Archives For P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

[Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. If you like this feature and would like to continue to see it every month, consider donating to The Wild Hunt. Each and every day, you will receive original content, news and commentary, with a focus on Pagans, Heathens and polytheists worldwide. Your support makes it happen. Donate today and share our link!]

As the equinox has recently passed, making many Pagans, polytheists and Heathens mindful of how light is divided from darkness, we begin with a cartoon by Jude Magaro about a more whimsical divide in our communities.

country-city-pagans


“To me the Noumenia is a time of new beginnings, of renewal. Each month we are given a chance to start over, to get it right. Living in this fast-paced, hectic world with endless distractions, frustrations, and demands on our time and attention, it is easy to lose our way, to forget the things that are important to us and sometimes we may even become estranged from our gods. We may have set out to maintain a regular religious routine or to make important life changes like eating better, exercising more, watching less television and the like, only to have life get in the way. It is easy to feel discouraged, to see all the missed opportunities and our life slipping away from us . . . . It is a time to clear away the old and outmoded, all the things that are cluttering our lives and holding us back, so that we can make room for new and wonderful blessings to enter them. –Sannion, writing about the monthly household festival in Hellenic tradition.


“When the gods come knocking, we don’t have to answer. We are allowed to simply say ‘hello’ followed immediately by ‘goodbye.’ We are allowed to agree to testing the waters, but to also not make any commitments. With each of these particular goddesses, I went a minimum of one year before agreeing to anything even temporary. . . . I am also dedicated to a goddess that I barely talked to in the year leading up to my dedication, but who I knew was a perfect fit. — the Peacock Witch on deities who arrive unannounced.


“The gods-without call and the gods-within respond. These are not anthropomorizations. I do not project the Lightbringer onto the sun. The sun is still the sun, an unimaginably large flaming ball of hydrogen a hundred million miles away whose light is filtered through 10 miles of atmosphere. But when I face the sun in the morning and raise my arms and recite an invocation inspired by the Rig Veda, I am speaking to that sun in the sky and to the Sun/Son within me.

“Let others say their polytheism is more authentic. Let others say my gods aren’t real enough or distinct enough. Let others say that I’m afraid to answer the call of their gods. Let others say my gods are limited or safe. I know better.” — John Halstead, “My Polytheism: Gods Within/Gods Without.”


“If all of those people back in college needed to get stoned in order to have certain discussions with me, that should have been a sign to me that whatever mind-expanding potentials of this substance might be are probably already redundant in my case. Based on such an observational prediction, I’d have to concur, as I didn’t have anything particularly mind-expanding as a result. I did notice some odd paranoid moments, but I have those myself without any drugs, so was quite easily reminded that this might not be anything real.” — P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, writing about eir first experience with medical marijuana.


“Getting drunk tends to amplify things. If we think we’re powerful sorcerers and mighty Druids and we get rat-arsed, the odds are that we will feel that even more keenly. The drink may be talking, but the voice of spirits we’re hearing may not be the spirits we were thinking of connecting with. To be pissed as a newt is not to be in deep connection with your newty spirit guide. It is easy to feel that we need intoxicants to take us out of our normal, banal headspaces, but going this route creates a crutch, and may not be in our interests.” Nimue Brown on the limits of intoxication in ritual.


“While there are plenty of Pagan tales of sacrifice, the general sense among Pagans is that outright martyrdom is unnecessary. Martyrs, whether physical or metaphorical, experience an erasure of self. This is at odds with the idea that the self is sacred. In our daily lives, we do not typically need to make the sort of sacrifice play that, for example, our armed forced do. There are other options available to us.” — Melissa ra Karit, “One Pagan’s Ethics and Self-Care.”


“I’m no defender of Gavin Frost (as I think this article suggests) but he’s also never to my knowledge been charged or convicted of a crime. I’m hesitant to yell, “Pedophile!” at the top of my lungs when encountering a book passage I vehemently disagree with. Wrong? Perverse? Disgusting? Not Wicca! All of those things and more, and I’m not forgiving the passage, but I also don’t know enough about Gavin to call him something as reprehensible as a pedophile. — Jason Mankey on the life of Gavin Frost.


“My first take on bhakti was viewing the goddess as a sort of invisible girlfriend. ‘Divine lover,’ I probably would have said then, but essentially, ‘invisible girlfriend.’ Some lofty ideal of femininity that I could use to fluff up my ego. To be honest, I didn’t have much success. But also, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’m thankful that I took time away from the path of devotion in order to grow as a person. I regularly gave offerings to Ganesh but I didn’t quite view it in the same way. . . . I have a great life, a job I like, a place to live in that I love, an amazing girlfriend whom I love very much, and, most importantly, I love who I am.” — R.M. McGrath, “From Lover to Mother

That’s it for now. Is there a Pagan voice or artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.

“All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”
W.B. Yeats

Public Domain

Easter Proclamation of 1916. [Public domain.]

On Easter Monday (April 24) of 1916, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizens’ Army and Cumann na mBan launched an armed insurrection against British rule, seized the General Post Office in Dublin and several other locations, and proclaimed the Irish Republic. The Easter Rising, as the rebellion is now known, was suppressed by the British Army and sixteen of its leaders were executed. One hundred years later, numerous commemorative events have been scheduled in Ireland for Easter Week (Easter Sunday falls on March 27 this year) and following months.

I interviewed P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Morpheus Ravenna, two Polytheists living in the United States who worship gods and heroes of Irish origin, to ask their thoughts about the centennial of the rising. I also contacted two Irish Pagans who I was told had expressed interest in participating in the interview, but as of time of publication, have not yet received responses to my questions.

HC: Do you honor any of the individuals or groups who participated in the Easter Rising of 1916, religiously or otherwise? How do you frame that honoring or veneration? Do you have any plans for the 100th anniversary of the rising that you wish to share?

PSVL: Padraig Pearse is one of the Sancta/e/i of the Ekklesía Antínoou, whom we honor for a variety of reasons: his dedication to the revival of Irish culture, his role in the fight for Irish independence and freedom and his heroic death in that struggle, and also because he is what might be considered “queer” in our own terms, despite being celibate for life (to everyone’s current knowledge). He is not an entirely unproblematic figure in any of these regards, certainly, but very few of our Sancta/e/i are, and while I’d prefer not to focus on those problematic aspects at present, nonetheless I think this bears mentioning lest anyone think we have any illusions in this regard. I plan to not only mark the occasion “officially” in April, as many will be around the world, but I also plan to visit the GPO in Dublin on March 21st when I am in Ireland for a conference this year. I carry a coin in my pocket on a daily basis — which I also do for various other deities and hero/ines as a reminder of my devotion to them – -that has Cú Chulainn on one side of it and Padraig Pearse on the other, which was a commemorative piece of currency issued in Ireland in 1966; I will likely see if I can get something similar while I’m in Ireland this year, too, so that I can gift them to others who are engaged in cultus to various modern Irish heroes, Sancta/e/i, and to Cú Chulainn (if indeed they are engraved on the same pieces once again!).

Padraig Pearse. Public domain.

Padraig Pearse. [Public domain.]

MR: In my practice, I offer ongoing veneration to a group of spirits I refer to as the Warrior Dead. These are spirits of warrior and military individuals from a wide spectrum of times and places, who have been brought into my practice by way of my devotional relationship with the Morrígan as a goddess of war (among other things). Spirits of Irish revolutionary fighters are certainly among them. In other words, I honor them collectively, but not highlighting any specific individuals by name among the fighters of the Easter Rising.

HC: The relationship between a specific land and the members of cultural diasporas originating in said land is always complicated, but especially so when there are ongoing political conflicts and/or struggles for cultural preservation and survival being considered. Can you speak to that, specifically with Ireland and the 1916 rising in mind?

PSVL: I’ve always found the relationship between Irish-Americans and actual Irish history and politics to be even stranger than the relationship between the people of Ireland in modern times and their own history, culture, and mythology. On the one hand, Irish-Americans are deeply invested in “all things Irish” a great deal of the time, and their ancestry is a source of pride, which comes about from the very deep and hurtful persecutions they endured when they came to the U.S. in the post-Great Hunger period of the mid-1800s and the resulting defiant psychological stance as coping mechanism in which this can result. On the other hand, there is a great deal of misinformation, ignorance, and even a lack of desire for getting to know things better amongst Irish-Americans, which no doubt springs from similar situations, in which Irish culture, the Irish language, and other things were taken as “backwater” and detrimental baggage for their lives in the diaspora, especially in British and British-influenced cultures like the U.S. of the 1800s happened to be, and the internalized shame the persecution of Irish culture created. If it’s a leprechaun (or maybe a banshee), green beer or corned beef and cabbage, Irish-Americans love it and eat it up; if it’s Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill, Guinness and real Irish whiskeys, or soda bread and boxty, one is likely to get as little interest in these things amongst Irish-Americans as amongst the non-Irish. While 1916 represents “Irish freedom” and “Irish independence” to a large extent for some Irish-Americans, it often does so in a vague fashion, and apart from mentions of it in The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and perhaps the folk song “The Foggy Dew,” the realities of the situation and the aftermath of it are far less clear in many people’s minds. As an undergraduate, I was invited to my college’s Irish-American Student Organization trip into New York City for an “Irish cultural fair;” it turned out to be a Sinn Féin rally. To say that these things are quite different from one another, and that many people who went didn’t seem to understand that there is a difference, is an example of how difficult this situation is for many Irish-Americans, I think, is an understatement, but it is an understandable error, since coverage of Irish and Irish-American history is seriously lacking, even at the collegiate level, throughout the U.S.

MR: One of my Irish friends, in a conversation about Ireland’s history of resistance, commented to me that there was only ever one invasion, the Norman invasion from Britain, and that all the subsequent conflicts up through to the struggle for independence in the 20th century had been the continuation of that conflict. Looked at from this perspective, you can look at the Easter Rising and the Irish Revolution as the fruit of centuries of resistance. I also observe that the foundational tales and sagas that we as Celtic polytheists look to for our mythology (the Book of Invasions, the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, etc.) carry this strong theme of invasion and conflict for sovereignty, and that many of these foundational stories were committed into written literature from the oral tradition during the time period of the Norman conquest, when the people of Ireland were themselves living through a period of invasion, resistance, and conflicts for sovereignty. So this theme seems deeply ingrained in Irish spirituality as we know it today. I’m not sure you can separate Irish culture and spirituality from the historical experience of resistance.

I’m a practitioner of Celtic polytheism drawing deeply on Irish culture and history in my practice, but I’m also very aware that I’m not Irish-born, and have not lived their experience nor been part of that landscape. I’m a product of a different history. I think as members of a devotional diaspora we have to tread very carefully around this. It’s natural for people like me to have feelings and sympathies that align us with one side or another in political conflicts like the struggle for Irish nationalism, but I think we need to practice a lot of discernment about how we act from those sympathies, and to ensure that we’re not projecting our own ideas as outsiders into their struggles. I feel a lot of sympathy for the notion of Irish liberation from British rule, but I also know it’s a very complex situation that I can know only the barest outlines of. So when it comes to ongoing political issues in Ireland, I regard it as my role to support my Irish friends in their understanding of their own sovereignty.

[Courtesy Photo Brennos Agricunos]

Cu Chulainn statue with crow on shoulder, General Post Office, Dublin [courtesy photo Brennos Agrocunos]

HC: The Dublin General Post Office famously (at least in my mind) contains Oliver Sheppard’s statue of Cú Chulainn, with the crow on his shoulder. Padraig Pearce was a devout Catholic who urged the Irish people to call upon “the dear God who loves the people/For whom he died naked, suffering shame,” but he also declared the story of Cú Chulainn “to be the finest epic stuff in the world,” arguing that Cú Chulainn possessed “a love and a service so excessive that one must give all, must be willing always to make the ultimate sacrifice.” James Connolly was a socialist who wrote that socialism “leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is neither Freethinker nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor Idolator, Mahommedan nor Parsee – it is only human.”

The occultist and poet William Butler Yeats, who did not participate in the rising, wrote in his poem “Easter 1916” that after the rising, “All changed, changed utterly:/A terrible beauty is born.” Yeats admitted that he had had personal conflicts with one of the leaders of the rising, but acknowledged that by his deeds, “He, too, has been changed in his turn.” And echoing Pearce’s words about Cú Chulainn, Yeats asked of the rebels, “And what if excess of love/Bewildered them till they died?” To my mind, all of these quotes speak to a certain transcendent quality of the Rising that is difficult to pin down to any single religion or ideology. Does the heroism of the rising inform your own spirituality? Do you see a relationship between your gods and powers and the rising?

PSVL: The planners of the Easter Rising did their actions on that date very intentionally, and with superlative symbolic purposes in mind, by foregrounding the implied hope and renewal of Christian resurrection and the necessity of redemptive death in that process. However, symbolism of death and resurrection, even for redemptive and what can be called a “salvational” (but in a non-exclusively Christian valence) purpose is not unknown to polytheist religions throughout the world. I think it is probably more accurate to discuss any and all manifestations of Christian symbolism, thought, and practice from Ireland, from the fifth century up to the present, not so much as “primarily Christian” but as more “primarily Irish, secondarily/incidentally Christian,” since Irish Christianity always had (and still has!) things about it which are very different in comparison to the expected orthodoxies of Roman Catholicism.

I suspect that the great Irish heroes and deities were not “behind the R\rising” in a motivational sense, so much as very happy to support and participate in it with their descendants. Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill, in addition to being idolized by Pearse and others, now both have some degree of public cultus in Ireland that they might not have had otherwise, and that has a knock-on effect for other divine beings in the Irish cultural sphere as well. Everlasting fame is an essential part of the Irish heroic ethos, and not only those who participated in the Easter Rising on the human level, but some of those on the divine levels as well, have reaped the benefits of this ever since.

MR: I didn’t connect my own spirituality to the Easter Rising much at all before visiting Ireland last year. I understood that for its participants, the rising carried these very Irish mythic themes of heroic valor, struggle for sovereignty, and sacrifice for one’s people. But until I spent time in Ireland, the rising itself didn’t figure directly into my personal practice and relationships with my gods. While there, I began having very distinct experiences with the gods, ancestors and Irish warrior dead that really centered that sense of the heroic, transcendent meaning of the rising, much more so than I expected. In Dublin, I was profoundly affected being at the battle sites, where the bullet holes can still be seen in the buildings and statues of O’Connell Street and other places. I very much felt the gods of Ireland, and the heroes of the rising, in strong and vocal presence there. I also experienced very vocal presences at the site where earlier resistance fighters had been executed, in what’s now St. Stephen’s Green. What became apparent to me in these places is that for the gods and the spirits of Ireland, this isn’t just history. It isn’t over. There is a sense of that same spirit of transcendent heroism waiting for its next moment to flower.

Bullet hole from 1916 on O'Connell Monument [Courtesy Photo Brennos Agrocunos]

Bullet hole from 1916 on the O’Connell Monument [courtesy photo Brennos Agrocunos]

I think that for practitioners in the spiritual diaspora, like myself, the relationship to Ireland’s lived history tends to be abstract ;we tend to focus on the ancient, not the recent. But when you go and spend time there, grounding your practice and devotional connections in that landscape, that abstraction dissolves. When you’re wandering around Dublin, and you encounter spirits of dead fighters of the rising who are speaking to you and saying, “You – there’s whiskey in your bag. Have a drink with me here and now,” – when you’ve shared whiskey with those spirits, you’ve entered into a relationship. I think that will be a lasting relationship for me and I’m still unpacking what that will mean.

HC: Cú Chulainn imagery has also been used by Unionists as a symbol of “Ulster’s defenders.” Obviously, this particular conflict is occurring more on the level of political propaganda than of Polytheist theology, but both sides of a given struggle claiming relationship with the same power happens to be a particular interest of mine. Do you see any theological implications in this conflict?

PSVL: I suspect that from the viewpoint of Irish heroes like Cú Chulainn, “fame is fame,” whether it is from one’s allies and devoted descendants or one’s adversaries, and in terms of his own associations and how these line up or don’t line up with modern political movements and governmental edifices, no one has a monopoly on these or a clear alignment one way or the other. “Unionist” and “Republican” have no meaning when applied to Cú Chulainn, even if “culturally Irish without foreign domination” (which would imply Republicans) and “the Ulaid” (which could imply Unionists) might apply to him. While there are traditional symbolic associations of the province of the Ulaid with “battle” in medieval Irish texts, some of which are held in high regard by modern practitioners of Irish forms of polytheism, I don’t think it is necessarily responsible nor required to view these symbolic associations as in some sense prophetic, divinely ordained, or in any way significant; especially if the people making such associations are not living in Ireland, and particularly in the areas of Ulster which have been most deeply impacted by these recent realities of violence and oppression.

HC: Fredy Perlman has brilliantly critiqued “The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism” for its premise that “every oppressed population can become a nation, a photographic negative of the oppressor nation.” He observes that “nationalism continues to appeal to the depleted because other prospects appear bleaker. The culture of the ancestors was destroyed; therefore, by pragmatic standard, it failed; the only ancestors who survived were those who accommodated themselves to the invader’s system.” Perlman was a vociferous critic of the “pragmatic standard” that he identified. As members of religions and spiritualities who do see value in “the culture[s] of the ancestors,” do you have any thoughts on this quote?

PSVL: I think Perlman’s observations are poignant; and yet, the notion of “failure” is somewhat problematic when applied to a lot of these situations, especially in mythic contexts. Heroic individuals do not get to live happily ever after; no true hero of Irish myth has their life end on a deathbed of an illness surrounded by adoring friends and family. An early death is often the lot of the hero, as the case was with Cú Chulainn. From a certain modern perspective, including those that can exist amongst modern polytheists who draw on Irish cultural elements for their inspiration, there is a deep misunderstanding of this reality, and thus a great lack of comprehension about what constitutes failure and thus what constitutes success as well. This is why so many people think that Cú Chulainn was “punished” by his death for transgressions against The Morrígan, which is as far from the reality as it is possible to get in many respects. Cú Chulainn knew what was in store for him the moment he committed himself to the warrior’s path at age seven, and his own heroic death was not a failure or a lapse in any way, it was a triumph toward which he looked forward. While this might even seem more bleak than what Perlman discusses, I think it’s important to realize this when looking at Irish — and, for that matter, any and all — premodern cultures. The appeal of some of these premodern cultures’ imagery and standards and legacy for oppressed peoples seeking nationhood is not something that can be critiqued, I don’t think, but it is also something that requires a nuanced understanding of which not many people might be capable, especially if they are not directly involved in the situations concerned and have no investments in those identities.

MR: I think there are some very problematic assumptions in this statement, both generally and with regard to the Irish nation and culture. First, I think a lot of Irish people might disagree with the notion that the culture of their ancestors was “destroyed.” This begs the question, “which ancestors?” The modern Irish population contains interwoven ancestries from the early indigenous pre-Celtic population, the Celtic or Gaelic Irish, the Vikings, the Normans, the Scots, and more. Which ancestors would we be thinking of? If the focus here is the Celtic Irish, which is what people tend to think of in terms of Ireland’s pagan past, I still don’t think it’s clear that that culture was totally destroyed. Very strong elements of ancestral belief and practice persisted in Ireland right through the Christian period and continue today, just as we often find that folk belief and practice preserve deeply pagan elements within monotheistic cultures everywhere. Ancestral folk practices like this often persist even through conquest because they provide meaningful benefit to the people, and because they tend to be far less visible than public religious ceremony. Far from being evidence of failure, it is precisely this deep resiliency and ability to persist that makes ancestral culture a source of strength and support for populations who are in a position of struggle against colonialism, erasure, and subjugation by a dominant power. The notion that “your culture, gods and traditions must be weak, or we would not have been able to conquer you” is imperialist thinking; traditional cultures would tend to measure the value of ancestral culture differently.

HC: Dominic Behan’s song “Come Out, Ye Black and Tans” links the Irish struggle against the British army and its auxiliaries to other colonial wars waged by the British:

Come tell us how you slew
Them old Arabs two by two
Like the Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows,
How you bravely faced each one
With your sixteen pounder gun
And you frightened them poor natives to the marrow.

Do you see connections between the Irish struggle and other struggles against colonization? If so, does this have an impact on your religion or spirituality?

James Connolly. Public Domain.

James Connolly. [Public domain.]

PSVL: Yes, and this is historically true today, too. There is great sympathy for the Palestinians in Ireland (though whether that is due to actual sympathy or to incipient anti-Semitism is another question entirely!), and there was also an alliance and empathy between the Irish in America and various Native American peoples and the African-American population. Peoples of indigenous mindsets and cultures always have more in common with one another, despite other cultural and linguistic differences, than with those who seek to oppress, colonize, and commit genocide against them. As a result, it is important to me in a religious setting to make those connections whenever possible, to seek to understand other indigenous peoples and their struggles, and to support them in whatever ways I might be able to, if such support is desired.

MR: I do see parallels between struggles against colonization and imperialism throughout the world. The notion of the sovereignty of a people -– the relationship between a people, its native landscape, its governance, and its autonomy relative to other peoples –- is deeply embedded in Irish myth and history, and this theme is articulated again and again in Irish literature from early mythology to works of modern literature. But these are themes that play out everywhere in our world. On the American continent, we have seen a resurgence of the language of sovereignty in the current struggles of indigenous/First Nations people against their continued erasure and subjugation by the United States and Canadian powers. The Idle No More movement speaks of sovereignty in strikingly similar terms to how I have seen it framed by Irish people in their experience of resistance. I think it’s interesting that in both of these cases, these struggles are seen by a lot of mainstream people as artifacts of history, as conflicts that came to a head and ended in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but when you talk to Native people here and Irish people, it’s clear that these struggles are not closed by any means.

For me, as a dedicant of the Morrígan and a practitioner of Celtic polytheism, this does impact my spiritual and religious life. Sovereignty as a spiritual principle and power is hugely important in my religious worldview, arising from Celtic traditions. In my understanding of the Morrígan’s role, She acts as a guardian or protector of sovereignty, and in support of the warrior function whose role is also to safeguard their society’s sovereignty. I can’t compartmentalize sovereignty as if it only existed in relation to individual personal sovereignty, and I can’t restrict it to the abstract. To fully engage with this crucially important aspect of my spiritual life, I have to also recognize it and engage with it in the world around me – in the political life of my own society, and that of others in the world.

HC: At his funeral oration for O’Donovan Rossa, Pearse said, “They [i.e. the English government] think that they have pacified half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have provided against everything: but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” This reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s observation that “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious,” which I always pair with his thesis that the spiritual dimension of class struggle “will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been won by the rulers into question.” Any thoughts on the relationship between the dead and the longevity and continuity of social conflicts?

PSVL: Interestingly, Chief Seattle’s 1854 Oration seems to have some similarities with these statements as well, and many Irish people ended up in the state of Washington in the late 1800s! I would not want to state anything categorically either way on this question, since I do not speak for the dead in this case; but, I don’t think the two can be separated — easily or otherwise — either. Ireland’s past, though — in terms of its ancestors, its deities, and its land spirits — is not quiet and never will be. I think it is no coincidence that the economic crash of 2008 impacted Ireland quite severely, and it fared worse than many other nations in Europe under those circumstances, and not long before that, the Irish government built a motorway through the Tara-Skryne Valley (the very seat of the sovereignty of Ireland) and destroyed many archaeological monuments of significance in the process. If the people of Ireland and their governments, as well as Irish-Americans and other Irish abroad in the diaspora, don’t wake up to the relevance and persistence of their heritage, I foresee things like this continuing well into the future. The dead may not have the final say on many things for the living, but to ignore that they have any say at all in our lives is a grave error, I think.

In 2012, Wild Hunt founder Jason Pitzl-Waters published an article called, “Saint Patrick, Druids, Snakes, and Popular Myths.”* To this day, it remains one of our most popular posts. Every year as March approaches, and even as March leaves, the article is read and re-read and read again. So today, we revisit that popular article with updated links, information and quotes.

[Courtesy Pixabay]

[Courtesy Pixabay]

“Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a yearly holiday celebrating Ireland’s favorite patron saint. While it’s a big event in Ireland (and used to be a very solemn occasion), in America it’s a green-dyed bacchanal where everyone is ‘Irish for a day’ (let’s not even start on the horridly stupid ‘unofficial’ St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on college campuses). For some modern Pagans (whether Irish or not), St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a day of celebrations, as they see Patrick, famously attributed with converting Ireland to Christianity, as committing something akin to cultural genocide,” Pitzl-Waters began.

This idea is based on a theory that the “snakes,” which St. Patrick (387-461 CE) allegedly drove out of Ireland in the 5th Century C.E., are actually a symbol for the Druids and their religion. This is not a far-fetched idea considering that the serpent is a common symbol for the Christian devil. Additionally, according to scientists, there weren’t any real snakes in Ireland at that time. In fact, there haven’t been snakes in Ireland for over than 8,500 years. The Ice Age performed the reptilian eviction, or the slaughter as it were, not St. Patrick.

Therefore, the offending serpents had to be something other than actual snakes. And, many modern Pagans have taken this snake as Druid metaphor to heart. For example, as Pitzl-Waters noted, “author Isaac Bonewits called the day All Snakes Day and penned songs calling for the return of the “snakes.”

[Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan / Public domain]

[Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan / Public domain]

But that theory has also been up for debate and, at this point, completely debunked. In 2012, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan and scholar with extensive knowledge of Irish myth and folklore, said:

Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and the hagiographies of St. Patrick did not include this particular “miracle” until quite late, relatively speaking (his earliest hagiographies are from the 7th century, whereas this incident doesn’t turn up in any of them until the 11th century). St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE, because Irish colonists (yes, you read that right!) in southern Wales, Cornwall, and elsewhere in Roman and sub-Roman Britain had already come into contact with Christians and carried the religion back with them when visiting home.

That idea was corroborated, in part, by a 2014 television special featured on the Smithsonian Channel. In Sacred Sites: Ireland, documentary filmmakers interview several scientists and Celtic scholars who all agree with Lupus. St. Patrick neither drove out snakes or “snakes;” nor did he singlehandedly convert Ireland’s pagans to Christianity.

According to these experts, it was actually Halley’s Comet that evicted the metaphoric “snakes.”

In his book Blood & Mistletoe: The History of The Druids in Britain, historian Ronald Hutton notes that many of the details surrounding St. Patrick’s life and his work were changed and even fabricated hundreds of years after his death. As quoted by Pitzl-Waters, Hutton wrote, “The importance of Druids in countering [Patrick’s] missionary work was inflated in later centuries under the influence of biblical parallels, and that Patrick’s visit to Tara was given a pivotal importance that it never possessed – if it ever occurred at all – to suit later political preoccupations. […] The only appearances of Druids in documents attributed to Patrick himself occur in some that are generally thought to have been composed after his death.”

Pitzl-Waters also quoted Celtic Reconstructionist Morgan Daimler, who agreed, saying:

…The rest of Patrick’s hagiography has him dueling Druids right and left, killing those who oppose him with callous righteousness, so why would the story suddenly get cryptic about him driving the Druids out? Every other page was proclaiming it proudly! No, this particular tidbit – which is suspiciously exactly the same as a story from the life of a French saint – was always meant to be literal. The earliest reference I have found to anyone thinking the snakes meant Druids (and thanks to the friend who helped me find it) is in the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries from 1911 where someone states that he believes based on a story that because a certain place was where the Druids last stronghold was and also the place Saint Patrick drove the snakes that the snakes must represent the Druids, but it’s just faulty logic (Evans Wentz, 1911). The snakes in the story were just meant to be snakes, just as the toads were toads and Saint George’s dragon was a dragon.

In an article titled “The True Story of St. Patrick,” Ireland’s Druid School speculates that the snake story, as well as the connection to the shamrock, were fabricated simply to help convert the masses. The article reads, “It was as if the Pagan traditions were still so strong with the Lughnasa pilgrimage to the Reek in August that something had to be done to displace the old ways and such a fantastic story as dragon/snake banishing fitted the bill. It had to be long after St Patrick’s death or else everyone would know it was just made up fantasy.”

Historians appear to agree that paganism, in some form, did “thrive” for generations after St. Patrick died. Pitzl-Waters concluded, “There was no Irish pagan genocide, no proof of any great violent Druid purge in Ireland, it simply doesn’t exist outside hagiography.” He speculated that the snake story and other such details were added to Patrick’s story simply in order to “establish a heroic Irish saint” rather than to “eradicate traces of Paganism.”

However, despite the overwhelming scientific and historical evidence, the popular snake as Druid metaphor lives on. This is most readily seen in social media, where users perpetuate the idea that St. Patrick’s “snakes” were the country’s Druids. In 2012, Pitzl-Waters wrote “some [people] cling to [the theory] simply because it feels right, or because they like the idea of a holiday dedicated to pagan/Pagan resistance to conversion.”

But the evidence against that idea continues to build. St. Patrick’s serpents were not real snakes, nor could they have been metaphoric “snakes.” It does appear that the story was completely fabricated for one reason or another. And the “driving out” of both types of serpents, was triggered by completely natural, catastrophic events: climate change and a comet.

2011 County Down, Northern Ireland [Photo Credit: Ardfern / Wikimedia]

2011 County Down, Northern Ireland [Photo Credit: Ardfern / Wikimedia]

Regardless, the holiday itself has grown far beyond this particular story and the boundaries of its original religiosity. St. Patrick’s Day has become both a cultural pride day for the Irish people as well as a secular extravaganza, if only in the United States. For some the day is serious business and a day to connect with one’s ancestors and heritage, while for others, it’s simply a day to wear green, eat corned beef and get kissed (or pinched).

While it is may be easy enough to push aside the unnaturally green brew and leprechaun t-shirts, it is hard to deny the role that this holiday has played in Ireland’s history. As Pitzl-Waters noted, “To erase St. Patrick’s Day also erases a vital connection to Irish history and culture.”

But for many modern Pagans, the holiday’s connection to religion, regardless of how the “snakes” were actually evicted, still looms in the background. But Lupus offered one suggestion for those people wishing to celebrate Irish culture on this day without embracing St. Patrick’s story. E wrote, “replace St. Patrick’s day with a day to honor Cú Chulainn.”

… given that Patricius may have usurped a local festival of Macha in the area around Armagh, perhaps what could instead be celebrated is the date that Cú Chulainn first took up arms, upon which he did so in order to fulfill a partial prophecy he heard that whomever took up arms for the first time on that day would be famed forever after; he only learned later that the rest of the prophecy revealed that the famous hero would only live a very short life, to which he responded that it would be better to live but one day and one night in the world if everlasting fame were to be attached to him. This active taking up of the heroic life and all of its responsibilities, including death (most likely on behalf of one’s people, as a warrior), was the date on which he became the protector of the people of Ulster and thus of Emain Macha and his uncle Conchobor mac Nessa’s kingship. What more appropriate occasion, therefore, to celebrate the hero-cultus of Cú Chulainn than on the day that he decided to take up the heroic life?

There are alternatives as Lupus suggests. However, it is difficult to shift associations that are so deeply embedded in the modern cultural and commercial experience. However change can happen over time. And, it has. As seen above, the story of St. Patrick itself has shifted since it was first written. The day has gone from a solemn, Catholic-based story of heroic sainthood to a secular festival celebrating Irish heritage in all its glory, and many things in between.

 *   *   *

[Editor’s Note: The original article was published in 2010, with edited versions published in 2011 and 2012. The above article pulls quotes from the 2012 version.]

In a recent blog post, T. Thorn Coyle asked, “What kind of world do you want to live in? What values do you strive to uphold?” This New Year’s Day, we highlight a few of the many Pagan Voices out there, who have shared what they see as they look toward the future, and what they hope to do in the coming year.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

“After the sharing of the story, the Yule-feast begins. Like Freyr, we all wait through the long, dark nights for the coming of the sun. The communion of companionship in celebration of our lives together makes the wait a joyous one, and the Norse myths – like the myths of any faith – give us a shared tradition that shapes the cycle of the year. That is a wonderful gift from the past that continues into the future.” – Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, From Norse Mythology’s Endless Appeal

“When I began honoring the cycles of the moon and the Wheel of the Year, I was free to realize that opportunities for ‘resolutions’ were all the time. They weren’t limited to one day of the year. They were constantly evolving and changing, always in motion just as I was and the world around me. As a practicing Witch I became aware of the boundless opportunities for me to make firm decisions and act upon them to create change. My mental and spiritual commitment to bring change into my life did not cause me to judge myself or get angry at my failures. Instead of self-induced emotional trauma, my mistakes became learning experiences, and opportunities for spiritual growth […] I began to see resolutions for what they were; simply intentions that had yet to be acted upon. I no longer referred to the opportunities for change as “resolutions” (mostly because of the negativity I had attached to the word) but as Statements of Intent.” – The Zen Witch, From Statements of Intent in Lieu of Resolutions

“It’s an odd time of year, the period between the solstice and the end of the calendar year. In some Pagan traditions, and for some Pagan individuals, the year begins at the solstice but to the world at large there are a further nine or ten days remaining of the old year before the beginning again is celebrated. To me these few days feel old and weary at the same time as feeling youthful and energetic. As I said, it’s an odd time of year. […] And so the new year creeps towards me, and weary as I am I can only feel optimistic. This year has been the year of light forcing its way through the tiny cracks – next year, I think, I will truly embrace it. That’s the plan,” – Lily, From New Year

“When I look back on 2015, I’ll look back on it as not a year of failures (though it was), not as a year of great changes (though it was certainly that, too), or “the year it all went south for me” (though it most certainly did in several ways), it will be the year that everything turned around and that real hope for our future emerged out of what could have been a disaster had any other group of people been gathered under our banner, and had any other God and all of His Divine Friends not been guiding us at every step of the way. For me, there is a scaling back, a culling, a stripping away, and an active retreat from certain things in the wider world; for everyone else in the group, and for Antinous Himself, I dare say there is an opening up, a stretching outward, and what I expect will be a new flowering of activity in the years to come.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, From The Year in Antinous 2015

“With such a diverse community, there is inevitably disagreement over what justice looks like, the ideal political landscape, and how our individual identities fit into the picture of larger society. So while we planted many flags of identity this year, we also engaged in profound internal dialogue about how we interact as Pagans within the larger world. We challenged each other spiritually and politically. There was friction, but friction leads to fire, and fire burns away the deadwood, giving us a new vitality. Friction, as the sign of free thinking and free expression, is healthy. ” – Tim Titus, From The Top 10 Pagan Quotes of 2015

We Refuse to Become Like Our Enemies. And we will refuse. We will not become like them. We will hold to our values that sing of the worth and value of all of humankind. We will dance for our Goddesses and Gods and we will create religions and relationships of love and compassion, of joy and freedom. We will choose not to hate or to acquiesce. We will choose to oppose. […] We will grow stronger day by day as the shock of the malice that is being perpetuated shakes us out of complacency and makes us realize that we cannot take for granted all those freedoms and choices that enable us to live as Pagans in an often hostile world.” – Vivianne Crowley, From Staying Strong

“The beginning of the New Year is a perfect time to make choices. It is a time to look at the previous year and recognize what did not serve our best interests in life. It is a chance to be better than we were. In 2016 may we choose caring over harming, kindness over cruelty, tolerance over judgment, love over hate, and compassion over indifference. May we will the best for others without imposing our own upon them. May we be united by what makes us the same instead of being alienated by what makes us different.” – Raven Grimassi, on Facebook

Happy New Year from The Wild Hunt! 

Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee (HHAWK), an organization comprised of First Nation leaders, has put out a call for religious groups and individuals to join them in a Global Ceremony to end massacre. And, Pagans are answering that call. The event is being held on the 125th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee on Dec. 29.

Healing Hearts Wounded Knee
Organizers explain that they are using the power of religious ceremony to break the cycle of hatred and conflict, and to heal multi-generational wounds. On their website they write,

Indigenous peoples around the world are bringing back ceremony, bringing back healing practices, bringing back the sacred into our lives. It is with the sacred that we can end massacre. It is with the sacred that we can heal. It is with the sacred that we can make this Great Turning to save our relations with one another, with our sacred planetary home, and with the Divine.

HHAWK is inviting both indigenous and non-indigenous persons to join in from wherever they are located around the globe.

Matt Whealton, a member of the Temple of Ra in San Francisco, was asked to record an Egyptian morning hymn for the the Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee Global Ceremony website. He first heard of the project at the Parliament of World Religions this past October in Salt Lake City. While there he met and had lunch with, Jean Fleury, the Tribal Peace Ambassador of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and also one of the organizers of HHAWK.

Whealton said, “As is often the case at the Parliament, people ask about one’s religious practice, especially if it is out of the mainstream. Over lunch with Jean, I described a bit about Kemetic Reconstruction, and my particular passion of working with the sounds of the ancient language in ritual contexts. I described the Morning Hymn from Egypt, how it might have been sung, etc, and she said ‘Well now, you have to sing it for me’. So I did, and then and there she asked if I could record it for the HHAWK website.”

Whealton said that after he finished singing, Fleury asked him a question that had a profound impact on him. She asked him if he knew that he was singing for the Ancestors out of Egypt. Whealton said, “To me that question meant something powerful. It meant and means that our own rituals and ceremonies as Kemetics, and Reconstructions in general, entail a kind of obligation to the ancient people who can no longer speak directly for themselves or through their own descendants. It meant that I have an obligation to speak justly for those Ancestors, and speak justly for their descendants too, even if they no longer recognize the ancient Gods and Goddesses. It meant that an indigenous person recognizes that song as meaningful in the context of reciprocal relations and obligations of family, land, tradition, and sacredness of Indigenous Culture even though the line of the tradition was broken for 1500 years and even though I was not born to direct descendants of those Ancestors.”

In addition to recording the Egyptian morning hymn, Whealton is hosting a small ritual at his home in San Francisco on Dec 29 to correspond with the Wounded Knee Ceremony. In addition, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of a Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, is organizing a ceremony in Washington State.

From Opening Ceremonies of the Parliament of the World's Religions 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

From Opening Ceremonies of the Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Whealton said that he was drawn to participating in the ceremony to help support the, “growing Indigenous movements that use ceremony and education to work towards a healthier environment, equality for minorities, and ending wars and their causes.” He says he spent time during the Parliament of the Worlds Religions at various ceremonies conducted at the Native American Sacred Fire just outside the convention center. This fire was maintained 24 hours a day throughout the conference, with Fire-keepers and ritualists from Ute, Shoshone, Maya, Maori, Mohawk, NaDene, Sioux, Leni Lenape, and Ojibwe tribes.

HHWAK says you don’t need to be part of a group to join in the Global Ceremony. Individuals can spend a time of quiet contemplation at noon on Dec. 29, or they can go to the website, or Facebook group and join in a ceremony at a location near them.

[Crystal Blanton is one of our talented monthly columnists. She writes the Culture and Community column, focusing on a number of very vital community topics, like the one below. If you like reading her work, please consider donating to our fall funding campaign and sharing our IndieGoGo link. There are only 9 days left! It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it possible for Crystal to be part of our writing team. Donate today! Thank you so very much.]

The Parliament of World’s Religion was held on American soil for the first time in 22 years. Held in Salt Lake City, Utah, thousands descended on the mountain filled desert in search of interfaith dialogue, multi-faith exploration and the opportunity to teach others about their religion.

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

One of the major themes this year was violence, hate speech and other issues that specifically impact women; all of which are important and need to be addressed around the world. It is also customary for the Parliament to host forums addressing some of the current issues that plague the local land of that year’s host country. To the surprise of many guests, the issues of the brutality and militarization of police, systemic racism and the killing of Black and brown peoples at disproportionate rates were not given focus as one of the prominent issues within the United States today. As one of the leading causes of violence and hate perpetuated in this country, it appeared to be treated as a minor issue or not an issue at all in the landscape of this year’s Parliament.

Of the many workshops held over the 5 days, only two workshops clearly focused on the plight of Black people in this country. One of those workshops was a “Moral Monday” sermon, and another that was a panel held on Sunday night at 5:15 pm. 

This panel had three Christian ministers who have been involved in the movement for Black lives and racial justice. The three included: Rev. Michael McBride, Rev. Jim Wallis and Rev. Francis Davis. They referenced the horrible statistics of Black people killed by some form of law enforcement, and the rise in Black liberation protests that have awoken young Black people to the fight for justice.

The audience appeared to have about 200 to 250 people present with over 20 Pagans and Polytheists in the crowd. Several Pagans in the audience submitted questions to the panel to address the murders of Black Trans women in 2015, and to highlight the other marginalized faiths that are also involved in the justice movement for Black people. There was a short video shown of recent incidents and protests that left many audience members visibly emotional. This can be viewed below in the linked recording of the event, occurring about 23 minutes into the video.

I reached out to several Pagans and Polytheists, who were present in the audience, to gather their reflections on the panel and to seek clarity on what might have brought so many of them to this one single event on the program. I asked three questions:

Do you feel having a BLM discussion at the Parliament was important and why? What were you hoping to get out of the panel? Why do you feel it is important to have space for this topic to be explored in faith communities?

Lee Gilmore

“The Black Lives Matter panel was one of the most important conversations at the Parliament. On a basic level, it is critical to keep pushing these truths because without doing so black lives will only continue to be disregarded, targeted, and vulnerable. And the more these concerns get out to diverse religious communities, and the more that we put justice at the center of our conversations…  

“On a fundamental level, I attended simply to show up and put my white body in that room, and to continue to listen to voices that help me “stay woke.” I was also grateful to Pagan leaders like Thorn Coyle and Elena Rose for pushing the speakers to give voice to trans lives and non-Christian activists, as well as to the organizers somewhere back along the line who clearly laid the groundwork with the ministers on stage that lead them to publicly and clearly acknowledge that queer & trans lives matter.

“One of the key themes I heard being raised by indigenous leaders at the Parliament was the importance of listening to our ancestors, as well as the importance of thinking about how our actions affect the future. As a Pagan, these are concerns that I share, and for me this means making reparation for the violence committed against black and brown bodies by some of my ancestors by working for a more just and equitable future for all of our descendants. That means supporting Black Lives Matter.”

T. Thorn Coyle

“I have so much to say on the topic of Black Lives Matter at the Parliament. I’m very glad the panel happened, because this discussion is important to all communities, and now is the time that the energy of this movement is poised toward making change. That said, we needed much more than what was offered. We needed multiple panels, teach-ins, sit-downs, and presentations. We needed systemic, personal, and community racism denounced at every plenary because it weaves through all topics: climate change, women’s lives, indigenous rights, and spiritual service.

“That didn’t happen. The “Pagans in the #BlackLivesMatter” movement panel I put forth was rejected. I therefore figured that there would be more programming on the topic than there was. The panel that ended up happening – with three Christian men on the stage – felt almost like an afterthought. Good things were said there, though two Pagans – myself and Elena Rose – had to challenge the speakers. We weren’t the only ones. I’m not disrespecting the three men who showed up to lead this panel. They are committed activists and do great work. What I am critical of is the entire lens through which the topic is viewed by those holding relative power: Clergy means Christian; Two Black and one white cis men is diverse enough; Scheduling the one thing specifically dealing with Black Lives Matter on the final full day of the conference, overlapping the gala music and dance performance, was acceptable …. I’m not OK with any of those things.

“I’m glad that #BlackLivesMatter was present at the Parliament. But I wish that I hadn’t felt the need to stand up and shout those words at the closing plenary, because they had been left out. And I wish that my words hadn’t been swallowed up by the vastness of the hall.”

All we had was our bodies and

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Given the ostensible world stage of the Parliament, it was important to have the event as an option. I am disappointed that there were as many empty seats there as there were, and that from what I could tell, most of the attendees were Americans from mainstream religious traditions, but I’m also glad that there was a definite Pagan and polytheist faction there as well, and that not only did the efforts of some of our people in terms of activism get recognized (even if it was because of well-timed and well-asked questions from those very people), but also that the contributions of trans* People of Color in #BlackLivesMatter got named in front of everyone, and that Rev. McBride specifically stated that he and other Christian leaders have had to “sit at the feet” of these trans* activists to learn from them about the struggles of queer people of all stripes.

“I was hoping for two things. First, just to hear more about this movement, the stories and voices that have been made prominent by it, and to learn more about it. To my knowledge, there is no visible presence of the movement in my locality, and I’d have to go to Seattle to participate in it, which I can’t do without major difficulties at present. I feel this was certainly something that I came away with as a result of attending the panel. Second, I was hoping to get some further ideas on how I might be able to support the movement from a distance. I think I also gained that as a result of the panel.

“I also think, as a polytheist, that our traditions have a great deal to teach and share in terms of how our basic theological ethics–dealing with individual Deities on a reciprocal relational basis–also extends to how one can best deal with the diverse humans with whom one comes into contact, and the basic ideals of hospitality, respect, and celebration of diversity and inclusiveness which polytheism requires are good things for all people of all religions to value and hold both dear and to the utmost in their dealings with others.  While those of us who are polytheists or Pagans of various types do not suffer now as much as People of Color and indigenous peoples still do as a result of these things, especially if we are white, nonetheless the continued marginalization of, ignorance about, and disrespect towards our religions that is alive and well–even at the Parliament–is based in these same notions, which have not been properly acknowledged by the leaders of major hegemonic monotheistic religions of the world, nor by the political leaders of diverse world governments, including that of the United States, as being the basis for this continued license to dehumanize and commit violence and other atrocities toward People of Color.

Black Lives Matter panel

Black Lives Matter panel [Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

Dr. Gwendolyn Reece

“I think it was absolutely important and was disappointed that it was not in a more prominent time slot. The reason that I think it is so important is that this is an international gathering and although racism is a larger and more universal topic, this session addressed the more focused topic of state-sponsored violence against Black people who are a vulnerable minority in the United States and this issue needs international attention. Part of what we know from the work of groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and so forth is that in addition to citizens trying to hold their society and their governments accountable, there is an important and powerful role that can be played by international communities demanding accountability from a sovereign state. So, we need to combat racism in all of its guises, but in the very immediate we need to stop the state-sponsored violence and mass incarceration of Black people in the United States and we need increased international pressure to hold our governments (local, state, and federal) responsible.

“I honestly went in with open expectations and a willingness to be moved and changed rather than with specific expectations.  I can tell you that what I found most powerful in the panel were two different things. First, although I have been really striving to be informed about and engaged in BLM and have participated in demonstrations and have heard some of the leaders, in those contexts they are putting forth a platform, which is the appropriate strategic action and I support it. What I had not heard before, though, were the kinds of descriptive stories about the specifics of the backlash and the film that they showed was more graphic, upsetting, and powerful than I had seen in the media.   

“Although what was shown in the film was shocking, painful and upsetting to watch, I needed to see it. I needed to see it in its horror. You know, they rarely actually show the moment someone actually dies on the news. I think it was spiritually important to watch and bear witness.

“From my particular perspective as an Hellenic Pagan and a citizen of the United States (and as a priestess of Athena and Apollon, the duties of a citizen are sacred to me), I have a moral responsibility to act. Aristotle talks about the virtue of gentleness as being in right relationship with anger. If you have too much anger, then you are irascible. But in situations of injustice and atrocities, situations like the horrific violence perpetrated against our citizens of color by the people who are supposed to be the sacred guardians (the correct role of the police) if you are NOT angry, there is something morally wrong in your character. Sometimes to be gentle is to be filled with rage. In a society that mistakes placidity for gentleness, I think that we need spaces to explore, develop and harness holy anger.”

Elena Rose

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

“I expected black lives matter to be a fairly prominent topic at the Parliament, and was surprised to find that it was barely present. The Parliament of the World’s Religions potentially has the power to bring people together to work on mending the world. At the Parliament, we were encouraged to look at the pain, injustice, and tragedy in the world directly with an eye to taking action informed by our spirituality. Given this goal, I wonder at the virtual absence of BLM at the Parliament.

“I was there to hear stories of those on the front lines. I was there to hear voices that bolster the will to continue the work. I was hoping for more than was offered, and I worked to be grateful for the work of those on the panel despite their sometimes flawed representations.

“As soon as I got home and reconnected with the news stream, I discovered that Black churches were being burned again. Religious people aren’t the only ones that work to change the world, but they often have infrastructure that is needed for taking action. Faith communities are often a place to regenerate and to heal before re-entering the fray. Without a place of solace, activists can lose heart and clarity of thought. Dialogue leads to relationships that lead to solidarity. Faith communities need to join efforts to rebuild what hatred destroys.”

Elena Rose

“Black Lives Matter is the biggest theological debate happening on this continent right now, in the sense of an argument about meaning and the implications of meaning. Literally, we’re arguing over whether or not the lives and bodies and stories of Black people are worth the same as, matter as much as, are as precious as the lives and bodies and stories of other people. We’re having a national–and to some degree international–debate about what a Black body means and what that meaning demands of us as people in community. This isn’t a legal or scientific argument; it’s a matter of theology, of symbol and metaphor and value and most especially of who is worthy of love, worthy of protection, worthy of grace, worthy of justice. Where better to wrestle with the issue than in religious communities– especially considering how many religious communities have been at the frontline of the struggle?

“Black Lives Matter, as a movement, is a lot of things, but one of the things it is–even in the most secular sense you can dig up–is a question of morality, faith, theology. Do we, or do we not, listen to and have faith in Black people?  Do we, or do we not, have moral obligations to our Black neighbors? These questions are written in enormous letters all over our public discourse right now.  Any religious movement that wants to be relevant to our civic life has to at least address those questions, to acknowledge them and offer an answer.  If a religious movement is claiming to speak to the state of community, it has to answer to the call Black Lives Matter has put forth.  If a religious movement is claiming to say something about what matters about a human life, it has to answer the exposure here of massive, systematic dehumanization of millions of people. If a religious movement is in the business of caring for the people who come to it, of proclaiming compassion, it has to reckon with the terrible damage done to so many by white supremacy, unequal treatment under the law, murder with impunity, police misconduct. It’s not just vital, it’s simply not optional any more; pretending away this cultural moment, pretending away the call it represents, is the worst kind of abdication of responsibility.

“So, for all that, I was eager to see a discussion of Black Lives Matter at the Parliament of the World’s Religions–a whole international host of people who claim to be moral authorities, to be leaders of communities, to be seekers for the answers of what matters in the world, people you could expect to have fruitful conversations about big moral and theological questions. I wanted to see, if we put our Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu, Indigenous heads together–if we got the Jains and the Heathens and the Unitarian Universalists in a room and lit the spark–if we could come up with better answers, or at least an agreement to act together in the name of justice and restoration. The US faith communities needed to see that the eyes of our colleagues around the world were on us in this place of crisis; the international leaders needed to see us grappling. The Parliament was an opportunity for us to have the conversation with survivors of the fight against Apartheid and with people who had no idea any of this was happening, to get outside perspectives and inside perspectives working together, and my hope was that it would happen in front of the many thousands of people attending the summit. This year’s theme was about reclaiming the heart of our humanity–what better way to do it? “

jim Wallis

Matt Whealton

“Hearing the direct witness of the speakers was a key aspect here. As we know, media messages are a cacophony that in some (or many) cases actively attempt to distract people from understanding the events and issues around BLM. Pastor McBride was brilliant in his descriptions of what happened at Ferguson and his personal growth through working with the young leaders of BLM there. I wish more could have heard his words. His and the panel’s personal transformation in confronting the violence against black bodies is inspiring, and the Parliament could have provided an even louder amplifier for them.

“The Parliament’s sessions can educate those from other parts of the world who may not be exposed to the issue. The Parliament’s purpose is to spark discussion and cooperation on the important matters that affect us across our traditions. BLM is surely a topic important enough for major programming. More could have been provided here, I believe.

“I feel it was necessary to show up and be counted in support of BLM, even though it was clear that the issue was not a mainstream one for the Parliament (an aspect that I believe was a miss of a great opportunity on the Parliament’s part).

“Another was the chance to hear about the current state of the movement. This was covered well, both by the speakers on the local (Utah) and national levels and also by some of the commenters during the Q&A at the end – some great stuff there. It was heartening to hear the audience going beyond just listening to share useful information, which in itself demonstrates just how non-centralized the movement is.

“On a personal level, it is a sacred act for me to “do Maat and speak Maat” (that is, live and act according to the principals Maat embodies – Truth, Justice, Order, Compassion, etc). Every faith community has a version of these ideals to guide individuals in or very near its core beliefs and obligations. So it is only natural that we should be working both within and between our traditions to effect changes. Maybe not every person will be inspired for this particular issue, but by opening spaces for BLM, those people who are inspired can join and not only build bridges but provide a ‘wall of bricolage’ – a wall stronger and more resilient than one built of just one material.”

Rowan Fairgrove

“I think it is especially important to have Black Lives Matter at the Parliament. If people of good faith trying to make the world a better place aren’t mobilized around this issue, then I would despair. I was interested to hear the story of Rev. Francis Davis, pastor of an historically black Baptist church in Salt Lake City. He noted that the African American population is about 2% in Utah – if he wants to get allies he has to reach out to the interfaith community to have a voice. And he has been successful in getting interfaith allies.

“I was hoping for a bit more analysis and more suggestions for follow-ons. “Black Lives Matter. Black Lives have been discounted. Here is the work that must be done.” People at the Parliament are supposed to make an ongoing commitment to make a difference in the world, fighting for #BLM could have been offered as a focus. [And not to be snarky, but I was hoping for a younger, more diverse panel. And that it take place earlier in the Parliament instead of being shoved to Sunday night.]

“The majority of people in the world look to a faith or spiritual community in their life. The core of most such traditions holds that people should be treated with dignity and respect; that fairness and truth are prime values. When there is so much structural imbalance and white supremacy present in our country, people of faith need to speak out, do the work, and dismantle the historic injustices. We need to work to make our vision a reality — of a world where all people, but especially those oppressed by the current system, can have prosperous, dignified lives as a welcome part of the community.

“I would also have liked more programming on the topic! We could share best practices and create a network of groups working within their communities. In San Jose, for instance, we are having Beloved Community meetings between the Police Department and community members (facilitated by clergy) … I would have loved to had a chance to hear what other communities are doing!”

  *   *   *

Although the room was more than half empty on this Sunday night timeslot, the impact of this one panel brought some much needed dialog about the responsibility and intersections of our faith communities in the demand for justice.

I sat in that room, not as a journalist or columnist for The Wild Hunt, but as a Black, Pagan woman looking for more ways to understand the impact of spirituality in the equity movement. It felt rewarding and supportive to know that so many Pagans and Polytheists were also motivated to attend this isolated offering at the Parliament. There were parts of the video shown in the panel that were emotionally evoking. Hearing the passion in the voices of the speakers on the panel, and in the audience, was truly an indicator that we are pushing beyond disbelief and into action.

It was also heartening to see people building coalition together, asking the hard questions, and acknowledging the work that has yet to be done. Among the many concerns we have become more comfortable fighting against, issues of systemic racism seem to still challenge many in greater society and within the modern Pagan and Polytheist communities. Yet so many people came to listen and participate in this workshop despite challenging planning on the Parliament’s part; there is still so much to discuss and so much to do within this time and space.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus added a profound thought in eir interview that I would like to close with it here because it leaves us to think about the role of interfaith work in the justice movement, and why it is important to work together to challenge the status quo of our intersecting communities. E said,  “That #BlackLivesMatter even has to be said, and that religious leaders of mainstream religions even have to be reminded of this, demonstrates how very far from actualizing this recognition both religions and the general public are at during this moment in history. While making this more visible in a religious context is good and important, I am not certain that doing so will properly filter out into the general populace, either.”

Our communities have to continue to think on the importance of dialogue, and what is missing when Pagan, Polytheist, and voices of color are not included; And what is gained when we are at the table aiding in conversations that open up possibilities.

Below is the recorded livestream of the Black Lives Matter session at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

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Column: Many Gods West

Heathen Chinese —  August 22, 2015 — 19 Comments

Acknowledgement and thanks to the spirits of the land and the water, to the Nisqually and other Coast Salish-speaking peoples on whose sovereign land we were uninvited guests, to my ancestors, to my gods, and to the ancestors and deities and other allies of the humans at the conference. Thanks to my friend and traveling companion. Thanks to all those who showed me hospitality and friendship, and to the organizers of the conference: Niki Whiting, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Rhyd Wildermuth.

The Many Gods West (MGW) gathering was held at the Governor Hotel in Olympia, Washington from July 31st to August 2nd. Over the course of the weekend, 180 humans attended, along with innumerable gods and spirits and crows and other kinds of beings. The conference included twenty presentations, nine public rituals, a keynote address by Morpheus Ravenna, a musical and terpsichorean performance at a local venue, open hours at Skaði’s shrine in one of the hotel rooms, and a communal shrine accessible at most points throughout the day. As at any gathering, many private conversations were held as well, alliances were strengthened, previously separate threads of thought and experience were woven together.

many gods west
Many attendees and presenters have written about their experiences at MGW, or published the texts of their presentations.
These individual accounts are shards in a mosaic-in-progress, strands of wool on a spindle. There are patterns at play here, subterranean and subcutaneous, a fluid and shifting battle formation…if one is trained to notice such things.

The opening ritual was entitled “Many Lands, Many Ancestors, Many Gods, Many People/s.” Similarly to Reclaiming’s practice of mingling the Waters of the World, participants were invited to approach the communal shrine and pour water from a source near their home into a large basin. Soil from the many localities participants had traveled from were similarly mixed in another bowl. Each and every person has some sort of relationship with their local land and water, whether they recognize that relationship or not. This section of the opening ritual was intended to acknowledge and honor those relationships.

Any gathering is likely to be attended by a significant number of people who live in close geographical proximity to the gathering’s location: the logistics of travel dictate this. However, while individuals did travel from the Midwest and the East Coast and other regions to attend, this gathering’s very name reflected a deliberate intention to focus on the West Coast. The concept of “regional cultus” is being discussed in polytheist circles currently. “The West Coast” is a broad term, and certainly contains many smaller regions within it. The entire coast, however, is now united by the shared experience of heatwave and drought and wildfire. As those who live here know, however, from the ashes, new growth springs: a proliferation of new regionalisms, praying for transformation like the knobcone pine, resilient like the manzanita and the madrone.

A fallen madrone (also called madrona or arbutus) provided the wood for the figures which enshrined the ancestors of the conference attendees. Figures carved with faces enshrining Female, Male, Gender-variant, Warrior and Spirit-worker ancestors were passed around the room, allowing each participant who wished to the opportunity to honor their own ancestors in these various categories personally. Meanwhile, the room resounded and reverberated with the song, “Ignis corporis infirmat; ignis sed animae perstat” (“the Fire of the body diminishes; but the fire of the soul endures!”). The Ancestors Of And In The Land and the Dead Who Are Not Yet Ancestors were honored on the communal shrine as well, though their figures were not passed around the room.

Last, but certainly never least in a room full of polytheists, individuals were able to enshrine images of deities and other spirits they have relationships with on the communal shrine. The key word, as ever, is “relationship.” Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote address, entitled “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” reiterated this theme with the grace of poetry and the force of a smith’s hammer or a chieftain’s axe. Not just any archetypal “smith,” or any archetypal “chieftain,” however. Morpheus took care to introduce Goibniu and the Dagda—two gods she has devotional relationships with—to her audience, and to tell stories about their individual personalities and pasts, pointing out that “Living beings don’t just exist, they have stories. They have an origin, they come from somewhere in particular, and they experience an arc of change.”

And of course, they exert change upon the world as well. The mark of the Dagda’s axe can be seen in the cleft of every oak in Ireland. Morpheus argued that the gods leave similar marks on the landscapes of our psyches: “Even when we think the Gods are gone, Their marks on us remain. We ourselves are a map shaped and carved by Their memory.” But human beings have our own agency and sovereignty as well, and Morpheus eloquently wove this deeper understanding of reciprocity into her description of what “true relationship” might look like:

In being another of the peoples that have worshiped, fed and sung songs to Them, we become part of Their stories. This is what comes from engaging with the Gods on this level. This is true relationship. […] They become part of our story. We begin seeking to create a story together, a shared future.

One story, one shared future, found its roots deep in the blood-soaked battlefields of ancient Gaul and the beginning of a new chapter in a dimly lit room at Many Gods West. Three members of the Coru Cathubodua, Morpheus and Brennos and Rynn, conducted a ritual in honor of the Gaulish goddess for whom their priesthood is named. After Cathubodua, the Battle Crow, was worshiped through polyphonic song and offering, those individuals who were called received the Warrior’s Mark from her priestesses and priest. A call “aims at those who can hear it.” That is its power. There is another power in standing and bearing witness, as many of those present at the ritual chose to do. As Rhyd Wildermuth said, “meaning is never a solitary act.”

mgw communal shrine

MGW Community Shring [Photo Credit: Finnchuill]

Rhyd’s talk on “meaning” began with a rejection of the concept of absolute Truth, which, Midas-like, fatally corrupts all that it touches: “Looking for the material being-ness of a thing, rather than its tapestry of meaning, is to destroy it.” For example, a body undergoing vivisection—a cruel name, as it quickly turns into the dissection of a corpse: “What are you, really, when we get to your core existence? A dead and dis-membered pile of bloody muscle and gore.” Better to recognize that “There was [and is] no Truth, only potential meaning.”

Heimlich A. Laguz’s lecture, “Dreaming, Death, and Memory: Sketches for a Heathen Cosmology,” based upon his 2010 essay in Hex Magazine, touched upon the concept of “dis-memberment” during the same time slot that Finnchuill spoke about the history of “disenchantment” and the practice of reenchantment. Their presentations were held in adjacent rooms, in fact. Heimlich utilized a pun to highlight the subtle relationship between “dis-memberment” and memory, “When we re-member the essence of this dis-membered world we discover that death and life are one.”

Heimlich began by pointing out that the Germanic cosmological concept of the World Tree does not exist in some sort of independent stasis, but is watered by “the wells of Urd (Past), Mimir (Memory), and Hvergelmir (the ‘bubbling cauldron’ from which the rivers of the world arise and beside which the death-dragon Nidhogg dwells).” As a living system, the newly-created memories of the present necessarily flow “back down into the wells again to create new layers of history.”

Within this dynamic ecological cycle, death is a source of fertility, and it is memory that “has the power to carry the dead back into the world of the living.” Heimlich told the story of the shepherd Hallbjorn, who slept many nights upon the grave mound of the poet Thorleif, with the intention of writing a poem about Thorleif, though his skills in that area were few. Eventually, Thorleif appeared to Hallbjorn in a dream and taught him how to write poetry. Heimlich pointed out that “poetry is a force of unfettered life and excitation, and the idea that it could be sought through necromantic communication is potent and fascinating.” Furthermore, sleep is associated with death, and Hallbjorn learned poetry in a dream. With such connections as these (and many more), Heimlich deftly tied together the three major themes of his lecture.

Death and memory were also powerful forces behind Sean Donahue’s talk on “The Rattling at the Gates: The Dead as Allies in Resistance,” subsequently typed up and titled “Restoring Life to Death.” Sean spoke of two kinds of death: one beautiful and life-nourishing, and the other untimely and traumatic. He spoke of the salmon dying after they spawn: “Like sacred kings, their bodies and their blood nourish the land.” He spoke of the salmon dying this year before they spawn, slain by the drought and the heat. Those killed before their time are restless, denied the beauty of dignified death, prevented from moving on.

Sean quoted his Colombian friend Hector Mondragon: “Hector said “My murdered compañeros were killed twice . . .” once by bullets or machetes or bombs, and once by a world that refused to acknowledge their lives and their deaths.” He spoke of the importance of recognition and memory: “Witnessing and remembering are the beginning of restoring sacredness to the death around us to enable it to feed new life.” Morpheus used similar language during her speech, “the 20th century had already forgotten that the Gods are alive.” But some people never forgot, and others are now waking from amnesia into the dream of remembrance.

Once forgotten, but still alive, still powerful, and newly resurgent, splendid in their beauty: the Matronae, “a collective of indigenous Germanic and Celtic goddesses who were worshipped syncretically in the Roman Empire,” honored in a devotional ritual led by their priestesses River Devora and Rynn Fox. A well was set up in the middle of the room, filled with water from Olympia’s Artesian Well, surrounded by roses and other flowers. Libations of goat’s milk were poured. Singing, dancing: “Mothers of victory, Matronae. Mothers of the tribes, Matronae.” Oracular trance, messages both for the group and for individual petitioners. Wishes made on pennies, tossed into the well. Weaving.

These words you’re reading now? Merely a thin and tiny thread in a vast tapestry.

The various report-backs on MGW delighted in using the word “many” in their titles. But while there are “many” experiences to be remembered, there is also “more,” for relationship is a continual, ongoing process. There is more work to be done, there are more battles to be fought.

shawnus2We were recently informed that Lord Shawnus, High Priest of Pennsylvania’s Coven of the Catta has passed away. Born in 1951, Lord Shawnus, also known as Gary Lee Hoke, was an initiate of Lady Phoebe Athene Nimue. He met her in 1981 and, through her teachings, pursued his degrees within that tradition. After seven years, he earned his third and stayed on with Lady Phoebe. He eventually took over the role of High Priest.

In 2011, Lord Shawnus appeared on Animal Planet’s original show “The Haunted.” The show features a couple who moved into the house previously owned by Coven of the Catta founder Dr. Santee. In his interviews, Lord Shawnus attempts to “set the record straight” about his coven’s founder and the practice of Witchcraft.

In 2012, Lord Shawnus began blogging regularly at both of his own site and the coven’s. He also created two pdf documents detailing the long history of his coven. In early 2014, Lord Shawnus also recorded his own struggle to clarify Pennsylvania’s marriage laws, in terms of a Wiccan clergy’s right to officiate. After contacting several Pagan organizations for advice, including Covenant of the Goddess and Lady Liberty League, Lord Shawnus found a lawyer who helped work through the definitions and restrictions. His effort not only clarified the laws for his own coven and practice, but also for the local county courthouse who had been unclear as well.

Lord Shawnus was a dedicated Wiccan practitioner and Priest of the Craft. He will be missed by his students and fellow clergy. What is remembered, lives.

*   *   *

Bell Book Candle

Another metaphysical store, Bell, Book and Candle, announced that it would be closing its doors. The owners explain, “We have been losing money for quite some time and cannot afford to stay open.”

Located in Dover Delaware, Bell, Book and Candle was first opened in 2001, and was imagined as “an old-style general store in that [they] carry a bit of everything and are willing to order or to track down unusual items.” As the owners note, the store is owned by witches who “know what they are doing.”

However, times have changed, and the store will be closing permanently on June 24. Starting today, the store is offering deep discounts, and after July 11, it will accept only cash purchases. In addition, the owners will be selling the building itself.

However, they were quick to note that the popular Delmarva Pagan Festival will happen as planned. And, the book signing with author Courtney Weber, scheduled for July 25, will also be held, but at a new location.

*   *   *

Macha

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

Over the weekend, it was reported that Aline ‘Macha’ O’Brien had a stroke and had been rushed to Marin General Hospital. The stroke occurred Friday night, while O’Brien was home. She was quickly transported to the closest hospital, where she was treated. O’Brien has since been moved to Kaiser Terra Linda in San Rafael for further treatment and therapy.

O’Brien is a longtime witch, Priestess, ritualist and member of the Bay Area Pagan community. She is one of the original members of the Reclaiming Tradition, founded in the 1970s. Currently,O’Brien is an active member of Covenant of the Goddess, a regular presenter at PantheaCon, a representative of Cherry Hill Seminary, and a participant in the Marin Interfaith Council. And, that just scratches the surface of her work. O’Brien is also a speaker and writer. She blogs regularly about her journeys at The Broomstrick Chronicles.

O’Brien’s family is reporting that she is doing well and that the stroke was minor. She is now in recovery and in good spirits. She is thankful for all the healing prayers and has plans to return to her work as soon as possible.

In Other News

  • Another Parliament announcement occurred this week. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus had one of three proposals accepted by the Council and will be presenting “Religion, Youth, and Gender/Sexuality: Towards Collaborative Solutions to a Simple Problem.” In a blog post, Lupus explains, “This program is primarily concerned with one aspect of the “Wars, terrorism, and hate speech” subtheme, since hate speech–often of a religious nature–is frequently employed against people of LGBTQIA+ identities, and is a mainstay of the language used to bully and harass young people.” In addition, e has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help offset the cost of travel to the global October event.
  • On Patheos’ Sermons from the Mound, Yvonne Aburrow offers an overview of the recent debates that have hit or meandered through the collective Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities over the past few years. In a post called “Paganism for Beginners: Controversies,” Aburrow writes, “These controversies and discussions raise important questions of who we are, how we relate to each other as a community and individually, what we hold sacred, and how we relate to deities and the world around us.”
  • In a rare event, a group of the Patheos Pagan Channel writers came together to talk about deity on June 17. The long conversation was then edited and published in an article titled, “Atheism, Polytheism and Pagans: A Discussion.” The bloggers included Niki Whiting, Jason Mankey, Molly Khan, John Halstead, Rua Lupa, Shauna Aura Knight, Dana Corby, and Lilith Dorsey. As explained by Mankey, the channel’s managing editor, “In the blogosphere we often talk at each other and never seem to talk with each other enough. This discussion was an attempt to rectify that.

Lifting the Veil

  • Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone’s latest book, Lifting the Veil: a Witches Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual, was originally slated to be published in May. However, that date was pushed back. In a Facebook post, the authors explained, “There has been a lot of tweeking done on it to get it perfect.” They are currently working on “sorting out illustrations and endorsements.” At this time, the book’s Amazon listing displays an August 17 availability date, but Farrar and Bone are saying September. Either way, for those eagerly awaiting the new book, it should be available by early fall.
  • The 12th Conference on Current Pagan Studies has announced its 2016 theme and call for papers. Next year’s subject is “Social Justice.” Organizers say, “We face issues of social justice everywhere we look, from something as overwhelming as #blacklivesmatter to the seeming trivial Wiccanate privilege. Like the innumerable heads of the Lernaean Hydra, it seems that every time we manage to quell an issue involving racism, sexism, or privilege, two more such issues appear.” The 2016 conference will focus on this topic, “encompassing issues concerning racism, feminism, womanism, eco-justice, food security, gender justice, classism, neo-colonialism, etc. seen through the eyes of our scholars/activists.” Abstracts are due by September 20. The Conference itself will be held January 23-24 2016, in Claremont, California.

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

[As climate change and extreme weather are at the forefront of people’s minds, many are asking how and where religion fits into the conversation. Today, we welcome guest writer Heathen Chinese. He is the son of Chinese immigrants and is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s. He writes at Gods and Radicals and at heathenchinese.wordpress.com.]

California has been in a State of Emergency due to drought since January 2014. As the map below shows, the U.S. Drought Monitor calculates that as of June 9th, 98.71% of the state is in a condition of “severe drought,” 71.08% is in a condition of “extreme drought,” and 46.73% is in a condition of “exceptional drought.”

[Public Domain]

From U.S. Drought Monitor [Public Domain]

When it comes to definitions of drought, the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) notes that “research in the early 1980s uncovered more than 150 published definitions of drought.” The NDMC draws upon the work of researchers Wilhite and Glantz to categorize “the definitions in terms of four basic approaches to measuring drought: meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic.”

Though supply-and-demand or “socioeconomic” aspects of drought can be analyzed through economic and political lenses, droughts that are triggered by a lack of precipitation have historically been interpreted through the framework of another powerful and widespread social force: religion. In History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, historian Paul Cohen writes that in China during the late 1800s and early 1900s, “where it had been widely believed for centuries that there was a link between human behavior and the actions of Heaven, as expressed through nature, it was not at all uncommon to blame droughts and other natural calamities on official misconduct and to seek to alleviate the crisis by changing either the conduct or the official.”

Cohen provides several examples of drought being attributed to the upsetting of cosmic balance by governmental actions:

‘I have heard,’ one censor commented in response to the drought of 1876-1879, ‘that if one woman suffers an injustice, for three years there will be no rain.’ Another censor, citing the precedent of a three-year drought during the Han dynasty following the unjust execution of a filial wife, connected the 1870s drought to the disruption of heavenly harmony caused by excessive judicial torture.”

As these examples show, drought could be linked to widespread policies such as torture, but also to singular harmful acts against individuals like the execution of an innocent. They also show that two different individuals, even if they both share the basic belief that human actions can lead to drought as a divine repercussion, can reach different conclusions as to which particular action is responsible for the current drought.

Cohen rejects the idea that religious interpretations of drought are “supracultural or intrinsically human,” noting that in the modern era many people speak of drought purely in secular terms. He concedes, however, that “supernatural agency is […] a very widely encountered cultural construction.”

Responses
Cohen observes that there are two major categories of attempts to mitigate drought through religious behavior: the “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” and “prayer and other rain-inducing ceremonial practices.” These two approaches can, of course, be utilized either in conjunction or independently of one another. A prayer or ceremony for rain does not necessarily imply a belief in human causation of the state of drought, though it certainly could also be perceived as the right course of action to offset whatever offenses may have been committed. No specific narrative regarding the cause of drought, for example, was included in the description (36) for the “Bring on the Rain! Mojo for Parched CA” ritual that was held at Pantheacon 2014 in San Jose, California.

Cohen suggests that prayer or ritual is common as an initial response to lack of rain, but that if results are not forthcoming, the other category of response may become more prominent: “The first recourse for people faced with drought is, as we have seen, to offer up prayers and perform a range of rain-inducing rituals. But when such conventional means fail to produce relief, and the anxiety occasioned by the drought deepens, people often resort to more heroic measures. The generic element here is scapegoatism, the identification of a human agency deemed responsible for the crisis and the punishment of that agency.”

During the severe drought in Northern China in 1899-1900, participants in the Boxer Rebellion circulated notices explicitly blaming Christian missionaries and converts for angering the gods and thereby causing the drought. One notice, for example, contained the doggerel lines:

They proselytize their sect,/And believe in only one God,/The spirits and their own ancestors/Are not even given a nod/ […] No rain comes from Heaven./The earth is parched and dry./And all because the churches/Have bottled up the sky./The god[s] are very angry./The spirits seek revenge./En masse they come from Heaven/To teach the Way to men. – (translation by Joseph Esherick)

One Boxer placard directly addressed Chinese converts to Christianity, saying that they had abandoned the gods and their ancestors, angering the gods to the point that they withheld rain.

China was not the only traditional society to blame Christianization for drought. Nineteenth-century Botswana blamed a prolonged drought on Christianity, especially when a well-known rainmaker was baptized and summarily abandoned his previous practices. When the local missionary left after several years of disaster, the rain did indeed come back.

Cohen argues that the growing presence of foreigners in 1899-1900 was not a common experience to most Chinese living in the North China plain in the same way that drought was. A villager who had never seen a missionary could be convinced to join the Boxer movement in the hopes of propitiating the gods and bringing back the rain. The drought, of course, also caused widespread unemployment among peasants, giving them both the time and additional motivation—either hunger or fear of hunger—to join the Boxers. Cohen concludes that “it was this factor, more than any other, in my judgment, that accounted for the explosive growth both of the Boxer movement and of popular support for it in the spring and summer months of 1900.”

Scapegoating, of course, is a dangerous phenomenon, especially when one is a member of a minority religion. However, it can be secular as well as religious. California has already seen television commercials by a group that believes that “California’s drought could have been prevented” with anti-immigrant policies. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out that blaming the drought on immigrants is illogical. It isn’t caused by immigrants drinking too much water or showering too often, he says, but rather it is due to meager snowpack and poor planning.

Though most people are not so quick to attribute causation of the drought itself to any demographic, the drought has highlighted awareness and criticism of individuals and institutions perceived to be using more than their fair share of water. One group that has been criticized is almond farmers, who grow a popular perennial cash crop that requires watering every year and cannot be left fallow. Another group that has been criticized is Southern California residents, who astoundingly “used more water than ever this February,” according to Amy Westervelt of The Guardian.

Public outrage has also been directed at companies bottling water in California to sell elsewhere, such as Walmart and Nestlé. Nestlé’s CEO recently stated that Nestlé would “absolutely not” stop bottling its water in California and added that “if I could increase [the amount being bottled], I would.” An online trend known as “drought-shaming” has also targeted members of the upper class who still maintain their lawns and swimming pools.

Percentage-wise, agriculture accounts for “roughly 80% of all human water use” in California. Bottled water companies and urban residents have been quick to point out this fact, disclaiming the overall significance of their own water usage. Even among farmers, though, “water scarcity and buckling land have neighboring farmers eyeing one another warily,” writes Matt Richtel  in the New York Times. “Buckling land” is a consequence the practice of groundwater pumping, which drains aquifers and can cause the ground to sink, an effect known as subsidence. In areas “where subsidence is the worst, the land can sink as much as a foot each year.”

The heightened awareness around water usage and its consequences has led to an increase in water’s value as a commodity. However, this has not necessarily led to an increased respect for the sacred—certainly not at the level of public policy. The drought has also drawn attention to California’s system of water rights seniority, in which claims “staked more than a century ago” are the last to be subjected to mandatory cuts in water usage. However, this policy ignores the fact that indigenous people have the greatest seniority when it comes to a relationship to the land and watersheds, and instead privileges the heirs of the first colonizers.

One proposed “solution” to water scarcity is a raising of the Shasta Dam. However, this proposal is a reiterated existential threat to the Winnemem Wintu, an indigenous tribe inhabiting “ancestral territory from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed.” The Winnemem Wintu website states:

The Winnemem not only lost our villages on the McCloud River when the Shasta Dam was erected during World War II, we also lost many of our sacred places beneath Shasta Lake. These are places to which we hold an emotional and religious connection, and their loss remains a void in our lives as Winnemem.

The proposed raising of the dam would have additional disastrous effects. The Winnemem Wintu explain, “A dam raise of about 18-feet, the most likely scenario, would permanently or seasonally flood an estimated 39 sacred sites along the McCloud River, including Puberty Rock, and would essentially end our ability to practice our culture and religion.” The website poses the question as an issue of religious freedom: “If there were only a few hundred people left who practiced Islam or Judaism, would the country support knocking down the last mosque or the last temple? That is what a dam raise would do to the Winnemem.”

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

The initial construction of the Shasta Dam also “blocked the salmon runs,” and the Winnemem “advocate for all aspects of clean water and the restoration of salmon to their natural spawning grounds.” The Winnemem Wintu website promotes salmon restoration as “a far more sensible, cost-effective economic stimulus that will provide long-term rather than short term benefits,” and points out that the proposed dam raise would ultimately “yield a relatively small amount of very expensive water.”

The Winnemem Wintu clearly know what they are fighting for. What stance will other minority religious traditions, especially those that see water as sacred or honor spirits related to water, take on the drought and issues surrounding water usage?

Paul Cohen states the obvious when he writes that “while the basic premise that natural disasters are to be accounted for by some supernatural agency acting in response to human wrongdoing appears with great frequency, the particularities of a society’s response to such disasters…will be shaped by the special cultural forms and historical experience of that society.” In other words, given religious diversity, such as one finds across the spectrums of Neo-paganism or polytheism, one can only expect a diverse array of religious interpretations of and responses to drought. The previously cited example of government officials attempting to ascertain the cause of drought during the Late Qing Dynasty shows that divergence of interpretation can reach even the individual level. Nonetheless, some general ideas about the relationship between religion and drought in the modern day can be considered and discussed.

The idea of “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” does not inherently require the targeting of a specific demographic for punishment. At its core, this idea relies upon the religious concept that there is such a thing as “cosmic harmony” in the first place. Second, a quick look at current events is likely to lead many to reach the conclusion that if such a thing as “cosmic harmony” exists, it has been disrupted, and that drought is a symptom of that disruption. Finally, though definitions of what constitutes “human misconduct” may vary widely, the essential principle behind the idea is that human actions matter; they have unseen consequences.

Based upon these three principles, a great number of religious interpretations and responses are possible. The “correction of human misconduct” could entail changing one’s own behavior, seeking to convince or coerce others to change theirs, direct action to stop specific acts of “misconduct,” or a combination of any of the above. The Boxer placard addressed to Chinese Christian converts advocated both change of personal behavior and joining the larger social movement: “It is a matter of great urgency that you quickly join the Boxers and sincerely mend your ways.”

One recent interpretation of the California drought can be found in P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’s short story “Robigalia 2015,” which marked the annual sacrifice to the ancient Roman deity Robigo or Robigus. Robigo was once propitiated to avert blights on grain. Lupus notes that grain blight is less of a concern in the modern day than it was in antiquity, but proceeds to explore the possibility that “the water shortages of California–an event as much due to human causes as to the waning portion in the cycles of nature–became the outlet via which Robigo was able to come to the fore again.” In a comment below the story, Lupus writes, “I don’t think by any means this is ‘the answer’ or anything of the sort; but, I think given the state of the world, if we thought more in these terms as polytheists, people might want to do something about these matters (insofar as they can) more than they do otherwise.”

In his essay “Restoring Sovereignty and the Path Forward,” Brennos writes about the ancient Irish concept of divinely-granted sovereignty:

The failure of a King to meet their obligations either by breaking their agreements with the Otherworld or their people, resulted in withdrawal of Sovereignty which had disastrous effects such as crop failures and famine, the death of livestock, disease and hardship. In a situation like this, the failed King would step down, die in battle, or be sacrificed to allow a more suitable King to take their place.

The quotes by Qing government officials are related to similar ideas in China about the link between political legitimacy and cosmic harmony. Even more explicitly, in Transcendence & Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China, Suzanne Cahill writes that drought and rebellions and heterodox religious movements were all seen equally as signs “of the imminent fall of the Han rulers.” Or in other words, these events were seen as symptoms of the ruling dynasty’s loss of the Mandate of Heaven.

What does any of this have to do with people who don’t live in California? As Brennos writes, “At the heart of this type of Sovereignty of the Land is interconnectedness.” This interconnectedness is both natural and divine. It has a social aspect as well.

Everything is Connected

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis links the worldwide droughts of 1876-79, 1888-91 and 1896-1902 to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern, the rise of the global capitalist economy, and the expansionist land-grabs of the New Imperialism.

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

According to the NDMC, El Niño is a phenomenon involving increased water temperatures off the western coast of South America, while the Southern Oscillation is a “seesaw of atmospheric pressure between the eastern equatorial Pacific and Indo–Australian areas.” The acronym ENSO is used to describe the two phenomena in conjunction. “Atmospheric interactions between widely separated regions,” such as those seen during ENSO events, are termed “teleconnections.” Though not all variations in weather patterns during ENSO years are attributable to ENSO, the NDMC reports that “researchers have found the strongest connections between ENSO and intense drought in Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, parts of east and south Africa, the western Pacific basin islands (including Hawaii), Central America, and various parts of the United States.”

Davis notes that all of these areas, plus China, were severely affected by worldwide droughts during the late Victorian era, though “the instrumental record before 1957 is generally too poor to support” attaching the El Niño label to specific years. He further observes that colonial policy and capitalist economics contributed to many of the resulting famines. During the 1877-78 drought and famine in British-ruled India, for example, “grain merchants […] preferred to export a record 6.4 million cwt. of wheat to Europe in 1877-78 rather than relieve starvation in India.” The British Viceroy, Lytton, further imposed an increase in taxation on salt and on “petty traders (professionals were exempt),” which he claimed would serve the purpose of “insuring this Empire against the worst calamities of a future famine.”

In fact, however, “the whole accumulated fund was used either to reduce cotton goods tariff or for the Afghan war.” Lytton’s increase in taxation demonstrated not merely a policy of laissez-faire, but of deliberate imperial expansion at the direct expense of the starving poor. Thus, Davis concludes, the deaths attributed to the “natural” causes of disease and El Niño-exacerbated drought cannot actually be separated from economics and politics. Davis’s analysis of the Indian famine of the 1877-78 can be applied to the present day as well.

2015 is an El Niño year. American scientists initially described this year’s El Niño as “weak” in March, but Australian scientists disputed this forecast in May. “‘This is a proper El Niño effect, it’s not a weak one,’ David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters.” El Niño has been linked to increased rain in California in the past, but Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pointed out in March that “this El Niño is likely too late and too weak to provide much relief for drought-stricken California, as California’s rainy season is winding down.” However, as always, El Niño is predicted “to increase prices of staple foods such as rice, coffee, sugar and cocoa” around the world.

Mike Davis calls famines “wars over the right to existence.” He notes that the Late Victorian era saw explicitly religious revolts in conjunction with droughts in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Brazil. And, as the export of wheat from India in the 1870s and Nestlé’s bottling of California’s spring water both demonstrate, famine and drought are inextricably linked with economics as well as with military campaigns and politics. Any religious interpretation of current events, therefore, must necessarily take a global perspective as well; ENSO’s “teleconnections” are not merely meteorological. From a religious point of view, unseen “teleconnections” can be said to underlie the very fabric of reality. As the drought in California continues to intensify, both Californians and non-Californians will be affected by more and more drastic changes. The need for more prayers and rituals—or a perhaps even a fundamental “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony”—will intensify as well.

It was recently announced that writer and teacher Rachel Pollack was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Pollack is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Tarot and has written numerous books on the subject, as well as many fiction novels. In addition, she is a respected comic book writer who, according to one report, gave DC Comics its first transgender character in the Doom Patrol series. Pollack’s next book, a novel titled The Child Eater, is due to be released in July.

In addition, Pollack is a regular and welcome presenter at the annual PantheaCon conference in San Jose. In 2012, she offered a class called “Tarot–Prophecy, Catastrophe, and Rebirth.” In 2013, her talk was titled, “Who are the Gods and Goddesses of Tarot and How Do We Honor Them.”

On May 6, Charles Hale began a GoFundMe campaign to help cover Pollack’s medical bills. He wrote, “Living with cancer can be expensive, even with health insurance. Because Rachel is too sick to work, she needs help paying medical and living expenses. Anyone that has known anyone with cancer knows how expensive even the most basic care and medication can be.” In just five short days, the campaign has raised nearly $16,000 dollars of the $25,000 requested.

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conway PPDIn March, we reported that the Conway Pagan Pride Day (CPPD) had run up against significant problems that threatened its future. The new Arkansas-based organization had just hosted its first Pride Day in October. The event was reportedly very successful. However, in the following months, the town of Conway instituted new ordinances that prohibited vendors from selling on city park property. Because the group does not have the means to rent private, more expensive facilities, CPPD organizers were fearful that they would not be able to host a 2015 event.

This past week, CPPD happily announced that the issues have been resolved, and Pagan Pride Day will be held on October 24. The organization reported that “Conway’s current mayor was an advocate for us and gave us voice in the political arena. We are so fortunate to have the support of the area and beyond the borders of Conway, Arkansas.”

In an email to The Wild Hunt, organizers explained, “Arkansas at times can be difficult to navigate in terms of beliefs and support,” pointing to the perception that the state is inhospitable to Pagans. However, they stressed that they have seen the opposite in this struggle, with interfaith groups, government, law enforcement, food banks and residents, helping them in their cause. CPPD added, “There is a new hope for the community in Arkansas. It takes one brick at a time, but as a family we will lay the foundation for generations to come.”

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10858593_10153030684777552_6867534241222027502_nThis past weekend marked the return of the Pagan Festival in Berkeley, California. Hosted by the Bay Area Pagan Alliance, the event hasn’t been held since 2012. After a three year hiatus, the organization revived it for 2015.

Held in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park, the festival was themed “Spirituality through Service” and featured the 2012 Keeper of the Light, T. Thorn Coyle, ritually passing the staff and lantern to the 2015 Keeper, Crystal Blanton. The Pagan Alliance explains that “The magical intention of the passing of the staff and gifting of the lantern is to lend strength and support to Priestess Crystal Blanton to enable her to continue her work –not only for our Pagan community, but all of the communities she serves throughout the Bay Area– and to do this work in good health, integrity, prosperity, and love.”

Throughout the day, current and past Keepers spoke including Blanton, Coyle, M. Macha Nightmare, and Yeshe Matthews Rabbit. In addition, there were performances, dances, talks, book signings, vendors and more. The event was reported to be a huge success. On her blog, Annika Mongan wrote about her own experiences from the day, saying, “To me the festival was a celebration of the beauty of our community, a call to action, a promise of renewal, and a testimony to our city that we are here, we care, we invoke Justice and in service to this city, the Bay Area, and beyond.

 In Other News:

  • The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment now has 3,630 signatures, hailing from all over the world. In addition, the statement has been translated, to date, into six languages, with more in the works. People of many religions have digitally signed the document, including a variety of Pagans, Heathens, and Polytheists, as well as non-affiliated people and even Christians. Organizers are aiming for 10,000 signatures by mid-summer.
  • Writer and artist Gypsey Teague unexpectedly found her latest book listed as a “top summer pick” for 2015. On May 3, New York Daily News published its buying guide, “Summer cool new books and hot summer looks for a smart summer.”  In the “young adult” section, Teague’s book, titled The Witch’s Guide to Wands: A Complete Botanical, Magical, and Elemental Guide to Making, Choosing, and Using the Right Wand, made runner-up. Ironically, the book that beat it out for first place is a young adult novel titled, The Witch Hunter.
  • In another mainstream news article, Four Quarters Farm was featured for its unique community. The Washington Post wrote about the sanctuary the article, “The 250-acre church nurturing faith and free spirits in the foothills of Pennsylvania.” The Post included a large number of photos depicting daily life and worship at the sanctuary. Readers might remember Four Quarters from its March 30 announcement of the purchase of an additional 110-acres of land.
  • Ian Corrigan’s blog, Into the Mound, has moved to the Patheos Pagan Channel. After eight years of blogging independently, he joins the group of respected bloggers who make up the Patheos forum. In his first post, Corrigan wrote, “There will be a bit of a jar for me, as we move from that comfy burrow to new digs, and I hope many of my long-time readers will find this new setting pleasant. Please bear with me as I  ken the new platform’s formatting, and learn to make pretty posts.”
  • Coru Cathubodua and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus have announced that they will be teaming up to host an online course called, Poetic Ways: Cultivating the Practice of Filidecht. The four month course, starting in July, will include “basic fili poetic practices, history, and arts, including poetry, prophecy, extemporaneous song, and much more.” Information and registration is currently live and online on Coru Cathubodua’s website.

That’s it for now.  Have a great day!