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NEW YORK — WitchsFestUSA, an annual Pagan festival held in the heart of New York City, was attended this year by Christian protesters. The noisy group, who stood all day on the corner of Astor Place, held up large signs calling for repentance and angrily yelling at the passing crowd. Despite the protesters’ presence, the Pagan festival kept to its program and ended on a high note.

[Photo Credit: Emma Story / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Emma Story / Flickr]

Now in its fifth year, WitchsFestUSA describes itself as an outdoor, Pagan street faire. Its mission is to “bring the community of witches or pagans together in general and enjoy who we are as such, while at the same time raising funds for The NYC Wiccan Family Temple acquire our own space of worship.”

The festival was founded and is annually hosted by elder High Priestesses Starr RavenHawk and Luna Rojas. RavenHawk founded and now runs Wiccan Family Temple and the Academy of Pagan Studies, both located in New York City. In 2013, RavenHawk was featured in a Time Magazine about Witchcraft and its modern day practice. Rojas is also a high priestess and member of the Wiccan Family Temple. Additionally, Rojas is the founder of the New York City Pagan Council, a pagan civil rights organization.

RavenHawk and Rojas have been running WitchsFestUSA since 2011. The festival takes place in New York City’s Greenwich Village on Astor Place between Broadway & Lafayette Streets. The one-day Pagan event hosts a variety of workshops, rituals, performances, and vendors, all set up on Manhattan streets like a typical city street faire. This year’s guest presenters were many, including: Rev. Don Lewis, Lilith Dorsey, Christopher Penczak, Courtney Weber Hoover, Lady Rhea, Rhonda Choudry, Qumran Taj, and Lexa Rosean.

Starr Ravenhawk WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

Starr RavenHawk WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

The group of protesters, who numbered between 10 and 20 at any given time, arrived early and stayed all day. They set up on one corner of Astor Place, near the festival’s teaching tents. The group held up signs and yelled at the growing festival crowd. According to RavenHawk, this was the same group of people who protested Pagan Pride in 2015.

Witch and author Christopher Penczak told The Wild Hunt that the protesters appeared to be “some evangelical variety” of Christian, but he could not identify any specific denomination or church affiliation.

“I have never encountered such a belligerent group,” said Hannah, a member of the Temple of Witchcraft and a regular attendee at Pagan and other similar conventions. “One [protester] screamed in my face that I need to repent.” She said that, in her experience, most convention protesters are typically more passive. “These guys were seriously full of aggression and hate.”

While the group kept to its physical location on the street corner, its members were reportedly extremely loud and often shouted over the teachers trying to teach, which appeared to be their goal. In a blog post, author and priestess Courtney Weber Hoover wrote, “We delayed the beginning of our workshops as their ‘Repent, you guys! You’re all going to hell!’ rallies were too loud!”

Lexa Rosen, who was scheduled to teach in the tent directly beside the protesters, attempted to start a chant and a spiral dance to hush them,” as relayed by Wiccan High Priestess Dawn Marie. She said, “In the end we moved her tent over so she could do some of her workshop.”

As Penczak began to teach his workshop, he quickly realized that he couldn’t “speak without yelling to be heard.” He said, “Though naive, I thought: ‘has anyone asked them to be quieter in a polite way?’ Have we tried to just talk to them?’ So I tried.”

While other attendees had engaged with the protesters in theological debate, Penczak “had a more practical request in mind.” He simply wanted to ask them to lower their volume. As his story goes, he approached the woman leading the chants, who said, “Can’t you see I’m busy. I got a job to do. I’ve got no time to talk to you.” Penczak then “tried to explain that [he] also had a job to do and she was making it impossible.” She ignored him.

Penczak said, “I tried to talk to what I thought was her associate right next to her but the gentleman turned around, and his sign said ‘Will work for cigarettes,’ and he explained he wasn’t with her.” He said that he then returned to his “teach-yell” workshop.

Weber Hoover said the same: “I led my Tarot class with a chorus of shouts about Jesus and redemption off to my left.”

Weber Hoover teachers WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Weber Hoover teachers WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Priestess and author Lilith Dorsey experienced the same. She shared this story with us:

I was all set to give my Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism workshop when I realized I was about 10 feet away from a loud group of Christian protesters. My godson who had come with me asked if I was going to try to reason with them. My initial response was that I used to sing on Broadway and it would be possible to talk louder than them even at this close distance. So my understanding class gathered close and I proceeded to project a well-received and well-attended lecture despite the circumstances.

Dorsey added, “After my class was over I think there was a moment where I flashed some devil horns and stuck out my tongue.”

In talking about this unfortunate situation, Dorsey made it a point to express her “respect for Christians who practice what they preach.” This sentiment was echoed in Weber Hoover’s blog post. She wrote, “I won’t call [the protesters] Christians. I know too many wonderful Christians to lump them in with this crowd.”

However, Dorsey said that, in this particular situation, she felt “disturbed and disrespected.” She added, “I have sat on interfaith councils with Christians and people of all faiths. Fortunately I have never had to directly deal with such vitriol until now. It was extra disheartening to see many people of color protesting, which in light of recent events and the #blacklivesmatter movement makes me want to ask them don’t you have better things to shout at.”

Winifred Costello, a Traditional Witch and the proprietor of AwenTree, was visiting from her home in Western Massachusetts. She said, “I felt upset for the presenters, organizers and attendees that worked hard to put on the event. The protesters were yelling so intensely and with such anger, that I did could not hear the workshop presenter speaking and I did not feel comfortable sticking around.”

Dawn Marie echoed that sentiment, saying, “[The protesters] were really angry and aggressive, and I started to worry that it would get out of hand because of the recent shootings.” She had to shield herself, adding that she felt “rattled” and “inconvenienced.”

The New York City Police Department was on hand and watching the protest. RavenHawk noted that four officers remained near the protesters at all times to protect the attendees. Dana Marie said that “[The officers] were respectful and kept us protected while keeping an eye on the protesters and telling them to stop getting so loud.”

WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

Attendees at WitchsFest 2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

However, not everyone felt safe. As mentioned earlier, Costello left the festival because of the intensity of the protest. She said, “Due to recent events in the nation, I felt far more sensitive to, and disturbed by, the strong vibe of intolerance radiating from this group in particular. It is not that I haven’t encountered religious protesters before but given the reality of how intolerance is literally leading to folks being killed, I just had no stomach for the energy these protesters had. If they want to spread their beliefs I think there are more productive, kinder and tolerant methods than the actions they choose.”

She continued on to say, “The biggest take-away from this experience was that we need to keep advocating for positive, safe change, for acceptance of diversity in our country. The time of angry intolerance and fear-driven actions needs to shift towards a time of inclusion, acceptance and peaceful interactions.”

While many attendees simply ignored the protesters, others, like Penczak, did engage with them in some way. RavenHawk told The Wild Hunt, “I tried at first to reason with them that, this is our civil rights to be here and practice our religion, just like they do. To which they answered that it was their right as well to do their job and save us despite ourselves.”

On her blog, Weber Hoover describes her own action, in which she hugs two of the protesters and repeatedly says, “I love you.” Her chanting first elicited the same statement back. However, as she continued and got louder, the two protesters became fearful that she was casting a spell.

WitchsFestUSA 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber]

WitchsFestUSA 2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber]

Weber Hoover said, “[A leader] held his hand up and started shouting an incantation, as though to strike the Devil out of me.”  She added, “I don’t know that my choice this time was the answer, but it was the right answer for me at that moment.”

Other actions included the drawing of pentacles, spirals and other magical images in chalk and salt on the ground at the protesters feet. Dawn Marie said “One gentleman had started smudging and charging the circle he had drawn as well as the other symbols around him. The whole thing was a barrier of peace.”

Dawn Marie was impressed with the attendees’ reactions to the situation. She added, “They didn’t blow the smoke at the protesters or disrespect the protesters as much as pray to the Gods for protection on the festival.”

In retrospect, RavenHawk said that the situation was “very offensive” and “traumatizing.” She said, now, “I literally cannot seem to want to hear anyone speak to me or near me about Jesus. I am so turned off by it right now, and never noticed or paid attention to it before.”

Despite that experience, attendees universally reported that RavenHawk handled the situation with grace and was “cool and calm” despite the unwanted guests and the continual disruptions.They said that she did her best, communicating with officers and being available to attendees, vendors and presenters.

By the end of the day, nothing that was done by the organizers or festival participants provoked the group to leave their corner. However, at the same time, nothing the protesters did ended the festival. Although presenter voices needed to be louder and some teaching events had to be relocated, WitchsFestUSA 2016 was considered successful, ending with a rousing closing ritual.

Final-ritual (1)

“Making lemonade” at WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: C. Weber Hoover]

Dorsey said, “Overall it was only a minor distraction at an amazing event, run by some of the most competent and powerful people I know. ”

RavenHawk expressed her personal gratitude to everyone involved. In a public post, she wrote, “We sang songs of love and the Goddess, clapping our hands to our own beat… later on many drew sigils of pentagrams on the street before them.. witches took lemons and made lemonade. Refreshing.”

WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

WitchsFest2016 [Photo Credit: Ron Frary]

The sixth annual WitchsFestUSA is already in the planning stages and will be held July 15, 2017 at the same location.

BALTIMORE – On Monday, funeral services were held for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old young black man, who died three weeks ago shortly after being arrested. Many local residents, officials and even strangers joined Gray’s family and friends to say goodbye. In addition, there was a call for peace and for calm during the ceremony, after a few minor skirmishes broke out during a mostly peaceful weekend of protests.

Baltimore [Photo Credit: JJS Photo via Wikimedia]

Baltimore [Photo Credit: JJS Photo via Wikimedia]

However, by Monday afternoon, the climate in Baltimore changed drastically. According to reports, a small group of teenagers became engaged in a violent conflict with police around a mall. The situation then escalated, attracting others. Bonnie Hoppa, a local volunteer firefighter and CAYA member, confirmed the news reports, saying that the tensions were ripe for violence. The groups of kids were charged and angry, and the police were already preparing for the worst. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

The violence quickly escalated and took center stage in the media, pushing aside news stories about the Nepal tragedy and completely covering up reports on the 1000s of other people who continued to protest peacefully in other parts of Baltimore. Hoppa said, “The media is really blowing that out of proportion. [Thousands] of peaceful protestors are getting less media time than a few hundred causing violence … The numbers of those driving the violence and damage do not represent the majority of who were initially there and who are marching now.”

As the crisis in Baltimore continued, many activists, protestors and outspoken or visible members of the community, such former NFL player Ray Lewis, called for peace; however, they also voiced a strong understanding of where the aggression itself came from and why. In a Huffington Post article, speaker and activist Kevin Powell directly addressed this, explaining “Why Baltimore is Burning.”

As noted in Powell’s article and by a number of others over social media, the violence was not simply a random riot by a few angry teens. It was an uprising. In a post, Pagan activist Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir echoed Powell’s own statements, saying “A riot feeds the 24-hour newscycle’s need to strike fear in the hearts of white folk who live in Middle America and who think the world is pretty durn good as it is. An uprising is the strength and power to take a stand against an unjust, corrupt system that has broken one too many backs for far too long and that needs to topple to the ground.”

It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend what has been happening in Baltimore. Media reports are often only partially reliable. Therefore, we reached out to a number of local Pagans to get a better look at the situation as it stands now.

As mentioned earlier, the local protests began over the weekend. In reaction, Black Witch, who is originally from the affected neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, published a long impassioned blog post Sunday, beginning, “I was downtown on Saturday because I’m helping out at a store in Federal Hill but got dismissed early because of the protests since I knew they would attempt to disrupt traffic.”

As she continues, Black Witch shares very serious frustrations and anger at the bigger issue of unresolved, systemic racism facing not only Baltimore, but the entire nation. She wrote, “I lived in this city my whole entire life. I was raised in the hood, I’m not at all surprised that this turned out the way it did.” Then, she ends with, “So, what is going to happen now? Not much, really. People are going to get their glass replaced, there are going to be more marches probably and nothing significant is going to happen. I’ve got nothing to be hopeful for, there’s no reason for me to believe that anything different is going to happen.”

Black Witch’s post came before the Monday uprising. However, her frustration and sense of hopelessness was echoed by others in the wake of Monday’s violence. Erica Shadowsong, a Unitarian Universalist religious education professional and solitary eclectic Pagan in Maryland, said:

To be honest, today my primary feeling is one of hopelessness and despair. It’s not the violence against Black people that has me so down; it’s witnessing the complete control of the narrative, and all American daily narratives, by powers that every day exploit the American people. The media, the militarized police force…these are symbols of oppressive power. We are losing our freedoms every day to the point that the justice system can be boldly skewed and the outrage doesn’t change it. I’m concerned and convinced more and more that we are no longer living in a country built on freedom. We are living in a compound run by a few corporations and individuals in business and government who exploit our labor, and export violence here and abroad.

Similarly, Bonnie Hoppa, who has been actively working in the affected areas, expressed her own fears in watching the events unfold. She said, “Social media was a horrendous place to be. All the dehumanizing bigots came out to have an opinion. People from outside Baltimore, even outside the state, joined the looting and bragged about it.” As the protestors clashed with police, Hoppa said that one fire truck was damaged and another had its supply hose lines cut for an active fire, which put more lives at risk. Several news reports listed specific damages to the community, including a new senior center, library, businesses and, even, local journalists.

Hoppa said that the situation there is very complicated, based on decades of problems. She also described a growing resentment within various facets of the community, and added that the “underlying narrative of violent intention toward anyone who is a ‘thug’ or black and labeled as aggressive is extremely disturbing.”

As the sun rose Tuesday and the hours progressed, the city saw far fewer incidents of violence. There were reports of volunteers cleaning up damage, and residents helping each other recover. Hoppa was called to help care for many of the children in the area, who were out of school for safety reasons. She said, “84-85% of the students in those schools are low income and are getting reduced or free lunches. For a lot of them, no school can mean no lunch, and possibly no breakfast, either. Some kids are in extended before/after care programs, because of the hours their parent(s) work.” She described the climate within the safe centers as upbeat with children playing and laughing.

Local ADF chapter, Cedar Light Grove (CLG) held a vigil from 7-9 p.m. to “hold space and a good fire for those wishing to say prayers, make offerings, or seek guidance from the kindred during this turbulent time in our city.” The group closed its temple at 9 p.m. so that attendees could get home before the citywide curfew. CLG will continue to hold open for vigils as needed. Thursday they are hosting a public Reiki session for anyone in need of healing.

[Courtesy Cedar Light Grove]

[Courtesy Cedar Light Grove]

The curfew will reportedly remain in place for seven days, and tempers have calmed to a degree. The cleanup in the city continues but the crisis itself is far from over, in Baltimore or around the nation. Community groups such as I am Love Baltimore or national groups, such as Hands up United, will continue to organize meetings and demonstrations. Today at 4:30 p.m, I am Love Baltimore is sponsoring a “March for Justice, March for Love.” On its event page, the group wrote, “Don’t forget we are not only marching to spread love in this time of high tension, but we are also marching for justice to be served for Freddie Gray.”  Hoppa will be there, along with others from the local Pagan community.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Priestess and activist T. Thorn Coyle and over 100 others made local news when they showed up at the inauguration of Oakland’s 50th Mayor, Libby Schaaf. The peaceful protest, organized by a coalition of area groups and individuals, is another example of the ongoing #blacklivesmatter grass roots campaign and actions demanding social reform.

[Photo Credit: Kim Beavers]

[Photo Credit: Kim Beavers]

“There is … a long history of corruption and misconduct in the [Oakland Police Department,] so much so that they’ve been threatened with federal receivership. Oakland has also played host to Urban Shield, a convention and training event that is a large part of the militarization of police in the U.S. By protesting at the inauguration, we wanted people to remember that as long as Black lives in our county are treated as if they aren’t sacred … there will be no business as usual,” explained Coyle.

In recent months, she has become actively involved in an organization called Anti Police-Terrorism Project (APTP). This organization is part of a larger group called the O.N.Y.X. Organizing Committee, which is “committed to raising the consciousness of Black people to facilitate the healing of our bodies’ minds and spirits in order to create sustainable, just, equitable and thriving Black communities.”

Coyle told The Wild Hunt, “I’ve been active in justice movements for most of my life, trying to find ways to best support building communities of love, equity, and justice. After my first APTP meeting, I felt lit up inside rather than drained. I thought, ‘Here is a group that has potential to actually do effective action!’ It is diverse coalition under Black leadership, which I really appreciate.”

Molly Costello being interviewed.  [Photo Credit: Alan Blueford Center for Justice]

Mollie Costello being interviewed. [Photo Credit: Alan Blueford Center for Justice]

In a Monday press release, APTP spokespersons Cat Brooks and Mollie Costello explained that their goal was to send a message to Mayor Libby Schaaf, reminding her that she will “be held accountable by communities demanding justice for victims of police violence.” During an interview, Costello explained the local context behind the protest. For those outside of Oakland, Brooks summarized the problem by simply stating, “Schaaf does not have the best record in dealing with police relations with the community.”

The scheduled protest was divided into two distinct parts. The initial event was a silent gathering outside the Paramount Theater. Protesters were asked to wear black and signs were passed out. Coyle was there along with a number of other Bay Area Pagan and Heathen activists, including Solar Cross Temple member Rhiannon Laakso; Coru Cathubodua members Patrick Garretson and Brennos Agrocunos, as well as Kim Beavers, who was documenting the entire event. Coyle said also she saw many others from the local Pagan community.

They all stood in solidarity with APTP and with the other organizations involved. At one point, a protester tweeted that there were in fact more protesters outside the theater than guests waiting to attend the inauguration.

When the theater doors opened, some of the protesters went inside for the second part of the scheduled action. During the silent presentation of the colors, Coyle began singing an old union song, “Which side are you on?” As she explained, “The song was adapted by a group in St. Louis who did this action that we modeled ours after.” APTP changed the words from “justice for Mike Brown” to “justice for Black lives.” There actions were video documented and posted on You Tube.

Coyle said, “The MC panicked and quickly called the national anthem singer onto the stage with his mic. So we ended up singing and doing a banner drop through the anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, which seemed fitting.” The banner, which was dropped from the mezzanine read, “End Police Terror.”

After the event, the APTP spokespersons called the event “beautiful,” saying that they welcomed the new mayor in “true Oakland style.” Mayor Schaaf had little reaction to the protesters except to tell an ABC reporter,”I embrace protest. Protest is part of Oakland’s DNA.”

After a few rounds of the song inside the theater, Coyle led the protesters outside still singing. In retrospect, she said that recent national and local events have changed her, adding “I had to find more ways to speak out and work against government harassment, profiling, imprisonment, and killings of Black and brown people. My writing is one way. Interfaith work is another. Organizing with APTP is rapidly becoming another.” She added, “We are in the midst of a new civil rights movement. The chance to say, loudly, that Black Lives Matter, is one that I, who preaches that all life is sacred, and that the Gods and Goddesses are reflected in our eyes, cannot pass up.”

 

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!

Pagans in WDC March Dec. 13, 2014 [Photo Credit: Jen Huls]

Pagans in WDC March Dec. 13, 2014 [Photo Credit: Jen Huls]

Protesters continue to fill the streets of cities, large and small, across the county. Many Pagans, as collective units, have been joining these efforts in order to lend their own voices or assist those protesting. As noted last week, the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used very strong words in their public call-to-action. Over the past three days, the group has taken their own words seriously and has been attending the protests in both Berkeley and Oakland. In addition to marching themselves, members of the Priesthood have also brought medical aid and similar services to those in need.

On the other side of the country, a group of east coast Pagans organized themselves into a unit to join the Dec. 13 march on Washington D.C, which is now estimated to have included over 25,000 people. The photo shows several of these marchers. The small group of around 15 Pagans stood with that crowed, holding up signs and chanting for change.

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PEN-logoThe Pagan Educational Network , based in Indiana, continues its preliminary research for a possible new “clergy” conference. Organizers want to create a focused event that will help “teach clergy to become better at their calling.”

The idea was originally announced last summer, when PEN informally asked for feedback on the concept. Now organizers are asking for proposals from potential presenters. They said, “Examples of workshops would be/but not limited to: Life transitions, Hospital visits, grieving, counseling both individual and couples, interfaith,group administration, community relations, just to name a few.”  All proposals should be sent to: Rev. Dave C. Sassman, Pagan Clergy Conference, PO Box 24072, Indianapolis, IN 46224 or RevDavecs@gmail.com

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Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

On Sat. Dec. 13, Circle Sanctuary participated in the national “Wreaths Across America” program that “lays wreaths at grave sites honoring deceased veterans.” Circle Cemetary is listed on the main website among the many other sites that also participate in this yearly interfaith memorial event.

Circle Coordinators said, “At Veterans Ridge of Circle Cemetery, wreaths [were] placed at grave sites of Pagans from across the nation who served in the U.S. military. These Pagan veterans include those who served in national guards of several states and those who did active duty service in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.” The wreaths themselves were blessed inside the temple space before being carried out and placed on the graves.

In Other News:

  • On Nov. 20, the San Francisco Chronicle published an obituary for Louise Muhler born in 1920. The obituary caught the eye of several Pagans, who shared it on blogs and social media. As it turns out, Muhler’s birth name was Astarte Lulu Panthea. She was the daughter of famed occultist Aleister Crowley. According to the obituary, Muhler, a practicing Christian, lived a full and very active life that took her around the world and back. May her family find peace in its loving memories.
  • Over the past month, The Earth Spirit Community, based in Massachusetts, has been holding its annual fundraiser to support events, interfaith outreach and other community-based work. To kick off the drive, the organization published a Samhain newsletter detailing a year’s projects, including those done locally, nationally and internationally. Since that point, it has been sharing photos and testimonies on its Facebook from new and longtime supporters.
  • On Dec. 5, shortly after author Raven Grimassi’s personal page was challenged Facebook, he and his wife, Stephanie, were in a car accident due to ice and snow. According to reports, his car flipped twice after sliding down an embankment. When he was finally able, Grimassi announced that both he and Stephanie were physically fine, aside from a few aches, but their car was totaled. He has since launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help offset the financial burdens caused by the accident.
  • There are many Yule events being planned for the next week. One of the, perhaps, more unusual celebrations is organized by Chalice of the Willow, a CUUPS chapter. The group is holding an overnight event starting at 6 pm on Dec 20 through 8 am Dec. 21. Organizers said, “The popularity and great response from last year’s event has brought on a new tradition. We will be having food, fun, and friendship! There will be workshops and discussions on various topics through out the night.”  Details, admissions costs and a schedule are posted on its Facebook event page.
  • For fans of Pagan Singer/Songwriter Arthur Hinds, his song “Set Your Spirit Free” is available for free on his CDBaby site. He says that he has released this song as a yuletide gift to his fans.
  • On Nov. 26, Sannion at The House of Vines blog announced the release of his latest book Thunderstruck with Wine: the hymns of Sannion. Now, just 18 days later, Sannion has posted that he has only two copies left. But he says, “I plan to order more copies of Thunderstruck as well as my other Nysa Press titles after the new year, so don’t despair if you miss out on this batch”  Thunderstruck with Wine is a collection of “31 poems honoring the god Dionysos in his multitude of forms.”

That is it for now.  Have a nice day.

 

There are many surviving ancient and sacred spaces around the world. Some are protected and used for spiritual practice; some have become popular tourist destinations; and some are left to the whims of a changing culture. These sacred spaces range from human constructions to natural lands built only by the elements. From the ancient Greek temples in Agrigento, Italy to the ruins in Arizona’s Wuptaki National Monument, these spaces resonate with many contemporary people in their work to honor, reconstruct, practice and celebrate time-honored religious traditions, the associated cultures and surrounding ecology.

Unfortunately, many of these unprotected spaces, whether purely natural or human-engineered, are open to threats posed by modern construction in the name of so-called “progress” and industrialization. One such place that has recently drawn international attention is the mountain of Mauna Kea on the “Big Island” in Hawai’i.

"Mauna Kea from the ocean"[Credit: Vadim Kurland, Lic. CC Wikimedia]

“Mauna Kea from the ocean”[Credit: Vadim Kurland, Lic. CC Wikimedia]

Mauna Kea rises over 13,000 feet above sea level and is a dormant volcano with surrounding lands that feature native species of plant and animal. The area has long been held sacred to the native Hawaiian people and is a definitive part of ancient religious beliefs and practices. At the same time, the mountaintop was discovered to be one of the best places on Earth to study astronomy. These two realities have to come into conflict.

Today, Mauna Kea has 13 observatories on its summit funded by over 11 countries. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists discovered Mauna Kea’s optimal conditions for telescope viewing. When it was finally possible to reach the mountain, the University of Hawai’i (UH) was granted a 65-year lease to develop the land for research. By the late 1970s, other organizations began to request authorization to sub-lease that property. Those agreements are what has led to the large number of telescopes on the mountain today.

Protests began almost immediately after the first UH telescope was completed. Locals were concerned not only about the destruction of a sacred religious space but also about disturbances to the indigenous wildlife, some of which is native only to that area. In the 1980s, the state published a development plan and environmental impact report. In 2000, the plan was updated “to include community involvement” and the Office of Mauna Kea Management was established.

However, it was only a few short years later that a new $1.4 billion Thirty-Meter Telescope was proposed for the summit of Mauna Kea. This colossal telescope, called TMT, would be the largest and most advanced in the world with an optical ability 10x greater than any working telescope. According to an AP report, “The telescope should help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.” Headed by Caltech and the University of California, the project is being funded jointly by interests from the United States, Japan, Canada, India and China.

Proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope [Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation  via Wikimedia]

Proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope [Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation via Wikimedia]

In 2011, the Hawai’i Board of Land and Resources gave preliminary approval for the sub-lease and construction of the telescope. Despite legal actions and protests from locals, the Board gave its final approval in April 2013. The date for completion would be 2022.

Opponents filed an appeal in May 2013 in yet another attempt to stop the project. The appeal reads:

Mauna Kea advocates are seeking justice in Hawai‘i courts … It is unfortunate when public citizens are forced to go through court proceedings when developments such as the TMT Project are systematically granted permits by the BLNR despite these projects not meeting the criteria as outlined in Hawai`i State law … We must proceed ahead and be idle no more. Mauna a Wakea is still sacred.

One of the laws that is being broken is a building height code. The proposed TMT would become the tallest building on the island. Along with environmental concerns and a destruction of sacred space, opponents also point to a direct violation of state codes.

The first appeal was eventually denied when the courts upheld the Board’s decision to allow the sublease. According to reports, four individual opponents, Kealoha Pisciotta, Clarence Ching, Paul Neves and E. Kalani Flores, were not giving up and have since decided to take the issue back to court in four separate cases representing only themselves. Despite the threat of future court action, the TMT Observatory Corporation felt comfortable moving forward and set the groundbreaking ceremony for Oct. 7.

What the TMT Observatory Corporation didn’t expect is what happened on that day. Protestors blocked the road leading up to ground-breaking ceremony site. They spoke out, chanted and held signs that read things like “Your Mother is Not a Commodity” or “Too Many Telescopes.” The vans carrying attendees were forced to slow down or stop entirely. Much of this was captured on video:

Later the same group of protestors interrupted the ceremony itself. Led by Pua Case and Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, they stood before the crowd of attendees and addressed investors. In a desperate emotional appeal, one woman says to a group of Japanese men, “You let Mount Fuji stand; Mount Fuji is sacred. Our Mauna Kea is just as sacred as Mount Fuji. Please hear us. Hear us … She protects us.”  This was also caught on video:

The protests were echoed in Palo Alto, California where a group of people stood outside of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation offices. The Foundation is one of the American investors backing the TMT project. The California protest was led by Kauʻi Peralto, a Hawaiian cultural educator at Stanford University, and was also supported by the Santa Cruz Indigenous Solidarity, the Wintun tribe of Northern California and many other concerned individuals.

In a blog post, Kealoha Pisciotta a native Hawai’in, local activist and president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, described best the meaning of the mountain and why all of these people have come together to stop a project that would otherwise seem beneficial to human understanding and scientific discovery. Pisciotta describes Mauna Kea as the “temple of the creators,” which is home to the deities that gave birth to the Hawaiian people. It is the meeting of Earth Mother and Earth Father. She writes, ” Mauna Kea in every respect represents the zenith of the Native Hawaiian people’s ancestral ties to Creation itself.”

The mountain is featured in many Polynesian myths and religious stories. It is considered a place of calm and a place of peace. She writes:

When we look to Mauna Kea, we look from Mauna Kea and we look within ourselves to find our responsibility to Mauna Kea and hence our place in the world. We move through time and space back to our beginning, to the time when the Pō (darkness of creation) gave birth to the Ao (light of creation) … We feel honored that we are allowed to be there, humbled by the majesty and greatness of Mauna Kea.

Another activist, one of the protest leaders, and a Hawaiian cultural educator, Pua Case regularly incorporates the mountain into her own personal spiritual practice. She told a San Francisco reporter:

Almost no matter where I look, there’s something foreign there. I can never just pray as you would in a forest where there are just trees — where no matter where you faced,  it would be just you and your forest, you and your gods, you and your spirit. I’m afraid if there’s one more thing, I can never really look at my mountain and pray without having to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ 

Case was unfortunately unavailable for interview but did briefly say that the spiritual practices of her native people are very complex and connect deeply to this mountain.

Last week’s protests did successfully halt the TMT groundbreaking. However, the project is still moving forward, if only delayed. Case, Pisciotta and many others pledge to continue the battle to save their mountain, their sacred space, their protector and, in doing so, preserve a specialized local ecology and a piece of native Hawaiian culture.

A few quick news notes to start your morning.

Pagan Japan Relief Project a Success: As of this writing, the Peter Dybing-initiated drive to raise money from within the Pagan community for Doctors Without Borders’ work in Japan has raised nearly $10,000 in three days. Here’s a message from Dybing about the drive that was posted yesterday.

“Pagans from all over the country have donated and stepped forward to endorse the project. We received donations from individuals as well as organizations. To all those who stepped forward THANK YOU. We still have been unable to generate significant numbers of small donations. It continues to be the goal of this project to engage the entire Pagan community in a unified effort. If you are concerned that you do not have the funds to donate consider just a few dollars. Each of us can only do so much in these tough economic times. What is important is participation not the donation amount.”

The Pagan Japan Relief Project is working towards a goal of $30,000, and it looks like this target may be reached sooner than anticipated. Major figures within modern Paganism like Selena Fox, Thorn Coyle, and Starhawk have already been spreading the word on Facebook, and Peter Dybing says that statements from well known Pagans about this effort will published today. This is a hugely positive cooperative effort, one that we can all take pride in. So continue to spread the word, and be sure to read about the work Doctors Without Borders is doing on the ground in Japan.

You can find all The Wild Hunt’s coverage on this issue, here.

ADDENDUM: Please see this update on the Pagan Japan Relief Project from PNC-Minnesota.

More Pagan Voices From Madison: Nels Linde at PNC-Minnesota has posted more interviews with Pagans taking part in protests against anti-union initiatives enacted by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and state Republican lawmakers.

“I’m a teacher and I’m here because I am very passionate about what is wrong with our democracy today. I am a Druid, I have been practicing for about 12 years now, with a group out of the Twin cities. It is very powerful to be here today because the energy is just so intense. There is so much pride and hope. People are coming together, it brings tears. I have already signed my petition to recall my Senator, Sheila Harsdorf, and also for Walker. I am involved in some local community protests, next in Hudson on the bridge, Sunday. I have been through all the emotions, you know, shock, anger, and despair. I’ve cried. You start with one group and target, demonize them and once they are taken out, there is another group. Most Walker supporters do not like non-Christians, so it is very, very scary.”

Nels has been doing amazing and essential work covering Pagan involvement in these protests, and I urge everyone to head over to PNC-Minnesota and catch up on his reports. Here’s his installment on Saturday’s events. More is promised on Thursday.

You can find The Wild Hunt’s previous coverage on this issue, here.

Checking In With Treadwell’s: In a final note, the Guardian interviews Christina Oakley Harrington, proprietor of the well-regarded esoteric bookstore Treadwell’s, about her shop and the unique spirit of London that makes its success possible.

“London is a place for unusual people who need to find other unusual people. Cities are where misfits always go. If you can’t manage in the village with the curtain-twitchers – if you can’t live like that because you’re gay, or you’re massively artistic, or because you have to talk to angels and demons and spirits … Where else are you going to go to find others who might be like you? You go to London. Could Treadwell’s exist anywhere outside of London? No.”

Treadwell’s recently moved to a larger space, the very building where Mary Wollestonecraft wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women. Congratulations to Christina and Treadwell’s on their continued good press!

That’s all I have time for at the moment, have a great day!

For almost a month now protests have raged in Wisconsin over legislation proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker that would weaken collective bargaining rights for most public employee union members as part of a plan to address the state’s budget shortfall. Many have pointed to this being part of a larger initiative by Republican Governors across the country to weaken public sector unions in an effort to stymie a traditional Democratic fundraising stronghold. Now, in a procedural move that some are calling legally “murky,” and in the case of Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Lagley, “unconstitutional,” the collective bargaining measure was stripped from the budget bill (which requires a full quorum, denied due to a legislative walkout) and passed with simple majority.

This latest development has reignited already ongoing protests throughout the state, and PNC-Minnesota was able to conduct an interview with a Pagan Union Steward for his reactions and views of what’s happening in Wisconsin.

What is your reaction to tonight’s Republican action eliminating collective bargaining for State workers?

” The Republicans admitted tonight that was their goal. They clothed real intent in their budget repair bill, but it is pretty obvious what they were after from the beginning. I can’t say I am surprised. I am surprised it took them this long to do something. They were using the budget bill to provide themselves with cover, but it was pretty transparent. “

What do you think will happen going forward?

” There are 2000 (supporters, 200 tractors) tractors lined up to come to town. Family Farm Defenders is organizing that. They realize that there are a lot of farmers that are on Badgercare (Wisconsin Health Program),  and Walkers budget is going to decimate that. A lot of farmers are depending on this health care and don’t have anything else.  It is not just about the unions, its never been just about the unions. There was so much bad policy in that budget repair bill, you hate to even call it that. It is just a phrase. Koch industries, one of their biggest things is energy, and the Governor has the authority under that bill to accept a no bid contract from anyone. I am not saying it is going to be Koch… but ya know… We aren’t talking just big power plants, there are a lot of state facilities, like prisons, that generate their electricity. Some of the big UW campuses have their own power plants. Twenty or thirty of them, they are all small, but hey,  if you can tap a vein. The billionaire vampires have a clear path to suck more for themselves. Sucking off the body politic.”

Do the unions workers have a specific response plan?

” I know that in southern Wi. the AFL-CIO has put out some word about a general strike. I don’t know what that means. My current contract says I cannot strike. We have is a contract extension that put all the existing contract terms, extended into the future. We signed that with Doyle. We bargained for a new contract. I was on the bargaining committee. I tell ya, you know which side has power, the side which looks at you and says, “I think your asking too much”, not interested at this time”. “not interested” to every proposal. We had 18 months of that shit. Anyone who says that unions are big powerful entities is just plain wrong. We have been without a contract since July of 2009, and working out of continuing contract extensions. Last month Walker sent notice the extensions would no longer be honored after March 13th. The unfortunate thing for him is there is provision in state and federal law, the ‘evergreen’ clause, that should apply here, mandating a continuing contract. Well unless he somehow abolished that in the budget repair bill, too.”

“There are sixteen recalls going on, for both Democrats and Republicans. In fact the ones for the Democrats started first. There is a lot of energy focusing on them, by those that want to recall Republican right now. A group out of Utah has started all the petitions against the democrats. They are a group that is against immigrant rights. (The group filed electronically with the GAB between Feb. 18 and 21, calling itself theAmerican Recall Coalition. It lists the founding organization as Americans Against Immigration Amnesty. )”

You can read the entire article at the PNC-Minnesota site. PNC-Minnesota reporter Nels Linde, who lives in Wisconsin near the Minnesota border, has also been traveling to the protests and has written a couple of editorials on the subject.

In addition, Wisconsin photographer Nataraj Hauser, who has worked quite a bit with Pagans, including shooting the cover image of Witches and Pagans #22, has been documenting (and participating in) the protests in Madison.

“Within a few minutes word came out that the vote had been rushed through, and passed. Collective bargaining rights had been stripped from workers – including the police department responsible for Capitol security by the way – undoing more than 50 years of progressive Wisconsin worker protections. A voice on the PA announced that Senate was no longer in session and the Assembly was not going to vote until Thursday, so we all had to leave the building. No one budged. No cop made an effort to ask us to leave. At this point no one believed that the Republican Assemblymen would not simply use that pretext to clear us out of the building, then vote. Hell no, we won’t go.

I left the building – which was still in lock down – to meet up with my partner. While I was in the building, additional protesters had climbed in through second floor bathroom windows, been let in in groups at doors that were not staffed by law enforcement (until reinforcements arrived) so the crowd was pretty large. Outside I found several thousand people had arrived in the hour or so that I was inside.”

You can see a slide show of his images from the protests, here.

Finally, Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox has been traveling to some of the protests, and offering short updates on her Facebook page. Here’s an update from March 5th.

“Powerful outpouring of support for public workers’ rights & unions today at Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. I joined the thousands in the streets & at the rally on the steps of the Capitol where filmmaker Michael Moore spoke as did US Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin & others.”

I’ve previously mentioned Fox’s participation in the protests back in February.

I make this report not to push a particular political stance, but to reinforce the idea that the headlines often do involve and affect the lives of modern Pagans. I’m always looking to amplify the Pagan voice in a variety of situations that may not seem, at first, to be “Pagan issues.” But there are, as you can see, Pagan union stewards, and Pagans at these protests, and Pagans are a part of the fabric of life in Wisconsin. No doubt there are several Pagan public employees wondering what the fallout of these events will mean for their lives. If you are a Wisconsin resident, I invite you to share your perspective in the comments, and The Wild Hunt, The Pagan Newswire Collective, and the wider Pagan media will endeavor to continue looking for the Pagan voice within larger stories going on in the world.

ADDENDUM: PNC-Minnesota has just posted more Pagan voices from Madison, Wisconsin.