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[Reprinted from the Pagan Newswire Collective blog Pagan+Politics. Article by Cara Schulz.]

There is no act more political in nature than making an oath of citizenship to a nation. On Tuesday, Melissa Gold, a Pagan living in Canada did just that.   Like many new Canadian citizens, she did so with her hand resting on a book containing stories, poems, and hymns sacred to her religion.  What makes this event extraordinary, and possibly a first in North America, is that the book wasn’t a Bible, a Torah, or a Koran – it was a text containing Hesiod and Homer.

Melissa Gold (right) holding a Canadian flag, her certificate of citizenship, and her copy of Hesiod and Homer.

Melissa agreed to speak with Pagan+politics about about her experience and what it meant to her.

PNC: Melissa, first off, congratulations on your new citizenship status.  I know this was very exciting for you and your family.  But how did a nice American girl like you end up in Canada?

Melissa: Yep, I’m a Canuk! Got a flag pin and a little paper flag along with my citizen card and welcome letter from our Prime Minister.

I came to Canada from North Carolina, right after I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 1972.  Although this was the era of Viet Nam draft dodgers, I came because of a young Canadian man I’d met on a university exchange program between my school and the University of Toronto.  We married that same year.

I’ve lived in Canada for 38 years, my entire adult life, so it definite feels more like ‘home’ than where I was born.  But more, Canada as a society embodies more of my principles than the US: Canada is more liberal and believes in social support systems to a greater degree.  I’m sure I couldn’t afford to live in the US any more.  Canada doesn’t have the divisive partisanship and religious extremism of the US.  Canada was one of the first countries to embrace same sex marriage and to have a cultural conversation of diversity—not a perfect one but more inclusive and accepting than in the US or Europe.  I’ve already decided to assist our local Member of Parliament when elections are next called, so that I can ensure that the progressive agenda of environmental and social concerns is maintained and forwarded.  Now I can be wholly and fully involved in every aspect of the country where I have been living.

PNC: OK.  Let’s switch over to religion.  You are a member of Hellenion, a recognized church of Hellenic Pagans that use reconstructionism as a tool to revive the pre-Christian religious practices of ancient Greece.  How long have you been a Pagan and how did you end up in Hellenismos?

Melissa: I’ve been in the Hellenic movement for almost eight years.  I loved Latin and Greek when I was in high school but my father encouraged me to study something more “practical” in university, so I went into biology.  However, when my outdoor education position ended ten years ago, I decided to return to university and chose Greek, which I had had to abandon when younger.  I studied many aspects of antiquity but felt especially attracted to philosophy and religion.  When my Greek hair dresser told me that there were people in Greece who actually worship the gods, I nearly fell out of the chair with excitement!  I had no idea such a thing could be.  As soon as I got home, I went on to the computer and found both YSEE and Hellenion and applied to Hellenion immediately; that was in 2003.  I had been searching for a spiritual home and knew I had found it, even though much work remained to be done.  Hellenic practice has been my only involvement in pagan communities.

PNC: How do your family and close friends feel about your religion?

Melissa: My closest friends are in the religion, in my Hellenion Proto-demos.  I’ve drifted away from friends in my former religion, Judaism, and haven’t talked to them about it.  Because my Hellenic group is beginning to get media attention, some of my former friends will hear about it eventually and they may refuse to associate with me, but I would never refuse to associate with them.  All my immediate family know about my new spiritual practices and group, and it helps that my family are not particularly “religious.”  As the oldest person in my family now, I’m not looking for approval: I give approval.  Again, because Canada is so open and tolerant, I’m not concerned about how the wider society might react.

PNC: I have to tell you, I’m extremely impressed with your Proto-Demos and what you all have been doing.  Your rituals are  beautiful and are drawing quite a crowd.  The Solstice celebrations were amazing, both of them.  The ritual to honor Ares and the Heroes was something that was commonly practiced in our religion long ago, but many modern Hellenics are slow to revive.  Your religion is obviously something that is an important part of your life and it’s exciting that you were able to bring that into the citizenship ceremony.  How did it come about that you were given an option to choose a holy book for your swearing?

Melissa: As it turns out, Canada adapted its citizenship ceremony to be workable for the vast number of different cultures from which its new citizens come.  In fact, we don’t swear allegiance, we affirm it, a word choice that avoids problems for many people.  We also have the option to use any holy book we wish or nothing at all.  My group of candidates included 68 people from 26 countries.  We stood in a group facing the citizenship judge and raised our right hands and repeated the oath.  No one observed or cared whether our other hand held a holy book or not.  In fact, most people had not brought anything with them.

PNC: OK. Affirm, I’ll remember that.  Can you tell me a bit more about what the ceremony was like and what it meant to you to be able to honor your religion while you affirmed an oath?

Melissa: I described the moment of affirming above, but I can add that the ceremony included formal and legal procedures as well as a warm welcome by all the officials present.  Much time is taken to confirm that we are who we are but the judge was personable and welcomed each one of us as we received our certificates of citizenship.  In the background, mellow music mixed with the sounds of Canadian nature was playing.  The judge welcomed us to the “family of Canada,” which informed the entire process.  I am fortunate that I didn’t have to act defiantly in order to honor my spiritual practice, although I was prepared to do so.  That I didn’t have to is typical of Canada and is yet another reason why I choose to live here.

PNC: This gets to something that may be a bit controversial in our wider religious community, the idea that Pagans could have a holy book and why we would swear or affirm an oath on one.  Which book did you choose and why did you choose that one?

Melissa: I wanted to make a point that Hellenic texts could logically be part of a citizenship ceremony in lieu of touching an altar of Zeus, which was a traditional way to make oaths in antiquity.  I had brought a Loeb volume containing the works of Hesiod, the Theogony and the Works and Days, and the Homeric Hymns.  Those texts represent some of the earliest writings about Hellenic spiritual practice and mythology, which underlie most of what was done in ancient times along with the epic poems and give us inspiration and direction today.

PNC: Did it give you pause to be choosing a book, knowing you may be setting an example or precedent for Hellenics?

Melissa: Yes and no.  While I realized that some people might regard my particular choice as a precedent, I suggest that anyone in a similar position choose whatever is of importance and significance to them.  If it helps anyone to have the works of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns be known as a precedent, that’s great; but polytheism is inclusive and therefore many other choices would be just as good.  There is no one right choice as in monotheistic societies.

PNC: I’m curious, how did the officials react to your book choice?

Melissa: The officials did not ask or attempt to observe what any one of us brought or failed to bring to the ceremony.  In a way, that seemed too easy.  On the other hand, it represents an approach that is the most inclusive of the diversity of religious practices within this country; no one need feel uncomfortable or unacceptable because of their choice.  It is one more reason why I love my adopted country of Canada.

PNC: OK, yeah, that was easy.  Canadians, like Minnesotans, are known for being nice.  I think this interview is going to make American Pagans long to cross the border like you did.  I have one more question for you.  You may be the first Pagan in North America to affirm or swear an oath of citizenship on a Pagan sacred book – can you tell me how you feel about that?

Melissa: I don’t imagine that oaths of citizenship among Pagans happen very often, especially in the US.  Obviously, in Canada, it’s not an issue.  I don’t know what the process involves in the US, but if it empowers anyone there to know that, in Canada, at least one person is known to have affirmed an oath of citizenship while holding Hellenic texts, then I’m happy to be the first!  The whole ceremony was wonderful and will remain a treasured memory for me.

PNC: Melissa, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.  And again, congratulations on gaining Canadian citizenship.

The PNC contacted Hellenion, the religious group Melissa is a member of, to get their reaction to Melissa being able to affirm her oath of citizenship on Hellenic texts. Here is what they had to say:

“Hellenion is delighted for Melissa Gold, who was recently able to undertake her Canadian citizenship ceremony while holding a volume of Hesiod and Homeric Hymns. We celebrate with her that she was able to mark the moment of being able to participate fully in her country’s democracy while maintaining her Hellenic principles. In these times all of us are regularly reminded how precious the rights of religious freedom and tolerance are, and salute the government of Canada for their on-going commitment to these principles. We hope more countries will soon enact laws to extend religious freedom to all their citizens. All the best to Melissa and her family.”

ADDENDUM: YSEE, the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, also wanted to congratulate Ms. Gold. YSEE is an umbrella organization for Ethnic Hellenic religious groups in Greece and seeks the morale and physical protection and restoration of the Polytheistic, Ethnic Hellenic religion, tradition and way of life in the “modern” Greek Society. YSEE and it’s members have faced harsh religious oppression from the Greek government, including confiscation of property, fines, and jail.

YSEE salutes Melissa Gold’s swearing the oath of Canadian citizenship in the name of the Hellenic Gods. It was a good proof of our known thesis that Hellenism is a matter of mind and heart and that the Hellenic Ethinic Religion is the religion of all humanistic and logical men and women of the Globe, the religion of the ones that know how to honour both the beauty of Cosmos and human nature.

Cara Schulz’s interview series “Pagans in Politics” at the PNC blog Pagan+Politics has just posted its second installment; this time talking with New York City Councilman Dan Halloran.  This is the first interview Halloran has done with a Pagan media outlet since his election in 2009.


Dan Halloran

Here’s a brief excerpt:

What do your co-religionists (Theodish) think about your new position? Are you able to fulfill your religious obligations to them? Do they feel your new status brings them increased good fortune?

The problem with change, is that it always disturbs the status quo. Many in the Theodish community (and in the Asatru community) still harbor issues about how my campaign handled issues related to my faith and the idea that one could serve openly in public without compromising elements of our traditions and beliefs. But they weren’t the ones running for office, and certainly, without great risk, there is no great reward.

So some do, some don’t approve of my position… the simple reality is, that we now have an elected official who represents our faith, a milestone to be sure. And that is no small feat- more so because New York City is the largest City in the country, the position I hold is nearly comparable to some state senate and congressional seats in size and scope.

In fact, one of the fundamental theological truths that our faith is centered on is that we make our own Luck and that outward manifestations of success in life and accomplishment are the only true measure of it.

Be sure to head over to Pagan+Politics and read the whole thing. The next installment will feature an interview with Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri.

Over at the PNC blog Pagan+Politics Cara Schulz has posted the first interview in a series of interviews with Pagan politicians. The first installment is with Nevada State Assemble District 29 candidate Erin Lale. Lale is running on the Libertarian Party ticket and recently got the backing of a local Tea Party group.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Yes, the deck is stacked against third party and independent candidates, in several ways: district boundary lines are drawn to protect incumbents; campaign finance laws favor incumbents (the winner of the election gets to keep unused campaign funds for next time and keep building up their war chest between elections, but losers by law in Nevada must close their campaign bank account and give away any unused campaign funds to charity or to other campaigns); corporate and union donors usually only give to Democrats and Republicans (my individual donations are running about even with what the incumbent did in the last election, but I only have individual donations, while she also gets corporate and union donations, so while I raise about $500 she raised $150,000 in the last election; we’ll have to wait til the election is over to see how much she raised this time. And that doesn’t even count the advertising bought for her by her party and by corporate, union, and special interest groups) so I can’t afford to do a big ad campaign; the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

Be sure to head over to Pagan+Politics and read the whole thing. Next week’s installment will feature a rare interview with New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, his first with the Pagan community since winning office in 2009.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

On Faith Adds Another Pagan Voice: I’m pleased to announce that The Washington Post’s On Faith site has added me to their panel of religious specialists and generalists. My first response, on the issue of religion within debates over homosexuality, is up now.

“It’s no secret that religion shapes our lives, our morality, our politics, and our society, so it should surprise no one that religion also shapes our reactions to homosexuality. How could it be denied? When we talk about the “traditional family” or “traditional marriage” we are, at the end of the day, talking about specific religious ideas about those topics. Indeed, when we talk about opposition to same-sex marriage, or ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, or the culture of bullying that has sparked so many high-profile suicides, the arguments come down to the perceived moral “correctness” of same-sex love and attraction.”

I join fellow Pagan panelist Starhawk, doubling the Pagan presence at that site.  I look forward to weighing in at On Faith, and being able to share a Pagan perspective with the readers there. I’ll try to be mindful of the voice and reach this gives me, and do my best to represent our diverse views while also sharing my personal opinions. I hope you’ll follow my posts there, and show WaPo that there’s an engaged modern Paganism that wants to see its voice(s) heard.

PCP Launches Pagan People: The popular Pagan podcast PCP (Pagan Centered Podcast) has launched a new series entitled “Pagan People” that aims to become the “CSPAN of Paganism”.

“Pagan Centered Podcast has launched its forth podcast series: Pagan People.  Pagan People is a podcast to document and broadcast the history of contemporary Paganism as it happens.  No commentary beyond what is necessary to understand the clip, it’s intended to be the CSPAN of Paganism.  Who knows, it may become an unbiased CNN of sorts for breaking Pagan news that has audio content.”

Their first installment is the oral arguments from Patrick McCollum’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals appearance. PCP: Pagan People, as a member of the Pagan Newswire Collective’s partner organization Proud Pagan Podcasters, hopes to be medium “for ensuring the awesome audio content recorded by the PNC is properly attributed to the PNC and distributed to a wide audience.” You can subscribe to Pagan People via iTunes, or reach them at PaganPeople.info.

Prison System Turns to Pagan Chaplain: The newly-launched Patrick McCollum Foundation (Facebook) reports that the Washington Department of Corrections has turned to Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum for feedback on Pagan practices.

“The Washington department of Corrections contacted Patrick for clarification of what the normal religious practices are for Wiccans and Pagans. After talking with Patrick they will be expanding accommodations for the inmates and the ability to practice their religion!”

The Washington Department of Corrections made headlines back in 2008 for altering its policy regarding a prisoner’s adherence to multiple faiths. That move caused some controversy, but was ultimately seen as a positive step for the lives of prisoners. The prison system in Washington actually has a large Pagan population, so it’s nice to see them reaching out and trying to meet the needs of Pagan prisoners.

More Pagan Surveys: Chas Clifton reminds me that Aline O’Brien (aka Macha NightMare), president of the Cherry Hill Seminary board of directors, has released a new survey “exploring the concept of eldership in contemporary Paganism.”

“I have prepared a brief 10-question informal survey for a paper I’m writing exploring the concept of eldership in contemporary Paganism. I invite you to help in my research by participating in the survey. Use of the word “elder” in this survey means elder in the sense of a formal role within a group, organization or religious community. Feel free to circulate this request to your communities. Responses will be collected until January 15, 2011. Thanks to all who help by responding.”

This survey joins the political surveys by Maelstrom from The Political Pagan, and the Pagan Health Survey conducted by Kimberly Hedrick of the TriWinds Institute. Here’s hoping all this data collection ultimately benefits our community! Also, while I’m on the subject of surveys and data collection, let’s not forget that the American Academy of Religion conference starts October 30th in Atlanta, Georgia. A whole host of Pagan Studies folks will be there, and I’m hoping to bring you some coverage and reflections from that event.

Capture the Flag? In a final note, COG First Officer-elect Peter Dybing, writing as a private citizen, and not as a representative of COG, wonders if Pagan organizations are too invested in playing “capture the flag” in our quest for Pagan rights.

“So here is the question; are we as a community even half as effectively organized to gain or defend rights for Pagans? It is tempting to provide a long list of organizations and individuals doing great work for Pagan rights in response to this question. Each of these deserves our respect for all they have accomplished. Instead, lets address if this plethora of activities is keeping us from acting with unanimity? Is our approach analogous to a group of organizations playing Capture the Flag, where there are wins, but only by small groups and not the community as a whole? Does our duplication of effort squander resources and reflect that Paganism still needs to mature into an effective movement?”

Dybing calls for “a discussion on how to unify our approach to Pagan rights.” Is this a preview of what’s to come when his term starts as First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess? Will we see more coordination, or at least more discussion about coordination, when it comes to Pagan organizations working towards the same goal? I invite you to weigh in on this subject. What would better coordination look like? How would it be managed without compromising the autonomy of each group?

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

[The following is a guest-post from Cara Schulz. Cara is a member of the Pagan Newswire Collective’s political commentary blog Pagan+Politics and one of the coordinators of the PNC’s Minnesota bureau. As a politically conservative Pagan she has spent several months reporting on the modern Pagan experience from within the Tea Party movement.]

Nevada State Assembly candidate Erin Lale, known in the Pagan community as a cinematographer and author, has picked up several prominent endorsements including a nod from the Tea Party.

From the Press Release:

“May 31, 2010 – Erin Lale, candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 29, was endorsed by local Tea Party organization Anger is Brewing*. Lale has also been endorsed by the LPN Vote Caucus, Liberty-Candidates.org, Gun Owners of Nevada, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Lale plans to introduce legislation to define fees in Nevada law so fees collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose or given back to the taxpayers. Her plan to balance the state budget without a general tax increase is to end marijuana prohibition so the state can tax marijuana, spend $500 million less per year on prisons, free up police resources so we put more cops on the street without spending more money, bring parents back to the community which will help kids do better in school and break the cycle of poverty, have less gang violence, less border violence, and more tourist money in the local economy.

Lale is running against incumbent April Mastroluca, a Democrat. There is no primary in the District 29 race; no names will appear on the ballot for District 29 until the general election in November.”

So far, it appears that Lale’s religion has not been an issue in her race for State Assembly.  This has not been the case with other Pagan candidates such as Alice Richmond and Dan Halloran.

New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, also endorsed by the Tea Party, faced intense scrutiny about his religious practices.  When Halloran ran for office last year the local media conducted a smear campaign, orchestrated by his Democratic Party opponent,  focusing on Halloran’s faith.

We warned you it was going to get interesting in Queens.  But now it’s getting downright weird. The Queens Tribune wrote a story about Republican City Council candidate Dan Halloran’s unusual religious beliefs.  Reporters around the city received an e-mail with a pdf of the article attached — from Democratic rival Kevin Kim’s new spokesman. According to the article, written by Executive Editor Brian Rafferty:  “Halloran is the ‘First Atheling’ or King, of Normandy, a branch of the Theod faith of pre-Christian Heathen religions assembled in the Greater New York Area.”

Although the campaign got rough and there was speculation Halloran would be asked to bow out, the Libertarian, Conservative, Independence, and Republican Parties stood by him – and so did the Tea Party.  Halloran went on to win his seat by a margin of 1300 votes.

Do these two endorsements by the Tea Party suggest that (fiscally conservative) Pagan candidates can expect a fair shake from a group many Pagans consider filled with “racists, birthers, and religious ideologues?” Could the political Right be more accepting of Pagan candidates than the political Left?  We may find some clues in the recent flap over Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s admission to “dabbling” in witchcraft.

“Yes, some religious conservatives are pulling out their “devil” card for this occasion, but it’s the added mockery from the left that is really setting us back. The implication that dabbling in any faith outside the mainstream is toxic to winning elected office in America.”

What was the Tea Party reaction to O’Donnell’s admission?  As of yet they are standing by her.  Pagan+politics featured an interview with two Delaware Tea Party Pagans (C and D) for a first hand account of Tea Party attitudes.

From C: I don’t like how she calls it “dabbling.” That’s my religion you are talking about. What I have enjoyed even less is the Left going after her for this. Should being a witch or “dabbling” in witchcraft make you unelectable? Is it a sign that you are mentally unstable? A joke? Progressive friends and co-workers, not knowing that I’m a witch, have had the most appalling things to say about O’Donnell and witches. It’s very hurtful to hear. The GOP Party leaders are also attacking her over this. Within the Tea Party, the response is what I should be seeing from the Left. Some are questioning her fitness, but the consensus response is now, “Religious attacks are not allowed here and her religious beliefs are none of our business. Take it outside.”

From D: I haven’t seen anyone in the Tea Party throw a fit like they have in the media. When people make fun of her for dabbling in witchcraft they are making fun of us. I’m seeing Pagans do that, too. They are so interested in making a Republican candidate look bad that they are willing to hurt our own path. But no, I’m not seeing the Tea Party get too upset over this. They are saying that it doesn’t matter and is an attempted distraction, don’t fall for it.

Does this mean that the Tea Party, across the USA, can be said to be Pagan-friendly?  I don’t think any uniform statement can be made about the Tea Party as it is a coalition of non-hierarchical, grass-roots, autonomous local groups focused on economic issues.  Alison Shaffer pointed out that local and national Tea Party groups can be very different:

“I see a very obvious disconnect between local tea party politics, such as the kind you often cite Cara, and the broader political force of the tea party on a national level, which can hardly be denied is very overtly right-wing Christian. Ignoring this rather important disconnect is likely to cause problems in the future.”

The waters are further muddied by groups like the Tea Party Express, which isn’t a Tea Party group at all, but PAC that is a front for the GOP in their repeated attempts to control and direct this populist movement.

“The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) — which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement — directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place.”

From personal experience here’s a general rule of thumb – if a group says they represent the Tea Party nationally, they don’t.

As of now, we can’t make a definitive statement about which political parties are more or less Pagan-friendly.  Nor can we make a blanket statement about the Tea Party groups.  We haven’t yet had enough candidates run.  I find it heartening that we now have two Pagans currently holding elected office (Dan Halloran and Jessica Orsini, re-elected Alderwoman in Centralia, Missouri in 2008) and Ms. Lale, running for office in Nevada.

Good luck to Ms. Lale in her race and I look forward to seeing the results come November.

*  The group’s name is “Action is Brewing”.

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that, barring some substantial new information, the mainstream press would go seeking out modern Witches and Pagans for their take on Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s unearthed comments about once “dabbling” in witchcraft while in high school. Though I’m a little surprised on how quickly it all happened. Sam Stein from the Huffington Post seemed to be the first out of the gate with an interview with Circle’s Sanctuary’s Selena Fox.

“Any political candidate that is going to equate witchcraft with Satanism is ill informed and is not likely to get the support of people involved in nature religion,” she said, noting that the pagan community was “multi-partisan.” “I’m concerned,” she said. “I’m concerned that 25 years of work that the Lady Liberty League and other Wiccan and pagan civil rights and religious freedom groups have been involved in… that there will be more misinformation as well as ridicule and disrespect. We are living in politically turbulent times.”

Stein also included a comment from Diotima Mantineia at The Witches’ Voice, a Delaware resident who refuted any connection between Satan, bloody altars, and Wicca.

“So I don’t know what Ms. O’Donnell is talking about. I wonder if she knows what she was talking about.”

Then we have ABC News, who spoke with Sylvia T. Webb, the first officer of the Covenant of the Goddess, who called O’Donnell’s comments “bizarre”.

Webb scoffed at O’Donnell’s claims. “It’s very hard to worship something you do not believe in and Satan is a Christian concept,” she said. “Wiccans don’t have Satanic altars.” While they don’t have Satanic altars, they do have altars, but “there would be no blood,” Webb said. “She might have had a date with some … want-to-be goth child who was into thinking he was Satanic or something,” Webb said. “There are a lot of misinformed young people trying to be wild.”

Even the AOL blog Parent Dish gets into the act while interviewing Lillitu Shahar Kunning from the Witch Mom blog.

“Oy! I don’t want to claim Christine O’Donnell. It’s kind of like when Sen. Larry Craig was caught in that airport bathroom. No gay person wanted to claim him, either. Actually, I haven’t seen the old footage from Bill Maher, but from what I understand, she was a dabbler, not an actual witch with religious principles.”

So what about actual Pagan Tea Party folks in Delaware? Individuals who may actually want to vote for O’Donnell? What do they think? Cara Schulz from the PNC blog Pagan+Politics has interviewed two Pagan Tea Party members about their reactions to the O’Donnell witch-revelations.

“If this witchcraft admission affects her or not depends on how she handles it. I would like her to come out and explain what happened, not denigrate witchcraft, and then move on. If it was some guy who wanted to get into her pants, that’s what I think happened, she should say so. Ideally she would talk about the difference between Paganism and 1980?s and 90?s style Plagans. I doubt that will happen. A mage can dream, right?

I haven’t seen anyone in the Tea Party throw a fit like they have in the media. When people make fun of her for dabbling in witchcraft they are making fun of us. I’m seeing Pagans do that, too. They are so interested in making a Republican candidate look bad that they are willing to hurt our own path. But no, I’m not seeing the Tea Party get too upset over this. They are saying that it doesn’t matter and is an attempted distraction, don’t fall for it.”

The whole interview with “C” and “D” is well worth reading, and should give some greater insight into this story. Thanks to Cara for doing the legwork and getting their perspectives.

On the whole, I wish the mainstream coverage had been a bit more nuanced. I think there are larger issues to confront than “Witches don’t worship Satan” involved here, and I’m disappointed that we may have lost our chance to raise them before the media machine moves on to the next controversy. Still, I suppose it’s a mark of how far we’ve come that representatives from several organizations and traditions were contacted by the mainstream media for our thoughts.

International Pagan Coming Out Day: This past Wednesday, Cara Schulz at Pagan+Politics proposed that the global Pagan community have a “coming out” day on May 1st. This came after her experiences at the recent Pagan Spirit Gathering, where she noticed that being “in” or “out” as a Pagan was a recurring theme in discussions within a variety of contexts.

“This topic came up over and over at the Pagan Spirit Gathering, a camping style festival of around 900 attendees held in Missouri this past week. As I was a PSG nOOb, I’m unsure if it was normal for this discussion to happen as often as it did, but it seemed to be at the forefront of peoples’ minds. Speakers touched on it, attendees brought it up during Q&A sessions, and it was bandied about in casual, private conversations.  Even topics that you may think would have nothing to do with being public vs closeted quickly turned in that direction.”

Some have expressed skepticism at such a “holiday”, most notably Chas Clifton and NeoWayland. The problem, I think, comes from what we mean when we say “out” (or “in” for that matter). I’ll be frank and open about the fact that I advocate for Pagans coming out of the “broom closet”, and did so at my talks during PSG. However, being “out” doesn’t necessarily mean plastering your car with bumper stickers, interjecting your faith into every conversation, or ostentatiously wearing a pound of Pagan “bling”. It certainly doesn’t mean placing yourself or your children in immediate danger if those are your circumstances. It means not living a double life, it means being out to your family, even if it’s uncomfortable, and it means being willing to request and expect equal treatment in the workplace.

Pagans being “out” about who we are to those who love us, to those we interact with on a daily basis, changes the world. Even the conservative Christian polling organization The Barna Group acknowledges this in their research.

“About 5% of America’s adult population associates with faiths other than Christianity (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.). Within this group, about half (47%) were registered as Democrats, 30% were independent, and one-quarter (23%) were Republicans. The ballots of this group were most often cast for Barack Obama (62%) rather than John McCain (36%). The support provided to the Democratic candidate is identical to the backing this group provided to John Kerry four years ago (61%) …Among voters who had a favorable view of Wicca, Sen. Obama was the favored candidate 64% to 35%.

It is important to look at the language in that last line. It isn’t about Wiccans specifically, but people who had a “favorable view” of Wicca. To further extrapolate, the family, friends, and co-workers of the estimated 1 million modern Pagans in America tended to favor the candidate favored by the majority of modern Pagans. But this isn’t just about voting and politics, it is about eradicating stereotypes and altering perceptions. It’s about changing the strange biases and assumptions that even “tolerant” people have about modern Pagan faiths. It’s about not being thrown under the bus because “there isn’t a Pagan in our office/school/organization”. Again, coming out won’t be a panacea for every Pagan, but if all who are willing and able took one day to say “I’m a Pagan”, to humanize our often misunderstood religions, it could change more than any of us realize.

Heathen Harvest Closes: The long-running web magazine Heathen Harvest, which specialized in post-Industrial and neofolk music, is ceasing publication.

“My reasons for choosing to close Heathen Harvest echo those of the Miguel (DJ TekNoir) and Lee Powell the owners of Gothtronic and Judas Kiss.  After dedicating seven years to the post industrial community I find my time divided between Heathen Harvest and the other pursuits calling me in life.  In addition the costs of funding Heathen Harvest have increased along with our success and the ever increasing number of submissions for review.

We have now reached our peak journalist capacity based on my available personal funds and the number of submissions far exceeds our staffs capabilities.  I feel satisfied that the Heathen Harvest volunteer staff have given enough throughout our seven years  and now its time to bow out and allow someone new and fresh to pick up the banner and lead the charge.”

As Malahki Thorn mentions in his public statement, Heathen Harvest is joining music sites Gothtronic and Judas Kiss in the decision to step down from covering music. It’s hard to fully appreciate the contributions Heathen Harvest has made to outsider, underground, and often, Pagan and esoteric music. Many of the bands I play on A Darker Shade of Pagan enjoyed coverage at Heathen Harvest, and it was a resource for me when I was looking for new bands and artists. I’ve seen a lot of sites that have supported Pagan and esoteric music, even if that wasn’t their primary mission, fold in recent years. Serpentine has folded its distribution service, Woven Wheat Whispers and Dancing Ferret/Noir shuttered in 2008, and now three more sites are going quiet. With music distribution ever-more decentralized on the Internet, will lovers of Pagan music find themselves without any sort of guide or resource to the sonic riches that now abound?

Do They Know It’s X-Day At All? In a final note, I just wanted to wish all my Subgenii readers, particularly Modemac and Lady Karris of The High Weirdness Project, a very happy X-Day. Maybe this will be the year where the men from Planet X will swoop down and save all paid members of your church while the rest of us are destroyed.

“The Blessed Day when the Alien Sex Goddesses shall at last arrive on Earth and proceed with THE RUPTURE! All card-carrying, Truly Ordained, PAID UP SubGenius Ministers shall be SNATCHED UP into the Cosmos to spend Eternity (or at least the Journey to Planet X) engaging in a VAST ORGAZMONIC RITUAL OF SEXHURT!! After SIX MILLION YEARS of persecution, discrimation, and torture at the hands of the Conspiracy, we shall FINALLY take our place at the right hand of JHVH-1 and HAVE OUR REVENGE on the ones who have made our lives a SHEER, UNENDING HELL!!!”

If not, well, better luck next year.

Let’s check in on what’s happening around the Pagan blogosphere!

The Fate of Fate: Chas Clifton at Letter From Hardscrabble Creek comments on the grim prospects of the classic metaphysical/Fortean magazine Fate. Once owned by Llewellyn Worldwide, and then sold to former employee, the magazine has gone from being a monthly, to bi-monthy, and now, it seems, PDF download only.

“The magazine death pool is so close you can smell the fetid waters. Fate’s blog keeps putting up new entries, but discussion of the magazine’s own fate is oddly missing. The economics must be rough. Perhaps this is a case of flat advertising revenues versus rising printing and mailing costs. PDF files are not the answer, and a Web version of the magazine would have to be re-thought from the ground up.”

I first commented on Fate’s fate back in 2008, and didn’t find much cause for optimism. The new, younger, audience they were hoping to attract hasn’t seemed to materialize, and very few magazines return from Internet-only to print. This just isn’t a good time for niche magazines, and I agree with Chas that PDF files aren’t the answer. It remains to be seen if a new web-only version of Fate can blossom before the whole enterprise goes under.

A Pagan Looks at Rand Paul’s Libertarianism: Beliefnet Pagan blogger and political scientist Gus diZerega gives a Pagan perspective of libertarianism, civil rights, and Rand Paul’s Senate candidacy in Kentucky.

“In all honesty I think it is even harder to be a hard-core libertarian Pagan than a libertarian in general, though I have known some and they were often nice people.  In Paganism as I understand it and have experienced it the non-human world is also sentient and alive to a degree denied by mainstream society.  This means that issues of appropriate and inappropriate relationships penetrate even more deeply into our interactions with the world than they do for the average Christian or secularist.  For Pagans issues of appropriate relationship include plants, animals, and for some, myself included, the earth itself.  The libertarian assumption that my property is what I own and control appears as morally immature and even childish.”

As for Rand Paul, this week, despite his primary victory in Kentucky, has been very bad for him. Meanwhile, many have been questioning if Paul really is a libertarian considering some of his political stances, and arguing over where he is or isn’t a racist. Not exactly the narrative a recent primary winner wants swirling around him going into an election.

Paganism, Feminism, and Abortion: Over at the On Faith site, they toss out the question to their panelists of whether you can be feminist and oppose all forms of abortion, or a religious person and support some forms of it. You just knew that author and Pagan panelist Starhawk would have something to say on the subject.

“I don’t accept that frame. The core issue, for me for the pro-choice movement, is this: Who gets to decide what goes on inside a woman’s body? My answer as a feminist is: The woman herself must have the right to make that decision, to wrestle with her own conscious, to encounter for herself those great issues of life and death that all of us must face in this mortal world. Those decisions are never cut and dried, and no one makes choices in a vacuum. The opinions of others, of partners and doctors and friends and respected mentors of faith all come into play. So do the rights of others. But ultimately, the right to self determination begins with the right to make basic decisions about one’s physical self.”

I too reject the frame that On Faith worded their question to panelists, as it removes the pregnant woman’s agency from the center of the issue, and instead, once again, turns the issue into a political football. You can read my own views, and the views of other Pagans regarding abortion, here, and here.

A Pagan Perspective on the Stolen (Secular) Cross Memorial: Over at the Patheos Pagan portal Cara Schulz (who also blogs at Pagan+Politics) shares the history behind the now-controversial Mojave WWI Christian cross memorial, and criticizes those within the Pagan community who have lauded or defended its recent vandalism.

“Chances are, no one in our community was responsible for this criminal act of theft. We didn’t do this. But what some in our community are doing is celebrating the desecration of the memorial. They are joyful it happened and supportive of the person(s) who did it. Justifying the act with claims of how it was a laudable example of civil disobedience. No. Civil disobedience is done in the light of day by brave and principled persons willing to take responsibility for their actions. If you want a Hellenic example of civil disobedience, read up on the life of Socrates. His crime was to make the youth of Athens think for themselves and his punishment, which he did nothing to avoid, was death. If you want a celebrated American example, read up on the life of Rosa Parks. Her crime was to sit in a seat reserved for whites, her punishment was being arrested and fined. The criminal(s) who stole the WWI Memorial was no Socrates or Rosa parks.”

You can read my full coverage of the Mojave cross memorial saga, here. Be sure to also check out the ever-expanding amount of Pagan content at the Patheos Pagan portal, including recent interviews with Erynn Rowan Laurie, Lon Milo DuQuette, and yours truly.

A Quick Look at the PNC Blog Family: Finally, I want to remind everyone of the great content that is coming from the Pagan Newswire Collective’s blog family. Pagan+Politics, Warriors & Kin, and The Juggler. Over at Pagan+Poltics you can read about food criminals, the political nomination process, the importance of voting, and the right to openly carry a firearm. At The Juggler they’ve covered Paganism “coming out” on television, Wicca in the movies, the new Robin Hood film, and mixing art with ritual. Lastly, at Warriors & Kin they’ve explored homecomings, digging up details regarding OPSEC rules, invocations in the military, and an in-depth review of War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”.

Tick postulates the problem of PTSD as a failed warrior initiation. This failure is not entirely the fault of the veteran but, he says, of society as a whole. It is the fault of the technological changes in warfare that have stripped war of its mythologized meanings and resonances. In treating PTSD as the potential result of a warrior initiation, he specifically positions it as the result of a male adulthood rite gone wrong. Of course, this framing ignores women’s service entirely. In framing PTSD as a “failure” he, perhaps inadvertently, places blame on men and women who are already struggling with issues of responsibility, reintegration, and physical and emotional traumas.

I hope you’ll check out all three blogs, subscribe to their feeds, follow them on Twitter, or “like” them on Facebook.

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

I haven’t discussed the massive, mind-shattering, and ongoing eco-disaster that is the Gulf of Mexico oil spill/leak, a disaster that we still can’t full quantify because the gusher of oil has yet to be successfully stopped (and could gush for years, if not plugged). Just about everyone agrees that it will end up being the worst oil spill in recorded history, and guesses about the long-term ecological impact have been grim, with some saying the Gulf of Mexico could become a giant “dead zone”. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the scale of this, and the heartbreakingly futile efforts to control it so far, that I haven’t had a chance to develop my own response, let alone a “Pagan” response to this crisis.

That said, some tentative forays into grasping the enormity of this have surfaced within the Pagan community, the most elegant and apt of them may be T. Thorn Coyle’s simple poem “A Prayer for My Beloved”. Here’s an excerpt.

Your oceans saline quick, flow in our blood.
Lover, forever we can say, “I’m sorry,”
But actions speak far louder than strong words,
And we, though brave and brash, are also feeble.

Lover, I fall now to my knees before you.
I will not beg forgiveness, not just yet.
My good friends shall be gathered all around me,
Holding hands, we will make better still, amends.

Alison Shaffer at Pagan+Politics, looks at our tendency to see nature as a luxury instead of a necessity, and that we need to recommit now more than ever to changing our relationship with the Earth.

“Yet it is my conviction that in order to remedy our abusive, exploitative relationship with the very earth that sustains us, we must learn again how to live as part of the natural world with awe, with reverence, and with love. It is easy to feel a tug of pity as I watch the pathetically struggling gull gasping in slime, or to feel sentimental regret over the thought that my partner and I might never be able to follow in my parents’ footsteps and see the Everglades as they once were. But there is real sorrow, and rage, when I think on the human species as an animal of nature in its own right, capable of selfishness, ignorance and destruction on such a scale. Confronted with this reality, and the reality of the natural world as itself bloated with strife and death, I swing between despair, and the ugly wish that Mama Earth rid herself of us once and for all and get on with her life. The only thing that can resolve this for me — the only way I can make peace with this reality of the natural world — is through love.

To seek the beauty and balance in the cycles of creation and destruction, life and death, to acknowledge a joy that permeates and lifts up these moments of desperation and depression — this is not a simple task. There is something disingenuous, even dishonest, about those who would criticize a view of the natural world as beautiful and awe-inspiring because it is “superficial” or naïve. Without a capacity to see the beauty within destruction, to seek the spirit and meaning by which we might better live our lives, it becomes all too easy for us to shrug our shoulders at our own acts of violence and dismiss them as “only natural.” But we do not love the natural world because it is lovable. We love the world because we have a bone-deep need of it, a longing to be whole.”

Others, like Sia Vogel, are throwing themselves into clean-up and rescue efforts for a disaster that we may not see the end of (here’s a list of ten things you can do to help), while Wes Isley at The Huffington Post wants to “seize this opportunity” to turn the disaster into a “moment of triumph”.

“But the major religions tell us that the Earth is not our home and that we are to subdue it for our use. The Neo-Pagan community, in contrast, celebrates nature as a great teacher and encourages us to nourish our connections to the Earth, of which we are only a small part. Other religions teach that nature, like humanity, is broken and damaged. Neo-Pagans, conversely, see nature — and humanity — as perfect just as it is, warts and all. So if you view the Earth as family and home, then you’re less likely to trash your front yard and kill off all your resources.

From this perspective, a Neo-Pagan might say that Mother Earth is using this oil spill to test us. What will be our response? Will we simply continue to pursue cheap oil for as long as it lasts regardless of the costs? Or will we make alternative energy a true priority? All faiths often use natural disasters — “acts of God,” they’re called — to teach important lessons. I say this oil spill can be used in the same way.”

While I tend to take a sacral and pantheistic view towards nature, I’m personally uncomfortable with the notion that this man-made disaster is Mother Earth “testing” us, since such a view diminishes the culpability of those truly responsible, and takes us into the murky territory of the Earth punishing us for our environmental trespasses. Such thoughts, in my mind, are only a degree or two away from the mindset that blamed the Haitian earthquake on Vodou, or that it’s an “opportunity” to religiously remake their society. I think re-examining our relationship to nature in the wake of this ongoing tragedy is only natural, and something that should happen, but I think we should be careful to avoid ascribing any supernatural will or motive to this situation.

I think prayers and workings at this time are appropriate, and I think involving yourself in clean-up and rescue efforts is even more appropriate, and I hope that we can stop this “leak” (hardly an apt term, under the circumstance) before things get even worse. We should reject any re-casting of this as a “natural” disaster, and make sure those responsible are held to account.  We can carry on in doing the small things we can do at this stage and hope that life can eventually return to the Gulf of Mexico, that our oceans will be spared an even larger eco-crisis due to these events. We can work and hope for a saner policy of tapping the Earth’s natural resources emerging from this event, and commit ourselves to a better future. To, as Thorn writes, better love this world.

Lover, I fall now to my knees before you.
I will not beg forgiveness, not just yet.
My good friends shall be gathered all around me,
Holding hands, we will make better still, amends.

Together, we will clean, slow down, and listen.
Together, we will sow and reap, and kiss.
We will arc around combusting star in season.
And learn to better love you.

So I pray.

The Pagan Newswire Collective, an open collective of Pagan journalists and writers who are interested in sharing and promoting primary-source reporting from within our interconnected communities, is proud to announce the launch of two new group blog projects. These new blog projects will join the already launched Pagan+Politics site, and provide more topic-focused coverage and opinion on subjects of special interest to modern Pagan readers.

Warriors & Kin: A Blog of Military Pagan Voices

The first new group blog project, Warriors & Kin, will give a voice to Pagan men and women who are serving, or who have served, in the United States military. Military Pagans have often been at the front lines of many Pagan rights issues, and their honorable service has endured prejudice and misunderstanding from politicians, government agencies, and even the Pagan communities they call home. We are hoping that this project will not only shine a light into the struggles of both Pagan veterans and active duty personnel, but serve as a tool to build bridges within our faiths between those who have served and those who have not.

In addition, the blog will also see contributions from military spouses, family, and supporters, including a Pagan mother whose son is entering the armed forces, a military spouse who wrote an award-winning book concerning Pagans in the military, and a volunteer with Soldier’s Angels, a nonprofit personal support group for deployed troops overseas.

Participants of note include Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, a teacher at the Air Force Academy who helped create a Pagan worship area for cadets, gaining national attention in the process, Lorie “Sunfell” Johnson, an Air Force veteran who was one of the first active-duty Pagans to be open about her faith back in the 1980s, and author Erynn Rowan Laurie, a Cold War era disabled Navy veteran who is a speaker on Military Sexual Trauma and women’s issues in the military. They join active duty personnel in the Marines and National Guard for this project.

http://military.pagannewswirecollective.com
Facebook page, Twitter feed, RSS feed

The Juggler: Arts, Culture, and Pop-Culture from a Pagan Perspective

The second new group blog project, The Juggler, will explore the arts from a Pagan perspective. While modern Paganism has waged high-profile campaigns for equal treatment in the military, in our schools, in the public square, and even in our prisons, it is often within the arts and popular culture that we have gained the most attention. Not all of these depiction have been fair or balanced, but few can deny that television, movies, novels, theater, the visual arts, and even fashion have been inundated with pagan themes, both ancient and modern, in recent years. In a world where “The Wicker Man” and “The Craft” get name-checked on a regular basis by those commenting on modern Pagan religions, where sexy vampire dramas invoke Maenads, and a critically acclaimed science fiction series portrays conflicts between polytheists and monotheists, a sustained critical engagement with the arts is increasingly vital.

This site will provide reviews, editorials, analysis, and coverage, both local and abroad, of the wide and varied world of the arts. No medium or format will be off-limits, everything from reality television to gallery exhibitions will be within the scope and reach of this project, providing a steady stream of up-to-date and gloves-off Pagan perspectives.

Participants of note include Peg Aloi, Media Coordinator for The Witches’ Voice website, and long-time film critic who has written for The Boston Phoenix, Art New England, and Cinefantastique online, Sara Adrian, a fine artist and illustrator who holds bardic grade in OBOD, Lauren Bernauer, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, Australia, who specializes in the portrayal of pre-Christian and minority religions in Popular Culture, and New York Shakespearean actor Zan Fraser, author of “A Briefe Historie of Wytches”, a review of the Elizabethan/Jacobean Witch-Plays. They join several other talented writers and journalists with a background in arts coverage.

http://culture.pagannewswirecollective.com
Facebook page, Twitter feed, RSS feed

I hope you’ll support both of these projects by subscribing to their feeds, commenting on their posts, and spreading the word to your friends, family, and co-religionists. These topic-focused group blogs are a vital first step in the PNC’s larger goal of building a primary-source journalism collective for the modern Pagan movement. Please warmly welcome all the participants as they start this exciting new endeavor.