Archives For Peg Aloi

Today we update several of the big stories that we’ve been following… 

Instagram bans #Goddess

On July 30, we reported that Instagram had banned the hashtag term #goddess. The social media site was attempting to curb, as it has done before, the posting of unacceptable content or images. In a statement, Instagram specifically said that “#goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity.” The ban inspired a #bringbackthegoddess protest, including wide-spread criticism and backlash from around the world.

After a recent check, it appears that the hashtag is coming back. You can now tag your photos with #goddess and search the term (sort of). In July, if you searched #goddess, you would only see #goddesses. Now you can once again see a listing for the over 1,450,000 images using the #goddess label.


However there is a caveat. Although Instagram has brought its use back, the company is still limiting the search view to only “top posts.” You will not have the option to view the “most recent” additions. As Instagram explains, “We may remove the Most Recent section of a hashtag page if people are using the hashtag to post abusive content in a highly visible place.” The company adds that the limitation is placed on searches in order to protect the integrity of the hashtag and search page.

This may or may not be temporary. The partial unblock was also done to #curvy, after its banning inspired a similar backlash. That hashtag still contains a moderated search view. Similar to #goddess, the term #curvy will only yield a select group of about 36 “top posts.” In late July, Instagram told The Washington Post,

We want people to be able to express themselves, and hashtags are a great way to do that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to act when we see hashtags being used to spread inappropriate content to our community. In the case of #curvy, we don’t like putting restrictions around a term that many people use in very positive ways, so we have decided to unblock the hashtag while taking steps to ensure that it’s not used as a vehicle for bad content.

It appears that #goddess is now following the same moderated trajectory.

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New Orleans HexFest Forced to Change Location

On Aug. 9, we reported that HexFest had been forced to change its opening ritual location with only two weeks to go. Opening Friday Aug. 21, the event is now taking place on the Creole Queen Riverboat rather than at its original location on the Steamboat Natchez. According to the organizers, a Natchez sales representative said that the cancellation was due to religion, but then later changed that reason to breach of contract.

When we originally published the article, we had not yet heard back from either steamboat. We finally did hear from both. Natchez spokesperson Adrienne Thomas simply told The Wild Hunt, “The HexFest river event has been relocated from the Steamboat Natchez to the Creole Queen Riverboat, and arrangements have been coordinated by all parties involved.” She declined to answer any specific questions, nor would she say anymore about the situation.

Creole Queen spokesperson Jill Anderson said that she was “surprised” by what had happened to HexFest. And that the organizers were lucky that Creole Queen was available at such at late date. She also reiterated that company was pleased to be hosting the evening event.

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Florida Triple Murder Ignites Witchcraft Frenzy

After an Aug. 4 news conference, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) set off a media firestorm that focused enormous attention on “Witchcraft” and “Wicca.” As we originally reported, the first flood of stories emphasized the alleged reality of a “ritualistic, blue moon, witchcraft” triple homicide. Then, within 48 hours, the news shifted, with local, national and international outlets turning to Wiccans and Witches for reactions.

NBC, who published the first news report using the term Wicca, also returned to the story and included an interview with blogger Peg Aloi. In that update, journalist Erin Calabrese specifically noted that Sgt. Hobbes of ECSO did use the word “Wiccan” during a phone interview. Calabrese’s report is in direct contrast with the ECSO statement, which stressed that Sgt. Hobbes was misquoted and never said the word “Wiccan.”

Regardless, over the following days, there was a swell in similar mainstream reports demonstrating the outrage felt within Wiccan and Witchcraft communities. Along with Lady Liberty League, Covenant of the Goddess and others, even those outside of Pagan religious spheres, made public statements or posted commentary decrying ECSO’s careless use of either term.

On the flip side, the media attention also provided teaching opportunities. Priestess and author Courtney Weber was interviewed by Thom Hartmann for his show “The Big Picture”

Now, nearly ten days later, there have been no official updates to the case, and ECSO is refusing to take any more media questions. However, on Aug. 14, the local Pensacola CBS affiliate WKRG did once again attempt to get clarification on the use of the word witchcraft. While following the Sheriff outside, the WKRG reporter asked specifically if ECSO was still calling the crime witchcraft. The Sheriff said “pull up the tape” and “that’s where the misconception was.” The reporter does just that, demonstrating the Sheriff’s clear usage of the term. This interaction was caught on tape and is now posted on WKRG’s Facebook page.

As for the three victims, they were laid to rest on Aug. 14. Short obituaries with photographs are posted on the website of a local funeral home.

The Craft may be getting a reboot.

the craftAs first announced by The Hollywood Reporter, Sony is “remaking the 1996 supernatural teen thriller, tapping up-and-coming horror filmmaker Leigh Janiak to write and direct the new version.” A relatively new director, Janiak’s recent projects include the film Honeymoon (2014) and an episode of the new TV series Scream (2015), based on the film franchise of the same name. Doug Wick, producer of the original film, is back in the same capacity.

Why is Sony going back to the cult classic? The answer is quite simple. Witches in film and television are hot right now, and they have been for several years after stealing the limelight, almost completely, from vampires and even zombies. (e.g., WGN’s Salem; Lifetime’s Witches of East End; Beautiful Creatures, 2013; Maleficent, 2014)

The American popular entertainment industry, aka Hollywood, is above all else, just that, an industry. Output and decisions are profit-driven. If fictional witches sell tickets and tie-ins, and make the money flow, then witches will be reproduced – over and over again. In the last six months, there have been unconfirmed rumors of a Bewitched remake, and a sequel to the campy Hocus Pocus (1993).

But why The Craft?  Why not a brand new witch story? Or even a remake of an older witch-inspired horror film like City of the Dead (1960)? There is a second aspect to this film, and the marketing of any film, which helps to drive the decision. That element is nostaglia. Sony producers know that The Craft will not only attract the younger audiences, who are currently fueling the Witch-craze, but it will also attract the older audiences – those people who have turned the campy film into a cult classic.

Sony is not alone in this effort. Many studios are cashing in on America’s nostalgia with remakes of other popular films from the 1980s and 1990s. MGM’s Poltergeist is in theater’s now. In December, an updated Point Break is scheduled for release. In July, New Line Cinema will unleash the next installment in the National Lampoon’s series Vacation. The list goes on. Hollywood loves remakes, reboots, adaptations, sequels, prequels and dark twists. How many Police Academy’s were there?

Nostalgia itself offers a nice soft, cushion on which to rest many these remakes. However, it is not always a factor in a producer’s decision to back a film. The studios like remakes and sequels primarily because they are easy. These films provide a pre-written script or narrative, a pre-designed visual concept, and often come with actors. Some have already shown either success at the box office, or the ability to neatly exist in film’s storytelling world.

While many viewers are lamenting the current recycling trend, it really isn’t unique or new. In the 1990s, for example, the 1954 Audrey Hepburn film, Sabrina, was remade and released in 1995. A new version of the 1968 Thomas Crown Affair hit screens in 1999. The 1986 comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills was a remake of a 1932 Jean Renoir film Boudu sauve des eaux. Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho (1960), wasn’t even sacred enough to avoid a make-over in 1998.  And those are just examples.

Many of the most beloved witch films are not original properties. Bell Book and Candle (1958) was first a play. I Married a Witch (1942) was a dime-store novel that also inspired the television show Bewitched. Of course, the recent Maleficent (2014) was a spin-off from Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty (1959), which was simply an adaptation of a Charles Perrault story that was, itself, taken from the oral tradition. Even MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) was not the first film rendition of the famous story (e.g., The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1910).

Remakes and adaptations happen.

Knowing all of that does not make it any easier to accept the remake of a beloved film. Frustrated viewers flocked to Twitter to express their outrage. One woman wrote, “I invoke thee to stop Sony’s presumably horrible remake of The Craft.” At The Huffington Post, writer Stephanie Marcus listed the “5 Reasons They Don’t Need to Remake the Craft.”

Peg Aloi, of Patheos‘ Witching Hour, published an article titled “The Craft is getting a Remake?” While Aloi acknowledged that a reboot could be interesting, she feels it is unnecessary. She wrote, “The cultural implications will be interesting to say the least … but I’d prefer there wasn’t a remake at all. The original is too good to tamper with.” In her post, Aloi noted that the film “holds up well” in exploring such things as teenage angst, loyalty, friendship, body image, sexual jealousy.

Actress Fairuza Balk, who played Nancy in the original film, also spoke out about the news on Twitter, saying:

Balk added that she “wasn’t surprised” that Sony was remaking the film; the studio “made a lot of money off [The Craft] and obviously see it as a way to make more.” Due to the continued outrage from loyal fans, Balk later had to clarify, “I did not say I thought remaking The Craft specifically was a bad idea- I said remakes -IN GENERAL-tend to be a bad idea.” Balk’s argument is different from others in that she simply expressed support for fresh scripts and stories.

Pagan blogger Jason Mankey chimed into the discussion, saying “In between the teeth-gnashing this evening there’s something a lot of people are forgetting: The Craft wasn’t high art. It was a fun, campy, horror-movie. It’s not sacred ground now and it wasn’t then.” Although many Pagans or young would-be witches did adore The Craft, it was not universally celebrated, as Mankey suggests.

In a 1996 statement, Witchvox‘s Wren Walker voiced her disgust with the film, saying, “By linking the terms ‘Witches’ and ‘Witchcraft’ with murder, mayhem and destructive acts, there is a great potential danger. That danger could create encouragement for a resurgence of public mistrust and suspicion of the contemporary religious belief system known as Witchcraft or Wicca.” Walker did say that the film had some “amusing parts,” but overall, she felt it was problematic.

As indicated by her comment, The Craft played into the cultural leftovers of the Satanic Panic, both visually and narratively, and kept one foot stationed firmly in that space. However, the 1996 film was produced during a cultural pivot point with regards to Occult practice. Not only did it show offer a visual and narrative awareness of previous horror trends, it also was very aware of the growing visibility of real Witchcraft, as a practice and a religion.

Wiccan Pat Devin was hired as the film’s technical adviser. In 1998, Devin said, “I decided to try to get as much truth into what was, after all, a teenage date spooky movie, as I could. I knew the results would not be perfect, but I felt obligated to try, as the movie was going to come out in any event.” In the interview, Devin talks about her direct involvement in the writing of this ritual scene:

Due to the proximity that The Craft had to genuine Witchcraft practices, as well as its exploration of female agency, it is not surprising that the film quickly became a cult favorite. Aloi called it one of the “must see” Pagan films. Despite any failings and its overall campiness, the film did touch many people. That fact cannot be denied.

When a film touches us deeply, it becomes part of our personal narrative, in one way or another. While watching it, we pass the threshold of the silver screen, and enter the film’s world. We are part of it and it is part of us. Therefore, it is difficult to accept any change to its nature. People often have a similar reaction to film adaptations of beloved books.

In that way, The Craft  has became part of many people’s personal narratives, turning it into a cult favorite. As shown by the reactions to the announcement, the movie still holds that space. Nancy will never be anyone but Fariuza Balk, and Bonnie can only be Neve Campell.

However, the story’s themes, as Aloi noted, would not be entirely foreign to teenagers in 2015. The film addresses issues of female empowerment that are still very current in today’s age, especially considering Witchcraft appears to be making a resurgence.

Sony is well aware of this fact, and the selection a female director demonstrates that awareness. However, there is speculation that Janiak’s hiring may have only been due to pressure coming from an American Civil Liberties Union complaint about gender inequities in Hollywood. Either way, there is a female director at the helm.

If updated carefully, The Craft, as a coming-of-age tale for young girls, has the potential to touch an entirely new generation of women, who are trying to unearth their own power and place in society. Additionally, it will be very interesting to see what adaptations are made in the representation of Witchcraft and its intersection with horror. The position of Wicca and Witchcraft within American culture is very different today than it was in 1996.

May 1 and the surrounding days mark the traditional dates for many major spring festivals celebrated by modern Pagans in the northern hemisphere. Such holidays might include Beltane, Bealtaine, May DayFloraliaProtomayia, and Walpurgis Night to name a few. These festivals herald the coming of summer or the apex of spring – a time of merriment, awakening and bounty; a liminal time when the barriers between our world and the other world are thinned. In many traditions and cultures, it is also a time of divine union and fertility. And, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, the beginning of May marks another seasonal festival entirely, as winter is ushered in with the celebration of Samhain and the honoring of ancestors.

[Photo Credit: Jengod via Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Jengod via Wikimedia]

Here are some quotes for this holiday season:

To the pastoral Celtic people’s of Europe the changing pattern of the seasons was a matter of life and death, and marking these changes key moments in the life of the community. Beltane – “bright fire” – was one such marker celebrated in various forms across Ireland, Scotland and Man as the starting point of summer. A celebration of the time of light and growth to come, Beltane was associated with a variety of practices, from the display of fresh greenery to the baking of Beltane bannocks. Perhaps the most important element, however, was the lighting of Beltane fires on the first of May, which would recall the growing power of the sun and provide an opportunity to cleanse and renew the conditions of a community – both humans and their animals – that had spent the dark months indoors. – Beltane Fire Society, “A Detailed History of Beltane”

Perhaps it is best to remember this as the time when Aphrodite, who rules the sign of Taurus, is coming into her own. She presides over the realms of love and sex and beauty, but also over the flowers and fruits which bring us such pleasure: delighting our senses with their colors and scents and tastes and juices. She fills blossoms with nectar, and her body is beneath us as we walk and dance upon the newly-yielding, softened earth, alive again after the dormancy of winter, full of new life …  – Peg Aloi, The Witching Hour, “You May Call it May Day, We call it Beltane”

Sensuality – what a lovely word. It rolls off the tongue – you have to say it slowly, it really doesn’t work otherwise.  Like dripping honey.  Sweet molasses.  A cat’s stretch. It needs time, awareness, mindfulness … Sensuality is often misinterpreted as relating solely to the sexual experience. What we need to do is bring the sensual back into our everyday lives, seeing how it relates to the whole experience rather than just a sexual one. Sensual – input from the senses. – Joanna van der Hoeven, Druid Heart: Living a Druid Life, “Beltane and the Sensual”

We can think of ‘the sleeper’ as being our own consciousness, lulled into a kind of soporific dullness by everyday life. When we ‘awake’, we become aware of what is around us. If we can start to live fully in the moment, extracting from it all that it has to offer, then we are truly alive. The idea that the true potential of the psyche is latent and asleep in a kind of waking dream is common in spiritual traditions. Beltane is a good time to wake the psyche. The days grow longer, the weather draws us out of doors, and nature is frantic with activity. The energy of Beltane is all about wakefulness. – Vivianne Crowley, Greening the Spirit, “Beltane the Sleeper Awakes”

This Friday I’ll keep my son home from school, and the kids and I will go walking in my favorite wood, a place where the Spirits are keenly present. We’ll take offerings and work on listening to and looking for the Other-than-Human. We’ll spend the afternoon enjoying one of the fine public parks in my town. We’ll not spend a dollar, nor do anything that requires some one else to work. We’ll pass out reminders of beautiful resistance. And we will celebrate the efforts of my husband, who works every day, and many weekends, to provide for us. – Niki Whiting, A Witch’s Ashram, “May the First”

A Very Merry May to All!

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 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.

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

Solar Cross Temple Announces New Growth: Solar Cross Temple, a Pagan service organization co-founded by author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle, has announced the addition of priestess and professional counselor  Crystal Blanton, author of “Bridging the Gap,” to its board.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“We are pleased to announce a new board member, Crystal Blanton. Crystal is a leader with a strong emphasis on service and community building. It is our hope that she will offer guidance and inspiration to Solar Cross as we enter our new phase of growth.”

To learn more about Solar Cross Temple, its projects and goals, check out their newly relaunched website. Congratulations to Crystal, an amazing leader, teacher, and counselor who truly deserves the recognition.

Mandragora Unleashed: The follow-up to Scarlet Imprint’s poetry anthology Datura (discussed here at TWH), Mandragora, has just been released and is available for purchase.



“Yes, the poetry in Mandragora drives deep into the humus heart of experience – spellwork, praise, story, song. From the breathless brevity of haiku through the humming rhythm of the long meditation the thread of hidden history runs, telling in mosaic the story of the occultist, the witch, the worshipper, the scholar and the celebrant. Like Datura, this is a work of many voices from a rich diversity of practice, each burning the wick to illuminate a piece of the Great Work. Some voices will be familiar to those readers of the first anthology, some will be new, and all are testament to a continuing dedication to the sublime and challenging work of poetic and artistic craft in our communities.”

Featured poets include past Wild Hunt contributors Alison Leigh LillyP. Sufenas Virius LupusT.Thorn CoyleRuby Sara, and Erynn Rowan Laurie. If you know anything about Scarlet Imprint you know that their editions are works of art in of themselves, true collectors items. That said, a paperback edition is also available, and you’ll be able to buy a download of the collection in June.

A Conversation on The Wicker Tree: Patheos Pagan bloggers Star Foster and Peg Aloi recently did a Google+ hangout to discuss the film “The Wicker Tree,” recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray. What makes this especially notable is that during the two-hour conversation Alastair Gourlay, Executive Producer of the film, dropped in to participate.

For more, check out Peg Aloi’s review of the film, who classifies this “spiritual sequel” to 1973’s “The Wicker Man” as something of an interesting failure. A view that seems to be the broad consensus among critics. In any case, if you’ve been waiting to see it, you can now rent it on Amazon, or purchase a copy, and judge for yourself.

In Other Community News:

  • The 2012 Pagan Values blogging project is coming up! During the month of June you are encouraged to write (or podcast) about “the Ethics, the Virtues, and Values that Contemporary Paganism has taught you to cherish, to live, to bring with you in your every interaction with the world.” The Facebook page for the 2012 event can be found, here.
  • Aidan Kelly’s classic social history of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn (NROOGD), “Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches,” is now available as an Amazon Kindle ebook (for only $2.99). Essential reading for anyone studying the history of modern Paganism on the West Coast.
Shades of Faith contributors.

Shades of Faith contributors.

That’s all I have for now, happy World Goth Day!

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

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

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

In 2002 Nancy Willard, Executive Director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, issued a report that warned of the troubling confluence between content-control software and conservative religious groups.

Willard voiced concerns that the relationships between companies providing web-filtering software to public institutions may be “inappropriately preventing students from accessing certain materials based on religious or other inappropriate bias.” She went on to note that terms like “occult” or “cult” are “frequently applied to any non-traditional religions” and that it would be “unacceptable for schools to block access to non-traditional religious sites.”

Five years earlier, the American Library Association (ALA), the oldest and largest library association, issued a resolution affirming that “the use of filtering software by libraries to block access to constitutionally protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights.”

However, today, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), passed in 2000 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003, mandates Internet filtering software on any library or K-12 school that receives federal funding. The mandate covers only obscene material, and content deemed “harmful to minors,” but the seeming intersection of religion and content-control software continues to haunt public institutions as web-filtering has become an everyday part of our virtual society.

On January 3rd, 2012, The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri announced the filing of a lawsuit charging the Salem Public Library with unconstitutionally blocking access to websites dealing with minority religions, and “improperly classifying them as ‘occult’ or ‘criminal.'” It’s alleged that Salem Public Library officials refused to change their filtering policies when challenged, and that the library directory Glenda Wofford intimated that “she had an obligation” to alert the authorities to report those who were attempting to access blocked sites.

This new case not only raises the issue of web filtering in our public institutions, but why an “occult” category is even an option for secular and government-funded filtering clients where such control is unneeded or even illegal. The company that provides filtering services to the Salem Public Library, Netsweeper, currently categorizes several prominent Pagan organization sites as “occult,” including Covenant of the Goddess (COG), Circle Sanctuary, and Druid fellowship Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), while more mainstream faith sites are listed under “religion” or “general.”

Media critic and scholar Peg Aloi says she is troubled by the inclusion of Pagan sites in “occult” filters, “since this word is not even necessarily associated with Paganism, Wicca or earth-based spirituality.” Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, Ph.D., Director of Research, Teaching and Learning at American University Library notes that “whatever the initial intent of the law may have been, the software used to comply with CIPA censors numerous topics that have no bearing on protecting children and the way the software blocks access to information reflects a particular constellation of values. The real consequence is to undermine part of the necessary infrastructure in a democracy by denying citizens the requisite tools to inform themselves through free inquiry.”

The more one digs, the more it seems that the “occult” category was one created to cater to the “constellation of values” of conservative Christian religious groups in the United States. Phaedra Bonewits, whose site,, is listed as “occult” by Netsweeper, claims that the initial target market for filtering software “was Christian households, thus all the ‘cultic’ keywords being included with the porn.” I tried to contact Netsweeper by phone and email for background on how a site comes to be labeled as “occult” in their system, but a representative never responded.

What is clear is that leaders and clergy within the modern Pagan movement believe that their sites should be readily available when accessing the Internet, and that blocking “occult” sites oversteps the mandate of CIPA and infringes on the Establishment Clause by favoring one religious expression over another.

In a statement, Rev. Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of the ADF, said that “only by free access to knowledge can everyone participate in the marketplace of ideas, guaranteeing true freedom for everyone,” while Selena Fox, speaking for Circle Sanctuary, said that they are disappointed in Salem Public Library’s “unwillingness to provide free and equal access to websites containing information on religions such as Wicca, Paganism, Native American traditional ways, and other paths that honor Nature.”

Rachael Watcher, one of the National Public Information Officers for Covenant of the Goddess, a 501c3 organization recognized as such by the United States government for 36 years, added that “the distinction between the labels ‘religious’ and ‘occult’ is an arbitrary one,” and that “one person’s religious group is another person’s occult group.”

It seems clear that no public library should be blocking access to minority religions, as Sylvia Linton, a librarian by profession and a Circle Sanctuary Community member said to me via email: “In this country, with our guarantees of freedom of religion and of speech, librarians respect the diversity of their patrons and allow them access to information without regard to the personal beliefs of the library staff.”

In addition, instances of “overblocking” by web filtering software here at home raise troubling inherent questions of how this technology is used by countries that don’t share our commitment to free speech or access to information. “Libraries should be bastions of free thought and information access; but, as the actions by the Salem public library demonstrate, Internet Freedom (and freedom of religion) aren’t just under attack overseas — the same censorship technologies used by oppressive regimes are finding their ways into our own back yards,” stated Sascha Meinrath, Director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative.

“As a growing compendium of evidence documents, technologies developed by U.S. companies and deployed throughout the country are the same ones being used in places like Syria, Iran, and North Korea — Salem would be wise to distance itself from practices that lump them in with some of the worst human rights violators around the globe.”

The option of an “occult” filter in content-control software should be of great concern to all who value religious liberty. The boundaries of what can be labeled “occult” or “cult” are so porous that it can include everything from information on Yoga to your daily horoscope.

The journalist and author Tom Wolfe once opined that “a cult is a religion with no political power,” an opinion that seems reinforced by the sites blocked by the Salem Public Library. Occult, when used as a term in the realm of Internet filtering, is a religious and cultural value judgment that in no way protects minors from obscene or indecent material within the context of CIPA.

There shouldn’t be an option to block the sites of minority religions for institutions receiving federal funds, and no library committed to free expression should enable such a filter if provided. One can only hope that this case goes beyond merely changing policy at Salem Public Library and instead institutes a precedent that changes the filtering industry, removing biased categories that have little purpose in a free society.

Links to full statements gathered for this story:

In my recent round-up of 2011’s top stories there were many topics I wanted to cover, that I thought were important, but couldn’t include for the sake of brevity. One of those stories was the rise of independent Pagan filmmakers in 2011, a phenomenon that Pagan media critic Peg Aloi mentions in her own round-up of 2011.

Indie Pagan Cinema makes its mark. From the ambitious music-based SPIRIT OF ALBION (with songs by Damh the Bard) to the spooky, blood-soaked, folklore-laden horror flick CALL OF THE HUNTER, there’ve been a lot of great attempts to bring paganism into the theatres. There is also AMERICAN MYSTIC, a fascinating documentary by Alex Mar (interviewed here by Jason Pitzl-Waters) about alternative spirituality which profiles an African-American Spiritualist, a Native American Sundancer, and a Caucasian Wiccan priestess.”

Perhaps the highest profile Pagan-produced film might be the still-in-pitch-phase adaptation of Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” a project that managed to raise over $75,000 in small donations from supporters. At the kick-off of that fundraiser I noted the growing number of movies produced and directed by Pagans and occultists.

“Films made by and for modern Pagans is a newly emerging phenomenon. Recently, film projects like “Our Pagan Heart,” “Dark of Moon,” “Tarology,” “The Spirit of Albion,” and the recently completed “To Dream of Falling Upwards” have woven explicit Pagan and occult themes into visual storytelling. Considering the popularity of Starhawk’s novel, this may be the biggest project of its kind to ever be undertaken. We’ll keep you posted as things develop on this project.”

Now, at the beginning of 2012, there are three projects, out now, or being released soon, that we’ll get to consider as we look at the growth of indie Pagan and occult film-making. First, Taliesin Govannon’s “Dark of Moon,” which was released on DVD at the beginning of December. Govannon describes “Dark of Moon” as film “about friends, lovers, and choices. It’s also filled with Pagans.”

Next up, scheduled for its premier in February, is Antero Alli’s “Flamingos.” An “outlaw romance noir” that features “two enigmatic entities from the Bardo interzones” who “take interest in” the fates of the main characters.

Alli, a prolific indie director, released the well-received Thelemic-themed occult comic drama “To Dream of Falling Upwards” in 2011 (and which I was supposed to review, but it somehow kept getting pushed aside, a condition I’ll try to correct soon). Finally, we have a trailer for “The Spirit of Albion,” due out on DVD in May.

“The Spirit of Albion” is an adaptation of a stage play, and is built around the music of Damh the Bard.

The question isn’t when there will be an oeuvre of independent “Pagan” of “occult” films made or overseen by practitioners, as it is happening now, as we speak. The real question is will these film resonate with our interconnected communities, and will these directors, producers, and performers, find enough support to continue doing this work? If, like Starhawk’s planned film, we are willing to support these efforts, we could see a real flowering of films that speak our language, understand our concerns, and reflect our struggles. A healthy culture needs vibrant artists to help shape our sense of ourselves and our values, and while the budgets may be small, these films seem to be moving us in the right direction.

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

The Passing of Danelle Dragonetti: On December 16th Danelle Dragonetti, also known as WinterHawk, died after a prolonged battle with cancer. Dragonetti was well known in many Pagan circles as a musician, producer, and founder of the Wiccan Pagan Broadcast Network (WPBN), an Internet streaming radio service that prefigured the vibrant Pagan radio and podcasting community we now enjoy. Pagan podcasters Sparrow and Mojo of the The Wigglian Way dedicated their most recent podcast to Danelle, with Sparrow noting that “it weren’t for Danelle we probably wouldn’t have our show.” Witches’ Voice co-founder Wren Walker also noted Dragonetti’s influence in the world of Pagan podcasts.

“The Witch/Wiccan/Pagan communities have lost a guiding light and a vibrant voice. Danelle Dragonetti (Winterhawk) opened the door and set the bar for many of the podcasts that we enjoy today. Danelle wasn’t afraid to aim high or to take on a challenge. Good journey, Danelle. Thank you for speaking your mind and singing your song.”

In addition to her work within the Pagan community, Dragonetti was also a much-beloved figure within the Vampire subculture in her home of Denver, this included being dubbed the “Queen Vampyre Of Denver.” An outpouring of love, sorrow, and remembrances from friends and acquaintances have appeared at her Facebook profile. A memorial service and wake is scheduled for January 15th in Denver. My condolences go out to Dragonetti’s family and friends, may her spirit find rest and return to us again.

Justice for Kathy Dempsey: Nineteen years ago in Lexington, Massachusetts Kathleen Dempsey, 31, was stabbed to death in her home by an unknown assailant. Now, her killer, already serving a life sentence for another murder, has stepped forward and admitted his crime, bringing some sense of closure to her friends and family. Among those friends and family were the local Pagan community, as Dempsey was one of them, a member of EarthSpirit and their ritual performance troupe MotherTongue. One of Kathy’s acquaintances from that time, Peg Aloi, writes about the killing, how it affected her friends in the Pagan community, and how it feels to finally see her killer brought to account.

Kathleen Dempsey

Kathleen Dempsey

“I remember KD as a kind, funny, sweet, talented woman: always friendly, always upbeat. She loved animals, did not consider cleaning a priority, loved to dance, and seemed to think the best of everyone unless she had a reason not to. I saw her for the last time a mere three weeks before she was killed. Her smile, glimpsed in a hallway, still haunts me. I recall the Earthspirit Samhain gathering that year: the tears and wails of loss during the ritual as we named those who had passed that year. I don’t know who it was but one male voice screamed out “Kathy!” after a number of other names were recited. It was a soul-shattering moment I will never forget.”

I would recommend reading the entire post at Peg’s blog. My deepest sympathies go out to Kathy’s friends and family, I hope these events bring some measure of solace.

A Pagan Organizer at Occupy Eugene: One of the longest-running Occupy movement encampments has been the one happening in my own home town of Eugene, Oregon. There, a unique alliance between homeless tribes, anarchists, veterans, labor unions, college students, faculty, and Baby Boom generation activists who helped give Eugene its unique cultural stamp managed to create a community that was actively working to build new solutions to the problems brought on by economic disparity and injustice. Now, as we speak that encampment is being dismantled, and many Occupiers are claiming that local police engaged in sabotage tactics and psychological warfare to make it happen.  One of the main organizers of Occupy Eugene, who has acted as a go-between with city officials and police, is Alley Valkyrie, a longtime member of the Pagan community who originally lived on the East Coast and was a part of festivals like Brushwood. Valkyrie has been in the local media a lot lately, and she is featured in the Eugene Weekly’s cover story about the end of Eugene’s Occupy encampment.

Alley Valkyrie. Photo by Rob Sydor.

Alley Valkyrie. Photo by Rob Sydor.

“I don’t sleep here,” Valkyrie said, laughing. “I’m up all night.” She said in recent days the crackdown on fires had made the camp colder, and the stadium lighting the police put up and increased patrols were “psychological warfare.” […] According to Valkyrie, one of the extraordinary things Occupy has done is bring the street families together and let street kids learn from older activists, and the activists in turn learn from the street families. “A Ph.D. stands next to a homeless kid and they both have an equal say and an equal vote,” she said.

I’ve been honored to get to know Alley in recent days, and have sat down to talk with her about Occupy Eugene and its future. I’ll be running a future story here at The Wild Hunt that will feature an interview with Alley Valkyrie, and discuss the unique spiritual culture of Eugene and its Occupy movement. In the meantime, keep an eye on Alley Valkyrie as I think she represents the shape of our future leaders and organizers: passionate, engaged, and more concerned about building community than taking credit for building community.

Other Community Notes:

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

On August 19th the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.) were freed from prison in a plea agreement after 18 years of incarceration. The West Memphis 3 case is perhaps the most high-profile trial known in which the 1980s Satanic moral panic played a significant role, using Damien Echols interest in the occult and Wicca as proof of his murderous interests. Now free, the three men attended the New York premiere of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the latest, and most likely last, installment in a series of documentaries that helped change public opinion on their murder convictions. Peg Aloi, a Pagan media critic, and longtime observer and commentator on the West Memphis 3, was on hand for the screening and was able to ask Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin about their religious beliefs.

The West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three

I felt lucky that I was called on to ask a question of my own. First I said thank you to Damien, Jason and Jessie, along the lines of “Thank you for surviving what must have been an unimaginable eighteen years, that most of here can barely imagine, and for being here so that we can all celebrate your freedom and your courage.” That got some applause, then I said, “You were convicted in part because of your beliefs, Damien: your beliefs as a Wiccan and a pagan. Then you became a Buddhist. I’d like to ask both Jason and Damien, what part has your spirituality played in your ability to survive the last eighteen years?”

Jason answered first. He spoke to the difficulty of accepting the fact that he could be found guilty when he was innocent, and looked to his faith (he is a Christian) to help make him strong enough to face his despair. Damien then said, “Two things helped keep me alive while I was in prison: my wife, and my spiritual practice.” He then said it was not only his practice that helped him mentally or emotionally, but physically as well. He said that he suffered physical torture of all kinds to his body, and that adequate medical and dental care were very hard to obtain in prison. He then added that one had to look out for oneself, and that his practices of reiki and energy work helped him keep his body healthy.

You can read more about Aloi’s thoughts on the screening, and the futures of the West Memphis 3, here. Another interview noted that Jason Baldwin said he wanted to go back to school so he could help “prevent similar situations from occurring.” Here’s hoping he succeeds in his scholastic pursuits, and that he need never encounter the gross miscarriages of justice that happened during the “Satanic Panic” years ever again.

For more on the West Memphis 3 from Peg Aloi, click here. You may also want to read John Morehead’s follow-up interview with attorney Dan Stidham (original interview, here), who represented Jessie Misskelley of the West Memphis 3 until 2008 (at which point he became a judge). Stidham says that “Satanic Panic convicted the WM3 and the hard work of many people from all around the world refused to let this injustice stand.” I would suggest reading the whole thing, as there’s a lot of great information to be found there. You can read all of the Wild Hunt’s WM3 coverage, here.