Archives For Peter Dybing

UNITED STATES — Even as activists took to the streets to protest the results of the presidential election, others adopted a quieter approach that has been since dubbed “rage donating” or the giving money to organizations that support populations deemed at risk once Donald Trump takes office. A web site named RageDonate was quickly created to channel this very desire; each screen pairs a Trump quote with a donation button tied to a related cause.

Donald Trump [Wikipedia]

Donald Trump [Wikipedia]

Reports from the offices of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) indicate that those are perhaps the two most popular targets for post-election donations, although others also have benefited. On the season finale of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver listed a number of other organizations that he believes could use extra assistance while Trump is in office. These include the National Resources Defense Council, International Refugee Assistance Project, the Project, and the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP.

Specific Pagan causes have not been included in these high-profile lists, perhaps not surprising given that Pagans and those practicing related spiritualities collectively are only a very small portion of the population. The Wild Hunt reached out to representatives of some Pagan groups to find out if it appeared that they have benefited from these so-called “rage donations” since Nov. 8. Given the small sampling, this can only be considered anecdotal evidence, and no clear pattern can be gleaned at first glance.

A representative of Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship responded, “ADF, as a church, is not permitted to engage in the political process, therefore we tend to whether political storms pretty well. I haven’t noticed an uptick in membership numbers” since the election.

Oberon Osiris noticed a change in the yearly cycle at Covenant of the Goddess, and it wasn’t a positive bump. Typically, they see a post-Halloween bump in emails from seekers, but that did not occur. “I have a feeling . . . the decline is tied to nervousness or paranoia about being known or seen to be contacting ‘Witches,’ since the election was won by Mr. Trump.”

“I can’t base it on any actual evidence, just the lack – even possibly more so than normal,” Oberon Osiris continued. “As of this date, late November I have no regular flow of other ‘info’ type questions I might have to handle. Just a lot less flow/volume than we normally get. I was not in this position in 2008 or 2012 so I can’t address if it happened during that Presidential campaign.”

On the plus is The Wild Hunt itself, according to managing editor Heather Greene. Social media followers and email subscribers have increased measurably, and there were even some unexpected donations, which are rarely made outside of the annual fund drive. Greene wrote, “Typically, we receive most of our funding through the fall drive, and that campaign ended before the election. But, since that point, we have been gifted with several unexpected donations. We appreciate the extra support.” Even without this small bump, Greene was clear that The Wild Hunt’s writers will continue to serve the Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities through what is widely expected to be uncertain times to come.

A representative from Lady Liberty League declined to comment, and no response was received from the Patrick McCollum Foundation in time for this story.

[Pixabay]

[Pixabay]

That is not to infer that Pagans only donate to specifically Pagan causes. Several people have expressed support for the idea of shoring up at-risk causes at this time. Sabina Magliocco posted on Facebook, “I don’t know about all of you, but I’m seriously not feeling like holiday shopping this year. . . . after discussing it with some of my family members, we’ve decided that this year, we’re going to give donations to worthy organizations in lieu of holiday gifts.” Her list includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and support for the Standing Rock protesters.

Gwendolyn Reece posted a list of recommended organizations, and wrote,

This is not a sprint. Therefore we must consciously build our individual capacity and the capacity in our communities to keep going. That means self-care and cultivating joy. Grim determination only really works when it is an expression of love.

Other Pagans asked about their intentions had a variety of opinions. Some, like those above, intend on starting or increasing donations to various organizations. Elizabeth Sturino, for her part, is looking to hunker down and focus on local needs. “I think it is prudent to only spend on necessities, stock up on canned foods and alternative heating sources and put any ‘extra’ money into credit unions instead of a bank at this time. Volunteering is the most authentic form of donation as I am sure my time is going to directly benefit those whom I am serving.”

Activist Peter Dybing raised another question for those heading up progressive causes: “What is your organization’s plan for working with other unrelated progressive causes to defeat Trump? Our old fractured ‘my cause first’ approach is not something we can afford now. Real progressive mutual aid is the order of the day.”

Overall, it doesn’t appear that Pagans — nor any falling under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella — are feeling the need to express rage through their wallets. It is possible that they, like Sturino, are keeping charity close to home, or perhaps they are attempting to supplant rage with a different emotion for their own actions.

UNITED STATES – “We boarded up the house and we left town because our house isn’t (concrete) block construction, it’s wood. We live in an area where there are lots of trees and we weren’t confident that a cat 3, 4, or whatever hit land that we would be safe,” said Kathy Lezon, a priestess from Vero Beach, located on Florida’s Treasure Coast.

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Hurricane Matthew 2016 [Courtesy NASA/ GSFC]

Hurricane Matthew was a slow-moving behemoth of a storm that flared up on Sept. 28 and quickly shot up to hurricane status, at one point topping off the scale as a category 5 storm with sustained winds of 160 mph before weakening slightly to a category 4 before making landfall in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and bouncing along the Florida coast before skirting north along the Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina coastline. It also affected areas well beyond those that were directly impacted.

Matthew was the first category 5 storm to form in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007.

The biggest impact was felt in Haiti, where over a thousand people are now reported to have been killed by the storm. Haiti, which has struggled to rebuild after a massive earthquake struck in 2010, was ill-prepared to withstand a direct hit from Matthew. Without key infrastructure in place and with no protections for personal property, many Haitians were loathe to evacuate their homes. There were also some rumors that Haitians were unaware or only vaguely aware that there was a storm incoming. More on the Haitian relief efforts will follow below.

Meanwhile in the United States the impacts were variable. We spoke with a number of Pagans about their experience. Those in the very southern parts of Florida reported heavy rains and wind with sporadic power outages.

As Matthew’s forecast direction shifted west, then east, then west again with each new update, Floridians were up late into the night on Thursday watching progress. Fortunately, the storm stayed offshore for most of its track along the the U.S. coastline.

Kathy Lezon said that after boarding up her house, she, her partner, and their dog packed up a camper and headed for the west part of the state to stay at a campground.

As of Monday afternoon, she was still waiting on power to be restored at their home. Many houses in Florida, especially in more rural areas, rely on well water which is normally run by electrical pumps. That is what Lezon is facing.

“No electricity means no air conditioning, which is not a big deal if you can take a shower but when your well pump doesn’t work it’s pretty gross, no toilets, no showers,” Lezon said.

Amber Moon, who is also a Treasure Coast resident and police officer, said she worked through the entire storm.

“We had to help with evacuations and shelter security, things like that. I pretty much boarded up my house on Wednesday, sent my 11 year old son to leave the state with his grandmother and I went to work and we’ve pretty much worked straight through. I’ve been at work since Monday (October 3) and will work straight through until Saturday (October 15) which will be my first day off,” Moon said.

Lezon and Moon are both coordinators of the Treasure Coast Pagan Pride Day, which is scheduled for Saturday, October 15. There were some fears that damage to the park would prevent the celebration from happening. But a Facebook announcement on the Treasure Coast Pagan Pride Day event page said, “We hope everyone is okay after Hurricane Matthew. We have just received word that there was no damage at The Savanna’s Recreation Area!!! So, we are a go for Saturday! Spread the word. Come out, relax and enjoy a day off!”

A live oak tree narrowly missed a house that belonged to a Mr. Righter in Saint Augustine, Florida. He sat by the tree and sang hymnals after the storm.

A live oak tree narrowly missed a house belonging to a Mr. Righter in Saint Augustine, Florida. He sat by the tree and sang hymns after the storm. [Courtesy Lupa]

Lupa, a witch living further north in Saint Augustine, Florida, said, “Entire sections of A1A Beach Blvd are missing, and most of the businesses on the beach side (including the bar where I met my hunny) are still inoperable. Downtown, the historic district… I cried driving through.

“My home and family were safe, thank Goddess, but I’m in mourning for the town and all its history,” she said.

Lupa shared a photo of an enormous live oak that fell down, ripping up the sidewalk nearby and narrowly missing a house where a man she knows as Mr. Righter lives. She said that it’s a stone’s throw from an entrance to the nearby Florida School for the Deaf and Blind where her parents have worked for more than 12 years.

“He was actually home at the time, having stayed there through it all. My mother and I called him a crazy old coot and sat while he sung a beautiful hymnal (sic) to us, with this huge tree just sitting behind him,” Lupa added..

A large live oak tree was knocked over in Meg Knunya's neighbor's yard. [Courtesy M. Knunya]

A large live oak tree was knocked over in Meg Knunya’s neighbor’s yard. [Courtesy M. Knunya]

Only 40 miles north of St. Augustine, Meg Knunya, Facilitator of Jacksonville CUUPS, was experiencing her first hurricane with Matthew.

“I thought I was prepared,” she said, “we bought a solar panel system and a backup generator for when the power goes out.”

Only right before the storm did she realize that the battery was not installed with the generator, so they wouldn’t have power during or after the storm.

“My plan had been to hunker down in place but then as the storm progressed towards us I started getting a little panicky that they were saying it’s going to be worse than predicted,” Knunya said.

With few options locally, she packed up her two kids, dog, and four cats on Thursday night and tried to drive out of the path of the storm.

“I was totally unprepared for a bug-out situation because it was so last minute. There were no hotels so we slept in the car,” she said. Eventually they settled down in a campground in Georgia where they had to camp with a tarp because in the last-minute scramble to escape, they didn’t bring a tent.

“I found the whole thing very humbling, as Pagans we like to live within nature and honor nature. Sometimes, nature is destructive and nature is terrifying. It really kind of knocks you down and makes you see how insignificant us mere mortals are. I’d like to think some of the warding spells and some of the protection spells I put on my house helped but who really knows. I had no damage, it’s just scary to think that your whole life could just be uprooted in an instant, and you’re not in control,” Knunya said.

Knunya is back home now, where she had some downed branches, though she was trying to figure out how to get to work after a local bridge was down after massive flooding.

Alyce's covenmate, Wessa O'Wynn provided this photo of flooding in her home in New Burn, NC.

Alyce’s covenmate, Wessa O’Wynn provided this photo of flooding in her home in Washington, NC. [Courtesy Photo]

Just as in Florida, people were packing up and leaving the low-lying coastal areas of South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.

“My friends that live in New Bern, the National Guard evacuated them and they had to spend the night in a shelter, it was not a voluntary evacuation, they demanded that they leave,” said Alyce Rohan, Priestess Initiate of Triskele Rose Witchcraft. Rohan lives about 80 miles away from New Bern in Rocky Point, North Carolina.

Rohan reported that they were still without power as of Sunday night, with no word on when it may be restored.

“I work at General Electric and they closed the plant down on Saturday, which they never do. It’s an aircraft engine parts plant and they never do that,” she said.

Rohan reported that there were some trees down in her neighborhood, including one that had taken out a neighbor’s garage. She said that she placed crystals at the corners of her property and wrote runes on trees which came out mostly unscathed.

During the storm, she said, “I woke up in the middle of the night and when I went out to go charge my phone, something told me not to go outside. I’m very close with the fey in my neighborhood and had a feeling they were doing something to protect the house. It was strange, it felt like I was being protected.”

Social media ended up being a very important organizing tool for many communities.

Rohan said that Facebook was a great tool for checking in, saying, “We have done the ‘count your self safe’ post. And people have been offering help twixt each other. (Private messages) as well. Electronic age, now we all be!”

Similarly, Knunya said that her community in Jacksonville, Florida has been pretty tight throughout the storm. In addition to prayers and energy work, she said, “many have extended their homes to others, offering others in the community either a place to stay, or at the very least a place to store their food or take a shower or use their internet.”

Lezon said that in Florida’s Treasure Coast people were pitching in and offering to assist one another with prep work as well as cleanup and recover.

“People from Miami to Jacksonville kept in touch with how things were going with storm prep and then on Thursday through Friday, kept in touch with each other as the storm moved up the coast. Its really helpful to know there’s a whole line of people looking out for your safety and well being!”

Meanwhile, in Haiti, the situation is different, and remains extremely dire. More than 1000 people have lost their lives there so far and some aid officials have said that some areas of the country are up to 90% destroyed. Now, doctors in Haiti are warning that an outbreak of cholera, a disease spread by contaminated water, is imminent.

“I really left my heart in Haiti in a lot of ways, seeing the pictures that are coming out of Haiti, it breaks my heart,” said Peter Dybing, an eclectic Pagan and chief officer on a national disaster team. He spent time in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that leveled parts of the country.

Haiti 2016 after Hurricane Matthew [Photo Credit: UK-DFID]

Haiti 2016 after Hurricane Matthew [Photo Credit: UK-DFID]

A close friend of his, Mandy Thody, is the administrative director for a small nonprofit in the country, on the island of Ile-a-Vache, called Good Samaritan Foundation for Haiti. He said that Thody was on the island when it got hit by the storm, and the island is decimated. Fortunately, her daughter received a text message that she was okay, however the situation on the island is not.

Dybing urged people in the Pagan community to donate, but to carefully consider which organizations they send their money.

“I would strongly urge the Pagan community that I know what’s going on with small nonprofits in Haiti. This is the place where the money’s going to make a difference,” he said.

When making donations, he said that “focused giving” is the most effective.

“Small mobile nonprofits that are already on the ground, they’re already doing good work, [they] are completely involved in the community’s rebuilding. That’s what focused giving is. A great example of how the organization I’m working with now controls costs, when they get a bunch of relief supplies now instead of spending money on shipping containers and imports and all that, they get a volunteer flotilla of boats, sailboats using wind power to bring supplies to this island,” he said.

After a joint investigative piece by NPR and ProPublica found that very little of the money donated to the Red Cross actually found its way to Haiti in the five years following the 2010 earthquake,some are concerned about how or where to offer monetary assistance.

“Large organizations like that have what’s called a long logistics tail. Which means while people are in crisis that it takes weeks, sometimes months for them to set up their infrastructure,” Dybing said.

One frequently-seen post on social media was from people criticizing those who didn’t evacuate. Dybing said that when, “we’re talking about relocating, or moving out of the way we’re talking about people who have resources, that’s a comment that comes from people who have privilege.”

There are no credit cards and if the limited amount of money that people have is needed for something else, their family may not eat for five days, he added.

“There are no soup kitchens or anywhere else you can go to fix that. The choices that people face are incredibly traumatic in staying where they are and protecting the absolute, very little that they have, versus abandoning it and knowing it will all be gone when they come back because their house will be ransacked, unprotected,” Dybing said.

He said that he’s supporting his friend’s group, Good Samaritan Foundation for Haiti.

“(It) has no paid employees except for the local teachers at the school and those are Haitians that are being paid,” he said.

“From the very first moment of the earthquake to this specific moment the small tiny nonprofit on the ground, doing the work, building the schools, feeding the children creating sustainability programs is where ethical money spent on Haiti goes,” he said.

TWH – Over the past year, issues related to transgender rights have crested in mainstream social discourse. The most recent national debate has centered around the passage of North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as House Bill 2 or HB2) that, among other things, “blocks local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex.”

The collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, as diverse microcosms of the greater whole, are not free from similar debates, discussions and, at times, serious conflicts on the subject of transgender inclusion. While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication.

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And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week. Transgender inclusion became a focused topic in a conversation at the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) in Tennessee and, similarly, the subject became the focus of online protests due to a newly proposed anthology edited by musician, author and priestess Ruth Barrett.

While some of the dialog was offline, most of it appeared in digital forums. Those people who do not use social media regularly or not all, may have seen or heard only bits and pieces of the conversation. Through interviews and public postings, The Wild Hunt has put together a look at just what happened and why.

“I guess this all started three weeks ago at Pagan Unity Festival. I was a VIP and sat on a panel to discuss topics of Paganism on Thursday afternoon,” explained Heathen author and craftswoman Gypsey Teague in a message to The Wild Hunt.

“When my turn came I called out some of our female elders in the Pagan community for being sexist and exclusionary due to their philosophy of gender versus sex. I stated that it was insane to tie someone’s religious following to what does or doesn’t appear between your legs or in your genetic DNA. Unfortunately there are still some women out there that not only believe that but force it on their line and their ilk that follow her.”

After that event, Teague was interviewed by  the hosts of the Tree of Life Hour at Pagans Tonight Radio Network. As advertised, the two-part radio show was focused on the “transgender issues that are coming up again and again in our community and how we as a community should respond to folks who have a different gender expression than the binary male/female cisgender.”

Teague said, “By the end of the event it seemed like everyone was talking about transgender exclusion and how I was ‘pissed’ at the discussion; which was not true. What I believe is that if you tie your religion to a penis or a vagina you don’t deserve to be in the religion. We have too many examples of gender fluidity in our paths to still believe or accept this.”

Around that same time, author, musician, witch and Dianic priestess Ruth Barrett was launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for her new anthology titled Female Erasure. Barrett explained to The Wild Hunt, “Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment, while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself […] Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections.” The unedited interview in its entirety is available here.

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The IndieGoGo campaign was launched June 4 with a goal of raising $25,000 toward editing, design, legal and technical fees. After only eight days, the campaign has reached 50 percent of its goal. Barrett said, “Our contributors want radical societal change – freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase 51 percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.”

Despite Barrett being the editor, the anthology is not a Pagan-specific project. Its projected audience is far broader and most of its contributors do not fall under the Pagan, Heathen or polytheist umbrella. With that said, the project does include several Pagan voices, such as Ava Park and Luisah Teish, and essays that discuss the proposed issues from a Pagan perspective. One of Barrett’s own offerings is titled, “The Attack On Female Sovereign Space In Pagan Community.”

For Barrett, the project is linked to spirituality in that she has been “assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception.”

While a few of the unpublished anthology’s essay titles evoke what some might consider a feminist spirit consistent with many Pagan practices, other titles raised immediate concerns, resulting in a fierce wave of backlash. Along with that spirit, there is also an expression of what is being called “transgender exclusion” and “transphobia.” In our interview, Barrett said that “transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality.”

The first protest came in the way of a June 5 call-to-action blog post by activist and author David Salisbury. He wrote in part, “As a leader of the largest witchcraft tradition in Washington DC, I refuse to sit in silence. As an author and teacher of Goddess spirituality, I refuse to sit in silence. As a queer person, I refuse to sit in silence.” After Salisbury, the online, written protests only grew in number through both the blogosphere and social media, including posts from Peter Dybing, Vanessa Blackwood, Estara T’Shirai, Yvonne Aburrow, and Susan Harper.

After reading the funding campaign explanation and exploring the work of various authors, Pagan transgender activist and vice president of STRIVE Rev. Katherine A. Jones said, “I find it disheartening that so many women are so mired in a combination of transphobia and internalized misogyny that they are willing to blatantly attack their fellow women in the name of this exclusionary false feminism they have created […]The obsession with so called ‘biological sex’ is an indicator of women who see themselves as nothing more than vaginas. Just like the patriarchal men who oppress them. Unfortunately it seems to be common even within the Pagan community.”

Barrett said that she fully expected the backlash. When asked specifically about transgender exclusion and the erasure of the transgender identity within the scope of the book, she said, “While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.”

She added that the anthology addresses “concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.”

Arguably the most public outcry came from activist and writer Alley Valkyrie via Facebook.* On June 7, Valkyrie posted an “Open Letter to the Pagan Community,” which was shared over 250 times in that forum alone. The letter read in part, “As a pagan and a cis woman, I cannot and I will not remain silent on this matter, and I will not stand by in the face of violent targeting that is being enacted in my name.”

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Valkyrie clarified later that, while she does not support the anthology or Barrett’s work, her letter was actually aimed at attacks reportedly being launched at some of the bloggers who had previously spoken out against Barrett’s anthology. In the letter she said, “I also recognize that by posting this, I will also likely become a target.”

Shortly after the publication of her open letter, the post was removed along with other similar ones. Then she was locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. Other Pagans were reporting similar occurrences around that time. Valkyrie’s letter can be found in its entirety here.

Valkyrie and others have accused Barrett of being “complicit in this violence” due to her close association with those suspected of enacting what is being labeled as “doxing.” Barrett said she knows nothing of these attacks and hasn’t been following the online backlash.

But that is not where the story ends; it is where it gets more complicated. In her open letter, Valkyrie addressed Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) due to its continued relationship with Barrett. The letter reads, “I am calling on Cherry Hill Seminary to publicly disassociate with Ruth Barrett immediately.”

Within twenty-four hours of hearing about letter, Barrett resigned saying, “I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself. While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.”

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In an interview CHS director Holli Emore told The Wild Hunt that Barrett tried to resign last fall when similar issues rose the surface, but the CHS governing board would not accept the resignation. Emore explained, “The work of a seminary is to prepare people to facilitate healing and build bridges. The work of higher education is to expose students to as many ideas as possible and to develop critical thinking skills.”

At the time, the seminary stood behind its commitment to academic freedom. However, Barrett did cancel her fall rituals course and, as has been revealed, hasn’t taught any class at CHS for four years even though she is listed as faculty.

This time around, the school accepted the resignation.

“Cherry Hill Seminary has never and would never condone violence against anyone and most certainly supports the full rights of transgender individuals,” said Emore. “The kind of attacks of unbridled animosity against Pagans on issues like this is indicative of a deeper need. It is clear to me that CHS is needed more than ever.”

CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh took to Facebook, saying, “Although I find the events disheartening and depressing, I keep returning to a single question: what do I have to offer that can aid in the process of resolution? The answers were simple. I can listen. I can enter into dialogue. We can have a discussion on the matter. This ability to enter into dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of leadership.”

Albaugh added that, since the issues came to light, nobody had reached out to him personally and that “demands have been posted on the Internet, strewn across Face Book and re-blogged ad infinitum.” He said, “No wonder this is off the rails. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening. So this, then, becomes my invitation. Contact me.”

While issues, reports of attacks, and conversations continued to circulate online, Witch and blogger Pat Mosley took a different approach to action in support of transgender rights. Like Barrett, Mosley is now spearheading an anthology project, but this one gives voice specifically to “Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches.” The proposed book Arcane Perfection, was first imagined as a coven-based “zine” but, as Mosley explained, “recent events” have changed its direction.

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“HB2 was probably the biggest one. We really snapped into this mindset of needing to be there for one another — a lot of us can’t be out to our families or at work, so our coven is really our sanctuary,” explained Mosley. “Hearing that a Pagan community leader was editing a new anthology which, in part, appears to be discussing trans civil rights as an attack on women’s rights inspired our decision too. Both of those things affect more than just our coven.”

Mosley went on to say that many “Queer, Trans, and Intersex people find power in Witchcraft” and that will hopefully serve as a point of solidarity “regardless of specific tradition, and regardless of the geographic distance between us.” Another objective, as Mosley described, is to address “the way Wiccans talk about gender.”

“We want to see that [discussion] evolve,” Mosley said, “Most Wiccans and other Pagans these days seem to want LGBT+ people to feel included. Often that looks like adapting a hetero-centric framework to accommodate other perspectives. Our intention with this zine and now the book is to have Queer, Trans, and Intersex people define and talk about Wicca, Paganism, Witchcraft, etc, rather than positioning cis/het Pagans as the owners of traditions with the authority to include or exclude us.” The deadline for Mosley’s new anthology is set at Aug. 1.

Neither Mosley’s or Barrett’s anthology have a set delivery date yet. However,  they are both in production and moving forward.

Returning to Barrett, in reaction to what has happened this week, she added, “Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways. ”

The current debates, arguments and the reported attacks may not yet be over. Time will tell.

But the subject is certainly one that will persist, as it always has, into the future at both public gatherings, like PUF, and online through blogs and social media.

Looking over the entire situation from beginning to end, Emore said, “When respectful dialog is silenced by threats, we are all diminished.”

In a blog post, author Yvonne Aburrow offered a different type of community call-to-action, saying, “Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. […] Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.”

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* [Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt always aims for balanced news reporting. However, as a community-based source, there are times when our writers are affiliated, in some way, with aspects of a story. In those instances, we make a decision on how to ethically handle the story. Today’s article was such a case. Our managing editor currently teaches a class at Cherry Hill Seminary, and one of those quoted above is a Wild Hunt columnist. Our editorial team reviewed this article carefully to ensure a clear presentation of the issues.]

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Schoenfeld [Courtesy Photo]

It has been reported that the Air Force Equal Employment Opportunity office at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, has dismissed Deborah Schoenfeld’s religious discrimination complaint. In a story we brought to you in October, Schoenfeld had allegedly been subjected to verbal harassment by co-workers, and after lodging a formal complaint, was fired from her position. In response, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) stepped in as her advocate and filed its own complaint with the EEO.

Military.com is now reporting that this “witch” complaint has been rejected. According to the article, the office said that “she filed too late and … the individuals she claimed discriminated against her are not Air Force employees.

However, the MRFF disagrees. Spokesperson Mikey Weinstein called the dismissal “specious, outrageous and scandalous.” He is quoted as saying, “This is gross malfeasance … We will help her find a litigator for this.”  They have 90 days to file a lawsuit.

We have reached out to Schoenfeld and will update this story as it develops.

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Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Cemetery is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this month. The “green” cemetery was established in 1995 on the Circle Sanctuary nature preserve in Barneveld, Wisconsin. As explained by Circle organizers, “The 20 acres of Circle Cemetery include a Restored Prairie & Ridgetop for cremated remains, plus a Wooded natural burial ground, plus our Stone Circle.”

Initially, the original cemetery was small and only had space for cremains burials. But soon it expanded to the 20 acres it now holds. In 2006, Veterans Ridge was opened, which is specifically reserved for military burials. U.S. Army Veteran Jerome Birnbaum became the first person honored there. In 2010, the cemetery was recognized as the first green cemetery in Wisconsin, and in 2011, it saw its first full body natural burial. Additionally, in 2014, it became the first green cemetery to be part of the “Wreaths Across America project” that honors the country’s fallen heroes.

This Samhain, philanthropist and Priestess Deborah Ann Light became the 40th person interred at Circle Cemetery. As noted on the Cemetery’s facebook page, “Her ashes interment rite including Dennis & Selena offering Chardonnay Wine she give us in 1982 from her Quail Hill Estate Vineyards on Long Island, New York.”

To celebrate the Cemetery’s anniversary and to discuss Green burials, Rev. Selena Fox did a Tuesday podcast on Nov. 3. You can find that recording on Pagan Talk Radio Network. 

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Oberon Zell recently announced that the Academy of Arcana project is now moving forward. On Oct. 14, organizers were granted “approval for a lease on the storefront.” The Academy will be located at 428-A Front St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060. The spaces 2,080 square feet will hold a gift shop as well as an “enormous library of myth, magick, science, history, sci-fi, fantasy and lore … a vast museum collection of more than 350 Goddess figurines, magickal tools and artifacts, Books of Shadows, devotional items, altar setups, theatrical and costumes and regalia, seasonal decorations, etc.”

On Nov 4, organizers and volunteers began moving the entire collection from its former location at RavenHaven to the Front Street store. The move has continued as others begin the renovations and unpacking of the new space.

The Academy is a joint project of the Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart Foundation, The Grey School of Wizardry and the Church of All Worlds. As such the Front Street store will also “house the international headquarters and business offices for the Foundation, the School and the Church,” and will serve as a “physical campus for the Grey School,” bringing in teachers for workshops.

The grand opening date has not yet been announced. Updates on the progress can be found on the Academy’s website and Facebook page.

In Other News:

  • Many Gods West has made its second big announcement for its 2016 event. The Polytheist conference will be held at the Red Lion in downtown Olympia, Washington. The room code is MANY0805. Starting today, organizers will begin accepting presentation proposals with a March 1 deadline. Tickets and registration are now open as well.
  • Paganicon has announced more of its upcoming lineup for the 2016 event. As previously shared, the guests of honor will be T. Thorn Coyle, Ivo Dominquez and Tamara L. Siuda (Mambo Chita Tann). Additionally, it was announced that additional speakers include activist and author Crystal Blanton, educator Nsasi Vence Guerra, author Jane Meredith from Australia, and Wild Hunt editor Heather Greene. As a side note, the Wild Hunt will be at Paganicon in force this year, hosting both a panel and social. Joining Blanton and Greene will be writers Cara Schulz, Terence P. Ward, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, and Dodie Graham-McKay. Paganicon 2016 will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota from March 18-20.
  • For fans of Peter Dybing’s blog Pagan in Paradise, it will be moving to Patheos. Scheduled to launch in December, Dybing is currently working with Patheos technicians to finish up the move. Why is he making this digital leap? Dybing said, “[Patheos] provides a platform that allows an inter-religious dialogue among well meaning people of many faiths. The Parliament of the Worlds religions was a graphic lesson for me in how people of faith coming together have the potential to make a global impact in spreading compassion and justice around the world.” The blog will still be called “Pagan in Paradise” and, Dybing added, “People can expect the blog to have a radical Social Justice agenda that pulls few punches!” Look for the launch next month.
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church is also undergoing some change. Organizers have a launched a new website that is part of a project to bring “the ATC together as a whole. From [its] legally recognized Wiccan Seminary, to [its] work helping pioneer Pagan prison ministries, and access to [its] catalog of churches across the country and globe alike.” At this time, the old site is currently still accessible. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church was founded by Pete Pathfinder Davis in 1979, and is currently led by ArchPriestess Lady Bella and High Priest Dusty Dionne.
  • Nature’s Path, a Patheos Blog devoted to UU Paganism, has published an article that may interest many readers who conduct rituals for people of different Pagan and Heathen traditions. Erica Baron writes, “One of the things I find most challenging in preparing ritual for UU Pagans is the wide variety of Paganisms that UUs bring to these rituals. In the rituals in UU contexts that I’ve either led or attended, participants have included devotees of a wide variety of pantheons and specific deities, people with a strong grounding in Wicca, Heathenism, Asatru, and other specific traditions, and people with no prior experience of any kind of Paganism.” Baron goes on to discuss the challenges and offer tips.

WILLOW, Alaska – A Pagan community center in the Sockeye region of Alaska has completely burned down in a wildfire. The community center consisted of over nine acres of woods with four cabins, and is now considered a total loss. Center Director Anthony Bailey said clean up efforts are underway, and he is asking for financial assistance to help rebuild the center.

The Alaska Pagan Community Center, more commonly known as The Land, is located near Willow.  It opened about five years ago as a non-profit nature sanctuary and Pagan retreat. Volunteers cleared areas for camping, built the cabins, created a pump and well house, and built shaded areas for workshops and classes.

Because community members had to evacuate so quickly, they were unable to take tools and equipment, such as generators, with them. The entire nine acres of trees were also burned in the blaze.

Cabins at the community center and retreat 2 weeks prior to the fire. [courtesy photo]

Cabins at the Pagan Community Center and Retreat 2 weeks prior to the fire. [Courtesy Photo]

Cabins and trees after the fire. [courtesy photo]

Cabins and trees after the fire. [Courtesy Photo]

Bailey said that the rebuilding has already begun. “Today we were able to return to the land and begin our cleanup and recovery efforts. We spent a long, tiring day salvaging what we could and trying to clear out anything that was unsalvageable.” Bailey shared this video:

 

Bailey noted that, while the local Pagan community has been turning out to physically help, they need funds to help rebuild, “It’s difficult to express the pain I feel at the loss of so much financial investment but also the loss of hard won progress our community had labored together to gain these last five years.” He said that any donations made to the GoFundMe account will be directly used to make community center and retreat capable of meeting the needs of the Pagan community again. Donations for the Alaska Pagan Community Center can be made here.

The wildfire near Willow is just one of roughly 300 fires still burning in Alaska. A particularly fierce blaze. it is called the Sockeye Fire, and has destroyed 55 homes and damaged many more in addition to the community center.

The total area affected by the over 300 fires is roughly 624,000 acres.

Blogger Peter Dybing, a Pagan first responder, was recently sent to Alaska as part of his mundane job to help fight the fires. He is assisting with the wildfires in the Fairbanks area. Dybing said that Alaska has more firefighters responding now than at any time in its history. “Firefighters from the lower 48 are struggling with extreme fire behavior, sleep disruption due to 24 hour daylight and rapidly changing fire conditions.”

Dybing said that the Alaska fires are unique. “With tundra duff up to 18 inches deep, rain can make a fire appear to be out, yet just a few hours of sun and the fire roars back to life. Much of this is complicated by the disappearance of permafrost that normally is at about the 10 inch level. Global climate change has taken a toll on the fire environment in Alaska.”

Volunteers begin the cleanup effort at the Pagan Community Center site. [courtesy photo]

Volunteers begin the cleanup effort at the Pagan Community Center site. [Courtesy Photo]

While there has been speculation that the Sockeye fire was started by neighbors of The Land, authorities still haven’t said conclusively if the fire was set deliberately or accidentally.

VATICAN CITY — Many, if not most, Pagans consider the Earth to be sacred. This has been true for at least as long as Wicca and other modern Pagan religions have been in the public eye. For many in the mainstream media, this is considered an identifying characteristic of Paganism. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has finally released his long-awaited 180+ page encyclical on the environment, called Laudato Si. This one document has been in the news for some weeks and is the strongest message about the subject ever released by that Church.

[Courtesy NASA / Flickr]

[Courtesy NASA / Flickr]

The Pope’s statement that has been in the works for months, and has been called a “game changer” for the environmental movement. The Wild Hunt asked some members of the Pagan community to weigh in on the weighty document.

Given the diverse nature of Pagans — including those who are often lumped under the Pagan umbrella, whether they wish to be or not — It is not surprising that the responses ranged across a wide spectrum. Some common threads have emerged in these early reactions, but as this message and its ramifications are absorbed and digested, those threads could either strengthen or snap. The bulk of the reactions from those people, who were able to take the time to read and respond to the encyclical, is largely positive, with some important exceptions.

John Beckett

John Beckett

Druid John Beckett was quick to notice that “environment” seems to include much more than animals and trees. He said:

If you think Pope Francis’ encyclical is only about climate change, you need to read it for yourself. It’s about the inherent value of all living things, about a ‘throwaway culture’ that mistakenly seeks meaning in things, about the connections between humans and the rest of Nature, and about how the results of our environmental desecrations are borne predominantly by the poor.

‘Laudato Si’ is grounded in Christian scripture and tradition, but Pope Francis understands these are global problems requiring a global approach. Perhaps most importantly, he understands real, lasting change cannot come from technology, but through changes in culture and spirituality.

Pope Francis gets it.

John Halstead, who has been a driving force behind the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, noted that it includes a number of elements with which a Pagan might identify. Halstead said:

John Halstead

John Halstead

Repeatedly throughout the statement, the Pope observes that everything is interconnected, which is an article of faith for many Pagans (¶¶ 16, 70, 117, 138). He also recognized that we are inherently part of the earth: “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live,” he says, “We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (¶ 139) “[O]ur very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (¶ 2) In my mind, this echoes the Pagan environmental statement. In fact, something like these words might have been spoken at Pagan Spirit Gathering this year or at a CUUPS summer solstice ritual.

Pagan Environmental Coalition NYC member Courtney Weber was reassured that the Pope was placing environmentalism into a Christian context, but also felt that there are parts of Christian teaching which continue to fly in the face of stewardship. She said:

It is absolutely encouraging to see the Pope take such an unflinching, yet hopeful, stance on the future of our ecological revolution. He strikes down the all too destructive interpretation of Christian scripture and insists that we all have a part to play in turning this around, particularly for citizens of wealthier nations. This could not be more important or true. He misses the mark, however, when he says that controlling the population isn’t a major part of solving this crisis. To not include reproductive control as imperative to surviving the climate crisis speaks of antiquated and dangerous Catholic doctrine. Pagans, however, will probably enjoy section 241, which talks about Mother Mary as Queen of Creation.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

Cherry Hill Seminary‘s Holli S. Emore struck a similar tone, saying:

Pope Francis has created a masterpiece, in my opinion, in the recent encyclical on the environment. Rather than lurking in the safety of official doctrine, he has expounded theologically on a solid grounding of science, economics and social justice. While I wish he had been able to go further in calling for population decrease, I agree with his assertion that blaming overpopulation for our ecological woes is disingenuous. The beauty of the encyclical is that, in addition to the many millions of Catholics around the world who respect the teachings of a pope, the document is crafted in language that people of virtually any faith can embrace. On my desk is a small vase of roses from my garden. They were only buds when I cut and brought them in, but they have gradually opened into blooms of great beauty and fragrance. I choose to see the Pope’s statement as a bud with the power to transform many as it opens and blooms, if only we will nurture the vision.

The Reverend Patrick McCollum released a statement while traveling, which welcomed the Catholic Church to the table of people fighting to protect the Earth. Rev. McCollum said:

I would like to offer praise and admiration on behalf of the Earth Based Spiritual Traditions for the Pope’s brave step forward to join us and others in dialogue about the care and future of our planet. Both we and our indigenous brothers and sisters share many of the same concerns and reverence for the sacredness of our earth that the Pontiff proclaims and we have long waited for a time when all peoples might set aside some of our differences in order to work together as a family toward our common humanity and the place we call home.

There is much work to be done and many challenges to be overcome as we move forward, but as a representative of many millions who treasure the sacredness of creation, I reach out my hand to accept the Pope’s gracious invitation and to share his powerful message worldwide.

The “sacredness” which McCollum referenced has surprised many Pagan observers. Attorney Robin Martinez, whose work against the Keystone XL Pipeline has been chronicled here, zeroed on its implications. He said:

Robin Wright

Robin Martinez

As someone with a Pagan world view, little did I think I’d ever be anticipating the release of a communication from the Pope. I starting realizing the significance of this work when barely into the introduction I read these words: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment is one of the more powerful documents I’ve read in quite some time, and presents a major contribution to development of an underlying moral, ethical, and spiritual framework for our relationship with the Earth. In some respects, I balk at using the word “relationship” because it implies a separation of humanity from the Earth, but Pope Francis tackles that head-on in the introduction, where he writes that “[w]e have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

It also struck Peter Dybing, who said, in part:

After reading the complete document my personal understanding of the nature of Catholic Church is profoundly affected. Here, the institution most responsible for the spread of Patriarchy, colonial power, suppression of indigenous cultures, cultural and environmental genocide, takes an about face. This new Pope steps forward and establishes himself as a leader, not just of his church, but also of those seeking environmental, economic and social justice on a planetary scale.

As I was reading I was drawing parallels with some of the most forward progressive ideas being embraced by Pagan sites like Gods&Radicals. Frankly I am stunned. This may be a watershed document of our generation, establishing an urgency that the world has so far failed to muster for environmental action.

Sean Donahue is a writer for the aforementioned Gods&Radicals, and the import was not lost on him, either. He said:

“Pagan” and “Heathen” are words that originally referred to the unchurched and unlettered people of the countryside, and these were the people Francis of Assisi ministered to — a ministry marked not by conversion but by inclusion in an animist form of Christianity, which saw plants and animals and sun and rain and wind and stars as humanity’s kin. It is telling and significant that the saint’s namesake draws quite explicitly on that original Franciscan language, theology, and spirit in an encyclical addressed not to Catholics but to the world.

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Sean Donahue

Pope Francis calls the world to join him in adopting what he rightly describes as St. Francis’s radical stance — “refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” In so doing, he challenges the fundamental tenets of capitalism, and calls for new political and economic approaches which value both human and non-human life. He explicitly condemns anthropocentrism and asserts that all species have inherent worth and a right to live — a far cry from his predecessor who condemned such views as rooted in “attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism.” He also takes the position that Indigenous peoples are the best caretakers of their traditional homelands, and that they deserve to be allowed to honor an protect “a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.”

All of this marks a tremendous theological shift, a reversal of centuries of church doctrine. Pope Francis believes that there is one God (though he also speaks eloquently of Mary, who “grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power.”) My path is one not of belief, but of relationship, and I am connected with many gods — the Feri gods and the gods of my Celtic ancestors. But that is about all that separates my perspective on the world and the perspective the Pope articulates in this encyclical. And that is deeply healing to my once Catholic heart.

Not everything in this dense document was entirely welcome, however. Halstead pointed out that he had two main concerns. Halstead said, “The first is his lingering anthropocentrism. Although he criticizes ‘distorted’ or ‘excessive’ anthropocentrism (¶¶ 69, 116), he nevertheless insists on humanity’s ‘pre-eminence’ (¶ 90) and ‘superiority’ (¶ 220). He argues that, in the absence of this belief, human beings will not feel responsible for the planet. (¶ 118) While I agree that human beings are ‘unique’ in many ways among the world’s fauna, and that we have special responsibilities as a result, I know from personal experience that undermining the belief in humanity’s ‘superiority’ can produce a greater sense of responsibility to the earth. And I know the reverse to be true as well: belief in our ‘pre-eminence’ can weaken our sense of ecological responsibility.”

Pope Francis [Photo Credit: Catholic Church England / Flickr]

Pope Francis [Photo Credit: Catholic Church England / Flickr]

Then, there’s the notion of the fragility of the earth. Halstead goes on to say, “In one place, the Pope says that ‘a divinization of the earth . . . would prevent us from . . . protecting it in its fragility.’ (¶ 90) . . . . The earth, nature, the biosphere is resilient. There is no sense in the Pope’s statement that human beings are facing an existential threat. And naturally, many Pagans know that the ‘divinization of the earth’ can, in fact, inspire us to protect it.”

Damon Leff, former director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) and editor-in-chief of Penton Independent Alternative Media, is also a longtime observer of the Church. He didn’t mince words with his response:

I personally believe, given the very long and painful history of criminal acts committed by the Catholic Church and its repeated denials of guilt and refusal to honestly atone for many of these sins, that this Church has no moral standing to pontificate on any subject at all, to anyone. An apparently liberal and certainly more affable Pope than his Nazi predecessor does not for one instant change the Church’s actual conservative and often hostilely prejudicial position on any number of subjects Francis may or may not have bantered on since he took office; LGBTI rights and marriage equality, Pagan minorities, witch-hunts, traditional religions in Africa and Europe, Women, poverty, racism, paedophilia and illegal child abduction by nuns in Ireland and elsewhere.

The modern Catholic Church has neither proven itself better nor more moral than its historic predecessor. As for Francis’ statement on the environment, it’s too little too late. The world according to that Church is a pile of sinful dirt. For me and countless others who are not of the opinion that matter is inherently sinful, She is a divine body in need of global rescue. Nothing Francis can say can rescue her. The real battle for Her survival is being waged daily by committed environmentalists against both governments and global corporations completely committed and determined to profit from Her demise at any cost. One only has to look at current issues around and affecting global warming, Monsanto and Roundup Ready GMOs, fracking and polluting industry self-regulation to see that, at best, what any of us ‘believe’ about anything is as useless, in the face of an army of capitalists determined to destroy life as we know it for every planetary species, as spitting curses against the wind.

To Dybing, those aspects which didn’t jibe with his theology are still opportunities for learning. He said, “There are some areas where my personal understanding of divinity and women’s rights are in clear opposition to principles put forth in the document. That fact, however, has me wondering if my personal opinions of the church lead me to seek areas of difference when in fact there is so much in this document that sets the stage for world wide intersections of purpose and action for people of faith.”

No matter these early reactions, Dybing’s recommendation to read it and form one’s own opinions may be well worth heeding. In time, history will judge whether Laudato Si is truly a game-changer, or simply a flash in the pan. If time shows that this document succeeded in getting the entire Roman Catholic Church pulling for the Earth, it will be significant indeed.

KATHMANDU, Nepal –This past Saturday, at about noon local time, Nepal was struck by an 7.8-magnitude earthquake said to be equivalent to 20 thermonuclear bombs, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. As of this writing, the death toll is reported at over 5,000, and that number is likely to rise as information is gathered from the remote areas closest to the epicenter.

Nepal Earthquake 2015 [Photo Credit: Krish Dulal via Wikimedia]

Nepal Earthquake 2015 [Photo Credit: Krish Dulal via Wikimedia]

As is often the case with powerful disasters, there is a strong desire to help. However it’s not always clear what assistance is going to be the most effective. The Wild Hunt spoke to Peter Dybing, whose experience on the front lines of disaster relief for the 2010 Haiti earthquake gives him a unique perspective on the issue.

Disasters like this have several phases, Dybing explained, and each phase has its own needs. An earthquake of this severity,which occurs roughly every 75 years in this region, will likely require both immediate aid and longer-term, sustainable solutions. The first step in providing aid, however, is assessing both the needs, and how well the surviving infrastructure can support aid workers. “If you don’t have everything that your people need,” he said, “they become part of the disaster” with each additional body needing food, water, and shelter – items already in short supply.

What is known so far is that many Nepalese survivors are sleeping on the streets. From what Dybing understands, water is likely in short supply in the more remote areas, where it must be trucked in along mountain roads. One organization that is particularly good at not becoming part of the problem, Dybing said, is Doctors Without Borders. “They bring all their teams, shelter, food, and water, and can be up and running in 24 hours,” he said.

Most NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, are not quite so nimble. In evaluating which organizations will be able to provide the needed help effectively and quickly, he says, it becomes a question of existing contacts and area infrastructure. In Haiti, he said, “We looked for a school to set up as an incident command base, because it has everything we would need.” For the Nepal response, Dybing expects that relief will be coordinated through India; navigating geopolitical tensions is but one of the challenges that relief organizations must be prepared for in order to be effective.

"Kathmandu - open spaces have become home for thousands of people afraid to return to their houses." [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

“Kathmandu – open spaces have become home for thousands of people afraid to return to their houses.” [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

Having contacts on the ground and a knowledge of the lay of the land is critical to being able to funnel money to where it is most needed, Dybing added. And, the Pagan community itself has just such a resource in the form of the Patrick McCollum Foundation, which has put out its own call for donations for earthquake relief.

“Patrick is the man,” Dybing said. “The idea that he could have a better idea where the needs actually are, and where to send the money, is an awesome thing. The issue is that there’s not an accountability put in place, so you have to trust the person, but I trust Patrick implicitly.” And, because the foundation is based in the United States, it’s required to spend all the donations made for Nepalese earthquake relief on exactly that.

McCollum, who was unavailable to comment, has traveled extensively to this part of the world, which is why his foundation is well-positioned to direct relief efforts. While the organization is primarily focused on social justice and world peace, Dybing said that, right now that specific mission is less important than McCollum’s knowledge about the needs and existing infrastructure in Nepal. “The logistic piece is huge,” Dybing said. “It can cut response time from 10-15 days down to three or four.”

Another small organization that is skilled at fast response is Heart to Heart International, which earned Dybing’s respect in Haiti for quick, effective deployment, followed by its working toward more sustainable, long-term solutions. As for groups with infrastructure already on the ground, Dybing named the Australian Red Cross.

Larger NGOs have what Dybing calls a “long logistics tail,” and take more time to get mobilized. “We were treating trauma victims in Haiti for nine days before the American Red Cross showed up,” he said. While these bigger organizations, like Care International, can’t provide immediate relief, the need in Nepal is probably going to last for years to come, so donations to these larger organizations will not go to waste.

People line up for clean water. [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

People lining up for clean water. [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

It’s also possible, he speculated, for the Pagan community to come together to provide some kind of longer-term, sustainable relief, perhaps targeting the small number of animists living in that nation. Out of a population of 26.5 million people, 3.1% report following Kirantism, which is a tribal religion with strong animistic and ancestor-veneration elements, and another .4% consider themselves animists. By comparison, 1.4% of those counted on the last Nepalese census called themselves Christian.

Just yesterday, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) announced its ADF Cares – Nepal fund, through which money will be sent to Global Giving for longer term relief. “Pagans raised $30,000 for Doctors Without Borders after the Japan earthquake, which was the first time we did that as a community,” Dybing noted. “It blew the doors off the myth that Pagans are poor.” He speculated that such a sustainable effort might involve individuals contributing $30 a month for some years, allowing aid workers in those populations to eventually train Nepalese replacements to continue the effort.  With this level of destruction, Dybing added, “Two weeks isn’t going to cut it.”

 

Covenant of the GoddessSAN BERNARDINO –In the forty years since Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) was formed, its members have been on the front lines of battles for equal rights as prison chaplains, as veterans, as parents, and as people. The organization has helped to define the Wiccan and wider Pagan communities, has weathered the Satanic panics and the infamous Helms amendment, which threatened to remove tax-exempt status from “occult” churches, and endured the more recent attacks launched by such luminaries as George W. Bush and Bob Barr.

However, in recent months, this venerable collective of covens and solitary practitioners has faced an internal upheaval, which has since become quite public, and could be one of its most difficult struggles to date. The spark which ignited the firestorm was the very current ignition point: race.

Early in December, Pagan and polytheist individuals and groups issued statements of support and calls to action in response to the treatment of people of color in American society. As the Wild Hunt coverage at the time noted, its own columnist Crystal Blanton was the catalyst of this show of solidarity. CoG was among the organizations that released a statement, which began with this paragraph:

We, the members of the Covenant, acknowledge and share the concern that many in our world and within our Pagan communities have voiced regarding inequalities in justice. We find that all life is sacred, and as such, all lives matter.

To say the statement fell flat is an understatement. Critics quickly noted that it avoided any reference to specific events, such as the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri or Eric Garner in New York City. The statement replaced the viral phrase “black lives matter” with the more inclusive “all lives matter,” which was interpreted by a number of Facebook observers to be code for white privilege.

In that social media venue, comments ranged from people decrying the “whitewashing” of systemic racism to others who took great umbrage at the idea that broadening the scope was inappropriate. A similar debate was also taking place, out of public eye, on one of the Covenant’s internal email lists. These lists were not made available for review due to the expectation of privacy by members.

Tiffani Thomas Parker

Tiffani Thomas Parker [Courtesy Photo]

In reaction to that first statement, several members resigned from the organization in protest. CoG Member Tiffany Thomas Parker, who was not one of those to leave, offered her own perspective. She provided further insight into what led to such a strong pushback:

First of all, I will say that I am happy of some of the things that CoG has done for Pagans as a whole. But with that said, I was very disappointed with them with the statement they originally gave.

My first initial reaction was to reread what I read. Then came disappointment and anger. I was thinking to myself “Of all people, Pagans as a whole should know what it is like to be stereotyped and singled out. They should be behind the movement to ensure that ANYONE doesn’t get targeted like this.”

They should have consulted, asked, or even suggested to get opinions from those of color (regardless of race) to get a better understanding of what was going on to get a better perspective. It may not have happened to those who are the head of the organization, but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. To simply ignore an issue such as this was a slap in the face.

Furthermore, I do think that if they had acknowledged the issue, it would have shown the Pagans of Color that they have our back and it would have given them a light of hope that they felt supported and could have joined CoG. CoG isn’t as diverse as I would have liked it to be, and it would have been a HUGE opportunity and they blew it.

Yvonne C. Conway-Williams, an assistant to CoG’s National Board, also felt the statement came up short, and said so on the internal CoG list. However, Conway-Williams understands the limitations of the organization’s consensus-driven process, saying that “. . . there was a sense of urgency, which is why I think they did not send it to a committee and instead chose to deal with it as a national board.”  She added, “My stance has long been that we are not truly hearing from a vast majority of CoG members on the private elists. One person is required to be on our announcements list per member coven. Other members of a coven might wish to subscribe… Even fewer people are signed up for our discussion and debate elist. What this means is there’s only a select few who are having say and input on these issues. By doing so, I personally do not feel all members are being heard. I think it would be great if more members were involved at a deeper level with national activities such as this statement.”

Public Information Officer Gordon Stone echoed Conway-Williams’ concerns about how representative an e-list can be, saying, “I think it is also important to mention that not every member of CoG is on the e-lists. This is why CoG does not set organizational policy through email discussion.”

Outside of the organization, the board’s statement was also attacked as generic and meaningless. Devotional polytheist Caer said:

The only way we can win this fight is to actively engage in it. We must commit. As above, so below. As without, so within. We can’t just say the words and make the gestures and leave them both hanging there, unsupported. That won’t accomplish anything, brings us no closer to our goals. We have to acknowledge the problem, clearly state our intent, and we have to move from problem to goal by actively doing something.

Longtime CoG member Marybeth Pythia Witt, also known as Lady Pythia, commented more recently about that initial statement, saying in part, “We also learned too late that the all lives matter hashtag is used by a conservative anti-abortion group, ergo, the original post was incorrect for more than one reason.”

Lady Pythia during an event doing outreach for CoG in 1987 [Photo Provided by Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

Lady Pythia during a Wiccan event in which she did media outreach for CoG [Photo Provided by Lady Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

The discussion appears to have continued on, largely unabated on the Covenant’s internal debate & discussion e-list. Members of the national board recognized that a different approach was needed to address these widespread concerns. According to First Officer Kasha, after the initial statement was published,

We immediately received feedback from individuals inside and outside of the organization and began to reconsider the content of the statement and its impact on our members. On December 11, we issued an apology, published on our internal announcement list, to those members who were hurt by this statement, explaining that the original statement was created in an effort to express the opinion of our diverse membership, and we realized we had missed the mark.

At that time we solicited members for a committee to draft a new statement to be released internally and then potentially approved at our National Meeting in August. In the following weeks, Gordon Stone, our Public Information Officer, and a committee of volunteers developed the new statement.

That revised statement was released in draft form on Jan. 20 with a note of explanation about the process for formal adoption. It stated, “In order to allow the membership of CoG a chance to have input on this new statement, it was released internally on our organization’s e-mail list last week. The membership will have the opportunity to review, revise, and adopt it as a statement made by the entire organization at the annual meeting in August 2015.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

However, any fanfare that might have accompanied this new draft was deafened by a blog post written by former First Officer Peter Dybing and published the day before. Writing under the title An Indictment of Covenant of the Goddess, Racism Exposed, Dybing lambasted his fellow members, asserting that his comments on the private list had been censored as part of a wider effort to silence dissent over these issues. He further claims that one of the individuals guiding the discussion was known to use racist epithets in casual conversation.

Let me be clear, there are many great people in CoG that I have worked with over the years. What this post represents is an indictment of the power structures that at all costs will engage in ensuring that the organization does not change. When truth is spoken to power the result is oppression. It is evident that those engaging in these behaviors have little insight into their actions, yet it remains that their actions are sheltering racism within the organization.

Not surprisingly, considerable outcry resulted with some taking to social media to applaud Dybing’s words, and others claiming he had breached CoG’s code of ethics. The two points of that code which appear to speak most closely to that questions are, “All persons associated with this Covenant shall respect the traditional secrecy of our religion” and “Members of this Covenant should ever keep in mind the underlying unity of our religion as well as the diversity of its manifestations.” Dybing maintains he has not violated ethical standards because he has not named anyone.

Whether Dybing was “censored” or “moderated” is also a matter of internal debate. The organization does have a policy covering e-list discussions, and Kasha said, “We did apply our policy uniformly. Many Members were warned about inappropriate posts and, rather than removing members from the list, those not complying with the Net Coordinator’s (Netco’s) requests for civility were placed on moderated status. Posts that continued to violate the Netco’s request for civility were not put through to the list. After 2 or 3 days, when calmer conversation and cooler heads prevailed, the moderation of all subscribers was lifted and the discussion list was reopened to courteous discussion of all topics.” The policy actually allows the Netco to remove offenders from the list entirely, pending an appeal to the national board, but that allegedly did not occur.

CoG member Daryl Fuller, a participant in those e-discussions, publicly published a point-by-point refutation of Dybing’s post, calling much of it “half-truth and rumor-mongering.” In that response, Fuller took particular exception to the allegations being tossed around about another unnamed member. He also admits to being moderated himself, adding “No one is currently being censored on any COG email list.”

When asked about this controversy, NPIO Stone said, “I would respectfully request that your readers bear in mind that these two CoG Members were speaking as individuals rather than as official representatives of the organization. CoG also has ethical standards outlined in our bylaws, and all members are expected to know and adhere to these standards.  I encourage your readers to make a decision about what CoG stands for by speaking with several of our Members, or contacting the nearest local council for more information.”

The second statement, a draft, has also received considerable Facebook attention, and again, reactions were mixed. Comments range from gratitude to expressions that it doesn’t go far enough to complaints that saying that black lives matter discounts the struggles of other groups.

As part of a lengthier commentary, Cat Chapin-Bishop observed, “I am in no way surprised to hear statements from CoG members that seem to deny and minimize the reality of racism today. From the ‘Irish people were discriminated against, too,’ to ‘I don’t see color,’ the whole range of well-meaning white cluelessness is on display. But I’m not surprised or shocked by that, because I have come to understand, since the events in Ferguson this past summer, just how out of touch I, and other white people, truly have become on this subject.”

Penny Novak, a former Second Officer of CoG, acknowledged that there is surely racism within the ranks.  She said that “any organization without a political filter on it has racists in it.” However, she characterized Dybing’s behavior on the e-list as “really off the wall” and “very obnoxious.” What he failed to understand, Novak thought, was that many older people with racially-biased world views are unaware of that fact. “Give them a break, Peter, they don’t even know!” she said. While some of her contemporaries haven’t exactly kept up with the times, she didn’t believe that his “kicking and screaming” approach was likely to change hearts and minds. She explained further:

I’ve been thinking about the many ways in which language around the issue of race has changed during my lifetime. You may feel it’s obvious but it really isn’t. It isn’t even obvious between the generations of the Black Community.  Believe me, when I was young calling a person Black was disrespectful …  Those of us who were white and didn’t want to further the blot of what had been done to those of African-descent in our communities were very particular about the language we used…  

I’m not excusing the use of disrespectful language but when social use of language changes rapidly from generation to generation there will be bleed-over and sometimes what was socially acceptable positions become anathema. If you’re not keeping up, if you don’t keep an eye on the young folks you’ll miss when things start switching …You need to be very careful and you need to step lightly. 

More significantly, Novak thinks that, while questions over race caused this controversy, the issues run far deeper, saying that CoG “has basically been ruined by a few people who want power, and it’s ridiculous because CoG is an organization without power.” The decisions lie with local councils and member covens, she explained, and the national board has little sway. “Look what happens when they try to make a statement like big organizations do,” she said, “complete wimpdom.”

It still remains to be seen what kind of statement this organization will finally release on the subject and how it will move forward with tackling the accusations of racial inequality and systemic racism within the organization. Consensus must be achieved, and that won’t happen until the national meeting in August. That’s what Novak means when she says that CoG has no power.

This is a thread picked up by Kirk White, a former co-first officer who wonders about the covenant’s future. He said:

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

Part of the underlying problem is that CoG is adrift in its purpose and seeking to regain its relevance. Its foundational purpose was “to increase cooperation among Witches and to secure for Witches and covens the legal protection enjoyed by members of other religions.” Back in 1975 it was hard to connect with other Witches, get ordained, and we were still establishing our rights as a valid, legal religion. It was easy to rally the members around clearly Witch issues but now these battles are mostly won, ordination is laughably easy and we have the internet. So there is a struggle in CoG over how to restore relevance and attract younger members. The few younger members we do have and the more liberal members want CoG to be more activist to regain relevance.

But without clear Witch issues, the political polarization of our secular world is invading CoG’s inner processes over which causes to support. Environmental issues, women’s rights, gun rights, and racial inequality have all been split into “liberal” or “conservative” views by today’s media and CoG’s membership, being politically diverse finds itself unable to find consensus — which is how CoG operates — on just about anything. Thus, issues like #blacklivesmatter — originally seen as a “liberal” cause — are almost impossible to agree on quickly, if ever. This is frustrating to those more activist members, and combined with some bad blood left over from previous conflicts, has led to the recent resignations and bitter fighting within some of the more vocal parts of CoG.

Others see hope for the organization’s future. NPIO Stone said:

CoG as an organization is strengthened by the dialogue of our diverse membership. Sometimes that dialogue is easy and sometimes it is challenging; however, in my view, it is always educational. All Board members maintain an open door policy, and members are welcome to email the Board directly when they have concerns or questions. The appropriate Board Member will reply, usually in a relatively short time frame. Keeping that dialogue going is one of the best ways for CoG to insure that the organization will continue for many years to come.

While describing the process of examining issues such as social justice and the path to membership, First Officer Kasha said, “Clearly, the needs of CoG’s membership have evolved over the past 40 years, and our go forward plan is to continue to assess our needs, and ultimately, potentially revise our mission …In a consensus driven organization like CoG, this can take a long time, but our committed membership has been through several tides of change and will weather this one as well, being stronger for the work.”

“CoG is ready to evolve,” said Lady Pythia. “We’re not Witches for nothing.”

On Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, a Wild Hunt columnist, author, Priestess and activist, issued a challenge to the Pagan community, as a whole, after noticing “the silence of the Pagan organizations in light of recent unrest.” She said, “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community … Tonight, I am saying to the Pagan community, I see you. The question is, do you SEE us?”

 

That single Facebook post was a catalyst for an avalanche of response from individuals, small groups and organizations across the nation. Over the past six days nearly 50 public statements and articles have appeared in blogs, websites and Facebook status updates, making this, quite possibly, a historic moment of unprecedented solidarity. Moreover, the responses aren’t limited to the so-called Pagan community. Responses have come from Heathen organizations and Polytheists, as well as a large variety of Pagans from a diversity of traditions.

“The response of many organizations and leaders over the last week has shown something we haven’t really seen before in our community; a willingness to speak up and speak out about the needs of Black people and ethnic minorities,” Crystal said, expressing her surprise.

Due to the number of reactions, it is impossible to share in detail each and every statement or article. It is even more difficult to encapsulate the grief, anger, frustrations, power, hope and even confusion expressed in many of these statements. A full list is included at the bottom. Of course, it is important to also remember that this list is not comprehensive. More statements and discussions are published every day.

Before Blanton issued her call-to-action, several Pagans had already made public statements on the #blacklivesmatter national protest campaign On Nov. 25, T.Thorn Coyle, who wrote an “Open Letter to White America.” In that statement, Coyle called for empathy and compassion, saying, “I pray that we remember: We are responsible for one another’s well-being.” On Nov. 29, Peter Dybing posted a photo of himself holding up sign that read, “White Privliege is real. Stay calm and listen.” Like Thorn, he was speaking to white Americans, asking them to stay silent and listen to those oppressed.

[Courtesy Photo]

Following Dybing’s lead, author Christopher Penczak also posted a photo of himself holding the same sign. He issued a heartfelt statement, saying:

I have tried to take the advice of a friend who said one of the best things we could do, particularly those of us in a place of privilege, is to listen …  I know sometimes I don’t want to, but its so important, particularly at this time. So I thank Peter Dybing for asking me and others to let people know that listening while keeping calm in uncomfortable situations is absolutely necessary at this time. Blessed be.

These statements came shortly after the Ferguson grand jury decision. However, after that announcement was made, other similar incidents made headlines, including the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City and the shooting death of Tamir Rice in Ohio. At that point, the tone of the public conversation changed from simply “stay silent” to “act and acknowledge.” Additionally, the messages, which were originally aimed predominately at white Pagans, also changed direction. This wake-up, so to speak, was expressed by Jenya T. Beachy, who wrote in a blog post, “I’ve fallen prey to the ‘nothing is right to say so say nothing’ theme.”

Crystal2014

Crystal Blanton [Courtesy Photo]

After Blanton’s facebook post, most of the first responses came from the blogging world. Similar to Beachy, the writers opened up discussions of the issues, as each of them personally grappled with the reality of the national crisis. Not all of these posts were specifically in response to Blanton’s challenge, but all deal with the situation head-on. Polytheist blogger Galina Krasskova  discusses her obligation, and that of other white citizens, to speak out. Drawing from her religious practice, she wrote that we have an “ancestral obligation to take a stand against racism.”

Other bloggers and writers who responded include Shauna Aura Knight, Jason Mankey, Anomalous Thracian, Sarah Sadie, John Beckett, Kathy Nance, Rhyd Wildermuth, Peter Dybing and Tim Titus. Patheos Pagan Channel has posted a static link list of all posts that reflect on Ferguson and Police Brutality.

Some of the topics raised within these varied articles include white privliege (e.g., Tim Titus and Anomalous Thracian), how it all relates to Paganism (e.g., Jason Mankey and Shauna Aura Knight), and the need for decisive action (e.g., Peter Dybing). Some bloggers, like Tom Swiss at The Zen Pagan, also incorporate a discussion of spirituality. Swiss wrote, “If you’re not outraged by all this, you’re not paying attention.” He goes on to say, “Buddhism realizes the place of wrath, and assigns significant deities to its proper function — the “wrathful deities.”

In addition to bloggers, there was a flood of solidarity statements from individuals and leaders (e.g., Ivo Dominguez, Patrick McCollum, Starhawk); from small groups (e.g., CAYA coven, Circle of Ancestral Magic, Bone and Briar, Vanic Conspiracy) and from national organizations (e.g., Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, Ár nDraíocht Fein, Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Cherry Hill SeminaryThe Pantheon Foundation and Heathens Against Racism).

Some of these statements were specifically meant as calls-to-action in support of the public protests around the nation. The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used powerful language saying, in part:

We are angry … We want justice … We who are the priesthood and war band dedicated to the Morrigan stand and take our place in the streets as allies to justice.”

While they used strong language in their call to action, the Priesthood also said, “We have hope.”

Similar to the Priesthood, Free Cascadia Witchcamp organizers used potent language saying, “We will not be complicit through silence.” They added, “We grieve the irretrievable loss of integrity for all those who participate in, and uphold structural opppression, and we grieve the tragedy of those impacted by it.”

Not everyone used forceful words in their calls for action. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) asked its membership and friends to “act as partners in the work to create more justice in our broader communities.” They added, “None of us can be truly safe or free when some lives have value and others don’t.” Other similar calls to action, both strongly worded or not, came from Bone & Briar in Pennsylvania, Solar Cross in California, CAYA coven, Patrick McCollum, Cherry Hill Seminary, and others.

Some goups focused their words on recognition and awareness. These statements were in direct response to Blanton’s statement “Do you see us?” In these public expressions, organizations and groups acknowledged bearing witness to injustice and are essentially saying, “We see you.”

This was well-expressed on Polytheist.com, where representatives stated, “We see the harm. We see the fear and the hatred. We see the injustice … Together, we stand for something better.” Circle of Ancestral Magic, Blanton’s own coven, wrote, “We say this most of all to the people most affected by these atrocities. We see you. We hear you, and honor your lived experiences.” Other similar treatments were made by groups such as Vanic Conspiracy and Immanion Press.

Rather than make a comment, Circle Santuary chose a different route. It opened up its regular Tuesday night Circle podcast to host a round-table discussion on racial equality. In retrospect, Rev. Selena Fox said:

Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League are committed to working for a world with freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all, and where people can live in harmony with one another and with the greater circle of nature of which we are all a part.  It is our hope that this solution-focused Pagan community conversation can enhance awareness, inspire considerate communications and encourage effective, collaborative actions to help manifest racial equality

In a statement for Ár nDraíocht Fein (ADF), Rev. Kirk Thomas ended on a spiritual note saying, “We must all look deeply inside ourselves to root out prejudices we have been raised with that linger in the dark. Only then can injustice end. Only then may we all live in peace.”

Several organizations, due to internal processes and the distance between its board members, were unable to issue their statements in time for publication, but told The Wild Hunt that they were currently working on words. These organizations included The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, The Officers of Avalon and The Troth.

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

In response to all this activity Lou Florez, a spiritual counselor, rootworker, Orisha priest, told The Wild Hunt,

I wish I could say that these acts of violence, racism, aggression, and brutality on black bodies were rare, but unfortunately, they are not. These experiences are the lived reality for a vast majority of People of Color. While it is very touching to see the outpouring of support, discussion and commitments, I see this as just the beginning of a first step. As witches, Pagans, magicians, conjurers, and clergy we are mandated to transform the world as we transform ourselves. It’s time to awaken to the ramifications and reality of power, privilege and oppression in our circles, and communities.

Turning back to Blanton, we asked what she thought of this flurry of reaction to her Facebook comment, as well as the opening up of conversations and the calls to action. She said, with a hopeful tone, “I am so humbled to see such clear, fast and strong responses and it renews my hope that we might be able to actually do something together with that energy in our community.”

*   *   *

The following is a list of the public (only) statements, posts and articles that were issued since Dec. 4 and referenced above. This is not an exhaustive list and more statements will undoubtedly surface over the days to come.

Coru Cathubodu

Bone and Briar

Free Cascadia Witch Camp

Immanion Press

The Family of the Forge in the Forest

The Firefly House

Shauna Aura Knight

Hexenfest and Pandemonaeon

Vanic Conspiracy

Heathens United Against Racism

Polytheist.com

The Troth

CAYA Coven

Solar Cross

Anomalous Thracian

Starhawk

Pantheon

ADF

Circle Sanctuary

CUUPS

Peter Dybing

T. Thorn Coyle

Jason Mankey

Courtney Weber

Patrick McCollum

Officers of Avalon

Jenya T. Beachy

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel

Covenant of the Goddess

Christopher Penczak

Tea & Chanting Sangha/Dharma Pagans

Lykeia

Galina Krasskova

Cherry Hill Seminary

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Tim Titus

Lydia Crabtree

John Beckett

Rhyd Wildermuth

Kathy Nance

Tom Swiss

Circle of Ancestral Magic

Sarah Sadie

Aquarian Tabernacle Church

The Pantheon Foundation

 

On Jan. 1 Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize the open sale of recreational marijuana and the first state to regulate the plant from seed to sale. In November 2012 residents voted to legalize cannabis and the state’s legislature added Amendment 64 to its constitution. Over a year later, the stage was set for 36 retail outlets to open for business with 160 more waiting in the wings.

Photo courtesy of Flickr's Coleen Danger

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Coleen Danger

Today we take a look at Colorado’s landmark decision. Did Colorado make the right choice? Have there been any unforeseen consequences? Will other states follow? With differing voices from around the country and from different minority faiths, we’ll consider the standing issues facing Colorado and the nation.

PGPT_TThornCoyle_bio

T. Thorn Coyle

According to a 2011 FBI Report, “The trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs in the United States create an enormous drain on the economic, physical, and social health of American society. In 2007 alone, the estimated cost of illicit drug use to society was $193 billion.” Of all drug-arrests, 50% are for the possession or sale marijuana alone. The media calls the war on drugs “a trillion dollar failure.”

Pagan author and teacher, T. Thorn Coyle, remarked:

I was raised by an alcoholic and saw firsthand the scourge of out of control drug use. Yet prohibition is not the answer. Treatment is the answer. I see my local communities ripped apart by the prison industrial complex and the increased militarization of police. I see more money poured into incarceration than education. This is not the society I wish to uphold…Decriminalizing or legalizing drugs will go a long way toward solving many of our social ills. 

Tata Christopher Bradford

Tata Christopher Bradford

Agreeing, Tata Christopher Bradford said, “For too long these sort of drug laws have been used to press and terrorize minority populations. Any law that takes away one of those tools is fine by me.”

Colorado native, Peter Dybing adds, “In my work at a local Detox unit we no longer accept admissions based on THC intoxication. This policy is a direct reflection of the fact that marijuana use in itself poses no significant safety risks.”

While those arguments alone maybe compelling, the pros of legalization extend well-beyond recreational usage – most notably, its medicinal benefits. Twenty states and the District of Columbia currently allow the use of medicinal marijuana. Denver Asatru resident Kristen Sherman began using medical marijuana after surgery when traditional medications weren’t possible. She says, “The green medicine has helped me a great deal. It’s not perfect, but I do have increased mobility and am able to sleep better at night as I am not in as much pain.”

chas

Chas Clifton

There is also a lesser-known ecological benefit to cannabis legalization. Colorado Native Chas Clifton explains marijuana’s low-THC cousin, Hemp, is “a low-pesticide, lower-water-use crop with many uses.” In March, Colorado will begin registering Hemp producers as part of the new laws. Last October a Colorado farmer became the first to harvest Hemp in the United States in 57 years.

Despite all these positives, implementation has not quite been as simple as waving a magic wand. The reversal of such long-standing legislation, rife with cultural baggage and bias, comes with many hurdles. Chas stated it best when he wrote on his blog, “There is a lot to sort out here.”

The biggest obstacle stems from the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. The Drug Enforcement Administration recently called Colorado laws “reckless and irresponsible.” Due to this legal discrepancy, many banks refuse to work with the retail shops for fear of federal prosecution. These legally registered Colorado retail stores are currently forced to operate as cash-only businesses with all the associated stigmas and dangers. To assist, the state allows store and dispensary owners to store firearms in their facilities.

Kristen Sherman, owner of Denver's Belle Memorie

Kristen Sherman

Another major concern is the underground market which is not projected to go away anytime soon. A dealer told the Pueblo Chieftan, “When the novelty wears off, people will be tired of having to go to the stores and paying much higher prices for the same weed. Street dealers will charge less, and we deliver, just like (pizza joints).”

Another byproduct of Colorado’s changing legislation has been the discovery of large-scale illegal marijuana cultivation operations in its national forests. The Forestry Service has been fighting this particular battle since 2009. Chas Clifton explains, “Illegal growers on public lands…pollute streams with fertilizer and pesticide, leave a mess, and threaten other users of that land with physical violence, sometimes resulting in death.” The illegally grown product is reportedly being shipped east and sold in states where use is still criminalized.

Finally Wild Hunt Columnist Crystal Blanton, who is professional social worker and registered addiction specialist in California, remarks, “Professionals in the field are very concerned about the impact of legalization on addiction. There are a lot of new studies addressing the [effects] of marijuana on the body and correlations with addictive patterns.”  She points out that all cannabis cannot be treated equally.  There are differences.

These are only a few of the obstacles that need addressing. Is all of this worth it? Kristen Sherman believes it is. She said, “[Legalization] has a bit of a struggle from the anti-drug lobby, and has quite a way to go before acceptance is the norm… Those who use marijuana are often vilified or portrayed as lazy stoners who sit on their couches all day munching on Doritos… We have over 60 years of prohibition and misinformation to chip away at.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

Tata Christopher Bradford agrees saying, “The potential marijuana has as a medicine makes it very important that we legalize it throughout the country. Let’s hope this move is just the beginning.”

After recently moving back to his home state, Peter Dybing was “surprised to see open cultivation and usage among friends.” He adds, “These new laws reflect what professionals in the field have been saying for years. The former THC laws waist money, time, legal and mental health resources and represent a poor prioritization of community efforts.

T. Thorn Coyle adds, “Prohibitionists cling to Calvinist morality, which leads us to a deeper question: why is our pluralist society being run by Puritan morals? I ask that as a person who sees direct evidence of the harm the War on Drugs has done. I ask that as a Pagan.” She adds, “I am very heartened by the ruling in Colorado. I hope it spreads.”

Link

Link

Link, a Witch living in Miami Beach, Florida, said:

We tend to look at changes in laws … as isolated events. But those [events] work together to become … parts of a larger story.This story tells of a society waking up and sorting through all the outdated laws it has inherited from past generations, some dating back to biblical times. Civil rights, women’s rights, legal divorce, immigration reform, legal abortion, birth control, religious freedoms, reformed marriage laws and – most recently – the legalization of marijuana all recognize that personal freedoms outweighs the archaic repression of the past.  Hopefully this trend will continue, and we will examine what other laws criminalize very normal parts of life.

Suretha Thacker

Suretha Thacker

Suretha Thacker, solitary Wiccan from Georgia, believes the growing interest in full legalization will continue. She says, “I do feel that other states will adapt similar laws after seeing how Colorado and Washington handle any issues that arise. Especially if the high taxes raised from the purchase of marijuana products contribute equitably to the state.”

Where does your state stand?  Here are just a few state policy changes being made or considered since Jan. 1 2014.

  • For more information on Colorado’s new laws, see NORML’s list of Doobie-Dos.
  • In Washington, recreational pot is legal and retail stores are set to open later this year.
  • Alaska residents submitted a petition to put “recreational marijuana” on this year’s ballot.
  • Michigan is moving slowly toward legalization and protecting the hemp industry.
  • In Florida, signatures are being gathered to put a “medicinal marijuana” referendum on the ballot this year. The legislature may introduce a bill sooner.
  • The District of Columbia will be considering a measure to decriminalize recreational marijuana.
  • Pennsylvania Senate introduced a medicinal marijuana bill last week.
  • New Hampshire’s House “passes recreational marijuana” legislation.
  • Missouri’s governor approved the “legalization initiatives for signature-gathering.”
  • Maryland legislators will simultaneously face a bill to legalize marijuana and a bill to decriminalize it.
  • West Virginia and Georgia law makers have reportedly begun investigating the possibility of introducing medicinal marijuana.
  • New York Governor Cuomo has allowed limited medical marijuana in designated hospitals.