walters for making this happen for the Air Force. Now all our Airmen need to go change their Religious Preference!!!”The Open Halls Project

The fight is not over, the Army still does not recognize Asatru or Heathen as religious preferences officially. Nor does the Navy, the Marines, or even the Coast Guard. However, requests are nearing completion in the Army as this is being written and a request will soon be prepared for the Navy and the Marines. The Open Halls Project was started to help military Heathens find community wherever they are. We have been committed to advocating for the needs of all military heathens or Asatruar wherever they are, regardless of service, regardless of any other issues. Our small faith community has a large amount of folks who have dedicated themselves to serving their country. It really is a small thing we can do to help support them, but it’s a small thing that means a lot!

Msgt Walters would like all Air Force Heathens to know they can access a portal to connect with others, here. More information about the Open Halls Project can be found, here, here, and here.

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!

open_halls_squareThe Open Halls Project, an organization serving military Heathens, has announced a letter writing campaign to urge the U.S. Army and Department of Defense to expedite allowing Heathens to choose “Asatru” or “Heathen” as their religious preference (which they currently can not do). Quote: “We’ve already processed this request twice, with the support of the Asatru Alliance and the Troth. That was over two years ago now and we are being told we will have to wait even longer. The OHP would like to initiate a letter writing campaign to our legislators, in the hopes that putting congressional pressure on the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense will have some positive effect. We specifically are calling on those who live in a district run by a member of either the House Armed Services Committee or the Senate Armed Services Committee. These are the folks that can really bring some political muscle to bear for us!” You can download and edit a sample letter, here. With the recent publicity over the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for veteran grave markers and headstones, now seems like opportune time to press this issue forward.

AREN_ACTIONThe Lammas edition of ACTION (plain text version), the official newsletter of the Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN), has been released. This edition has a special focus on Pagans in South Africa, and according to editor Christopher Blackwell “deals with the development in the community from coming out until today.” Interviewees include Dr. Dale Wallace, who wrote her doctoral thesis on South African Pagans, Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), Donna “Darkwolf” Vos, founder of Circle of The African Moon, and more. This is a rare, in-depth look at Paganism in South Africa, and these interviews deserve to be read widely. Here is a quote from Dr. Dale Wallace’s interview: “Far more than Paganism per se, it is the witchcraft issue that affects almost all religions in South Africa with many divisions arising over differences of opinion, experience and interpretation. Where these become really important is in finding some consensus over a definition of the terms in light of the repeal or replacement of current legislation, and also the very real possibility of this not being adequately addressed. Different outcomes will have some serious consequences for many communities.” In addition to the section on South African Paganism, this issue of ACTION also features an interview with Taliesin Govannon, director of “Dark of Moon.”

terra mysteriumThe Chicago-based performance troupe Terra Mysterium, who create “experiential works of music, theatre, and performance art that are rooted in the Earth mysteries,” has launched a new IndieGoGo campaign to fund their 2013 season. Quote: “This year we are looking to add even more exciting elements to two wonderful new productions – a full-length play that will feature animations and light mapping, as well as a touring production – and, as a stretch goal, two more music videos. In addition to these artistic projects we will incorporate this year as a non-profit theatre company with the intent to achieve a 501 (c)(3) status in the near future. Both these actions will help to make Terra Mysterium a sustainable troupe.” Terra Mysterium is trying to raise $6,500 in 30 days, and have raised nearly $2000 dollars so far. You can see samples of Terra Mysterium’s work at their official Youtube channel. I’ve embedded their official 2013 fundraiser pitch video below. You may also want to check out Terra Mysterium’s official Facebook page for further updates.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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