Archives For Pagan Federation

[Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. If you enjoy this series and our other recurring entries, please consider donating to our 2014 Fall Funding Campaign. Your support and donations make it possible for us to keep sharing the news and these important stories with you. Now let’s get started!]

Pagan Federation

In recent weeks, the BBC and other media outlets have published articles on the increase in Witchcraft related violence in the UK. As a BBC article reports, police have had “27 allegations” this year alone which is up from 24 in 2013. After reading the reports, a senior Religious Education official contacted the Pagan Federation with concerns that the stories might cause misunderstandings with respect to Pagan religious practice in the UK. 

In response, Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal said, “I was particularly grateful to him for drawing my attention to the article.” In a public statement, Stygal explained, in detail, his deep concerns with the way mainstream media and officials have handled these child abuse cases. He said, “I’d quite like another opportunity to meet with … the appropriate government representative to see if we can find a way to highlight the issues whilst limiting the potential for misunderstandings about modern Pagans.” Both the Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Centre for Pagan Studies have both come forward to endorse Stygal’s statement. To read it in full, click here

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CPWR Logo.Planning is underway for next year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions to be held in Salt Lake City. In the last week, the Council put out a call for programs, saying, “Everyone who attends the Parliament has wisdom to share – from those who are having their first interfaith experience to those who are steeped in interfaith. The purpose of this gathering is to support relationships, connections, and inspired calls to action which can then ripple out from the Parliament into hundreds of grassroots organizations, networks, and communities.”  Of the thousands of submissions, only about 10% will be selected for inclusion in the program. The application and submission guidelines can be found on their website.

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Starhawk at Harvard Divinity School.

While many people are focused on Pagan Pride, fall festivals, Samhain and Halloween, another day sits just over the horizon. On Nov. 4, the U.S. will hold its general elections. On her blog Dirt Worship, Starhawk offers a post entitled, “Why Vote?” in which she lists “the practical, political and spiritual reasons” to get off the couch and head to the polls. She says that after you vote,”the world will not have transformed overnight. The Great Turning won’t have turned. The Good Guys will not have completely triumphed over the Bad Guys. But the world might just be a slight bit better than it would have been otherwise. And that small difference might be the divergence in the path that heads us away from destruction and onto the road to hope.”

In Other News

  • The struggle to keep religion out of schools is not only a U.S. problem. As reported on Oct 6 by SAPRA’s Damon Leff, the South African government has conflicting and problematic policies with regards to the teaching of religion within its public school system.
  • Around Samhain, Wild Hunt columnist Rhyd Wildermuth will be releasing his new book Your Face is a Forest, “a collection of prosaic wanderings and essays.” All profits from the book’s sale will be used toward funding his trip to the UK and Ireland in December. Rhyd was selected to attend the Winter Solstice festivities at Newgrange. When he returns, he will be reporting on that unique experience here at The Wild Hunt.
  • The Patrick McCollum Foundation has announced an opening for two interns. The positions are for volunteers, preferably graduate students, who want to work with the organization in its mission “to further world peace, planetary sustainability, environmental protection, and human rights, including the advancement of women’s rights.” For more information, contact executive director Nell Rose Phillips.
  • In the coming weeks, the organizers of PaganPro.org will be launching a new website with a series of public surveys that will eventually become the basis of a new online service. Chairperson Lydia M N Crabtree says,”PaganPro.org will be the first site to offer real and verified information about Pagan and occult leaders.” The surveys are the first step in building that database.
  • This month, Red Wheel Weiser Books is releasing a book called The Hedgewitch Book of Days by Mandy Mitchell. The book is “aimed at the practicing or would-be witch whose life is more jeans, chaos and the never-ending question of what’s for dinner, instead of black-robes, cauldrons, and incantations.”
  • Here’s a brief update on our own Fall Funding Drive. You have helped us to reach 96% of our campaign goal. Amazing! To all of those people and organizations who have already donated, thank you so very much. We can’t do this work everyday without your support. If you haven’t donated yet, please consider contributing today. If you have already donated, won’t you share our link and give us the extra boost needed to raise the remaining funds.

The Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. Donate Now!

That’s all for now! Have a great day.

[On a weekly basis, we bring you the news and issues that affect Pagan and Heathen communities around the world. If you value our work, please consider donating to our fall fund drive today. Bringing you important news and stories, like the one below, is what we love to do. Your support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]

The Druid NetworkOn September 29, the Interfaith Network of the United Kingdom (IFN UK) admitted both The Druid Network (TDN) and The Pagan Federation (PF) into its organization as members. Previously, both Pagan groups were denied membership because they did not represent “one of the big nine faiths.” According to The Druid Network, “This refusal resulted in TDN becoming involved in dialogue with IFN, with a view to reviewing their membership policy to become both more inclusive and to remove any suggestion of discrimination against minority faiths.”

The Pagan Federation and others were also involved in the talks, which eventually led to a presentation before the House of Lords. TDN says, “The eminent human rights lawyer, John Halford, from Bindmans LLP publicly issued a legal opinion for the event.” After that official meeting, IFN began a “strategic review” of its membership policy that has resulted in revised criteria by which both the PF and TDN are eligible. Additionally, Rev. Prudence Jones of PF will be serving on IFN’s executive committee. She marks the first Pagan to hold such a position within that organization. TDN says:

This is an historic achievement on many levels, it is the fruition of the work of many people seeking to find resolution within conflict, those people coming from many diverse backgrounds, professions and faiths. The Druid Network extends its appreciation and thanks to all who helped bring about this momentous.

conference-logo-transparent-background1The 11th Conference on Current Pagan Studies will be held January 24-25, 2015  in Claremont, California at Claremont Graduate University. This year’s theme is “Fecundity and the Richness of the Dark.” Conference organizers explain, “Monotheistic notions over the past two millennia have separated and polarized our manner of being in the world into realms of light and darkness, positive and negative, holy and desacralized, valued and devalued.  Polytheists, Pagans, animists, et al view differently the interplay of light and dark, and seek to revalue, re-sacralize, and retrieve the dark. How do we interpret the Darkness?” 

This year’s keynote speakers will be Viviane Crowley and Orion Foxwood. The deadline for submissions is now October 15. They say, “We are looking for papers from all disciplines. A community needs artists, teachers, scientists, healers, historians, philosophers, educators, thinkers, activists, etc.” 

10689864_296726883849996_5087655294117168377_nThe Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) is holding its debut exhibition at the Stevens Square Center for the Arts from Oct 25 – Nov 15, 2014. The public exhibition is titled, “Doorways to the Underworld” and will feature Ali Beyer (Artemis Namaste), Anne Marie Forrester (Helga Hedgewalker), Paul Rucker, and Roger Williamson. MCPA says, “In this exhibit, Halloween is explored through the eyes of those who experience the season as a profound time to commune with the ancestors and the spirit world.  For these artists, the work is an extension of their spirituality, allowing a glimpse into what is often an unseen tradition.”  The opening reception includes a dance performance by Alana Mari and live music by Comets Ov Cupid.

In Other Pagan Community News:

 

That’s it for now, have a great day!

 

In recent months, a controversy has been brewing around the name and the acronym for the militant Islamic group Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham (DAASH). The most common English translations of that name are The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. More commonly, the militant group is referred to in the media as ISIS. Both the translations and the common acronym have caused significant frustration for many, including Pagans.

A  New York Times article, dated June 18, explained the problem from a linguistic perspective. The Arabic name, Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, is not effectively expressed in the most commonly used translation: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The jihadists’ mission, as reflected by their Arabic name, is to create a caliphate that incorporates a far larger region than the modern countries of Iraq and Syria. The translated name, and its acronym ISIS, do not clearly relay the group’s intent.

By NordNordWest, Spesh531 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons] Red indicates areas controlled by ISIL; Yellow indicates areas claimed by ISIL

By NordNordWest, Spesh531 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons]
Red indicates areas controlled by ISIL; Yellow indicates areas claimed by ISIL; White indicates the rest of Iraq and Syria

The New York Times writer suggests that “the already familiar ISIS abbreviation could simply be said to stand for The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.” The Arabic word al-Sham defines that larger region, not limited by modern national borders. The area includes Cyprus, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and southern Turkey. Using the Arabic term al-Sham accurately pinpoints the group’s intent. However, this word is unfamiliar to the casual English-speaking reader and, consequently, does not solve the problem of masked intent.

Additionally, even with this minor adjustment in translation, the acronym ISIS is still viable. Either way, it is regularly being used in mainstream media reporting, including major outlets such as the BBC, The Huffington Post, CNN, NBC, The Los Angeles Times and others. The Washington Post writes:

[We have] been referring to the organization as ISIS, shorthand for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is how most news organizations that operate in English began identifying the outfit when it emerged as a dangerous fighting force two years ago, launching terror strikes and carving out territory amid the Syrian civil war.

While the Times suggestion solves one issue, the continued use of the acronym ISIS itself poses an entirely different problem for Pagans and Heathens who venerate the Egyptian Goddess of the same name. The Fellowship of Isis (FOI), a worldwide organization, made this public statement:

We are a multi-faith organisation dedicated to the feminine aspect in all religions, and have a priesthood whose manifesto is one of peace, tolerance and respect for all spiritual expression … It is disturbing and confusing to our members and the general public who know of our organization when media use the acronym ISIS for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militia.

On June 20, the Huffington Post UK reported that the Pagan Federation sent in a letter asking that the news outlet stop using the ISIS acronym. The published letter reads:

We are writing to you on behalf of our members to express concerns over the use of the acronym ISIS which is currently being used when mentioning the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Greater Syria) militia, and would request that the acronym ISIL, which has established usage elsewhere in the world be used.

The reason for this request is because the acronym ISIS is likely to form an inadvertent association in the minds of hearers between Sunni jihadists and followers of the goddess Isis, with the potential for harm to innocent people from a completely unrelated religion.

Holli Emore, director of Cherry Hill Seminary and writer at Patheos’ Wild Garden blog, is the founder and Priestess of the Osireion Temple in South Carolina.  Emore says that she is “disinclined to feel alarm at the acronym ISIS being bandied about in the mainstream news this summer.” She adds:

It is a bit disconcerting to hear the name of one of my goddesses regularly repeated in the international news, and such terrible news it is!  And yet I note that “Isis” as a name or acronym is found in lots of places.  There is isis-online.org, the Institute for Science and International Security, and isis.org, home of the International Species Information System.  Many university campuses use an online student network called ISIS which stands for the Intercampus Student Information System.  Interestingly, here in South Carolina there is a Department of Education system-wide database called Osiris. 

Like the names of many ancient deities, Isis is found as a designator for many organizations, products and activities. Emore adds:

What all of this tells me is that the great mother goddess of ancient Egypt, whose worship stretched to all parts of the Roman Empire (a piece of a temple of Isis has been found in the Thames River), is a ubiquitous archetype in the mind of at least the western world.  The Mistress of All Magic has so infused our imagination that those who never had a thought for Pagan religion feel it natural to adopt her beautiful name…

However, in this particular case, the organization is a terrorist group with violent intent based on religious extremism. Its mission to create a caliphate has no connection, symbolic or otherwise, to Ancient Egyptian mythology. It is just happenstance. In fact, the group itself and the local communities use the acronym DAASH.

The goddess Isis.

The goddess Isis. [Public Domain Image]

As noted by the Pagan Federation’s letter, there is a third translation option. Some agencies are now calling this group The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Like al-Sham, the somewhat-antiquated word Levant refers to the larger Middle East region making it a better translation of the original Arabic. As such, the group’s acronym becomes ISIL. Currently the U.S. State department, President Obama and other governments worldwide are using this translation and its corresponding acronym.

The Associated Press has itself opted to use ISIL and The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in its own work. It also recommends that particular translation and usage in its AP Stylebook. However the change overall is slow in coming. Many writers and media outlets have adjusted to using “the Levant” but still use the acronym ISIS. In its press release, the FOI has put out a call out to editors asking:

We respectfully request that your organization from this point forward refer to this group by its other accepted name, I.S.I.L., Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and require that your correspondents and guests do the same. 

Despite the continued discussions and declarations of name translation changes, the extremist group is still most readily recognized and now even marketed with the acronym ISIS. Recently several companies, mostly out of Indonesia, have begun selling clothing and paraphernalia, over the Internet, that display the militant organization’s logo with the acronym ISIS. According to a CNN report, one of the shirts reads: “We are all Isis.” The same article quotes Delma Institute researcher Hassan Hassan as saying, “Using merchandise to market itself as ‘cool’ is a one of the common propaganda tools ISIS uses.” Facebook has been removing these sites but sales continue elsewhere.

Art and Photo by Lady Pythia.  It was posted publicly online as part of her call-to-the-media to stop using the acronym ISIS.

Art and Photo by Lady Pythia. This was posted publicly as part of a call-to-the-action to stop using the acronym ISIS.

Because the group and its supporters appear to have embraced the acronym themselves, the debate over the name extends well-beyond simple media usage. As for members of The Fellowship of Isis, the Pagan Federation and other individuals who are unsettled by use of the acronym ISIS, this struggle may be more difficult than originally expected. Emore is trying to look at the situation differently and toward a brighter future. She says:

A fragment of Osireion liturgy (which derives from the ancients) is the line “we know you, we know your names.”  A name is sacred and powerful, but it seems to me that the media does not know Aset’s name, nor her strength.  May she soon work her magic to bring calm to the turmoil of the Levant.

On Friday, June 13 as the full moon rose, the man called “the father of modern Witchcraft,” Gerald Brosseau Gardner, was officially honored with an national Blue Heritage Plaque. Whether the calendar and celestial alignment were right or whether it was just coincidence, the time had certainly come for the legendary Gardner to join Doreen Valiente in English historical immortality.

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[Photo Credit: Jane Thomson (Open Plaques donation) CC/ Wikimedia]

In June 2013, Doreen Valiente, called the “mother of modern Witchcraft,” was honored with one of these blue heritage plaques. It was affixed to her home at Tyson Place on Grosvenor Street in Brighton. Valiente became the first Witch to receive this honor as bestowed by the City of Brighton and Hove. This blue plaque was modeled on the English Heritage organization’s national project to mark, preserve and honor English history. The Blue Heritage Plaque “scheme” is one of its more notable projects and has been ongoing since 1866.

Nearly a year after Valiente’s ceremony and 130 years after his birth, Gardner has now become the second Witch to receive a blue heritage plaque. Funded wholly by donations to the Doreen Valiente Foundation and organized by the Centre for Pagan Studies (CPS), Gardner’s plaque was affixed to the home in which he lived in from 1938-1945. According to the CPS, “it was from this house he walked to his initiation into the New Forest Coven in 1939.”

John Belham-Payne, founder and director of the Centre for Pagan Studies (CPS), told the BBC that,”Gerald is one of those people who has been recognized nationally now because [his] name is included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.” The inclusion of the plaque is a natural offshoot of that recognition. One signifier of this growing acceptance is the BBC’s expansive coverage of the plaque’s unveiling as well as a recent BBC radio interview with Belham-Payne.

The entire heritage event, from start to finish, has been a result of the cooperative efforts of the Centre for Pagan Studies (CPS), the Children of Artemis (COA) and the Doreen Valiente FoundationOn its fundraising page, the Foundation explains:

We are heading the campaign to have commemorative blue plaques placed where people who have shaped pagan history have lived or worked. These are landmark events [are] really wonderful in terms of promoting tolerance and raising awareness of how important the trailblazers of the past are, and also their relevance today, and how important it is to keep alive the work that they have done and to continue with it.

The Foundation managed the fundraising campaign that collected the needed funds it took to manufacture and install the blue heritage plaque. Donated funds also offset all associated costs of the daytime unveiling ceremony.

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Mill House where Gardner was initiated [Photo Credit: Damh the Bard]

The June 13 festivities began at 2 p.m. with attendees joining the organizers on a hilltop called “the crow’s nest.” Then everyone walked to Gardner’s home by way of the Mill House where he was first initiated. After the plaque was finally unveiled, attendees enjoyed refreshments and explored the grounds.

Before the Unveiling [Photo Credit: Damh the Bard]

Before the Unveiling [Photo Credit: Damh the Bard]

Ashley Mortimer, trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, was on hand to greet visitors and talk about the importance of the Foundation and the blue heritage plaque campaign. The Doreen Valiente Foundation, along with the Centre for Pagan Studies, is charged with the protection and preservation of many modern Pagan “artefacts once owned by Gardner and Valiente.” One of these treasures is Gardner’s original Book of Shadows. As noted by Belham-Payne in the radio interview, this book will soon be on display in a new museum along with many other Gardner pieces.

At 4 p.m. the festivities moved to Highcliffe Castle. Tickets to the event cost £5 to cover the cost of facility rental. According to organizers, the celebratory evening event was completely sold-out.

Gardner’s biographer, Philip Heselton gave a reading and talk. In an interview with the BBC a few days prior, Heselton said:

[Gardner] wasn’t a religious pioneer. What he did was to publicize [Wicca] and write about it and he gradually became known through that and people made contact … He initiated quite a lot of people into the Wiccan culture. He felt it was important that it survived.

[Photo Credit: Damh the Bard]

[Photo Credit: Damh the Bard]

Also present at Highcliffe was Damh the Bard who performed his songs for the sold-out audience. Later that night he told The Wild Hunt that it was “a day to be proud of” adding:

It was an amazing day. Thinking back to the early 1990s when some Christian groups fabricated the satanic Child Abuse scandal; when the News of the World thought it acceptable to vilify Pagans in their now thankfully defunct rag; and now 20 years later we stand before Gerald Gardner’s house with the Deputy Mayor unveiling a blue plaque for the Father of Modern Witchcraft. We have come such a long way. This was a great day, not just for British Wiccans, but for Pagans of all Paths all over the world. One day we will be the ancestors, and what we do today will shape Paganism for many years to come.

Robin Taylor, the Pagan Federation‘s treasurer, was also in attendance at the ceremony. In retrospect, he said:

The unveiling of a blue plaque to Gerald Gardner on the site of the house in Highcliffe where he lived was not only a very happy occasion for all present, but also significant in the growing acceptance of Paganism in England. Pagans of many paths have a connection with Gerald and an appreciation of his achievements, and this event provided an opportunity to celebrate his life.

So on that “amazing day,” Friday the 13th 2014 on a full moon, Gerald Brousseau Gardner, the “father of modern witchcraft,” was honored on his 130th birthday with the unveiling of a commemorative blue plaque marking his contributions to both Pagan and English heritage.

But one question remains. As prompted by the Centre for Pagan Studies own Logo, who is next?

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[Correction 6-17-2014: This article was amended slightly to de-emphasize any suggested official involvement of the English Heritage organization. Although the plaques are listed on a community-based open plaque register linked to its site, the EH group was not involved with either the Valiente or Gardner Blue Plaques campaigns. These projects were solely the work of the Centre for Pagan Studies and associated organizations.]

 

This week the world turned its attention to the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Russia as it became the host of the 2014 winter Olympic Games. Over the past year, the Sochi games have been over shadowed by a dark cloud of controversy stemming from Putin’s new “anti-gay” policies and the country’s on-going conflicts with Muslim extremists. In the face of protests and threats, the games began and have continued on with few minor incidents.

Courtesy of Flickr's Global Sports Forum.

Courtesy of Flickr’s Global Sports Forum.

This is not the first time that the Olympic Games has found itself at the epicenter of the somewhat contentious crossroads of religion and politics. Being a true world stage, the modern Olympic Games create a spotlight that can highlight both the very best and the very worst in humanity. We have seen religious extremism in its ugliest form as well as intense spiritual devotion from an athlete raising a victory medal.

Interestingly, religion wasn’t always a sideshow or catalyst for political tension. It is believed that the Olympics themselves began as a sacred religious rite to honor Zeus. According to the Tufts University Perseus Project:

The Games were held in honor of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and a sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to the god on the middle day of the festival. Athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and made gifts of animals, produce or small cakes, in thanks for their successes.

During the Games a truce was established that allowed for the safe travel for worshippers, athletes and spectators. Eventually the event grew into a major athletic competition attracting people from all over the Ancient World. Even after Greece lost its political power, the Roman Empire kept the Olympics alive.

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Although the Games eventually developed into a more secular event, its Pagan origin had not been forgotten. The Perseus Project explains:

Once the Roman emperors formally adopted Christianity, they discouraged and eventually, outlawed, old “Pagan” religious practices. Since the Olympic Games were first and foremost a religious celebration in honor of Zeus, they held no place in the Christian empire. The emperor Theodosius I legally abolished the games in 393 or 394 A.D.

The Olympics were born as a Pagan religious ritual and were eventually banned for that very same reason. By 393 A.D., the Olympics were gone … More or less.

According to Frank Deford of the Smithsonian magazine, there is historical evidence that small, local Olympic-style games were played around the world for many years. Some even used the name Olympics. For example, in Cotswald, England, a Roman Catholic staged an elaborate Olympick games to counter the “dour Protestantism of the time.”

1908 London Games (public domain photo)

1908 London Games (public domain photo)

Then in 1865 Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern games, traveled to Much Wenlock, England where William Penny Brookes had been holding local Games for years. Together both men aimed to bring back the romance and glory of the Ancient event. After much negotiation, Athens became the first host city for the modern Olympiad in 1896. The games were held in the fully restored ancient panathenaic stadium and the marathon was added to honor Ancient Greece.

The subsequent Olympics in Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904) were largely disappointments. Needing to bolster more support and publicity for the cause, Coubertin looked to the Olympics’ roots and asked Rome to be the fourth host city. Unfortunately Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 which ended the country’s bid. So in 1908, London took up the reins and hosted the fourth Modern Olympic Games. Deford writes, “All else had been pre­­­lude only now had the modern Olympics truly begun.”

Although the Games’ original religious focus had not been resurrected alongside the showcase of athleticism, the modern games were not without religious influence. According to USA Today, De Courbin himself said, “The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion above and outside the churches.” Additionally, several Olympic mottos were coined by clergy such as “citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger.)

Despite this joyful return, the political reality of faith-based conflict would eventually find its way into the Olympic spotlight. For example, at the 1936 Berlin games, Hitler outlawed German Jewish athletes from participating. The games were canceled in both 1940 and 1944 due to the Second World War. In 1972 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were held hostage by Palestinians at the Munich Games. This standoff ended in the death of all 11 Israelis and 5 of the Palestinians. Then in Atlanta in 1996, an Army of God fundamentalist detonated a bomb in a crowded Centennial Olympic Park.

Fortunately these violent conflicts are few and far between. Religious negotiations are more frequently found at the personal level when athletes find their faith in conflict with competition. For Muslims, this might be the wearing of headscarves in competition. For Jews, it might be the need to compete on a Saturday. The Olympics is a cauldron for the world’s cultural and religious diversity. The challenge is not just in the staging of the athletic venues or the choreography of the opening ceremonies. It is also in the bringing together of the world’s people representing an enormous range of beliefs, experiences and cultural expectations.

Sochi Gold Medal design. Photo Courtesy of Flickr's Andy Miah

Sochi Gold Medal design. Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Andy Miah

Let us return to the Sochi games – a Winter Olympics plaque by religious-inspired political controversy. Russia has certainly downplayed the issues to both the international community and its own population. Gwiddon Harvester, Pagan Federation Coordinator in Russia, says, “Putin will do everything in his power to keep Sochi scandal-free. He invested a lot of money in this project and this is his status-symbol… there is an entire army hidden in the mountains to ensure that terrorists will not disrupt the Games.”

Gwiddon shares that, in general, the Russian people are more upset about the “absurdly high” cost of Sochi than Putin’s policies or extremist threats. At the very most, Russia’s LGBT community is “annoyed that Putin made a ‘special dispensation’ for foreign guests in Sochi, allowing them to say whatever they please about gays, whereas the rest of [Russians] are effectively barred from speaking our minds in public about the issue.”

The Pagan Federation International in Russia has spoken out saying, “PFI supports protection of all human rights under the U.N. Charter of Rights, including the right to freedom from persecution on the grounds of sexual preference. Therefore, we are against the anti-gay laws, because they violate human rights.”

pf_web1

The issues plaguing Sochi have taken center stage as did the Munich hostage crisis, the Atlanta bombing and many other political conflicts that play out in the Olympic Arena. However religion isn’t only found at a crisis point. It is also found on the field, in the arena and on the slopes as athletes ask and offer blessings to their Gods and Goddesses within their faith’s tradition. In that way, the Olympics echoes its religious origins. Their God may not be Zeus but the ritual of prayer is ever present. Gwiddon remarks:

Several days before the games, the head of Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kyrill, visited Sochi … and blessed the Russian team and the Games, asking for the Grace of God to descend upon them. The irony here is, of course … is that the very act of blessing the sports team is really a magical act, something one would expect in Ancient Rome and Greece.

From the regimented requirements of competition, the running of the marathon, the lighting of the giant cauldron, the torch relay, the Ancient Olympic spirit is alive and well. On Thursday, IOC President Thomas Bach spoke these words which were allegedly edited out of the NBC Friday night broadcast:

It is possible – even as competitors – to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason. … [The] Olympic Games are a sports festival embracing human diversity in great unity … Please respect their Olympic Message of goodwill, of tolerance, of excellence and of peace.

 

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

PFI PhilippinesIn the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which has wreaked havoc and destruction through the Philippines, the Pagan Federation International in Philippines has started raising funds to aid in providing food, water, and shelter to those directly affected by the storm. Quote: “Let us help ease the burden of our friends from Northern Cebu by helping with our mission to give aid to the Northern Cebu Typhoon Victims such as Daan Bantayan and Bogo. Pagan Federation International is needing volunteers and donations.” Vivianne Crowley, a longtime member and organizer within the Pagan Federation, added, quote, “many of you will have seen on news programs the devastation in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda). The Pagan community in the Philippines seem to all be safe, but some have lost their homes and many people are lacking food, water and shelter. Our friends in Pagan Federation International Philippines are appealing for help.” The Wild Hunt’s Heather Greene is currently following up with PFI Philippines on this effort, and we hope to bring you a more in-depth report this Sunday. I have embedded a poster created by PFI Philippines below, which lists contact information and a list of needs.

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Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

Meanwhile, Pagan activist and disaster relief first responder Peter Dybing has issued a challenge to our community to give during this time of crisis. Quote: “Here is the challenge. I ask that every individual identifying as part of our community do the following things. 1. Select a relief organization that is doing work in the Philippines and donate what you can. 2. Post a link to the organization and call on everyone you know to take a similar action. 3. When the disaster fades from the news show support for the idea of a Pagan lead disaster relief organization. I have never directly asked you to share my blog posts. Today I am, please share this challenge far and wide.” Dybing added on his Facebook profile that “The American Red Cross has an outstanding record of being of assistance in small local disasters. Their record in large scale disasters is however, marred by very poor performances in responding to disasters like Katrina and Haiti. Millions of earmarked funds unspent years later. Better to donate to the local Philippines Red Cross directly.” A link to the Red Cross in the Philippines can be found, here. I’ve also provided a link to Doctors Without Borders, here.

worldwide heathen census asatru norse mythology blog norsemythBack in October I mentioned the launch of the Worldwide Heathen Census, a project of the Norse Mythology Blog that is attempting to “establish an approximate number of adherents through an anonymous survey with only one item: a pull-down menu where the respondent selects his or her home country. It is hoped that the anonymous nature of this census will attract responses from heathens who may not want to put their name on an official form from a governmental agency or research institution.” According to Dr. Seigfried, the census was in part sparked by frustration over Heathens being “mostly invisible in major surveys of religious affiliation,” and seeks to remedy that. Below, I’ve embedded a graphic from a November 9th update on the census, which will run through December of this year. So far, the United States seems to hold an overwhelming majority of contemporary Heathens, with Germany running a distant second, and the UK and even more distant third. Regarding the UK number, we do know that the census of England and Wales counted nearly 2000 Heathens (with another 150 or so in Scotland), so that number should climb a bit if participation increases. I’ll keep you posted on the final results once the census closes.

November 9 Worldwide Heathen Census 2013 Results by Country Norse Mythology Blog

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Several Pagans, reconstructionists, and polytheists have spoken out over a stunt “God Graveyard” put up by atheists in Wisconsin. Sannion has rounded up many of those voices at his blog, here. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus noted that “they [atheists] are so concerned with evidence and proving things and making sure everything they say is factual, that they get to ignore all of religious studies, history, real people and traditions that are occurring today, and other matters that might shed light on anything that has to do with religion since all religion is unreal/false/nonsense, etc.” At Baring the Aegis, Elani Temperance adds that the atheist group’s stunning lack of ethics in this matter undermines their argument for unbelief, quote, “ethical behavior is not religious, but social, and the AHA would do well to remember that.” Or, as Sannion puts it in a follow-up, “it’s a dick move to tell another person that their god is dead; doesn’t really matter whether you’re laughing while you do it or wielding a knife.”
The "God Graveyard" in Wisconsin.

The “God Graveyard” in Wisconsin.

  • Last week I mentioned Operation Circle Care, a program that sends care packages to active duty Pagan soldiers serving overseas during the holidays. This week, OCC wanted to add that they are urgently looking for names of individuals who want/need this service. Quote: Service members can submit their own names, or those here at home can submit their information. We keep all contact information absolutely confidential. To submit a name we’re asking people to send the full name, rank, branch of military service, country where serving, postal address, email address, and spiritual path for the Pagan service-member, and also include your own name and contact info, plus your relationship with the service-member. We keep contact information confidential to circle@circlesanctuary.org with cc to: occ@circlesanctuary.org.” For more information, see Operation Circle Care’s official page. So if you know someone who needs this service, please get in touch!
  • Publisher Bibliotheca Alexandrina has announced that they are lowering the prices of all their titles effective immediately. Quote:  “Bibliotheca Alexandrina has lowered the prices on nearly all of our print titles. In general, books with a page count of 0-199 pages will be $10.99 US, 200-299 pages will be $12.99, and 300+ pages will be $14.99. There are a few exceptions, as some books have higher production costs, but we plan to stick as close as possible to this pricing scheme moving forward.” They also add that the new prices are effective immediately on their CreateSpace store, but will take a couple of weeks to migrate to places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. There are some excellent titles in their roster, so stock up!
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to fund a trip to India where he has been invited by Sri Tathata to help facilitate the MahaYaga. Quote: “Sri Tathata, a great spiritual leader in India, has asked Patrick to be one of the primary facilitators at the MahaYaha, a 6-day event of rituals and prayers designed to create world peace. The intention of this ritual is to shift the course and consciousness of our planet.  This is a revival of an ancient and sacred Hindu ritual called the MahaYaga, which is written about in the Vedas and goes back many thousands of years. This ritual was stopped a couple thousand years ago and is only now being re-created. In addition to facilitating the ritual itself, Patrick has been asked to be a keynote speaker both as an individual and at a round table with some of the foremost religious and political leaders from around the world where the topic is world peace, women’s issues and planetary sustainability.” Patrick is trying to raise over $10,000 dollars for the trip, and has less than a month to do so.
  • In a recent update sent to supporters, Cherry Hill Seminary puts the spotlight on Dr. David Oringderff, Chair of the Department of Pastoral Counseling and Chaplaincy, and co-founder of the Sacred Well Congregation, for ten years of service to the Pagan learning institution. In the piece, Dr. Oringderff stresses the importance of accreditation for CHS. Quote: “Because I work a lot with the military, and we’ve got a lot of fine young military people who want to become military chaplains, and of course, it’s a very rigid procedure to be accepted as a chaplain in the military. The biggest hurdle is the educational requirement. And so they’re stuck. They have to go to a traditional seminary, or they have to go to a traditional seminary; there’s just no alternative.  Yet.  Until we reach that point.”

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

This past week we witnessed a crescendo of frustration and fury fly from the global Pagan community in the direction of a Facebook Fan Page called “Witches Must Die by Fire” and a Facebook Group called “Those Witches nd Wizzards [sic] should die by Fire by Force.”  The rally cries came by way of social media, blogs and email.  At this point, I would include the links but the “pages” were removed by Facebook around 4pm EST on Thursday, August 23 2013.

FB PageThese offending Facebook “pages” advocated for the extrication and burning of alleged witches and wizards throughout the world. Using a Christian fundamentalist context, the moderators repeatedly preached their gospel on the evils of witchcraft while celebrating all attempts to defeat it.  As proof of witchcraft’s existence, the Fan Page displayed a photo of a South African-Zimbabwe sensationalist rag called H Metro Zim with a headline that read something like “Woman gives birth to frogs…daily.”

Let’s first examine the pages themselves and who owned them? The answer is important because it contextualizes the accusations and religious zealotry. The Facebook Group, “Those Witches nd Wizzards [sic] should die by Fire by Force” appears to have been launched in February of 2013.  It was moderated solely or in part by a Botswanan Pastor named Anthony Matildah, whose own personal Facebook page seems to have also disappeared. The 247 member group communicated in both broken-English and native African dialects including Setswana.  Most of its members were from the sub-Saharan countries of Africa.

The Facebook Fan Page called “Witches Must Die by Fire” was launched on April 3, 2013 by someone of sub-Saharan African-descent. However, this person confessed to “not [having] been back to Africa in 20 years.” He or she communicated in perfect British English and in at least one other African dialect. Based on my own research, I believe the owner resides in the U.K. as did the majority of the users making up the Page’s 340 likes. In recent years, Scotland Yard has in fact noticed an increase in the number of Witch Hunt cases in the UK and a noticeable growth in popularity of U.K.-based African Christian Churches. It is entirely possible that the page owner was a Pastor or, at the very least, a devout follower.

sapralogoAt first everyone assumed that the two pages had the same owner(s); however, they in fact may have no connection.  Regardless, they were certainly aligned through intent and discourse.  Both advocated for faith-based violence and, in doing so, perpetuated a culture of fear rampant in sub-Saharan Africa. Damon Leff, Director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), coordinator of the Petition to Stop WItch Hunts in South Africa and Founder of Touchstone Advocacy said:

[Witchcraft] accusations occur not only in small impoverished villages…. Accusations occur across economic and social status lines.  Accusations are frequently made by ordinary people, not necessarily Christians, and not necessarily as a result of Christian influence. Traditional African beliefs often drive accusations, where traditional healers do play their role by divining suspects of suspected witchcraft activity…No single African country has been immune to its fair share of witch-hunts. Many of these countries already have legislation that forbids accusations of witchcraft… However [this] legislation does not address or seek to correct the beliefs which motivate accusations.

As suggested by Leff and noted in a BBC article on the subject, witchcraft in these cases is defined by a supernatural practice with clear malicious intent. The beliefs are a fusion of fundamentalist Christianity and traditional African folk beliefs. Some pastors use the fear of witchcraft to extort money out of their congregation and have even convinced parents to abuse their own children. This witchcraft is a distorted product of theological extremism gone very, very wrong.

accusation

As such the witchcraft in these cases is not the same as the Witchcraft practiced within the spiritual or ethical framework of a Pagan or Nature-based religion or any other similar positive folk or healing practice. The verbal attacks made on these two Facebook pages were not anti-Pagan.  As best clarified by Circle Magazine Editor Florence Edwards-Miller, this distinction is not at all dissimilar to the Anti-Defamation League’s differentiation between anti-Semitism (a people) and anti-Judaism (a theology.) The Facebook pages attacked a people, not a theology.

However, as pointed out by Damon Leff:

Witch-hunters will never first ask if their victims are Pagan Witches before attacking, as they are unlikely to draw any distinction between one kind of witch or another, and so it is understandable that Witches everywhere should feel personally offended and threatened.

cog-joint-logoAnd, offended we were. Sometime in April “Witches and Wizzards” and “Witches Must Die By Fire,” began receiving counter posts and complaints from concerned Pagans.  However, the Fan Page went private from April to August during which interest waned.  When the Fan Page reappeared on the scene, an avalanche of protests began which included abuse complaints to Facebook, calls to media affiliates, petitions on Change.org, You Tube Videos and blog posts. Babette Petiot of “News & Liens Paienne” even contacted Interpol which is based in her home town of Lyon, France.

As word spread, Pagan organizations became involved. On August 20, Lady Liberty League issued an open letter to Facebook asking it to “revise [its] decision and disable these and all future pages calling for violent witch hunts anywhere.” On the same day, the Covenant of the Goddess responded by saying, it “cannot condone a public call for the death of any one person or group regardless of religious affiliation or lifestyle choice.”

Pagan FederationIn Russia, Pagan Federation co-coordinator Gwiddon said, “What is surprising to me is the reaction of Facebook staff that seems to be completely ignoring this issue, despite the repeated notifications from witches and pagans.” In the U.K., The Pagan Federation’s Mike Stygal agreed asking “why [should] Facebook allow pages that are clearly aimed at inciting hatred, violence and murder to continue to grace their social network?”

With 100s of complaints being turned away or ignored entirely, there was nothing to explain Facebook’s decision. On Tuesday I was able to reach Facebook’s Public Policy and Communication Department. After several exchanges, they promised to be in touch with an explanation. But the pages went down before I ever got a response. So I contacted Facebook again.  They confirmed that the pages were removed by them.  Then they offered this short explanation when I asked “What happened?”

With over one billion users worldwide, we always encourage our users to report content that they believe violates our policies here and it looks like we didn’t receive any violations [on these pages]…. It could be possible that users may have reported that they violated under different terms…”   

As the moderator of an international free-speech forum, Facebook handles two million abuse reports per week. As Emily Brazelton explains in her book Sticks and Stones, the Facebook system is mostly automated leaving reviewers only seconds to handle each complaint.  If two identical complaints are rejected, any future similar complaints are ignored. (Brazelton, Sticks and Stones, pg 268-269)

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

By Enoc vt (File:Botón Me gusta.svg)

It may be that our voices were, at first, lost in that automated shuffle. However, in the end our mounting pressure broke through and Facebook took corrective actions to uphold its own policies. In reaction, the Covenant of the Goddess together with the Lady Liberty League responded with gratitude urging “the Pagan community to join [them] in expressing [their] thanks to Facebook for listening and making this positive change.” They added:

We hope Facebook will to continue to be a leader in the effort to address violence and hate wherever it festers.

This felt like a win for many of us who celebrated from behind our computer screens.  But was it really?  Should we even be celebrating? What are we celebrating? The notoriety of these pages took us, first world Pagans, to a place labeled “witchcraft” where our nature- spirituality, our ethics, our mythology and our beliefs intersect with something far more horrifying.  While these Facebook pages may not have been directed toward us, in viewing them we reached a point of liminality where distinctions between Witchcraft and witchcraft were no longer made.  That is scary.

Now that the pages are down, we can move beyond that surreal point back into the security of our own world. Unfortunately, the removal of these two Facebook pages created no comfort for those living in the affected regions of Africa or elsewhere. Should this week’s events be a wake-up call for Pagans and Witches worldwide to reconsider our relationship with the accused? Now that the “fire” is put out, should we re-evaluate our responsibility, as a People who claim the word Witch, to those people who are dying because of the word witch?

Never Again the Burning Times??

Courtesy of Flickr's emilydickinsonridesabmx

Courtesy of Flickr’s emilydickinsonridesabmx

This week a law was passed that will make same-sex marriage legal in England and Wales. The landmark legislation, approved by Queen Elizabeth II, clears the way for legal marriages to start in 2014. The way the new law is structured, religious organizations must “opt in” in order to perform a legally binding ceremony. This historic move follows recent advances for same-sex marriage in parts of the United States and for all of France. Just as I collected reactions from modern Pagans in America following the DOMA/Prop 8 Supreme Court decisions, so too did I want to see how Pagans in England and Wales felt about this development.

web-gay-marriage-getty

Mike Stygal, President of the Pagan Federation, celebrated the “wonderful development,” though pointed out that inequalities remained.

Mike Stygal

Mike Stygal

“Finally the Marriage Act (same sex) has made it through all the hoops our political system presents. This wonderful development is the result of many, many years of persistent effort to secure equality for the LGBT community. There are still inequalities towards LGBT that will need to be challenged and that will require persistent effort to overcome. There are still inequalities with regard to spirituality and faith too. The Pagan Federation is no stranger to persistent effort to challenge and change inequalities and we know just how hard it is to achieve success. Congratulations to all those people who kept at the cause of legal same sex marriage, and to all those who challenge inequality, take heart that inequality can be beaten.”

Yvonne Aburrow, a Pagan from Oxford who also writes for the Patheos blog Sermons From The Mound, noted that Pagans in England and Wales cannot perform legal wedding ceremonies of any kind (which became a point of contention in the lead-up to this law being passed), though was still “delighted” over this advance for marriage equality in the UK.

Yvonne Aburrow

Yvonne Aburrow

“I am delighted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people can now marry someone of the same sex in England and Wales, and that some religious groups will be able to marry same-sex couples in their places of worship. Unitarians, Quakers, and Liberal Jews campaigned particularly hard on this, and Derek McAuley, Unitarian Chief Officer, Paul Parker (Recording Clerk, Quaker Yearly Meeting), and Rabbi Danny Rich, should be applauded for their lobbying efforts. It is a shame that Pagans in England and Wales are unable to marry either opposite-sex or same-sex couples in a legal ceremony, but it looks as if the House of Lords have left open the possibility of humanist weddings, and weddings for other religions too.”

Aburrow added that her optimism was “cautious” and that “tomorrow, we keep fighting for LGBT rights around the world, and for human rights generally. Until it is safe everywhere to be Black, disabled, LGBT, a woman, or a member of a religious minority, then our work is not yet done.”

Like Aburrow and Stygal, Sophia Catherine of the Divine Community podcast brought up the fact that Pagan weddings can still only be symbolic in nature, and not legally binding, but also raised true gender equality as a primary concern.

“My one sadness about this Act is that, initially, it was to be called the Equal Marriage Act, but the name was changed to make it clear that ‘same-sex’ marriage was involved. There are more than two genders, and that the Act upholds the gender binary that society is obsessed with. However, this Act does take a step forward, in that regard, Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, for mixed-sex married couples where one member changed their legal sex, the couple had to divorce and obtain a civil partnership. Now that marriage is available to all regardless of sex/gender, this will no longer be the case. It is a shame that couples who were forced to go through this process will not automatically regain their marriages, but they will be able to ‘convert’ these civil partnerships back into marriages. Of course, this does not make up for the indignity of what they had to go through, but in the future, this won’t happen to any more couples where one changes their legal sex.”

Vivianne Crowley, author, Jungian psychologist, and faculty at Cherry Hill Seminary, is currently in Paris, and gave a broad perspective informed by France’s recent legalization of same-sex marriages.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“The last three centuries have seen in western culture a shift towards recognition of the autonomy of the individual and the right to freedom of self-expression. It is a tide that dictators and others have sought to suppress. It has been subverted – sometimes the tide has turned; but slowly consciousness has undergone a shift.

Major social changes occur when almost unconsciously the greater mass of people sense that an idea is self-evidently right. At first, such evolutions of thought are the preoccupation of a few who are ahead of the zeitgeist. In the late eighteenth century and nineteenth centuries, recognition of the unique value of each individual led inevitably to the abolition of slavery in Europe and the United States. The political impetus that overthrew absolute monarchs led to democracy and the recognition that every adult male should have the right to vote for who should rule his country. In the twentieth century, an inexorable tide saw that right extend to women. Now the west is ready for a new right – the right of individuals to choose to marry their life partner regardless of gender and to make a public commitment that is recognized and honored by the state.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa, among others, set the trend. Now the United Kingdom and France have followed almost simultaneously and other European countries will do the same.

Here, in France, Catholics marched against same-sex marriage, but the law has been swiftly passed. July 14th is Bastille Day, France’s equivalent of the 4th of July – a celebration of revolution past and national identity present. There are major celebrations in all French towns, and particularly of course in Paris. This July 14th the iconic Eiffel Tower was lit up with rainbow colors and songs filled the Paris night sky, celebrating equal marriage rights for all.

Where Canada and Europe can go, other nations can go too. But in the meantime, Vive la France –liberté, égalité, fraternité! And well done, Britain!”

Perhaps the most succinct response that encapsulates many of the recurring themes heard from UK Pagans on marriage equality is from Cat Treadwell, a Trustee of The Druid Network, and ordained Awenydd (Priest) of The Anglesey Druid Order.

“Consenting adults have loved each other for centuries, with or without permission, and will no doubt continue to do so; the law slowly moves forward to accommodate this. We can only hope that as society becomes more accepting, Pagan unions will also be recognised in our own lifetimes.”

Let us hope that society continues to move forward on accepting the simple reality of consenting adults loving each other, and that the desire for modern Pagan clergy in England and Wales to perform legally recognized unions within that tapestry of love is soon realized.

After reading the Wild Hunt article on the Community Wreath, Babette Petiot, a French Polytheist living in the Auvergne countryside, decided to begin a community wreath in France. When I read about this project, called Aureole Païenne, I immediately contacted Babette. I was terribly curious about the Pagan experience in France.  Which traditions are prevalent? What obstacles do they face? Where do they make spiritual purchases?

Babette Petiot's village in the Auvergne countryside

Babette Petiot’s village in the Auvergne countryside

Babette, who is the moderator of the News et liens païens Face Book group, entertained my questions and offered me extensive access to the French Pagan community. With her help, I was able to get a snap-shot of Pagan life in France seen through the eyes of a diverse set of practitioners.

In general, the French Pagan population is small and spread out.  “After a quick opinion poll on Face Book we estimate ourselves to be between 3000 and 5000. But it is more a guess than anything,” Babette said.  There are no reliable statistics just as in the U.S.

Babette also described the community as young. She said, “We are just getting out of the proverbial broom closet.”  Echoing this description was Luc Martel, a Hellenist from Lyon. He said, “le Paganisme français est encore dans son enfance, il reste invisible et informel, même s’il est en phase de croissance.” [Translation: French Paganism is still in its infancy.  It still remains invisible and informal even in this growth phase.]

log20o10Who is coming out of the broom closet? Which paths are most popular? French Pagan practice spans the spectrum. To name a few, there are Polytheists, Hellenists, Ásatrú, Reconstuctionists, and Alexandrian and Gardnerian witches. However, most of my contacts said that Druidisme is the most popular. Mariane, an Ásatrú and director of the French division of the Pagan Federation International, said “[Druidism seems to be] the best organized and has the largest number of followers.”  Ana Lama, Druidress for Communauté de l’Arbre Druidique (CAD), adds:

We have an important connection to [Celtic] history on our own ground. We try as much as we can to rely on archeological discoveries…Most of our groups are built upon Gallic roots using Gallic tribe names and rituals. Many druidic groups… are affiliated with Great Britain groups.

A few people did speculate that Wicca has the greater following. However, this is difficult to assess because most French Wiccans are self-taught eclectic, solitary practitioners. There are very few covens or organizations outside of Paris and Lyon. The most well-known is the Ligue Wiccane Eclectíque based in Paris. It supports Cercle Séquana and the on-line magazine Lune Bleue.  Siannon and Xavier Mondon two Ligue Wiccane members, co-coordinate one of the few Wiccan festivals: the Festival de Déesses.

lweimb10

Why are most Wiccans solitary eclectics? The answer is simple: language. To date, the majority of Wiccan books are written and published in English. Therefore non-English speakers have had limited educational resources. Iconic books like Starkhawk’s Spiral Dance and Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon, for example, have never been translated.  However, Scott Cunningham’s books are available in French. As a result, many French Wiccans follow his solitary teachings.

Along with reading limitations, there are also very few metaphysical shops. This problem affects all Pagans; not just the Wiccans. Consequently, as best stated by Luc Martel, “Le Paganisme reste encore largement une cyber-religion.” [Paganism is still largely a cyber-religion.]  Most communication, interactions and purchases are done online.  This cultural phenomenon supports Martel and Babette’s earlier point that the community is, as a whole, “young.”  Wide-spread internet usage began less than twenty years ago.

Despite the emerging Pagan culture, Babette says many Pagans are still “deep in the broom closet.” When I first asked why, I expected horrific stories of religious prejudice. But, in fact, I got a very different answer. As Siannon of Ligue Wiccane Eclectíque said, “Religion in general is a bit taboo.”

Sacred site along the Loire

Sacred site along the Loire

The French have a very different relationship with religion than Americans. As Babette explains:

There has always been this vision of [religiosity] as something for the poor, non-educated, or for women. [This] explains partly why secularism is such a big deal.  I’m almost sure a French person will far more easily talk you about sex than religion.

To understand this more clearly, it is best to briefly compare the religious ideology between the U.S and France. The U.S. Constitution supports religious freedom by protecting the right to worship.  All religions must be included or excluded where appropriate.  In France, the law supports religious freedom by legally excluding religion from public life – recognizing none. This is called laïcité or secularism.  As an example, in 2004, the French Government banned the wearing of religious symbols in schools including head scarfs, yarmulke, crosses, pentacles etc.  Could the U.S. government ever impose such a ban? Consider this PewGlobal comparison. 50% of Americans feel that religion is a very important and 53% said that it was “necessary to believe in God.”  In France, the figures are 13% and 15% respectively.  Which society is, as a culture, more secular?

Siannon and others argue that French laicité actually means “no religion unless you are Catholic.”  In 1995, the State created Miviludes, an office to watch for derive sectaire [Cultic Deviances.]  Unlike in the U.S., French law clearly defines cults in an effort to protect its citizen’s safety. In 2009, Miviludes fined a French Scientology group for engaging in fraudulent behavior. Although this is done in the name of secularism, the State’s cult watch is considered a threat to minority religious practice.

Due to this culturally-ingrained secularism, there are very few aggressive public challenges to Paganism. Xavier Mondon of Ligue Wiccane Eclectíque explains: “[People don’t even realize that] there are any pagans left today. For most people, [Paganism] is…old historical stuff.” Most of the population is indifferent or simply unaware. Others confuse it with silly fantasy or “charlatainism” as noted by Xael, a Wiccan eclectic and Shaman. While there are Christian zealots who confuse witchcraft and Satanism, this is infrequent and only happens in the private sector.

Leanthe, Fleur de Lyon: a symbol of peace and harmony for Pagans in Lyon

Leanthe, Fleur de Lyon: a symbol of peace and harmony for Pagans in Lyon

Aside from the limitations caused by language, misconceptions and the State’s cult-watch, there is a bigger problem facing the French Pagan community. As best stated by Luc Martel, “Le plus grand obstacle au Paganisme français, ce sont les Païens français !” [The biggest obstacle for French Paganism is French Pagans.]  All of my correspondents made this same statement in some form. Christophe, a Gardnerian Witch, blamed the large population of teenage practitioners who don’t know how to perform rituals or organize covens and who believe being a “witch” is trendy. Others blamed hot tempers, egos and individualistic natures. Babette blames the broom closet. She said, “French Pagans are so comfortable “hiding behind their [facades] and the internet [that] they won’t come out.”

However, the culture is changing. Druidress Anna Lama noted, At this moment we are trying to organize all Druidic groups under a Druidic council called Comarlia.  Along with the PFI, Ligue Wiccane Eclectíque and other such organizations, there are smaller groups forming locally and on the web. Of course, Babette and Luc Martel, with his groups Fleur de Lyon and Café Païen, are working on the community wreath project: Aureole Païenne. Babette remarked, “[We are] trying to be an active community. We have a long way ahead of us and the first steps are to let the different traditions speak to each other and create bridges.”  Echoing this hope, Xael said, “Things are changing.  In time, I believe Paganism will be recognized as a true spiritual [path.]”

The French Community Wreath
The French Community Wreath

Note: The original community wreath will be retired during an Ostara ritual at the Atlanta Pagan Market Place of Ideas next weekend.  A new wreath will take its place and begin its journey. Babette and Georgia-based NGS have exchanged ribbons to be included on each other’s wreaths. There have been at least two other U.S.-based community wreaths started since the original article was published.

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

Pagan Federation Withdraws Tribunal Hearing Request Over Charity Status: The Wild Hunt has been covering the Pagan Federation’s quest to receive official charity status in the UK which had run into obstacles from the Charity Commission who didn’t think the organization met “all the essential characteristics of a religion for the purposes of charity law.” After first requesting a tribunal hearing on the matter of their denial, the organization has decided to not pursue this course, saying it now accepts the commission’s stance on the matter.

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“Members of the Pagan Federation Committee have discussed the charity commission response at some length and, having read through the CC’s response again, we accept that the PF as it currently exists does not fit easily into the requisites of the CC for the granting of charitable status. As such, we do not want to waste everyone’s time on a tribunal hearing and hereby withdraw our application and request for a tribunal hearing.

We really appreciate the willingness of the charity commission to continue our dialogue as to how we might best put forward an application for a charitable arm of the PF (as a religious and/or educational charity) once we have thought back through the structure of the PF and how we wish the organisation to evolve and develop in the future.”

While this may be disappointing, it’s clear that the Pagan Federation is thinking tactically, and will be pursing charity status in a different way moving forward. We will keep you posted as this story continues to develop.

T. Thorn Coyle to Speak at Overlap Conference: Pagan author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, has been invited to speak at Overlap, a “multidisciplinary, collaborative experience” that seeks participants who pursue “the insights of other disciplines to enhance and deepen their own area(s) of inquiry.” Here’s a quote from the official press release sent out by Thorn.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“Teacher and author T. Thorn Coyle has been invited to participate in the Overlap conference in January. This is an annual invitation only peer-to-peer gathering, – an ad hoc “think tank” – that started off trying to increase innovation and awareness in the business and design communities. This year the conference will gather military officials, technical innovators, CEOs, doctors, researchers, entrepreneurs, non-profit advisors, historians, architects, and people from a variety of other professions. [...] This year’s theme is “Overlap:Risk, a transdisciplinary dive into the unknowable” and participants will each present their thoughts on risk, creating space for dialogue on some of the deeper questions facing humanity right now.”

Significantly, Thorn will be the only explicitly religious perspective represented at the conference. What does it mean that a Pagan voice was selected for inclusion? I’ll be following up with Overlap organizers for an answer, but I suspect that Pagans bring a unique and much-needed perspective on how to create dialog among diverse paths and peoples. Our congratulations go out to Thorn on being selected for what looks like a unique and prestigious opportunity for her, and for our interconnected communities.

 Temple of Witchcraft Launches Crowdfunding Effort for Parking Expansion: The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, after encountering some resistance from neighbors to expand and make improvements to their new building in Salem, New Hampshire, recently received unanimous approval from the local Planning Board. Now, with the planning board’s permission in place, the temple has launched a crowdfunding initiative to pay for improvements.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

“The Temple of Witchcraft, a nonprofit neo-pagan religious organization, has met one of its most important goals: the acquisition of land and buildings to give the Temple a permanent home. Now we need your help to open the doors of our new home and welcome Temple members for classes and celebration! [...] The Temple has purchased Grandview Manor, a beautiful late 19th-century house with detached barn and cottage and over five acres of land in Salem, NH. To comply with the town’s requirements for holding classes and religious services at the property, we need to put in additional parking between the house and the barn. We have a site plan, approved by the Salem Town Planning Board, what we need now is to raise the funds to hire a contractor to do the work to implement it.”

The Temple is trying to raise $68,000 dollar in 117 days, an ambitious sum in the history of Pagan fundraising, but the Temple of Witchcraft has built a good reputation, and has a large network of supporters, so it seems very possible that they’ll be able to accomplish this. Head over to their IndieGoGo page for more information, a list of donation perks, and ways you can help.

In Other Community News: 

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