Archives For Paganism

[The following is a guest post by Courtney Weber. Courtney Weber is a Wiccan Priestess, writer, Tarot Adviser, and teacher living in New York City. She runs open events in Manhattan and teaches workshops on Witchcraft from coast to coast. Photography in this article is courtesy of George Courtney.]

Warning: This Post Contains a Scary Movie, a Scary Monster, and New Yorkers. (But also cupcakes.)

Six months ago, I organized an event that ended with weepy Witches fleeing the room. I showed a film, which should have come with a trigger warning: “Empaths beware: This film will break your heart chakras.”

The film was Gasland, the documentary exposing the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (“Fracking”) for natural gas extraction. A few of the scariest scenes included kitchen faucets belching blue flames, rivers turned to mass graves of wildlife, bizarre diseases, horses and kitty-cats losing chunks of fur. The gold rush-esque drive for natural gas has pounded on New York State’s front door for years. The film showed how it impacted our neighbors in Pennsylvania along with other regions and how quickly it could happen in our state, too. Witch tears flowed at views of the toxic rape of our very regional land. Guests thanked me for screening the film, but also thanked me in advance for never, ever showing it again.

(By the way…if you haven’t seen Gasland, you need to make time to see it. I do recommend having your favorite two or four-legged creature nearby for comfort-snuggles. And a cupcake.)

A few months later, I was mean enough to consider showing the sequel: Gasland 2, an even more violent depiction of an actual assault on Mother Earth, but with a much more apocalyptic and panicked conclusion. My friend Damon Stang sagely recommended that we do something else. Maybe we throw a party, instead? Maybe a ritual, too? Get active without bringing people down? The Pagan community is attuned and aware of the environmental problems we face. Why not focus on solutions instead of bad-scary problems?

It was a wonderful idea, I agreed. Let’s have a “fix-it” gathering instead of a depressing gathering focused solely on scary awareness. We’ll have speakers talk to us about ways to help and raise energy to motivate ourselves and Magickally help the cause. Let’s have a pretty Witch do burlesque and more pretty Witches sing songs onstage! And this time…..CUPCAKES. LOTS OF THEM.

As it turned out, the timing could not have been more pertinent.

Fracking hasn’t started in New York, but an equally ugly monster is making its way over here. A company with a strange business address in the Cayman Islands has applied to build a liquefied natural gas plant off the coast of Long Island. This is a terrible, terrible idea. Here are few reasons why:

  1. STORMS, GUYS! One of these days we’re going to get another Sandy and it will totally beat the crap out of an LNG port and spill its natural gas guts into the sea. Bye-bye beaches. And whales.
  2. BIG-ASS-TERRORIST TARGET. Oh, sweet. Let’s go paint one more scarlet bull’s eye on this town. That bull’s eye would also have massive tankers lurking around the port. One guy taking a boat and slamming it into the side of a tanker could potentially causing 2nd degree burns on all the people within a mile radius—“the kind of intensity our industrial fires have never seen…there is no way to put out that kind of fire.” It sounds a lot like Wildfire and Stannis Baratheon’s fleet. AWESOME. And by “awesome” I mean “suck.” Leave it in books and television.
  3. WIND!!!! Another proposed project is a big, beautiful, wind farm fifteen miles off the coast, which will lovingly green-power our region. It has applied for the same stretch of water as the LNG port, and the powers that be say we have to pick one or the other. The wind plant would actually create an artificial reef which would help local fisheries and would be far enough away at sea so as not to impact tourist views. Turbines would be set far enough apart for whales to navigate around, easily. Whales historically haven’t had that kind of luck navigating around fossil fuel spills.
  4. IT’S NOT ABOUT US. The Port Ambrose project claims to be an import station to help the region gain energy independence…but directly across the Atlantic sits a ready-made natural gas import station, posed like a hungry-hungry hippo to gobble up all the fracked shale gas from North America. It’s not going to import, but export. It will help a select few gain a ton of money by sending cheap, fracked gas overseas: overcharging our friends in Europe and polluting our land, water, and air at home. The rich get richer and the poor get flaming faucets.

I could go on about how it’s only going to create 20 permanent jobs while the wind farm would create 250…plus methane emissions from natural gas contributing to climate change….but let’s focus on solutions. We wanted to make our voices heard, but we wanted to have fun doing it. We wanted Governor to hear us say “NO TO LNG.”

Still disturbed by the Gasland viewing, but also inspired, Witches gathered at Catland Books, on Monday, March 24 for a party. We included burlesque by Sweet n’ Lo, the Queer Mermaid of the NYC Pagan Scene and had music by Thorazine Unicorn—the Electro-Goth Chiptunes band, 100% composed of Real Witches:

Thorazine Unicorn provides the dance break

Thorazine Unicorn provides the dance break.

Caption: David Alicea of the Sierra Club

David Alicea of the Sierra Club

The plan was to each call the Governor on entertainment breaks, but the voicemail boxes were full. Lame. Still, petitions were signed and speakers spoke. How do you solve a problem like fracking? Our speakers shared their views on the problems with the LNG port and what local people can do about it.

As opposed to the Gasland night, people laughed and cheered instead of wept. Our community truly had had enough doom—they needed outlet for the concerns. It was helpful to have ears outside the Pagan community. Within any community, it’s easy to believe we’re the only ones who care. Activists often feel the same way as many Pagans do—all of us operating in our sad little fishbowls thinking we’re alone in this. Bridging these communities—all lovers of Gaia in different ways—helped us become acutely aware of one another and how we can work together. Edie Kantrowitz of United for Action said, “NeoPagans certainly know the importance of protecting the Earth. It’s exciting to see that the Pagan community is becoming increasingly interested in environmental activism.”

Our night culminated with a ritual to cleanse ourselves of dependence on fossil fuels, and charge green apples with “hunger for green energy.” The apples were taken to Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—the trajectory of the fracked gas to the proposed port.

Cleansing away addiction to fossil fuels

Cleansing away addiction to fossil fuels

It was an important step for our community. We love our land and waters. Sandy has made us acutely aware of the side effects of climate change. We moved from “What do we do?” to “What do we do, next?” While the call-in element went far more 8 of Swords than 8 of Wands, the event sparked interest, desire, and most importantly, concrete tools of action. In the coming weeks, the planning group will be meeting again to brainstorm next steps.

Charging apples with hunger for green energy

Charging apples with hunger for green energy

It’s not just a New York thing. Due to fracking, the US is posed to be the leading exporter of natural gas, globally. American companies have submitted 21 applications to build export plants around the country—as of this posting, 6 have been approved. Check your beaches. Are they building one near you? If so, what will you do to stop it?

The idea of stopping this landslide seems daunting—but then again, so has every major switch in civilization. A century and a half ago, our country was fed the same lies we are fed about fossil fuels. People were told the enslavement of human beings was necessary for a country’s economic survival. Not so long after that, other people were told that empowering women with the right to vote would decimate our societal structure. Change came from small groups of people who knew in their souls that these things were wrong on their basest level. Historically, social justice and change is rooted in places of faith and Spirit—Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques. We can include Circles, Groves and the back rooms of occult bookstores to that list as it’s happening here and now.

If you are in New York State, You can find your NYS Senator and phone number by clicking on this link. You can find your NYS Assembly Member and phone number by clicking on this link. Call to Governor Cuomo at 518-474-8390 or leave a comment and tell him you oppose the LNG Port Ambrose project and ask the governor to veto the project.

If you are not in New York State, find out what threatens your region. Find your local grassroots organizers and invite them to your next Circle. Find what breaks your heart and address it in a way that gives you joy. Raising energy and Circling together can only go so far—we have to break the Circle of dependence and sometimes that means stepping into uncharted Groves. If we truly honor the Earth as Mother and Goddess, we have an obligation to fight for change in the way she is treated. But we can also have fun doing it. My community loves dancing, music, and ecstatic ritual. What does your community love and how can you connect it to the work that needs to be done?

Blessed Be, Kitty Kats! Happy Spring!

[We would like to thank Courtney Weber for sharing this slice of New York Pagan life. The views in this guest post reflect those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Wild Hunt or its staff.]

 

Ever since the dawn of [humanity], even stretching back to the exits from Africa, people of different cultures have passed through this tiny country. There are places of worship to the Canaanite deities, Egyptian temples to Hathor, countless shrines to the Greek and Roman Gods, Phoenician influences and more.

These words were written by Myrtle, an archaeology student, professional artist and Pagan, living in the “tiny country” of Israel. With a population of approximately 8 million, Israel is a modern nation resting within what is considered to be one of the “cradles of civilization.” Somewhere between the ancient and the contemporary rests a unique socio-political culture built on Jewish heritage but enveloped by a legacy of diverse religious practice. Within that rich culture, there is a new, developing Pagan community.

Grotto of the Temple of Pan, Israel

Banias, Grotto of the Temple of Pan, Israel

When outsiders learn that Pagans live in Israel, they are usually surprised. However Israeli Pagans believe that the country is a prime location for their practice because the land has been imprinted with centuries of human engagement. Shai Feraro, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Tel Aviv University, says:

About a year and half ago I took part in a ritual for Ashera on Mount Carmel, which was organized by Pagans. It was probably the first ritual of its kind in 2500 years.

Shai himself isn’t Pagan but he has devoted his academic work to studying modern Paganism and feminist spirituality. From his research, Shai estimates there are approximately 200 Israelis identifying as Pagan and probably an equal number who are either under the age of 18 or not connected to the community. There is also a growing “Goddess Spirituality” movement but many of its followers do not consider themselves Pagan.

Moon Daughter

Moon Daughter

Myrtle says, “There isn’t a critical mass of Pagans,” but the numbers are growing. With that growth comes organization. The newly formed Pagan Federation International Israel (PFI) has sponsored pub moots and other gatherings. Since 2010 a weekend Mabon Festival has been held on ecological farmland in south-central Israel. Co-organizer Moon Daughter, an eclectic Pagan from Moshav, says “The last Mabon was the largest with about 60 attendees.”

Unfortunately local resources are still limited. Ilan, an eclectic Pagan studying Hermetic Magic explains, “There are no traditional teachers, covens or groups [here]. We learn mostly from books and the net … so it’s more a D.I.Y. thing.” However he views this lack of elders as a benefit calling the young Israeli Pagan community “self-grown.”

Ilan

Ilan

Some of this self-growth comes directly from the land. Many Israeli Pagans include local deities in their practice. For example, Illy Ra, the National Coordinator for PFI, is a Kemetic Pagan living in the small town of Kadima in central Israel. She says, “Practicing Paganism in Israel gives one a better insight into Pagan religions such as Canaanite and Kemetism which are connected to the history of Israel.” Ilan adds:

Some Pagans are reclaiming ancient pre-Judaic Pagan beliefs using the Tanach, the New Testament and Ugaritic texts, performing ritual at ancient sites such as Rujum el Hiri, Megiddo … This land has a rich and documented history and we have ancient temples of a myriad of religions … The rich history of the land affects us in many ways.

Liron White Wood Blank

Liron White Wood Blank

Most Israeli Pagans are born into Jewish households – some secular and some traditional. That is where the commonalities in religious practice end. The “self grown” eclectic nature of Israeli Paganism makes it difficult to determine a majority Pagan faith. In his research, Shai found that most Israeli Pagans are “influenced by Wicca, Reclaiming or the Goddess movement. Some … are Reconstructionists – Hellenic, Kemetic, Canaanite and Nordic.” Both Myrtle and shop owner Liron White Wood Blank, indicated a Druidic influence in their personal practice.

Liron, Pagan teacher and solitary Priestess, is one of the few who practices and teaches openly. Her shop White Wood, located in Ramat Hasharon, is the only metaphysical store in Israel. She says, “The shop looks like a forest so it draws people’s attention.” She offers workshops, classes, lectures and readings. Liron adds, “I think it’s important that magic is accessible to everyone. I have Jewish talismans, Kabala talismans next to runes, tarot, Celtic/Druid charms, wands, books about witchcraft and more.” In March, the store will be celebrating its second anniversary.

white wood

Even with all that visibility, Liron has experienced no negative aggression directed toward herself or White Wood. In fact there have been no instances of backlash to any Pagan anywhere. Most of the country doesn’t even know that the community exists. Those friends or family members who do know don’t seem to care.

While cultural anonymity can make practice difficult, Israeli Pagans actively protect their spiritual privacy. Moon Daughter explains, “We live under the radar …As long as we keep it that way we will not be harmed.” Of her mandatory time in the Israeli army, Myrtle says:

No one in the army knew I was Pagan, although it didn’t really matter. There is no better time to praise the Goddess than at dawn in the desert when you are on guard duty and everyone else is fast asleep.

Myrtle

Myrtle

Why do they insist on privacy if there’s been no backlash? Israel has no legal separation of “church” and state. Although it does recognize religious freedom, Israel is governed by both secular and Judaic law. Shai explains, “Jewish identity is considered to be a privileged one … When choosing to express their Pagan identity freely, Israeli Pagans run the risk of replacing these privileges with external negative reaction.” Moon Daughter agrees saying:

It is difficult to resist such a heavy burden of history and Jewish guilt and to do what would be considered turning our backs on our own “identity” as Jews. That is one of the reasons why I think it is very difficult for us here, because energetically we are trying to revive something [in] the very place that rose to destroy it.

Religious law informs Israeli culture, society and government. Marriage and divorce, for example, are regulated by such legislation . Bible studies are included in state-runs schools. Mass Transit and other public services are largely closed during the Sabbath. Aside from the obvious ideological conflicts, Ilan also points out a practical one. “Most of the Pagans I know are carless…and that makes it hard to meet on the weekend, where there is no public transportation.”

Although there have been progressive attempts to move toward a more secular government, there are no signs of immediate change. Currently the tensions between society’s secular and ultra orthodox factions have only gotten worse. The ultra orthodox population, the Haredim, want to protect and even increase religious-based social control. The secularists, including those in the religious minorities, seek just the opposite. As Ilan says, “Politics in Israel are very complicated.”

Gilgal Refaim

Gilgal Refaim (Rujum el Hiri) or Wheel of Spirits (Tumulus of the Wild Cat) circa. 3000 BCE

Despite the unique relationship between Israeli politics and faith, there are many positive opportunities for the developing Pagan community. In 2012 the University of Haifa held a spirituality conference that included a symposium entitled, “Contempory Paganism.” In May 2013 Ronald Hutton was a keynote speaker at Tel Aviv University’s Conference for the Study of Contemporary Religion and Spirituality. In July of that year, Morgana, the International Coordinator for PFI, officially announced the opening of the Pagan Federation International – Israel. Illy Ra is currently the National Coordinator and hopes to “to create a united community.” She says, “More people seek to meet other Pagans and get information about Paganism … PFI Israel hopes to answer these needs.”

In addition to helping Israeli Pagans, Illy Ra also looks forward to building bridges to the international Pagan community. She says “Unlike the image that might be created in the news, Israel is a safe place and has beautiful views [and] ancient Pagan places like the temple of the God Pan in Banias [and] Hathor’s temple in Timna Valley.” Myrtle agrees saying that Israel’s politically charged, high energy environment makes “life and magical practice interesting. There’s never a boring moment.”

cropped-cropped-ban1e-copy

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

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

  • Esquire Magazine thinks we are living in a “pagan” age, and that Pope Francis is the perfect Catholic Pontiff for these times. Quote: “The paganism of 300 and Pompeii reflects that world in its representation of a paganism of pure might; it shows the savagery of mere materialism. Another brand of entertainment shares this criticism: that oldest practitioner of show business, the Catholic Church. Pope Francis fully deserves the adulation that has been showered on him, because he is one of the rare public figures of our moment who is adequately humble and adequately in touch with reality to know the limits of his own power and the institution he controls.”
  • But wait, the recent Frontline special on the Vatican shows that Catholicism has a lot of beams to take out of their collective eyes before they start picking at the “pagan” specks in ours. Quote: “The list of problems facing the Catholic Church is long. Among the scandals Pope Francis inherited nearly one year ago are the clergy sex abuse crisis, allegations of money laundering at the Vatican bank and the fallout from VatiLeaks, to name just a few. Given the challenges, where should reform even begin? Moreover, how much change can truly be expected?” If you want to make your religion’s problems seem small and relatively easy to manage, do check this out.
  • Peter Foster at The Telegraph argues that America is becoming secular far quicker than we might think, and that the seemingly once decline-proof evangelical Christians are starting to buckle (demographically speaking). Quote: “After several decades of doubt over the data, says Chaves, it is now clear beyond reasonable doubt that America is secularizing, but that doesn’t answer a much trickier – and more interesting question: how far, and how fast? America still feels highly religious on the surface, but is it possible that attitudes to religion in the US could undergo a sudden shift – as they have, say, on gay marriage – or is religion so fundamental to the US that any change will continue to be incremental?”
  • Ron Fournier at National Journal asks: Is “religious liberty” the new straw man? Quote: “To be clear, I worry about infringements on personal liberties under Presidents Obama and Bush, and I consider religious freedom a cornerstone of American democracy. I empathize with the views of Perkins and others, but I am suspicious when people use religion to marginalize others. Like Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast, I hear echoes of the segregated South.”
  • At Bustle, Emma Cueto explains why she converted from Catholicism to Wicca. Quote: “Like most things in my life, Wicca first started with books. The first time I came across a Wiccan book in Borders I was a preteen in Catholic school. Where most kids my age were rebelling against their parents, I was more ambitious: I rebelled against God.  I wasn’t consciously aware of it, but I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice was wondering, What would piss off the Catholic Church most? Paganism seemed like a solid idea.”
Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

  • The Revealer shares notes from New York’s occult revival. Quote: “There is some material evidence that a new interest in magic and esoteric subjects is growing. Catland itself, an active center for pagan rites and magical ceremonies, opened last February. The Times article, which appeared ten months after opening, is an indication of that interest, although it was albeit a local-color piece called “Friday Night Rites”  in which the shop was erroneously located in  Williamsburg. More substantially, NYU hosted its first annual Occult Humanities Conference in October — a gathering of researchers, practitioners and artists from all over the world who engaged in work with the occult and esoteric. The Observatory, Park’s home base, has been offering well-attended lectures on magical topics since 2009, including a few by Mitch Horowitz.”
  • Climate Change science, it’s “almost like witchcraft.” Quote: “Climate change, and January’s record-setting heat, probably had nothing to do with increased CO2 emissions, CNBC’s Joe Kernen said Thursday morning. According to Kernen, the better explanation is that it’s just inexplicable. ‘It’s almost like witchcraft,’ Kernen said. ‘In the middle ages it was witchcraft. You would have attributed adverse weather events to witchcraft. Now we just have CO2 at this point.’” Thank goodness we put these people on television!
  • So, the “Satanic” stories that have cropped up recently? Turns out that Catholic exorcists think it’s a sure sign of increasing demon activity! Quote: “Father Lampert said there are around 50 trained exorcists in the United States. He acknowledged that reports of demonic activity seem to be increasing.” There’s an old adage about hammers, nails, and a surfeit of other tools that I think might be applicable here.
  • The Kalash tribe in remote Pakistan has been threatened with death by the Taliban, though the Pakistan military is trying to downplay fears. You can learn more about these “Lost Children of Alexander,” in a recent Huffington Post article. Quote: “High in the snow-capped Hindu Kush on the Afghan-Pakistani border lived an ancient people who claimed to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great’s troops. While the neighboring Pakistanis were dark-skinned Muslims, this isolated mountain people had light skin and blue eyes. Although the Pakistanis proper converted to Islam over the centuries, the Kalash people retained their pagan traditions and worshiped their ancient gods in outdoor temples. Most importantly, they produced wine much like the Greeks of antiquity did. This in a Muslim country that forbade alcohol.”
  • At HuffPo, Erin Donley isn’t down with all the “goddess” talk. Quote: “When an adult woman calls me Goddess, her intention is to include me and to instantly elevate me to the same status as she. ‘Welcome to the Goddess Club where you’ve already arrived at the highest honor possible. And we all get along because we’re all Goddesses.’ No thanks, sister! That crushes my motivation. It suffocates my individuality and makes me wonder how much greater I could be if I played with the boys.”
  • Is South Africa gripped in a Satanic Panic? There are lots of troubling signs pointing to yes. Quote: “Occult-related crimes are on the increase across Gauteng, and now police are warning parents to be on the lookout for the telltale signs that their children are dabbling in the dark arts.”

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

Back in the Fall of 2011, the Open Hearth Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1999, signed a lease for a long-planned Washington DC Pagan Community Center. The goal of this new space was simple, provide an open community space for local Pagans.

OHF logo.

OHF logo.

“The Open Hearth Foundation (OHF) was founded in 1999 with the mission of launching a Pagan community center in the Washington, D.C. region. The organization was granted 501(c)3 tax-exempt status in 2000. “Town hall” meetings were conducted that year to determine what the Pagan community needed and wanted to see in a community center. [...] In January of 2011, Pagan leaders from the area were called into a summit to weigh in on what they needed from a Pagan community center. In July of 2011, the Board began exploring rental properties, and signed a lease for a rental property in September. Organizers and members went straight to work on outfitting the space, and the DC Pagan community center opened its doors on December 31, 2011.”

In the Spring of 2012, OHF installed a library as well, and in the years that followed, several public events and private group meetings were held at the space. However, it seems that fiscal hard times have befallen the Pagan community center, and on February 18th local writer and Wiccan Priestess Literata Hurley reported at her blog that OHF’s current space would be closing down.

“For those who were not able to attend the Open Hearth Foundation town hall meeting last weekend, the biggest news is that OHF will no longer have its current location after the end of March. The board is currently working on making decisions about what OHF will do after that. [...] During the last year the board went through a period of overhaul in order to keep the center afloat. The work that they did is why OHF has some assets and options at this point rather than having gone bankrupt around October of 2013. The current board deserves a lot of credit for that work.”

Considering the fact that dedicated community space for Pagans is still quite rare, this closure, like the closure of Sacred Paths Center in 2012, has far greater resonance beyond the immediate geographic area. Reaching out to the current leadership of OHF about their future, I received the following public statement.

Evelyn Wright provided professional facilitation services for the OHF 2014 Town Hall Meeting held Sunday, February 16th, 2014 in Takoma Park, DC.

Evelyn Wright provided professional facilitation services for the OHF 2014 Town Hall Meeting held Sunday, February 16th, 2014 in Takoma Park, DC.

During the meeting, OHF explained that it had reduced its footprint in a move to balance income and expenditures. The current business owner wishes to expand its business and will not allow OHF to renew a lease on the Library space. OHF announced that they would be vacating the space they currently occupy when their lease expires on March 31, 2014. Current donor income does not provide the resources to continue operating a full-service community center, a library and an art gallery. In order to maintain current assets (approximately $10,000; furniture, furnishings and equipment; and 3,000 library items) the board is using the move as a pivotal time for reevaluation. Participants in the meeting undertook a SWOT analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to provide a community perspective on the community center.

The board presented three restructuring options and participants discussed each with the following criteria: evaluating facilities, programs, services, timelines and costs in balance with the current community response. The board explained that it would review the Town Hall’s considerable input, the generous level of donor support and a variety of available options. To close out the meeting, each participant was given the opportunity to answer the question “What do you think is the most important resource OHF has to offer to the community?” The responses summarized OHF’s three main resources: A Pagan Community Library; A Resilient Leadership; A Hope for the Future. Town Hall participant and former OHF Governor Sherry Marts noted, “This meeting provided an excellent forum for direct communication between the OHF leadership and the community the OHF serves. I am leaving the meeting feeling assured that the resources and future of the OHF are in good hands. I’m hopeful that the DC Pagan community will step up to meet the needs for increased volunteer involvement as well as financial support for the OHF.”

When asked about her thoughts regarding the meeting, Vette Parker, current OHF Chair, stated, “I felt energized by the number of people willing to venture out on a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon to participate in this important discussion. The OHF Board is facing some very big decisions regarding the future of the organization and the information exchanged allowed us to get thoughtful, productive feedback and suggestions from all of the attendees before undertaking the decision-making process.”

As noted in their 2013 year-in-review, OHF had been working to keep part of the space open, namely the library. However it too will go into storage with the rest of the center’s possessions. OHF librarian Eric Riley, in a statement sent to me, said that whatever plan the board undertakes it will, quote, “require rebuilding our capital fund.”

Views of the OHF collection.

Views of the OHF library collection.

I have no doubt the board and supporters of Open Hearth Foundation will work hard to find a new direction, and hopefully a new space, in the near future. That said, their difficulties, and the difficulties faced by other Pagan infrastructure projects, are something that needs to be addressed on a larger scale. To be blunt, it all comes down to money, and our sense of what, exactly, we want “Pagan community” as a joint movement/construct to do. I have no doubt that questions will be raised by some as to why their funding wasn’t sustainable, but no matter what the reason, it is clear that such endeavors are fragile to the point where no income stream can be easily lost. We simply do not have a pervasive ethos of tithing for such things, and as much as some may love a community center, they do not inspire the same wide-spread devotion as a temple or tradition-specific house (like the Temple of Witchcraft’s new headquarters).

There are ambitious Pagan infrastructure projects underway, like the New Alexandrian Library, but the bulk of our fundraising efforts are still reactive, uniquely pressing in their need or urgency, or (relatively) small in scale. Maybe this will change as initiatives like the Pantheon Foundation mature, but we are still some distance from many of the fiscal safety nets, well-funded events, services, and buildings that many crave. Do our interconnected communities have enough cohesion to rally behind these dreams of infrastructure? The struggles of OHF make this an open question.

 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!

Elk_River_WV_mapSince I’ve started tracking Pagan responses to the West Virginia water contamination crisis, the fundraiser set up by Solar Cross Temple to aid locals has raised over $1100 dollars. Quote: “Since the 15th, Solar Cross has received $1165 in donations for this cause. We will be sending money to West Virginia tomorrow. We give thanks to everyone who spread the word, and to Crow, Ellen, Kristina, Shannon, Christine, Jenya, Samara, Marian, Laura, Helene, Mary, Fortuna, Jody, James, Tony, Sean, Joan, Lily, Karen, Denise, Rebecca, Rosalind, Kimberly, Elizabeth, Jason, Gerald, Lezlie, Kimberly, Justyna, Christine, Rhiannon, Jennifer and Misha.” In addition, organizers of the CUUPs ritual in West Virginia, which drew support from Pagan leaders like Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, said that “the energy surge we felt came from folks all over the U.S., as well as Italy, France, & Australia.” Events and actions in West Virginia, and other affected areas is ongoing. Recent commentary highlighted here from Anne Johnson and Sara Amis give some much-needed perspective as this story progresses. We will keep you updated.

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell.

Back in December, I spotlighted efforts by Oberon Zell and a coalition of Pagan scholars who are advocating capitalization of the word “Pagan” by journalists when referring to the religious movement. Now, Zell and his coalition have sent out a new press release, and are promoting a Change.org petition, which they hope will garner 500 signatures. Quote: “To address this issue, a coalition has been formed of academic scholars in the field of religious studies, who have done research into contemporary Paganism, and written books on the subject. Their purpose was to create a simple petition to the Associated Press and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan” and “Paganism” when speaking of the modern faiths and their adherents in future editions. The petitions were mailed off to the Stylebook editors on Monday, Dec. 2, with 60 extremely impressive signatures. Many people concerned with religious equality subsequently asked to sign the petition, so to facilitate further signatories, the coalition has created an online master version in Change.org.” You can see the original appeal and signatories, here.

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Kraemer

Christine Kraemer, a scholar and Managing Editor of the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com, has launched a new initiative for, quote, “building Pagan intellectual culture face-to-face.” The concept is simple enough, an organized book club with a local face-to-face component. Quote: “Each month, we read a book: popular fiction (dystopian and utopian novels are a favorite genre); literary fiction, like Candide; modern social or historical commentary, like Neil Postman’s Technopoly; or classics of philosophy, like The Symposium (which we actually repeat once a year). Next, we gather in person with a set start and end time – no Pagan Standard Time here. Once gathered, we sit around a table so everyone can see each other, books in hand, pitchers of water in the center, and glasses for each of us. Alcohol consumption and snacks are put off until the formal discussion is finished. To open the seminar, a participant offers an opening question (usually a different person each meeting). And then we’re off!” You can read more about the initiative, and how to participate, here.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

 

PSG 2014 Logo White Small for Web

  • Hey Pagan Spirit Gathering fans, the popular Pagan festival has unveiled its official artwork for 2014. Quote: “While we have been holding Pagan Spirit Gatherings for over thirty years, each year’s gathering has its own unique character and energy,” said Selena Fox, Executive Director of Circle Sanctuary. “To help guide that energy we give each year has a theme that explores different aspects of the celebration and our community. This year’s theme is ‘Heart and Harmony’ and I’m thrilled our beautiful new logo that so perfectly captures the spirit of that idea.”
  • As mentioned in our latest Pagan Voices, Morning Glory Zell is currently in the hospital due to kidney problems, with doctors re-starting chemo treatments. A new update on her status (which seems to be improving) and a suggested visualization for those wanting to do healing work has been posted on Facebook. Quote: “Please visualize a huge IV bag, larger than the hospital, hanging above the hospital. It is filled with pulsating, rainbow, glittering, swirling vortices of energy. A silver tube runs from the bag to MG’s left arm, where it joins the IV. MG is using this visualization – and is feeling the energy coming from ALL OF YOUR PRAYERS, CANDLES AND RITUALS. MG has asked that I thank everyone who is working on her behalf. She knows you are there.” May her recovery be swift and complete.
  • Just a reminder that the Maetreum of Cybele is still trying to raise funds to fight an appeal of their win in the Appellate court. Quote: “The well pump for the Maetreum died last Sunday and we are still trying to raise the 3000 needed for the last legal fees of our battle. Please contribute if you can via paypal to centralhouse@gallae.com. The contributions stopped over the weekend.”
  • Phantasmaphile has news of an upcoming London exhibition of channelled artworks by Ethel le Rossignol. Quote: “Huge kudos to Mark Pilkington and his Strange Attractor for putting together an astounding-sounding show of Ethel le Rossignol’s channeled paintings.  A spirit medium in the early 20th century, she and her teeming, mystical visions fall into vibratory lockstep with the Hilma af Klints, Wassily Kandinskys, and Emma Kunzes of the era – though hers appear to be decidedly more figurative.”
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be speaking at the “Life, Death, Near Death and Beyond: An Exploration” event in March. Quote: “Together we will look at the issues of life, death, near death and beyond. All at a gorgeous eco-retreat center and certified organic farm on Maui.” The event headliner is Ram Dass. You can see a promotional video, here.

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

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m re-printing my tribute from 2012, which I think still resonates as one way we as Pagans can acknowledge this great activist and religious leader. I would also recommend John Beckett’s post on King’s paper regarding Mystery Religions.

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail”

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when we celebrate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. King, who helped wage several successful challenges to the racist and segregationist policies of America during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s. King was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and  shortly before his assassination in 1968 he began to broaden his scope of activism, working for an “economic bill of rights” to address the underlying causes of poverty. Throughout his career, King espoused the principles of nonviolence and civil disobedience to bring change.

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”Martin Luther King, Jr.“Letter From Birmingham Jail”

I want to make a special point of honoring King on this day, as a Pagan, because I think too many of us conceive of him as only a Christian hero. A great voice for social justice, but someone who is operating outside our religious context. In reality, King’s methods of nonviolence and civil disobedience were deeply influenced by thinkers outside of his faith, and he was quick to give credit to those voices. The two most obvious were leading transcendentalist and author Henry David Thoreau, whose teachings, according to King, “came alive in our civil rights movement,” and Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi, pioneer of satyagraha. In 1959 King made a month-long pilgrimage to India where he met with disciples and confidants of Gandhi, and ended up using many of Gandhi’s methods as a model in the Civil Rights Movement.

“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social-contracts theory of Hobbes, the “back to nature” optimism of Rousseau. the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”

Even in King’s famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” he twice mentions Socrates as a practitioner of civil disobedience to be honored and emulated.

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. [...] To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.”

The ethos of King: nonviolence, social justice, and civil disobedience in the face of injustice, is not isolated to Christianity. These values can be found in most cultures and faiths throughout history. The first recorded labor strike happened in ancient Egypt, and in 494 BCE plebeians effected a shutdown of Rome to guarantee more economic and political rights. These tools are picked up again and again in different contexts and situations, and continue to find new life in today’s protest movements. While King was an ardent Christian, he was also a man who saw beyond the boundaries of his own faith, who acknowledged the wisdom and knowledge that can come from other cultures and philosophies. In this, as in many other things, we should emulate the great man. King was not afraid to enrich himself with the wisdom of others, and always strove for  justice, two qualities that any Pagan should be proud to embrace.

In 1983 something different happened within the world that we call modern Paganism. The organization Circle Sanctuary, which had been involved in activism, publishing, and throwing events since the 1970s, began the process of purchasing a plot of land after four years of fundraising in the (still nascent) community.

Circle Sanctuary. Photo: Paula Jean West

Circle Sanctuary. Photo: Paula Jean West

“Circle Sanctuary land manifests. After four years of fund raising and land hunting, land is found in southwestern Wisconsin and purchase begins. Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve becomes the first Pagan land project to be supported by Pagans from many traditions and from Paganism as a whole. Its creation inspires other centers to begin their own land projects. Circle moves its headquarters from its rented farm in Black Earth and rented offices in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin to Circle Sanctuary land. Circle changes its full legal name from Church of Circle Wicca to Circle Sanctuary. At Yule, a Stone Circle is established in an oak and birch grove atop a majestic mound on Circle Sanctuary land.”

This was not the first time Pagans owned land, but it was unique for that way it raised money from the wider community, with the idea that the land would be used for Pagan events and functions. Even today, almost all outdoor Pagan events in the United States take place on rented land, at parks, or at land owned by fellow travelers sympathetic to modern Pagans. But I’m not here to talk about land per se, but what the purchase of Circle Sanctuary represented: a move towards infrastructure and institutions. If you read any history/overview of modern Paganism, “Drawing Down the Moon,”  “Her Hidden Children,” or “The Triumph of The Moon,” you’ll see us operating as a religious subculture, or more accurately, a religious counterculture. Explicitly holding values at odds with the dominant institutional faiths in the West (namely Christianity, but also Judaism).

“A culture with values and customs are very different from and usually opposed to those accepted by most of society; also : the people who make up a counterculture.”Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Now, many countercultural currents in America, the UK, and other Western countries eventually try to collectively own land. But this is usually done in the context of creating a completely separate space from mainstream life and values. Modern Paganism’s moves in this direction, I’d argue, may have started out this way, but became something else in the last 30 years. Modern Paganism’s leaders (self-appointed or otherwise) have, quite openly, and usually with enthusiastic support, been moving our religions towards mainstream institutional participation and acceptance. We’re not only trying to buy land, but build seminaries, and libraries. We’re demanding equal treatment within the military, and in how Pagans are treated in prison, we mobilize when slandered by talking heads in the mainstream media, and have worked very hard to be seen as faiths to be respected within the context of the global interfaith movement.

There is nothing wrong at all with any of this, and indeed, I have been an active cheerleader for many of these developments here at The Wild Hunt. However, these are not the actions of countercultural faiths, and I think there’s a growing undercurrent of tension within our interconnected communities over just how integrated and accepted we want to be. For example, the publisher Scarlet Imprint recently published a book entitled “Apocalyptic Witchcraft” that was, essentially, a manifesto for embracing Witchcraft’s outsider, countercultural, and wild, elements as a way forward.

“Witchcraft is the recourse of the dispossessed, the powerless, the hungry and the abused.  It gives heart and tongue to stones and trees.  It wears the rough skin of beasts.  It turns on a civilization that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”Peter Grey, Apocalyptic Witchcraft

We are a religious movement that embraces plurality, and most often, polytheism, so we tend to reject easy binary dualisms, but there does seem to be an often unasked question hanging over many of our debates lately: what do we collectively want? Do we want to be part of the West’s religious institutional structure with churches, libraries, and schools, or do we want to be unpredictable, wild, and outside of traditional society’s norms? This is a spectrum, to be sure, there are Catholic anarchists, after all, existing side-by-side with the rules and expectations of Mother Church, but they largely exist on the fringes, tolerated, mainly as a steam valve for the pressures of maintaining a global institution hundreds of millions strong. Likewise, the organized center of modern Paganism fully embracing mainstream aspirations won’t suddenly erase the Witches, Pagans, and polytheists who live vagabond, bohemian, or radical lifestyles on the fringes of our culture. But a choice is being made, and we should be making it with open eyes.

As I see the ongoing debates over theology, I often ask myself why some of us are so concerned with what other people in our movement really believe. Certainly there are events and functions that call for a modicum of theological comity, but for the most part, these questions normally get hashed out on a small-group level. Individuals deciding if they are in tune enough to work together, to be religiously, spiritually, intimate. If concerns about theology are seen as pressing on a meta-level, that is, as being pertinent on a intrafaith, intra-community, model, then it seems to me that it ties into the larger question of what our movement wants in terms of its future. If we are countercultural, then questions of theology and belief are decided locally, by groups actually working together, larger cooperation is saved for a political crisis that demands a more unified voice (or for big parties). But if we are moving towards permanent infrastructure and Pagan institutions, then questions of theology become very, very, important indeed. Then it’s about who’s inside, and who is outside.

When I became a Pagan in 1990, we still operated largely as a counterculture. But in the last 20-plus years, I’ve heard the conversations, the debates, and the yearnings, and I know that many want the respect, and the power, that comes from being part of the institution. We want leaders to acknowledge us, we want to be respected, we want our credentials to be accepted as valid, and our pronouncements taken seriously. We want to have a say, and our elders want fiscal support, and our clergy want to be paid, and we want nice buildings, with a parking lot, conveniently located near our schools and work. These are the same people throwing the events, buying the land, and winning legal battles in our names. At the same time, there are still plenty of Pagans who have almost no connection to the “Pagan Community” as such. Who attend transformational festivals, who’d rather be at a music festival than at an indoor convention. Who live lifestyles dedicated to being radical outsiders, who participate in tree-sits and reject the very idea of “clergy” or “leaders.”

Again, I’m making no value judgements here. I’m not arguing for institution or counterculture, I’m arguing for conscious decision making. Many of us believe in magic, in Will, in shaping our own futures. As such, if we are going to be a part of this religious movement, then we should be clear-eyed about what we ultimately want to become. We are at a point in our growth and success where we’ve allowed ourselves a moment’s reflection on the future. I believe this is why we are having so many fundamental debates over who we are, and if we want to be a part of this movement. This question isn’t even necessarily an either-or, but the way in which we “lean” will shape our collective future. Eventually, some part of us will be seen as the fringe, as not representing the heart of our culture, and I want to make sure we are comfortable with the direction of our forward lean.

Every year, in retrospect, can seem impressive (condensing 12 months of articles into 10 highlights will do that). However, 2013 seemed like an especially notable year for stories involving or affecting modern Pagans. Here are the ten stories that I feel were the most relevant, the most impactful on our day-to-day lives. That said, I would encourage folks wanting to get a taste of where we were at in 2013 to read through my Pagan Community Notes and Pagan Voices archives to track the conversations and achievements that marked our community. I also want to quickly note that I’ve decided not to number the stories, or rank them in any order. They each hold their own importance, and this year I wanted to shy away from the idea that one took some precedence over another.

Now then, on to the top ten…

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

Heathen Politician Dan Halloran Arrested, Charged With Fraud and Bribery: “In a shocking turn of events this morning, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, along with State Sen. Malcolm Smith, were arrested on charges of fraud and bribery in connection to an alleged plot to fix the mayoral race. The arrests came after an FBI-led investigation, one in which U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara claims Halloran “quarterbacked” the drive to find party officials willing to be bribed. In a meeting with an informant, Halloran allegedly expounded at length on what it takes to “grease the wheels” of New York City politics. [...] Halloran is the highest elected official in the United States who also happens to openly be an adherent of a Pagan/Heathen religion. Specifically, he was for a time a prominent (and eventually prominently controversial) member of the Théodish belief system, a faith that seeks to practice Germanic pre-Christian religion. Though Halloran never denied being a Théodish Heathen, he also wasn’t very transparent about it in the beginning, causing a great deal of havoc when he was “outed” by the local press during his city council run. His beliefs were often sensationalized by the press, including Village Voice cover art depicting Halloran with a dead sacrificed goat, ceremonial robe and runic cloak.” More on this story here.

maetreum sign largeMaetreum of Cybele Wins Tax Fight: “The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, which has been in an ongoing battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, over religious property tax exemptions, was today vindicated in their multi-year struggle when a State Supreme Court ruling against them on this issue was overturned on appeal. The decision, which was issued on Thursday by the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Divsion, says the religious organization “satisfied the legal requirements in order to receive a real property tax exemption.” [...] This is a huge reversal of fortune for the Maetreum, which has been fought relentlessly by the Town of Catskill on this issue. By the Maetreum’s estimate, the town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, and when the initial Supreme Court victory was handed down to them last year, their lawyer crowed to local press that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” Even some Pagans were skeptical of the Maetreum’s chances after that decision, but the Maetreum of Cybele were determined to fight on, and with some fiscal help from the larger Pagan community, they moved forward with their appeal.” More on the Maetreum here.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

Town of Greece Prayer Case Heard Before the Supreme Court: Today’s the day. The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, which centers on the role of prayer at government meetings, and could shape the legal landscape on this issue for decades to come. I have written extensively on this case, and you can find a round-up of my coverage here. [...] No matter what the decision, it will no doubt have a major effect on prayer policy. Repercussions that will deeply affect all religious minorities, including Pagans, who have played an outsize role in the development of this case.” For more, read “The Supreme Court Case With A Wiccan Angle.” Quote: “This case directly involves modern Pagans, specifically Wiccans, in the case and in the legal maneuvers that led to it. Something I’ve been harping on for some time, even to the point of chastising religion reporters for not picking up on it.”

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Approved for Use On Military Headstones and Grave Markers: “In 2007, after a decade-long struggle, Pagan and Wiccan organizations succeeded in getting the Pentacle approved for military veteran headstones and markers. After that victory, in July of 2007, a rally was held to start the push for two more symbols: the Druid Awen and the Heathen Thor’s Hammer. Two Heathen organizations, The Troth and the Asatru Folk Assembly, were represented at that rally, and from it a wider movement to get the Thor’s Hammer approved emerged. Now, after a six-year journey which included some inter-organizational tensions within the Heathen community and a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs rule change, it appears the symbol has finally been approved.” More on how this came about here. Quote: “We know that the listing went up on May 2nd, and thanks to a statement sent to The Wild Hunt from the Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth we now know the circumstances of the emblem’s approval.”

A partial listing of BISAC codes in the Body, Mind & Spirit category (Image: Llewellyn.)

Listing of BISAC codes.

Wicca and Paganism Leaving the Occult Section, Heading For Religion: So the occult section (hence the “OCC” prefix code), which in time became known as the “New Age” section, and finally, the “Mind, Body, Spirit” section, will soon see an exodus of Wiccan and Pagan books to the religion section. For most of us who still visit brick-and-mortar stores that most likely means your local Barnes & Noble (or possibly Books-A-Million) will soon be seeing some changes. How quickly these changes will happen remains to be seen, and it may take some time as stock rotates in and out of the stores.” For more, read Elysia Gallo’s reporting. Quote: “Wicca, in the eyes of the book selling industry, is now a religion. It crossed over from OCC026000 Body, Mind & Spirit / Wicca and Witchcraft, to two separate BISAC codes. One remains in the occult section – OCC026000 is now simply Body, Mind & Spirit / Witchcraft. But Wicca itself is now REL118000, or Religion / Wicca. [...] there’s more. The BISAC code that used to be OCC036020 Body, Mind & Spirit / Spirituality / Paganism & Neo-Paganism (a relatively recent addition on its own) is also now listed in Religion, as REL117000, or Religion / Paganism & Neo-Paganism.”

The Warrior's CallUK Pagans Organize Against the Practice of ‘Fracking’: “We, as Pagans, believe that the natural world is profoundly sacred. In particular though, sites such as Chalice Well are our holy places. To have them desecrated is a direct attack upon our ways and upon us. Fracking will not alleviate fuel poverty, nor will it provide us with greater fuel security. Its long lasting destruction to land and water is neither needed nor wanted. There are many practical alternatives, yet they are being ignored (with catastrophic consequences) because of corruption and ideological extremism within the government. Corporations should not dictate state policy. Around the world on the 28th of September, rituals (both large and small) will be held to protect these sacred islands from harm. Although we all come from many different pagan paths, on that day we will speak with one voice. The Warrior’s Call is that unified voice. And it sings with the blessings of the Gods and Goddesses.” Warrior’s Call now has a website up and running, with resources for Pagan who want to fight the practice of “fracking.”

tempestmainpageTempest Smith Foundation Closes its Doors: “In February 2014, the Tempest Smith Foundation (TSF) will be holding its very last ConVocation fundraiser before permanently closing its doors. Annette Crossman, TSF’s current executive director and widow of founder Denessa Smith, says that it is “time for the torch to be passed on …and return to normal life.” For over ten years, TSF has been a voice for diversity tolerance in its Michigan community and an advocate of anti-bullying campaigns. Launched in 2003, The Tempest Smith Foundation was the brain-child of Denessa Smith, the mother of bullying-victim Tempest Smith. In February of 2001, Tempest committed suicide after enduring 6 years of persistent abuse in school.  Over the following two years Denessa was able to transform her grief into building a foundation that would advocate for tolerance – a foundation that might save other children from her daughter’s fate.” Follow-up article.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and members of Ásatrúarfélagið.

Ásatrúarfélagið.

Asatru Added to Religion Stylebook: “Back in July, PRI’s The World did a story on the U.S. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs approving the Thor’s Hammer emblem for veteran’s grave markers and headstones (here’s The Wild Hunt’s reporting on that story). The story didn’t interview any Heathens, was somewhat flippant towards the faith, and included a picture of someone dressed like the comic book/movie version of Thor. This led Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog to lodge a (entirely justified) complaint campaign, and it ultimately pushed PRI to do a somewhat more respectful follow-up to their original piece. Now, this incident has led to what might be an even bigger win for practitioners of Asatru, inclusion in the Religion Newswriters Association’s official Religion Stylebook. At the Norse Mythology Blog Dr. Seigfried, who wrote the stylebook entires, explains how this came about. The ten terms added to the stylebook include Æsir, Ásatrú, blót, Eddas, and goði, and are live on the stylebook’s site as we speak. Dr. Seigfried worked with Heathens in Iceland, Germany, and the United States to shape the definitions he would use.”

Olivia Robertson

Olivia Robertson

The Passing of Olivia Robertson: “On Friday, the Fellowship of Isis announced the passing of their co-founder, 96-year-old Olivia Robertson. Robertson, along with brother Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, and his wife, Pamela, founded the Fellowship of Isis on the Vernal Equinox of 1976 with a goal of reintroducing Goddess worship into the world. This development came for the trio after working together since the early 1960s on metaphysical and spiritual projects, including the Huntington Castle Centre for Meditation and Study. Over the next 20 years the FOI grew a diverse international membership, and in 1993 Olivia Robertson was on-hand at the Parliament of the World’s Religions representing the Fellowship, and spoke at the opening plenary representing modern Goddess Religion. Part of a delegation of groups that introduced modern Pagan religions to the international interfaith community. In addition, Robertson was an accomplished artist, writer, and liturgist, who deeply shaped the organization she helped found with her creative vision. A legacy that will continue with the organization she helped found. You can find Robertson’s full official biography at the Fellowship of Isis website, here.” 

A procession of Pagans at the last Parliament of the World's Religions.

A procession of Pagans at the last Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Pagans Help Save the Parliament of the World’s Religions: “While final negotiations and discussions with lawyers are still underway, it appears that the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has successfully raised enough money by their deadline to save the organization from a sudden fiscal crisis. As the Religion News Service reports, modern Pagans played a large role in making that happen. ‘With the help of pagans, Jains and people of a range of other faiths, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has raised more than $144,000 in two weeks using a crowdsourcing campaign in a desperate bid to survive a financial crisis [...] Two pagan groups alone raised more than $16,000. A Jain board member raised $6,300. [...] As of Tuesday (April 16), the council had raised more than $144,000 of the $150,000 it needed, and had received permission from a donor to use additional funds from an operational grant, if necessary, to make the final debt repayment.’ While we didn’t single-handedly save the Parliament, we were instrumental in doing so, and now the world knows it. Notable Pagans from across the world spoke up to mobilize their communities, including Margot Adler, T. Thorn Coyle, Christopher Penczak, and representatives from Covenant of the Goddess, the Pagan Federation, Pagan Federation International, Pagan Pride Italia, and more, added their voices to a chorus of Pagans who realized the importance of this moment.”

Obviously, there are many more stories I could mention: The regulation of psychic services, Doreen Valiente’s commemorative plaque, Teo Bishop’s high-profile leave-taking from our community, and the With Love From Salem documentary, to name just a selection. But I feel these 10 stories will resonate beyond this year, and collectively shape us. Feel free to share what you thought were the biggest Pagan stories of 2013 in the comments. Now then, on to 2014!

santaControversy hit the airwaves this month when Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly referred to Santa as being white. She was responding to an article on Slate magazine, by columnist Aisha Harris, about the complications of having a white Santa in a multicultural society, and suggested he should instead be no race, like a penguin. Kelly responded to this by having an on air discussion about the “Attack on Christmas”, and her views of the “facts” that Santa is indeed a white man.

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is, and just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.”

Not only did this incident cause a stir in mainstream media, it also appears to have created some colorful conversations within social media. Some of those conversations have filtered onto Pagan blogs, articles and Facebook threads, striking up conversations about who Santa is and who he is not. Is Santa really a depiction of Odin? Or is Santa a folkloric icon that has been commercialized in American culture? Are the roots of Santa Claus coming from the stories of good old Saint Nicholas, or is he a generated figment of our cultural imagination?

The responses have been vast, and opinions vary based on many factors, including a person’s belief of whether or not Santa is totally made up, or that he is a part of the historical mythology of the Norse. One of the biggest questions might be whether it matters at all. Is the issue arising from Santa’s potential race about preserving folklore, opening up holiday lore to be inclusive of Black and brown people, or trying to be too politically correct in our multicultural society? Questions with many different answers.

While there are a myriad of different thoughts on the place of Santa Claus in the lives of children, especially within Pagan homes, there is something to be said for how powerful messages of overculture can be in defining our belief systems. Consistent images of the white faced, bearded man in red, often connects to childhood memories, feelings of family, and emotions associated with this time of year. While associations of this time of year are not joyful for everyone, there is power in the image of Santa. Jason Mankey, writer of the Raise the Horns blog on Patheos Pagan Channel, wrote about this magic in his piece on the history and origins of Santa Claus, “It’s a magical memory, the exact type of thing that the image and myth of Santa Claus should conjure up. Santa Claus has power and an energy all his own. To say that Santa “isn’t real” completely misses the point. Few myths are as universal in the Western World as that of Midwinter gift-bringer, and it’s a myth that speaks to the best of who we can be as people. Santa is the spirit of giving and child-like wonder, two impulses that are often in short supply”.

As I see it there are a plethora of issues in potentially conflicting matters like this, individual and familial culture, religious beliefs, mainstream culture, appropriation of ancestral mythology, and the implications on overall current racial tension. The intersectionality of these various issues can create a lot of challenging perspectives.

All of the aforementioned areas add to the Pagan community’s ability to question our collective identity within the overculture of Americanized holidays and values. How do the Americanized holidays affect the practices and beliefs of those who walk a Pagan path?

Upon watching the Megyn Kelly segment on Fox News, I personally struggled with two different, and sometimes conflicting, elements of my personal identity; valuing the mythology that intersects with Pagan beliefs, and the need to challenge the often harsh reality of exclusions within our American stories.

So what do Pagans think about this Santa, Norse, fictionalized conflict, and is it important? Does it matter more to some subsets of Pagans over others? I asked a couple of Pagans some questions on these exact things.

jonathan korman

Jonathan Korman

Santa has a great bushy beard and a sled drawn by reindeer and a magic bag of wonders; that such a figure would not have some kind of connection to Norse myth seems … implausible.

But there is no tidy answer to such questions.

Is Hermes “really” a figure from Egyptian mythology because Hermes is “really” Thoth?

The gods and spirits and so forth are refracted through a cultural lens, and they do not break crisply from one another. The Hermes of my practice both is and is not the same entity as the Hermes an ancient Greek would have encountered. The Santa Claus I encounter both is and is not the same as the Santa encountered by a Christian Minnesota six-year-old in 1890. – Jonathan Korman

Melanie Moore

Melanie Moore

I suppose American Santa has roots in Odin but most of them are completely twisted and watered down. I don’t desire to use him in my family’s traditions.

In fact, I decided even before I had children that I would not do Santa. I feel badly for parents who get roped into buying their child’s secret expensive gift in the name of Santa. And the “naughty” manipulation. If Santa doesn’t bring your expensive gift – is it because you’ve been naughty? – Melanie Moore – midwife, dancer

Lupa

Lupa

The Santa Claus we think of here in the U.S. may resemble his pagan forebears, but at this point he’s become his own icon. I think it’s important to allow there to be a modern mythology, especially in a culture that often feels it doesn’t have one. This is especially important for Santa Claus since the prevailing theme is “Believe he’s real as a child until someone tells you otherwise, and then he’s just a marketing strategy”. I think looking at Santa as his own mythical being and taking him a little more seriously can reintroduce some of the wonder and magic of the Christmas season at a time when the holiday has become heavily commercialized. That doesn’t mean that every American has to become pagan, of course! But just as we have the mythos of the Rugged Individualist here, I think we could also use a more solid buildup of Santa mythos as it pertains to American culture–generosity, good humor, and a healthy dose of wonder and little-m-magic.

I don’t think it impacts us more than it impacts anyone else. We all are affected by the craziness of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas (and, more and more, we’re seeing Christmas decorations for sale in mid-October!) I do see the desire to “reclaim” a more pagan Santa to be something of a backlash both against that commercialization and Christianity on the part of some pagans, though there are also just those who are curious about his roots. But I don’t think that images of the jolly old man in red and white affect pagans specifically either way.

I grew up with a fairly typical roster of Christmas celebrations–the tree and ornaments, presents, carols, etc. It’s something that’s invested with a lot of fond memories and good feelings, and it’s something I carry on even today. Santa is a part of that, though I suppose if I had children he’d be even more present.

I do recognize that for the most part Santa is depicted as a white guy. However, I personally feel that he can show up as any race–there are old men with white hair (and sometimes beards) all over the world. I think the problem is more that “white” is the default race for depicting all sorts of individuals (look at the situation with Jesus, for example). And yes, the original St. Nick wasn’t white. However, I feel Santa Claus, through means good or ill, has again become his own being, and I feel that because of his popular appeal among Americans of many different races, he should be depicted with more diversity himself. By this I mean being depicted as being of all races in turn, not just one. (And not just a case of “when he’s going to a white family’s house he’s white, when he goes to a black family’s house, he’s black, etc.) He could potentially be a mythological figure who can be for everyone, and carry that holiday spirit of “peace and love for all your neighbors”. – Lupa, author

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

Santa Claus is an American phenomenon, this is where he got his name, his modern look, and his red suit. Without America there is no Santa. Of course Santa Claus has roots in other cultures and other things. The Christian tradition and mythos of Saint Nicholas is a building block, and I think Norse/Germanic mythology is another building block.

I know that there are a lot of Pagans who resist celebrating Christmas because they think of it as a “Christian” holiday. Santa being such a visible figure can make that difficult, so that’s way he impacts Modern Paganism. I’m a firm believer in Christmas as a mostly secular Midwinter celebration with pagan and Christian influences. As such, it’s something I enjoy celebrating and I like seeing Santa involved in it. When it comes to inescapable modern icons, Santa with his message of giving, isn’t a bad one to have plastered everywhere for two months out of the year. Now if we could just popularize Befana and Krampus – Jason Mankey, author

While I feel that Kelly’s comments on her television segment were culturally insensitive, biased and racially provoking, there is room to question how mythology, present culture, political factors, and cultural capital all play into the individual and collective needs of the Pagan community. For those who are people of color, there are a multitude of layers to unpack around the continuous stream of American folklore, mythology, holidays, and bringers of hope that are always white faced heroes. This lack of multiculturalism trickles down into the many subsets of our general society and directly impacts perceptions of the status quo.

With that in mind, I specifically wanted to ask Pagans whether they thought the race of Santa had any impact on community.

LaSara Firefox Allen

LaSara Firefox Allen

I believe that Santa as a true entity is beyond race, or religion. Or even gender. But just as “God” (capital G – as in, the Christian God) is presented as a white man in most cases, as a Mystic I believe that the heart of god is inconceivable. I believe that Santa shows up in pop culture mythology as an old white guy because that is what power shows up as in the dominant culture. But I have known since i was young that Santa is an entity that shifts Its presentation. This is why I can still be such a solid believer. If we claim Santa, Santa become a mirror of our own divinity, and we a mirror of It’s. – Lasara Firefox, author

Connie Jones-Stewart

Connie Jones-Stewart

I believe that the Santa Clause of today is a totally fictionalized and secularized character that has developed over time. He may have some elements of Odin, La Befana, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas and others but he is none of those people. I don’t believe that Santa impacts Pagan or Christian culture. He is part of secular Xmas and secular culture. I see Santa as the spirit of giving that comes with the holiday season. He has no race nor religion. – Connie Jones-Steward, Interfaith Minister

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

As a kid raised in an almost all-white school system, in an almost all-white town, seeing images of a non-white Santa might have made me do a double-take. Then again, seeing a non-white Barbie doll would have made me do a double-take. However, I also would have just shrugged and thought, why not. For me, the modern image of “Santa” is something that’s, how to put it…he’s an archetype that should be a mirror, a gift to the community. I grew up with a Santa that looks like me and I’ve always taken that for granted. I grew up with Barbie dolls and toys that look like me. But I also know that Santa comes from an older tradition. Ultimately, one of the sources of what we now call “Santa” may have come from Asian/Siberian shamans bringing mushrooms to their tribe. The modern image of Santa was really branded and solidified by Coca Cola, if memory serves. For me, it’s not important what color Santa is, Santa’s a secular concept that belongs to our culture, and I don’t think it takes away anything to have a Santa that is Black, or Asian, or any race or color. Because, kids should get to grow up with a Santa that looks like them.

Deities and spirits change over time, and based on location. They change to become culturally relevant. I think the modern concept of Santa doesn’t need to be limited to being white; I think a multi-racial Santa is more culturally relevant. Deities and spirits and archetypes change over time, they always have. It’s what makes them live and breathe.- Shauna Aura Knight, author

jonathan korman

Jonathan Korman

What with the sleigh and the reindeer and the furs and the elves and the home as far north as north goes, one might presume that Santa Claus is Norwegian or Finnish. But then Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Smyrna, was presumptively Greek in what is now Turkey; that guy doesn’t sound so … pale. But that misses the esoteric truth of Santa which we only reveal to children when they are ready to hear it, that Santa manifests in our performance of him, be it putting on the costume or delivering gifts under the tree; in that Santa is and must be anyone and everyone.

This lesson, that Santa is a role which anyone may inhabit, is contained in my favorite Santa Claus story, the Twilight Zone episode “Night of the Meek”, in which a department store Santa discovers a magical, inexhaustible bag of gifts and begins distributing them to the poor. Only at the end, at the prompting of a friend, does it occur to him to ask for something for himself — and all he can think to ask for is to be able to do it every year. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_of_the_Meek) – Jonathan Korman

Porsha Williams

Porsha Williams

I feel that the Pagan community would be more wide open to any/many different representations of Santa Claus compared to greater society. As pagans (and to use a term I’ve seen used recently within posts on the Kemetic Tumblr-verse)–”unique personal gnosis” is considered valid, in reference to our experiences with ritual and study of our gods. What feels right, is held in higher regard to our community than greater society. It is respected, vs. ridiculed and discredited because it’s not the norm.

It’s common knowledge that greater society does not accept what’s different without some sort of pushback. In the case of Santa being white or black, I feel that unfortunately it still matters greatly whether he’s portrayed as black or white. Unfortunately, the old guard of baby boomers through Generation X were raised with those “racial boundaries” still firmly intact. As younger generations like Generation Y and the Millennials came up–the time of Jim Crow and it’s customs were more textbook lesson than recent memory. These generations are coming of age with little-to-no boundaries due to social media, shared interest in each other’s differences (vs. aversion) and a lack of fear of any repercussions of racial mixing. While these factors would make a “black Santa” less of an issue for them, the old guard will stick to their learned behavior as they get closer to the end of their life cycle. It’s what’s comfortable and what’s known–sadly yet respectfully, I believe greater society will continue to be impacted in that manner until newer generations come of age. Though the Pagan community does have those few sects of worship who remain firm in their belief that racial segregation is necessary in their chosen path, they are few in comparison to our community as a whole. – Porsha A. Williams, writer of The First Dark

With such a wide variety of associations with the figure and importance of something like Santa Claus, who is to say what he is, who he is, and how important he should be? As we have seen here, the is such a variety of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about this historically significant figure that is is not as clear, as black and white, as some people would like to believe.

blacksantaThe lines between myth and truth, culture and interpretation, race and identity, religion and belief, magic and practice has not always been as transparent from one person to the next. There are a lot of shades of grey within any black and white, Pagan or Christian scenario.  And regardless of the beliefs of origin or importance, we have to admit that Santa is one powerful source of magic to captivate so many people across time. And in my opinion, power has no color or race.

Several recent links on Santa myth and history:

For full statement from Shauna Aura Knight, Jonathan Korman, and Jason Mankey, please click the following link.

Author’s note: A special thanks for the heartfelt, interesting quotes from those who had a moment to respond.

On a few different occasions now, I have been the face of modern Paganism in a world religions course at an evangelical Christian Bible seminary in Portland, Oregon. The class, at Multnomah University, is filled with individuals who are hoping to go into leadership and missionary roles within their respective church communities. I know that they want to convert me, and all like me, but I agreed to be there because I felt that humanizing Pagans was important, especially to those who might have heavily distorted or antagonistic ideas about what my beliefs were. It’s (relatively) easy to sit down with a liberal Episcopalian, peaceful Light-loving Quaker, or questioning Unitarian-Universalist, it’s quite another thing to engage with folks who might adhere to a spiritual warfare theology regarding non-Christian faiths.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

When I step in front of that class, one of the first things I do is point out that modern Paganism is not a monolith. That we are a religious movement made up of distinct groups, traditions, and belief systems. That “Paganism” as a classification does not mean the same thing as the label “Christianity” might mean to them. If you speak to a Christian, they might have widely diverse views on a number of subjects, but there’s a central text (The Bible) and figure (Jesus) that makes them recognizable as a group. However, if you talk to a Pagan, you might be speaking to a Wiccan, a Druid, a Heathen, or one of a growing number of polytheist reconstructionists and revivalists. Of course, statistically speaking, they might also very well end up talking to an eclectic, solitary, practitioner who mixes and matches from the many definable communities that exist underneath our umbrella.

“The problem with big tents is, well, they’re big. Try to embrace the whole tent and you can find yourself bouncing back and forth between pouring libations to Zeus, protesting fracking, organizing the Beltane picnic and meditating on The Fool.  Those are all worthwhile things to do, but they can lead to a personal religion that is the proverbial mile wide and an inch deep.”John Beckett

As I move forward with my talk, I notice that I steer away from my personal beliefs as much as possible. Not to protect myself, I care little if a group of evangelical students know my views on divinity, but because I realize that I’m a filter for something incredibly vast. How do I do justice to both P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Cat Chapin-Bishop? To Don Frew and Cara Schulz? The more I personalize, the more they’ll equate my views with the entire movement, so I try to avoid making it about me. Instead I draw diagrams explaining hard and soft polytheism, explain how there can be humanist Wiccans, and even note that there are groups who increasingly want nothing to do with the term or community that has formed around the word “Paganism” for a variety of reasons. In the end, I point out that religious discourse with a Pagan can’t be about a list of preconceived ideas about what we believe, or do, it has to start simply, as an organic attempt at friendship, or else it will ultimately fail.

“While it has been building for the last few years more and more, I wonder if we have not, at last, reached a kind of definitive “breaking point,” so to speak, where polytheism and general paganism can no longer realistically say that they’re at all related.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Paganism is often explained as a collection of “nature-based” faiths, and while that sweeping classification is both limiting and alienating to some groups and individuals within our movement, it does make for a handy metaphor. Like nature, Paganism can be, and is, endlessly diverse. It can be both embracingly populist and extremely individualistic, focused on the esoteric and concerned with the dirt beneath our feet. Pin-point local or hugely universal in its scope. The mere notion of unity can be a difficult prospect, and one that is often mired in politics. There have been times, even recently, where I felt somewhat intimidated to enter into dialog with my fellow Pagans because I wasn’t sure if my own theological views would be seen as safely within our boundaries, or hopelessly heterodox. Not in the same fashion as some of my outspoken polytheist friends, but I too have questioned the utility and usefulness of the term Paganism as an umbrella. I have even entertained the thought that perhaps we’d all get along better if the term, if not the movement, went away. Because I’ve been to the big intrafaith events, and I know that despite our immense theological and cultural diversity we can share fellowship, discuss common problems, and even mobilize around things that we know to affect us all.

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World's Religions (2009).

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (2009).

“I like to say that as religions seeing the Divine manifest in and as the material world, we have to expect that the Divine is both as unified and at the same time at least as diverse as is the natural world. There is one Earth, but innumerable climates and geographies, flora and fauna. It should be no surprise that our spiritualities reflect this.”Don Frew

All of the recent debate over community, terminology, and theology, is, I think, a sign of our collective success. When our religions were under constant threat, when we truly feared jail, or worse, because of our beliefs, we huddled together for safety and solidarity. We created advocacy groups to speak for us, and empowered authors and activists to be our public face(s). We worked very hard at simple acceptance, and have gained a lot of ground in the last 30 years. Even in the ten years of doing The Wild Hunt, I have seen amazing progress, stuff that would have seemed remarkable to our founders from the 50s and 60s. With these advances comes a branching out from that place of huddled safety, where thousands now work at evaluating what they want from a modern Paganism, and if it still suits them. Margot Adler, famous author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” has publicly said on more than one occasion that had she the option back in the 1970s, she would have become a Hellenic polytheist instead of a Wiccan, but Wicca was all she could find at the time. The Margot Adler’s of tomorrow don’t have to worry about those limitations. Thanks to our ascendancy, growth, and technologies, our choices are more expansive, and at least in most Western nations, relatively safe to explore.

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Going forward, our leaders and elders need to take seriously the need not only for interfaith outreach to religions like Christianity, Hinduism, indigenous traditions, and Buddhism, but a renewed intrafaith discussion among the many faiths that operate within our movement, who still stand (for now) under the Pagan umbrella. We can no longer assume that everyone is going to simply go along, or that criticisms are coming from an ignorable minority. A not-often discussed fact, is that Paganism is largely solitary and eclectic in its makeup. The “large” Pagan organizations have membership rolls that number hundreds, not thousands, and there’s no group that can truly claim to speak for our movement in any unified way. This means that constant engagement and re-engagement within is critical towards achieving the many movement goals we might have (infrastructure, legal rights, pan-movement activism), and a failure to see the importance of such engagement will ultimately lead to our shopworn umbrella truly shredding apart in the decades to come.

If we want a full and rich “Paganism” moving forward, we’ll have to work for it anew. We will have to respect our increasing diversity, and the changing mores of the individuals willing to stand with our movement. Alternately, we can redefine Paganism to mean a smaller number of faiths, and accept that a growing number of religious communities are going to exist apart from us. Whatever “we” want, we should act on it, otherwise time and inaction will make the choice for us.