Archives For Pantheacon

I. July

“The gods are making it clear that I really need to walk more,” I said to Rhyd as we walked through downtown Portland on the way to the bus stop.

“But I’ll admit it, I’m stubborn. I really like my bike. And I know I’m screwing myself over on many levels, from simply needing to be in shape for the trip to the whole ‘let’s not ignore the gods’ thing. But dammit, my bike. I’m a creature of habit, and walking everywhere just screws with my routine. And yes, I know how that sounds. I really just need to suck it up and walk. They’re getting louder about it.”

He nodded. We had just spent the Fourth of July weekend discussing the various destinations and meanings of the pilgrimage path that had been laid out to us a few months earlier and which had been consistently revealing itself to us further as the weeks progressed. Our departure was still ten months away, but it had been made very apparent to both of us that the journey that had been demanded of us had already been initiated as far as the will of the gods was concerned. An unfolding was in the process, and while that process was far from complete it was clear that the journey was going to require significant walking, including a few hundred miles along a route considered by the ancients to be the literal path to the end of the world.

After Rhyd boarded the bus back to Seattle, I spent the walk back to my building reiterating to myself that I was going to start using my feet to run my errands. But as I walked under the Steel Bridge, I suddenly remembered the package I had waiting at the FedEx center, and my previous thoughts were forgotten as I instinctively decided to bike over to retrieve it.

At that exact moment, my eye briefly drifted toward the haphazard pile of bicycle wheels that had been continuously shrinking and then growing again for the past few months. A mountain of metal and rubber, the pile was covered with a tarp and doubled as both a visual barrier and physical perch for the man I knew lived behind it, a man who I had nicknamed the ‘bridge shaman.’

The bridge shaman wore a long, black duster jacket, accentuated with a striking combination of aluminum can tabs and small animal bones hanging off the flaps. He had several animal teeth hanging around his neck, carried a wooden staff adorned with various markings, and seemed to wield sole authority over the small homeless community living under the bridge. I knew not his specific craft nor his origins, but I regarded him with the same combination of wariness and respect that I did toward any otherworldly figures who do not specifically reveal themselves as either friend or foe.

But when my eyes drifted toward the pile of bike wheels, which happened to be the very same moment that I had decided to ride my bike to the FedEx office, I saw a pair of boots rising up from the top of the pile. My eyes followed the boots, and the next thing I knew I was staring right up at the bridge shaman himself. His eyes met mine and flashed angrily.

I looked away, immediately making a conscious decision that I simply wasn’t going to allow his reaction to have any significance or meaning at that moment. I nodded toward him and then continued on toward my building, fumbling for my keys so that I could unlock my bike as soon as I got to the rack.

I turned the corner and froze. My bike was locked to the rack where I had last left it, but the wheels had been crudely removed, the brake lines and chain having been ripped off and damaged in the process.

I reflected immediately to my conversations with Rhyd, my various interactions with and messages from the gods that prompted my conversations with him, and then to the bridge shaman and my conscious decision to ignore the flash in his eyes. And while I briefly acknowledged what was being laid out very obviously in front of me, at the same time I was simply not in the mood to entertain or accept it. My anger at the immediate situation overpowered my ability to accept my fate in the face of meaning, and I turned around and stormed back to the bridge.

As I approached the underpass, I spotted the bridge shaman, who had repositioned himself from the pile of bicycle wheels and was now perched on the guardrail at the entrance to the underpass as though he had been expecting my arrival. I took a deep breath, trying to quell my rage as I knew that diplomacy would get me further than anger.

“I think its possible you may have my tires,” I called out to him once I was in earshot, pointing toward the tarped-up mountain just behind where he was positioned. “They went missing this morning, and I would love to have them back.”

“Why would you think I had your tires?” he sneered.

As I glanced again at the pile of tires, I noticed a familiar looking one peeking out from the edge of the tarp. I turned toward my building for a moment, and then back toward the bridge shaman.

“Because your pile is taller than it was yesterday and my building is right over there. And because that one sticking out there looks just like one of mine.”

He jumped off the guardrail and approached me menacingly, stopping less than a foot away from my face. I immediately noticed his knife, prominently strapped to his waist, and then quickly glanced down to my own knife on my boot.

“Those aren’t even my tires. Those belong to my community. And yours aren’t in there.”

“And how do you know that mine aren’t in there?” I asked angrily, immediately regretting my words the moment they left my mouth.

“BECAUSE I SAID SO,” he bellowed as he stepped in toward me. I jumped back, reaching for my knife just as he reached for his. He saw my hand move and instinctively stepped back as he realized I was also armed.

As he backed off, his eyes flashed just as they had when I had passed him earlier in the day. And in that flash, the entirety of what I had been both deliberately as well as subconsciously ignoring hit me all at once. I suddenly knew exactly what I had done, exactly what this was about, and exactly what was about to happen, and yet I had no choice in the moment but to stand there and allow the scene to play itself out to its logical conclusion.

“Now you listen to me right now. There are no tires here. Not yours, not anyone’s. And you’re not here anymore either, do you understand? You better turn around and go, and I don’t want to see you anywhere near this spot again, you hear me? DO YOU HEAR ME? GO.”

I nodded and obliged, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Not only had the option of biking just been forcibly removed from my choices until further notice, I had also just cut off my only direct access point between my building and the downtown area, which meant that any given errand would require my walking the equivalent of at least four blocks out of the way in order to avoid the underpass.

 

underpass

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

Not only was I walking, I was taking the long way until further notice, until the bridge shaman decided to move on.

I headed back to my building, frustrated by the realization that I was once again experiencing that one crucial lesson, the one that never seems to stick despite its simplicity and despite how many times I had already learned it. Gods will often have their way whether you cooperate with them or not.

II. August

It was day two of Many Gods West, and by mid-day I didn’t have much left in me. It was a combination of several factors:  the stress of travel, adjusting to a large group of very powerful people, and the consistent pull of the familiar dead from the lake shore directly behind the hotel. My energy had been divided and subsequently depleted by all three, and I was debating on whether to take a nap or not when I walked past Sannion, smoking a cigarette in front of the hotel.

I stopped to say hello, and he asked me if I was planning on attending the Bakcheion ritual that night. I expressed that I was feeling rather drained, and he smiled and told me that he wanted to give me something that would help to bring me back and center me.

A few minutes later, one of the other members of the Bakcheion found me in the lobby, and handed me a teabag as well as a woven bracelet with a talisman of sorts hanging through it. Having a significant aversion to anything tied against my skin, I wove and then tied the bracelet into the top eye of my right boot, and then went to find some hot water for the tea. A few hours later, I was feeling myself again, and attending the ritual that night was one of the highlights of my weekend at the conference.

And being a rather superstitious type, I left the woven charm tied to the top of my right boot after the ritual was concluded, where it remains to this day. And while I don’t know and can’t vouch for the exact meaning or power of the charm, nor can I single out any singular effect it has had on me alone since the day of the ritual, the charm quickly revealed itself as a very specific and powerful beacon in regards to others.

boots

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

It goes where I go, often traveling several miles per day at dog’s eye level. And for the most part, it serves as an invisible accessory; very few notice it at all. But fitting of an object constructed by Dionysians, those who do notice it are almost exclusively in varied states of intoxication and/or madness. And when they notice it, they fixate on it excitedly, asking me what it is, often asking to touch it with a pleading but respectful tone in their voice or sometimes even asking if I would be willing to part with it for a price.

Which, upon reflection, means that the charm actually does create a specific effect that it has on me alone. It reinforces the irrelevance of the concept of ‘belief’ in the face of what consistently reveals itself to be, as to ‘believe’ supposes that one could ‘choose’ not to believe. What is has a way of presenting itself as truth whether I’m in the mood to ‘believe’ in it or not.

III. September

On foot, my patterns and rituals realigned themselves as my daily pace slowed down and my route subsequently transitioned. While a five-minute journey should had become a twenty-minute one in theory, in reality the very process of walking combined with my low-latent inhibition had resulted in an entire series of new rituals and relations that created many holes for time to leak through, so to speak.

In lieu of my being able to travel westward on foot via the underpass, I diverted my route up and then down the Broadway Bridge, carving out a daily path that I quickly dubbed ‘The Voyage of the 81 Steps’ in honor of the number of stairs that it took to reach the top. Once at the top of the bridge, the descent back down the ramp leading to the Pearl District was fraught with various distractions and obstacles as an unusually dangerous intersection led down to a narrow sidewalk overrun with both pigeons and their feces.

pigeonramp

It was in my first week on this new route that I started to notice frequent yelling and cursing from others who walked up and down the ramp, as the pigeons perched above on the light-post would regularly poop on those who walked below. I laughed every time I heard someone cry out until the fourth or fifth day when I was also pelted with a significant dose of bird shit, which admittedly made the overall situation much less funny.

Since it was impossible to avoid walking below the birds as the light-post was the same width as the ramp, the next day I decided to start acknowledging the pigeons, offering them peanuts, and asking them not to poop on me. While not wanting to be shat on was a big part of my motivation, a bigger part of me simply wanted to see if such actions would be effective. And, of course, a very small but very persistent part of me wanted to yet again test my relationship to coincidence.

Three weeks later, after witnessing countless folks pelted by poo while completely avoiding such a fate myself despite my frequency on the ramp, I deemed the experiment a success. Pigeons were no different from people or gods, in that even simple attempts at communication and mutual respect often went a long way.

IV. October

The significance, demands, and implications of our pilgrimage continued to unfold with an ever-greater frequency as the days progressed. It was obvious that revelations were coming out of every corner if I simply chose to accept that what I was perceiving as reality, and yet there’s a seductive illusion of control in denying such realities, an illusion that also functions as a defense mechanism when it all becomes a little too much.

And it was a little too much that day. Deep in my head, walking down the ramp, I found myself angrily ruminating on the idea of coincidence as it stands in opposition to meaning, questioning my sanity for the umpteenth time as I struggled to not only make sense out of everything that was being revealed but also struggled to reconcile the fact that I had to make sense out of it in the first place and could not merely dismiss it as coincidence.

If only I could, I thought to myself angrily, stewing in such muddled frustration that for the first time in six weeks I neglected to acknowledge the pigeons on the light-post above me.

They acknowledged me, however. At the exact moment I found myself envying those who had the luxury of dismissing such synchronicities of meaning, the pigeons acknowledged me with simultaneous shots of poo to my head, neck, and back.

And of course, I didn’t have the luxury of dismissing any of it.

“That was meta,” I shouted up toward the light-post as I turned around to head home and shower.

“Very meta. Good one. Nice job.”

poo

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

V. November

“Perhaps the answer to the question lies in the question. Perhaps you should read my thoughts, line them up like soldiers…” – Tori Amos, ‘Police Me’

It may have been a Tori song, but it was Nimue who was singing it in my ear.

I heard it as I woke up. I heard it consistently throughout those random cracks in time during the day when the mind is momentarily unoccupied and the other world can seep through. I heard it when I deliberately invoked silence and stillness. And I heard it throughout my dreams. I knew not what it meant, but it persisted.

The song was once again in my head as I walked toward the post office, through the crowd of hustlers and transients that congregated just south of Union Station. Head down, I was humming the very line that was haunting me when someone jumped right in front of me. I halted and looked up to see a noticeably strung-out homeless man blocking my path.

His eyes fixated on mine for a moment as his lips started to move.

“That red-headed bitch… I can’t get her out of my head,” he mumbled at me. He jumped twice in place, and on the third jump he moved aside so I could pass.

“Red-headed banshee bitch,” he continued. “Don’t listen to her. Don’t listen to any of them, you hear? It doesn’t leave, never leaves your head.” His voice had risen at the end, teetering on the border between civil speech and primal scream.

His eyes widened. “Don’t listen,” he repeated. “You hear?”

I nodded, not knowing exactly what to think. I briefly pictured the red-headed singer whose tune had been haunting me for the past several weeks, then nodded again at him.

“Yes, I hear”, I said, and walked away from him as fast as I could.

VI. December

“Never before have I been so deeply entrenched in my own story, so to speak. And I have no idea how to even begin to write about it,” I said to her over early-morning coffee.

“I know we’re both writers, but I’ll admit I can’t really relate to what you’re struggling with, as much as I wish I could,” she said to me sympathetically. “I’ve never met any gods, let alone have I ever tried to write about them. I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like.”

“But I don’t actually write about the gods at all,” I argued. “Not directly, anyway. I actually go out of my way not to write about my interactions and relations with the gods themselves, but instead I focus on where those interactions take me and the conclusions they lead me to.”

“And yet that’s failing you now.”

I nodded. It was not only failing me, it was driving me to madness.

“Why?” she asked.

“Why what? Why is it failing? Or why I don’t write about the gods?”

She laughed. “Dare I say the answer to your question is found in your question? Start with the second one. Why don’t you write about the gods?”

My face reacted instantly in horror as I recalled the song lyric incident near Union Station a few weeks prior. I momentarily fixated on my companion’s bright red hair, all too terrifyingly aware that the tendency that I was struggling so greatly to both write about and explain to her was manifesting itself in the very moment.

She smiled innocently, unaware of that manifestation and equally unaware of what a loaded question she had put forth. I racked my brain for a neutralizing response but quickly realized I had nothing to wield but the truth.

“Because those conclusions are much easier for me to defend than those relationships. Because it does not damage my psyche for someone to tell me that my politics and my viewpoints are delusional, as that’s a step removed from the accusation that I am delusional as a whole, which does damage my psyche and which I open myself up to very easily by directly writing about my interactions with the gods. I feel vulnerable enough as it is with what I already put out there.”

“Ok, now the first half of the question. Why is that strategy now failing?”

I thought for a moment. “Because this one’s just too real. And I’m at a loss at how to describe it, to relate it, while keeping it contained enough so that it feels safe.”

“But it’s not safe,” she said quietly.

She stared into her coffee cup for a moment before she continued. “Again, I can’t conceive of what the gods are like, but it’s obvious from way over here that whatever it is you experience is very, very real. And as much as I don’t understand it, the only explanation that makes any sense to me at all is the very one that you seem to accept without question while at the same time you fight it with everything you have. You are trapped in that contradiction, and I think that by trying to feel safe you only fuel it.”

I sighed, trying to settle the internal discomfort that always came with uncomfortable truths. She was absolutely right. I did internally fight it with everything I could muster. I had never asked to be gods-bothered or anything of the sort. I could handle the realities and consequences most of the time, but my inability to either ignore or express the sea of meaning I was drowning in had pushed me to the edge of madness. And it was always in those moments, teetering at the edge, that I often most desperately wished that it was all indeed just a delusion. And yet I knew it was anything but.

“I don’t think you’re looking for advice,” she continued after a long silence. “I think you’re looking for permission. And I think that the only force that can grant that you that permission is within.”

VII. January

The dreams had officially become a significant interruption. Although that’s not even quite right, as they were anything but dreams. They were most active and most traumatizing during sleep, sure, but I knew to distinguish mere dreams from visions, and these were definitely of the latter category.

And yet, knowing they were more than dreams did not produce nearly as much anxiety as the content of the visions themselves. Constant scenes, of war, violence, carnage, which had first started appearing the summer before but had only become a nightly phenomenon since around the time of the new year. I didn’t know what the scenes were, nor did I necessarily want to know, but there were a few key impressions, most notable of bombed-out towns and stone ruins, that simply would not leave my head no matter how hard I tried.

I had these very images in and hanging over my head as I went out on my daily walk on an unusually cold day, taking a slightly longer route with the hopes that potential distractions would empty my mind a bit. I bought myself a coffee and wandered through downtown, inadvertently disassociating myself from the goings-on around me as I tried to clear my head.

Without realizing it, I found myself randomly stumbling through the aisles at Powell’s a few hours later, having indeed become distracted after wandering in to use the bathroom. I wasn’t searching for anything specific, but after walking around in the cold for so long there as something quite comforting about the cramped, crowded aisles of books, and so I methodically wandered up and down the aisles clutching my coffee while trying my best to shake off various troubles.

The aisles at Powells. Photo by InSapphoWeTrust

The aisles at Powell’s. [Photo by InSapphoWeTrust]

And then out of nowhere a book fell off the shelf just to the right of me, knocking my right foot and landing on its spine, flipping the book open to the center. I bent over to pick it up and when I brought the book to eye-level I saw my dreams of bombs and ruins staring back up at me.

The photos were scenes from the Spanish Civil War, of battles that took place in the very towns that we were set to walk through as part of our pilgrimage, which was now only a few months away. I turned the page, and the images on the next page were also familiar from my dreams and visions. I closed my eyes for a minute, suddenly trying my hardest to clearly recall what I had been trying so hard to block out for weeks, and then stared back at the page again.

As I stood there, the words I had taken to heart on the ramp a few months back ran through my mind, and I resisted the urge to crave the luxuries of ‘coincidence’. And suddenly, standing right there in the middle of the aisle, connections started to form and yet-unasked questions started to answer themselves without warning. The pilgrimage. The bike. The walking. The dead. The dreams and the not-dreams. The unknowing emissaries. The touched prophets. The book that just fell in front of me.

Perhaps the answer to the question lies in the question.

I put the book back on the shelf and ran out of the bookstore, desperately needing air. I walked around the block, composed myself, bought another coffee, and then went back in to buy the book.

The book, of course, was no longer on the shelf when I returned, despite the fact that I had carefully placed it in an unassuming spot. And for once, I simply surrendered to what was before my eyes without feeling a need for answers, without feeling the need to either deny the significance of it all or to analyze the significance to death. After all, the book had served its purpose, and I hadn’t even gone looking for answers.

VIII. February

I’m at Pantheacon, and I’m in the women’s bathroom.

Except I’m not in the bathroom. I’m sitting in the stall, but it’s not really the stall, I’m no longer really in San Jose, and the harsh lighting has been replaced by a murky darkness.

Part of me knows that I am in middle of a flashback, and yet most of me is already too far gone, once again reliving the same terrifying series of moments that has held me captive for eleven years. The stall has evaporated into a dark, wooden shack. The wind is howling outside, rattling the walls around me as I desperately try to remain upright, remain present, simply remain.

In my hand is a plate of rice and beans. White rice, black beans, on a soggy paper plate that is starting to give on the right-hand side, the side that my hand is clutching. My hand is shaking like a leaf and the rice and beans are shaking along with it, creating a blurry optical illusion that is greatly enhanced by the kaleidoscopic effects of my tear-blurred eyes.

There is a firm hand grasping my leg, trying to still my shaking, trying to ground me just enough so that I can listen to what she is saying. Attached to that hand is an older figure, wrapped in robes, who evokes equal parts wise-woman and desert warrior. Seated at the same level, I tower over her physically, and yet she looms much larger than I in the moment.

She is speaking softly, her voice gravelly but strong, the cadence of her voice evoking a calming, lulling effect. I stare down at the rice and beans again, fixated on the sagging plate, as her voice slowly makes its way into my head. Her accent strikes a place of comforting familiarity, momentarily bringing me back to Brooklyn, bringing me back home to my front stoop and to the endless conversations that I used to have with my elderly Israeli neighbor in Park Slope. She then squeezes my leg harder and I once again come back, remembering instantly that I am far from Brooklyn, far from the comforts of my stoop and my former neighbor.

I have never met her before, but I knew to trust the folks who brought me to her. Or did they bring her to me? My body and my being jolt at the realization that I are unable to recall. I don’t even know how they found me. Did someone else bring them to me first? Did they give me the rice and beans? If not, who did?

My brain hiccups, momentarily halting my shaking, and her grip on my leg tightens again. I look up into her eyes, trying desperately to focus on her, and only then do I realize that she has been speaking to me since I sat down. I realize that I trust her too, that I trust her completely, and that I don’t know why but it does not matter. I try with everything I have to tune into her voice long enough to actually hear.

“I want you to follow my finger. And remember to breathe.”

I start to breathe, and I follow her finger. Up, down, left, right. Over and over and over again. And suddenly time and consciousness start to blur even further, and all that remains in that moment is darkness, repetition, and a consistent reminder to breathe. Not only does darkness envelop the moment, but the moment envelops into itself and by the time I think I’ve come back I don’t know whether I had just lost minutes or hours, or what actually transpired in that little shack once she started to move her finger and talk.

At one point, the sagging plate lost the battle with the rice and beans, but the plate was subtle enough in its surrender that I didn’t even notice as I followed her finger, clinging to her words, trying desperately to simply remain.

And when she concluded, when she let go of my leg with a release of finality and a pat, I did come back, or at least I thought I did at the time. It would take me many years to accept the fact that I could never truly come back from such a thing, but at that moment enough of my being was restored that I could potentially fathom the idea of walking out of the little shack on my own two feet and continuing on with whatever it was that one is supposed to do after they brush up so closely with death.

I can’t even speak, can’t even comprehend, can’t even find words to thank her. I simply start to shake and cry uncontrollably. She reaches over and embraces me, soothing me with both her arms and her voice. I drop the plate of rice and beans to the floor and allow myself to simply be held.

And then I slowly come to and open my eyes and I’m once again staring at a wooden slatted door. The variety of noises and voices behind that door snap me instantly back as I realize that I’m sitting on a toilet seat in a bathroom stall at the DoubleTree and there are people in line waiting their turn. And I can’t help but note the irony in that just as in the very moment that I had just re-lived, once again I have no idea whether I’ve been sitting there for minutes or for hours and I can’t stop shaking.

I quickly slap some water on my face in an attempt to bring myself back, hurrying as I realize that I have no idea how long I’ve been out of my booth. I look in the mirror for a minute to make sure I look presentable enough to fake it for the next few hours, and as I breathe a sigh of relief at the person reflected back it occurs to me that everything I have become, everything I have been able to sustain, everything I hold and have kept intact would likely have not been possible, would possibly not be at all if not for her intervention.

You likely owe her your life, I confided to my mirror-self, finally giving voice to a truth that I had been holding this entire time but could never actually admit.

I walk out of the bathroom and past the info table, trying my best to shake off the intensity of what had just occurred, while trying even harder at a subconscious level to deny the very actuality of any of it. Unlike my struggles around the luxury of coincidence, blocking this reality out had become an effective and reliable short-term coping mechanism over the years. As I walk around the info table, I absentmindedly stare blankly toward the smaller tables that are positioned right outside the vendor room, and as I turn at the end of the info table toward the vendor room door my gaze inadvertently drifts to the left.

And there she is, sitting right next to the door, looking right at me.

The wise woman, the desert warrior. The one who I had just reminded my mirror-self had likely saved my life. The one who holds my truth. The only one who knows that one piece of my story better than I do. There she is, thirty feet from the bathroom, sitting right there next to the door.

My mind flashes back to the shack again as I stare at her in disbelief. For once, I couldn’t fathom trying to dismiss the enormous significance of her presence, especially in congruity with the flashback I just had and the realization while staring in the mirror. My body starts to shake as my stomach pulls itself into the tightest knot imaginable.

She recognizes me and her face immediately lights up. I pull up a chair and sit down, pulling the chair in tight next to her so as not to block the flow of traffic. She reaches across to hug me and once again I am momentarily pulled back to the shack, to the grip on my leg and the embrace and the plate of rice and beans that slipped from my hand. I hug her back while kicking my left leg with my right foot in a desperate attempt to once again remain while doing everything in my power to compose myself emotionally, acutely aware that we are in a very public space.

“How have you been?” she asks me softly after we finished embracing.

My mouth opens and words start to flow out, uncontrollably at first. I’m not able to harness what’s coming out; nor does it present itself in any easily identifiable order, but she seems to understand me all the same. I babble, she nods, time blurs once more. I shift from kicking my shin to crushing my left toes with my right heel, trying to be conscious of physical impact while lacking any other way to keep myself in my skin. I breathe. I try to calm. Eventually my heel relaxes. Eventually my babbling ceases.

“I think of you often, always wonder how you are doing,” she says, and I finally lose control and briefly burst into tears.

“Sometimes I’m fine, but lately… all of it… it’s just too much, too much meaning… it’s so suffocating…. it suffocates me whether I accept it or deny it. And I can’t turn it off, it never stops, never. Even just now. Right here, the fact that you’re here and I’m here right now, there it is again. I can’t escape it no matter where I turn.”

“No, perhaps you can’t escape it”, she said. “But I know in my heart that you will figure out what you need to do to process it all, to understand and heal from it all. You just mentioned to me a moment ago that you’re a writer now. Maybe you just need to try writing about it.”

“The very thought terrifies the shit out of me,” I said softly.

“And that’s exactly why you need to do it,” she said with a smile.

*     *     *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

[Courtesy J. Pourner]

[Courtesy J. Pourner]

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Tex.– On Feb 9, a grand jury indicted David Brown Jr., the man arrested for the murder of Wiccan Marc Pourner. As we reported in November, Pourner went missing for three days, after which police found his strangled body deep in the woods inside his burned-out truck. He was known as Axel within Pagan circles, and helped run the now-defunct Wiccan World Social Network. Pourner was also instrumental in creating and moderating the popular Facebook group, “The Cauldron – A Mixing Place for Witches, Druids, and Pagans.” When news broke of his death, that group lit up with stories and memorials coming from users who live all over the world.

As  was recently reported in the local news and by the Montgomery County Police reporter, court records have now revealed more about what actually happened to Pourner. Brown, a longtime friend of Pourner’s boyfriend Daniel Kirksey, called Pourner from Kirksey’s home to tell him that someone was “following him and wanted to kill him.” When Pourner arrived at the home, he and Brown had “a heated argument […] It was there that Brown punched Pourner several times and then bound and gagged [him].”  Using Pourner’s truck, Brown then took Pourner to a remote location, where he strangled him and torched the truck. The court records also indicate that Kirksey witnessed the entire act.

Brown remains in jail with a $1 million dollar bond for the murder. His indictment lists his charges as capital murder with a felony, which includes his alleged kidnapping of Pourner. Kirksey has not been charged with anything.

Pourner’s mother, Jolena Pourner, told The Wild Hunt, “My husband and I were simply elated when the grand jury indicted Brown, and that further indictments could be forthcoming.” She also expressed concern over the new information revealed concerning Pourner’s boyfriend: “We knew from the beginning that Daniel was possibly involved because his explanations didn’t add up. We’d been concerned because we felt Daniel was using Marc.” Despite this new information, the exact motivation behind the murder is not clear. However, it does appear that the motivation was not related to Pourner’s Pagan religious beliefs.

  *     *     *

ccs-twitter-logo_400x400CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. —  On Feb. 8, the Cleveland County School Board welcomed Wiccan Priest Tony Brown to give an invocation before its regularly scheduled meeting. The board recently adopted a prayer policy that adheres to the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in The Town of Greece v. Galloway case. As quoted in the local news, Cleveland County Schools director of communications Greg Shull said, “We’re just carrying out marching orders of the board. They responded to what the community asked for. People are aware that there could be folks from all walks of life, but that’s really the nature of public education.”

One of the components of the new policy is to remove any children under the age of 11 from the room until the invocation is over. Shull said, “The board decided to start this with the introduction of the prayer, no matter what religion. At that age, we could put out permission slips, but it’s hard to obtain permission when you don’t know [what’s going to be said.] We don’t know the religion of each child or what their background is at home.”

Rev. Tony Brown told The Wild Hunt that there were no problems during his invocation. He said, “At the meeting itself, I think it’s fair to say that I got a neutral reception. Which I believe is perfectly appropriate. It was quiet and uneventful, just like the reception the two Christian ministers got at the previous meetings since the policy was adopted.” Brown believes that his laying important groundwork prior to the Feb. 8 meeting helped ease any tensions.  He said that he built a “rapport with the board members” and has been an active voice in the community.  He added, “I think part of the reason this went better than the similar policy in a neighboring county is that I was active in the meetings leading up to the policy change. I was there, speaking out and making sure everyone knew that if they started having prayers from local clergy, that our Wiccan church would expect to be included.”

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POM-1528-0268-largeScholar and editor Chas Clifton announced the release of the newest edition of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. The Pomegranate is a peer-reviewed journal, providing “a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”

As Clifton noted on his own blog, “The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Douglas Ezzy.”  Ezzy is a sociology professor at the University of Tasmania and editor of The Journal for the Academic Study of Religion and was president of The Australian Association for the Study of Religion.

The two long essays were written by Russian scholar Dmitry Galtsin and Indian professor Archana Barua. The featured autobiographical reflections were written by Wendy Griffin, Douglas Ezzy, Michael York, Fritz Muntean, Helen A. Berger, Graham Harvey, Kathryn Rountree, Susan Greenwood, Sarah Pike, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Melissa Jane Harrington.

Clifton also noted that, by special arrangement with the publisher Equinox, his own editorial, “A Double Issue of The Pomegranate: The First Decades of Contemporary Pagan Studies,” is available for free via download.

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pagan federation

The Pagan Federation (PF) has announced the launch of a media site: Pagan Dawn online. PF has been producing a print version of Pagan Dawn, in various forms, since 1968. The magazine is published “four times a year, at Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas.” Now the editorial team is taking a step forward into the digital world. PF’s announcement said that the new site will “feature news and reviews for the Pagan community, as well as showcasing some of the best feature content from the magazine.” 

Editors noted that the magazine will still remain the “main focus” of their work and is not being retired. However, the new site will be updated regularly to “reflect the current diversity and sheer fecundity of the Pagan movement.” Editor-in-Chief Kate Large said, “The 2011 census showed over 80,000 people identifying as Pagan in England and Wales, while in other major countries of the world, Paganism and Earth-centred spirituality is growing at a fantastic rate. Pagan Dawn seeks to inform, educate and entertain seekers of all paths, both in the magazine and now, online as well.”

In Other News:

  • Inspired by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local Indiana community has been successfully holding its own interfaith events. Last weekend marked the third such event sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus. The four-hour session included “representatives from 20 different beliefs highlighting how they interpret the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Rev. Dave Sassman of the Pagan Educational Network (PEN) was there and said, “What a multi-faceted experience.” Sassman, who also attended the Parliament, is founder of PEN and a member of Circle Sanctuary. When asked about the Golden Rule, Sassman said, “Harming anybody is harming the divine and yourself.”
  • The South African Pagan Council has announced the 10th annual Pagan Freedom Day. To be held on Apr. 27, the event’s theme is “Freedom and Unity through Diversity.”  The Council produced and uploaded a video advertisement, which can be seen on Penton Independent Alternative Media’s site or directly on YouTube.  The video contains photos from past events, and reads, “All Over South Africa, Pagan folk with gather again.”  It lists the cities where events will be held and the contact person for each one.
  • A new conference is arriving this summer in Nashville, Tennessee. ODDCon, as it is called, was born last spring when Tesea Dawson helped facilitate a smaller festival in the same region. Dawson believed that event could have been bigger and better. ODDCon was born. The conference site reads, “We believe that it doesn’t matter what color you are, how old you are, what religion you follow, what country your from or even who you love… we can all get along.  Let’s give it shot… we challenge all of you who read this to open your heart for one weekend and come be a part of the freakshow!” Special guests include many: Tuatha Dea, Alex Bledsoe, Selena Fox, Celia Farran, Byron Ballard, M.R. Sellars and more. ODDCon will take place at the Hotel Preston in Nashville from Aug. 5-7. Tickets are now on sale and more information is available on the website.
  • Dusty Dionne, High Priest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) has launched a new podcast called “Pagan Jack.” It is accessible from the ATC Pagan Information Network website and “comes out on Tuesdays at 6am EST.” Dionne describes the podcast as featuring “news and notes from the Internet and abroad that may be of interest to children of the Earth.” On its new Facebook page, Dionne reported that he was recording a show at PantheaCon.
  • Speaking of PantheaCon, the colossal Pagan event ends today. In the coming weeks, there will be many posts and articles from attending Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists. Look for them across the blogosphere and in social media. In the coming days, Heathen Chinese will be reviewing the event for The Wild Hunt.
  • And, lastly, for those in the upper midwest, ConVocation kicks off this Thursday in Detroit, Michigan with the theme “Rebirth in the Sea of Divine Knowledge.” The guests of honor include Dragon Ritual Drummers, Selena Fox, Richard Kaczynski, and Raven Kaldera. The conference is held at the Dearborn DoubleTree, and runs from Feb. 18 – 21.

Circle Sanctuary logoCircle Sanctuary has announced the launch of its new membership program. Since its founding in 1974, Circle has been an open organization that has relied predominantly on donations, volunteerism and community support without any form of official membership needed. At Imbolc, organizers officially changed Circle’s traditional structure. In a press release, they wrote, “By creating a more formal membership program, we can open stronger channels of communication; learn from our members about how we can support their spiritual and personal development; and focus on members’ needs now and in the times to come.”

Membership is open to a wide variety of people, limited only by a willingness to agree to “a set of three basic ethical tenets” involving nature, respect and inclusivity. Organizers said, “Circle Sanctuary’s community has always been diverse, including Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, Polytheists,Heathens, Unitarian Universalists, Witches, Humanists, Shamanic practitioners and many other names and paths. Within Circle Sanctuary we come together with a common intention to honor the Divine in Nature and create community together. Our membership program continues this tradition of honoring the diversity.”

Organizers were also quick to add, “Circle Sanctuary will continue to serve Pagans of many paths and places, regardless of membership.” Their events, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, will continue to be open to everyone. Details on joining and on other Circle programs can be found online.

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trothAfter the Jan 10 posting of controversial statements by Asatru Folk Assembly’s Steve McNallen, a wave of backlash and debate erupted throughout the Heathen world. As we previously reported, Heathens United Against Racism publicly responded with a strong response to McNallen’s comments. And, since early January the issue has not abated, with many Heathens adding to the growing public discussion on racism and the support of fascism within their religious communities.

More recently, on Jan 30, Troth Steersman Steve T. Abell posted a response to the situation on Patheos’ Agora, saying, “We have some colorful characters in the Heathen community.” The article, which calls out several members of the Heathen community by name, set off another round of arguments and more backlash. In response, The Troth as an organization posted a reaffirmation of its mission statement, and Redesman John T Mainer published an official response in an essay titled, “The High Cost of Rhetoric.”

Since that point, Heathens and Pagans alike have been weighing in on the volatile situation, including long time Troth member Diana Paxson. Speaking only for herself, Paxson wrote in a Facebook post, “Heathens are known for the variety and vividness of our opinions, and even those who are members of the Troth do not always agree. But the policies of the organization reflect the will of its members. […] If the Troth is to continue to support toleration and respect for all, all those who oppose racism need to stick with the organization and make their opinions known.”

The conversation is ongoing with many Heathens and others sharing stories and opinions on both McNallen’s original post and the follow-up response by various Troth members. How and if this will affect The Troth as an organization or the Heathen community as a whole is still unknown.

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ArcanaThe Academy of Arcana‘s museum containing “Morning Glory’s 40 year collection of Goddess Statues” is now officially opened. The Museum of Myth, Magick & Mysterie, as it has been named, held its grand opening Feb. 7 at 3:00 pm. Attendees were able to look at 366 goddess statues collected by Morning Glory over the years.

The ribbon cutting event was hosted by curator Oberon Zell and coordinator Anne Duthers, and was followed by a reception and guest presentation by Witch Elder Dr. Zsuzsanna E Budapest on “The Politics of Women’s Myths.” The academy, along with its curio shop and museum, are located at 428-A Front St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060. It is the “first physical campus for the Grey School of Wizardry, offering an educational center with a Museum of Myth, Magick and Mysterie, and a Library of Esoterica.”

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Ägyptischer_Maler_um_1360_v._Chr._001We are currently researching a breaking story in which a Pagan Facebook group was shut down because it “violated community standards.” The group’s name is “Following Isis” and was created for those people who are devotees of the Egyptian goddess. As we have reported in the past, it is not uncommon for the goddess Isis to be confused with Daesh, the terrorist organization more typically referred to as ISIS. We are currently in touch with the Facebook group owners and will follow up as we learn more.

In Other News

  • The Adocentyn Research Library, located in California, has been quietly building its collection over the past few years and is now up to 13,000 volumes. Its goal is to become the “premier Pagan research center in the Western US.” The library is managed by a non-profit organization and relies on donations of both money and materials. The management team recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise more awareness and funds toward the goal of finally opening its doors. Over the weekend, The New Alexandrian Library, a corresponding entity located on the East Coast, donated $250 to the cause with the words “in unity and support of the great work for the community.”
  • PantheaCon gets underway this Friday in San Jose, California. If you are attending, don’t forget to come out and meet The Wild Hunt writers on Saturday, from 5-6 p.m. in the Hexenfest Suite. We look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new people.
  • Speaking of PantheaCon, the Mills College Pagan Alliance met its fundraising goal in just 6 days and will be able to attend PantheaCon after all. Kristen Oliver called it “a blessing” and said that the group of women attending were extremely thankful for the support.
  • As Valentine’s Day nears, the Huffington Post decided to look into the meaning of Pagan handfastings.The article, titled “Here’s Why Couples Tie Their Hands Together During Pagan Weddings,” contains quotes and photos from both Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox and New York-based Witch Courtney Weber. Fox is quoted as saying, “In many ceremonies, the couple faces each associated direction as I do the blessing, concluding with being at the altar for the blessing of Spirit.” And, Weber, who shared photos from her own recent handfasting, said, “The use of the elementals encourages a balanced, healthy relationship […] When all parts are working together — earth, air, fire, water, and spirit — they created [sic] a holistic world that allows the couple to breathe, move, function and grow together.”
  • Dr. Ruth Lindley, a UK-based historian is looking to interview “women whose spiritual practices focus on, or relate to, ‘the Goddess’, for [her] PhD research on religion and spirituality.”  As posted on the blog Medusa’s Coils, Dr. Lindley, Ph.D, of the Department of History, University of Birmingham said, “[My] will challenge current scholarship on religious change in modern Britain, especially in relation to women’s experiences of faith from the 1960s to the present day.”  She is specifically “looking for participants based in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.” To get involved, contact her directly at RML033@bham.ac.uk.
  • The Glastonbury Goddess Temple, which was featured in our report on the legality of handfastings in England, launched a new website for its 21st annual Goddess Festival. The summer event will “honour Goddess as Lady of Avalon, Nolava of the Sacred Land,” and will take place from July 26 to 31. Included in the festival’s activities are presentations, workshops and performances by many speakers, artists, and musicians, including “Starhawk, Carolyn Hillyer, ALisa Starweather, Rith Barrett, Jana Runnalls, Kathy Jones, Kellianna, Katinka Soetens, Luciana Percovich, Lydia Ruyle, and Falcon River”  More information is available at the Temple’s new website.

Column: Abrázame

Manny Tejeda-Moreno —  February 5, 2016 — 11 Comments

We have a hugging problem, and it is probably not the one you think.

First, I am not going to go on about the benefits of hugging here, and there are many. But, my original article for this month was derailed yesterday when I noticed the creation of a new set of hugging ribbons for Pantheacon.

'FREE_HUGS'_well_received_in_Chile

[Courtesy Free Hugs / Wikipedia]

These ribbons offer a gradation of interpersonal hug-comfort from “No Touchy!!!” to “Ask First!!!” to “Hugs are like Oxygen!!!” The intent to underscore the importance of consent is an outstanding idea. Reinforcing the urgency of consent will help individuals who are uncomfortable with certain levels of social expression to make others aware of that fact. Some people are uncomfortable being assertive and others have a real psychological (haphephobia or aphenphosmphobia) or physical (dysesthesia) challenge that make hugging problematic and even painful. Some people have faith traditions forbidding interpersonal contact with strangers of opposite sex. Some people are not neurotypical; some might be pregnant. And others may have experienced sexual or interpersonal violence in their past, which makes intimate contact difficult if not impossible. These individuals command our support.

And some may just not like hugs. It’s all good.

The intent of the ribbons is to help people proclaim a desire to maintain a wide personal touch space for any of those reasons. This underscores why these ribbons are a good idea. Their use is also optional.  So – and this is particularly important – those motivated to use these ribbons will likely have a vital reason for adopting them. Moreover, I would put my hand in a raging fire to affirm that these ribbons were never created with any other intent than to help people.

I am, however, skeptical that they will help. Not only will the ribbons be in a sea of other ones; their use makes a critical assumption about the reader. For those who behave inappropriately, are ill-mannered or simply interpersonally violent, the presumption of the ribbons is that those guests will have the wherewithal to review and respect the ribbons before approaching with a hug or a touch. It’s a stretch in my mind, but still it’s all good.

But here’s the thing. They are also disappointingly Anglocentric and accidentally enabling ethnocentrism. I get the fact that this is not the intent. But as a Latino member of our society, my first reaction was, “so you want me to act like an Anglo?” Let me just repeat what I wrote before: I get the fact that this is not the intent.  But the focus on salutation behavior and the added exclamation points to emphasize greeting expectations convey an unintended message about what is an appropriate means of greeting others. The greeting distance and the behavioral expectations are subtly centered on northern European/Anglo expectations. But, appropriate greeting – in the greater scheme of things – is not that, nor is it standard American.

I have difficulty navigating around the fact that, while I understand that my culture has vastly different rules about interpersonal space and the importance of touch, these ribbons promote a secondary message that subordinates how many people I know – including myself –- greet one another. Hugging and cheek-kissing – or a combo maneuver of both of them including the air kiss – is the standard greeting for more than two billion people who are not part of the Anglosphere. Some 50 million of whom live within the US; which, by the way, makes United States the second-largest Spanish-speaking Latino nation in the world exceeding the population of Spain and surpassed only by Mexico.

The gesture of cheek-kissing, often with a hug, is the de facto greeting in Latin America, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean nations. It has also become – as Time magazine noted in 2004 – a common greeting in the larger cities of the United States: that’s code for foreign, specifically Latin American. Among Latinos, cheek kissing and hugging is a universal form of greeting, even between heterosexual men.

The counterpole to these behaviors is the Victorian salutation etiquette, which continues to pervade our collective culture and, more insidiously, presents itself as the authority on expectations of proper behavior. Greetings – as still expected in parts of the United Kingdom – should be light handshakes at a distance. And this has a powerful cultural effect. It identifies how “proper” people interact and codes what is elegant, classy and cultured, while also highlighting who is uncultured, uneducated and uncouth. It lays out our roles in interpersonal behavior, guiding us to accept Anglo behavior as normative. You might even say there is a craving for it because there is a palpable pining among some people for the good old days of Downton Abbey, minus the classism. The reflected behaviors of etiquette are often seen as quaint, and when they are violated by those not of the right class or culture, it evokes Sarah Miller’s famous speech in Addams Family Values: “Remember, these savages are our guests. We must not be surprised at any of their strange customs. After all, they have not had our advantages, such as fine schools, libraries full of books, shampoo.”

[Courtesy PROMetropolico.org / Flickr.org]

[Courtesy PROMetropolico.org / Flickr.org]

It’s an issue, because this “quaintness” hides the bigotry. Chatham House recently surveyed British men and women asking them which countries they had good feelings about. They reported most favorable feelings toward Australia and Canada, followed by the United States, which tied with the Netherlands and then Sweden. There’s another code there, too. The countries of greatest comfort are more fluent in English. Not only that, there is another active code here, as they report, that the USA is moving linguistically, culturally and politically more toward Latin America. And those survey participants are echoing that shift as increasing discomfort with United States.

There’s nothing like having codes that tell us who is the “in-group.” At an unconscious level, we are all looking for in-group codes that allow us to discriminate among individuals and identify who we can trust. Intentionally or otherwise, we broadcast those codes not only to reinforce the dominant culture, but also to remind the “out-group” how its members are expected to behave in the presence of the majority. That anticipation of behavior, that reminding of how we should act, and those gentle cues to assimilate are nothing less than the arsenal of cultural warfare.

Cultural dominance coding is a dangerous game that can easily and elusively slip into racial segregation, social exclusion, and cultural assimilation. It often moves unnoticed, but with surgical effect. It can combine the tools of politics and economics to create an underclass of individuals who fail to “pass” for those in power. And we promote that cultural dominance coding in many ways that range from the grotesque to the subtle. The English-only movement that occasionally rears its head is little more than an attempt at linguistic domination. I’ll leave that as the grotesque example.

More subtly, we use mimicry and humor in combination to marginalize non-English languages as somehow inferior. Mock Spanish is such an example. Terms like “no problemo,” “hasta la vista, Baby,” or “buenos nachos” create a palimpsest of humor over racist language to disguise the latter. We see a different form of linguistic domination in the absurd belief that English is universally intelligible if spoken slowly and loudly.

We also make ignorant claims about culture and language. I remember one conversation many years ago with a colleague who was 30 years my senior. He was an educated engineer who held multiple biotech patents and even served in an organization to promote inter-cultural dialogue. Yet he explained to me how English will one day become the only language on the planet because it has an inherent economy of word use. His reasoning was that, in English, the possessive is created with the “apostrophe s” instead of the word “of.” Therefore Spanish, German and Chinese speakers, among others, would abandon their languages to adopt a quicker way of expressing ownership.

Now you may read this and laugh, but he was serious. To this day, I have yet to figure out how much time I have saved using the English possessive. And by the way, to add some more perspective, when I asked him if he spoke other languages, he answered, “No.” He spoke only English because his parents had warned him that learning Spanish might damage his natural intellect. He told his children to go to a college that didn’t require a second language or else he wouldn’t pay their tuition. But he liked Cuban food, so, as he explained, he wasn’t a racist.

By contrast, multiculturalism invites minorities to become visible while retaining their culture. It attempts to weave that culture into a mosaic where no culture remains dominant and all cultures are respected. It’s a utopic model whose origins are both in American and Canadian political philosophies, most prominently emerging from the Canadian Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

As a society, we’re not there yet. Though I will state with some personal bias and only anecdotal evidence that Pagans seem to be among those most committed to multicultural values. Yet, we still have our moments of tribalism. We often presume English. We’re surprised by Latina Heathens and White Nebraskan Santeros. We’re disappointed, even stressed when our cultural cookie-cutter doesn’t behave like we want it to. But most of us also do not shy away from the difficult dialogues that allows us to strengthen our community with that cultural mosaic.

Pagans are the vanguard of multiculturalism and acceptance. I remember reading an observation by Alvin Schmidt the author of The Menace of Multiculturalism: Trojan Horse in America (1997) that Pagans represent the worst of the lot because we have revived pantheism in such dastardly films as Pocahontas (1995) and The Lion King (1994). Not just that, we unleashed even more heresy. Our multicultural beliefs were destroying the Judeo-Christian components of Euro-American culture and “endangering America’s soul.”

Y’all are awesome. And he is right, in a way. Pagans generally reject oppression and celebrate difference. We have lived as the oppressed and the reviled, often worship and congregate in secret and our sensibilities have been honed to recognize persecution. Neopaganism has grown in parallel to and in support of the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement. We recognize how cultural domination works, and we have become a bulwark against it.

Now back to those ribbons.The real issues here are manners and fear.

First, it is sad that we need those ribbons. Those of us from cultural backgrounds where interpersonal touching is normative are taught to carefully read body language indicating discomfort, and then unwaveringly apologize should we misread it. I and other Latinos were taught some very simple rules about hugging and kissing that I think remain important during first contact, or any contact.

  1. Don’t kiss or hug strangers.
  2. If you just met, no hugs or kisses. Unless you ask if it’s okay to hug or kiss.
  3. If you’re not sure, let the other person lead.
  4. If the other person says no, they mean it. You’re not entitled to a kiss or hug. Get over it.
  5. All hands above the waist at all times.
  6. No lingering.
  7. No saliva.

Did I really have to list those? We add for other Latinos, air kiss people you know; air kiss plus hug people you know well. That’s it. Culture and consent together.

Second is the fear part. As a community, we know fear offers nothing. And we know fear is the tool of oppressors. So, there must be no tolerance, no apologies and no succor for abusers. Period.

None of us should live in fear. And all of us should live in choice. Period.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Patrick McCollum has announced that he will be awarded the 2016 Ralph Bunche Medal For Peace by the International Human Rights Consortium. He will be receiving the medal at the UN’s Commission for the Status for Women held in March. McCollum explained that the Peace Medal was named after Ralph Johnson Bunche, who was “an American political scientist, academic, and diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Israel.”  It was designed and sculpted by Alex Shagin, the world-renowned metal sculptor and coin designer best known for designing Olympic medals and other similar items.

In his announcement, McCollum also said that he will be the last recipient of the award and that he is thankful to “the many friends and colleagues who have supported and encouraged [his] work for World Peace over the years.” He added, “I share the honor of this award with all of you.” McCollum also said that the collective work done by himself and many others in Pagan communities around the world has “shifted the consciousness of people across the planet toward a more peaceful and sustainable future.” Now he asks that people join him in raising “the status of women” and creating a world that “we can be proud of.”

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pfiua-624x624It has been recently made public that the head of the Pagan Federation International – Ukraine is suffering from multiple sclerosis, and her condition has gotten worse. In early January, Fialkora Mykytenko was hospitalized and has remained there. According to several announcements, Mykytenko is undergoing extensive and regular treatments. Her community has reached out to the extended family of PFI members and Pagan practitioners for both emotional, practical and financial support.

The Pagan Federation International (PFI) is an organization made up of small satellite groups throughout the world, from France to the Philippines. It shares a “common heritage” with the UK-based Pagan Federation, which “was founded in 1971 to provide information on Paganism and to counter misconceptions about the religion.” Mykytenko is the National Coordinator for the Ukraine branch, based in Kiev. PFI members are posting updates on her condition on both the PFI – Urkaine website and in the Russian-based social media outlet VK.

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The Mills College Pagan Alliance (MCPA) has run into a very unfortunate situation. The college had to cancel its “special request funding” due to an unforeseen and undisclosed circumstance. This decision has left a number of student groups, who were depending on these special funds, in quite a bind. The Mills College Pagan Alliance is one of them.The group was depending on the special request funds to host its suite and two other guest rooms at PantheaCon 2016.

The MCPA suite caters specifically to college-age Pagans, offering a safe space for discussion and expression. Unique to this year, the group was was offering a special talk by Mills College alumna Diana Paxson. In addition, the MCPA suite and two other rooms play host to a number of the attending Pagan students, who otherwise cannot afford a hotel room on their own. As of now, there are ten students scheduled to take advantage of this opportunity. Member Kristen Oliver said that attending PantheaCon is important for many of these students as it provides a unique environment to “develop their leadership skills in the Pagan community.”

When MCPA organizers found out that the funds had been revoked, they immediately held an emergency meeting and have decided to launch a crowd funding campaign Monday, Feb. 1 to pay for the three spaces. The organizers are currently working on the campaign. Oliver said, “[The college] feels pretty bad about the whole thing,” and she stressed that MCPA was not the only group affected. Additionally, she is currently in talks with the administration to see “if there is any other source [she] can tap.” For an update on the situation and the campaign, visit the MCPA Facebook page.

In Other News:

  • Every wonder what it takes to keep The Wild Hunt going? Or maybe you’d like to talk to one of our regular writers or learn what’s on our drawing board for 2016? The Wild Hunt will be hosting a meet-and-greet at PantheaCon in the Hexenfest suite on Saturday from 5-6 pm. There you will have a chance to talk to several of our columnists, including Crystal Blanton, Alley Valkyrie, and Heathen Chinese, as well as our new strategic planning director, Yeshe Matthews. And if you miss that or won’t be attending PantheaCon, we will also be doing another social event and a formal “Meet the Wild Hunt” panel at Paganicon in March. Attending that event will be writers Cara Schulz, Crystal Blanton, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, Dodie Graham McKay, and editors Terence P. Ward and Heather Greene. We look forward to seeing everyone come out to these events to talk Pagan news, journalism or just to say ‘hello.’
  • Three Drops from the Cauldron has announced that it will be putting together and publishing a paperback anthology of “the best writing [they] receive on witches, rituals, and spells.” The title and release date are still to be decided. However, they are currently calling for submissions. The editors included the following suggestions for topic ideas: “Pagan rites. Magic. Hecate, Morgan le Fay, Rhiannon, Cerridwen, Circe, Medea, Mother Shipton, Salem, Pendle. Gingerbread and poisoned apples. A hut with chicken legs. The full moon, wise crones, rare beauty. Black cat familiars.” The submission deadline is Sunday May 29. For more information, go to their website.
  • A new subtitled version of the documentary Heksen in Holland (Witches in Holland) has been created, offering both Spanish and English subtitles. This new version will include a booklet filled with articles and interviews translated into English. As described on the site, the documentary, which was produced by Silver Circle, depicts a “journey through the wheel of the year and 35 years of Wicca in the Netherlands.” It features interviews with a number of witches including” Morgana, Jana, Nemain, Lady Bara, Joke & Ko, Mae, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Geraldine Besken, and Gwiddon Harveston. The subtitled film will be available for purchase soon through the Silver Circle webshop. The original version, with no subtitles, is currently available for purchase.

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  • Air n-Aithesc has published its Imbolc edition. Air n-Aithesc: Our Message,is a “peer-reviewed magazine that hopes to offer well researched material for Celtic Reconstructionists and others who value the role of academics as much as they value the role of the spiritual in their practice.” The magazine’s first issue was published in February 2014. Back Issues, as well as the current one, are available digitally through its website.
  • Rhyd Wildermuth’s new book A Kindness of Ravens was released today.The book “is a collection of forest-edged words arrayed against the theft of meaning and the death of dreams.” The contents are pulled from a number of sites that host Wildermuth’s work. It is available through Lulu.com or digitally through Gumroad.com.

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[Pixabay.com]

For many people January symbolizes the start of one of the busiest times of the year. It is the start of the New Year, post holiday detox time, and a time for goal setting and planning. It is also during this month that PantheaCon preparation kicks into high gear for many people, and the count down to the mid-February convention begins. PantheaCon, a Pan-Pagan convention, consistently draws between 2,000 and 3,000 participants a year to San Jose, California for four days of non-stop magic, music, shopping and fun.

It is at this time we see fundraising requests for hospitality suites, Facebook invites for workshops, and an increasing number of updates from the PantheaCon staff as the date gets closer. PantheaCon continues to be one of the largest and biggest Pagan conventions to date, and one of the few events that pulls people from all over the United States.

I have personally come to acknowledge this time as a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts, one that has become a part of my regular routine every year. There is a sense of nostalgia in the spiral circles on the hotel carpet, the tingling of magic in the air, and the anticipation of friends old and new, all of which bring me back every year with a sense of anticipation and wonder. I imagine that these are many of the same things that bring others from across the country to the little old Doubletree Hotel in San Jose.

The 30 day countdown for PantheaCon has already begun – four days with 223 presenter slots and lot of talk about change makers in our community. What is different this year? Who is coming? What workshops to go to? How much is parking? What food are you taking to save costs? Did you get a room in the Doubletree? What time does your flight get in? Wanna have a drink? What kind of wares will there be in the vending room? How much money do I need? What hospitality suites are coming back this year? How will I decide what to go to?

These are all common questions heard during the PantheaCon countdown; all questions that will continue to float around social media until the day that the doors open.

[Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

[Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

What exactly continues to draw people to this convention every year varies from person to person, but it is clear that everyone is looking for some particular experience that they hope to find in the halls of the con. For some people it is the perfect place for networking, while for others it is a place of magical experience. Authors, artists and musicians come to share their work, and healers come to heal. Priestesses and priests come to present rituals, and plenty of others come to simply find community.

This year PantheaCon promises some new presenters, a new theme, and new opportunities to network and have fun. I reached out into the community to ask what is everyone is looking forward to this year.

This year, I’m looking forward to getting to know people. Most cons I fly under the radar, but this year I am presenting on a tough topic (divorce) and I’ve just published two more books so I’m going to be putting myself out there to meet people. I have social anxiety, so that’s not easy for me, but I am going to make myself do it! Also, it helps that there is usually absinthe. Last year I mostly went for the absinthe.  – Diana Rajchel

Pantheacon is always a high point in my year with its four days dedicated to ritual, pageantry, and revelry. This year I am thrilled to be included in the cast of Golden Gate Kindred’s Lokasenna ritual drama on Sunday night. But more than the programs or frippery (much as I love donning my corsets), Pantheacon has become much more about the connections and conversations I explore there. In the past several years, conversations at Pcon have paved the way for social justice work, deepening my practice, and important personal relationships. I am certain this year will yield the same. – Nathania Apple

 I am looking forward to seeing old friends and finally meeting face to face with folks I have only known online like Crystal Blanton. – Katrina Messenger

I was so disappointed when I had to cancel at the last minute last year so I’m especially excited to be back.  I’m looking forward to meeting new people, talking about my books, and finally getting around to presenting that workshop.  I’m also looking forward to checking in with all the folks who sent energy to me in the last year and saying THANK YOU! – Lisa Spiral

I look forward to attending many of the panels and big rituals. I choose panels on topics I know little about, to gain more knowledge of how others interact with the divine. And the big rituals I go to mainly because they seem fun. It’s also a time where I feel I am among similarly minded folks. – Akasha

pantheacon

Every year About this time I start getting ready for PantheaCon. I eagerly look forward seeing friends from far away that I don’t get to see often and just feel the energy of place that exists when we are all gathered together. That energy, that spirit has been one of the touchstones of my year for quite awhile now.

There are presenters, teachers really, that come every year I look forward to of course, but this year there are new people I’m excited about – Tommie StarChild, Lora O’Brien, Lasara Firefox Allen, Byron Ballard.  I’m also looking forward to how the conversations on social justice continue.  There has been great work at the conference over the last few years, not always comfortable, but extremely important.

I go through the program book in the weeks leading up to PCon, work out how which events I’m going to, there is so much on the schedule and in the suites there is always way more I want to do than is physically possible. The first couple of years I went I tried to do all the things.  Now I usually have one or two must-be-there’s and the rest of the convention I ride the wave of that energy we have all raised by our presence and let spirit guide me.  

This year the must-be-there for me is the Ole Time Good Spell Feri Pagan Tent Revival.  In keeping with the conference theme of “Change”, it’s title is “Changes – Turn and Face the Strange”.  I’m not going to miss this one.  I may cry, but I’m not going to miss it. – Jo Lynx

PantheaCon is a time of community, connection and service for the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood. We’re fortunate to be hosting the Temple of the Morrigan and the Blood Heroes blood drive for the third year in a row. We’ve received such an outpouring from attendees for these endeavors. We’re really looking forward to providing hospitality and a place for religious devotion to attendees again this year. This type of community service is both a joy and a sacred duty for us. – Rynn Fox, Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood

These last days leading to the conference mean a lot of preparation, solidifying travel plans, creative food shopping, and lots of wardrobe practicing. One of the largest draws of this event is the ability to experience a lot of things in one place, meet different types of people, and have fun among other Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists.

[Photo Credit: Michael / Wikimedia]

San Jose, California [Photo Credit: Michael / Wikimedia]

Personally, I am really excited for the new presenters this year and learning some new chants. Most of all, I always look forward to spending time with friends that I don’t get to see often and meeting new people in person that I have only known online.

In the preparation for PantheaCon there are many things to consider. My personal list of tips for anyone who will be coming for the first time would include:

  • Bring multiple outfits, some comfortable and some fancy, so that you can change when needed.
  • Bring snacks and some easy meals to eat in order to reduce costs and save you from having every meal in the restaurant.
  • Bring what you need to help you sleep. The energy in the building makes it difficult.
  • Pace yourself; things will get hectic.
  • Schedule time to socialize and shop.
  • Shop during workshops. It is gets busy during lunch, dinner or breaks.
  • Don’t forget to eat. Make sure to have a plan.
  • Spend time going over the program online, and picking out what you are interested in by using the online tool.
  • Be flexible; things change easily.
  • Don’t forget the hospitality suites; they are pretty awesome.
  • Bring your own coffee. The coffee in the room is not that great, and the Starbucks line gets very long in the morning.
  • Make sure to have some cash on you for vendors.

The countdown to PantheaCon can be hectic, but the reward is always a good time. Hope to see you there.

PantheaCon
February 11th – 15th, 2016
Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California
Theme: Change Makers

  *   *   *

This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the 2015, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our thoughts or guided our actions? In our collective worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? How did Pagans and Heathens specifically face world issues and local crisis? What were the high points and low?

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

As the light began to return, the world faced, almost immediately, the reality of global terrorism. On Jan. 7, the home offices of France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. This event seemed to set a tone for the remainder of the year, as the world faced additional attacks, the growing influence of Daesh, the Yezidi genocide, institutional sex slavery, the current refugee crisis and the painful reality of Islamaphobia. Who are these are these people and what do we call them? How do we stop them? And, what is their relationship to Islam?

The year also began with another unresolved struggle. The U.S. was grappling with the deep social justice issues brought to light after the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri in November 2014. Related conversations concerning race and diversity increasingly punctuated Pagan and Heathen communities. Some Pagan activists joined community protests and action throughout the year. Many organizations developed diversity statements and policies. Unfortunately for the Covenant of the Goddess, its own effort fell flat, causing internal strife and eventually serious public scrutiny. However, by the summer, the 40-year-old Wiccan and Witchcraft organization did apologize and make significant changes.

Social justice themes permeated the February PantheaCon conference, culminating in a special session after a satirical pamphlet, called PantyCon, offended a large number of attendees. The conversations concerning race and ethnic diversity continued to run concurrent with other narratives throughout the coming year, sometimes with celebration and sometimes not.

As if those two realities weren’t enough to begin 2015, another issue was already brewing internal to the collective U.S. Pagan community. A group of witches were attempting to rebirth the American Council of Witches. Bathed in secrecy, the group of founders would not reveal any details, causing community confusion, frustration, anger, backlash and eventually the demise of the project.

While the year may have begun with a bang or better yet a very difficult sigh, there was also much to celebrate in those early months. Many Pagans and Heathens applauded the presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the exoneration of #Flood11 protestors. Iceland would soon see its first official Asatru temple. The UK marked its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage. Northern Ireland saw the acceptance of the first Pagan priest. And Manannan mac Lir, who had been stolen in January, was found only a month later.

In March, Paganicon attendees even learned how to calm their inner dragons.

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

Then, spring rounded the corner and religious freedom took center stage. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church spoke out publicly against RFRAs, attracting significant mainstream media attention. In Iowa, Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard offered the opening invocation before the state legislature, drawing protests and walk-outs. The Open Halls project had to renew its efforts to have Asatru and Heathenism placed on the Army’s list of accepted faith group codes. And, in his first column for The Wild Hunt, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.

Then, as the Beltane fires were lit and festival season was underway, the U.S. faced a brand new round of social struggle and violence. In late April, residents of Baltimore experienced both peaceful protests and a devastating violent riot after the weekend funeral of Freddie Gray. Two months later, Charleston’s historic Mother Emmanuel Church was shocked by a hate-driven terror attack, leaving nine dead.

But time marched on and, as the summer approached, nature seemed to be making itself felt in the most extreme forms. Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April, and the California drought only continued to worsen.

Pagan communities began to directly feel the sting of these natural disasters. In June, Pagan Spirit Gathering was flooded, causing it to close for the first time in 35 years. The Alaska Pagan Community Center was completely destroyed by the Sockeye Wildfire. Later in the year, the Bay Area community witnessed the destruction of its beloved Harbin Hot Springs by the Valley Fire.

As many were coming to terms with the reality of such extreme weather conditions, climate change became an international “buzzword.” In May, a large group of Pagans published the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment that has since garnered 6,860 signatures. Then in June, the world finally was presented with the long awaited Pope’s Encyclical on the environment.

In that very same week, the U.S. also witnessed another landmark moment. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

For many, the summer months continued on with festival season in full swing. Early August saw the premier of Many Gods West, and Heathen Chinese shared his thoughts on this new event in his first column for The Wild Hunt. The summer conference raised the volume on an ongoing conversation about Polytheism as a definitive practice, which had been previously addressed by guest writer Anomolous Thracian in his Polytheist Primer.

The summer also brought with it some obstacles in the digital world. Etsy changed its policies on the selling of charms and spells. Instagram banned the hashtag #goddess, and a popular Witchcraft Facebook page was hacked.

Then, violence hit the U.S. again. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next town victimized by a terror attack. In October, a man opened fired at a college in Roseburg, Oregon. Then, in December, terrorism hit San Bernardino, California. In these latter two cases, a member of the local Pagan community was killed in the attacks. Both Kim Dietz and Daniel Kaufman, were reportedly shot, while trying to save the lives of others.

As the temperature cooled and the leaves began to fall, the mainstream news predictably began to ring the doorsteps of Witches, for better or worse. Additionally, stories with even the tiniest link to Witchcraft made headline news. In early August, a Florida sheriff prematurely ascribed a triple homicide to Witchcraft, igniting protest. Then, just days before Halloween, the sheriff announced an arrest. October also saw a public controversy over Pagan Libertarian candidate Augustus Sol Invictus. And, on the day before Halloween, local Massachusetts news decided to cover a minor legal battle between two well-known Salem Witches. And, at the same time, Heathens were also grappling with their own media issues.

The month also saw the publication of Alex Mar’s Witchcraft in America, which generated a string of publicity and reactions.

October 2015 also hosted something entirely different: The Parliament of the World’s Religions. In record numbers, Pagans and Heathens arrived in Salt Lake City to experience a unique event and to share their own perspectives with others, as both presenters and performers.

Autumn brings with it an end to the festival season, culminating in the well-known celebration of Samhain or Halloween. But there are other Pagan and Heathen holidays observed at the time. For example, this year the small Pennsylvania-based Urglaawe community shared its celebration of Allelieweziel.

Throughout the entire year, The Wild Hunt spotlights unique Pagan and Heathen practices and communities, like the Urglaawe. This year alone we shared stories from Thailand, Finland, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Norway. We covered Pagan news from Iceland and Italy. And with the help of our three international contributing writers, we were able talk Canadian politics, discuss religious freedom issues in Australia and celebrating the winter solstice on a hill in the UK.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Outside of the festivities and cultural hullabaloo that occurs around Halloween, these days also have a sobering effect as we mark the passing of our loved ones. The Wild Hunt Samhain post honored the following people: Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Thor von Reichmuth, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler and Pete Pathfinder. Since we published that list, we have also lost Marc Pourner, Richard Reidy, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Morgan McFarland, Scott Walters and L. Daniel Kaufman.

In addition, this year marked the end of two beloved Pagan media outlets: Circle Magazine and ACTION.

As cold winds creep in and November changes to December, the U.S. honored Transgender Awareness month, which was particularly poignant this year after Caitlyn Jenner had previously generated mainstream visibility. Within the Pagan world, conversations on the subject became heated in November, leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then, the holiday season arrived in all its warmth, glitter and commercialism. As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, terror struck the world again. Both Paris and Beirut were hit by multiple attacks. Due to anger and fear, Islamaphobia has now reached all time highs, and anything with the name Isis could become a target, as discovered by a metaphysical bookstore in Denver.

And so, while much has happened in the story of 2015, the year seems to have come full circle from Paris to Paris.

Despite all the struggles that we have seen this year, hope still remains alive for many in Pagan and Heathen communities, especially with those involved in progressive interfaith work. This Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CBS will air a United Religions Initiative “groundbreaking interfaith” special called, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Several Pagans are prominent and longtime members of this grassroots organization, and will be appearing in the show.

Above are only some of the many stories, reports and events that touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. Here is the best of the best from each of our regular, current contributing writers:

Promoting Healing and Justice for Change by Crystal Blanton
Imbolc’s Invitation by Erick DuPree
Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse by Heather Greene
UK Pagan Community Confronts Child Abuse by Christina Oakley Harrington
The Fire is Here by Heathen Chinese
Canadian Truth and Reconciliation by Dodie Graham McKay
Australia’s Pagan Festivals by Cosette Paneque
Improving Access to Death by Lisa Roling
Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructes part one by Cara Schulz
Iceland’s Temple on the Hill by Eric O. Scott
Terpsichorean Powers by Manny Tejeda-Moreno
Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie
Treating Depression in a Pagan Context by Terence P. Ward
Tomb and the Atheist by Rhyd Wildermuth

Bring on 2016!

[Columnist Eric O. Scott is one of our talented monthly columnists and the creator of the Viking Panda. If you enjoy reading his work, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive and help us to bring you daily news and commentary. We are completely reader-funded, so it is you that makes it all possible!  And, if you do contribute at the correct level, you will receive your very own Eric Scott Viking Panda drawing. Donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

Your author is supposed to get through all of these books by December. Gulp. (Photo by the author.)

Your author is supposed to get through all of these books by December. Gulp.
[Photo Credit: E. Scott]

I have a special bookcase in my office, completely filled with the books I am reading to prepare for my comprehensive examinations later this year. Comps, which a friend of mine describes as “academia’s last accepted form of hazing,” are a year-long process in my program, in which students create a long list of books on certain themes, then write and defend essays based on those books. I have, as a result, been throat-deep in reading, focusing mainly on religious memoirs, the autobiographical accounts of individuals and their relationships to whatever they conceive of as Divine. These accounts break down, at least in my schema, into two kinds of work, the placed and the unplaced – those works in which the author’s experience of being in a certain location drives the text, and those more ephemeral narratives that worry less about the world around the author and more about the world within. Among the “placed” narratives, pilgrimage narratives grab my attention the most – stories of people who have traveled to distant lands in the name of their religion.

To read these pilgrim tales, especially those from the classical and medieval periods, is to be drawn into a foreign world where such travel was rare, expensive, and dangerous. It seems that every medieval expedition to Jerusalem involved at least one pirate attack, forcing even pacifists like the Franciscan friar Niccolo da Poggionsi to take up crossbows in self-defense. The ocean and the desert constantly threaten to devour those souls who attempt to cross them; while the autobiographers obviously survive to tell their tales, one has to wonder how many failed.

One thing that these old texts seem to lack, however, is a sense of personal revelation upon reaching the destination. Niccolo’s account of his pilgrimage, for example, stops using the first person voice entirely once he reaches the Holy Land, even though he uses it to describe his voyage in moving and dramatic detail. Consider his description of the Garden of Gethsemane:

On the road that leads up to Mount Olivet, you find on the right a piece of a wall and you enter a small plain, kept like a garden with trees. This place is called the flowery garden, in which Christ was arrested, and by Judas Iscariot betrayed. And here the Apostles slept when Christ prayed to his Father. And here was raised a church, which is now in ruins, and there are two big stones; and it is said that in that place Christ will stand with all his Apostles, to judge the just and the unjust; therefore the pilgrims pass the place on the right and say: Jesus Christ, make me stand on this side, me and my relatives. In this garden there is an indulgence of VII years. 

To my modern eyes, this seems like such a strange passage. Niccolo is writing about one of the most important places in his religion – the garden in which Jesus was turned over to the Roman authorities, directly leading to the Crucifixion. Yet there is no portion of his commentary that focuses on his own emotional experience of being in the place where his god once stood, no sense of awe, or wonder, or disillusionment. And this is the case with all of these older pilgrimage accounts, too; for some reason, the Holy Land does not bring out the kind of enthusiasm one might expect from someone devoted enough to risk their life to visit. In some cases, we have nothing more gripping than a list of room measurements and the number of years one might be able to shave off of Purgatory. It’s not until quite recently – the 18th and 19th centuries, as best as I can tell – that the personal sentiments of the author begin to get expressed. Even in The Innocents Abroad, one of Mark Twain’s lesser-known books, wherein Twain goes on a “pleasure cruise” to the Holy Land with a group of other Americans (the “innocents” of the title), much of the text reads like a scoffing guidebook. Yet we begin to find passages like this one, a reflection Twain makes just after finally arriving in the Holy Land:

We do not think, in the holy places; we think in bed, afterward, when the glare, and the noise, and the confusion are gone, and in fancy we revisit alone the solemn monuments of the past, and summon the phantom pageants of an age that has passed away.

Þingvellir, Iceland. (Photo by the author.)

Þingvellir, Iceland.
[Photo Credit: E. Scott]

Because I am studying religious autobiographies from the western tradition, the majority of my authors are European or American Christians. But they remain fascinating to me, in part because they form the context for what pilgrimage might mean in modern Paganism. There has been some scholarship on this topic – Kathryn Rountree has written about Goddess worship pilgrimages to Greece, for example, and Jenny Blain’s Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights project has explored British Heathenry’s relationship to place – but in many ways Pagans are still figuring out what exactly religious travel looks like, and what it means to our religious practices.

Take, for example, the impact of history on the significance of a pilgrimage site. Twain’s quote takes it as a given that a “holy place” must, by definition, evoke those “phantom pageants of an age that has passed away.” And indeed, in the Abrahamic milieu in which The Innocents Abroad takes place, that statement rings true. It is also true in some cases for modern Pagans – Rountree’s Goddess worshippers visit neolithic sites in order to connect with a “deep past” that doesn’t seem to exist in their own back yards, and, in my own experience, part of the majesty of seeing Þingvellir for the first time came from how important that place was to the Heathens who settled Iceland. But the most common kind of pilgrimage undertaken by modern Pagans, at least in the United States, is to places like the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose or my own beloved Gaea Retreat in Maclouth, Kansas – sites of living, vibrant religious festivals, places where the concern is on the here and now, not the “solemn monuments of the past.” And in the place of Niccolo’s impersonal descriptions of Biblical sites, we now have a Pagan internet full of personal reactions and experiences, the emotional intimacy of which would shock the autobiographers of old.

The Forn Halr altar at Gaea Retreat. Photo by the author.

The Forn Halr altar at Gaea Retreat.
[Photo Credit: E. Scott]

As both academic and adherent, I love to ponder the ways we, still living in the young days of these religious movements, define the terms of our faith. Pilgrimage – the idea of travel motivated by religion – is one of those big ideas whose contours we’re all still feeling out. We haven’t yet thrown up the guideposts that many other religions have; as with many things in Paganism, we’re often making it up as we go along. As I read through these stacks of dead men’s travels, I can’t help but wonder how readers in the ages to come will respond to our own accounts, and what kinds of traditions we will ultimately leave behind us.

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[Editor’s Note: Before continuing with our regularly scheduled story, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the many victims of the Saturday’s Earthquake in Nepal. The Wild Hunt has reached out to Pagans in South East Asia and to first responders. In the coming days, we will be sharing what we learn and the various ways to assist those victims.]

OAKLAND, California – On April 23, Mills Pagan Alliance of Mills College was presented with the Student Organization of the Year Award. The annual recognition honors an “organization that has demonstrated through their events and activities, outstanding collaboration and dedication to educating the Mills and broader community.” This marks the first time that the Pagan organization has won the award, and been publicly recognized by the college.

[Courtesy K. Oliver]

[Courtesy K. Oliver]

On hand to accept the award were co-founders Kristin Oliver, Rose Quartz and Sasha Reed and member Nikka Tahan. Oliver said:

This award says that the Mills community is a place where Pagans can practice and thrive openly, a place where Pagans at Mills are respected and admired, and where Pagans are known as community leaders. For us, it means that what we do matters. What we say matters.

She added, “We won because of the leadership we demonstrated in the aftermath of losing the campus chaplain. In her absence (and we still don’t have a school chaplain) we played a huge role in keeping spirituality alive and present for all faiths for this entire year.”

Before this school year, the Alliance founders had already been demonstrating strong community leadership. Oliver said that in past years Mills College only had dormant or “defunct” Pagan club. Like at many schools, the viability of the student club is wholly dependent on the eagerness of its members. Often, when the founders and other invested members graduate, the club falters or completely dissolves.

In 2013, one of the college chaplains approached Oliver, asking if she would like to help lead the club with Quartz and Reed. She agreed, as did the others. So, in an attempt to breathe life back into the old organization, they changed the club’s name to the Mills Pagan Alliance and immediately began working to connect with the community.

At the first meeting, they asked attendees “What do you want out of this club?” The answer was unanimously, “We want to learn.” Since 2013, the Alliance has built a small Pagan library with donations from many in the Bay Area. It regularly brings in local speakers, such as Rev. Patrick McCollum, Sharon Knight, Timotha Doane, Violet Fortuna, Moonwater SilverClaw, Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton and Granny Greenleaf. And, the club hosts a number of campus events throughout the year. One of the first was a Samhain ritual that was held right in college’s chapel.

In 2014, Rev. Patrick McCollum turned to the Mills Pagan Alliance to find a student interested in accompanying him to the United Nations International Peace Day events in New York City. Then junior Rowan Weir was selected and became a U.N. Pagan youth delegate. As a regular guest of the club, Rev. McCollum also has brought his World Peace violin to meetings and even allowed Reed to play it.

In addition to events and guests, the Pagan Alliance has also begun reaching out beyond the college campus. For example, the group was actively in attendance at PantheaCon 2015 in San Jose. Members assisted Rev. Selena Fox with her Brigid Healing Ritual and were vocal during the Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change panel. During that session, they asked questions on how younger generations can be effective and integral parts of the movement, the important conversations and the evolving structures at both a local and larger community level.

The 2014-2015 Student Organization of the Year Award demonstrates that the college itself noticed all of the Alliance’s work and the rising spirit of leadership within its ranks. However, it was the club’s perseverance after losing its chaplain, which ultimately earned it the recognition.

Oliver explained that the circumstances of the chaplain’s dismissal were “mysterious.” She had played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of the Pagan Alliance and bringing together the three student leaders. Oliver described the chaplain, who preferred to be anonymous, as “a wonderful person and … extremely supportive of the club.” Her dismissal came as a surprise.

Even after the hearbreaking news, the Alliance continued on with its work in support of its mission, and that perseverance won it the award. Member Blue Anderson said:

I think that this award represents an acknowledgement of this club as not only unique, but important. We all knew that the student body knows that we’re here. We have a presence on campus. People see us around. But receiving this award seems to say not only, “We see you,” but, “We value you, too.” 

Co-founder Sasha Reed added:

In today’s predominantly Christian society, pagan groups are so frequently either blatantly discriminated against or simply brushed under the rug. By awarding Mills Pagan Alliance the Club of the Year award, to me this sends a clear message that our school both respects us and recognizes the work we’ve done. When Kristen, Rose, and I first sat together and discussed the prospect of starting a pagan club, I never thought that it would expand to be the community of strong, supportive students it has become today. Winning this award means so much to me; a recognition of my faith as a legitimate, respected practice in my school community, and a recognition of all this club has achieved. Going forward, I hope this award will allow Mills Pagan Alliance to serve a wider community within our school and the surrounding city and also help our club to receive additional funding to host more events, and also solidify this club as a permanent, prominent force on Mills campus. 

Oliver noted that the award also has a very personal meaning for two of its members. Reed and Quartz are graduating. For them, this is the proverbial “icing on the cake” of their time at Mills College and a mark of job well-done.

Kristen Oliver, Rose Quartz, Sasha Reed, Nikka Tahan. (left to right) [Courtesy K. Oliver]

Kristen Oliver, Rose Quartz, Sasha Reed, Nikka Tahan. (left to right) [Courtesy K. Oliver]

The club’s next event will be a Beltane ritual held May 1 at the college’s Botanical Gardens. The event is open to all students, faculty and staff. Then, May 9, the Alliance will be taking part in the 12th annual Berkeley Pagan Festival, during which members will be assisting with the main ritual. Next year the group hopes to host a hospitality suite at PantheaCon that caters to college-age Pagans and addresses issues specifically facing young Pagans. Oliver said:

Going forward, we are still committed to being at the forefront of keeping spiritual and religious life a permanent feature on campus for all until a permanent multi-faith chaplain is hired. But we are also interested in how we can be of service to the greater Pagan community, particularly for those of college age. We will certainly be engaging in the conversation regarding race, gender, and privilege within the Pagan community. 

PatheosLogoDarkBG_bioOn Feb. 20, it was announced the Christine Hoff Kraemer was stepping down from her position as Managing Editor of Patheos’ Pagan Channel. She wrote, “With a mix of excitement and sadness, I am writing to announce my resignation as Managing Editor of the Patheos.com Pagan channel. I will very much miss the way this job brought me into daily contact with such thoughtful, dedicated people—both Pagans and people of other religious traditions.”  She added that she plans to dedicate her new found free time to her family.

Raise the Horns Blogger Jason Mankey will be taking up the reins as the channel’s new managing editor. In his own announcement, he wrote, “I hope I can continue the good work Christine’s done as the channel manager here. One of the reasons I love Patheos Pagan so much is that it’s mostly a positive place. I think we tackle big issues and involve ourselves in the big conversations, but I think we do so in a respectful manner.” Mankey doesn’t expect to make any changes to the channel’s direction. He also added that he will still be posting to his own blog, but with less frequency. Kraemer will also continue blogging on occasion at Sermons in the Mound.

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10690138_780594125329471_257600577171379898_n-334x500The beloved missing statue of Manannán mac Lir  was finally found exactly one month after it disappeared. According to the Derry Journal, on Feb. 21, the 6 ft. sculpture was located “by ramblers” who then “advised members of A company 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment soldiers.” Together with police, they were able to recover the statue. As told to the BBC, the statue had been lying among rocks of the same color, making it very difficult to spot from a distance.

The statue did sustain some damage to the back of its head. Regardless, the local community and others across the world are happy to know that the quest is over and the statue is in one piece. Local photographer Mari Ward, founder of the popular Facebook fan page Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea God and a representative from the local police (PSNI) were interviewed by BBC radio about its return. Ward said, “I am completely over the moon about it.” Local officials now plan to consult the statue’s creator and discuss a re-installation.

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PantheaConOver the past week, there has been continued discussion on the controversy that erupted at PantheaCon 2015. As we reported last week, blogger Jonathan Korman published an open letter to the creators of a satirical flyer called PantyCon. In that article’s comments, the anonymous writers issued an apology. In addition, Glenn Turner, the founder and organizer of PantheaCon, offered her own public response to all related recent events as well as an apology for any pain caused during PantheaCon. She said, “With the dawning of a New Civil Rights movement this is the question for our times. I’m glad this issue is front and center.”

Since our report last week, there have been a number of additional blog posts discussing these events and others. One of these posts was the recording of the “Bringing Race to the Table” panel, during which the controversial flyer was brought to public attention. This panel discussion can be heard through T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcasts.

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On Feb. 13, the Akron, Ohio Pagan community lost one of its members. As reported by the local news, 22 year old Brian Golec was fatally stabbed outside of his Akron home. His father is now accused of the crime. After his death was made public, there was quick and viral media response in which Brian was identified as a trans woman. However, that fact was later proven to be inaccurate. Golec’s gender identification was eventually clarified by close friends and family, and was proven to have nothing to do with his murder. Unfortunately, the media frenzy only added additional pain to an already tragic circumstance.

The family, the community and Golec’s fiancee have requested privacy in order to mourn his loss. In our initial investigations, we were able to speak with several area Pagans who knew Brian. They called him “likable, easy going, highly spiritual and helpful.” He was a regular at Cleveland Pagan Pride and attended local Pagan community events. Carrie Acree, the owner of Dragon’s Mantle metaphysical shop, said that many people have been buying supplies for memorials, rituals and other workings in Brian’s honor. There is also, reportedly, a benefit planned for May. In addition a close friend has setup a GoFundMe campaign to help off-set the family expenses and a Facebook memorial page to honor his life. What is remembered, lives.

In Other News:

  • Author John Matthews has begun a new project to tell the story of the “the iconic Scottish bard, Robin Williamson.” The proposed film Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave will follow Williamson around “in his 50th year as a storyteller, singer and musician, performing his beloved epic poem about the legendary history of Celtic Britain.” This will be reportedly the first time that the epic poem “Five Denials” will be filmed “despite its thunderous import within our poetic tradition.” To fund the project, there will be an Indiegogo campaign. It’s progress and all updates can be found on a Facebook fan page and on twitter @fivedenials.
  • It was announced yesterday that documentary filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky had died at the age of 58. Sinofsky is best known for his work on Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), a film that tells the story of the West Memphis Three. Over at Patheos’ The Witching Hour, Peg Aloi shares her thoughts on the Sinofsky’s work, his influence on the West Memphis case and offers a tribute to his life.
  • Along with a new managing editor, Patheos Pagan Channel also announced the edition of a new blog titled “Energy Magic.” Writer Katrina Rasbold said, “This column will explore the dynamics of magic using the movement of energy, both from a spiritual and a scientific perspective.” She will be updating the blog twice a week beginning today.
  • This past weekend, ConVocation was held in the Doubletree Hotel in Detroit Michigan. ConVocation is an indoor Pagan conference that has been bringing people together from many mystical and religious backgrounds since 1995. As the week goes by, organizers and others will be pulling together photos, posts and retrospectives on this year’s event and festivities.
  • Witches and Pagans Blogger Natalie Zaman announced that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing her book Mapping The Magic about [the] sacred sites in America. She wrote “[It] will explore the magic of Washington, D.C. and the states of the Northeast: Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine–as you can see it will hopefully be the first of four books, each covering a different area of the country.” To celebrate, Zaman is hosting a giveaway of either her book or a 2-year subscription to Witches & Pagans Magazine.

That’s it for now! Have a nice day.