Archives For Paganism

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.”

 

witchcraft-today-60-years-on

  • 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.

On May 23rd, the 2014 Irish local elections were held, the first set of local elections since a major restructuring of local government was put into place earlier this year. In what seems to be a tumultuous outing, with small left-leaning parties and Sinn Féin largely benefitting, the People Before Profit Alliance gained 15 council seats across Ireland. One of those seats was won by Deirdre Wadding, on the Wexford County Council. Oh, and she just so happens to be openly Pagan, the first such candidate to be elected to office in Ireland.

Deirdre Wadding posting a letter to the minister for the abolition of water charges.

Deirdre Wadding posting a letter to the minister for the abolition of water charges.

“Cllr. Wadding, a long-term socialist activist, took the final seat in the Wexford district on Sunday night after a long, two-day count. A vocal campaigner, she has made her mark through her work with the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes and was approached by PBPA on the back of that. She polled an impressive 599 votes on the first count and picked up a number of large chunks of transfers later in the day. Laughing off the description of ‘white witch’, Cllr. Wadding said that she was one of 20,000 pagans across the country but, as far as she knew, was the only one now serving as a councillor. ‘I did ask the Irish Battle Goddess Morrigan for victory today and I have a crow’s feather in my hair as a reminder of her.’”

In a message posted to Facebook, the newly elected councillor thanked supporters, and her “Pagan brothers and sisters,” for their support.

“Thank you all friends, family, supporters, [People Before Profit Allicance] brothers and sisters, Pagan brothers and sisters, the shinners upstairs at the count for their help and kindness and generosity in sharing their number crunching skills especially Wally, to the absolutely amazing team who stood with me and walked with me and climbed ladders and knocked on doors!!  We are a collective and this is a win for all of us which is why when Jim Campbell of the Echo came to take the usual pic of the candidate hoisted in the air, it suddenly just didn’t feel right and I said no! We all stand together, no one of us elevated! Sorry Jim!! It felt important! Most of all thank you from the bottom of my heart to the voters who placed their trust in me. I gave you only one promise to fight for and with you. And so it begins … OIche mhaith a chairde xxx”

Nor is Wadding’s allegiance to the Irish Pagan community superficial, as she has been a presenter at Irish Pagan events in the past, including the 2013 Goddess Gathering Ireland.

“Deirdre Wadding is a Shamanic Practitioner, trained in Celtic Shamanism, Witch, and Priestess/Hierophant of the Fellowship of Isis. Her primary magical & spiritual connection is with the Spirit and Power of the Land. Her strongest devotion is to the Morrigan, powerful transformative challenging Goddess of Ancient Ireland. Inspired by her connection with the Land, Deirdre writes songs and poetry which she performs in addition to storytelling, given half a chance and an ear to listen. It is this same respect for the Sovereignty of the Land that motivates Deirdre’s activism… her medicine drum now beaten as often to keep a chant of protest going as to facilitate the soulflight of Shamanic Journeying. Deirdre lives in rural Co. Wexford, close to the sea, with her two youngest children and adult daughter who comes and goes.” 

Caroline Kenner, a Washington DC based Pagan, reached out with congratulations to her mutual Facebook friend and shamanic practitioner on behalf of Wadding’s American-based friends.

“Congratulations and best wishes to Deirdre Wadding, who has just been elected to the Wexford County Council in Ireland, the first openly Pagan member of the county council ever elected. Dierdre ran with the People Before Profit Alliance. She is a shamanic practitioner. May The Morrigan bless her term on the council: Deirdre wore a Crow’s feather in her hair during the election as a votive to Her. Your American friends send blest wishes for a great term in office. Huzzah and Hooray!”

Meanwhile, Vivianne Crowley, former interfaith coordinator of the Pagan Federation, and a professor in the Department of Pastoral Counseling at Cherry Hill Seminary, added that “many Pagans are disillusioned with governments, but if we don’t like what we see we must try to change it. Deirdre’s example is inspiring and let’s hope that in the coming years we see more Pagans in politics.”

You can follow the proud Pagan socialist’s political career at her campaign’s Facebook page, or at her official Twitter account. In the Wexford Echo piece on her candidacy and win, Wadding stressed that her win would just make her activism on the streets more effective, instead of tamed.

“My motivation isn’t that I want to be in the council. I want to affect change from the inside and the outside. I will still be getting involved in people’s problems, whether it’s a matter of civil rights, taxes and charges or anything else. That is my work and it will continue. I fully intend to be out on the street and be active. But it is a bonus that we will also have a voice on the inside.”

In many senses of the term, this is a historic moment in Irish politics, and we will be following Councillor Wadding’s career with great interest.

On Tuesday it was announced on her official Facebook page that Morning Glory Zell (aka Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart) had passed away after a long struggle with cancer and other complications.

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

“Blessings upon our High Priestess of the Goddess Morning Glory Zell who embarked upon her silver ship to the Summerlands this evening, Tuesday May 13th, 2014 at 5:42 p.m.”

With her long-time husband and companion Oberon Zell, Morning Glory was a pivotal figure in the history of contemporary Paganism in America. She formed the early core of the Church of All Worlds (CAW), helped create and edit Green Egg Magazine, one of the most influential publications in modern Paganism’s history, founded The Mythic Images Collection, and grew to become a highly respected source on goddess lore who toured the country speaking and teaching.

“My beloved has passed beyond the veil. She drew her final breath at 5:42 yesterday afternoon. Her handmaidens, students and priestesses prepared her body and dressed her in her beautiful Sea Priestess robes. She is now lying in grace in the Temple for a few days until we take her body to its final resting place in the Earth. It’s been an incredible week–grief and joy intermixing like a lava lamp. So many beautiful loving people gathered around, taking care of everything. That’s all I can really say right now…I can barely see to type.”Oberon Zell

In addition to her work within the context of modern Paganism, Morning Glory Zell was a strong advocate for non-monogamy and open relationship structures. She is widely credited with coining the term “polyamory” in 1990 to describe multiple loving committed relationships (in contrast to the notion of “swinging”). In a new (2010) introduction to that essay, Morning Glory said “this whole polyamorous lifestyle is the avante-garde of the 21st century. Expanded families will become a pattern with wider acceptance as the monogamous nuclear family system breaks apart under the impact of serial divorces.” With Oberon Zell, Morning Glory formed the Ravenheart family, a blended multi-partner polyamorous family that was profiled in the RE/SEARCH title “Modern Pagans.” John C. Sulak, who co-wrote “Modern Pagans,” would go on to write the story of Oberon and Morning Glory’s life in  “The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism.” 

9780738714820_p0_v1_s260x420“This is the stranger-than-fiction story of two soul mates who rejected the status quo and embraced higher ideals . . . and had a whole lot of fun while they were at it. Reclaiming Pagan as a spiritual identity—and living in an open marriage for over four decades—Oberon and Morning Glory Zell truly embody the freedom to think, to love, and to live.

Telling the stories of their singular lives in this unique oral history, Oberon and Morning Glory—together with a colorful tribe of friends, lovers, musicians, homesteaders, researchers, and ritualists—reveal how they established the Church of All Worlds, revitalized Goddess worship, discovered the Gaea Thesis, raised real Unicorns, connected a worldwide community through Green Egg magazine, searched for mermaids in the South Pacific, and founded the influential Grey School of Wizardry.”

Llewellyn Worldwide, the publisher of that title, released this statement on Morning Glory’s passing.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Morning Glory Zell. Morning Glory and Oberon Zell have been leaders in the Pagan community since meeting at one of the Gnosticons in the 1970s. She will be greatly missed. Blessings on your journey, MG. Love, light and heartfelt sympathies go out to Oberon Zell and his family from everyone at Llewellyn.”

As Morning Glory’s health deteriorated, an initiative was put forward to record as much of her accumulated wisdom through audio recordings as possible. To preserve the decades of insights and experiences from a life lived in service to her goddesses.

“There are people whose lives make an indelible mark on the tapestry of life. Morning Glory Zell was such a person. As Priestess, Wife, Teacher and Friend; she devoted her life to providing a contemporary throne to our ancient Goddess. We thank you! We celebrate you! We will miss your physical presence. But we will carry forth your work and we will honor you as a Sacred Ancestress, Morning Glory. The death of your body is but the expansion of your spirit. May our lady guide and guard you in your journey, great lady. And, may the love of so many of us be a source of strength and healing for Oberon. As a Pagan and Witch tribe We stand with you. I love you both dearly. My Gods love you.”Orion Foxwood

“She brought a lot of light into the worlds of all those around her. In love may she return again.”Aline O’Brien (M. Macha Nightmare)

Green Egg Magazine has announced that they will be publishing a special free tribute issue in honor of Morning Glory.

“We will be publishing our next issue of Green Egg in about 2 weeks. This will be a special tribute to Morning Glory. We are collecting stories about her so if you’d like to submit a story re: M.G. send it in – even if only a paragraph, that’s OK. We just want to get as many stories about her as possible. You can send your stories in to: greeneggzine@gmail.com if you have pictures you think are unique, please send those along as well.  THIS ISSUE WILL BE FREE!!!”

May she rest in the arms of her Goddess, and may her spirit return to us again. What is remembered, lives.

The Reverend Angie Buchanan, Founder and Director of Earth Traditions, and former Board of Trustees member of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, has been appointed as a Spiritual Advisor for Pagan students at the University of Chicago through Rockefeller Chapel. The chapel is the “the spiritual and ceremonial center of the University of Chicago,” and this appointment represents a major advance towards recognizing and serving the spiritual needs of Pagan students at college campuses.

Rockefeller Chapel

Rockefeller Chapel

Here’s a statement sent to me by Rev. Buchanan on her appointment.

Rev. Angie Buchanan

Rev. Angie Buchanan

“I am pleased to announce my new appointment as the Spiritual Advisor for Pagan students at University of Chicago, through Rockefeller Chapel. I look forward to working with the student body to help them celebrate and deepen their path.

I am excited that the University of Chicago has joined many other colleges and universities that already have established Pagan student groups in place. I am eager to embrace the opportunity to do important work with students, and other religious staff. I am also reflecting on the role this has for the larger Pagan context.

Having a Pagan advisor on staff at a prestigious university such as the University of Chicago supports the mainstream recognition that opens up opportunities and freedoms already available to the practitioners of other religious traditions. It also helps secure the establishment of Paganism as a world religion.

Formalization of the Pagan presence on campus serves to recognize the desire of students, Pagan and non-Pagan, to learn about Paganism through religious inquiry. It also acknowledges the need to provide a space for self identified Pagans to have their spiritual needs met.

My hope is to help the students build a legacy, to empower them to craft their own study groups and rituals, and to transfer leadership through successive graduating classes, thereby building a self sustaining Pagan presence among the student body.

This fits in line with what the intentions of the Founders of Rockefeller Chapel have been about all along; that being to provide a place based on scholarship and religious inquiry in the spirit of religion, that accommodates the “complex and often contradictory issues related to religious and spiritual practice in today’s world, providing support to members of the campus community of any religious affiliation or none.”

Rockefeller Chapel, along with institutions like Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University, and the University of Southern Maine, understand that their Pagan student population deserves equal access to spiritual guidance. That, along with schools starting to include Pagan holidays in their calendars, helps, in the words of Rev. Buchanan, “open up opportunities and freedoms already available to the practitioners of other religious traditions.” 

[The following is a guest post from Michael Reeder. Michael Reeder LCPC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Baltimore, MD.  He holds a certificate in Spiritual & Existential Counseling from Johns Hopkins University, and is a graduate of Gryphons Grove School of Shamanism.  He has been affiliated with several local Pagan organizations and presented at conferences including Sacred Space, Free Spirit Gathering, Ecumenicon, and Pagan Pride Day events.  He can be reached at michael@hygeiacounseling.com and www.hygeiacounseling.com]

Spiritual_Guidance_Across_ReligionsI am pleased to announce that Spiritual Guidance Across Religions: A Sourcebook for Spiritual Directors and Other Professionals Providing Counsel to People of Differing Faith Traditions has just been published by Skylight Paths Publishing.  I’d like to talk a bit about this book, developing Pagan counseling efforts, and the role of a recently deceased Pagan elder.

This book contains a 19 page chapter on Neo-Paganism – as much text as is devoted to most of the other faith traditions.  Our inclusion here is a big deal so I want to dwell on it for a brief moment.  Up to now, there have been the very rare and occasional professional journal articles on Wicca or Paganism for mental health counselors.  There are also a few books teaching pastoral counseling skills to Pagan clergy or presenting Pagan versions of AA 12-Step.  Even books on world spirituality have tended to leave us out or give us a few pages lumped in with miscellaneous odd topics at the end.  I am unaware of other college-level textbooks providing professional instruction on spiritual counseling for Pagans.

This book offers exactly what the title suggests — help for psychotherapists, counselors, spiritual directors, clergy, and other helpers to understand a bit about the faith tradition of the clients in front of them and some guidance on how to appropriately help them from the perspective of their tradition.  (The full list of faith traditions includes Evangelical Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Reformed Christianity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Spiritual Eclecticism, Unitarian Universalism, Neo-Paganism, Bahá’í Faith, Sikhism, Shinto, Humanism,  New Thought, Zoroastrianism, Native American Religion, African Diaspora Spirituality, Daoism, Jainism, & Confucianism.)  Each chapter gives you an overview of the tradition, methods for spiritual guidance honored in that tradition, common spiritual problems encountered by people of that tradition, tips & techniques & practices, and helpful resources for further learning.

This opportunity came to me through the quiet good graces of Judy Harrow and an open-minded editor willing to trust her and myself.  Although a known Pagan elder, many are unaware of all the good work Judy did as both a mental health counselor and an interfaith goodwill ambassador. Judy was a past president of New Jersey ASERVIC (Association for Spiritual, Ethical, & Religious Values in Counseling – an American Counseling Association division) and active on the AAPC (American Association of Pastoral Counselors) Yahoo Group. Both ASERVIC and AAPC are very mainstream, slightly conservative counseling organizations with LOTS of ordained Christian ministers. The fact she was so respected there speaks volumes.  Judy was a former Chair of the Pastoral Care and Counseling Department at Cherry Hill Seminary (where I took a wonderful online class which taught me exercises I still use with clients).

Judy taught a class on pastoral counseling skills for Pagan clergy for some years with the Pagan Leadership Skills Conference.  I was honored to co-teach it with her a few times.  She was also instrumental in gathering Pagan counseling heavyweights to join the Pagan Professional Counseling Yahoo Group that is now well over 100+ members strong, and a place where licensed professionals can converse about the intersection of Pagan spirituality and counseling.  She wrote a recommended book entitled Spiritual Mentoring: A Pagan Guide that I’m pleased to see now has a Kindle edition available.  Buy a copy.

I mention all this both to discuss the significant contributions of Judy, and to outline a large portion of the work on Pagan counseling to-date.  Along the way I have also created a www.pagantherapy.com website I occasionally update and is currently somewhat shabby, a now ancient training slideshow for hospital chaplains, an in-service training for psychotherapists on Paganism, and even a rather rough video for Pagan therapy clients on how to discuss Paganism with their counselor (very long load time!).  Several years ago the Pagan-Centered Podcast did podcasts on mental health topics I was involved with located here (Paganism and psychology) and here (trauma, depression, and anxiety topics).

I’m sure I am missing out on a lot of the work by my more academic colleagues and I believe much of the work regarding Pagans in the military overlaps with counseling topics.  My apology – work as a full-time psychotherapist makes it hard to keep up sometimes.

The few paragraphs above serve both as a partial resource guide to Pagan counseling, and as evidence of how rudimentary efforts in this area still are.

Michael Reeder LCPC

Michael Reeder LCPC

Years ago I naively thought that there would be lots of interest in the topic of Paganism and counseling from the mundane world.  At first I worried that other mental health counselors would be judgmental.  This proved largely not the case, and I even was a student member of AAPC for a time and an associate at a pastoral counseling center in Washington, DC.  Later I thought other counselors would be interested in learning about Paganism or refer Pagan clients my way.  This has sadly proven to be mostly untrue also.  Most therapists don’t think they need any special knowledge or training about Pagans.

In 2007 I sent an unsolicited manuscript on counseling Pagan clients into an ASERVIC monograph project.  ASERVIC had called for papers on how to assist clients from a variety of spiritual backgrounds, and not asked for any information on Paganism.  This ASERVIC project stalled for many years and I finally ended up significantly rewriting and expanding the monograph into a chapter for the book that was just published.  I figure I’ve put 4-6 weeks of time into writing the chapter.

Writing about Paganism and counseling for a mainstream audience presents several challenges.  My first goal was to lay out a convincing case that Paganism promotes mental health.  Pagan readers of my chapter may be a bit uncomfortable with how much emphasis I place on how useful Paganism is, and how to tell the difference between “odd” Pagan beliefs versus mental illness.  I also do some similarity comparisons between Pagan rituals, counseling, and hypnosis procedures.  The idea here was not to convince the (mostly Christian) audience that Pagan spirituality is real, but rather to convince them that it is a good healthy thing regardless.

Another challenge was writing about Pagan religion in one chapter.  We of course have at least dozens of different religions under the Pagan umbrella.  (Although I do subscribe to Michael York’s arguments that Paganism broadly should be treated as a world religion too.)  This resulted in quite a mash-up of different religions in our one chapter and an emphasis on their similarities and the more common Wiccan norms.

I also had to follow a discussion outline standardized across all of the chapters that was written with well-intentioned mainstream (mostly Christian) assumptions.  When your clergy are largely trained at home; don’t get the educational benefit of rotations in hospital chaplaincy units; are more conduits of energy than sermonizers and flock shepherds; “lead” groups of priests rather than laity; and can worship potentially any god, goddess, spirit, or ancestor; you’ve got a lot of explaining to do!

I am honored that the chapter on “Spiritual Guidance in the Neo-Pagan Tradition” got passed to me to complete.  I believe this book will be helpful to counselors, spiritual directors, students, and helpers of any type trying to reach a wide variety of spiritual clients.

On Monday, police in Bluefield, West Virginia arrested James Irvin on multiple charges of sexual abuse and sexual assault against children. Local West Virginia media say that according to the police report, Irvin allegedly promised magical feats of healing and even resurrection of the dead so long as the children complied with his requests.

James Irvin. Screenshot taken from WVVA coverage.

James Irvin. Screenshot taken from WVVA coverage.

“According to the criminal complaint, two of the victims lived with their mother and stepfather in Irvin’s home on Giles Street when the alleged offenses occurred in 2007. The complaint states the alleged sex acts were performed under the guise of Pagan/Wiccan rituals, of which Irvin was a follower. One victim testified that Irvin forced her to perform the sexual acts, described as ‘magic’ to ‘make mommy well,’ the complaint states. [...] A third victim — a friend of the family — has also come forward to report that she was sexually abused by Irvin on four occasions at his home. She told police, according to the criminal complaint, that Irvin told her the ‘magic’ acts could ‘make her recently deceased father come back.’”

As news of this arrest spread through the Pagan community, anger at Irvin’s alleged crimes were evident, with some asking how anyone could distort Wicca, which places an emphasis on not harming others, into something that could encompass the sexual abuse of children. Cat Chapin-Bishop, former Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary’s Pastoral Counseling Department, with over 20 years of experience as a counselor specializing in work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, says that in some cases religion or claims to supernatural powers are merely a means to an end for perpetrators of abuse.

“For some perpetrators the lies and deceptions they use to manipulate children are something they enjoy, in and of themselves. For others, they’re just a means to an end: controlling child victims. Whatever is the case here, as terrible as it is that our religious beliefs have been distorted in such an ugly way as part of this abuse, the real horror is the crime itself: children betrayed by adults they should have been able to trust. This is the real tragedy here.”

Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization that works to network and empower Wiccan and religious Witchcraft traditions in the United States, issued a statement on this arrest from its Hills & Rivers Local Council, which serves the Pennslyvania, western New York State, and West Virginia area.

“Our faith depends on strict ethics that ask us to harm no one. The Wiccan religion does not tolerate acts that abuse children in any way. It is against our code of ethics to do anything of this nature. We are disheartened to learn that anyone would use our religion to harm children.” – Lady Annabelle, First Officer of Hills & Rivers Local Council, Covenant of the Goddess and High Priestess of Grove of Gaia.

Lady Annabelle went on to add that Hills & Rivers Local Council has reached out to local media in Bluefield to, quote, “offer any information or assistance in the reporting of this story and future stories that involve Wicca and Paganism.” 

Chapin-Bishop, who recently wrote a guest post for The Wild Hunt on how to best respond to abuse within the Pagan community, adds that whatever Irvin’s beliefs may or may not have been, “it’s a good reminder to our community of the wisdom of doing background checks on anyone who is working directly with children. We may not detect every offender this way, but it will be worth it to detect those we can.” As for Irvin, he is currently being held on $100,000 bond, and may face additional charges according to WVVA’s Lindsay Oliver. We will keep you posted as this story develops.

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”John Muir

Today is Earth Day, a moment when we as a people take notice of our interconnected relationship with the planet we inhabit, when, in theory, we take stock of our responsibilities towards good stewardship of the fragile ecosystems that allow the flourishing of life. A moment where we realize that the resources that we depend on for life are not inexhaustible or incorruptible. Originally a teach-in on environmental issues, Earth Day has since become a global point of focus for issues relating to environmentalism, ecology, and the preservation of natural resources. With climate change becoming an increasingly dire issue, it remains to be seen if we can escape the fog of politics and actually work to mitigate some of the worst effects while we still can.

Pioneer trail, Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl.

Pioneer trail, Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl.

While many contemporary Pagans today feel a deep connection with these issues, to the point where many now describe themselves as following an “Earth Religion,” that was not always the case. Nascent Pagan religious culture in the 1950s and 1960s  was more focused on what scholar Chas Clifton, in his book “Her Hidden Children,” calls “cosmic” and “embodied” forms of nature. This former dominant paradigm is underscored by a recent editorial by Fritz Muntean, who argues that hedonism, not high-minded environmental concerns, were the driving force in the community he joined in the 1960s.

 “The people who rallied, with me, around the ribbon-bedecked May Pole of modern Pagan Witchcraft in the early 1960s were primarily hedonists. Many of us, it’s true, were interested in ecology and environmentalism. But all were there, I believe, to fuel the fires of a religiosity that claimed ‘all acts of love and pleasure’ as its sacraments.”

I think that Muntean’s assertions as to how the shift in emphasis from ‘cosmic’ and ‘embodied’ ideas to ‘Gaian’ ones happened suffers from a selective and biased reading of our community’s history, and largely ignores how Pagans of that time were influenced by a much larger groundswell in the West around issues of environmentalism. As Clifton puts it, this cultural shift within Paganism largely happened without premeditation.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“I would stress that Wicca and other forms of new American Paganism stepped right into the opening created, without, so far as I can tell, any premeditation. In more than a quarter century of involvement in the movement, I have not uncovered any instance of any American Pagan’s saying, in effect, ‘Let’s position ourselves as the environmental religion.’ Risking an argument from absence, I think that the unconscious ease with which American Pagans embraced the terms nature religion or earth religion testifies to the strength of Catherine Albanese’s argument that nature religion does exist in the American worldview, whether as a scholarly construct, a way of organizing reality (her first description), or as the ‘spiritual source of secular passion.’”

It should be noted that within the larger Pagan movement, some individuals and groups have, in recent years, rejected labels like “earth religion” or “nature religion,” finding them not accurate descriptors of what they practice or believe. That said, support for environmental causes, a willingness to embrace modern scientific data on issues like climate change, and a general belief that preserving natural resources is a good idea, are still pervasive throughout our interconnected communities. A shift did happen in 1970, one that has changed our religious movement in a deep manner, to the point where environmentalism is often slurred with the epithet of “pagan” by some political conservatives.

“With the demise of the biblical religions that have provided the American people with their core values since the country’s inception, we are reverting to the pagan worldview. Trees and animals are venerated, while man is simply one more animal in the ecosystem. And he is largely a hindrance, not an asset.”

This slur, meant to shock Christians of a certain stripe, is increasingly losing its power in the face of greater ecological catastrophes. The main question now is, will outrage over local disasters, over poisoned resources, over under-regulated oil, chemical, and gas industries, gel into a national movement powerful enough to shift the political will as it did in the 1970s? Back then it took acid rain, rivers on fire, toxic smog, and widespread chemical poisoning of both people and our ecosystem before enough push-back solidified. How much damage, or more accurately, how much irreversible damage, will we as a culture tolerate? It’s clear we will need more than Pagans espousing nature religion, we will need a larger change in how we all encounter and experience the natural world and our place within it.

View from Spencer Butte. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

View from Spencer Butte. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

While I think that documentaries like “A Fierce Green Fire” (debuting tonight on PBS), “Monumental,” “Earth Days,” or Ken Burns’ love letter to the National Parks, can help raise both awareness and a longing for reconnection with nature, nothing replaces experience. Living in Oregon, surrounded by ocean, forest, high plains desert, mountain, and butte, one has only to pick a direction and walk to it. Since moving here some years ago, I have seen my own spiritual framework shift and change as I adapted to my new home. Here, people regularly climb to the summit of local buttes to break through the clouds that are our reality for several months of the year, where almost everyone owns hiking gear, where both REI and Cabela’s thrive in providing equipment for a number of outdoor excursions. As a result, “nature religion” is almost our default setting in a land where religious “nones” are a force to be reckoned with.

Not everyone has access to the lush splendor of the Pacific Northwest, but nature, and our desire to preserve its ability to support us, need not depend on forest or mountain. Pagans can oppose fracking in urban New York City, they can get involved in environmental law, fighting for nature in our courtrooms, they can call awareness to poisoned water supplies, they can stand on the front lines as activists, and perhaps most importantly, they can dig into the history of the land they are on, no matter where that is.

“Many of us look to the land to teach us various internal and external lessons. And most of us look to what has been built before us in order to better understand who we were and are. But we sometimes overlook the idea that the objects and structures that we have built can also serve as powerful lessons about the land itself. Lessons that our ancestors knew but in the present-day we have forgotten, lessons that the land may not be able to tell us quite so clearly, especially when man-made alterations have transformed the historic layout of a landscape.”Alley Valkyrie

I know that there will be many who will say that there is little they can do, that they already recycle, or conserve, or donate, as best that they can. That the problems we face are too immense, that we can simply face forward with stoic composure, or engage in “collapse” scenario preparations, and hope for the best. However, I don’t think that’s true, there is something we all can do, rich or poor, connected or isolated, and that is to stop being polite about the devastation. When the AIDS crisis hit, there were those who were more than ready to consign all who were hit by the disease with death, who readily villainized the sick. However, a group of people decided that they weren’t going to die quietly, and that they weren’t going to give up hope. They forced awareness, they pushed for new drugs, and they pushed for policy changes. As a result, there are thousands alive today who may not have been had they accepted their fate.

Trees and sun in Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

Trees and sun in Oregon. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

The way forward, especially for those of us who think terms like “nature religion” or “earth religion” matter, is to keep pushing towards a culture that cares about these issues. Where it is reported on in the news every day, where all politicians are forced to have a position, where every new statistic, every new disaster, every new setback, is discussed openly, even if it annoys some of your connected social network. If nature is sacred, if we are connected to that sacred nature, then “likes” are immaterial in the face of crisis. If we want global change, we must become that change. We must role model what we expect from our leadership, be that spiritual or political. Making every day “Earth Day” has become a cliche rejoinder, but we must instead make it a call to action that promotes a radical shift in our spirit.