Archives For Rachael Watcher

Technological advances and access to technology have greatly changed the everyday experience of many communities around the world, especially here in America. Everything from access to information, training, and the ability to connect with people in different geographical areas, have made the process of connection much different than it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

According to Internet World Stats, 84.9% of the population in the United States have internet access or are internet users. Avenues of communication in greater society have been largely replaced with social media platforms, email, video chats, and online learning systems; these same systems are translating to Paganism as well.

The impact of living in a booming technological age on Paganism has shown how interesting advances can enhance or hamper community connectivity. Building community looks much different when there is access to smart phones, iPads and computers, and the ability to generate connection among people can become more about branding than about personable connection that we find in consistent face to face engagement. As technological advances continue to thrive, so does the Pagan community in numbers, yet the freedom that the internet provides can add to misinformation, increased access to rumors, and national attention to otherwise local issues that happen within the Pagan community. Everyone can be an expert in the age of the internet, and all problems are at the fingertips of people around the globe. The increased access to training, research and information does not erase the potential problems that come from the use, and abuse, of technology in Modern Paganism.

The positive and negative impact of increased advances affect areas of community building, publishing, entertainment, small magical or metaphysical shops, organizational structures, information exchange, the media, and a host of other areas in our everyday world. Communities and organizations within Paganism are adjusting to the new ways of functioning efficiently within our modern times, which often highlights differences in cultural aspects of age and socioeconomics. We have seen this, for example, with how some organizations are moving towards the use of online telecommunication formats to incorporate more effective mediums for business, and national communication among members.

In exploring a few of the many areas that technology reaches within modern Paganism, I spoke with several people for perspective on the impact that these changes have had, and are having. As the circumference of the Pagan community has expanded, intersecting interactions have increased the usefulness of different methods of communication, connection and business.

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess (COG), has been doing a lot of work within Pagan and interfaith organizations on a national level. In addition to interfaith work with COG, she is the North American Interfaith Network Regional Coordinator (NAIN) and works with the United Religions Initiative. Her work expands to areas of the world that require technology to access.

How have you seen technology incorporated into Pagan organizations and how does this contribute to the organizational function?

Over the past, umm, say twenty plus years, technology has changed a great deal.  As people have become more accustomed to using the internet, attitudes too have changed.  I remember a gathering of one of my traditions back in the, possibly early nineties.  I suggested that we develop a list to share information and make communications easier among us.  Such a hue and cry you have never heard.  “Oh we can’t do that.  Everyone would be able to see what we are discussing…even the secret stuff wouldn’t be safe anymore.  No absolutely not!”  So of course I purchased a domain name, put up a simple web site and put together a list making it clear that if one wished to be on that list an individual would have to let me know.  Well pretty soon everyone was on the list.  A few years later the list went down for some reason and once again a hue and cry went out, this time because the list was down and OMG how was anyone going to communicate, accompanied by appropriate hair pulling and teeth gnashing.

Today, the term “Google” is a household word meaning “to go out and search for”; the first thing on a new organization’s to do list is put up a website, and list serves are a mandatory part of doing business.  As the technology improves, so does our ability to communicate virtually, without the need for carbon footprint.

How do you feel that the use of technology has changed the Pagan organizations you work with?

With the advent of virtual communications the face of paganism has changed drastically. Before the use of electronic connections anyone interested in becoming an “official” pagan had to ultimately connect with others doing the work.  You will hear many stories from the fifty plus set about how they became pagans because they picked up one of the old magazines and found contacts, or were inspired to search for contacts and training.  People knew one another and knew who they were.

The up side to all of this is our new ability to gather for meetings without the necessity of even leaving the house.  It allows us to come together in greater numbers and have a larger say in the structure of our organizations allowing parents, the less abled, and those who must work, to join in meetings as never before and all without leaving such an oppressive carbon footprint.

Organizational bylaws are changing to allow virtual attendees to count for quorum where such issues are important and the alarming trend for organizations such as the Covenant of the Goddess, who meets once a year somewhere in the United States, to become an organization controlled by those with the funds to travel is certainly mitigated.

Perhaps best of all, people are coming to know us, at worst as harmless, and at best as people with serious theological underpinnings. In my work as an interfaith representative I have often referred folks to various web pages that saved hours of explanation, and frankly a quick bit of research during lunch in my hotel room has saved me serious embarrassment when dealing with religions with which I had not been familiar.

 

M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), elder and Pagan author, works as an interfaith activist and works in several different capacities within the community. In her work as a member of the Cherry Hill Advisory Board member, and as a web weaver, technology plays a vital role in her work.

Macha

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

As an elder in our community, I imagine you have seen a lot of technological changes that are now incorporated in modern Paganism. What are some of the largest changes within in the past 10-20 years that now are common uses for technology in our community?

Change has come so fast and furious that I’m dazzled by its variety and complexity.  Media have combined to give us immediate updates and gales of opinions of every little topic that sparks a flame.  I try to stay current.  I have a cellphone and laptop and am on Facebook.  I subscribe to lists and groups where discussion can be rich.  Just as readily discussion can become heated and obnoxious.  As a social person, I find I have an appetite for engaging in civil discourse.   I find I’m easily seduced by all those virtual venues where ideas are shared.  The downside of that is such engagement can be a time-suck if you don’t maintain strict limits.

Do you think these changes have had more positive or negative impact on the current state of our community?

I definitely think these changes have had a positive effect overall.  Before the advent of the Internet, we had only fragmented communities and a tendency towards mistrust.  Over the years since Internet access has become more common, especially among younger people, we have used electronic communication to build virtual communities as well as to fortify and enhance efficient communication regarding our terraspace communities.  Further, we are able to mobilize quickly if we choose to.

Today we have news sites and networking sites, music and podcasts, special interest sites, as well as scores of blogs and vlogs — anything on everything.  Of course, there is the matter of discerning what sources warrant our trust for their accuracy, reliability, and thoroughness and which tend to be more superficial and inflammatory.  But you have that with any media.

As for teaching, while some kinds of magic-spiritual teachings must be in person, many kinds of teaching and learning can be done effectively online.  Plus, online learning is greener.  We now have institutions of higher learning where all or most of the campus is virtual.  Cherry Hill Seminary, for instance, except for annual in-person intensives, is entirely online, with cool Moodle classrooms, a virtual library, online bookstore.   We Pagans are a small, widely spread demographic, making conventional terraspace learning environments (i.e., schools with classrooms) impractical.  Thus, a teaching and learning institution’s cyberspace presence has made scholarly online learning more readily available to Pagans wherever they may live.

Dr. Amy Hale

Dr. Amy Hale

Education and research continues to be a major aspect of need within the Pagan community. Access to training, information and education around the many different intersecting areas of study has always been a source of discussion, but the methods for attaining such things has drastically changed. We have also seen an increased emphasis placed on higher education, and an importance placed on the value of academic study. Professor Dr. Amy Hale has worked extensively in designing and teaching within online academic formats.

As a professional that works in higher education, do you find that the use of technology in learning modalities are more accepted today than say 10 years ago?

Absolutely!  Educational technologies are becoming ubiquitous, and are found in all sorts of environments in addition to strictly educational settings.  We are seeing the use of technology to support everything from on site and contextual training for businesses to the use of mobile phones to educate children in combat areas.  As technologies develop, we figure out how to teach and learn with them, and as ever, the first to benefit (which may surprise some) are frequently underserved populations and women. Of course, not everyone is an educational technology advocate, some prefer the low tech approach, but I believe the benefits are clear.

How do you see the changing role of technology influencing modern Paganism and what can we learn from higher education institutions in this area?

Technology is, in my view, the driving force behind modern Paganism.  Communication and information technologies give us a way to learn, share and create community.  While I have occasionally heard concerns about “internet solitaries” who some believe may not be as connected to live Pagan communities,  I see no reason to assume that Pagans connected primarily by the internet are any less genuine or living their Paganism in a way that is any less “authentic”.

But technology is changing the way we think, and we need to be aware of how. As when the printing press first came into use, many modern information technologies have the great ability to challenge our relationship with authority and promote a democratization of information. This, however, does not mean that all information is good and that all opinions are equally valid.  This is why we have a much, much greater responsibility to foster critical thinking and a need to understand how to assess the mountains of information we have access to.  We are well past the time when the professor or teacher or church is the ultimate authority, and certainly in many educational settings we are embracing this development.  We need to have the tools to think for ourselves and to know how to craft solid arguments, and we need to learn to do this with respect and civility.   I would like to see Pagans become more rigorous thinkers and better assess their sources.  So many Pagans out there on the internet seem to lack basic information literacy in that they don’t know how to tell if a source is valid or if an argument is well supported. I think this is the challenge that all educational professionals face today, and this is the direct result of the free flow of information.

Cherry Hill Seminary is one of the ways that we have seen this method of higher education exchange take on technology to facilitate learning. Cherry Hill is currently teaching in an all online format.

Tim Titus

Tim Titus

Blogger Tim Titus wrote a recent piece about social media and the way that negative engagement can influence how people engage. Some of the unintended consequences of social media and the influx of online communication has contributed to emerging patterns in the development of community building. In Tim’s piece, Surviving Social Media’s Ocean of Negativity, he discusses some of his observations.  “But the problem I have is that most of the nastiness that circulates around social media, both within and without the pagan community, is petty and exhausting. There’s always someone complaining about life, the universe, and everything. They complain about their work day; they beat dead horses about situations that were resolved long ago; they call out friends for silly things.   We have all this amazing technology to build community around the world, and we use it as our personal bitching platform. If anger and argument were a drug, we’d need a national 12-step program.?”

In a small snapshot of how technology plays an intricate role in Modern Paganism, we see that there these forms of communication and engagement have become an intricate part of the format that we now exist within. The continued growth of our community will rely heavily on how these forms of technology are used and instituted in our functioning practice.

While there are a lot of positive connections that are made with the use of technological advances, we also have some interesting consequences that are a result of the fast paced environment that is created with immediate access to so much information, and lightning fast responses. As much as we thrive as a community with the use of additional methods of research, education, connection, and organizational options, we are also faced with the concept that this level of interaction moves a community into a fast paced momentum that can add to some steep learning curves and promote additional division in the ranks.

This is a large topic that could benefit from continuous unpacking. Exploring this topic brings us to some interesting questions we can ask ourselves in the process of community exploration. Has technology replaced some of the need for interactive personal contact within the Pagan community? How has the definition of community evolved with the use of this level of technology? Does technology give us the chance to connect more often, or does it create a barrier to genuine connection that builds healthy interpersonal relationships?

All very important questions to consider as we are enjoying the access that our various devices give to us, and that we are able to use in our experiences of Modern Paganism.

This year, the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) held its annual business meeting, Grand Council, in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting was sponsored by Dogwood Local Council (DLC), the Atlanta-based chapter for the national organization. The two-day meeting is the center-piece of a full four-day conference event called MerryMeet.

green-faiths-3atrans

Before I continue, I must divulge my affiliation with the organization and event. I have been a CoG member for years, and I am currently serving as its National Public Information Officer (NPIO) – a position that I will hold until Samhain 2014. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity as NPIO. What I share below is my own personal reflections. Additionally, I happened to also be one the event planners.

This year, the bulk of the MerryMeet conference was held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia, selected partly for its exceptional green space. The 2014 theme was “Standing on Common Ground,” which reflects both the organization’s attention to interfaith or intrafaith work, as well as its spiritual and practical focus on the Earth – our literal “Common Ground.”

The four day conference opened, as it typically does, with a daylong leadership institute. This year’s topic was the expanding interfaith movement. Over 40 attendees met at the beautiful Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in Roswell to participate in discussions led by leaders in interfaith work.

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

The morning Pagan-only panel consisted of CoG inferfaith representatives Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, M. Macha Nightmare (Aline O’Brien) as well as special guest Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. In the afternoon, they were joined by Garth Young (Buddhist), Cliff Trammel (Jewish), Carl McCollum (Catholic), Syndey Linquist (New Thought Christian), and Iraj khodadoost (Baha’i).

Both panel discussions began with introductions, relevant stories and questions on general interfaith work. However, the conversations slowly gravitated to the intersection of the interfaith and environmental movements. What role does or should faith play in protecting our ecosystem and how can the interfaith movement support that role? *

Several of the panelists lamented that their interfaith work is frequently kept separate from their environmental concerns. However, Frew relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, that interest waned after 9/11. However, Frew added that now the attention appears to be shifting back once again.

In the afternoon, Garth Young, a Buddhist, brought the discussion down to a personal level and said, “Caring for myself is caring for the Earth. Caring for the Earth is caring for myself.” In the end, the panelists all agreed that Earth care is and should be at the forefront of the interfaith movement because, as the theme states, the Earth is our common ground.

Heron  Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Heron Pond at Chattahoochee Nature Center [Photo by: AmberMoon]

Outside of Earth stewardship, the panel spent a longtime discussing the obstacles of interfaith work. What are the walls that prevent “bridge building” toward interfaith understanding? Cliff Trammel, representing Judaism, noted that his biggest obstacle is fear. “Will I be accepted or represent my faith well?” He added that, in letting go of expectations and personal anxiety, he is able to bring down those walls and listen to others. All the speakers agreed and shared their own experiences with confronting personal fear.

Before and after the panel discussions, attendees had the opportunity to go out into nature and explore the literal “common ground.” For those guests that didn’t want to brave the 90 degree temperatures, the CNC treated them to an animal encounter. The wildlife rehabilitation manager brought a Merlin falcon into the meeting room and answered questions about raptors and other native species of Georgia.

The very next morning, Grand Council began. Working by consensus, CoG representatives from around the country convened to discuss all manners of business from internal organization, external works, policies and the voting of next year’s officers.

CoG National Board 2014-2015.  Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, XXXX, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

CoG National Board 2014-2015. Front Row: Stachia Ravensdottir, Lady Emrys. Back Row: Zenah Smith, Jack Prewett, Gordon Stone, Kathy Lezon, Lady Annabelle, Cat Perron, Lady Mehurt.

This year’s meeting resulted in two landmark decisions. First, CoG adopted an official environmental policy statement. Spearheaded by CoG interfaith representative M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), the statement was the result of a year’s worth of collaborative work. She says, “It gives me a great sense of accomplishment that we, the Witches of the Covenant of the Goddess, have crafted a statement about our beloved Mother Earth that reflects our shared values and expresses our mutual concern for our planet, as well as our responsibilities for its current state and our hope for the future.”

Second, CoG approved the creation of an internal Abuse Advisory Committee to “advise, educate, and support the Covenant on issues of physical and sexual violence.” The committee will be made up of CoG members who are professionally trained in this field and those who “remain current on information pertinent to the issue.”

The CoG Abuse Advisory Committee was proposed and presented by Lady Aradia and Lady Emrys, two licensed social workers from Pennsylvania. Lady Aradia, also psychotherapist, said:

Sexual offenses and family violence happen in every community including the Wiccan and larger Pagan community. Although we pride ourselves in not being a religion with a large institution, this places us at a disadvantage when issues of abuse arise.

During the two-day meeting, Lady Aradia also presented a well-attended workshop called “Boundaries,” and another member presented a workshop on “Mandatory Reporting.” Aradia says:

By COG agreeing that a committee be formed to address and help the community navigate this issue, they/we take an active stance in both reducing these offenses but also providing safe ways for everyone to engage in their religions communities … We know we may not have all the answers but it’s a beginning, a way to keep talking about the issue from an educated and knowledgeable perspective.

In addition to these two landmark decisions, CoG held three important ceremonies honoring various Pagans for service and dedication. Just after the meeting opened, National First Officer Kathy Lezon called for a moment of silence to honor those members and others who had passed over the year. Names were read aloud.

After lunch Friday, CoG was joined by Circle Sanctuary for the first-ever joint presentation to honor Pagan military servicemen and women. Lezon presented CoG’s Military Service Award Medal while Rev. Selena Fox and Rev. Dawnwalker presented Circle’s Pagan Military Service Ribbon. Jack Prewett, a Vietnam Veteran and former Sergeant United States Air Force, said:

As a Vietnam veteran, I didn’t get much of a homecoming. So I felt both honored and humbled to be recognized by both Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess for my service to my country. To have both these organizations recognize servicemen both past and present is truly a gift from the Gods and I know from personal experience how much it means those that do and have served.

In the third and final ceremony, CoG presented its newly-established Award of Honor for outstanding service to community. The membership had only just approved the new award Friday morning. Spearheaded by Ardantane director and longtime CoG member, Amber K, the CoG Award of Honor recognizes people for “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.”

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

After its approval, the membership awarded the honor to eight people including, Margot Adler, Alison Harlow, Sparky T Rabbit, Deborah Ann Light, Kathryn Fuller, Don Frew, Selena Fox and Judy Harrow. After receiving the award, Rev. Fox said, “I was deeply moved to be among the 8 selected by Covenant of the Goddess at this year’s Grand Council to receive the newly created Service Award.  It means a lot to receive recognition and appreciation by peers.” Also present at the ceremony was member Kathryn Fuller. She said, “I was taken aback by the nomination, and both honored by the award and humbled to be in the company of such giants in the Pagan community.”

Outside of the landmark decisions and moving ceremonies, there was an overwhelming sense of presence at the meeting. During those four days the membership looked back at those who had passed or had contributed to our cultural progress.Their efforts were exemplified strongly in the group’s ability to safely meet in a openly accessible hotel deep within the conservative Southeast. Because of those people and that work, “we are here now.”

Covenant of the GoddessAt the same time, the membership looked toward its future – one that looms ahead driving all of us to continue. “Here we are. But what next?” In considering this unknowable future, the delegates discussed the results of the CoG Vision Survey and how to apply its data to the organization’s direction going forward. How can we affect positive, lasting change in a fluid, evolving world filled with so many unknowns? This discussion will continue as delegates return home and digest their MerryMeet 2014 experience.

Next year, CoG’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be hosted by Touchstone Local Council and held in Ontario, California, Aug 13-16. The organization will be celebrating its 40th anniversary.

 

*Dogwood Local Council has made the MerryMeet Leadership Institute Prayer Book to the Earth available for download.  The book contains prayers, chants, songs and other writings dedicated to the Earth.

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

Morning Glory Zell

Morning Glory Zell

This past weekend a celebration of the life of Pagan elder Morning Glory Zell, who has been seriously ill recently, took place. Now, a new initiative has been launched to preserve her wisdom in the time that she has remaining.  Quote: “Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart is dancing with the veil. Her final wish is to preserve the knowledge and wisdom she carries of her incredible Goddess Collection for the generations. THIS INFORMATION is currently stored ONLY IN HER BRAIN. The only way to capture it is by voice recordings which need to happen NOW. Time is of the essence. Funds will go to recording her knowledge of her collection of over 300 votive Goddess figurines from around the world as the opportunity arises (she is in great pain) and to photograph and catalog the figurines in a database so that they will carry her wisdom along with them after she passes.” So far a little over $2000 dollars has been raised towards a $6000 dollar goal. That money will ensure that her archivist can stay by her side to make the recordings, plus do photography, database entry, and transcription. You can see a promotional video for the campaign embedded below.

Sekhmet TempleThe Temple of Goddess Spirituality in Nevada, which is dedicated to the goddess Sekhmet, has been had its statue of Sekhmet stolen on Friday. Quote: “Sekhmet stolen! Sometime during the night, the statue of Sekhmet was removed by unknown persons. The necklace someone had placed around Her neck is lying in the dirt just outside the Temple entrance indicating She was tilted up and placed in a car trunk or more likely the back of a truck. I am in shock, saddened that anyone would do this. Was it someone who coveted the statue? or retribution for the peace work done here? I don’ know.” At this time a $500 dollar reward is being offered for any information that may lead to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible. You can see a photo of the statue, here.

Tuatha DeaThe Pagan band Tuatha Dea, who recently held a fundraiser to create a new album, has been chosen to compete for a slot in the Hard Rock Rising Competition. Quote: “Send Tuatha Dea to Rome!!!! Tuatha Dea in Rome! You can make that happen! Tuatha Dea has been chosen to compete for a slot in the Hard Rock Rising Competition, The Global Battle for the Bands! All you have to do is vote! Follow the link below and download our song “Bagabi” and your vote will have been cast! Only 25 bands with the highest number of votes will be chosen to showcase their talent and those lucky 25 will be flown to Rome, Italy to compete on stage. So cast your votes now and let’s show the world how to do it Tribal!” As mentioned, if they make it into the top 25, they will be sent to Rome to compete. So far, they have won the first round, being one of five American bands that get to advance to a global round of online voting. They are the only Pagan band to do so. Good luck to them!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Pagan-friendly tribal band Arcane Dimension (they’ve played Hexenfest) had a successful crowdfunding campaign to produce band merch for fans. Quote: “Friends, you have been asking ‘when are you gonna get t-shirts/hoodies/merchandise?’ Well, you asked and we listened! The goal for this campaign is to raise enough funds to get all our band merchandise done and open our web store.”
  • Interfaith organization United Religions Initiative has named Pagan interfaith activist Rachael Watcher as their new Regional Coordinator for  the Multiregion. Quote: “Rachael brings seasoned experience with the URI community, commitment and passion to help the Multiregion fulfill its potential. As Interim RC, Rachael provided steady leadership in developing the Regional Leadership Team and strengthening existing services provided by the Multiregion. She is a practicing Wiccan for 30 years and lives in the Bay Area with her husband.” You can read a 2012 guest post she wrote for The Wild Hunt, here. Congratulations!
  • The Sacred Crossroads Association in Pennsylvania, is expanding their schedule of festivals this year with the addition of “Mythmusica: The Festival,” scheduled for the last weekend of July, 2014. The event will be held at Mountain View Park in Wind Gap, PA. Multiple performers have already been booked, according to a press release sent to The Wild Hunt. It looks like they are running a fundraising campaign to fund this new initiative.

hexenfest

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

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

The New Alexandrian Library Rises

The New Alexandrian Library

The New Alexandrian Library, a project of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel which hopes to create an institution that will become “one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance,” has launched a new short crowd-funding initiative to continue the ongoing construction on the future physical space in Delaware. Quote: “The exterior of the building is almost done and interior work is proceeding. lf we can keep things going at the pace we are moving we could potentially use the early Spring months of 2014 to actually start setting up the shelves and moving in. We need a total of an additional $60,000 in the next 6 months, But right now, we are asking for immediate funds of $15,000 for the next push forwards.” I think a video from 2012, at the groundbreaking of the library, does a good job of explaining the importance of building infrastructure projects like the NAL. So if libraries run by Pagan and esoteric interests is something you value, be sure to visit their IndieGoGo page and add your support. In the words of the campaign: “The NAL will be one of the cornerstones (of many created by various groups across the globe we hope!) of a new magickal renaissance. The benefits of this growing network for future generations will be incalculable.” For all of my coverage of the New Alexandrian Library, click here.

camplalanadaPNC-Florida has coverage of the recently held Florida Pagan Gathering Samhain 2013, which featured special guests Amber K, Azrael Arynn K, Ivo Dominguez, Jr., Stephanie Woodfield, Rev. Kirk S. Thomas, Grey Ghosthawk and Gypsey Teague. Quote: Florida Pagan Gathering Samhain 2013 was held November 6th through  November 10th at its beautiful new home at Camp La Llanada in Lake Wales, Florida. The organizers of FPG, Temple of Earth Gathering Inc., had chosen this location to host Beltaine 2014 but quickly pushed forward with the move due to the government shutdown’s effect on the former location at Ocala National Forest. Guests and staff of the event were so pleased and grateful for the hard work of the board of directors of Temple of Earth Gathering for making the transition so swift and smooth. One long time guest of The Gathering, the venerable Lady Solar Bear, remarked on how good it felt to be in a place where children came to learn about their heritage.” While I’m on the subject of PNC-Florida, check out their recent stories, which includes an update on Pagan clergy attending an interfaith child hunger summit.

372854_57526231713_1400552470_nTwo Llewellyn Worldwide titles have won awards, and two more were finalists, in the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, a contest sponsored by USABookNews.com. Quote: “The 2013 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the United States. With a full publicity and marketing campaign promoting the results of the USA Best Book Awards, this year’s winners and finalists will gain additional media coverage for the upcoming holiday retail season.” The winners were Discovering the Medium Within, by Anysia Kiel (in the New Age: Non-Fiction category), and Great Sex Made Simple, by Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson (in the Self-Help: Relationships category). The finalists were The Magick of Flowers, by Tess Whitehurst (in the New Age: Non-Fiction category) and Living a Life of Gratitude, by Sara Wiseman (in the Self-Help: Motivational category). Congratulations to Llewellyn and the authors!

In Other Pagan Community News:

Patrick McCollum in India

Patrick McCollum in India

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

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

“Regardless of whether I see something as unhealthy or evil, my response tends to remain the same. In fact I usually find it a waste of energy or a distraction from the task at hand to make that determination. I find it more useful to see if there is something that can heal or mend the damage to the world.  And by the world, I mean the small world that is each individual, the larger world that is their family, larger world yet that is their community, and all the greater worlds that we can envision. My response usually means changing myself as much as it means changing the situation.  Generally those responses that break repeating cycles of violence or suffering require a multidirectional approach.  Lest you think that I’m pacifist, I’m not. I prefer peace and strive to seek it first, but it is not always an option. To continue the comparison to healing work, sometimes surgery or harsh herbs or medicines are the only remaining recourse. If the severe option is the road taken, then there is a need for healing on top of the healing. As a Wiccan, I do not believe in a being that is the chief summation of evil. I think of pure evil as a conscious and willful intention to stay out of harmony with the universe and to flow in a contrary direction to the unfolding of evolution.” – Ivo Dominguez Jr, on morality, ethics, good, and evil from a Pagan perspective.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“It is time for the religious left to become a stronger force for equity and justice in the U.S. We do our best: We take to the streets. We volunteer. We feed one another. We vote. We work for fair wages. We give back. Yet despite these varied efforts, the sand keeps eroding beneath our feet. What are our ethics? What is the firm ground we can stand on? As a Pagan, my ground is a profound experience of the Sacred infusing all things. It is a sense of divinity here with us, in every face, voice, tree, insect, drop of water, and distant star. This causes me to seek out connection and to center my actions around love as much as I am able. The radical Christians I work with — and the Muslims, Buddhists, and Atheists — may not use the same language as I, yet we share a common ethic of action based on equity and justice. In each of them, too, I see the great returning to love. We can carry this love outward and take a stand for the disenfranchised, the poor, the oppressed, and those whose voices — singly — do not carry far. Together, our voices can become a harmonious concert singing a song for the present and for the future we are orchestrating.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on voting rights and the Religious Left.

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher

“I am all for any work done in the name of social justice, but social justice outside of the framework of religious practice leaves spiritually behind, as was pointed out by one comment made when the respondent claimed to be conflicted about the idea of this practice outside of his spiritual way of life. Social Justice through the lens of interfaith allows people from any spiritual path to walk their talk, and in particular those who beliefs are based in orthopraxy (right doing) vs. orthodoxy (right thinking or right writings). Social Justice is often the key that opens the door to interfaith practice, allowing a community where there is no previous foundation in interfaith relationship to come together to find common ground. Many groups will begin by working on some issue of social justice together. In working thus, shoulder to shoulder these community members get to know one another on a much more personal level and develop a trust that allows them to enter into deeper relationships with one another.  Social Justice is the window, through which different religions may come to view common issues of poverty, and injustice which they can work together to resolve. Social justice has been, since the beginning of the interfaith movement, the common ground upon which people of differing religious beliefs can join together to create a healthy community.” – Rachael Watcher, on how interfaith and social justice are intertwined.

Liz Williams

Liz Williams

“The usual criticism, that paganism constitutes some form of lunatic escapist fringe, is an increasingly old-fashioned view: pagans are found in every area of life – granted, there are some who are hippies on road protests, but there are also academics, physicists, doctors, writers and veterinary surgeons. It’s not a particularly marginal path any more and the most recent census reflects that […] the growing demarginalisation of the movement is ensuring that neither amusement nor persecution are the only options. There is an increasing awareness that paganism does have something to say, and that it plays a role in the gradual interconnectedness of spiritualities within the UK. Recent initiatives by the Church of England to draw more pagans into its ambit have been both misrepresented and sensationalised: knowing several C of E members involved in the “forest churches”, such initiatives more greatly represent a growing perception of commonality and thus inclusiveness. So, is contemporary paganism coming in from the cold? In a sense, it’s been interwoven into the various strands of British society for at least the past 300 years: perhaps we’re only just starting to realise it.” – Liz Williams, on modern Paganism “coming in from the cold.”

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

“There are several books and teachers who either imply or explicitly state that intention is the key to magick. The entire basis of the Law of Attraction as popularized in The Secret is that intention is everything. This concept states that if you have an intention and focus on it strongly, you attract to you the heart of your intention. One of the most popular books in history virtually says this in its title: Think and Grow Rich. I have encountered this same, “intention is everything” attitude among Pagans and ceremonial magicians. I have attended many hundreds of rituals where we are instructed to “write our intention on a piece of paper” which is then burned or returned to us to be collected in a pile or thrown out with the trash. From what I’ve seen, there is often great joy from these “intention is everything” rituals but little magickal success. Intention Isn’t Everything Achieving goals magickally or non-magickally is similar to following a map. You are at point A where you lack your goal. You want to get to point B where you have your goal. Having the intention of obtaining the goal is the design of the map for getting from point A to point B. Do you see the problem with this? Maps are not the real world. They are merely representations of the physical world. Having a map and using your fingers on it to trace your path ten million times will get you nothing other than a worn-out map. To achieve the goal you have to move from the map to the real world and do something!” – Donald Michael Kraig, on the superficiality of intentionality.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“The problem with monism that I wanted to address originally, and which was annoying me more in late July than the present matters, is that monism is a philosophical choice that is often adopted in order to relieve the necessity of getting the details on the differences between things correct, and doing adequate research on and accurate accounting of those differences. If everything, ultimately, “is one,” then to pay any regard at all to those differences would be a further indulgence in the “illusion” of separateness and difference. So, because anything that might be considered wrong or faulty from within the viewpoint of “convinced by the illusions” is by definition “incorrect” from the monistic standpoint, all gets subsumed in the monistic view to being, still, “just one,” which more often than not almost gives license to getting things wrong than to actually paying attention to matters like historical facts or individual opinions–monism trumps all, ultimately. It’s unfortunate, I think, that this kind of philosophical argumentation does get adopted because it is so easy, and so apparently undeniable and cannot be argued with–monism provides its own justification for feeling superior and non-threatened by other viewpoints and any and all material that they can muster to their own defense, because it’s already right and anyone else is deluded and will eventually be as enlightened as one is oneself because that’s how it works…” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on one of the problems with monism.

Elani Temperance

Elani Temperance

“I take issue with the groups on Facebook and all that is posted on them, but I have a bigger problem with Facebook itself which had the opportunity to enforce their own laws, and failed to do so. This issue is no longer about free speech: that limit has been reached the second Facebook chose to disregard their own rules. It is now about a company willfully ignoring the rights of a specific group that make use of their service. That is a criminal act […] Paganism has come to a junction in its formation. In all honesty, we have been moving towards it for a while. We are coming into our own as a movement, and while our religious rights are still frequently tramples upon, we have also had our wins. We are ready to take on the greater responsibility of speaking up when we are done wrong. We have gotten the confidence for that, earned through long years of being laughed at and disregarded. We do not have to sit by and be silent. We are entitled to more and better than having to substitute ‘Jews’ for ‘witches’ ourselves, just to see how bad the situation is. Some of us in the Pagan community practice a religion–a true religion–with true Gods, no more but also no less important than God or Allah. We have the power and the right to stand up for that towards the outside world, and we have the right to be regarded as a movement that matters. Facebook–or any other company–cannot keep us from that right.” – Elani Temperance, on free speech and Facebook.

HecateDemeter

HecateDemeter

“Many Pagans — whether we call ourselves Kemetic or not — have a spiritual and emotional attachment to Egypt.  And we’ve watched with sorrow the events of the past week, often not even sure which “side” to support. I suspect that Ma’at supports the people:  the women, and children, and old people simply trying to live in the midst of violence and chaos.  I suspect that Ma’at supports the fathers, trying to do the best they can for their children, to bring in a crop, to grow old.  I suspect that Ma’at supports the land.  A friend of mine suggested a ritual, which may be all that we can do from afar, but which is something we can do.  I’m going to perform it this weekend and, should you feel so inclined and should your Goddesses and Gods approve, I invite you to join me. Print or draw a map of Egypt.  Add any symbols or inscriptions that will help you to focus your energies on peace.  Imagine the angry passions cooling down enough so that people can talk instead of shoot.  When the map is imbued with cool, peaceful energy, fold it up and put it in a small container.  Cover with cool water (which you may also want to charge with peaceful energy), place in your freezer, and let it freeze until things calm down again in Egypt.  Then, you can put it into your compost pile. May peace come to Egypt.  So mote it be.” – HecateDemeter, sharing a spell for Egypt.

Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.

Sam Webster

“To forbid abortion requires taking a theological stance toward a fundamental biological function that we know results in more miscarriages than births even without human intervention. We know it is a theological matter since the medical profession, having developed safe and effective procedures, is having these restrictions imposed upon it over its objections: it is not a scientifically or medically driven law. We know it is a theological matter since there is no civil threat that requires all births: our population is neither too small nor lacking in diversity for every child to be necessary to the survival of the species. There is no scientific reason, there is no civic reason for imposing this restriction upon access to abortion. There is only a theological, religious reason. The problem is that to impose a theological position by law upon anyone in this nation is to violate the First Amendment of our Constitution which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. These laws establish a theology by legislating access to abortion on the basis of a religious position.” – Sam Webster, on abortion rights being a theological battle.

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

Today is the second Sunday in May which means its Mother’s Day for Americans as well as others around the world.  Writers often attribute this modern celebration to ancient festivals honoring the mother Goddess or Christian tributes to the Virgin Mary. While most religious cultures did or do recognize maternity in some way, the connections between any of these sacred celebrations and our modern secular holiday are tenuous at best.

Julia_Ward_HoweSome believe that the American holiday finds its earliest roots in an old English religious tradition called  “Mothering Sunday.”  On the fourth Sunday of Lent, Christians journeyed far and wide to a “mother” cathedral rather than worshiping in their local “daughter” parish. Over time the day evolved into a secular holiday during which children gave gifts to their mothers.

It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that there was a call for a uniquely American Mother’s Day celebration. After seeing the horrors of the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe, a suffragist, abolitionist, writer and poet, began an aggressive campaign for a national Mother’s Day. On the second Sunday in June of 1870, Howe made a passionate plea for peace and proclaimed the day Mother’s Peace Day.

We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience….The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

Not only did Howe call for a national holiday, she also called for a women’s council that would “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, [in] the great and general interests of peace.”

Unfortunately, her dream never came into being. For ten years, Howe personally funded most of the Mother’s Peace Day celebrations.  When she died so did Mother’s Peace Day.

Around the same time, in a small town in West Virginia, a similar idea was being cultivatedAnn Maria Reeves Jarvis, a Civil War nurse, had actively organized a series of “Mother’s Day work clubs.” Their mission was to teach women proper childcare, provide war relief, curb infant mortality, and tend to the battle-wounded. Like Howe, Jarvis advocated for peace and neutrality. She insisted that her mothers’ clubs treat both the Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war, Jarvis and other women created a “Mother Friendship Day” when mothers and former soldiers, from both sides of the war, came together in reconciliation.

After Ann died in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis decided to honor her mother’s work. In 1907, on the second Sunday of May, Jarvis held the first Mother’s Day celebration in her own home. Then, in 1908, Anna convinced two churches, one in Philadelphia and one in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia, to celebrate the new holiday. Each mother was given a white carnation, her mother’s favorite flower.

Photo courtesy of Flickr's play4smee

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s play4smee

Anna began a campaign for a national Mother’s Day celebration. By 1911, forty-seven states were celebrating Mother’s Day. Then in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson named the second Sunday in May “Mother’s Day,” a nationally recognized holiday.

Unfortunately, success brought way more than Jarvis ever wanted. Mother’s Day fell victim to commercialization. Themed Cards and other products were produced and sold en masse. The Post Office printed stamps depicting Anne Reeves Jarvis’ with a white carnation. Mother’s Day was big business. By 1940, the disillusioned Jarvis had turned her back on the holiday completely. She was even arrested for protesting a few Mother’s Day events. Jarvis reportedly died poor, blind and alone in a Philadelphia sanitarium.

While modern Mother’s Day contains only tenuous connections to spiritual practice, the holiday is not without its own profound importance. It is possible to extend a spiritual sense to a secular holiday by extrapolating upon its basic meaning.  Anna Jarvis conceived the holiday as an intimate day to thank one’s own mother for her sacrifice  For activist Julia Ward Howe and Anne Reeves Jarvis, Mother’s Day was a symbolic celebration of motherhood. They saw women, specifically mothers, as the healers and peace makers.

For many Pagan and Heathen women, Mother’s Day is a unique opportunity to connect a mainstream secular tradition to their own spiritual journeys as mothers. On this day, Pagan mothers can reflect on their maternal roles, examine their mundane responsibilities and witness their role and how it is mirrored within their theology.

Reflections on Motherhood from Pagan women:

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

I came to biological motherhood in my mid-30s–elderly prima grava–and was already known as a Pagan in my community. My daughter is a “cradle Pagan,” and because I knew there would be questions as she went through public school, we were always very open about our spirituality. It made me a somewhat reluctant ambassador for my religion and gave me the opportunity to talk to all sorts of people about Paganism… Being a mother has made me a better advocate, a better priestess. And being those things has also made me a better mother. – Byron Ballard, Pagan author, Advocate, Priestess.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

A mother is a child’s first experience with the Goddess in this incarnation. That makes the role of mothering more important than just a set of expectations, but it is a spiritual obligation that will support a growing child in connecting with the feminine aspect of divinity, and with the miracle of manifestation. The lineage of love and extension of the Goddess that is before you in the eyes of your child should be the most motivating factor for living a healthy life. We teach what we are to our children by what we show. Crystal Blanton, Author and Priestess

R. Watcher

R. Watcher

As Witches and Pagans who truly believe in the Earth as a sacred and living being we must do all that we can every day to live that belief. Nowhere can we better put that belief into practice than in the kitchen. From catching the running water from the tap while it’s heating, to using left-over food… Nowhere is there a more frequent and clear reminder of how close to and dependent upon the Earth and all it produces, than the kitchen and its proper management on a day to day basis. – R. Watcher, Mother, Aunt, Great Aunt, and kitchen manager both professionally and personally for over 40 years.

Raising my three children as a Pagan, rather than raising my kids as pagans, was critical to my concept of choice and personal freedom. For a time, I had an Atheist, a Buddhist and a Christian on my apron strings–today, only the latter claims Paganism as his faith, but all understand the universe as the inter-connective tissue of the magic of humanity. As a Pagan mom, I have experienced the heartbeat of the universe from within my own belly, have seen my heart walk away on tiny feet and have known the fear and thrill of knowing that my children echo a cosmos so sacred, not even I could contain its sound with my love.  My advice to them when they become parents will be simple:  don’t damage baby wings with labels, institutions or expectations. Let them explore and feel that sacred thump for themselves . . . and take lots of pictures.Seba O’Kiley, High Priestess of the Gangani Tribe of Alabama

Seba O'Kiley with her sons

Seba O’Kiley with her sons

My favorite quote is from my son Owl at age seven, [He said,] “If reincarnation is real, that means my dead body is out there!”  My advice [to new Mothers] is to always be honest with kids, even about complicated things. They’ll get it in their own way. – Sirona

Sirona

Sirona

Although the American Mother’s Day is in itself not historically religious, the job of motherhood is most certainly more than mundane drudgery. In fact, becoming a mother can be one of the most transformative initiatory experiences. The raising of a mother comes day-to-day with the raising of the children. The entire experience is shaped and colored by one’s own strengths, weaknesses, and of course, spiritual beliefs. In honoring our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and any other woman who has stepped into a maternal role, we also honor the many colors of motherhood, the many faces that it holds, the many forms that it takes and the very personal spiritual journey that it brings.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Last week I presented the question of Pagan solidarity. Does it exist? Should it exist? What is the impact and evolution of such a concept? Generally speaking, it is widely accepted that Pagan solidarity, in some form, is vital for both the protection and continued growth of the non-traditional religions that fall under the Pagan umbrella. Additionally, solidarity can offer a sense of community and comfort over a host of social networks supporting both Pagan groups and solitary practitioners.

In December of 2011, Lady Liberty League mobilized a Task Force to protect a Southern Pagan family’s religious liberty within a public school system. The Task Force, of which I was a member, was comprised of professional individuals representing different Pagan organizations and Pagan spiritual traditions. Together, in solidarity, we worked for three weeks and, in the end, achieved quite a victory.

After that case was settled, the Task Force itself disbanded. However, Lady Liberty League still operates; watching and waiting. Since 1985, the organization has been ever on the “ready” with the ability to mobilize Pagan resources as needed. When active solidarity becomes a regular occurrence an organization is born.

Let’s turn now to a network of Pagan voices to hear their thoughts on the growth and importance of the Pagan organization.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton (center)

Our desire to be seen as a legitimate religion by government entities has forced us to change to fit their definitions, which, in the United States at least, were designed for Protestant Christians…We have been dealing with this issue since the mid-1970s, when the Covenant of the Goddess was created. – Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and a practitioner of American Eclectic Craft

Jonathon S. Lowe

Jonathon S. Lowe

One of the most basic principles of Paganism is that we are all interconnected to everyone and everything around us. Solidarity helps us to solidify those connections… Organizations are merely facilitators helping to make these connections possible.”  – Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe, Interfaith Minister, Founder Midnight Star School of Witchcraft, Coordinator of The Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas 

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa
North Georgia Solitaries

I am a member of several worthy organizations that…have members with diverse beliefs and yet all of these organizations work every day to help build community by concentrating on the task at hand and respecting each other’s differences. Lady Charissa, founder of North Georgia Solitaries, coordinator of the Pagan Assistance Fund, High Priestess of Silver Pine Grove 

Before we go any further, we need to deal in semantics. Most responders made no distinction between an institution and an organization. Are they same thing?  Covenant of the Goddess representatives, Rachael Watcher and Ginger Wood say no.

On the Fears and Dangers of Institutionalization:

Certainly some individuals and small groups might come together for the sake of mutual interest and form an organization, but would that constitute an institution? … Those who are drawn to think outside the box in expressions of spiritual freedom are not generally going to be ready to discard that freedom of thought for yet another set of doctrinal mandates. – Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess 

Ginger Wood

Ginger Wood

We do have organizations that have worked hard some for over 30 years, to give Pagans a flag to unite under. [But] I will not accept [institutionalization] as “must” and I pray to the Goddess that none of us are forced to institutionalize in order to be heard.  – Ginger Wood, National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Priestess of Gryphon Song Clan and Pagan novelist

Both Rachael and Ginger are using the accepted sociological definition of institution which is explained at length in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Very briefly, an organization is less complex or rigid in structure, scope or activity than an institution.   

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

We need to think deeply about what kinds of organizational structures best support our values…guard against rigidity in power structures and in belief systems. – Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor at Patheos Pagan Channel, Cherry Hill Seminary Instructor

Institutionalization is a big issue for me, always has been. It’s something I’ve resisted…  In more recent years my attitude has softened. Years ago my friend Sam Webster insisted that we needed to establish institutions because institutions are the only thing that lasts.  Individual humans pass on.  M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, witch, teacher, ritualist and author.

M Macha Nightmare

M Macha Nightmare

Macha makes an excellent point. Humans do pass on. Organizations or institutions can be passed down. Can we create viable Pagan institutions that serve solidarity without sacrificing spiritual freedom and, at the same time, last for decades to come?

On the Building of Pagan Institutions:

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“Pagans are perfectly capable of having healthy institutions which serve our needs and goals, indeed, we participate in such institutions every day in our real-world lives…Why wouldn’t we want to enjoy the benefits of stronger infrastructure, better accountability and healthy leadership?” – Holli S. Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, Priestess of Temple Osireion 

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

A wide diversity of Pagan institutions are necessary as the glue that will bind us in our common effort to defend the rights of all belief systems. Peter Dybing, Pagan Service Advocate, Chief Officer, Federal Incident Management Team, 100% for Haiti Board member

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

We need some of the power that institutions bring to any community or movement… Togetherness commands attention …The key is finding a way to use the concepts of community solidarity in balance with some of the undesirable things that come with community dynamics – Crystal Blanton, High Priestess with Solitaries of the Second, Pagan author.

So how do we create that balance? How do we create and maintain healthy organizations and fluid institutions that promote solidarity and allow for that community dynamic?

Building trust person-to-person, which tends to spread to friends of those people who begin learning who each other is, how they think, what their concerns are, how they express their spirituality.… I think one of our greatest assets as Pagans is our diversity.  M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, witch, teacher, ritualist and author. 

I think we should do our best to make strength out of diversity. If you have twelve Pagans together, they normally represent at least thirteen religions. [But] It is natural for people to seek agreement…I recommend we conform to one standard: mutual respect and intolerance only of intolerance. – Freeman Presson, Namen of Temple Zagduku & Fr. Ophis, Church of Hermetic Sciences. 

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox

Like a delicious multi-ingredient salad, when Pagans unite, we can bring our individual flavors and textures as we join together — and we can maintain this diversity in our collaboration. Our diversity can enrich our solidarity.Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister at Circle Sanctuary 

Our diversity is our strength. Our diversity is our asset. Our diversity is our core.  So, with that essential ingredient, can we venture to build uniquely-structured institutions that respect and serve the expansive Pagan world view for generations to come?  If so, these institutions must conform to the rigid expectations of mainstream society; thereby ensuring our legal protection and promoting social awareness. And, as the wheel turns, this increased awareness will eventually lead to a broader and a healthier social acceptance of the diversity that began it all.

Thank you to all the contributors for their valued opinions and to the readers for opening the doorway to this conversation and continuing the process into the future.

Full Comments: (listed alphabetically)

Crystal Blanton
Chas Clifton
Peter Dybing
Holli S. Emore
Rev. Selena Fox
Christine Hoff Kraemer
Lady Charissa
Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe
M. Macha Nightmare
Freeman Presson
Rachael Watcher

 

[The following is a guest post from Rachael Watcher, Public Information Officer at Covenant of the Goddess (COG), part of the Pagan Newswire Collective’s Bay Area bureau, and a trustee of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN).]

On February 29th I begin a trip to Haridwar India to attend a conference produced in part by the International Center for Cultural Studies with participation from the Council of Elders of the Sacred Maya, the European Congress of Ethnic Religions and many others. It was being held from march third through seventh of this year on the university campus of Dev Sanskriti Vishwa Vidyalaya. Its theme of four this year was Nourishing the Balance of the Universe, a gathering of the Elders. Indigenous and Pagan representatives from all over the world gathered to participate with over 450 delegates from both ancient and endangered cultures and new and reconstructed Pagan religious movements. This is the fourth annual conference which is held every three years.

As late as December of last year, I has had no plans to go. In fact I have not even been aware that this conference existed. However, I received a request to speak about Wicca during late December at a Hindu temple in Fremont California. There I met Dr. Radheshyam Dwivedi, the president of the organization, who invited me to attend if possible, promising that all conference fees would be waived on my behalf and that room and board would be provided should I be able to provide transportation. After a couple of weeks’ consideration and discussion with a friend already involved with sister organizations, we decided to go and plans were hurriedly made to renew passports, apply for visas, and find tickets to New Delhi.

Prudence Priest (left), Rachel Watcher (center left), and friends.

Prudence Priest (left), Rachel Watcher (center left), and friends.

I’ve been involved in interfaith both nationally and internationally for about the last 10 years. In almost every organization, and every meeting, the attendance was primarily of the Levantine religions, that is to say Christian, Jewish, and Muslim attendees with a smattering of Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu participants tossed in for good measure, and of course yours truly generally holding Neo-Pagan and Wiccan representation. Attending a conference in which the majority of representatives were of indigenous peoples with a large number of European pagan representatives present but no Christians, Muslims, or Jews was a very unique experience for me.

There were for me three main and powerful impressions. The first was that of the organizational structure of the event. It is difficult to describe the differences in how this event was handled compared to those conferences in which large corporate religions have charge. A friend of mine is fond of the word “chaortic” to describe the outgrowth of an event from the ground up, rather than a micro managed top down approach. This was such an event. I had come to be quiet, listen, and learn. During the opening plenary I took a seat in the journalists’ section prepared to take photographs and copious notes. Instead I found myself escorted up to the stage to be seated among 30 or so of the most honored Elders. Though I was deeply honored, it resulted in my being seated so that my entire view consisted of the backs of heads and a bright lights and my face; definitely not something that I had planned for nor been informed of, and I am pretty sure that it was a last minute thought.

On the second day while in conversation with individuals regarding monist and panentheistic approaches to deities, I was approached by a person who explained that he would be the respondent for my panel and asked for the topic of my talk and information for brief introduction. This came as something of a surprise, as I had not been planning to give a talk. Apparently the organizers assumed that as Elders each of us would have something to say. I found that many other presenters had discovered themselves to be in the same position. Remarkably enough this did not diminish the quality of the presentations though it certainly made it difficult to keep up with an ever changing program.

My second impression was that of the energy, abundant during this conference. While the energy at other conferences I have attended is careful, and subdued, with everyone aware that the wrong choice of words could easily be misconstrued, or inadvertently insult, here it was both uninhibited and spontaneous. There was only absolute openness, and excitement in sharing, with no fear of being misunderstood or insulting, or (and this was stated on more than one occasion openly) fear of proselytization. The energy raised during rituals was fierce, joyous, and impossible to contain. It was incredibly different than anything I have ever before experienced in an interfaith gathering, and came very much closer to that of pagan festivals. Here there was no reticence to discuss differences of opinion, and no lack of people with whom to discuss them.

In order to be entirely fair, I must say that the Hindu population, which by far and away exceeded the rest of us, did rather dominate the atmosphere. Hindu prayers opened every plenary and panel and closed them. The greatest number of presentations was based around Hindu themes of tradition, meditation, and Yogic practice. The main difference however, in the Hindu culture vs. the Christian culture, was that for the Hindus there was no one right in true way and their caring and support regarding the way others viewed their religion was clear. We also recognized the rituals as comfortable and familiar to the rest of us within the context of our own religions.

My third great impression of this conference was the wealth of academic information made available, even by those who had only 2 hours to prepare their talk. Many of the people attending held doctorates and master’s in varied fields of study including sociology, anthropology, philology, philosophy, and religious studies. One Canadian Dene Elder mentioned that the Europeans had brought with them the killer “Bs”; not those bees that are slowly taking over for our domestic bees in the lower states, but the “Bs” of the Bible, the Bottle, and the Bullet. This theme was picked up by Dr. Piotr Wensch (who also had about two hours’ notice), who reported that from the 14th to the 17th centuries the Polish people believed that they were part of a migration out of India. When the Russians invaded they were told that this was non-sense and the idea fell out of popular belief. Now DNA testing has proven that this is indeed the case and that Poles and Lithuanians share as much as eighty percent of the same DNA as Northern Indians. He also said that the oppressors brought a modern version of the “Killer Bs” to Poland, the Bible, Broadcasting, and the Bullet.

Of course the most important part of any conference are the contacts that you make and the friends that you bring back. Certainly I gave out all of my cards (and I brought a great handful) and my Facebook page was filled with “friend” requests when I finally reached internet connections again. All and all I would say that for me the program was very successful in connecting people and cultures that need to stand together or fall apart under growing corporate, high tech pressures to assimilate or fade into obscurity.

[You can read more about Rachael Watcher’s trip to India at the COG Interfaith Reports blog. Here’s part one, and here’s part two. Both give additional background and detail, and are worth reading as supplemental material to this post. It should be noted at Pagan activist Patrick McCollum was also in attendance at this conference, you can read about his trip to India, here. You may also be interested in my recent post about the Hindu-Pagan panel at PantheaCon.]

While the concept of interfaith, constructive interaction between representatives of different religions, is truly ancient, its modern conception was largely birthed by the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions (re-dubbed the Parliament of the World’s Religions in more recent times) where representatives of “Eastern” religions (Hinduism, Taoism, Jainism, Buddhism) created lasting contacts with representatives from the “Western” traditions of Christianity and Judaism. The star of that parliament was Swami Vivekananda, credited by many for bringing Yoga to America, who spoke to a rapturous audience of over 7000 about the end of religious fanaticism and intolerance.

Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 Parliament

Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 Parliament

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and it’s horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”

Today, the modern interfaith movement continues its work to end religious persecutions, whether by sword or by pen, and modern Pagans have played integral roles in its shaping. Pagans currently serve on the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, play important roles within the United Religions Initiative (URI), and participate in several smaller regional interfaith councils. In some cases, Pagans can engage in kinds of interfaith dialog that more mainstream faiths can’t, as illustrated by Don Frew from Covenant of the Goddess.

Don Frew at the Parliament of the World's Religions

“Being a non-Abrahamic practitioner in dialogue with conservatives, Christians and others, has been helpful not only in talking to “exclusivists” but to non-exclusivist conservatives. Non-exclusivist Muslims and Jews who interpret their traditions and associated rules very strictly can feel excluded by what happens sometimes in interfaith settings. Because my own tradition has so often been excluded, they confide in me.”

That said, the interfaith movement has faced entrenched skepticism from some corners, including from many modern Pagans, who echo the question asked by Chas Clifton: “what do Pagans get from interfaith activities?”

“Were it not for the American constitutional tradition of religious freedom (and similar traditions in some other Western nations), I do not think that the Pagans would get a seat at the interfaith luncheon table.”

That skepticism is only enhanced when we see Catholics use interfaith as a way to criticize their guests, or when presidential contenders like Rick Santorum (who also happens to be Catholic) claim that the concept of equality comes only from his God, and is not found in other religions.

“I get a kick out of folks who call for equality now, the people on the left, ‘Well, equality, we want equality.’ Where do you think this concept of equality comes from?” Santorum asked the enthusiastic crowd packed into a restaurant here. “It doesn’t come from Islam. It doesn’t come from the East and Eastern religions, where does it come from? It comes from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that’s where it comes from.”

American Muslim and Hindu groups were appropriately offended, and it caused many religious minorities to reiterate the question, do we get anything from trying to sit at the same table with faiths who seem to continually slander us? Rachael Watcher, a National Interfaith Representative with Covenant of the Goddess, says yes.

“A more pertinent question is “What DO Pagans get from Interfaith Activities?” (emphasis mine) The very most succinct answer that I can offer is legitimacy, respect, a place at the table. […] If you think that this does not make a difference consider a comment from one United Church of Christ minister when told that individuals from a local Interfaith organization in Las Vegas had threatened to leave if Witches (In this case a full professor at ULV) were allowed to join. He wrote to the organization and then followed up with a call that boiled down to: “if they want to quit let them. You will loose nothing and gain a group of sincere people who are always the first to arrive (to be available for set up), the last to leave (to assure that everything is clean). They are not interested in trying to convince you of how important they are. They are simply involved to serve and share.

When Lady Liberty League and others were fighting for the right of Pagan Vets to have the pentacle on their grave stones, we were shoulder to shoulder with Ministers, Priests, and other Professional clergy who wrote letters and in some cases occupied the offices of the of the Veteran’s Administration. These religious leaders know who we are and respect us because of our long tradition of service. When Pagans are faced with violations of our civil rights, we are now supported, often by very well known and prestigious religious leaders. It pays to have friends.”

To emphasize their belief in, and commitment to, interfaith, Covenant of the Goddess is once again offering a scholarship contest for one young Wiccan/Witch to attend the upcoming 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Belgium.

“The Covenant would like to see Wiccan youth involved in these historic occasions and has committed itself to providing the necessary financial support to be able to do so. We are beginning this call for applications early in order that young people can start the process of planning and becoming active in local organizations which in turn will help them with the experience that they will need to apply and participate in this call.”

As for my own opinion, I think Pagan involvement in interfaith, so long as we understand both the strengths and limitations of this movement, is a desirable and healthy thing. If the modern Pagan movement wants to have a voice as religious demographics shift and change, then we need to continually establish ourselves here and now. We need to make sure the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of our communities, and those of our allies, are not silenced by non-participation or the petty bigotries of  ideologues like Santorum. Interfaith can not only humanize us to the ignorant, but also create powerful bonds with those we can learn much from. In addition, I believe that those of us who are engaging in interfaith need to take those skills and bring them back to practice them within our own movement, to bring better communication between faiths and traditions that have, at times, chaffed under the crowded “Pagan” umbrella.

What we “get” from interfaith is a chance to change the very fabric of mainstream religion through dialog instead of violence. It drops a pebble in the waters of faith, and ripples forward through time. Just as 1893 saw Hindu and Buddhist voices establish themselves in the consciousness of America, so too does Pagan participation in modern parliaments, and similar gatherings, establish our thoughts and values to those who would find our ways alien and even dangerous. There is no instant radical change in interfaith, but the ripples are already starting to be felt, and it would be folly to draw back just as we are starting to emerge as a worldwide religious movement.

This weekend Covenant of The Goddess, one of the largest and oldest Witch and Wiccan associations, held their 2011 Grand Council. This year the council, part of the larger yearly event known as MerryMeet, took place in Irving Texas and was hosted by the Texas Local Council (click here to download an audio interview with Chuck Peart of COG’s Texas Local Council). In a historic first for this national Witchcraft organization, their traditional opening invocation featured an interfaith blessing with Tatiana Androsov, Russian Orthodox, of the Thanks-Giving Foundation, Bill Matthews, Methodist, of the Dallas Peace Center, and Revathi Srinath, Hindu, of the Sanatana Dharma Foundation. Speaking with Greg Harder of the Pagan Newswire Collective COG First Officer Peter Dybing called the invocation “a beautiful testament to the work our interfaith representatives have been doing over the years” (Click here to download the audio interview with First Officer Peter Dybing).

“Today we saw an example of other faiths blessing the work of Witches on a national level and that is a beautiful thing […] I found it a very touching moment and I think it’s historic.” – COG First Officer Peter Dybing

MerryMeet is a mini-convention complete with vendors and presentations, but one built around a business meeting. The Grand Council, which is run on a consensus basis, is where the organization perpetuates itself and makes all major decisions for the coming year. This year, in an initiative spearheaded by Rachael Watcher, COG’s National Public Information Officer, Internet conferencing technologies were used so members outside of Texas could observe, listen, and ask questions during deliberations.

A view of the Grand Council meeting space.

“What was new this year was the inclusion of Adobe Connect, an on line meeting room which allowed the members of the Covenant who were unable to attend physically to join the meeting through this virtual space. As this year was the first time for such an experiment, the members who joined us on line were not able to participate in a total give and take but were, in fact allowed to listen and chat among themselves asking questions of myself and Daryl Fuller who were manning the two meeting computers that were hosting the meeting space within the physical space of the meeting.  We had between 10 and 16 folks who were logged on for the entire time of the meeting  from opening to closing and the enthusiasm was “over  the moon” as one participant, who had not been able to participate for some years due to physical disabilities, stated.”

The initiative was so successful that Chamisa Local Council, who is hosting the 2012 Grand Council, is looking into expanding the experience so members can participate more fully during the meeting.

Finally, a new slate of officers for COG’s national governing board was elected, and the new First Officer/President, who will guide the organization for at least the next year starting on Samhain 2011, is COG member Ginger Wages (aka Hawk). Wages is part of Dogwood Local Council, which serves Witches and Wiccans in Georgia and Alabama, and has acted as an outspoken voice for Pagan rights for many years. Wages will replace Peter Dybing, who has been a dynamic force for COG, and the wider Pagan community, bringing much-needed energy and passion to the position. In a short interview, Wages talks about her vision as First Officer for the coming year (click here to download the audio interview with First Officer-elect Ginger Wages).

The COG board-elect. F.O.-elect Ginger Wages is second-row third from left.

“[Peter Dybing] set a precedent for getting out into the community and seeing COG people face-to-face, I plan to continue that. […] Interfaith is probably the thing that I really put at the top of the list for COG, and I really want to keep that supported, and hopefully give it even more support. […] I plan to work with the wonderful people in this organization to help us keep moving forward. We’ve been around a long, long time and its the job of everyone in this organization to make sure we’re still here thirty years from now.”

Peter Dybing will remain as Emeritus First Officer through 2012. When asked about a possible leadership shift, Dybing said that “change is good” and that if there’s a new First Officer “that would be great for this year.” Dybing also shared his plans to travel more extensively in 2012, visiting many Pagan festivals and doing more outreach on behalf of COG. Also of note is that longtime COG member and Interfaith Representative Don Frew will be joining Rachael Watcher as co-National Public Information Officer in 2012. Both Frew and Watcher are heavily involved in COG’s interfaith activities, and will no doubt compliment Wages in her desire to place more emphasis on interfaith work.

I wish Ginger Wages good luck in her new leadership role, and look forward to what the COG Board will achieve during her tenure. I’d also like to thank COG NPIO Rachael Watcher and Pagan Newswire Collective correspondent Greg Harder for gathering the interviews, quotes, and pictures for this article.