Rescue workers in front of Shinto shrine. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj
“As things progress, we can hope that a larger sense of the importance of ancestor worship, tradition, the divine within nature, and the multiplicity of spiritual beings within Japanese culture will shine through in future aftermath coverage. In this disaster there is a rare opportunity to understand how a culture outside the Christian context grapples with universal questions and problems. Religion journalists should rise to this occasion, and minority faiths in the West should ask for the true diversity of faith in our world be accurately and fairly covered.”
“Shinto priests throughout Japan are preparing to hold commemoration ceremonies on March 11 to mark the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed an estimated 20,000 people. The Association of Shinto Shrines has issued a suggested prayer to be read during the ceremonies. That prayer, according to the Rev. Masafumi Nakanishi, a Shinto priest, describes the calamity, pleads that there be no more disasters and asks that people live peacefully. [...] Nakanishi said many of the shrines that were spared last year were built just beyond the tsunami’s reach, crediting Shinto ancestors with their safe placement. Many of the surviving shrines were used for disaster relief efforts, with some serving as shelters following the earthquake and tsunami and others serving as collection sites for donations to assist the victims.”
The RNS piece also quotes Georgetown professor Kevin M. Doak, who says that “the Japanese have a kind of innate, intuitive empathy” which “may be due to Shinto as much as to anything else.” Another insight into the minds of those who’ve been shaped by Shinto, and this recent tragedy, comes from MSNBC.com. In that piece, Kuni Takahashi reports on rebuilding plans and interviews Masanori Sato, the son of a Shinto priest.
“At first I didn’t have a clue where to start, but I slowly began to see things clearly after moving out of the evacuation center into temporary housing,” Sato said recently. “I felt myself settling down a bit. I want to put our village together again. The land has changed but the people are not all gone. We are talking about reviving our community just like it used to be – including both good things and bad things [...] Being a tsunami survivor changed my way of thinking. I guess I learned from it. I realized how important the community is to help each other. I was too selfish before.”
Both of these looks into how Shinto adherents deal with immense tragedy are welcome, though I still wish more time was spent unpacking how Japanese culture, and traditional Japanese religion, shapes views of the earthquake and tsunami. For example, a recent AFP report mentions how this tragedy has created scores of “ghosts,” and notes that “Shinto priests have been called upon to console the souls of the dead and ease their passage into the next world before they purify the places their bodies were found.” Yet no further detail is given into how this process happens, or how the role of Shinto priests have changed in the wake of the tsunami. So much more is here to be said, and heard. I hope those who cover the religion beat rise to the occasion and continually move beyond their comfort zones to hear the voices of religious men and women who may operate outside a context they understand.
For many modern Pagans, we feel a natural affinity with our Shinto cousins. Last year we saw Peter Dybing lead an initiative that raised $30,000 dollars for Japan earthquake assistance, a new landmark in our ability to collectively give. I hope that our community will also observe March 11th as a day of prayer and commemoration. That we ask our gods, the spirits, the land itself, to spare Japan from further disasters, and people live peacefully.
As we reach the close of 2011, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.
10. New Christian Missionary Code of Conduct: In June of this year a coalition that claims to represent around 90% of the world’s Christians released joint recommendations for the conduct of Christian missionaries. This document, while toothless in regards to enforcement, it does represent a core shift in fighting “arrogance, condescension and disparagement” among Christian missionaries toward non-Christian faiths and building a new ethos of mutual respect and cooperation between Christians and non-Christians.
“Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts. [...] Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions. [...] Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.“
09. Pagan Fundraising on the Internet Goes Big: Within our interconnected communities there’s often been the notion that we lack the commitment or cohesion to raise significant funds for causes or projects that matter. That a “poverty consciousness” reigns when it comes to anything outside our immediate wants or desires. This criticism lost a lot of weight in 2011 as a growing number of Pagan projects and fund-drives managed to raise impressive figures for a community as demographically small and philosophically diverse as ours. This year we saw Peter Dybing lead an initiative that raised $30,000 dollars for Japan earthquake assistance, while Starhawk, along with producers Paradox Pollack and Philip ‘Mouse’ Wood, raised over $75,000 for a planned movie adaptation of Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing”.
In addition, a fundraising drive to produce a memorial documentary project in honor Merlin Stone (author of the seminal book “When God Was A Woman”) raised over $10,000. These may not seem like huge numbers to the larger, more institutionalized, religions in the West, but these efforts, and several smaller ones also held this year, are somewhat groundbreaking for us. It proves that Pagans will support projects they believe in, and that Internet services like Kickstarter have provided an essential tool in tapping that support. As modern Pagans build their own unique infrastructure (more on that next) I predict we’ll continue to see this crowd-funded model evolve into something that can really build (and do) great things.
“After working through unexpected delays, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (ASW) has obtained the building permit to begin construction of the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) and the contractor is preparing to lay the foundation. “We are very excited to finally be able to break ground,” said Jim Dickinson, the NAL Project Manager, “It is ‘a dream whose time has come’!”“This project is about preserving our past and building our future. It is a dream becoming manifest that will inspire scholarship and a deepening of magickal culture. It is proof that our community is maturing,” said Ivo Dominguez, Jr., founding member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and one of the driving forces behind the NAL.”
joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.
“In her introductory remarks, joi wolfwomyn asked folks to treat eachother with respect and really listen to the different perspectives brought out in the day and that energy of respect really carried forward into the entire day of programming and events. Vicki Noble’s keynote integrated both her personal experience as a feminist separatist as well as her acknowledgement of the multitude of genders that exist and our need to respect the diversity of gender. Her statement on separatism was that it can be through having separate spaces that members of marginalized groups can become stronger and return to the larger community with the confidence and commitment to make real and positive change.”
We are at a crossroads now with this discussion, and despite a few sour notes, most of the exchanges have been reasoned, open, empathetic, passionate, and willing to create a dialog that is inclusive and productive. I have few illusions that all problems will be “solved,” but I do think what we are witnessing here is historic, and will change us in ways we can’t envision now. The collective maturity and willingness we’ve displayed so far in these discussions is a credit to our family of faiths, and when future historians look back at this time they will say “this is when transgendered Pagans began to receive the full embrace and respect of their coreligionists.”
“I’m aware that this conclusion may seem controversial. Many pagans like to believe that there is no such thing as a universal moral truth, and many recoil at the use of the word ‘should’. James Ray’s sweatlodge puts that kind of relativism to a life-and-death test. As a final remark, my friends, may I say that you do not need to undergo a heat endurance test to the death in order to know that you are strong in spirit.” – Brendan Myers
Ray’s trial and conviction was certainly big news this year, but what, ultimately, does it say to modern Pagans? I think it calls into focus issues of cultural appropriation, of acquiring spiritual technologies outsider your context without proper oversight or training, and is a stark warning about the corrupting influence of power unchecked. James Arthur Ray was part of the “New Age” movement, but many elements he incorporated can be easily found among modern Pagans, and this should be a lasting wake-up call to make sure we don’t fall into the excesses and pitfalls of Ray and his ilk.
Today the Pagan Japan Relief Project prevailed in its effort to raise $30,000.00 for Doctors Without Borders. This achievement belongs to the entire community. While there are many examples of individuals and organizations that established efforts in support of this project, it is the community as a whole that has spoken; declaring it’s allegiance to the principle that we are one human family.
Already First Giving has distributed funds to Doctors Without Borders in support of their relief efforts. As little as $3.00 purchased a blanket for those without shelter. The small sum of $5.00 obtained medications for individuals unable to afford them. Today there are survivors receiving critical care as a result of this effort.
This project also represents an important moment in Pagan history. Working together across intrafaith boundaries this community has demonstrated the maturation that has occurred over the past few decades. We have established that we are an effective and unified religious community that can respond to world events, take action when necessary and work together in support of achievable goals. Gone is the quietly whispered sentiment that Pagans do not work together or that Pagans do not give to charity.
Pagans from all over the country gave from the heart in support of this effort. About a week ago I received an email from a community member who was attempting to figure out how to make the FirstGiving site charge their ATM card $5.00 as that was the balance in their account. It is this ethic of giving all that we can that has so impressed me. Many community members have given multiple times to the effort. We should all be proud of these incredible expressions of intent, compassion, self-sacrifice, and determination to make a difference. Collectively, we have manifested change in the world and our community all at once.
As facilitator of this project it has been my privilege to witness our community pull together in this effort. Humbled is the only word I can think of that expresses my feelings about this effort. Humbled viewing this achievement humbled to be a member of this community and humbled to be allowed to play a small part in this historic response.
Pagans we are strong, we are focused, we are effective, we have proven that there are no limits on what this community can accomplish and we deserve to be Proud.
In Service and Gratitude, Peter Dybing
In addition, here’s a short statement from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who was instrumental in spreading the word and making contacts within the Pagan community for this to happen.
“The combined efforts of Pagans of many paths & places in giving, in expressing support, and in networking has not only raised money to help one of the international organizations engaged in relief efforts in Japan, but it has raised consciousness that Pagans can work together for the greater good.”
That the Pagan community has been able to collectively raise over $30,000 dollars, much more if you could count donations to other initiatives and organizations that Pagans have been involved in, is a monumental achievement. My personal thanks to all of you who became a part of this effort, and not only helped the people of Japan and a very worthy organization, but also showed that we can collectively pull together to accomplish great things. To the people of Japan, the Pagan community stands in solidarity with you at this time of crisis and tragedy.
Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!
Pagan Japan Relief Project Reaches Finish Line: The initiative started by Peter Dybing for the Pagan community to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has almost reached its conclusion! As of this writing, there is less than 1,400 dollars left to raise, and the hope is that this goal will be reached by the end of the weekend.
“When disaster strikes, it means that the Earth is finding Her own balance. But it is our job to feel compassion, lend aid, and support our fellow creatures that they may survive this terrible time and regain wholeness. And while we do this, let us also remember that it is this life that matters – the next will take care of itself. So as we come to the aid of our fellow beings on Mother Earth, let us live as though each day is our last, and let every day be a blessing.” - Rev. Kirk Thomas ADF Archdruid
“There are two ways you can take a talk about Paganism and the future. One is what is going to be the future of Paganism, the other is how is Paganism going to deal with the broader future, that is breathing down our necks at this point. I will be talking about both. We are moving into a future that a lot of people are going to find very challenging, especially if they have bought into the attitude, that “Our ancestors were stupid. We are smart, and we are going to go zooming off to the stars. We know the truth, and no one else has ever done so.”
Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for more updates from the conference.
“Our Pagan Heart is an independent film, being shot over the course of a year. It follows a village outside of time (neither truly Norse nor quite Mad Max) over the nine sabbats followed by my Druid group. We added the ritual for Fallen Warriors at Remebrance Day (Veterans Day) because so many of us are military, ex-military or base rats. Each 10-12 minute episode not only tries to show the reason for the sabbat, but also to explore one of the nine virtues of Celtic-Norse tradition.
As the villagers face challenges ranging from the death of their only healer, to a radical change in leadership and the resulting change in priorities, we see the heart of our faith. What does it mean to live these virtues, these beliefs, the result of believing in ever-present, personally committed Gods who touch every aspect of your life. There are real struggles for meaning, real questioning of their faith in the face of devastating loss.”
“This week I joined a group of my fellow musicians to create a music video in support of the protesters in Madison, Wisconsin. The song, “Madison”, was written by my friend Mark Vickness of Glass House, and spoken word artist PC Munoz. It was produced start to finish at EMB Studios, the studio Winter and I share with Paul Nordin. I was proud and honored to be a part of this project and thought I’d share it with you all here. Enjoy and may it bring you hope and good cheer!”
Thanks to Sharon for sharing this with the Pagan community. For more on Pagan participation in the Wisconsin labor protests, click here.
“Ed Francis is doing better & has begun speech, physical, and occupational rehabilitation at a hospital in St. Louis. Please continue to send healing to him & support to his partner Linda & other caregivers. Share words of encouragement for his rehab at this Healing page. Thanks much!”
“If everything is holy – imbued with divine power – how do we relate to that holiness? We pay attention. We find connection. We give back. One definition of sacred is “set apart and dedicated to a deity.” How do Heathens act in ways that are dedicated to Thor or Ing? How do Thelemites act in concert with the energy of Nuit? How do Celtic Reconstructionists honor the ever abundant cauldron of the Dagda? I could go on, but the implications of these questions should be clear: we bring everything in our lives into alignment with our worship and our practice. We can give food to the hungry as an act of devotion to the Dagda. We can offer protection to the weak, in Thor’s honor. And we can remember: Nuit is everywhere, the circumference of all that lives.”
There’s a lot there, so I hope you’ll read the entire essay, and use it to spark discussions on your blogs, social networks, and within your communities. As modern Pagans start to act within the world in an increasingly prominent and public manner, how our theologies drive and inspire our actions is something that we’ll need to hold close to our thoughts.
There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Before I begin, let me just remind everyone that the Pagan Japan Relief project, an initiative to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières is just over 3,000 dollars from its final goal! That the Pagan community has been able to collectively raise nearly 27,000 dollars already is a monumental achievement, but lets do a final push, spread the word, and prove that serious fundraising for worthy causes can happen among our interconnected communities. For more background on this initiative, and why it’s important, check out Peter Dybing’s blog.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is siding with polygamists and polyamorists in the controversial case to decriminalize the practice of polygamy in Canada. Monique Pongracic-Speier, lawyer for the BCCLA says that “this law is a Victorian statute. It is time for it to be relegated to the scrap heap of history.” For my full coverage of this case, and why it’s important to modern Pagans, click here.
Yoruba leaders in Nigeria are warning against the extinction of their culture and traditions. At a recent book launch and presentation Chief Mathew Ogedengbe noted that “we have allowed foreign languages, cultures and traditions to rule us.” Participants in the discussion called for the teaching of vernacular language in schools, and criticized the Nigerian film industry, which often demonizes traditional beliefs and practices.
“Atop the hierarchy of demon spirits are the ‘territorial demons’, and squatting near the apex, over Mount Everest, is a purported global-level demon spirit called ‘The Queen of Heaven’ that prevents, according to Peter Wagner, prayers of Catholics, Muslims, and adherents to other supposedly illegitimate forms of religious belief, from reaching God.”
We declared, “Awake, O north wind! Awaken the north wind, and cause this garden that has been enclosed by the enemy to open up so that these seeds of harvest will come forth.”
We also shared that it will be heard on the news that the nation of Japan is surrounded by wind. This will be a sign that harvest will sweep that nation. At that time I also encouraged the leadership to establish schools of the prophets both on Hokkaido Island (the far north) and Okinawa (the far south) to keep the wind of God blowing and to neutralize the demonic forces that are influencing and holding Japan in captivity.
“However, of recent years, this link with Amaterasu and sun worship was reinstated in a ceremony in which the new Emperor once again participated and “spent the night with the goddess” after eating the sacred rice. I believe this is one major reason that Japan has gone downhill economically in such a drastic way. [...] this island, Hokkaido, looks like the head of a dragon with the body being the rest of Japan. The people of Asia have worshipped the dragon for 5,000 years. If one looks at the place where the earthquake took place, it looks like the soft underbelly of most vulnerable part of the dragon. Let’s pray that the deep idolatry and the worship of hundreds of idols under the guise of Shintoism, Buddhism, and allegiances to being “sons of the dragon” will be broken and thousands will turn to the Lord.”
Again, this would all be sad and laughable, a delusion rightly mocked and shunned by the civilized world, were it not for the political clout and influence this movement, and its allies, are currently trying to grasp. Many of us would like to believe that those who disagree with us on various issue are, at heart, decent people with different philosophies about the world. In most cases this is true, but any group that would welcome mass death and destruction as a method to changing minds is spiritually, emotionally, and mentally bankrupt. That this “Third Wave” and other anti-Pagan ideologues like David Barton are given unprecedented access to lawmakers and people of influence is frightening. Any politician who associates with them, who doesn’t condemn and distance themselves from them, are to be held as suspect by anyone who values pluralism and secular democracy.
“Pagans from all over the country have donated and stepped forward to endorse the project. We received donations from individuals as well as organizations. To all those who stepped forward THANK YOU. We still have been unable to generate significant numbers of small donations. It continues to be the goal of this project to engage the entire Pagan community in a unified effort. If you are concerned that you do not have the funds to donate consider just a few dollars. Each of us can only do so much in these tough economic times. What is important is participation not the donation amount.”
“I’m a teacher and I’m here because I am very passionate about what is wrong with our democracy today. I am a Druid, I have been practicing for about 12 years now, with a group out of the Twin cities. It is very powerful to be here today because the energy is just so intense. There is so much pride and hope. People are coming together, it brings tears. I have already signed my petition to recall my Senator, Sheila Harsdorf, and also for Walker. I am involved in some local community protests, next in Hudson on the bridge, Sunday. I have been through all the emotions, you know, shock, anger, and despair. I’ve cried. You start with one group and target, demonize them and once they are taken out, there is another group. Most Walker supporters do not like non-Christians, so it is very, very scary.”
“London is a place for unusual people who need to find other unusual people. Cities are where misfits always go. If you can’t manage in the village with the curtain-twitchers – if you can’t live like that because you’re gay, or you’re massively artistic, or because you have to talk to angels and demons and spirits … Where else are you going to go to find others who might be like you? You go to London. Could Treadwell’s exist anywhere outside of London? No.”