Archives For Peg Aloi

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.

Mandragora

Mandragora

“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, Neopagan.net, 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.

First off, welcome to Patheos everyone! I’m still getting used to the new digs, but so far the hitches seem to be relatively minor. One thing, the comments from Intense Debate are still in the process of being exported to Disqus, our new commenting system. The comments themselves are safe, but it may take a bit before they all appear. So please be patient as we get that worked out. Now then, let’s start off with a few quick notes shall we?

Peg Aloi Talks Medieval Horror: Over at TheoFantastique Pagan media/movie critic Peg Aloi has a podcast chat with  John Morehead about religious themes in the film Black Death.

TheoFantastique Podcast 2.2 for 2011 is now available. In this edition my special guest is Peg Aloi, a religion scholar and film critic and who maintains her own blog at The Witching Hour, who engages me about the film Black Death directed by Christopher Smith. In this interview and dialogue, Peg and I discuss the film cinematically, as well as its religious elements (bringing together our different religious traditions, an idea I first suggested at The Wild Hunt), and how this film may, in the words of Smith, function as a dark parable for our times. TheoFantastique Podcast 2.2 can be listened to by clicking this link, and downloaded here.”

Peg’s work is always worth checking out, whether she’s interviewing exorcists or doing scholarly reviews, so head over to TheoFantastique and listen in.

Rachel Pollack on Tarot: In advance of the upcoming Omega Institute Tarot Conference Mary K. Greer interviews famed Tarot expert Rachel Pollack (of Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom fame) about her career, and how she keep the subject of Tarot fresh after 40 years.

“I have never walled Tarot off into its own corner.  To me, Tarot is the world, so as I learn more about anything I think of how it can apply to Tarot.  For instance, just yesterday I read an intriguing idea about the story in Genesis that God took a rib from Adam and made Eve.  At first glance, this seems very sexist, and has been used  to describe women as inferior.  But the writer I was reading looked at the fact that chimpanzees have 13 ribs and humans have 12.  Thus the creation of woman was the evolutionary change from ape to human.  Women can be said to introduce human consciousness.  How does this affect Tarot?  Well, for one thing we find Adam and Eve in the Rider version of the Lovers, so now we can consider new and interesting points about that card.  But it also opens up the relationship between the male and female cards, such as the Magician and the High Priestess, or the Empress and the Emperor.”

The whole thing is certainly worth a read. I had the privilege of  interviewing both Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack last year, talking about psychic services and the law.

The Extremism of Michelle Bachmann: Michelle Goldberg at Newsweek/Daily Beast does a profile of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “unrivaled extremism.” Paying special attention to her history of opposition to gay marriage.

Lots of politicians talk about a sinister homosexual agenda. Bachmann, who has made opposition to gay rights a cornerstone of her career, seems genuinely to believe in one. Her conviction trumps even her once close relationship with her lesbian stepsister. “What an amazing imagination,” marvels Arnold. “Her ideology is so powerful that she can construct a reality just on a moment’s notice.”

Of course, she isn’t just extreme in her opposition to LGBTQ equality,  I’ve covered at some length her unfortunate views regarding the equal treatment and rights of minority religions as well, culminating in her support for pseudo-historian David Barton. Now that Bachmann seems to be holding pole position as the Christian conservative candidate to beat after her performance at the recent Republican presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire we’ll have to take seriously the possibility that she could be on the ticket in 2012.

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

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!

Isaac Bonewits Memorial DVD Controversy: Back in August of 2010 Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) held a special memorial service at the Summerland Gathering in Ohio for their founding Archdruid Isaac Bonewits who passed away on August 12th. The memorial service was captured on video, and placed on Youtube so those who couldn’t be there could see it. Since then, the ADF has made a DVD of that video footage available for purchase, a move that has upset Bonewit’s ex-wife Deborah Lipp and their child Arthur.

“You can say, Isaac wanted to give money to ADF and therefore it’s acceptable, or you can say, Isaac placed what was right and proper and honorable before profit, always, and therefore it’s utterly unacceptable. I knew him very well, and I can hear him saying “tacky” quite clearly in my ear, but I recognize the subjectivity of that. In the end, I can only speak to what I feel is right, and respectful, and kind. To commodify the death of a great man is not respectful. To do so at an event where he was being honored is not right. To do so when his only son was at that event was not kind.”

The ADF responded by saying that they are only charging for the DVD “to recoup a fraction of the costs associated with their creation,” and that the DVD was only made so that those without broadband Internet access could see the footage. Lipp responded by calling the production of a DVD “tasteless, disrespectful, undignified, and uncompassionate to those for whom this loss is personal.” Shortly after Lipp’s open letter started circulating Phaedra Bonewits, Isaac’s widow, posted her own thoughts on the matter, her opinions veered sharply from the idea that the ADF were “uncompassionate” in their move to sell a DVD.

“Bottom line, I do not want anyone to think that the opinions of Ms. Lipp, Isaac’s ex wife, represent my feelings, or the sentiments of any other member of Isaac’s family other than those of her son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits. They are entitled to feel what they feel, but their feelings are not representative of the rest of us. I can’t presume to speak for Isaac, not really. But he did put his legacy in my hands because he loved and trusted me, as I loved and trusted him. Thus, I want to state unequivocally that I do not find the videotaping of the memorial, nor the distribution of the DVDs at nominal cost to be in any way disrespectful or exploitative of his memory. I completely support ADF in this situation, as do his siblings and his own mother.

This is obviously an emotionally intense subject, and I’m only reporting on this now because all parties involved have decided to make public their positions in the matter. I know from firsthand experience that the loss of a loved one is never easy, and the initial months, even years, after their passing can be fraught with unknown obstacles and a unique liminality brought on by grief. To lose someone who was a beloved public figure, who many people feel a sense of connection to, is no doubt even more complex and trying an experience. To paraphrase our nation’s president, I think it’s above my pay-grade to make a judgment call on this situation. It is what it is, a difference of opinion regarding what actions were proper and respectful. I wish all involved every blessing, and would guess that Isaac himself would relish engaging in the question at hand, though we are now all bereft of his direct insight in the matter.

Temple of the River in Minnesota Closes its Doors: Yesterday PNC-Minnesota reported that Temple of the River, an Irish Cottage Temple in NE Minneapolis, was closing its doors and that the religious community sponsoring it, The Old Belief Society, is disbanding. Temple of the River’s priest, Drew Jacob, made waves across the Pagan community recently with an article titled “Why I’m not Pagan.” Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota conducted an exclusive interview with Jacob about the move, and what the future holds for its priest.

“To put it simply, it’s not helping enough people change their lives. We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the impact I want to see it make. As a priest, I’ve witnessed a significant shift in people’s spiritual needs. The needs that Temple of the River was designed to fulfill—a place for community, and accurate knowledge about historic practices—simply aren’t as badly needed now as they were ten years ago.

Instead I see people searching for a way to take charge of their lives. That has to be the priority, because the world is changing, and people feel lost, or stuck. The economy, technology and culture are all shifting. 20th century strategies for life don’t work well anymore, so there are a lot of people out there who aren’t happy with their lives. What I want to teach people is how to change that. How to live boldly and lead a life of victory. I want to empower people.”

Jacob now says he’ll devote his time to the Heroic Life, “a new spirituality for the 21st century” that’s “based on bravery and adventure.” Temple of the River will hold one last event on Midsummer’s Eve, and a final meditation session the week before.

Hutton Responds to Whitmore, Explains His Process: Chas Clifton reports that the The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has posted a freely accessible article by British historian Ronald Hutton (author of “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft”) entitled “Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View.” In the piece Hutton discusses the course his work has taken, situates it within a larger body of scholarly work, and proposes three possible futures for the writing and reception of Pagan history by “practitioners outside the academy.” He also directly addresses the book-length critique of his work, “Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft,” written by Ben Whitmore.

“It [Trials of the Moon] is devoted entirely to my own work. Although he allows that I have some virtues, at the opening and the end, these concessions seem very hollow in view of everything in between. He sums up the message of Triumph as being that modern Pagan witch-craft is “entirely a new invention, cobbled together by a few eccentrics,” with no link to any earlier form of “Pagan spirituality.” This is of course a travesty of its intended message. The whole purpose of his own bookis to destroy my reputation as an authority upon the history of Paganism and witchcraft, at least among Pagans, and especially belief in the argu-ments of Triumph. He has carried out very little research into primary source material. What he employs instead is a number of secondary texts of varying quality and drawn from a wide span of time. Whenever he finds a passage in these which apparently contradicts me, he proclaims that I am proved wrong. He also examines some of the works from which I have quoted myself and claims that I have misrepresented them. Nobody who believes his assertions can be left with anything other than the impression that I am an unscrupulous and deceitful individual motivated by a concealed hostility to Paganism. Most of the use that I make of source material is passed over in silence: only the apparent faults are highlighted. Where I address properly in later publications matters that he accuses me of neglecting in Triumph, this is taken as confirmation of my earlier guilt rather than a negation of it. By the same tactic, aspects of earlier work of mine to which he takes exception, and which are differently handled in Triumph, are still made to stand as examples of my turpitude. He criticises me for not defining terms like “witchcraft” with absolute precision, but then makes no attempt to do so himself, keeping them as fluid as possible so that they can fit a range of different meanings. He likewise makes no attempt to construct an alternative history of witchcraft and Paganism to my own: his whole purpose is simply to undermine confidence in me, so that—presumably—Pagan witches can go back to believing whatever they did before I wrote. Most of the points on which he tries to fault me are of detail, often trivial, and his hope is clearly that if he can put enough small cuts into my reputation for reliability, then faith in it will leak away.”

There’s much more, so those interested in this debate should download and read the whole thing. I must say that I share Hutton’s dream of a consensual picture of Pagan history based on primary sources, made in conjunction with Pagan writers and outside scholars, rather than “a number of mutually hostile sects, with different versions of history centered on rival writers,” or generational-based “acrimonious division.” Here’s hoping that our future is one of cooperation and collaboration instead of deepening divisions or impassible generational shibboleths. For even more on this topic, The Pomegranate also features a formal review of Whitemore’s book by Peg Aloi, and  Chas Clifton tackles yet another “grandmother story.” For all of my coverage of Whitmore’s work, click here.

Other Community Notes:

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

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

New Alexandrian Library Project Prepares to Break Ground: Yesterday in Georgetown, Delaware, building materials were unloaded for a dome kit that will form the New Alexandrian Library’s home. Overseen by the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the NAL project hopes to create a library worthy of its namesake” focused on esoteric knowledge, mystical and the spiritual writings from many traditions, and thehistory of our magickal communities.”

Unloading building materials for The New Alexandrian Library.

“Today was a momentous step forwards towards the New Alexandrian Library Project breaking ground. By forklift and by hand, twelve dedicated volunteers unloaded a huge truck laden with building materials. The barn is full to the rafters and the field has several tall and tarped bundles. The trees have been marked for clearing in the woods where the library will stand and the general contractor will soon be taking over the bulk of the physical work. This dome is the first of a long term plan of five domes that will make up the New Alexandrian Library.”

A fundraising event connected to the official ground breaking ceremonies will be announced soon. In the meantime, an urgent appeal has been sent out to supporters to cover the cost of renting the forklift. If you’d like to donate to NAL, you can find contact information, here. You can also follow NAL’s progress at their Facebook page.

Updates on Patrick McCollum’s Thailand Trip: As I’ve mentioned previously, Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has been traveling in Thailand at the invitation of Dhammakaya temple in the Pathumtani Province, where he will be honored as a World Inner Peace Ambassador, and share Pagan rituals and practices with local Buddhist practitioners. McCollum will then travel to the renowned temple at Borobudur on the Island of Java with Lama Gangchen Rinpoche, of the World Peace Foundation. At the Patrick McCollum Foundation website, Patrick has posted several updates about events from his journey, including doing ritual in the Khou Yi jungle.

“The sounds of the jungle at night are like nothing I’ve ever heard before. There are huge frogs croaking as loud as bass drums, and dozens of other smaller ones that sound like a chorus of children. Elephant’s screams pierce the night, and the sounds of large animal hunters seeking prey can be heard intermittently. My rational mind says I’m crazy for venturing out so, with tigers and poisonous snakes and who knows what? I have no weapons or any way to defend myself, and yet the moon guides me forward without fear. After about an hour I find a perfect clearing to do ritual. It’s circular and about 30 feet in diameter. I can see huge colorful flowers high in the trees and hanging vines everywhere filled with tropical fruits and spiny pods. I call the quarters and invoke the Goddess and find myself completely immersed. I did prayers for world peace and for human rights, everywhere, and I asked for blessings on my community.”

Patrick will no doubt be sharing further reflections about his trip with us when he returns. To keep track of Patrick’s journey be sure to follow the Patrick McCollum Foundation’s blog, and the Foundation’s Facebook page.

Damh the Bard is Ready For His Close-Up: Peg Aloi at The Witching Hour interviews producer-director Gary Andrews about his upcoming film The Spirit of Albion, a story inspired by the music of Damh the Bard.

“…the 3 main characters are young, modern people with the kind of problems that are very real today. One, Esther, is working in a high powered, pressured job with no real life outside of work and has reached breaking point. The second, Annie, is a damaged young woman who works in a job she hates (animal testing) and has taken refuge in drugs and casual sex rather than face her reality. Finally we have George, an anti war activist who is fighting the guilt that his soldier brother was killed in Afghanistan and the last time they spoke they had a fight about their life choices. All 3 of them, on the same day (Oct 31st) have a meeting with a stranger who turns out not to be what they first appear. Added into the mix is Annie’s brother, a Christian priest who is having doubts about his vocation. All of these characters are given a chance to see things a different way, through the filter of the Pagan perspective and all of them have a life-changing experience, although not everything turns out as you might expect!”

The film originated as a stage play, thematically structured around 10 Damh the Bard songs, and was recently performed at Witchfest International in November of 2010. Once complete, a direct-to-DVD release is planned. Updated will be posted to the official The Spirit of Albion site. As for Damh, a truly excellent human being and musician, he recently released a live CD, and has a new single coming out soon entitled “The Sons & Daughters (of Robin Hood)”.

When to Participate in Press Opportunities: Joseph Merlin Nichter, a volunteer minority faiths chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, discusses his recent participation in a local interfaith vigil, and the process he went through in deciding if that participation was a good idea.

“This past Wednesday I was contacted by an enthusiastic community organizer who was trying to manifest an interfaith prayer vigil ad hoc. He explained what he was trying to do and asked if I would be willing to speak publicly on the matter along side other religious community leaders. I told him I needed to conform my availability and would call him back shorty. I knew my availability, but didn’t want to make an ad hoc decision because there would be media coverage. I sought counsel before calling him back and agreeing to participate.”

Nichter references my recent participation in a panel at PantheaCon and the Charlie Sheen “warlock” media controversy to make the point that sometimes press attention isn’t what you want or need. However, in his case, it seemed to go well, and his speech is well worth the reading.

Christian Day and the Binding of Sheen: Speaking of the Charlie Sheen “warlock” issue, Salem Warlock Christian Day has posted a video of the ritual to “heal and bind Charlie Sheen.”

The ritual was covered by the press, both local, and national. As for the use of the term “warlock,” an issue that has sparked quite a bit of conversation lately, Day has issued a $1000.00 reward to anyone who can find source material “prior to 1950 that designates the word Warlock as someone who betrays a coven to the Witch hunters, or betrays a coven at all.” No doubt some scholars (amateur or otherwise) in need of some cash might want to take up his challenge.

Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn Expels Founder: The Second Order of the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn have voted to expel founder/leader Robert Zink due to a laundry list of charges that span from misusing his power to misappropriation of funds.

“It is come to the point where we of the Second Order have to take the unfortunate action of deposing former G.H. Frater P.D.R. (Robert Zink) of his highly influential position and expelling him from the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. He received the grievances from the Adepti of the Second Order, but was still given a great deal of time and opportunity to reform his ways. In response to this, he persists to hold himself above accountability and has gone to great lengths to secure his own position through surreptitiously ensuring as much of the Order’s assets were under his sole control as possible.”

However, as Frater Barrabbas notes, it may not be possible to expel him due to the way the bylaws of the organization are written. So we may soon see two competing Esoteric Orders of the Golden Dawn. He notes that this is just another peril of creating (or joining) organizations that aren’t built on democratic principles and consensus-based decision making.

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

Here’s something that doesn’t come along every day. Media critic, scholar, and practicing Witch Peg Aloi interviews Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist who was featured in the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist”. That book has since been adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins, and Father Thomas has been getting interviewed quite a bit in the process. Aloi’s interview is excerpted at The Boston Phoenix, but an unedited version, which features direct questions regarding the priest’s feelings regarding the occult, Wicca, polytheism, and indigenous spiritualities can be found at her blog The Witching Hour.

PA: So, in your view, polytheistic traditions are unacceptable, or evil? Does that include Native American spirituality, which is polytheistic?

FGT: It depends on your vantage point when you’re asking the question. I would say that anything that is outside the realm of the Supreme Being is polytheistic. But that term is not necessarily pejorative. Native Americans have their own religious culture, it doesn’t make them bad, but quite honestly, it’s opening them up to a spirit realm that could be very dangerous.

PA: I wonder if you also make a distinction between what you consider occultism and the modern earth-based spiritual traditions, such as Wicca or neo-paganism. And I should tell you that in addition to being a film critic and a media scholar, I am also a former Catholic, and I’m now what you’d call a neo-pagan, or a witch.

FGT: The occult is not the same thing as the satanic. So people who are involved in Satan worship are not the same thing as those are involved in Wicca, but we (priests, presumably–PA) would say Satanists are Satanists. I don’t even consider pagans in the same ways as I would consider those involved in the new age, but I think it’s fair to say the occult can be a doorway to the satanic.

The whole interview is a treasure trove. A rare chance for a Pagan to directly question a Catholic exorcist. As readers of my blog may know, I’ve been keeping track of the recent revival of interest in the rite of exorcism within the Catholic Church, and its undertones of spiritual warfare against non-Christian (specifically Pagan) faiths. Specifically chilling is that Father Thomas, and by extension I would hazard to guess other Catholic exorcists, still believes in Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA).

PA: Do you believe there are a lot of satanic cults out there?

FGT: There are probably more than we think. In fact, I pray over a woman right now who is a satanic cult survivor.

PA: I need to ask this. Speaking as someone who has done extensive research on the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s: Do you think it’s possible your parishioner’s experiences are false, or that she may be lying, or delusional? Because despite many, many horrific accusations of abuse and murder and various other atrocities by satanic cults over the years, most of them by alleged “survivors” who claim to be former cult members, the FBI, after years of investigation, never found a single shred of evidence to suggest there is or ever has been an underground network of satanic cults in the United States.

FGT: I don’t believe that she’s lying. She had been seeing a priest in our diocese for a while and her memories stated to surface, and that’s how we learned of her involvement in the cult. But if even half of what she’s saying is true, and I have not found any reason to doubt it, in her system, if anyone exposes the group, they’ll be killed. There is a whole culture in terms of what these people tell their members.

This interview is essential reading, and I urge everyone to head over there. Kudos to Peg Aloi for not only landing this interview, but for asking the tough questions I’m sure many Pagans have wanted to ask this new generation of exorcists. For more on Father Thomas, do check out this profile in The Catholic Spirit where he outright says that dabbling in witchcraft “immediately disqualifies” you to run for public office. This movie, and its resulting publicity, may be a hidden gift to our community, as it is illuminating a very secretive subculture about their motives and world view.