Archives For Phaedra Bonewits

Pagans and Obamacare

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2012 — 18 Comments

[The following is a post from The Wild Hunt archivesThe Wild Hunt is on hiatus through Labor Day weekend and will return with new posts on Tuesday, September 4th.]

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

 

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article:

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to full statements gathered for this story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Community Notes:

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

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

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

Well, it looks like Harold Camping was wrong, all the faithful Christians were not raptured up to Heaven, instead all the devout Pagan bloggers have ascended to a higher plane. Yes, I’m typing this post from “heaven.” Why not? The Talking Heads were right, nothing ever happens up here.

Still, manipulating my keyboard from the celestial abode is taxing, so I’ll just do a quick roundup of some news links. Hopefully I’ll be reincarnated by tomorrow so I can resume my normal blogging duties.

That’s all I have for now! I expect I’ll be corporeal tomorrow so I can celebrate Harvey Milk Day and World Goth Day respectively.

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

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

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

Wren’s Nest Closes Down: Yesterday, on the Witches’ Voice Facebook page, site co-founder Wren Walker announced that she was closing down the long-running and popular Pagan news service Wren’s Nest.

“Greetings! As many of you already know – or have discovered via a TWV link – Wren’s Nest is closed. There are new ways by which media and people exchange information. This page is one of them. We would like to thank everyone who supported, shared, commented and otherwise made Wren’s Nest News the resource that it was. It was my heart-felt pleasure and deepest honor to serve you.”

This is truly the end of any era. Wren’s Nest paved the way for sites like mine, and there’s strong evidence that it may have been the very first Pagan blog, certainly the first to deal with Pagan news. Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for Llewellyn’s 2007 Wicca Almanac concerning Wren’s Nest.

“The real revolution regarding Pagans and blogging began in 1997, with the launch of what would become the most popular Web site for Wiccans, Witches, and modern Pagans … While Wren’s Nest never identified itself [as a blog]. It is updated regularly (daily, in fact); it is organized chronologically, with individual posts one can link to, and it allows readers to comment on each post. While Wren rarely opines on the news links and essays she shares with her readership (aside from the occasional “Chirp”), this site proved that blogging is something that could work for Pagans as a mass audience. In the years that followed, many other bloggers have been inspired by (or have simply imitated) Wren’s approach. This paved the way for the blogging community we have now.”

While Wren’s Nest is closed, Wren herself is (along with other Witchvox staffers) still “chirping” news items at The Witches’ Voice Facebook page, so you can still get a selection of daily news items that way. Thank you Wren for your years of service, your contributions will be remembered and honored.

Pagan Health Survey: The American Public Health Association (APHA) has issued a call for papers concerning public health among religious minorities in the United States for their annual conference, and Kimberly Hedrick of the TriWinds Institute is conducting a survey of modern Pagan communities to relate our views concerning health at this event.

“As both a Pagan and cultural anthropologist, I felt it was vitally important that we help policy-makers and service providers understand our needs and beliefs. This will help us to meet the health care needs of our community and build public understanding of our religious and spiritual traditions. I designed the Pagan Health Survey to help people better understand us and our views on health. The results will be combined with what I have gained by being within the Pagan community and sitting in on healing panel discussions, workshops, and so forth, as well as interviews with Pagan clergy and health care practitioners. This research is being funded through my grassroots nonprofit, TriWinds Institute through donations.”

You can access the survey, here. Kimberly Hedrick, who holds a PhD in cultural anthropology, welcomes questions and inquiries into the project, its goals, and her own background. You can either e-mail her, or visit the survey’s Facebook group. To get a statistically significant sample it needs thousands of respondents, and she only has a couple of months to collect the data in time, so she’s asking the Pagan community to help distribute the survey far and wide.

Memorials for Isaac Bonewits: Many special memorial services are being planned for Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits, who passed away on August 12th. The family will be holding a memorial and remembrance of Isaac on August 21st at the First Unitarian Society of Rockland County (FUSRC) in Pomona, NY.

“I lost the love of my life last Thursday, but his life goes on in the influence he’s had on everyone. We will be celebrating his life next Saturday, August 21, in Pomona, NY” – Phaedra Bonewits

Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) is also holding a memorial service for Isaac on August 19th at the Summerland Festival.

“ADF will be holding a Memorial this coming Thursday (Aug. 19) at the Summerland Festival near Yellow Springs, OH at 9pm. We will call on Isaac as our newest Ancestor and also call on the Ancient Wise to welcome him into their midst. Afterwards we will hold a Wake in the dining hall.”

Word is that the ADF memorial ritual will be recorded, and pieces of it made available on the Internet. Other memorials are also being planned as well, check this Facebook thread for updated information to see if there’s one in your area. You may also want to listen to a special memorial episode of Pagans Tonight, which features Phaedra Bonewits, Selena Fox, Ian Corrigan, and Oberon and Morning Glory Zell Ravenheart sharing stories. You can download that show, here.

Covering the Sacred Harvest Festival: PNC-Minnesota is back from Sacred Harvest Festival and they are planning a special series of audio interviews and articles from the event.

“Over the next few weeks, as part of a special series, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to audio interviews with one of the founders of the Sacred Harvest Festival, a young man who arrived at the festival as a practicing Lutheran and left as a newly awakened Pagan, and musical guests such as Murphy’s Midnight Rounders – just to name a few. You’ll read about (and see) a broom that was created on Friday the 13th by at the festival by an artisan for a newly formed coven, the experiences of a man who started attending the festival when he was a young teen and how it has impacted his life, and the honoring of a respected community elder by over 100 people in his teaching lineage. This is just a small sample of was experienced.”

I’m very much looking forward to the coverage, and commend PNC-Minnesota for doing this work. If you haven’t already, subscribe to their site via RSS so you don’t miss a thing!

If You Couldn’t Make it To One of My Appearances: I’ve been giving talks at several festivals and events this past year, but I realize that many of you can’t make it out to see me in person (Bummer!). Luckily, some kind folks at MerryMeet got some excellent audio recordings of the two main talks I’ve been giving: Emerging Trends & The Pagan Movement, and Pagans & the New Media. You can click those links and stream or download my talks! Now you can find out what you have (or haven’t) been missing. Every “um”, “ah”, and awkward pause has been preserved!

Thanks again to the MerryMeet folks for hosting me and treating me so well!

That’s all I have for now, expect a Pagan News of Note soon to catch up on the mainstream news from the last few days.

Have a great day!

Yesterday, Phaedra Bonewits announced on Facebook that her husband, noted Pagan author and theologian Isaac Bonewits, was nearing the end of his battle with cancer.


Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits.

“Just wanted to address the rumors that Isaac is back in the hospital. He is at home as he had wished, but he is nearing the end. His brothers and sisters are on their way to say goodbye. Please keep us all in your thoughts and prayers.”

Since then, tributes and blessings have been pouring in.

“Dearest Isaac, We shall all miss you so much, but as you take off on that Great Adventure may our love and affection for you act like fuel for your journey – riding the waves of compassion to the Isles of the Blest. Blessings blessings blessings, Awen, Awen, Awen”Philip Carr-Gomm

“Every day I feel more and more blessed to know Isaac. His sense of humor will inspire me forever — and I will always be jealous of that great shock of hair. Ever-blessings.”Ashleen O’Gaea

“Our candle is lit for the journey. Fritz and I shall keep vigil with you. Love and all blessings upon you both. May Brid guide his steps and may his ancestors come forth to welcome Isaac home.” - Wren Walker

And hundreds more from Pagans of all positions, faiths, and walks of life.

The Wild Hunt would like to deeply thank Isaac Bonewits for his incalculable contributions to modern Paganism, and wish him a good journey on this transition. My blessings to Isaac’s family and friends during this time. If you want to leave a message of support or blessing, now would be the moment.