Archives For Salem

SALEM, Mass — An October court hearing found Christian Day facing allegations of harassment by his former business associate Lori Sforza. Due to the timing, this brewing conflict must have felt like a golden opportunity to someone at the Associated Press (AP). Leading up to Halloween, the “Witch Sues Warlock” angle proved impossible to resist, and the story achieved viral status in short order. What Sforza, who goes by the business name of Lori Bruno, actually wanted was a simple restraining order, claiming that Day had been harassing her online and over the phone.

Downtown Salem [Photo Credit: MO Stevens]

Downtown Salem [Photo Credit: MO Stevens]

Some of Sforza’s more recent allegations surprised Day. After the Oct 28 hearing, “the world’s most famous warlock” told local reporters that he would give $10,000 to anyone who can prove that he made these particular harassing calls to Sforza from an anonymous number. It is this specific allegation that then led a judge to sign the restraining order against Day, forbidding him from any contact with Sforza over the next year.

The Wild Hunt spoke with both of the litigants, as well as a non-legal mediator, to understand how a falling out between former friends could lead to a court hearing.

What both parties agree on is that Sforza worked in one of Day’s shops, performing psychic readings, from 2009-2012. Day charged nothing to Sforza for the use of the space. However, they have quite different recollections as to why this was the case. “He begged me to work in his shop,” said Sforza, while Day maintains, “I was doing her a favor.”

No matter his motivations, their business relationship — which had included plans for a reality television show — ended, and Sforza opened a competing business. That’s apparently when the former close friends allegedly started going at it hammer and tongs, including (if the accusations they each level against the other are true) through proxies and on the internet.

The Complaint for Protection from Harassment, which Sforza signed on September 28, lists abuses she said had been heaped upon her by Day. These abuses included “cartoons depicting me in a vicious way,” ethnic and racial slurs, allegations of organized crime involvement, and “calling me the ‘c’ word.” Sforza is Italian, and identifies herself as an hereditary witch. She told The Wild Hunt that Day had also maligned one of her ancestors.

Day downplays — but does not deny — what he characterizes mostly as “snide comments” about Sforza, and said that the judge agreed that it fell under free speech. However, in an additional affidavit signed on October 13,  Sforza alleges that for the past three years, Day has been “calling my home phone up to 3 times a week from a private number” between 2 and 3 in the morning. The most recent of the calls, which were comprised of threats and obscenities, had occurred on September 29, Sforza wrote in the document.

[Twitter: @LoriBruno]

[Twitter: @LoriBruno]

Sforza’s attorney, Fiore Porreca, said that his client was more concerned with what she called disparaging “cartoons” — memes, really — that had been posted on Facebook. They used publicly-available pictures of her, with captions suggesting she is a liar or not a legitimate practitioner of the Craft. “They were out there for millions to view,” Porreca said.

He went on to explain that the phone calls only came up once he was retained by her, because he recognized that it was important. “My client has never been in court before . . . it’s not like she’s filed a million harassment orders.” Massachusetts law makes these proceedings informal, with no need for an attorney, so she didn’t use one to help her complete the initial paperwork. Once he learned of them, “I told her the calls were an important factor.”

According to Porreco, the judge directed them to file a supplemental affidavit on the day of the hearing, Oct 13. However, the actual hearing was then rescheduled to Oct 28, because Day could not be in Salem on that earlier date.  He now resides in New Orleans.

According to Day’s account of the proceedings, it was the phone calls that ultimately convinced the judge to sign the restraining order. That morning, the warlock’s attorney called in sick. As a result, he had to hire a new one right in the courthouse because no further adjournment would be granted. “All [this new lawyer] was able to do was rebut the plaintiff’s allegations, but not to prepare me to testify,” he said. “In retrospect, I wish I had taken a chance and done so, because the judge said he gave no weight to my side.”  However, he does not think the judge was in error. Day said, “He had 20 television cameras pointed at him, and a little old lady. What was he going to do?”

Regarding what befell Day’s original attorney, Sforza said pointedly, “I certainly did not cast a spell. He had the right to speak, as I did. He did not.”

Day said that he understands that his public persona may make it easier to presume him guilty, but that no evidence was presented. He freely admits to having made “saucy” remarks and said that he even drew an unflattering cartoon of Sforza once. But, Day said that the work shown in court was not his. More importantly, Day said, “Even my haters realize I am not the anonymous-phone-call type.” Calling himself “the Donald Trump of witchcraft,” he acknowledges that he’s “said a thing or two that people don’t like.” That includes an online spat last year that enraged many Pagan bloggers. “I never denied the mistake,” he said. “I own up to things.”

That’s how Witchdoctor Utu sees it. Utu is one of the “hundreds of mutual friends” Day said he and Sforza share. Utu once agreed to mediate between them, because their dispute was causing ripples in the community. He said that “they were inseparable” before the business disagreement. This can be seen in the many, varied public photos and media accounts of the two witches practicing together.

Christian Day

Christian Day [Courtesy Photo]

Over a period of time, Utu recalled speaking to each of them, hearing their specific grievances. He eventually secured an agreement from Day to stop posting about Sforza, which Utu said that Day has honored since July. However, Sforza “was less than cooperative, yelling and screaming” during phone calls which took place over a period of months. “All of these issues she had with him … from years ago.” And not once, Utu said, did Sforza ever mention the late night harassing phone calls. “If she had, I would have done my best to make it stop,” he said. Utu questions why she never mentioned them and never filed any police report about them.

But Sforza has remained steadfast in her position and claims.

Utu added that, he believes Sforza “doesn’t care about collateral damage,” including abuse heaped on people who appear at Day’s events. Utu understands that Day’s outrageous behavior causes him problems, but he said, additionally, “in the end people make [stuff] up about him. He’s the first to admit all his faults.”

There are many unanswered questions about this situation, but it is clear that its genesis is in a personal dispute between two people who, in Witchdoctor Utu’s words, “once loved each other very much.” Because the court action was seeking an order of protection, it was not a “trial” in the normal sense; the rules favor the alleged victim out a sense of caution.

As for how it may have impacted the lucrative Halloween business in Salem, Day himself expressed worry. But also said that his stores and books do better each year, whether the attention on him is negative or not. “Attempts like these never undermine my success,” he said. Nevertheless, he’s hoping to have a new hearing on that restraining order, and unless it comes around on the docket next October, it’s unlikely that his day in court will be picked up by the Associated Press.

wild hunt buttonToday we are starting off with a big thank you to everyone who supported the 2015 Wild Hunt Fall Fundraiser. Whether you donated, shared our link, told people about the service or any other effort, the Wild Hunt team is grateful to each of you.

It came down to the last few hours but we managed not only to reach the goal but to exceed it. While we do not have the final figures at this point, the total raised is pushing $20,000. That number is higher than previous years.Thank you deeply to everyone for making it possible for The Wild Hunt to continue its service with room for new growth.

What can you expect in the coming year? First…more of what you have come to expect. Our columnists will be returning on their regular days to explore and discuss the issues of the day. We currently have a full lineup of weekend writers including, Rhyd Wildermuth, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, Eric Scott, Lisa Roling, Dodie Graham-McKay, Cosette Paneque, Christina Oakley-Harrington, Crystal Blanton, Alley Valkyrie and our newest columnist Heathen Chinese. Both Valkyrie’s and Wildermuth’s columns will continue to be sponsored by Hecate Demeter, who has been supporting their work for over a year. And, new this year, Blanton’s column will be sponsored by CAYA Coven, whose organizers wrote, “In celebration of the wisdom and achievements of Pagan Women of Color, CAYA Coven is proud to sponsor Crystal Blanton’s Wild Hunt column this year.”

Also returning will be our two hard-working weekly journalists: Cara Schulz and Terence P. Ward. They will continue to cover the news as it happens, as well as broader news topics. Additionally, we welcome Yeshe Matthews as our Strategic Planning Director. We are thankful to her for running our 2015 Funding Drive and look forward to her continued work as a member of the Wild Hunt team.

But what about the growth? As always, we welcome news voices and interesting stories for our guest columns. We will continue that tradition and invite writers to submit pitches and stories. We also welcome press releases, letters to the editor and news tips. Outside of that, we will undoubtedly continue to evolve over the year and will announce any exciting changes in that process as they happen.

For now, we are taking a moment to pause hold this space and simply say thank you.

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1272196_1504315986498225_3499266264717747598_o-e1417450132408-500x447In Sept, Niki Whiting announced that Many Gods West (MGW), the Polytheist conference held in Washington State, would be returning. This week Whiting announced the event dates would officially be August 5-7. Additionally, the key address will be delivered by Sarah Anne Lawless, a professional artist, writer, folk herbalist and sole owner of the new shop Fern and Fungi. Whiting said, “[Lawless] approaches polytheism through animism, herbalism, and witchcraft. It will be an interesting contrast to last year’s excellent keynote.” The well-received 2015 address was given by Morpheus Ravenna.

It was also clarified that the MGW conference will be held at a different hotel than last year. Organizers say that it is “bigger and better.” But the location will still be Olympia, Washington, which is located approximately 60 miles south of Seattle. As reported earlier, the opening and closing rituals will be hosted by Rynn Fox of Coru Cathubodua. Registration and tickets go on sale Tuesday of this week. Whiting also added that further details are coming soon. For those interested, follow the Many Gods West Facebook page.

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As reported in several mainstream news sources, psychic witch Lori Sforza, also known as Lori Bruno, was in court this week to request a “protective order” against Christian Day. According to the reports, Sforza has accused Day of repeatedly harassing her via the phone and in social media. Day denies these allegations calling the conflict a “business dispute” gone wrong. Outside of the courtroom, he told reporters that Sforza is lying and has repeatedly called him names in public spaces.

The judge, who was reportedly was “dismayed by the volume of late night calls,” granted Sforza the protective order. But Day has vowed to appeal the decision. And, as stated after the hearing, he offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove that he had made all of those calls. The local television news was at the hearing and posted a short clip. We are currently working on this story and will have more details in the coming week.

In Other News…

  • Starhawk will be doing a book tour February and March 2016. She will be working through a speakers’ agency called Aid and AbetThe tour will happen just a few weeks after the official release of her new novel City of Refuge. Starhawk said, “If you have connections with an institution that might want me to come, or if you think you might want to organize something in your area, please contact Jen Angel:” Starhawk added that she prefers small bookstores and university settings.
  • The Luna Press has released its 2016 Lunar Calendar “dedicated to the Goddessin her many guises.” This year marks the 40th anniversary of the calendar’s publication. The first one was produced in 1975 and has continued ever since. Today’s edition includes 23 artists, poets, and writers. Publisher Nancy Passmore said, “The art for this year’s 40th cover is about keeping ones’ moon boat afloat …” and was created by Jamie Hogan. Older covers and ordering information are on the publisher’s website.
1989 Cover Art of the Lunar Calendar

1989 Cover Art of the Lunar Calendar

  • Many people within our communities were interviewed by mainstream media during the October month. In article for Broadly Magazine, Ashley Mortimer, who is a Doreen Valiente Foundation Trustee and Director of the Centre for Pagan Studies was asked to comment on the work of Margaret Murray. The article, titled “The Forgotten Egyptologist and First Wave Feminist who Invented Wicca,” discusses Murray’s life, her influence on Gardner and the problematic place her work in Wicca’s history. Mortimer concludes, “It actually does not matter whether, or to what extent, Murray was right or wrong or that Gerald Gardner made it up or not … The system that was developed works for its purpose, which is religious and spiritual development. And that, in itself, is enough.”
  • Wild Hunt columnist Eric O. Scott authored an article for the religion news forum On Faith. This article, titled “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Wicca,” was published on Oct 30. Scott is a second generation Pagan, who was raised in a Wiccan family. He writes, “The Halloween season invites many questions from people outside of Wicca about the nature of our religion. Some of those questions are things that even I didn’t have a good answer for, despite having been involved with Wicca since the day I was born.” Scott goes on to detail ten points about Wicca and its religious culture. The piece is unique in that it not only presents an un-sensationalized view point on Wicca within a mainstream media forum, but it was written by someone who has practiced the religion, as he said, “since the day he was born.”
  • Are you having Halloween withdrawl already? Go to Timeout‘s website and look over the dramatic photography from “Edinburgh’s Celtic Halloween ritual Samhuinn.” The twenty images show the Beltane Fire Society’s re-enactment of traditional rituals. As the report says, “Samhuinn is a riot of tribal drumming, pyrotechnics, body paint and symbolic, often violent street theatre.” The Beltane Fire Society is a “a community arts performance charity that hosts the Beltane Fire Festival and Samhuinn Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.” In 2012, writer Rynn Fox looked at the society and how they create these community rituals.
  • Finally, Pagan singer Misha Penton published her most recent music video, titled “The Captured Goddess.” Penton’s voice is classically trained and, in this video, she is accompanied by a solo piano, a viola, and the music of Dominick DiOrio. The song is inspired by the 1914 Amy Lowell poem of the same name.

That’s it for now! Have a great day!

[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. Your support and your donations are what make our work possible. How much would you pay for a subscription to a magazine or a newspaper? If you like reading articles like the one below, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Donate here and share our IndieGoGo link! Thank You.]

As October marches onward, many Americans are prepping their costumes, yards and homes in anticipation for the secular celebration of Halloween. What are you going to be for Halloween this year? Did you buy your candy? Are you going to a party?

Kids Trick or Treating [Credit: H. Greene]

Kids Trick or Treating [Credit: H. Greene]

To be very clear, this festival is not the same as the spiritual vigil of Samhain or any other harvest or religious celebration. For the purposes of this discussion, Halloween is an American and Canadian secular holiday, complete with candy, costumes and PVC pumpkins. It often begins with door bells ringing and ends with a sugar-high unlike anything you’ve ever known.

Halloween has a somewhat uneasy place in the family of North American holidays. On the one hand, some Pagans and Heathens fully embrace the festivities. It is a tradition that many have enjoyed since childhood. Halloween is the one calendar event that tangentially adheres to modern Pagan religious practices. And, for better or worse, the Halloween season openly unleashes the Witch-archetype into stores, homes and entertainment media. When else can you buy a pentacle and black candles at Michaels?

Halloween also attracts the local media to coven practice, real Witches and metaphysical stores. In most cases, these press encounters provide public teaching opportunities. For weeks, articles interviewing “real witches” grace the digital pages of mostly local newspapers, while the national media tend to focus on broader topics, such as the origins of the Witch, the story of Salem and even the cultural meaning within the witch-archetype.

But, on the other hand, the secular celebration also mocks any spiritual components, modern or otherwise, that exist within Halloween. For many real Witches, the playful and wholly-commercialized, secular side of the holiday undermines attempts to build cultural acceptance of both the Craft and the sabbat as a serious holiday. For example, requesting Halloween off for religious reasons might be met with ridicule. The secular festival feeds both negative witch stereotypes as well as the false truth that Witchcraft only exists in a fictional universe.

One of the main contributors to this problem is, not surprisingly, Hollywood. The industry typically provides at least one new film and several television specials “exploring” witchcraft. This year is no different. On Oct 23, The Last Witch Hunter, starring Vin Dieselwill make its debut. While such films are purely fiction, they exist within our cultural space as the flip side to the positive press interviews and similar work.

Pagans and Heathens aren’t alone in their unsettled attempts to navigate through the Halloween season. Many American religious and community leaders have repeatedly attempted to ban the holiday. Why? The list is endless including concerns over the overindulgence in candy, the potential dangers of trick-or-treating, the holidays Pagan origins, the increased popularity of over-sexualized or violently graphic costumes and heightened displays of horror.

As recently reported, one New Jersey man found himself at the center of controversy after setting up his seasonal yard display. Bill D’Catt, as he is reportedly named, told a local journalist, “We choose to be on the spookier side of Halloween. You know what’s scarier than this thing? The real ISIS.” The display, which was deemed too violent for the media to show in full, depicts hanged figures including one wearing a Pres. Obama mask, terrorists, caged criminals and bloody body parts. After numerous threats and complaints, D’Catt removed the display, but he has said it will likely return for Halloween itself.

But yard displays are not the only source of contention. Over the years, store-bought costumes have attracted debate as they have have become increasingly sexualizedSexy Pikachu, anyoneMaxim magazine recently interviewed Yandy CEO Chad Horstman about these “ridiculously sexy costumes.” Yandy is the main distributor of these products and, in the interview, Horstman expressed his lack of concern, saying “this is just the way this generation dresses.”

As an aside, Horstman also specifically stated that his company “[tries] to stay away from religious things.” Yet, at the same time, Vandy does sell a number of sexy “Voodoo Priestess” costumes and, of course, witches. This demonstrates the continuing disconnect between modern secular lore and Voodoo or Witchcraft as genuine religious practices.

Regardless, complaints against the Halloween costume industry go beyond the sexy and into the realm of offensive and excessively violent. Vandy and other similar merchants offer, for example, a Salem Witch costume complete with blood stains and a noose. Others note the deeply offensive nature of many ethnic or culturally -inspired costumes, such as “the Indian Sweetheart” or “Chief Wansum Tail.” The list goes on and on.

The costume industry is a major business. Last year, the National Retail Federation reported that the Halloween business reached all time high of $7.4 billion. And Halloween is ranked the number one fastest growing American commercial holiday. As Horstman said, “What sells is what sells.” That is the business of Halloween.

Halloween Party [Public domain]

Halloween Party [Public domain]

For the majority of Americans, Halloween is simply an excuse to party. Halloween provides a unique canvas that can only be topped by the decadent bacchanalia that is Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve. It is an excuse to dress up, eat, drink and make merry.

Over the past decade, the Halloween debate has become quite larger. The secular holiday has spread across the globe, seizing the imaginations of youth cultures on every continent. Originally, it hitched a ride with missionaries, English language teachers and ex-pats. Now, it’s being promoted by imported American cultural commodities like internationally-based theme parks, McDonald’s stores, Coca Cola products and Hollywood movies. And, of course, the ever-increasing accessibility to the internet only fuels the fire.

In some regions, Halloween has been readily incorporated into long-established fall cultural traditions. In the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, Halloween finds itself at its ancestral birthplace. It has returned, in some respects. Today, the newly-imported version has mixed with surviving local customs associated with, among others, Guy Fawkes Day.  As noted by English writer Chris Britcher:

Trick or treat has now actually become a bona fide tradition in the UK ….Fireworks were our autumnal treat of choice and for a good little while we fought off any competitor to it. But then we gave that up and decided to embrace both.

Across the globe in China, Hong Kong and Japan, people have been enthusiastically adopting the American holiday. Lisa Morton, author of Trick or Treat: The History of Halloween, attributes this acceptance to the presence of two Disney Theme Parks (Tokyo and Hong Kong), Hollywood horror movies and a fascination with American pop-culture.

During at 2012 interview with The Wild Hunt, Morton said,“In Japan, there is a love of festivals and affection for costuming or ‘cosplay,’ which is associated with anime and manga.” In mainland China, Halloween is slowly replacing Yue Laan or “Hungry Ghost Festivals” during which people appease and entertain ancestral ghosts. To fuel and solidify this cultural shift, China will be getting a new “Haunted Mansion” at the new Shanghai Disneyland in 2016.

On the contrary, in continental Europe, Halloween has not entirely received a welcome reception. In some countries, like the Netherlands, the secular holiday has been embraced, along side similar local traditions.

In other countries, it is being openly rejected. For example, in Oct 2012, the Polish Archbishop Andzej Dzięga, was quoted on Polskie Radio, as saying, “This kind of fun, tempting children [with] candy, poses the real possibility of great spiritual damage, even destroying spiritual life.” He warned against the “promotion of paganism” and a “culture of death.”

More recently, in Russia, the war over Halloween rages on. In 2012, ABC Online reported that one Russian Education Ministry official called the holiday “a destructive influence on young people’s morals and mental health.” Moscow city schools have banned Halloween celebrations claiming that they were concerned about “rituals of Satanically-oriented religious sects and… the promotion of the cult of death.” In the same article, an unamed Russian psychologist warned:

Halloween poses a great danger to children and their mental health, suggesting it could make young people more likely to commit suicide.

Despite this heavily Christian rhetoric, the resistance is not entirely about religion. Morton explained that, “While it is difficult to fully separate the expression of nationalism from religious tradition, many European countries, like France and Slovenia, have strong anti-American undercurrents.” Religious fervor may, in fact, be serving nationalist interests. Morton said, in the end, she “believes the protests are far more about nationalism than religion.”

This is expressed in an article by Paul Wood, an Englishman living in Bucharest:

Just as the North American grey squirrel has made the red squirrel almost extinct so has the North American Hallowe’en taken over with extraordinary swiftness, extinguishing older, weaker traditions. This too is life, I suppose, but it is part of the process by which the whole world is becoming plastic.

Despite the rejection, Halloween is still growing, albeit very slowly within these European youth cultures. According to Morton, in some regions of Italy, Halloween is called La Notte delle Streghe or “Night of the Witches.” In Romania, home of the Carpathian Mountains, the local economy is profiting from world’s fascination with Count Dracula. What a better way to spend Halloween than in Transylvania on a “real Dracula Halloween tour” complete with a four-course dinner and prizes.

Moving into the Southern Hemisphere, Halloween faces a new obstacle. The harvest-based tradition simply does not apply. In this part of the world, Oct. 31 marks the middle of Spring, not Fall. Pagans are readying the Maypole and not jack-o-lanterns.

[Photo Credit: Cindy / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Cindy / Flickr]

Despite the seasonal difference, youth cultures in some of these countries are showing a small amount of interest in the October-based Halloween celebration. This is mostly true in the English-speaking countries of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. If for no other reason, the Northern holiday offers a chance to party and dabble in the macabre – even if it’s completely devoid of its seasonal aspects.

What about the Americas? As noted above, the countries in the Southern Hemisphere do not recognize Halloween chiefly due to the geographical complications. However, the closer you get to the U.S., the more the secular Halloween has influenced local October traditions. In Costa Rica, for example, some people “have taken this “foreign” holiday and used it to revive an ancient Costa Rican custom: Dia de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense or Masquerade Day,” as reported by the Costa Rican News.

Closer to home, in Mexico, the celebration of Dia de los Muertos is sometimes now called Dia de las Brujas or “Day of the Witches.” Halloween practices have been woven into this largely religious holiday. While there has been some backlash from Mexican nationalists and religious leaders, resistance may ultimately be futile. Mexico is just too close to the U.S. to prevent the blending of two very similar October holidays. And, for better or worse, that sharing is happening in both directions.

Just as Halloween has infiltrated Mexican culture, elements of Dia de los Muertos are now increasingly showing up embedded in U.S. Halloween celebrations. In an interview, Morton explained:

Last year I saw my first piece of major Dias de los Muertos American retailing – the Russell Stover candy company released several themed candy bars… That’s probably a sign that Dias de los Muertos is starting to be accepted into the American mainstream. It’s certainly very popular in those areas of the U.S. with large Latino populations. More people seem to be joining in large-scale Dias de los Muertos celebrations in America every year.

Since Morton’s book was published, this trend has only increased. Is it this a good thing? Some view the trend as culturally appropriative and symptomatic of the all-consuming capitalist engine. Most Dia de los Muertos products are, in fact, purely commercial in nature and devoid of their religious roots. It becomes part of the business of Halloween. As quoted earlier, “what sells is what sells.”

However, there are also those that view this sharing as an example of cultural exchange providing a teachable moment that can serve to increase respect for Mexican culture within the U.S. Certainly awareness of religious tradition has increased within the general American public. Regardless, the debate over Dia de los Muertos, whether appropriation or cultural exchange, wages on.


Dia de los Muertos display at the Fall Atlanta Botanical Gardens Festival [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

There are some areas of the world in which Halloween has yet to find a home for reasons already listed. These areas include the Islamic Middle East, the heavily Christian areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Israel, India and parts of South East Asia.

Generally speaking, modern Pagans and Heathens collectively may continue to find their relationship with the secular Halloween difficult. How it is handled is a personal choice. Some will embrace it, seeing this secular holiday space as an opportunity to educate the public or simply a time to host a Witches Ball and have some fun. Others will renounce it, along with all of the derogatory effigies and movie representations. They might join similar protests saying, “We’re a culture. Not a costume.”

Regardless of personal feelings about the secular celebration, Halloween does continue to gain popularity worldwide year after year. As a result, each October as the veil thins and the media comes knocking, Witches can say that both the Ancestors and the world are listening.

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[This article was adapted and updated from its original form published here in 2012]


[Photo Credit: Mark Sardella / Flickr]

SALEM, Ma. — An investigation into a heroin dealing in Salem resulted in the arrest of two men August 7, including Richard Watson, a well-known psychic and member of the Wiccan community living in the self-styled “Witch City.” Reaction to the story was swift. Watson’s church revoked his credentials, and people took to social media to condemn his alleged involvement.

According to the Salem News, police received information about heroin being sold out of Watson’s apartment at 100 Bridge Street, and made some undercover purchases before obtaining a search warrant and raiding the premises. Inside the place, they found Watson and another man, Javier Pena-Abreu, sitting at a table on which there was reportedly a pile of heroin.

Pena-Abreu is no stranger to police encounters, and was free on a $20,000 bail resulting from another heroin-trafficking arrest last year. He invoked his right to remain silent. Watson, on the other hand, cooperated with police by showing them the remainder of the heroin in the apartment, totaling more than two ounces. Police allege that $10-15,000 of the drug was passing through the apartment on a weekly basis.

This was not the first time that Watson, or his apartment, had been touched by less-than-legal activities. In 2007, during the so-called “witch wars” over psychic licenses in Salem, Watson arrived home to discover a grisly scene. As was reported by the Salem News at the time,

Richard Watson said he went back to his Bridge Street apartment on the night of May 26 to a disturbing scene: his roommate, Sharon Graham, dressed in black, surrounded by four young men, also all in black, standing around a jar. Inside that jar was the eye of a raccoon, police say. And in two trash bags in Watson’s refrigerator was the rest of the critter, which had been dismembered.

Graham was one of the people who later pleaded guilty to leaving parts of that raccoon on the steps of two psychic shops. Watson was a witness in that case, and claimed at the time that Graham had pressured him to not testify.

However, this time, it was Watson caught by surprise. He and Pena-Abreu have different recollections of what was happening when they were discovered at a table piled with heroin. Watson has asserted that he was allowing Pena-Abreu to keep the drugs in the apartment as a favor, while not profiting from the dealing whatsoever. Pena-Abreu’s attorney, at the arraignment Monday, claimed his client was only there for a tarot reading, and had no involvement with the heroin. Only Pena-Abreu had money on his person, although it is not clear if it was heroin proceeds or cash for a reading.

Reverend High Priestess Lori Bruno of Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, where Watson was an ordained minister, issued a statement denouncing the news. She said, in part:

What I cannot stomach is one who would be a purveyor of death to the innocent. Therefore, after the news article I saw today and having also been directly informed about this, I and our clergy counsel have come to the decision to revoke the ministerial credentials of a trusted minister to humanity, Richard Watson. It is with much sadness that I do this, because I trusted Richard Watson to carry on the creed of our people.

I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.

Heroin is a growing problem in Massachusetts, and nationwide. The supply of the drug has increased since the United States took the Taliban, whose oppressive policies included a near total shutdown of opium poppy cultivation, out of power in Afghanistan. At the same time, drug manufacturers developed stronger and stronger prescription drugs to manage high levels of pain, many of which are opium derivatives themselves. The powerful prescriptions created more dependence among legitimate users, and also wended their way into the black market, increasing addiction.

Attempts to curb prescription drug abuse, together with the now greater supply of heroin, has led to more addictions and more overdose deaths. In 2014, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick declared this to be a public health emergency, with at least 185 suspected heroin deaths in the prior six months and 363 opioid-related deaths in 2011, the most recent year for which figures were available for that broader metric.

Courtesy of Flickr's jimmywayne

Courtesy of Flickr’s jimmywayne

Another Salem witch, Sandra Wright, had a somewhat nuanced reaction to the news. Wright is a third-generation Salem resident who is High Priestess of Elphame coven. Speaking only for herself, she commented to The Wild Hunt, “Wiccan priesthood comes with responsibilities” Wright said:

People of the Priesthood of the Craft of the Wise should possess leadership ability. Not everyone is cut out to lead. . . . and they need to display integrity, wisdom, and most of all, compassion. Compassion is the one that can be hardest to maintain, especially when lines are crossed. So I myself failed to show compassion to Rick Watson when this story broke because I believe that even though he claims he was just allowing others to deal drugs out of his apartment and that he himself was not dealing the drugs, he was allowing people to poison the community he claimed to serve. He was serving as a conduit for an epidemic that has taken lives left and right in this city and the surrounding area. And if he was actually dealing the drugs, he is even more directly responsible for ruining the lives of others, nevermind his own. And for this reason, I find myself hard pressed to offer compassion.

At the same time, Wright said, “my compassion kicks in” as a reaction to the Trinacrian Rose Church removing his credentials … and the local community trying to disavow him as a Wiccan. And, as for the broader community reaction, she observed:

And now everyone … he was close to is scrambling to distance themselves from him, and distance him from Wicca, because they don’t want to be associated with a drug dealer. They are making him a pariah because they don’t want the rest of the world to think that Wicca sanctions this kind of behavior. Of course it doesn’t! No faith of any value would approve of capitalizing on the addicted and afflicted. Anyone who thinks Wicca has anything to do with Rick’s decisions doesn’t understand Wicca. Like the Pensacola murders, the mundane media is trying to sensationalize the story by including the buzzwords they think will rile people up. Well, we are riled.

Another Salem witch and High Priestess, Penny Cabot had only these few words. “I feel that the shameful situation speaks for itself, no words are needed,” she said.

Watson’s bail was set at $50,000, but Pena-Abreu’s was set at ten times that. In addition, his bail in the prior case was revoked, so he won’t be getting out of jail before the September 2 status hearing in any case. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.

Feature-Sean-Trayner-Wicca-in-the-Real-World-1-720x405 (1)Samuel Wagar, a Wiccan Priest with the Congregationalist Wiccan Assembly of Alberta, begins his second year as a Wiccan Chaplain at the University of Alberta. He selection last summer marked the first time that the University has appointed a Pagan to serve its student population.

Wager, who is a Britsh Trad Wiccan and an active participant in the local Pagan community, said, “I had wanted to go back to school, because I love the academic environment, like to work with young adults, and I had thought that outreach for our Temple to the University would be a really good idea.” He prepared his CV with the support of his community and was then interviewed by the University’s interfaith chaplaincy group and was eventually selected.

In his first year, Wager’s presence was minimal and limited. However, he says that now that will be changing as the new school year begins. He plans to increase his visibility on campus; host sabbats and “weekly lunch-ritual-and-discussion meetings” and serve any counselling needs. Considered a visiting scholar, Wager said that the University as a whole supports the multifaith chaplaincy group by “recognizing the value of our work, particularly when crisis strikes – we are part of the first responders when suicides happen, and are generally recognized as a valuable component of the student support services.”

*   *   *

haxanThe HÄXÄN Film Festival has announced the lineup for its August 2015 event in Oakland, California. The film festival will offer screenings from 22 different artists, including: “onyinye alheri, Ale Bachlechner and Olivia Platzer, Stephanie Barber, Gina Basso, Gina Basso, Flatsitter, Penny Van Hazelberg, Lyra Hill, Damian Lebiedzinski, Kayla Lenberg, Arnont Nongyao, Kathleen Quillian, Nowhere Mountain, Grace Nayoon Rhee, Iqrar Rizvi, Leyla Rodriguez, Sarah Rooney, Linda Scobie, Nazare Soares, Alexander Stewart, Natalie Tsui, and Julieta Triangular” 

In addition, HÄXÄN has scheduled several other related performances as well as Tarot readings and vendors. Haxan is in its second year and is billed as a “film festival focusing on local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections through experiments in video and film. Celebrating witchcraft and the Personal Occult.”  It will be held August 28-29 in two different locations in Oakland.

*   *   *

Jeff Rosenbaum

Jeff Rosenbaum

It has been announced that Jeff Rosenbaum’s family will be holding a traditional tombstone unveiling ceremony on August 9. Rosenbaum died on August 31, 2014. He is “best known as the founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE), the Chameleon Club, the Starwood Festival, and the WinterStar Symposium.

On Sept 1 2014, writer and friend Ian Corrigan wrote a tribute to Rosenbaum’s life, detailing his many adventures. Corrigan said, “Jeff’s life can serve as a lesson that a devotion to ideas, to manifesting dreams, to serving a community can be fulfilling, and leave a lasting legacy. The Starwood Festival will continue, rolling on the solid chassis of Jeff’s old bus. The enchantment he helped to weave is only made the wilder by Jeff’s transition from at-the-desk manager to his new life in story and memory.”

It has now been nearly one year since that time. As is common in the Jewish tradition, something Rosenbaum never abandoned, his family will hold a tombstone unveiling ceremony. The Cleveland Jewish News reports,Rabbi Zachary Truboff of Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai Synagogue will conduct the informal headstone unveiling service on Aug 9, 2015 at 2 p.m. at Mount Olive Cemetery, 27855 Aurora Road, Solon, OH 44139, Section 300, Row A, Grave 32. Please bring stories and memories to share.”

In Other News:

  • The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans is preparing for its upcoming conference called Convocation with the theme “Awakening Our Tribe.” This will be the first Convocation in a decade. Special guests will include Jon Beckett, Rev. Shirley Ranck, Gypsy Ravish, Jerrie Hildebrand and music group Silver Branch. Organizers write, “It’s time to awaken the spirit of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.”  The three day conference will be held at the First Church Unitarian, in Salem, Massachusetts from Aug 26 – 28.
  • Several weeks ago we reported on the growing interest in Pop Culture Magick. In that article we mentioned the upcoming book by Taylor Ellwood, Pop Culture Magick 2.0. Ellwood is now reporting that this book will be available as early as September and can be pre-ordered. He writes that the new book “explores how pop culture magic has continued to evolve.”
  • In other publishing news, Heather Freysdottir published a new book that has been on the Amazon best seller list under the category of “mysticism.” Freysdottir’s book, Beyond Reason, is devoted to Loki and is described as “part memoir, part love song to the Divine within and without,” exploring Pagan mysticism and the Divine. Freysdottir is a blogger and “Polytheist nun who worships the Norse Gods in sunny Florida.” Of the book’s popularity, she said in a blog post, “When I wrote the book I tried really hard not to consider sales or reviews because once a book is done, I’ve written it the best that I could, and so it’s none of my business what people think of it. What I do hope that people get out of these sales stats is that the public seems more ready to learn about Polytheistic mysticism.
  • The World Goddess Day initiative has kicked off.  Scheduled this year for September 6, World Goddess Day was initially a project of Brazilian Priest and Author Claudiney Prieto. The goal is reportedly “to grant to the Goddess one day of visibility to share Her many myths, stories and worship diversity.” Last year, the event attracted over 50 scheduled events worldwide. This year, organizers are hoping that number increases. Local events will be posted on the World Goddess Day website as they are registered.
  • In May, Pagan band Sentinel Grove released its first CD. The band has been making regular rounds on Pagan internet radio stations and at live events over the summer. Sentinel Grove describes itself as a “band with our own flare of Celtic, pop, traditional, blues, and drum filled goodness.” They are based in the Quad Cities and are made up of “two girls and a few drums.” You can find their music on You Tube, United Pagan Radio, and Facebook.
  • And lastly, Heathen authors have a new dedicated place to go to publish their works. Based in Canada, Saga Press is described as the “first fully dedicated heathen press for books by heathens for heathens.” Owner Larisa Hunter launched Saga’s independent site in the spring, and the Press has been churning out books ever since. It’s most recent release is Pagan Child by Warwick Hill Jr

That’s it for now. Have a nice day.

Seekers TempleThe Seeker’s Temple, based in Beebe Arkansas, has announced that it is closing its doors. In a Facebook statement, High Priest Bertram Dahl said, “The city of Beebe has not only managed to make things too difficult to stay open here, but are also attacking us personally and threatening the life of our family.” Tonight will be its final public meeting.

As we reported in June 2014, Dahl, with his wife Felicia, had moved to Beebe, where they re-established the Seeker’s Temple. After some time, the Dahls found themselves at the center of a local controversy due to ongoing conflicts with both the town and a neighboring church. As noted by the Temple’s announcement, those problems never ended. In a recent post, Dahl reports that many of his outdoor statuary were vandalized.

Despite the closure of the Beebe temple, Dahl did suggest that his days as a High Priest are not over. After the Dahl family relocates to South Carolina, he will reopen the Seeker’s Temple. In addition, he and his wife will be “appearing” at Tennessee’s Pagan Unity Festival and, as he noted, the “online pages will remain the same (Beebe can’t stop that).”

*   *   *

NepalThe Patrick McCollum Foundation has provided further detail on its work to help victims of the Nepal Earthquake. Rev. McCollum said that the group has “forwarded all donations made so far to our team members in the area” where relief is in progress. “All monies are being used to purchase tents, blankets, medical supplies and food. The process of delivering these to the remote mountain villages is difficult, but we have people in place that are able to do so.”

More specifically, the Foundation has partnered with the Helambu region and is one of the only NGOs providing relief to this particular area. Rev McCollum explained that most organizations are focused on Kathmandu where there are “armies of aid workers and supplies.” The remote villages are less likely to be served or served quickly. Rev. McCollum goes on to say, “Helambu is a difficult to reach region of numerous remote villages and they have been hit exceptionally hard.” The most recent death toll for the entire country is now over 7,000, of which 500 are estimated to be from the Helambu region alone.

*   *   *

cuupsThe Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) has announced that it is reviving its annual “Continental Gathering.” This summer the organization is sponsoring its first convocation since 2004 and the theme will be “Awakening Our Tribe.” As noted in The Nature’s Path, a blog devoted to UU-Paganism, “It is time to awaken the spirit of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.”

Convocation will be held in Salem, Massachusetts and hosted by the First Church Unitarian, a 377-year old congregation with a wealth of history. Organizers announced, “Our guest speakers include people who have been long-time and new UU voices in Paganism and local voices in the New England region who bring new energy to the mix.” Those speakers include Rev. Shirley Ranck, John Beckett, Gypsy Ravish, Jerrie Hildebrand, as well as musical guest Silver Branch. Convocation will be held on July 24-26.

In Other News

  • Polytheist Priest and spirit worker Anomalous Thracian has announced the purchase of over 3 acres of land, situated in a private wooded area not far from the New Hampshire border, on a small river, within Essex County, Massachusetts. The goal is to rebuild “a permanent polytheist Temple and oracular serpent sanctuary.” Thracian said that, in time, the space will host community rituals and be available for educational events and retreats. He also emphasized that the land “will see full-time religious use, with future opportunities for students-in-residence, guest priests, and visitors.” For anyone interested in volunteering or donating to the temple project, contact him at nomadicwisdom at gmail (dot) com.
  • Wyldwood Radio has announced a fundraising campaign to purchase new equipment to cover more festivals and events. With new equipment, the station can grow and expand its media presence within the country. They said, “Our dream goal is to be able to raise enough to also cover the costs of buying suitable transport” to get their teams to and from the various locations. Wyldwood Radio is an “independent Pagan radio station based in the UK.”
  • Beltane’s ACTION is out. In this issue, Blackwell interviews Pippah Hall, Lilith Dorsey, Sylveey Dawn, Crystal Blanton, Jay Bearden, Lou Florez, and Lady Sky Dancer.
  • Everglades Moon Local Council, Covenant of the Goddess has published its Beltane Podcast. The Florida-based local council has been using podcasts for several years to share the experiences and talents of its members. The latest podcast includes several songs, tips for reading tarot, information on medicinal spices and more. Additionally, podcast creators included a recording of a workshop given at the brand-new Florida spring gathering, Equinox in the Oaks. The EMLC podcasts are typically published at every sabbat.
  • Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) will be hosting its first ever midsummer camp-out event. The goal, as stated on the event page, is to gather “as a community not only comprised of Heathens that are united against racism, but as a wider Pagan community coming together to discuss what goals we’d like to achieve, and how we will continue to make our visions of safe space within our communities a more common practice.” Sponsored by Solar Cross Temple, the HUAR event will be held at Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California on June 19-21.

That is it for now. Have a great day.

[On a weekly basis, we bring you the news and issues that affect Pagan and Heathen communities around the world. If you value our work, please consider donating to our fall fund drive today. Bringing you important news and stories, like the one below, is what we love to do. Your support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]


LC BookSeventeen years after the release of her last book, Laurie Cabot has returned to the world of publishing with a new title called Laurie Cabot’s Book of Spells and Enchantments. Produced by Copper Cauldron Publishing, her new book details the “nuts and bolts” of spell creation, including some of the recipes, rituals and secrets contained within her own family grimoire. In the book, Cabot also discusses the place of magic in life, a Witch’s apothecary, divine power and her own spell-making tips for both the beginner and lifetime practitioner.

Laurie Cabot is arguably one of the most well-known witches in contemporary American culture, outside of Pagan circles. In the 1970s, Governor Michael Dukakis honored her with the title “The Official Witch of Salem,” a name she accepted proudly.

Throughout much of her magical life, Cabot has owned and operated witchcraft stores in the historic New England town of Salem. Through those stores, she was able to do what she loved most: sharing the beauty, reality and power of Witchcraft. In 1973, Cabot opened her very first store, called The Witch Shoppe, and, as it turned out, it was one of the very first stores of its kind in the United States. At one point, she also owned the well-known Crow Haven Corner and, more recently, The Cat, Crow and Crown, which was eventually renamed The Official Witch Shoppe.

In 2012, at the age of 79 years, Cabot announced that she was finally closing the doors of the Shoppe. She explained to The Boston Globe, “The Witch City has dipped to the point where a brick-and-mortar store is no longer sustainable.” Despite the downward turn in business at its physical location, the store has maintained an online presence to this day.

During the 1990s, Cabot wrote and published four books including, The Power of the Witch (1989), Love Magic (1992), Celebrate the Earth (1994) and The Witch in Every Woman (1997). Writing books became another way for her to share the magic and joy of Witchcraft with new audiences and new seekers. However, after publication of the last book, she turned her attention away from writing to focus on other pursuits and didn’t publish again … until now.

We talked with Laurie Cabot about her new book, the current state of Witchcraft in today’s society and her future projects. At 81 years of age, she was enthusiastic to answer our questions and share her thoughts. Her passion for teaching and for the art of Witchcraft was very evident in her voice as she answered the questions. Please note that the conversation was not recorded and, therefore, will not be presented in a traditional interview format. 

After a 17 year hiatus, why suddenly return to print?

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

When answering this question, Cabot was very candid. She explained that writing books had become very cumbersome. She is not a computer user and, therefore, her books were all written long-hand with paper and pen in the old-fashion way. The task was enormous and, in 1997, she didn’t want to devote the time and energy into producing another one. Then, several years ago, she finally agreed to produce a new spell book because, as she said, “I had a wonderful person who could type as fast as I could talk.”

That person was Christopher Penczak. In the forward of the book he says:

…on a Beltane evening, while discussing the state of publishing, I suggested that she release a spell book because she loved sharing the majick. She agreed, but asked for my help in organizing it, along with her daughter Penny, and thus the seeds of the book you hold now in your hands were planted.

Cabot added that Penczak having his own publishing company, Copper Cauldron Publishing, “made it easy.” After the process was complete, she said, “I could have done three volumes because we have collected and created spells for over 50 years. But I wanted to do something that was easily understandable to all people.” The result of that collaborative work is this new book – a “how to” guide to spell making born from sixty years of Cabot magic.

The book is aimed at a general readership; not only Witches or magical practitioners. Why?

Cabot said, “There’s a little witch in everyone.” She believes that the science of magic is “what is vital” and, as such, “can be used by anyone.” She added, “Quantum physics tells us what we are doing is real.”

In the book’s introduction, Cabot says:

You don’t have to be a Witch to borrow majick. Some think you do, but I say absolutely not. Anyone can use majick. We teach the science and art of Witchcraft separate from religion, so you can be a scientific Witch. You can be an artful Witch too. And you do not have to practice the religion at all.

She went on to describe how she dervived at such a science-focused understanding of Witchcraft. She said that it was the “finding of science” within the spiritual experience that became so important to her development. As a child she had many psychic experiences, after which her father would always say, “There has to be a science behind it.” She said that it was those conversations that “led [her] in search of that.”

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Why the “j” in majick?

In the book, Cabot uses the term “majick” rather than magic or the popular magick. When asked what the spelling difference meant to her, she simply said that a “j” is used in place of a “g” to identify her particular system of Witchcraft with its focus on science. She has been using this spelling for over a decade.

What major observations have you made concerning the changes, beneficial or otherwise, in the practice of Witchcraft today as compared to past decades? 

When answering this question, Cabot focused on the retail experience, which has dominated much of her “majical” life. When she opened The Witch Shoppe in 1973, there were no witches anywhere. She said that the store was the only place where people could find a witch. Now, there are stores everywhere.

She said that, unfortunately, today, “it seems that people open stores to become rich.” She said, “You don’t become rich with one store. It may pay for the mortgage but you won’t be rich.”

Cabot also observed that the focus of modern Witchcraft stores has changed. In opening any store, her intent was always to “help people understand that Witchcraft was real.” She wanted to teach and share her passion. All her products, including incenses, spells, potions and oils, were handmade. She said, “I know the ingredients. I know how to make them real.” The store was an experience for the buyer that she created from her experience as a Witch.

Now, most metaphysical shops get their products from vendors. She laments this system saying, “the spells may not work. They may not have anything to do with the right energy.” This commercialization of the Witchcraft industry saddens her, and she added that people just seem to be “jumping on the band-wagon.” However, Cabot did acknowledge that the increase in stores has significantly helped with the sharing of magical practices, making them more widely accepted.

Cabot with Chris Levasseur outside Enchantment in Salem [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Cabot with Chris Levasseur outside Enchantment in Salem [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

As awareness has grown over the years, Cabot has noticed a recent influx in the number of international students coming to her classes. She said that, just last week, 6 Brazilians flew to Salem in order to attended her Witchcraft 101 class at Salem’s magickal store, Enchanted. In addition, her online classes have been attracting an international audience. She said, “They want to learn the science,” which she thinks is “wonderful.”

What would you say is the most important legacy or message that you would like to leave for future generations, Pagans or not, as the Official Witch of Salem?

Cabot said, “I would like everyone to know that magic is real.” She said that there has been “so much propaganda.” She explained that, as children, we all know in our hearts that magic exists but we are told by adults that it is just imaginary. But it does.

She also wants more people to accept and learn the scientific aspects of magic. She said, “I want it to be used to better the world.” Then she added, “Isn’t that what the world needs right now?  A little magic.”

One would be hard pressed to argue that point.

Now that the book is finished and due to be released in digital and paperback formats later this month, what other projects are on the horizon?

Along with her teaching at Enchanted, Cabot has several new projects in the works. She enthusiastically shared that she is working on her memoirs. Although she does not have a time frame for it’s completion and release, it will be published by Copper Cauldron Publishing with the help of Christopher Penczak.

Cabot is also developing a Tarot Deck, one that she hopes to release in the spring of 2015. She said that it does not have a name yet, but the deck will be focused, as one might expect, on scientific and the numeric spirit in the occult system.

As the conversation ended, Cabot added, “I’m using my time carefully now. I want to make sure that I leave something for people to gain knowledge. I don’t know everything. There are people that know far more.” But what Laurie Cabot does know, she wants to share in ways that will foster a better and deeper understanding of the self, the outside world and of the art of Witchcraft.

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!

Ellen Evert Hopman

Ellen Evert Hopman

Our Freedom: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition, has released an anti-abuse statement, signed by eight members of the coalition, including Ellen Evert Hopman and Patrick McCollum. Quote: We absolutely condemn the practices of child abuse, sexual abuse, and any other form of abuse that does harm to the bodies, minds or spirits of individuals. We offer prayers, therapy, and support for the healing of the victims of such abuses. In recent years the victimization of children has been brought to light in a manner not seen in the past. Efforts are underway in schools and other youth organizations to teach children and adults to be aware of and respond proactively to violence against others. Examples of victimization have also come to light in religious circles and many victims’ rights groups have emerged to advocate for and support those who were abused as children. We stand strongly against the victimization of children, students, women and men. We call for persons who have witnessed such atrocities to speak up and actively seek to protect the powerless and prevent further abuse.”

10333636_300691860099884_3714864147161992297_oLast year saw the debut of “OCCULT,” an arts-based event/salon held in Salem, Massachusetts and co-founded by Aepril Schaile (you can read our 2013 interview with Schaile here). Now, the event returns in 2014 this September, featuring a number of presenters, performances, and workshops. Quote: “To recognize that, especially together, both Magick and Art are greater than the sum of their parts, and each in dwells the other; they are rooted together. To raise consciousness, challenging false perceptions of separation between these so-imagined opposed sorceries. Though art as entertainment has its place and time, this Esoteric Salon moves us well past materialist commercialism. We recognize the power of Art to create spiritual movement and full expression to the divine Will–dancing, singing, painting, acting, sculpting, filming, poeting the ineffable. We confront the notion that the meaning and content of Art is not as important as its form and materials. With OCCULT, we seek to challenge old beliefs through the juxtaposition of beauty and magick, of art and ritual, blending the ingredients to make an event of highest harmony, a conjunction of non-opposites.”

P2150159-bAdocentyn Research Library, a Pagan-run library located in the San Francisco Bay area, has reached a new milestone. According to Adocentyn board member and co-founder Donald H. Frew, the institution has now catalogued over 6,500 books. Quote: “The Adocentyn Research Library has passed another milestone with over 6,500 books on our shelves and in our online database (6,558 to be precise)! You can see what we have at [their Library Thing page] and use the “tags” to find books of interest. Our goal is to collect, archive, preserve, and make available 1) information on every subject Pagans might study as part of their Paganism, and 2) materials useful for the study of Pagans, our diversity, and our history. (We use “Paganism” in the broadest sense, including indigenous, tribal, polytheistic, Nature-based, and/or Earth-centered religion, spirituality, practice, and culture, around the world and throughout human history.) We are centrally located in San Francisco’s East Bay, easily reachable by public transit, and close to many restaurants and cafes. While our max capacity in this location is about 13,000 books, we’ll be opening once we have our core collection – about another 1,000 books – in place. We look forward to serving the Pagan community!”

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • The Pantheon Foundation’s crowdfunding initiative for The Diotima Prize has crossed the 50% mark in its goal. The prize will “support the educational goals of one Pagan student who is currently in at least their second year at an accredited seminary program.”
  • A crowdfunding campaign is underway to produce a play about Robert Anton Wilson. Quote: “Daisy’s adaptation recounts the period of Bob’s life around the inspiration for, writing of and theatrical culmination of Illuminatus!, a period where he also met iconic countercultural figures like Timothy Leary, Alan Watts and William Burroughs, all of whom feature in the play. The narrative slips in and out of Illuminatus! itself and the production employs song, music, projections and stagecraft to evoke the real-life hallucinogenic trip through conspiracy, paranoia and enlightenment that transformed Bob from a simple Playboy editor into the influential countercultural figure he is today.”
  • Singer-songwriter Sharon Knight has launched a membership support circle called “Ring of Enchantment” that offers exclusive content in exchange for direct fiscal support. Quote: “This insider circle is my experiment in creating a culture of mutual support. Winter and I get some really great gigs. We also need to fill the gaps between those great gigs. This doesn’t always go according to the ideal scenario! In the old music industry, record labels offered tour support to help their artists through rough patches. In the new music industry, this doesn’t exist. The Ring of Enchantment was created to generate tour support for us while bringing inspiration and beauty to you.”
  • PaganSquare is now on Tumblr. Here’s the official announcement. Quote: “Although this may seem a bit sudden, we’ve actually been considering this move for several months, though we’ve only recently gotten all of our ducks in a line. We look forward to becoming a part of the wider Pagan community on Tumblr and hopefully even finding new content of interest to our readers.”

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


WGN America’s Salem Promotional Poster

The WGN America network released the new show Salem last month, once again bringing the character of the “Witch” to the television screen. There continues to be an influx of witch-related shows in the last several years, and this has not gone unnoticed by the general Pagan community.

American Horror Story: Coven (2013), Witches of East End (2013) and Sleepy Hollow (2013) are all new shows that feature witchcraft as a prominent theme in the storyline. The new show Salem has reignited a firestorm of concern around shows that feature witchy characters, bringing even more fear of greater society response than other shows before it. Salem appears to have gathered Pagan community attention because it is based on a Puritan perspective of witches in a time when it was thought that witches were evil and aligned with Satan. The inclusion of Marilyn Manson’s song “Cupid Carries a Gun” adds a creepy layer to the already demonic storyline as do the creative moving camera angles.

Much like with the American Horror Story franchise, Salem is a fantasy horror show that capitalizes on the fears of its audience. These fears are that witchcraft is about pacts with the devil, animal sacrifice and being decorated with blood in the woods. They are based on old-fashioned bigotry and rekindle a lot of misconceptions of those on the Pagan path. Concerns of modern-day witch hunts and fears around the identification of practitioners continues to expand among modern day Witches.

This brings us to question whether these fears are warranted in this day and age, or whether the total of our community identifies with a trauma-based history that is not ours? A loaded question indeed, and one that is very complex in nature. Do modern Pagans over-identify with the profile of persecution from our past further perpetuating fears of persecution in our present?

Today we know that those who were executed for witchcraft in the Salem witch trials, or in the burning times, were not actually Witches by modern-day definitions. While theories of ergot poisoning and church conspiracy are used to help explain away the happenings in the Salem Witch trials of 1692, today we have an understanding that they were not practitioners of the Craft and were common citizens of their time that became victims. So why is our community so concerned with a fictional television show that we know to be a warped reflection of history and no real reflection of Paganism? The responses to fears of shows like Salem within the community have been vastly different. Posts on social media sites and on the previous Wild Hunt review have not shown across-the-board similar concerns.

The range of responses vacillate from viewing the show as pure entertainment to views that are encouraging a call-to-arms from practitioners of the Craft. Lady Pythia, elder and Priestess with Covenant of the Goddess, posted on her Facebook page a retelling of her experience of a Witch hunt in the late 70’s:

Please know that naiveté will not make all of our work up to this point enough. Another tide is coming, and I ask you all to prepare now, so that there isn’t a last-minute scramble, as we’ve had to do 3 times now, all since March! I share the following in solidarity with all who have survived real-world oppression as Pagans, Witches and/or Wiccans, in a far more objective mode than at that time, and not from mere self-indulgence or any need for personal ego-reinforcement. Our struggle has been going on for decades.

Communications Coordinator at Circle Sanctuary Florence Edwards-Miller posted on the Wild Hunt article about the release of Salem. She took a different angle in examining concerns with the new show:

What bothers me here is the use of a real historical event that was plenty horrific even before you add in scary camera work. At base, a whole bunch of people were accused of crimes they didn’t commit, but couldn’t prove their innocence, and several of them were tortured and murdered. That’s terrifying, and it says something really disturbing about the human condition that it happened then and continues to happen in other contexts to this day. I think that, even in a fantastical way, retroactively going back and making some of them actually guilty of something like what they were killed for is very distasteful, even if the storytellers are trying to insert another social message in there.

In approaching several others who are currently watching the show, I got yet again more inconsistencies in response to this issue.

“I feel the same way about Salem that I have felt about most of the other “Witch” shows made for TV. I appreciate that there is enough interest to warrant shows about witches and witchcraft while always keeping in mind the need for Hollywood to twist it into what it wants in order to provoke the reaction from mainstream viewers that it’s targeting. Salem is a straightforward horror show made as dark and disgusting as possible. There is little historically accurate information being portrayed regarding the characters and plot. The horrors are created from the old witch hunters “lore” and atrocities. The period costumes and settings are nicely done.” – Cynthia Jurkovic

Taylor Ellwood, Managing Non-Fiction Editor of Immanion Press, took a totally different approach to the idea of shows like Salem bringing attention to magic in helpful ways:

“I think the show Salem is hilarious because of how over the top it is. It’s clearly a horror show, which draws on some rather quaint stereotypes about witchcraft. Precisely because it is so over the top I don’t feel concerned that it’ll reflect poorly on the modern day practitioner, especially because there are so many other shows on magic available as well which show various depictions, none of which are all that accurate. Salem is one presentation, but it is one that is primarily done for entertainment purposes and we need to remember that. Additionally, its important to remember that any depiction of magic and the supernatural only makes such topics more and more acceptable to mainstream culture. While such shows draws on stereotypes, they nonetheless fascinate people and highlight the necessity of magic. At one time there were similar concerns with the Harry Potter movies, Charmed, etc., and nonetheless our community has actually benefited from such media because of how they’ve piqued the interests of the mainstream” – Taylor Ellwood.

I like it for a fantasy show. My only concern is the sexual nature of the two main witches, and sensationalizing of a couple of women, one being a woman of color with power that is linked to evil.

I think that we as a community do a great job of showing people we are not devil worshipers or evil hags. Why do you think there is a fear of shows like this in the Pagan community? I think that we don’t think a person can separate reality from fiction. This is a fictional show that is for entertainment purposes…it is no different than AHS Coven or Bewitched.” – Melissa Murry

WGN America's Salem Promotional Poster

WGN America’s Salem Promotional Poster

Several posts and opinions on the internet have been aligning shows like this with active or past oppression of Pagans – expressing concerns that shows like this warp the minds of the general public who are unaware of what Paganism is. There are many different ways that oppression is categorized in society, and the Pagan community does not seem to be in accord about this classification. Is this an issue of the active oppression of Pagans that is exacerbated by the perpetual image of evil that is associated with Hollywood depictions of the Witch? Or are we looking at the reality that minority religious experiences are going to be vastly different than the mainstream religious over-culture? This type of marginalization of a minority group is not necessarily the same as oppression of a group. In reality the fear of oppression can be just as damaging as oppression itself. Should we be afraid?

“These kind of shows/movies plant seeds. even though they are fictional, there is the resonation factor. People will have these messages mixed into their mental margarita, and drink it up.” – Wild Hunt commenter Boo-Boo.

“I think the Pagan community fears such shows because of the stereotypes drawn upon and the fear that fundamentalist Christians will take that and use it as an excuse to attack Pagans, with an additional fear that people in the mainstream will believe that’s what Paganism is about. However, I think the community greatly overestimates the power of such shows to do that. While there are stereotypes drawn upon, the manner in which they are depicted is so theatrical and over the top that it actually shoots holes in the stereotypes, while also making people curious about what magic is really like.” – Taylor Ellwood.

Every time a movie or tv show about Witches is made, we are confronted with the reality of the past, and the fear that the atrocities of that past could potentially happen again. I have participated publicly in spiritual activism in  working to educate the mainstream about what Witches really are and what we do.“ – Cynthia Jurkovic.

We do know of many different stories of individuals that have had some horrific experiences of discrimination due to their Pagan beliefs. Various forms of discrimination happen in many facets of society, and Pagans are not exempt from this societal concern. Language and cultural nuances within the Pagan community refer to “coming out of the broom closet” and other references that imply a culture of minority discrimination.

Whether the individual accounts of problems related to a person’s Pagan beliefs are enough to say we are an oppressed religious group is not something easily answered. Yet I personally feel that attempts to categorize Pagans with historically-persecuted and oppressed groups of people, like African Americans, the Natives or Jews, are a big stretch. But I do recognize that prejudice does happen to those who follow a Pagan path, contributing to a fear of persecution and concern. Shows like Salem might have the potential of confirming concerns for those who already question the modern concept of a spiritual Witch, but those people are the ones that are the hardest to reach regardless. The people who are critical thinkers, and not romanticized by fictionalized Hollywood versions of super powers and evil pacts with Satan, will be the ones to remember that television is rarely true, and is meant purely for entertainment.


On Sunday WGN America debuted its first originally-scripted TV series: Salem. Crafted in the horror genre, the show follows in the footsteps of the popular American Horror Story: Coven.  WGN uses the tag line: “The Witch Hunt Has Begun – In Salem, witches are real, but they are not what they seem.”

On opening night Variety reported that the show earned “1.5 million viewers” which is “seven times the network’s season-to-date average in the 10 p.m. timeslot.” WGN is capitalizing on the recent popularity of witches in order to launch its new original production offerings. In July the network will premiere its second series, Manhattan, and then in 2015, Ten Commandments.

WGN America's Salem Promotional Poster

WGN America’s Salem Promotional Poster

WGN’s Salem is the latest in a very long-line of television and film productions using the city as its setting. Hollywood began its love-affair with the trials in 1909 with the release of Edison’s In the Days of Witchcraft. Perhaps the most famous rendering of the Salem story is Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” which transforms the city’s history into an allegory for McCarthy-era politics. Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem said, “The Salem Witch Trials are a rich and compelling subject for novelists and screenwriters…”

In this latest adaption, the witches are rendered as actual creatures. WGN’s Salem presents a historically-derived Puritan world complete with “witch” panics alongside the genuine existence of Satanic-based witchcraft. In doing so, it attempts to offer a far more complex ethical structure than past Salem or witch stories.

When production was initially announced, a group of Salem citizens and business owners discussed the potential for damage caused by yet another Hollywood show conflating history and horror. Should they protest? Elizabeth Peterson, director of Salem’s Witch House, said:

The Witch House is the only historic site left that was an absolute witness to the conversations and phenomena [of that time].  It is our responsibility to dignify and intellectualize that history. 

After multiple conversations, the group opted for a different approach. Fox said, “I will welcome the opportunity [the show] will afford to talk about the destination Salem with viewers who may find a new interest in our town.”

Salem Witch House [Photo Credit: Scott Lanes]

Salem Witch House [Photo Credit: Scott Lanes]

After seeing the show Peterson said, “I’m not worried that [Salem] could be mistaken as historical because it is so fantastical.” She points out that show contains many inaccuracies but it’s presented in such a way that there is no danger in mistaking it for fact. In other words, WGN’s Salem is not even pretending to be real. It is pure horror entertainment.

Due to the continued fascination with the trials, Salem and New England in general have ascended historicity to become a modality within American popular myth. Salem as a backdrop is strongly rooted within Hollywood’s own narrative symbolism. Even Samantha makes a trip to Salem for a Witches Convention in 1970. If you make a witch movie or show, it should be set in a small town in New England.

Just as it capitalizes on historical lore, WGN’s Salem also makes use of the archetypal Hollywood Satanic witch. Narratively speaking these witches are villagers who have sold their souls to the Devil for personal gain. They perform magic with oils, frogs, lizards, hogs, blood and fire. They hold sabbats in the dark woods wearing beastly masks. They have familiars and understand the nuances in “life, love, war and death.”

Visually speaking the witches are monstrous, zombie-like creatures that only appear in quick cuts or extreme close-up. Such shots are often flanked by tilted visions, screams and flashes of light. These are all very typical elements of the modern horror montage. To counter that extreme, these same witches appear as their respectable former selves during the day and are shot in a non-dynamic simple composition.

At first it might seem WGN’s Salem is yet another horror show fostering the negative representations of witches. It is after all presenting a typical Satanic witch story. However it does do something a bit different. It offers an atypical dynamic morality that embraces the complexity of contemporary social issues. This complexity is best demonstrated though three characters: John Alden, Cotton Mather and Mary Sibley.

John Alden is defined as the imperfect but good secular American. He fights for “his country,” befriends Native Americans and stands against the Puritan moral panic. At one point he tells Mather, “She needs a doctor not your prayers.” John is the open-minded, modern cowboy who believes in love and even Paganism. When Anne Hale explains that Mather calls drawing “idolatry” or nature worship, Alden responds, “There are worse things to worship.”

Cotton Mather is the polar opposite. He represents the religious zealot who publicly defines life through absolutes found in the testimony of his books. Giles Corey describes Mather as the “most dangerous type of fool…The kind that thinks he knows everything.” Mather is further demonized through his apparent hypocrisy. While inspecting the wounds on an hysterical young girl, Mather pushes her dress up to her thighs. At that point, the camera rhythmically cuts between his face, her face and his hands on her thighs. Then the show abruptly cuts to a salacious scene of Mather in a brothel. The viewer is left wondering if Mather abused the girl.

WGN America's Salem Poster

WGN America’s Salem

To complete the triad, there is Mary Sibley, the witch.  As a young unwed pregnant girl, Mary is led to witchcraft by Tituba in order to escape public shame and punishment. The show posits that Mary and ostensibly the others turn to the Devil in order to escape the horrors of Puritanism. However at the same time, Mary is also depicted as cruelly toying with John Alden, driving a young girl mad and killing Giles Corey. Her vengeance knows no boundaries.

These witches are morally complex representing a type of social defiance that is very contemporary. The show appears to oppose the tyrannical religious teachings of its conservative Christian environment.  At one point Giles Corey says, “Puritans know their sun is setting. Nothing like a new enemy … to get people behind ya.” This statement recalls recent discourse surrounding the religious climate in the Unites States.

Similarly Puritan leader George Sibley yells out, “We cannot expect God to be on our side if we tolerate abominations or those that commit them.”  While he is referring to “fornication,” his line resembles language used to counter the Marriage Equality movement.

WGN’s Salem explores the progressive ethics that are now appearing within contemporary American discourse. It is mediating the mythological Salem story through very current cultural politics. The witches themselves are the tipping point that places the viewer into the uncomfortable position of liking the goal but disliking the means. Through them we can ask, “success at what the cost?”

Are these witches representative of real Witches, Wiccans or Pagans?  No they aren’t.  As with the use of Salem, the witches are merely typical Hollywood archetypes representing social defiance. In fact the narrative makes a direct distinction between a “nature worshipper” and the Witch.

How the show proceeds over its run will be interesting. How will it negotiate the issues presented? How will it handle race and explain the origins of the young, beautiful Tituba as instigator of Salem’s witchcraft?  What is Nathan and Anne Hale’s story?

With all that said, was it a good entertainment? It was average, sensationalistic and at times campy. It falls into the category of recent shows pushing the limits of television horror by exploring the limits of our humanity. If the show continues on its current course, it may hold a season worth of interest beyond that, who knows.