Archives For Paganism

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

September 23nd, 02:29 UT, will mark the Autumnal Equinox (the evening of the 22nd in North America) which signals the beginning of Fall in the northern hemisphere (our friends in the southern hemisphere are celebrating the Spring Equinox). On this day there will be an equal amount of light and darkness, and after this day the nights grow longer and we head towards Winter. In many modern Pagan traditions this is the second of three harvest festivals (the first being Lughnasadh, the third being Samhain).

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

“In the U.S. this equinox comes on September 22 at 10:29 p.m. EDT, 9:29 p.m. CDT, 8:29 p.m. MDT or 7:29 p.m. PDT. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner. This is our autumn equinox, when the days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. At this equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, people are enjoying the cooler days of autumn even as preparations for winter are underway. South of the equator, spring begins.”Deborah Byrd, EarthSky

The holiday is also known as “Harvest Home” or “Mabon” by Wiccans and Witches, “Mid-Harvest”, “Foghar”, and “Alban Elfed” by some Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, and “Winter Finding” by modern-day Asatru. Most modern Pagans simply call it the Autumn Equinox. Here are some media quotes and excerpts from modern Pagans on the holiday.

“Autumn is my favorite season. As the Autumnal Equinox/Mabon/Alban Elfed approaches, I’m thinking of how this season has always carried a sense of magic and spirit… of descent into the sacred secrets of time… a place of reckoning, with a wise power that can see you as you go, while all the foliate cover falls away… a place where truth can’t hide. Truth is powerful and healing and terrible and cleansing and undeniable, and this is the cathartic season where you feast on it, and it feasts on you. Then you journey deep into winter to rest and wrestle and plan, and in spring rebirth comes and you assemble yourself anew, incorporating your truth, with summer being the field to practice it on and cultivate its fruits. It’s a powerful cycle. It’s a part of life for us humans, whether we’re aware of the process or not. It’s nature, and we come from the Earth and her seasons – our psyches formed by our environment… our home… our mother.” –  Lia Hunter, PaganSquare/Sage Woman

“Despite the bad publicity generated by Thomas Tryon’s novel, Harvest Home is the pleasantest of holidays. Admittedly, it does involve the concept of sacrifice, but one that is symbolic only. The sacrifice is that of the spirit of vegetation, John Barleycorn. Occurring one quarter of the year after Midsummer, Harvest Home represents midautumn, autumn’s height. It is also the autumnal equinox, one of the quarter days of the year.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

“On the equinox, everyone helps to make the feast, often with veggies harvested from the garden.  Little ones are given simple tasks like mashing the potatoes, and my oldest daughter loves to help roll out the pie crust for the apricots and apples collected at Grandma’s house.  Like most days, we like to talk about where our food comes from – the cycle of life that provides for us all.  But on this day, things are a little quieter.  There’s important questions to contemplate. Once the bounty is on the table, beginning to cool off, we begin.  First, I take down the special Harvest glass from the cupboard – a simple goblet engraved with fall leaves and wheat stalks.  It’s filled full of grape juice, a reminder of all the fruits and vegetables we harvest in this season.  We pass it carefully around the table, hand to hand, each family member toasting the things for which they are thankful.  In a way, it resembles a Heathen sumbel rather strongly; but instead of separate rounds, the Gods, ancestors, and spirits are hailed haphazardly along with love, family, and many of the other things we appreciate in our lives.” – Molly Khan, Patheos.com

“Although the specific date of the Autumn Equinox was not marked by any ritual in Celtic tradition, there is evidence that, at some point roughly halfway between Lughnasadh and Samhain, communities would involved themselves with a ceremony that reflected the processes then at work in the Year. This was usually a conclusion to ritual themes invoked at Lughnasadh, and focused on the end of the main harvest activities (i.e., the grain harvest), although it did not imply the end of the entire Harvest season, which continued until Samhain.”Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual

“The English holiday Harvest Home was a very real holiday for centuries. There was no set date for Harvest Home but the things that were celebrated on the holiday are what most of us would expect in early Fall. There were games, ritual celebrations of the harvest, corn dollies, feasting, and parades. Many of these may or may not be “ancient pagan” in origin but they certainly all feel pagan, and are at the very least pagan in the sense that they revolve agricultural cycles.”Jason Mankey, Patheos.com

May you all enjoy the fruits of your harvest this season.

National Guard Called In As Unrest Continues In Ferguson

Courtesy of Scott Olson

The small town of Ferguson, Missouri has become a household name over the last week. Following the killing of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by local police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, the city went into a state of turmoil as local residents responded to the shooting and police responded to the community. The protests of community members sparked a response from local police that displayed a clear picture of the militarization of law enforcement in this country by turning the streets of an average American community into what looks like a war zone.

City Data reports that Ferguson had a population of 21,135 in 2012, and approximately 65% of the residents are Black. This urban area has a documented history of disproportionate arrests and police involvement with people of color from a predominantly Caucasian police force. This pattern contributed to the tension that has fueled the community response to the killing of Michael Brown.

Courtesy of Scott Olson

Courtesy of Scott Olson

While speculation of police corruption and the media’s depiction of the victim have raised some concerns, two issues stand out in discussions about Ferguson: the unjust killing of an unarmed 18 year old Black man and the militarized response of law enforcement towards community members who peacefully protested in response. Tear gas, arrests, military weapons, and tanks on the streets pushed the situation into a full-scale state of emergency and national news material. While some looting activity took place with a small group of people, the mostly peaceful protests were disrupted by police action.

From the killing of Michael Brown to the full-scale response of the local police department, there are more questions than answers coming out of Ferguson. The local authorities’ tactics in withholding the name of the officer involved in the shooting added a lot of fuel to the situation. The local police also released information about an alleged robbery involving Michael Brown at a local store prior to his death, although the police department now admits that officer Wilson was not aware of this incident at the time of the shooting. The continuously changing information, and a recently released private autopsy stating that Brown was shot six times – two in the head – has led to a lot of speculation and national outrage. The media coverage of what is happening in Ferguson has been massive. Footage, articles, and video commentary on social media appear everywhere, adding to the angst felt by many people who are watching this tragedy unfold. CNN and MSNBC are not the only outlets talking about the images on the screen, some which are reminiscent of civil rights demonstrations of the 1960’s. Pagans are talking too.

Author T. Thorn Coyle’s latest piece, Yearning to Be Free, addresses the militarization of police across the United States and the impact that it has on the way human beings are viewed by those in power.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“And then we (some of us) wonder why a young man or woman seeking help are killed instead of given comfort, medical attention, or access to a phone.

We (some of us) wonder why, yet another young man who was just walking to his grandmother’s house ends up lying dead on the street for four hours. When people are mourning, being taunted by police, and the armored cars, snipers and SWAT teams roll in…we then (some of us) wonder why some windows are broken and some stores are set on fire.

And then we (some of us) wonder why – after our government has toppled small government after small government, instituted a war on drugs that has destabilized whole communities at home, locked up unprecedented numbers, and given greater power to those who make the drugs – the children are massing at our borders.”

T. Thorn Coyle was not the only Pagan to write about this unfolding set of issues in Ferguson. The past week has seemed to bring about more upset, confusion, and anger from people of all types, who found their way to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and a multitude of blogs to express their thoughts.

Courtney Weber, author and Wiccan priestess, posted a status on her Facebook page describing her feelings around spiritual workings for justice, and the complexity of the situation in Ferguson.

Courtney Weber

Courtney Weber

“ I will not be lighting candles for peace in Ferguson. Peace is what comes when a problem is resolved. Peace does not mean sitting down and being nice. I will be lighting candles to Lady Justice. I can’t go to Ferguson myself and stand with those who lost, but I can call on the Goddess who sees that order and fairness be restored. I heard this morning of a direct manifestation of unjust actions punished in accordance with how they were dealt. I look forward to seeing this unfold in Ferguson. I look forward to seeing this be the first step in rectifying the severe injustices that are seizing our country and killing off our children. I look forward to seeing that those whose businesses were damaged are appropriately compensated and hope that is soon. But I will not light candles for peace as peace is only the reward of rectifying wrong and we have a lot to do before that can be enjoyed. For those who have asked me if I “support the riots,” if that means, saying, “Go, Rioters! Go!” then no, I am not in support of rioting. But if support means not condemning, then perhaps I could be labeled a supporter. My feeling is less “Rioting is Right!” and more “What did we expect?” This riot is not a reaction to one young man’s death.”

In an attempt to explore this further with other Pagans, I asked several people what their impressions were on the current situation and why they felt this was important to Pagans, as well as to everyone else.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

“I think the situation in Ferguson has forced society to see the ugly truths in the mirror it has long worked to ignore. Michael Brown is far from the first young black man to be murdered by police officers but their response has forced his tragic demise into the public eye in a way that should have happened a long time ago. The combination of the increasingly convoluted, deceptive, and unsubstantiated police efforts to justify Officer Darren Wilson’s actions and the level of force used being comparable to occupying armies smashing an uprising showed how systemic these problems are. It isn’t just that a white police officer killed an innocent black man and tried to cover it up; the entire department moved swiftly to smash innocent people because they dared to protest the actions of those whose duty is allegedly “to protect and serve”.

As a Heathen such injustice should not be allowed to stand.  Our lore teaches us to assess based on the merits of another’s words and deeds. The actions of the police are grossly unworthy. The underlying causes spit in the face of honorable conduct, rooted in fear and self-deception.  There are some who have said this is not an issue Heathens should be speaking up on, even in an anti-racist context, as it is not happening in our community. That argument misses the point.  We are part of the world around us and what happens in society impacts us in countless ways. As it says in Havamal 127, “when you come upon misdeeds speak out against them and give your enemies no peace.”  I don’t see anything in there saying that is limited to only those who are closest to us. – Ryan Smith – HUAR Web Admin.

Okay Toya

Okay Toya

“Most definitely what is happening in Ferguson is an important issue. Mike Brown was assassinated for simply being black. The punishment for alleged ‘shoplifting’ is not death by firing squad. It is showing the underbelly of true ugliness. This is what happens when we don’t have an honest and open discussion about White Supremacy and attempt to sweep it all under a carpet in this country. All Black/Brown and Trans/CIS men and women have to deal with this fall out, for trying to survive in a society that doesn’t view us as human beings.

Most of us were not even born when the 60’s civil rights movement was happening. We didn’t have social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Vine to keep us up to date on the latest. The framing on how the MSM portrays this narrative is troubling. Focusing on the violence that ‘supposedly’ happen and not focusing on why we are out there in the first place. A young man was assassinated by Officer Darren Wilson. All the lies, the cover up to protect one of their own. With blatant disregard for this young man’s life.

It is personally important to me being a Black Female living in a country where I am demonized, dehumanize and criminalize all based on my skin color. I want the conversation to happen. I want us to be able to dismantle the “Altar” of White Supremacy once and for all. I am so tired of the Respectability Politics. I want the Old Guard Elder Black community to listen to us, just like they wanted the Old Guard Elder Black community to listen to them during the 60’s. My pagan side of me is split between burn it down, burn it all down and we need to do this constructively with well thought out plans and process. But too many rapid succession of deaths have happen that should not have happen in the past few weeks and my anger level is extremely high.

Linking arms and Chanting We Shall overcome someday hasn’t gotten us very far, if we are still trying to get the world to view us a simple human beings.” – Okay Toya, Priestess and Author

Meredith Bell

Meredith Bell

“I believe it’s very important. I grew up in Florissant, right next door to Ferguson. The schools that have been closed are the ones I went to as a child. I am not surprised to see the obstruction of justice happening at the police and government level. I am surprised at the amount of force that has been allowed on the part of the authorities. It’s very frightening. As a pagan, I believe that we are one human family, and that we all suffer when any of us suffer. But, as a white person originally from North County St. Louis, I also believe that I have suffered differently than my black neighbors. That I can’t know the same fears and rages that they know. As a priestess, I believe it is my job to bear witness to that rage and fear and try to find systemic ways to shift the causes. In addition to retweeting, reposting, spreading the word of the violence that has happened after sunset night after night, I believe we must engage in changing the tone of racist policing and politics in Missouri and throughout the country. Too many have been killed because there is no accountability for killing black men. Too many have been hurt because police have weapons far beyond what is necessary. I believe in the transformative power of spell work and prayer, but I also think real change comes after the extent of the problem is known.” – Meredith Bell, CAYA coven

Connie Jones-Steward

Connie Jones-Steward

“Yes, it’s important. It’s important to show that we still live in a country where racism is not only alive and well, but that it often has deadly consequences. It’s important because the reactions to Michael Brown’s murder and the following unrest brings to the forefront the attitudes and treatment towards young Black males’ not just by the police but by people in general. I have learned a lot about some people based on their reactions. It’s important because it shows Black people what happens when you become complacent towards politics. Maybe after this the people of Ferguson and Black communities around the country will realize the importance in voting and exercising political power when it comes to creating changes and shifts in power. As a Black woman with young Black males in my family this whole situation touches me deeply; however it has no bearing on my beliefs or faith as a Pagan.” – Connie Jones-Steward, Multi-traditional Priestess

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

“Six bullets and no accountability is my impression. It’s crucial we not forget that because here we have another case of an unarmed young black man shot by a white police officer, not too dissimilar to Oscar Grant (allegedly committing a crime that witnesses don’t support actually occurred.)

The situation was destined to happen and reaction in some ways needed to happen, but it has become like a pressure cooker. This is because law enforcement has decided that instead of allowing space for the emotion, the pain, the anger, and the call for justice; they instead want to cover it up, in affect putting a lid on what needs to be addressed, which is accountability. Yet there are still six bullets and an officer uncharged. So, what could have been some civil disobedience has turned into a shit show.

What I find most disconcerting is the amount of media about everything but the six bullets that killed an unarmed black man. Specifically the amount of attention to arrested white journalists and white civilians. This issue isn’t about them. It’s about murdering an innocent black man, and that being “ok” in our society. Somewhere in this media frenzy of militarized officers and ‘victimized civilians” the focus has shifted to creating a motive for six bullets and criminalizing an innocent black man. Six bullets and not justice, that is my impression and it is precisely those six bullets that makes this not just important but paramount.” – Erick Dupree, Author

Barry Perlman

Barry Perlman

“The situation in Ferguson, MO, is but one more example illustrating the systemic injustices in how our society enforces the law. In this country, people of color are likelier to be treated poorly at all points of the law-enforcement cycle… from being profiled or stopped without fair cause, to their rougher treatment as suspects during arrest, throughout the entire trial process and into their harsher incarceration penalties, all while facing an increased chance of being harmed or killed at every step.  Ferguson is so important because it draws more widespread attention, beyond just communities predominantly of color, to the way structural racism intrudes upon our collective capacity to apply the law fairly in all cases.  The specifics of how the Ferguson situation has been handled in the aftermath of Brown’s shooting is also important because it forefronts the frightening trend of police militarization, a threat to everyone’s freedoms regardless of race. Thankfully, in this age of social media, we’re able to quickly and widely disseminate images and videos which document this trend, so it’s no longer just a battle of unsubstantiated claims.

Ferguson is important to me personally because I strive to be an ally to those who, due to the quirks of birthright in an unjust society, have not received the same benefits I’ve been afforded. As a spiritually aware person, I feel it’s my duty to speak up whenever I see the effects of racism, with the intent of doing my best to help alleviate the suffering it causes, one interaction at a time.  We all suffer from the effects of racial injustice. If I sit back and do nothing, I’m tacitly signing on as an advocate of the system which promotes it… and my conscience won’t allow that.” – Barry Perlman, Co-Owner of the Sacred Well, astrologer.

After a plethora of resources, blogs, posts and news articles about this incident, I found that the Pagan response is very similar to the response of individuals around the United States. They are all attempting to understand what they are watching on the television. Pictures depicting what looks like war are actually images of a small town in Missouri. Those pictures are shattering perceptions of existing justice and peace, and reminding the world of the complexity of equity.

Once again Pagans are asking themselves some complex questions, finding a balance in the challenges of living in the environment around us. How do we feel that peace and spirituality coincide? Is there a time that justice gets messy and what does that mean to us as a community? What are the correlations between Ferguson and our own struggle to be open to diversity, differences, and equity?

Courtesy of Scott Olson

Courtesy of Scott Olson

I have found that through all of my personal processing of the events of the past two weeks, I have also been asking myself the same questions and evaluating my sense of justice with dual citizenship in the Black community and the Pagan community. The death of Michael Brown, and the unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri open old and painful wounds for many in this country. I have also witnessed what appears to be a lack of empathy and understanding for the damage of systemic problems and militarization of law enforcement that plague marginalized communities, and dialog in threads, on the news, and in articles that are dismissive of the multi-layered problems that Ferguson is reflective of. Ferguson is one snapshot of an age-old problem within historically oppressed populations, and the flooding responses to this situation sometimes forget that piece of complexity. I have watched threads dissolve into overtly racist dialog that is very harmful, not just for people of color but also for a community in mourning, and a nation in the process of trying to understand the actuality of racial equity.

I think Erick Dupree’s answer to my question of why he feels that what is happening in Ferguson is important to him personally and, as a Pagan, is the most fitting closure for this piece. The complexity of his answer mirrors the myriad of things I am seeing online, hearing in conversation, and feeling internally.

“I really am struggling with this because I want to believe that love is still the law. I want to believe that humankind is better than this savagery that is power, oppression, privilege, and racism. I want to believe that love is stronger than fear, but I can’t help but know that every mother of a brown child lives in fear that her child will be the next Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown. In times like this I ask how do we as Pagans lead and be vessels for change? How do we become the Goddess’ conduit?

What I do is work magic in private and within small community to bring swift justice and healing. But that magic is more than lighting a candle, it is bringing the circle to the situation through social justice initiatives. Where I live, it was attending a vigil and protest in NYC, standing beside my religious community and social peers and using my voice. By speaking out about those six bullets, and reminding the world that an unarmed black man teenager is dead and that there is need for accountability I hope to manifest change. That may sound flippant, but if the Pagan voice and our actions can add one drop of Love back into the bucket of humanities egregious injustices, then love is still remains the law and change happens.”

 

“If the pagan polytheisms have always lost, … it is, among other reasons, because of their exceptional capacity for tolerance…” – Marc Augé

510U4nBPTUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The books you read can often illuminate patterns within the culture and society that you may not have noticed, or re-contextualize thoughts you’ve already had. Such is the case with “A Million and One Gods: The Persistence of Polytheism” by Page duBois, a Distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego. For the well-read Pagan or polytheist, much of what duBois says regarding the worship of multiple gods and powers won’t be all that new, but the cumulative goal to advocate for a course-correction within academia regarding the concept of polytheism underlines just how pervasive monotheism is within Western culture’s assumptions and thinking, even from the scholars who are supposed to be dispassionate observers and analysts.

DuBois writes with the zeal of someone working to right a wrong, noting that “the attempt to deny its [polytheism’s] presence produces intolerant assumptions,” and that when “we naturalize monotheism, or see it as the telos, goal or end of religious development, perhaps a stage on the way to atheism, we accept the homologies that have governed Western modernity.” Monotheism as norm has been so rigidly enforced, notes duBois, that we have a hard time seeing the truth about ancient polytheisms, let alone the fact that “polytheism is always present.”

“Our residence in a predominantly and dominant monotheistic cultural setting, one that has been defensively, even militantly attempting to patrol and police monotheism for millennia, has had its effects on obscuring the nature of ancient societies.”

Seeing an academic stand up and advocate for a re-thinking of polytheism, even if it might be limited to academia, is welcome. As I’ve been reading this work, I couldn’t help but notice how many adherents of the dominant monotheisms constantly engage in the work of boundary maintenance, ever-vigilant in their quest to see polytheism remain outside the bounds of “normal” and “rational” discussions of religion and faith. Or, if polytheism must exist, it must be content to do so from the margins of society, or in distant lands far away from the concerns of Western modernity. For example, this editorial by Bryan Gray at The Davis Clipper on a 10 Commandments monument being erected on government property in New Mexico that was successfully challenged by two Wiccan residents. Gray makes sure to insult the Wiccans, and paint their beliefs as strange.

bloomfield nm

©jorndorf/roughshelter.com

“The New Mexico lawsuit was brought by two people who practice the Wiccan religion. I’m not versed in Wiccan beliefs, but figure the religion’s precepts are somewhere between the Great Mandala and Harry Potter. Frankly, I would have no problem if the Wiccans wanted to pony up money and put their own display outside city hall. The groundskeeper would have less lawn to mow […]  Yes, we need freedom from government-sponsored religion. We also need freedom from stupidity.”

Further, Gray, seemingly forgetting that the 10 Commandments were handed down by the God of Abraham, argues that they are largely secular, glossing over the many explicitly religious rules laid down. Reinforcing that monotheistic religions are so normal that their removal from a secular public square is suspect, even in the face of non-monotheists speaking up. People like Gray have the luxury of not being bothered by these monuments, because they see monotheism as the acceptable manifestation of religion, and no rebellion (even from within their own theological boundaries) can be tolerated for long in such a system.

“Archbishop Coakley says the Civic Center is a venue where the community can experience a positive form of entertainment. He says this satanic organization has an agenda, that has no place in our society. ‘The Satanic ritual that is scheduled to be performed at our Civic Center is to invoke those dark powers, which I believe are very real and call them into our city, into our community.’ said Archbishop Coakley.”

This endless vigilance against polytheism happens even when it seems like monotheism is winning. Mere adherence to a monotheist identity isn’t enough, they must also be willing to erase any trace of what once was. For instance, Christians love the successes brought about by evangelizing their faith to the “Global South,” until that form of Christianity risks becoming the dominant form of the religion. Then, the hand-wringing over “animism,” syncretism, and polytheism begins.

“When the Church’s center of gravity has completed its transit to the Southern Hemisphere, would any Catholic alive today still recognize it? It is hazardous to predict the full effect of that demographic shift on the historical practices of Christianity. Still, we ought not discount the chance that this tectonic shift could yield a syncretic, creole Christianity more congenial to animism than Thomism. […] Numerical growth tells us nothing about the blurring of religious distinctions among African congregations or among clergy themselves. A priest might preach Christianity by day and, under cover of the communion of saints, visit an animist divine at night to consult his forefathers.” 

nones_gssHere, we arrive at the deepest fear of the monotheist: That polytheism is actually natural to humanity, and when social controls are lifted, people either leave, or change the faith into something unrecognizable to the purists. As duBois puts it, there is “an inevitability to the persistence of polytheism, an undercurrent that cannot be suppressed, a popular culture that holds to its many gods, a recurrent resurfacing of polytheism within monotheism, or an exhaustion of monotheism that dialectically produces polytheism.” While Christianity still numerically dominates in the United States, the last 20 years have seen the population of those called “nones” (those who claim no formal religion) skyrocket, while non-Christian religions have also continued to grow. This, along with the ragged persistence of secularism, has caused some Christians to adopt language of being in “exile” despite experiencing mild inconveniences at best.

“The harder task is to face the fact of our lingering privilege, tarnished and dimmed though it may be, with an honest and critical heart. Harder still may be the task of reaching out to those whom we managed to drive away from the Kingdom of God all on our own, with no help from music videos or the Supreme Court.”

The invisibility of polytheism in the West is a manufactured invisibility, it didn’t just happen. Western society after the rise of Christianity was built on making sure no competing theologies interfered in the narrative. Dissidents were commodified and defanged, or villainized and mocked. This status quo is maintained in a myriad of ways, such as a mainstream religion news organization increasingly hiring journalists who came up through denominational or evangelical Christian media outlets. Think that doesn’t matter? In their coverage of the current crisis in Iraq, Religion News Service have published one story on the plight of the Yazidis, who practice an ancient pre-Christian religion, and seven on the plight of the Christian minority. Perhaps this imbalance could be waved away as them simply catering to the Christian majority in the United States, but they then also run an editorial lambasting politicians for “ignoring” Iraqi Christians.

“The Yazidis deserve protection and humanitarian aid, but so do the Christians who number in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq. While the Yazidis received air drops of food and water, nothing has been dropped to the Christians who are homeless and in dire need of food and water. Each day that passes is a matter of life and death.”

One could point out that the Yazidis can’t turn to a hugely powerful network of Christian faiths that number in the billions, control huge assets, and walk in the halls of power across the world to advocate for them, thus making the comparison obscene, but let’s simply recognize this for what it is: A reminder that one must not take the focus off the dominant monotheisms for too long. Despite this enforced invisibility, polytheism endures, all we need to do is open our eyes and it is everywhere.

“Polytheism is not primitive, an early stage of human development, to be transcended as people progress toward a more sophisticated understanding of divinity, nor do religions necessarily oscillate between polytheism and monotheism. Rather, I contend that polytheism is always present, officially or unofficially, and that the attempt to deny its presence produces intolerant assumptions among monotheists and even atheists, who claim a moral superiority to polytheists.” – Page duBois, “A Million and One Gods: The Persistence of Polytheism”

I think that no empire lasts forever, they crumble, or consume themselves, or over-estimate their powers and fail, and such, I think, will be the ultimate fate of the dominant monotheisms. The controls that once worked lose their effectiveness over time, and thus freed, the inevitability of polytheism(s) will reassert itself. I won’t pretend to know what that world will look like, and perhaps the time of transition will be a bleak time, as it often is when oppressive powers finally fall, but I can only think we will better off with an existence that acknowledges our need for interweaving and interconnected relationships as a model. I think a renewed global polytheism will provide that, but for now we need only to push back against the invisibility while we await the inevitability.

In recent months there have been many discussions and debates about infrastructure in the wider Pagan movement and our collective ability to see Pagan values manifested in the wider culture. In my many years covering our family of faiths I’ve seen many ambitious plans hatched regarding new institutions which have met with varying degrees of success and sustainability. It is easy, especially within a religious movement that often values decentralized grass-roots initiatives, to become skeptical about impressive-sounding plans and announcements. 

However, there’s one campaign I’m not skeptical about, that I think is a good idea. That project is the The New Alexandrian Library. It’s headed by a solid, stable, group of folks who know what they are doing, and are focused on a clear, definable, goal. I believe that initiatives like the New Alexandrian Library will be vital for preserving our past, as university and private collections won’t be sufficient to fully preserve or document our movement’s legacy. Wanting to explore what’s driving this project in a deeper fashion, I was lucky to conduct this interview with Ivo Dominguez Jr., an Elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and one of the driving forces behind this library project.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

For those who haven’t heard about this project, what is the New Alexandrian Library project, and why should Pagans care about its construction?

The New Alexandrian Library, located in southern Delaware, is in its final stages of construction. The physical structure itself is a highly durable concrete dome. It will serve as a research library, a lending library, a museum, an archive, and as a hub for the preservation and the evolution of pagan culture. Books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, art works, artifacts, photographs, digital media, etc., will all be carefully cataloged and cross-referenced to ease the work of research and study. The Library will work to restore and to preserve rare and damaged documents. The history of our many interrelated spiritual communities will also be collected for the future.

The content of the library will also be made available via internet to the greatest extent possible (respecting copyrights, etc.) to be a resource for the entire esoteric community. The NAL will also serve as the library of record for formal esoteric religion studies at a variety of institutes of higher education including The Cherry Hill Seminary to assist them in meeting accreditation criteria. The New Alexandrian Library will be open to all, and will engage in inter-library loan with similar projects elsewhere. Some extremely rare materials will not leave the library, but will be scanned.

It is being built in a location that has the benefit of a beautiful woodland site while being a reasonable distance to many metropolitan population centers. It is about 2 1/2 hours away from Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. It is about 3 1/2 hours to New York City, 4 hours to Richmond, and 7 hours to Boston. There are also plans for on-site housing in the future.

Plans for the New Alexandrian Library

Why should Pagans care about the New Alexandrian Library? If you’re a student, a teacher, or researcher, then the NAL will be an amazing resource to further your efforts. If you want to be in the presence of art, ritual objects and books that belonged to notable figures in our history, then you will want to make a pilgrimage to the museum component of the NAL. If you care about trying to capture the memories of how our various emerging religions came into being over the last century, then you’ll be happy about all the ephemeral material that we are collecting and preserving. If you want some good news about the power of long-term commitment in our community, then the NAL could inspire you.

Can you talk a bit about the progress you’ve made so far, and how the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is managing to cover the costs of construction?

This project was announced at the Between The Worlds Conference of 2000. The 30 acres that the library sits upon was bought and paid for by members of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. There is no mortgage on the property. So far about 85% of the funds to date have been either donated by ASW members or raised through fundraising events such as workshops, conferences, the sale of chant CDs and books, etc. the rest has been through donations from individuals, organizations, and crowd-funding. We’re in phase one which is the building of the first part of the library which is a two-story concrete dome with about 3000 square feet of floor space. This is the first in a series of several buildings as it was more financially realistic to plan for adding buildings in the future rather than trying to collect enough money to build one huge structure from the outset.

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At the time of this interview the interior walls are being painted, and shortly the floors and the fixtures will be installed. Progress has been slower than we would have liked, but we have been paying as we go. Since there will be no debt to pay off, it will be easier for the project to continue in the future.

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is a Wiccan organization. Will NAL focus primarily on Wicca, or will it have a broader focus? Will it include material from other Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal groups?

We are building a library focused on the mystical and esoteric teachings of all religions with an emphasis on Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or Magickal paths in all their forms, but our mission is broader than that. We are also collecting the esoteric teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Once the NAL is open and running we will also be creating an Advisory Board of people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

I know NAL recently received books and papers from Judy Harrow’s estate. What are some other notable elements in NAL’s collection at this stage? How can individuals reach out to NAL if they feel they have important papers or publications to share with your institution?

In addition to Judy Harrow’s legacy, we have received donations from Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Macha Nightmare, Katherine Kurtz, Shakmah Winddrum, and many other notables in the broader esoteric community. We also received the entire library of the Theosophical Society of Washington DC when they closed down their library. Not all of the donations are books. We have received original artwork, ritual robes, magical tools, old photographs, correspondence, newsletters, ancient Egyptian artifacts with proven provenance, jewelry, and much more.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki with donated Dion Fortune paintings.

I am particularly delighted by Dolores & Michael Ashcroft-Nowicki’s donation of four paintings of the Archangels that were created by Dion Fortune, and that once hung in her temple space. We also have many other collections promised to us in people’s wills. In the case of a death, we will always take donations now, but we have so many things in storage right now that if you can hold off a bit longer we would be grateful. As soon as we are up and running we will be very interested in receiving further donations of books and materials. Please consider naming the new Alexandrian library in your will so that your collection can serve the community when you no longer need it. Also it is often hard to predict what will be important in the future, so the ephemera, newsletters, flyers, posters, photographs, and recordings from smaller groups or lesser known individuals also need to be preserved as all these things make up the culture of our many communities.

Many Pagans are skeptical about movement towards institutions and infrastructure, could you talk a little about why they shouldn’t be skeptical of NAL? What is it that makes NAL essential?

If you have no personal need for institutions and/or infrastructure, then don’t participate in their creation. If over time you find that you are deriving benefit from the resources provided by Pagan institutions and/or infrastructure, then consider giving to them to balance the exchange. If they have no appeal for you, live and let live.

You’ve probably seen some variation of the internet meme:

Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one. Don’t like abortions? Don’t get one. Don’t like drugs? Don’t do them. Don’t like sex? Don’t have it. Don’t like your rights taken away? Don’t take away anyone else’s.

I would add: Don’t want Pagan institutions and/or infrastructure? Don’t block the way of those that do.

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the sponsor of this project, celebrated its 30th year as an organization in February 2014. This is a good long run for any kind of organization, and is quite exceptional for a Pagan organization. Community service is an important part of our group’s culture, and we fully expect and intend to be continuing our work 100 years from now. Many similar projects have failed, not for a lack of vision or need, but from a lack of organization and practicality. We were in existence as a group for 15 years before we decided to take on this project. If the skepticism about the NAL project is about continuing the funding once it’s open, then I’ll point out that we intend to continue fundraising in perpetuity, and that several individuals have already named the NAL as the beneficiary of their life insurance or their entire estates in some cases.

10156015_10152359299887410_458860695135604823_nWhat is your long term vision for this project?

Like the original Great Library of Alexandria, the schools of Qabala in medieval Spain, and the flourishing of esotericism that occurred in renaissance Italy, the diverse confluence of minds and resources would result in great leaps forward in theory and practice. There will be many conversations between people of different traditions that will result in greater intellectual vitality and new awarenesses for all. No doubt people will gather in the meditation garden, go out to lunch together, etc. The benefits of these face to face encounters are incredible. In a way, it is like an esoteric conference that never ends. The NAL will be one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance. We hope that many other similar sorts of Pagan infrastructure will be created by various groups across the globe. The benefits of this growing network of resources for future generations is incalculable.

One of the great triumphs of the original Alexandrian Library was the creation of the first card catalog (actually clay and wood tablets). I hope that one of the New Alexandrian Library’s great triumphs will be a systematization of esoteric knowledge in a comparable manner. It is now a clichéd complaint that most of the esoteric books available are basic and aimed at the mass-market. That is the nature of the publishing industry, and we should expect little more. More advanced materials are usually published by university presses and by publishing houses owned by charitable or religious institutions where profit is not the primary motive. I hope that The New Alexandrian Library will in time either directly publish such works or facilitate the bringing together of the people and groups to engage in such activities.

Finally, in a broader sense, what is your vision for Pagan institutions and infrastructure? Obviously you’d like to see NAL thrive, but in what kind of Pagan community? What are your hopes?

Self-determination and self-reliance require having your own resources. I would like to see more ritual space, workshop space, performance space, schools, gardens, and woodlands, etc. that are owned by us. There many times when it is convenient and appropriate to rent or to borrow space from friends such as the Unitarians, but it is always on their terms and within their comfort zones. I’ve also seen Pagan businesses and organizations that are doing well suddenly find themselves homeless because the owner of a facility raises the rent or simply tells them to leave. There have also been pagan library projects that have closed because they were unable to keep up with the rent, and in some cases valuable materials were pitched into the dumpster by landlord.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL's foundation.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary with Assembly Elders at NAL’s foundation.

I also think we have to get over the connotations that words like institution and infrastructure have developed in the Pagan community. A food co-op is an institution. A community garden is an institution. A campground for festivals and gatherings is infrastructure. Institutions and infrastructure need not call forth images of huge battleship gray buildings with people scurrying about like drones in a hive.

An institution is a resource designed to survive past the life or the commitment of a handful of people. When we speak of infrastructure, what we’re really talking about is solid, tangible, resources that enable and facilitate our dreams and endeavors. If fear of what something might become is reason enough to prevent its coming into being, then we might as well settle our affairs and exit planet. From my perspective, the challenge we have right now is to decide that we will take the challenge of becoming truly present in the world. Will there be corruption, abuses, errors, and failures? Yes, there will be, and that is part of the cost of the work of mending and evolving. Will there be reforms, progress, and new horizons? Yes, and we will get those by also cleaning out the inevitable muck that arises by doing the work.

Recently there were a flurry of blog posts and discussions about how successful or unsuccessful Pagans have been in having an impact on environmentalism. What I’d like to add to those discussions, is that our impact on the matters of the world are reduced if we do not have power that is grounded in tangible resources. Ideas, will, and passion can fuel individual activism, and this is a good thing. However if we do not have the resources to buy land to preserve it, to pay lobbyists, to have staffed organizations that monitor legislation, public opinion, etc., then we are missing part of what is needed to have power and presence in the world.

Let me give you another example. I was extremely involved with AIDS/HIV work in the 80s and 90s. I started as an activist, helped found an organization, and served for several years as the executive director of Delaware’s primary AIDS organization. Institutions and infrastructure were necessary to make progress, and to push back against circumstances that would take away the steps forward that had been made. There are probably a hundred and one worthy tasks and goals that can never progress past a certain point without our own institutions and infrastructure.

I hope the New Alexandrian Library will be one of the many solid institutions that encourage others to dream big and to work hard.

Contact and donation information for the New Alexandrian Library project can be found here. 

[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.

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Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”

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Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.

 

I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

“I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe deeply in fairness.” – Margot Adler

The first time I met author and journalist Margot Adler in person, we were having lunch together at PantheaCon in San Jose, and she was showing me pictures of an Occupy protest that were on her iPad. It didn’t sink in at the time, but I later realized that she was generously acknowledging me as a part of her journalistic tribe. That she was sharing an emerging story she was excited about. During that weekend I wanted so much to transmit to her how important she was to me, to what I had become, but I didn’t really have the chance. On reflection, it seemed to me that for Margot the reward was doing the work, documenting her experiences, and sharing it with others.

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

Like many, I learned of Margot’s death yesterday morning, via Facebook.

“Old friends, long time fans, today at 4am Margot breathed easily for the first time in two weeks. Later today, at 10:30am she was pronounced deceased.

Her condition had been getting much worse over the weeks and months and the brain radiation (which she had a treatment of scheduled today, tomorrow, and wednesday) was thought to help her double vision, since it was the cause.

Well, Margot and John both won’t be seeing double anymore, but they will be seeing each other for the rest of time.

With much love and difficulty do I write this,

Her son, Alex”

Margot Adler was a noted journalist who worked for National Public Radio (NPR), and they have paid a moving tribute to their colleague.

“Margot once wrote in an e-mail that she absorbed the values of many of her colleagues in developing her own view of life – a belief, she said in a world without snark, of deep values, and that despite everything she’d experienced and encountered and covered, an abiding belief that people were basically good.”David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

For almost every Pagan, former Pagan, or would-be Pagan, she will be largely remembered as the author of “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America.” It is truly hard to over-state the importance of Adler’s book, as it had a hand in shaping what many of us call “Pagan community” today. While Adler was not the first person to attempt an overview of the emerging groups of modern Pagans in America, her 1979 book was by far the best, the most read, and it helped catalyze the move towards a community/movement consciousness among the Pagans reading it. A largely small-group and regional assortment of religious adherents shifted towards a broader umbrella identity.

Margot Adler (author of "Drawing Down the Moon") and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary sharing breakfast together.

Margot Adler and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary sharing breakfast together.

“Blessings to Margot Adler in her journey to the realm of the Ancestors. She died this morning from cancer. Support to her son Alex, and to all of us mourning her passing. Margot and I were close friends since we first connected 36 years ago and had many adventures together, including conducting each others weddings and rooming together at PantheaCon. The world is a better place because of Margot. Let us remember and give thanks for Margot, her brilliant mind, her loving heart, her beautiful voice, her activism, her writings, her news reporting, her other works, her magic, her bright spirit. May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in our memories, in the many people, organizations, endeavors she blessed. Hail & Farewell, Margot! We honor you, we remember you, we love you. Blessed Be.” - Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

“Drawing Down the Moon” was also important because Margot Adler was truly one of us. She was a member of The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), Covenant of the Goddess (COG), and other groups, she attended Pagan festivals, led workshops, and loved to lead Pagan chant sessions. She was not an outsider sampling our religious wares then making snarky asides during the book tour, she believed in our potential, loved us, flaws and all.

“Margot Adler was a brilliant, loving and passionate voice in Unitarian Universalist Paganism. As a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), she stood for a democratically, inclusive organization that embodied Unitarian Universalist thinking and voices. She also brought to the denomination the joy of ritual, music and dance that celebrated our humanity, our place on the planet and our connections with the God/dess and Universal energies. Her voice, wit and liveliness will be missed deeply. We honor the gifts Margot brought to UUism and to CUUPS.” – Jerrie Hildebrand, Corporate Secretary, CUUPS

The last time I saw Margot Adler I said to her: there would be no Wild Hunt without your example, without your work, without your kindness in giving an emerging Pagan blog an interview back in 2006, and that I know you are fighting your cancer and are planning to win, but I’m truly thankful and didn’t want to miss this opportunity to tell you that. I didn’t think it would truly be the last time I would speak to her, but I’m glad I said those words, and I’m glad she attended the gathering for Pagan media practitioners that I co-hosted that year at PantheaCon so she could see how a journalist traveling the country, documenting an emerging religious movement could ripple out into a diverse and thriving ecosystem of Pagan media-makers.

“We are all part of the life cycle. Like a seed we are born, we sprout, we grow, we mature and decay, making room for future generations who, like seedlings, are reborn through us. As for the persistence of consciousness, deep down, I thought, ‘How can we know?’ Perhaps we simply return to the elements; we become earth and air and fire and water. That seemed all right to me.”Margot Adler

Margot Adler was a kind, generous, funny, talented, dedicated, and wickedly smart person. She gave us all so much. I have no definite answer regarding the persistence of consciousness either, but if she has simply returned to the elements, well, that seems all right with me too.

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 Leadership ConferenceAs mentioned last week, the recently concluded inaugural Polytheist Leadership Conference was considered a success by all who attended. Conference co-organizer Galina Krasskova has been rounding up thoughts and reactions from attendees here, here, here, and here. Do check them out for a fuller picture of what went down. In addition the conference has already announced dates for next year, and who their keynote speaker will be: Morpheus Ravenna. Quote: “I’m delighted to announce that Morpheus Ravenna will be our key-note speaker at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in 2015. We just confirmed with her last night. An initiate of the Anderson Feri tradition, Morpheus is a Celtic polytheist, an artist, spiritual worker, and devotee of the Morrigan. She is the leader of the Coru Cathubodua, a priesthood dedicated to this mighty Goddess and was recently featured on the documentary ‘American Mystic.'” For further updates, check out the PLC’s official website.

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

In other Polytheist community news, a new website, Polytheist.com, will be launching later this Summer. Spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax) the new site plans to be safe, dedicated, home to an incredibly diverse Polytheist population. Quote: For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” In a recent editorial published at PaganSquare, Anomalous Thracian endorsed an ethos of “And, Not Or” when it comes to Polytheist-Pagan relations. Quote: “A Polytheist and a Pagan. Not ‘either/or’. No war implicit between the two. That does not mean that there is not conflict, and that there is not a need to fight for the rights of identification, of religious and social difference and differentiation; but it does mean that I can dually wield both of those identities. I am never not one, never not either; they do not compete, nor cancel one another out.”

702Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the graduation of Carol Tyler Kirk, awarding her a Masters of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, the second such graduation since Cherry Hill Seminary first opened its graduate program in 2009. Quote: “Kirk served the U.S. Army as a nurse in a Vietnam MASH unit from May 1969 to December 1970, then returned home to a career in nursing management. Kirk’s master’s thesis addresses the needs of the ‘wounded warrior,’ those returning from deployment overseas and whose war wounds may be non-physical, running deeper into the soul. Publication of the work is in planning. Kirk has also led several covens, and currently serves as a hospital chaplain and interfaith activist in Huntsville, Alabama. A July 2013 article in the Cherry Hill Seminary newsletter relates Kirk’s role in establishing the Women’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., where she spoke at the dedication.” Kirk’s department chair and advisor, Dr. David Oringderff, said that Kirk set “high standards of excellence for all of our students who follow.”

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • A new biannual print journal concerning polytheism and spiritwork, Walking the Worlds, has debuted and is looking for submissions. Quote: “Walking the Worlds is a new print journal that will be debuting on the Winter Solstice. Devoted to an exploration of spiritwork and polytheism from a variety of traditions, ancient and modern, we are seeking essays, reviews and poetry on topics such as: gods, ancestors, spirits, spirit-animals, heroes, land-wights, prayer, devotions, offerings, sacrifice, ritual, ritual tech, festivals, temple and shrine-keeping, music, dance, ecstasy, madness, trancework, cleansing, entheogens, healing, initiation, ordeal, divination, oracles, inspired and channeled works, magic, witchcraft, herblore, science, history, mythology and so forth.”
  • Yeshe Rabbit and Erick DuPree have launched dharmapagan.org as a free online resource that fuses their work with the dharma and Buddhism through a Pagan lens. Yeshe Rabbit and Erick host Dharma Pagan Dialogues and Discussion videos with guests like Sam Webster and Dylan Thomas, invitations to online sangha and practices such as Tea and Chanting and Chanting Green Tara, as well a guest blog. For more information visit: www.dharmapagan.org
  • Artist, writer, and scholar Sasha Chaitow is seeking crowdfunding help to attend and participate in the upcoming OCCULT art salon in Salem, Massachusetts. Quote: “I’ve been invited to the OCCULT Art Salon in Salem, MA this September to participate in the art exhibition and present a workshop on [visionary author Joséphin] Péladan’s work. I am preparing a painting for the exhibition, but I need your help to get there, as the travel expenses are well beyond what I can afford as a (barely graduated) ex-grad student.”
  • A Bad Witch’s Blog reports on the recent “Witchcraft Today” 60th anniversary event. Quote: “The tabloid papers often gave particularly lurid, sensationalist and inaccurate accounts of what went on in the Craft. Gerald Gardner was one of the few Wiccans willing to speak to the Press at the time and his book Witchcraft Today was partly written to try to redress the balance and give the public a genuine insight into what witches do.”

 

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  • At PaganSquare Cat Treadwell reports on the first Pagan Symposium in London, organized by the Pagan Federation. Quote: “Since the discussions over the Census and the PaganDASH project, there has been a need for cohesive voices and a mature approach to the representation of Pagans across the country, as many of our international fellows are already doing. We would try to accomplish this, as individuals and within groups sharing identities and diverse beliefs under the Pagan umbrella. Even just for today, to see if it worked… these few hours would be a test, of sorts.”
  • The Moon Books blog interview Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan theologian, author, and manager of the Patheos Pagan channel. Quote: “I think the strength of Patheos Pagan is that it exists in an inherently interfaith context. One of our writers, Julian Betkowski, recently commented on the dangers of accidentally creating “echo chambers” rather than functional religious communities — small cliques of people in which an agenda is enforced and genuine dialogue is discouraged. Hosting a community of Pagan writers in an interfaith environment helps combat that in a number of ways. It forces us to continually refine our own viewpoints in dialogue with each other *and* with people of other religions. Having regular contact with thoughtful non-Pagans keeps us in mind that despite Pagans’ differences, we still have a great deal more in common with each other than we do with the other major Western religions.”

 

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

Depending on how you want to crunch the numbers there are around one million modern Pagans in the United States. Some have argued it’s a bit less than that, some have argued that the figure doesn’t even scratch the surface of our true numbers, but for now, I’m going to use “one million” as a reasonable middle ground for the purposes of this essay. It’s an impressive number, it means we are no longer confined to “thousands” or even “hundreds of thousands,” we’re in the religious big leagues. Using estimated affiliation numbers has long been a tool of minority groups to emphasize their strategic importance in reaching consensus on political and cultural matters in our society. For example, when you’re the head of a religious group that boasts over a billion members worldwide, newspapers create whole sections just to cover you.

Terence Spencer—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Terence Spencer—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

So it’s little wonder that Pagans are collectively proud to be in the million+ club, but there’s a hitch. These numbers mean very little in terms of ability to organize, fund projects, or influence legislation. It hasn’t even translated into the religious infrastructure (buildings and money) that many Pagans say they want. There are loads of theories as to why this is, but the simple truth is that “Paganism” (however you want to define that) is an umbrella term for a phenomenon, a movement, a religious impulse, that is deeply individualistic, eclectic, decentralized, and hugely diverse. It is like classifying bike-riders as a religious group. Sure, they all ride bikes, but the reasons for doing it, the kinds of bikes they ride, how much they ride, and how much money they’re willing to devote to that pastime varies.

There’s been a lot of public soul-searching recently as to what our religious community is, what its future should be, and what is expected of “big-name” individuals within our community. To give just a quick overview: Ivo Dominguez Jr. wrote about the importance of alliances within modern Paganism, David Oliver Kling wrote about paid clergy, T. Thorn Coyle pulled back the curtain on how much the “big” Pagan authors actually make, and Jason Mankey pondered if the current crop of high-profile writers on the Internet are even reaching anyone aside from a small but dedicated assortment of invested readers.

“How many Pagans really care? This is a trick question because it means thinking outside of the blogosphere for a second, remember there are perhaps two million Pagans in the United States and only a fraction of those people are regular readers of the Pagan Blogosphere. So is monism something the average Pagan wants to spend hours debating? Is a continued debate over monism really essential to their belief structure? Are extended, and often far too personal, debates really accomplishing anything or are they online pissing contests?” 

Mankey gets at something important: How many Pagans really care about what prominent writers, organizers, and activists really do in the name of the community? I’ve heard the old joke about how organizing Pagans is like “herding cats,” but I think a better analogy for the state of our movement is the tail wagging the dog.

“A minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole.”

Think about the biggest explicitly Pagan festivals and gatherings out there right now, your Pagan Spirit Gatherings, or your PantheaCons, you’re talking around 1000 people at one, and pushing 3000 people at the other. While there may have been outdoor Pagan festivals that were once bigger, the median attendance now seems to hover in the middle hundreds, topping out around 1000. Smaller indoor conferences often see registrations in the low hundreds. The point being: these are not huge events, drawing multiple thousands of people. They draw from what one might call the “engaged” class of our movement. The people who want ongoing in-person lessons, who can afford regular interaction with Pagan adherents outside an immediate circle of friends and family, and who may be seeking to become a “name” (or earn a living) within this class.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary leading a Lammas bonfire ritual.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary leading a Lammas bonfire ritual.

This engaged class, and I want to note that “engaged” doesn’t mean “better” or “more religious,” it simply denotes a level of participation in what one might call “meta” or “interfaith” Pagan movement events, is the small tail of a “dog” that consists of a conceptual class of people who many expect to start helping the engaged class realize various dreams of establishment.  You already know how this pitch goes: If only a mere fraction of our million gave x number of dollars we would be able to fund our temple/clergy program/school/event. The answer, it seems, is that if we only reached out to these Pagans and fellow travelers we could wag our dog towards whatever our ambitious goal is. However, I fear that the “dog” isn’t all that interested in being “wagged,” and has even less interest in propping up the ambitions of their would-be thought leaders.

Why do I think this? Because I live in a region (the Pacific Northwest) where modern Pagan theologies and rituals are seen largely as a resource for building a highly personalized belief system, and I have worked for a music and arts festival (Faerieworlds) that draws a number of Pagan and Pagan-friendly people into a space that while not explicitly Pagan, provides bands, workshops, and activities that many Pagans in the engaged class would recognize. I’ve talked to friends of my step-daughter (who is in her mid-20s) who go to politically anarchic Witch-camps led by Reclaiming-trained teachers but would likely never attend a larger pan-Pagan gathering. They have no interest in our debates, or our ambitions, they are only interested in the spiritual technologies that they can learn that will fit into the lives they are leading.

I could go on, and list other examples, like the people who once bought books by Cunningham or Starhawk 20, or 30 years ago (when the Pagan/New Age book market was a lot stronger), and nominally consider themselves Pagan, but have little interest in more books, or engaging with a broader Pagan movement. The travelers who attend “transformational festivals” as a lifestyle, and find their needs entirely met with that context of practice. Our collective movement is full to the brim of people and groups of people who are entirely satisfied with their current level of engagement in however you want to define “Pagan community.” If you talked to them about your temple, or paid clergy, they may nod their head approvingly, they might even donate a few dollars if they had the extra cash to donate, but we must stop pretending they share our priorities.

That leaves us with a largely undetermined population of Pagans who number anywhere from the tens to the (low) hundreds of thousands who are connected at some level to the engaged class. They might read Pagan media and Pagan blogs, they might regularly attend larger events, they may be dedicated book-buyers or academics.  They are not, short of dedicated income tithing from a large percentage of them, going to fiscally support a new more robust Pagan infrastructure. The stuff we have now? The thriving events, the magazines, the websites, the 100% funded crowdfunding campaigns, that’s them. We are, I predict, nearing the limits of how much this group is willing to shell out for in the name of community. There are only so many times you can pass a hat per year before the discretionary income for Pagan stuff is spent.

The Dragon Ritual Drummers, live at Wic-Can Fest 2014 [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

The Dragon Ritual Drummers, live at Wic-Can Fest 2014 [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

Is there a remedy to this problem? Well, some would argue there is no problem. That grass-roots, decentralized, and impossible to pin down is how we thrive, but let’s entertain the notion. I was asked recently at a talk I gave on how “the tail” can appeal to “the dog” to make bigger infrastructure projects happen. How do we engage more of the million? I realize this is a porcupine telling people we should stick them with quills, but my answer was more, and better, Pagan media. Journalism gives people a sense of connectedness to a world outside of themselves. I don’t mean endless editorializing, I mean information. I mean narratives about what is happening the next state, or the next country, over. Actual journalism within the Pagan media sphere is still a tiny percentage of what you find, and without actual journalism, the editorial writers are forced into a cycle of reviving the same 10 or so debates every year.

If we want to engage more people, then the tip of the tail, the big-name movers and shakers should, were I giving advice, robustly fund media that works to reach out to communities, groups, and demographics they have not bothered to reach before. That means local reporting, that means real festival reporting, that means real engagement with the lives of people who really don’t care about the dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin discussions we sometimes get wrapped up in. We keep spending money on building stuff, when we should be spending money on speech to reach. You raise money by reaching people. That’s fundraising 101 stuff, yet I see a number of very smart people hoping that if they build the fundraising site, the money will simply come. Yes, we can raise five or ten thousand dollars here or there, if the people running the campaign are sufficiently engaged, but we will never get to the big leagues with those kind of budgets.

I believe that The Wild Hunt has a loyal audience because we have never strayed too far from our simple purpose: give Pagans news. Now, some people don’t like our site, or think we don’t do enough in various areas, but I believe our relative success points to a larger blueprint. Think about if there was an ecosystem of Pagan media that was more dedicated to writing about what’s happening, instead of writing about what they think should be happening. Yes, there’s a place for editorial, and for theological musings, but there must be a balance with authentic engagement outwards. Short of Pagan itinerant preachers hitting the road, shifting to journalism is the best way, in my opinion, to get that dog actually interested in what the tail is doing.

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

Carhenge. Photo: Wikimedia.

Carhenge. Photo: Wikimedia.

  • So, hey, the Summer Solstice happened! Unless you’re in Australia, then the Winter Solstice happened (it’s complicated, but I think it has something to do with the world being round). That means it is time for everyone’s favorite question: What the heck is Stonehenge actually for? Quote: It has been called a Neolithic temple; a ritual gathering place; a royal burial ground; an eclipse predictor; even a kind of ancient computer capable of mapping celestial patterns. Yet, despite the efforts of generations of scholars, we are still no closer to knowing, definitively, why Stonehenge was built. Neolithic people gathered there, certainly, but, despite modern assumptions, they weren’t Druids – since those ancient British priests, with their white robes, sickles and mistletoe, were a phenomenon of the Iron Age, and only emerged centuries after Stonehenge was abandoned.” So the answer is: it depends on when you’re talking about. Also, ten demerits to any journalist out there who posted a link to Spinal Tap when talking about Stonehenge. 
  • I’d also like to note that Stonehenge is so cool, we will happily dance around replicas of it built outside Britain. Quote: “The monument nearly lines up with sunrise on the solstice, just like Stonehenge – though stories about Bronze Age human sacrifices there were almost certainly false. The original structure was probably one of the earliest calendars. And much like Stonehenge, the replica draws a coterie of neo-Druids, pagans and wiccans each year on the summer solstice. About 30 turned out in small groups from Oregon and southern Washington state.” I love the Pacific Northwest so much. Also: Carhenge, it’s a thing. It’s made of cars. It’s in the Midwest (and people really like it).
  • Is Hillary Clinton an advocate for “sexual paganism?” Quote: “Among the nonsense spread about Clinton’s age, looks and alleged affairs, several right-wing nuts claimed she advocated ‘sexual paganism’ during a speech condemning LGBT violence she delivered in 2011. Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, Richard Land, Southern Evangelical Seminary president, and right-wing author Richard Brown, were particularly vocal in their attack on Clinton. ‘There is no question in my mind, God is already judging America and will judge her more harshly as we continue to move down this path towards sexual paganisation,’ Land commented.” I’d comment, but I don’t want to give the appearance of partisan feeling, though I think there are plenty of our readers who would be pro a “Paganization” campaign.
  • An article on the Celtic Druid Temple in Ireland notes that modern Druids do, in fact, use the Internet (and they are appropriately wary of journalists). Quote: “A notice on the school’s website (yes, Druids use the internet) stipulates that any media coverage must be approved before publication, something The Irish Times has a policy against. Con Connor, who runs the school with his partner, Niamh, explains that this is due to the long history of misrepresentation surrounding Druidism, dating from Roman times to recent Irish schoolbooks on religion. They do not wish to be misunderstood or portrayed as eccentric cranks.” There may also be ancient wisdom involved.
  • There are approximately seven things Paganism can teach “modern man” (But what about post-modern man?). One of them, apparently, is that 1973’s “The Wicker Man” is a really good film. Quote: Seriously, if you ignore all the advice above at least see this classic British ‘horror’ film from 1973. Apart from the fact that it has Christopher Lee, nudity, people dressed up in weird animal masks and Britt Ekland having sex with a man through a wall (hey, Pagans Do It Better!), it also has a cracking Brit folk soundtrack. Don’t bother with the 2006 version starring Nicolas Cage though: that’s absolute pants.” I would make fun, but this is 100% accurate, and if he wants to credit modern Pagans as champions of this cinematic masterpiece, I’ll take it. In fact, here’s the trailer from the recently released “final cut” Blu Ray edition

  • Anna Goeldi, who was killed on accusations of witchcraft in Switzerland in 1782, was honored in a memorial unveiled as an “expression of atonement.” Quote: “Goeldi, who was 48 at the time of her death, was exonerated by the Glarus parliament in 2008. The memorial, comprising two permanently lit lamps on the side of the Glarus court house, is intended to draw attention to violations of human rights that occur in the world today, as well as Goeldi’s story.” Considering the fact that “witches” and “sorcerers” are being murdered in the here and now, perhaps this memorial can serve a purpose beyond righting an old wrong.
  • So, this film exists. Quote: “Witching & Bitching, a simple yet utterly bonkers battle of the sexes that chuckles at male chauvinism before castrating it completely.” This film looks bananas, so I can’t really tell you how well it balances its satire and the use of the horror-movie-witch-trope.
  • There are hundreds of Pagans in the modern UK military. That’s it. That’s the story. They’re just… there. Being Pagan. Quote: “Hundreds of witches, pagans and Druids have signed up to join the UK armed forces, according to the latest official figures. All three services have taken on people whose religious beliefs involve pagan rituals and casting spells. MPs fear that military top brass have been forced to hire members of alternative faiths and beliefs to halt the recruitment crisis. Recent attempts to boost regular and reserve units have had disappointing results, according to a report in the Mirror.” Note, again, that there is no story here other than that Pagans have joined military service in the UK.
  • “Monomyth” is not a term to be thrown around lightly in the Pagan community (I dare say it might even be a ‘fighting word’ in some places). But since Star Wars is revving back up, it’s time to get your Joseph Campbell groove on. Quote: “Campbell’s influence, however, extends far beyond Darth Vader and the gang. From Harry Potter to The Matrix to Happy Gilmore, amateurs and experts alike have drawn connections between multiple modern narratives and Campbell’s theory of the Monomyth, which asserts that various myths, legends, and fairy tales throughout human history share a common story structure involving a hero who departs from known reality in order to confront a series of trials and tribulations before returning home as an initiated master of both realms. The theory, of course, involves more intricacies and complexions—e.g. the call to adventure, the crossing of a threshold, the guidance of a mentor—but that’s the gist.” To be fair, they do point out that the monomyth theory actually has critics.

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

Sparky T. Rabbit

Sparky T. Rabbit

On June 2nd, the ritualist, liturgist, performer, and Witch known to many as Sparky T. Rabbit passed away. Sparky T. Rabbit (aka Bruner Soderberg, Peter B. Soderberg) brought his acting and performance background into his modern Pagan experience, and as a result, helped shape Pagan liturgy and practice as we now know it. This included his work with the ritual music duo Lunacy, which released two albums during its tenure. Sparky T. Rabbit, during his lifetime, involved himself in several religious communities, was very influential in shaping gay male spirituality within religious Witchcraft, endeared himself to many, and gained a reputation as someone who would, in his own words, critique and satirize neopaganisms, monotheisms, and any other -isms that seem appropriate.” 

“I first met Sparky in a hot tub–I believe it was somewhere in Madison Wisconsin sometime in the ’80s when I was there to do a workshop.  I remember him singing and laughing, and how his beautiful voice transported me.  Sparky has given us so many of the chants that I still use in rituals and celebrations.  They form the rhythm and melody of my life in the Craft.  Sparky could be difficult at times.  He often stirred a bitter brew in his cauldron–yet out of that ferment came great beauty and inspiration.  I honor his spirit, and will play his music and remember him singing and laughing!  In love may he return again!”Starhawk, author of “The Spiral Dance.” 

Since his passing, a number of wonderful tributes and obituaries have emerged from those who knew him. Aline “Macha” O’Brien explores her long association and friendship with Sparky, and storyteller Steven Posch, a close confidant, posted three days of tribute to a man that he called his “heart-friend and partner-in-arts,” while Nels Linde at PNC-Minnesota shares remembrances from those who’ve been touched by his life.

“Sparky T. Rabbit’s voice is intertwined with the roots of my development as a witch, and we still use the chants that he wrote and the chants that he popularized within our covens today. I played the cassettes for his two albums so often that I wore them out and had to buy replacements twice. I cherish the one time that I had the opportunity to sing with him. It is still a luminous fan boy moment for me. I grieve the loss of such a beautiful man and his beautiful talents, but I also grieve that so many in the current generation of Pagans have not heard of him. What is remembered lives. Take the time to look him up and find copies of his music which is finally available again in digital formats. Then you’ll feel the joy of discovering his music, and also share my sense of loss as well. May he go forth shining.” - Ivo Dominguez, Jr. Elder, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel

We here at The Wild Hunt have been honored that Ray Bayley, Sparky T. Rabbit’s handfasted husband since 1984, took a moment from what must be a very emotionally trying time, to share a few words about his partner’s life and legacy.

Sparky & Ray at their handfasting at 1984 Pagan Spirit Gathering. Photo: Mari Powers of Circle Sanctuary.

Sparky & Ray at their handfasting at 1984 Pagan Spirit Gathering. Photo: Mari Powers of Circle Sanctuary.

“Peter/Sparky/Bruner worked on, showed me and others, and sought to walk the talk that spirituality, psychology, sociology, politics, and communication are all one thing. E.g. he sought to not tolerate hypocrisy and power-over manipulations, and he promoted clear communication, consensus, and empowerment.

He promoted high quality and people seeking to have high quality. E.g. he brought theatre skills and knowledge to ritual performance. He promoted experts doing their expertise and people becoming actual expert in what they claimed to have expertise in. He wanted us to be supportive of feedback/critique (thus given in a neutral or friendly fashion) and to do it in a positive direction where a suggestion is made for betterment. Some might think that supporting high quality and the authority of experts/expertise was allowing for power-over hierarchies. However, he wanted hierarchies only in the sense that some are better at some things than others and we consensually agree, through clear communication among us, that some among us have a position that is more authoritative, more guiding, even more boundary setting in some situations, for as long as we agree on that and their worthiness of that position continues.

Peter/Sparky/Bruner valued humor highly both in “it’s good to laugh” and in using tricksterism to stir the pot and poke at the overly serious and overly inflated. He valued sincerity highly, however seriousness was leavened with some humor. His laugh was said by some to be like a jolly, good king laughing, loud, spontaneous, and friendly.

He and I were concerned at first that my being a scientist would conflict with his being so on the poetry, stories, lyrics, spiritual side. However, my creed of ‘wide open to possibility, skeptical about actuality, probability is the only certainty’ turned out to fit well with his wanting clear communication, truth not lies, allowing for diversity, etc.”

Like Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who knew Sparky T. Rabbit for years, many are thankful for his spirit, wit, rituals, stories, and music.” It’s clear that he was an individual who reached deep into other people, and helped them toward their own realization and power.

“I remember Sparky from the beginning. Way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the beginning of many Pagan festivals and groups. I lived in Minneapolis at the time. There was an early gay men’s spiritual weekend at Rowan Tree. There was a Pan Pagan Festival in Indiana. COG was at Circle Pines. PSG started its long journey through the years and diverse locations. A dear departed friend had a post Pagan festival gathering of gay men at his lake house in Michigan. Conversations online and many deep conversations recently in Missouri and at Stonehouse are fresh in my mind. Long years, deep connections. Sparky was there for me to help loosen me up. I was a shy introvert. Every step of the way I learned how precious considered thought and action are, and how important being fabulous is. I learned that I was valued and that valuing others and sharing is what life is about. An abiding principle was that it is always a greater thrill to expect the unexpected than to expect the expected. I have a deep admiration for his music, teaching, and sharing; and a love for the man and his work in this world. I hope we meet again Bruner.” – Nicholas Sea, Kentucky

To celebrate Sparky T. Rabbit’s legacy, Ray Bayley hopes to reissue Sparky’s two Lunacy albums on CD, and publish other works. What is remembered lives.