Archives For Phaedra Bonewits

The Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities are in a very dynamic time and who knows what the future for these religions may be. The Wild Hunt asked community members to guess the future by having them answer this question:

“What do you think Paganism in the USA will look like 100 years from now?”

[Courtesy Photobucket]

[Courtesy Photobucket]

Phaedra Bonewits, 60’s, Occult Generalist

“I think about where we were a hundred years ago, still in the throes of German Romantic Neopaganism, folklore obsessions in Britain, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn fallen apart, and America still fascinated with 19th-century Spiritualism and Theosophy, plus the Eastern religions to which they’d been exposed a scant 23 years earlier at the first World’s Parliament of Religions. Wicca wasn’t yet a gleam in Gerald Gardner’s eye, and Heinlein was still in rompers. Magical lodges were still popular, but a vast amount of occultism and magical practice was firmly rooted in a Christian paradigm.

“Now, we’ve got hard polytheists, public rituals to the old Gods, major conventions, scholarly works, Internet research, and more solitaries than at which you could shake a stang. All were unimaginable 100 years ago. Heck, I couldn’t have imagined the Pagan world looking like this forty years ago — forty years ago, we didn’t even have camping festivals!

“Here’s a few guesses, though, assuming our overpopulating, invasive species hasn’t driven ourselves to extinction by then! A hundred years from now, the Neopagan/Pagan umbrella will be a thing of the past. It’s fragmenting even now, and in a century, those fragments will have taken up independent lives. Generic, nature-focused Pagans may be seen as a quaint artifact from the 20th century. Those who attempt 20th-century coven-based, initiatory mystery religion Wicca will be a tiny minority, just as members of magical lodges are today. The Wheel of the Year may become quaint, too, lost in favor of holy days specific to deities being honored.

“Occult practitioners in general may be pushed far to the outside of Paganism as worship-focused Paganism becomes more the norm. Bad news for old-fashioned occultists such as myself, but great for hard polytheists. Temple or shrine-based Paganism may become unremarkable, just as it is now on continents that are not historically dominated by Abrahamic religions.

“About twenty-five years ago, I was walking up the steps of the Field Museum in Chicago, a spectacular example of neoclassical architecture, with a small child in tow. He the son of the high priestess of our little magical working group. As we trudged up the sweeping outdoor staircase, I said to him, “Did you know we used to worship the Gods in buildings like this instead of in our living room?” He looked at me with big eyes and a wondering expression, and said, “We did?” Since then, I’ve wished for the day when one can tell a child, “Did you know we used to worship the Gods in our living rooms instead of in buildings like this?” and the child will respond with the same startled wonder, “We did?” Maybe in a hundred years.”

Selena Fox, Wiccan, 60’s

 “As I reflect on what Paganism in the USA will look like in 2116, here are some thoughts:

  • Paganism will continue to grow in size and forms with more practitioners and paths.
  • There will be more Pagan sacred places established, owned and cared for by Pagan organizations — more stone circles, shrines, temples, retreat centers, libraries, cemeteries, groves, and Nature sanctuaries.
  • There will be chaplains of various Pagan paths and organizations serving in the military, hospitals, hospices, universities, prisons, and other institutions.
  • There will be more Pagans serving in elected public office in local, state, and federal forms of government. Having one’s Pagan orientation known will seldom be a concern raised as an issue during elections as it has been in the 20th & 21st centuries.
  • There will be more understanding and acceptance of Pagans and Pagan paths in society as a whole, and less need to fight religious freedom battles in courts.
  • Paintings, films, music, theater, and other forms of art with Pagan imagery created by Pagans will be more widespread in society.
  • New forms of Pagan ritual practice and meditative imagery will develop as Pagans venture forth and live off planet.  
  • Croning, Saging, and other forms of Senioring Passage rites developed within Pagan communities will be more commonplace among people of many spiritual and philosophical orientations.
  • Pagans and Paganism may be also known by other terms.

“I think it is important to reflect on possible Pagan futures and to have conversations about this. To contribute to this process, I have been facilitating Visioning the Pagan Future workshops, rituals, and discussions at festivals and conferences around the nation. In addition to envisioning the future, may we find ways to share our visions and work together to help Paganism in all its colorful diversity to thrive.”

[Image By: Stgspi / DeviantArt]

[Image By: Stgspi / DeviantArt]

John Beckett50’s, Druid

“The environmental and social factors that gave rise to the emergence of Paganism in the 19th century and to its explosion in the 20th century will continue in the 21st and 22nd. Paganism will continue to grow in both breadth and depth over the next 100 years.

“Paganism will grow in breadth as more and more people begin to recognize the sacredness of Nature and begin to pay attention to the natural world. Pagan concepts and holidays will become generally recognized in the mainstream culture. Witchcraft will continue its growth, as increasingly disenfranchised people look for ways to influence their world. Paganism will remain a minority religion, but it will become a significant minority, even if much of its growth will be at the pop culture level.

“Paganism will grow in depth as a few dive deeper into their beliefs and practices. The witchcraft traditions will focus on individual growth and personal power, while the polytheist traditions will focus on developing robust devotional practices and building strong communities around them.

“But two things are sure about predicting the future: something we think is certain will fail, and something we aren’t even considering will arise. If we are wise, we will focus on being the best Witches, Pagans, polytheists, and such as we possibly can. Strong practices and resilient communities can succeed in any environment.”

Jason Mankey, 40’s, Gardnerian Witch:

“Imagining Paganism one hundred years from now is difficult. I think it will still exist (at least as we define it today) and probably in greater numbers, but I think it will be extremely fragmented. Today we sometimes talk about the Pagan umbrella having some ‘leaks,’ in one hundred years I think the umbrella will be long gone, with many groups and traditions distancing themselves from the word ‘Pagan.’

“I don’t think that’s all necessarily bad. Many traditions under today’s Pagan umbrella will undoubtedly grow because of these changes. Out there, on their own, many communities will create new infrastructures, mythologies, groups, and festivals; those are the good parts. On the downside, the break-up of the umbrella will make us even less strong politically, and limit the give and take that comes from being a part of wide-ranging coalition. (Think of all the things we share right now: festivals, blog-space, magazines, ritual space, etc. I for one find those shared moments beneficial.)

“I love my own tradition (Gardnerian Witchcraft), but the traditions of my friends (Druidry, Heathenism, and many more) have made my Pagan experience all the stronger, and richer. I think we will lose something when Re-constructionists no longer dance under the moon with Witches and Neo-Pagans. I think we are far stronger together, but see the divisions that are emerging among us as unfortunate but probably inevitable.”

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, 30s, polytheist with initiations in a variety of traditions:

“It’s hard to imagine but when I do I hope that it’s in a place where the current struggles against oppression are no longer as necessary or as vital as they are now to the engagement of pagans who identify as part of communities typically marginalized by the overculture.

I hope that my tradition is thriving and handling their rites and their W/work as best as they can with the guidance of the Elders who came from my teachings and from the guidance of Spirit (of which I hope I am called on). I hope we’re in a place where the ability to care for each other extends beyond what we do in circle to outside of circle.

I hope that polytheists, pagans, Wiccans, ceremonialists, heathens, ADR/ATR practitioners, and myriad of faiths have found strength in each other from a place of mutual respect and admiration versus the grudge that we seem to have when forced to interact with each other now. I hope there is a space we carve out for each other and for the G*ds. I hope that we think outside the box of who shows up to really look at how we can be the kind of movement where there is no hierarchy of faiths, but rather a mutual understanding and solidarity in struggle.

I hope for a lot, don’t I? Well, why not? It’s good to want things. It builds character, I’m told.”

Lāhela Nihipali, 30’s, Indigenous Hawaiian polytheist:

“If paganism bucks the trend and learns to be USEFUL to their fellow human, *and* gains a foothold with regards to public policy (ie. better enforcement of environmental and citizen protections) then it can have a huge impact on where the country and the world will be in 100 years. Better health and better land management for one. Polytheists will continue to be an insular but growing part of the population of the US with its own personalised political goals and groups. More often than not, at odds (if only in principle) with pagan politicians/civil servants/policies. Polytheists will bridge the gap over the course of the 100 years with Indigenous and First Nations peoples whereas pagans will not. This will be important in the political divides of the century after the first 100 years.

“If paganism continues on its pursuit of USELESSNESS to general society and the country itself, we could very well see a rise in harmful but technologically manageable environmental disasters as well as civil liberty breaches manageable by political pandering continue. Simultaneously the US will see an increase in divisive groups nationwide as clean resources lessen and prices increase. Paganism and pagans in general become easy targets as they did zero realistic community building and will by this time be rejected by Polytheist organizations which have prepared by becoming more and more insular as resources have diminished.

“Pagans will now finally try to flower power their way into activism, now that they are being used as the boogeyman to rile up the populace. Lack of genuine organization is their downfall; their activism is labeled as unpatriotic troublemaking. Pagans will be politically and socially targeted as perfect scapegoats for the newly elected (some flavour of fascistic) ruling party. Lynching type incident occurs which sets in motion a general notion that its the patriotic thing to target pagans and other “undesirable trouble makers”–itʻs important to clean up the streets after all. Polytheists will by the end of the 100 years, in an act of self preservation, also reach out to other Polytheist organizations as well as Indigenous & First Nations. The next 100 years start with an uneasy tension between the allied Polytheists and the now heavily indoctrinated populace, by the end of this 100 years civil war looms.”

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

Elizabeth Zohar, 20’s, Wiccan:

“I can only hope that Paganism will continue to spread knowledge to anyone who wishes to learn the practices as we are now. However, I feel that in the changing world we live in that it may become more of a trend than an actual look on life. With the up coming generations, being who you want to be without being judge is what the new teachings are. However that also allows people to take advantage of that. They may begin to look at Paganism as something that is “cool” or “in” instead of actually learning the practices of the different religions or doing it to find peace and spirituality in yourself. 100 yrs from now we may have young adults assuming that Paganism is cool because it’s not Christianity or any other common religion. All I can hope is that our generation now will continue to teach the generations after us what Paganism really is and how it can help them in their day to day life.

Aubri, 20’s, Hellenic Pagan:

I believe that in the next 100 years Paganism will flourish because of how attractive it is for people of all ages, sex, race, etc. The thing with being Pagan is that your journey is your own, you can choose what path you want to follow. You can figure out what you want your focus to be as you learn. That’s very refreshing and comforting especially for the younger crowd, myself included. As a young adult your life is cluttered with all kinds of pressures and deadlines that it can be overwhelming. So I think that the biggest attraction to Paganism is the community. I’ve gone to Pagan festivals and picnics my entire life. They’re like vacations from the ‘muggle’ world where you can focus on yourself and your own growth. With the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of the Pagan community, I believe that Paganism will continue to grow throughout the globe and one day make a come back as one of the top “religions” of the world.

*   *   *

But what about you? What do you think your religion, or our collective religions, will look like 100 years from now? 

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

hydraulic fracturingOn Dec. 17, New York state officials announced that they would not allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state. According to local news reports, Gov. Cuomo let his experts make the final call on the issue. Based on six years of study, state commissioners from both the Department of Heath and the Department of Environmental Conservation advised against proceeding at this time. DOH commissioner Dr. Zucker said, “I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered … I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”

The announcement was a significant win for the newly formed Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City, whose original mission was to convince officials to ban fracking in the state. Since its inception, PEC-NYC has attended rallies, lobbied at book signings and sent petitions to the Governor. The organization’s work was highlighted in a Wild Hunt article called “Pagans Join the Fight against Fracking.”

When the news was announced, the group celebrated, saying:

It has been an extremely exciting week for PEC-NYC. Between submitting hundreds of Pagan signatures to Governor Cuomo in support of wind power and the announcement of a state-wide ban on fracking, we are ecstatic. Today, we celebrate but tomorrow, we go back to work. There are pipelines to fight, an LNG port to stop, and a wind farm to build. We would like to thank all who signed, marched, rallied, and all who donated money, goods, and time to these causes. We look forward to further solidarity.  We are far from finished.

*   *   *

Presentation1In Jan. 2015, a new organization will be launching called The Koinon. Its purpose will be to serve the greater Hellenic community, regardless of practice. As noted on its website, whether “you are a reconstructionist who holds rituals in ancient Greek or an Eclectic whose rituals include the Watchtowers, you have a place at our table.”

Organizer Conor Davis told The Wild Hunt that the group would have its 501c3 status by the summer 2015. In the meantime, organizers are building the plan, structure and other specifics. Davis said that anyone interested in joining the group or helping can either watch the website for updated information. or contact the organizers directly at thekoinon@gmail.com. Although not yet published, Davis sent us the group’s mission statement:

We the Koinon exist to serve the Theoi and the Hellenic community by providing Hellenists of all walks of life, worship methods, and personal practices a network of support and a place to belong as a people.

We believe in engaging our local communities through service, interfaith outreach and education, and through charity.

We believe in serving the larger Hellenic community through ongoing education and by providing a place of belonging.

We respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person and therefore reject all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and any other forms of discrimination.

*   *   *

pete pathfinderThe Aquariuan Tabernacle Church will be hosting a public memorial for Pete Pathfinder Davis on Dec. 27 in Seattle Washington. The group said that this will be the second of three memorial services. The first was held on the ATC property in the group’s own sacred space on Nov. 8.

The third “will be held at their annual Spring Mysteries Festival over Easter weekend” in Fort Flagler, Washington. This upcoming memorial will be held at Seattle Unity Church, located at 200 Eighth Avenue North in downtown Seattle. All are welcome to attend.

In Other News:

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  • For those who have enjoyed reading Phaedra Bonewits’ blog, she has returned. After a long two-year hiatus, Bonewits has published an entry entited “On Gifts, Friendship and Love.” In this timely and particularly moving story, she recalls her days celebrating the many happy holiday seasons with Isaac and the little touches that made it special. She shares memories from their last Yule together and the friendships that made that difficult season more magical. It is personal story of joy, friendship, loss, darkness and re-emergence.
  • In another entirely different blog post, Tim Titus reacts to news of potential changes in U.S.- Cuban relations. His personal experience with the Cuban culture have given him a deep appreciation for the country, its culture and people, which he pours into this article. Near the end, he writes, “Silence is just as damaging as violence. It tears apart a family it its own quiet, seemingly innocent way. It accomplishes nothing and is counterproductive to any relationship.The U.S. and Cuba have been sitting at the Table of Silence together for far too long.” Titus’ article is an excellent glimpse into a world most Americans have not been able to see.
  • Local Asheville, North Carolina news outlet Mountain Xpress ran a story about resident village witch Byron Ballard. In the article, Ballard talks about her own practice and beliefs, calling herself a “forensic folklorist.” She “excavates folk practices from older generations.” Ballard discusses her beloved mountain culture and laments the loss or “thinning” of the region’s traditions.
  • ACTION Yule 2014 is now available complete with a new array of interviews.

That’s it for now.  Have a great day!

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.