Archives For Samhain

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I live in a place unchallenged by winter. We move between cycles of wet and dry with occasional mild cool weather that flickers through in just a few days. Those of us raised in the tropics understand the trial of winter, but rarely the daily onslaught of cloudy and relentlessly cold days that become shorter through the nearly the end of the calendar year. The sun in my neck of the woods remains strong and the days shorten mostly because of the inherited insanity of the time change that happens this weekend.

Honoring the wheel of the year in the tropics is often an exercise of theory over practice. While Samhain co-occurs with Halloween and the festivities of the Days of the Dead in many Latin cultures, the other holidays stand alone as either astronomical marks or reflections of concepts such as gratitude. Our concerns of oncoming weather equates the freedom and carefreeness of summer with the hurricane season. Fall is hot, and winter is a benign season with open windows and late-night barbecue parties outside.

The wheel of the year is a reminder not only of the passing of time, but the obligations and preparations of the yearly cycle of harvest and preparation. The wheel hinges on winter. It provides both comfort and advice on how to be mindful of it, prepare for it, and persevere through it. While Samhain is the start of the year, Yule holds the promise of rebirth and a reminder that the hardship of winter will fall to spring.

The wheel is also a reminder that our view of time changed as some of our ancestors changed their faiths. After Christianity gained dominance in across the West, those European ancestors converted not just faiths but their experience of time. They moved to linearity and we, in the West, inherit and continue to live in Christianized time, a basic requirement for the Messianic return; now also the time of commerce. Here in the West, time is linear and discrete. The flow of time is constant and unfaltering: always forward and always moving toward the end times. As the American poet Delmore Schwartz sums it up: “Time is the school in which we learn,/Time is the fire in which we burn.”

Iceland Flag Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti.

Iceland Flag [Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

In psychology is the understanding of the impact of culture on the perception of time. Chronemics is the area that studies the role of time in our communication as well as how we identify and experience time. As we might imagine, there exist foreseeable patterns regarding the experience of time across cultures.

In the United States and Canada (as well as most of the Anglosphere and Northern Europe) time is monochronic. It is viewed as the most precious of resources. We commoditize it. We even embed this view in our language: we spend time, we buy time, we keep time, we save time. In order to do things right, we should do them one thing at a time because getting things wrong means time may have been squandered. When we don’t do anything all, we waste time. As a result, time dominates us through scheduling, and we then use time to dominate others by having them wait and paying them hourly. On the phone or in an office, waiting is an act of submission, and controlling time and pay is an act of authority. Power and control are manifested in our interactions, our schedule, and our regimented lives. We even schedule relaxation.

The origins of monochronicity is natural development from our societal view of time as linear. The Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius observed time to be infinite on both side of the present, but in his “Meditations,” he left open the possibility that time had recurring “successions.” Judaism also marks linear time, but in a moving from rather than a going to fashion. The marking of time in Judaism is about God’s dominance in the world and the constitution of his people in the exodus from Egypt. It counts its time in days and in terms of dark and light all moving forward, “and there was evening and there was morning.”(Genesis 1:5); all laying the foundation for linear time.

In other parts of the world, including Africa, parts of the Levant, Southern Asia and Latin cultures, time has a fluidity. These cultures have a polychronic time system. In polychronic cultures, the act of experiencing is more important than how much time is used. Goals are nice but concentrating on the process is viewed a much more rewarding. You can pay attention to multiple agendas and even multiple friends at the same time, so long as you honor the moment you are sharing. Time is not spent with friends, time is passed with friends. Time is not bought, time is held. Time can never be wasted.

In many ways, the wheel urges us to adopt the polychronic attitude; our Pagan and Heathen ancestors may have experienced time in this manner. Time is a cycle, repeated yearly. We should remind ourselves about preparation but live in the moment. The wheel commands u to experience the seasonality of the world and it immanent presence in the patterns of nature.

This Samhain, I spent the holiday in Iceland, and the wheel was very present. The days have become short and the preparation for winter must rush to completion or else death will be certain. It is not a matter of running out of time, it is rather an intimate connection on the cycles of nature that are as encouraging as they are relentless. As the third harvest of Samhain comes, the seasons become treacherous and there is a danger in the moment, all the elements — wind, water, fire and earth -– manifest their danger from chilling wind to fire that can both warm as well as take a home.

But the wheel also exposes the privileges we have gained through the immense sacrifice of our predecessors. Traveling through Iceland brings into terrible relief the challenges faced by Norse ancestors. The land would be fruitful for part of the year and a crucible through another. The days become fleeting and the cloud cover buttresses the control of the darkness. Nature becomes a persistent challenge.

Black Beach in Vik, Iceland Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno.

Black Beach in Vik, Iceland [Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno]

Yet, as our ancestors discerned, that darkness can be held off through the strength of community and hospitality. The dangers that the savage side of nature might bring are mitigated by the power of collective work, collective duty and collective action.

The wheel of time we mark tells us that the moment in which we live is gifted to us by the tribulations of our ancestors. The seasons it marks represented not just difficulties to be overcome by our ancestors but also how they used their knowledge and work to free us from many of the hardships they experienced as they marked the same wheel. The gentleness of tropical seasonality does not convey those difficulties, and the architecture of our modern society that limits the privation of winter, speaks loudly how our ancestors carved a safe future for each of us. Samhain reminds us their presence, and the wheel reminds us of our debt.

This visit to Iceland made the wheel very present. It reminded me that experiencing the cycle of the year is as important as understanding it. While the wheel can be adapted to the tropical life, it presents few of the challenges of its real origins as an agrarian calendar centered in the mid-latitudes on lands benefiting from the power of the Gulf Stream. Yet it loses something in that adoption. I think it even loses something when we focus only on the intellectual side of its application as a marker of sabbats. When we do so, we focus only on the monochronic elements it evokes and we lose how it speaks to us of ancestors, the privileges they bestowed and our life in a spiral dance.

I would not call this trip a pilgrimage as much as a reminder that our Pagan life links us to the land in an intimate way, and with it the way we understand the passage of time. Traveling to places where the wheel meant survival has certainly reminded me of it roots us to the world, and explains to us how we must understand our commitment to ourselves, the land and our progeny. Like our predecessors, we should also strive to be good ancestors.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Blessed Samhain

The Wild Hunt —  October 31, 2016 — 2 Comments

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Today is when many modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. This holiday marks the start of winter and the new year according to the old Celtic calendar. It is a time when the ancestors are honored, divination is performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. Samhain is also recognized as the final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of all the modern Pagan holidays.

Samhain- colored pencil on linen [Susan Korsnick, 2016]

Samhain- colored pencil on linen [Susan Korsnick, 2016]

During this season, other celebrations and festivals are also being held such as Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic Pagans, Álfablót or the Scandanavian Sacrifice to the Elves, Winter Nights by Ásatrú, Foundation Night in modern devotional practices to Antinous, Allelieweziel by the Urglaawe tradition, Fete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (beginning Oct. 30 this year, it runs for five days) and the astrological Samhain on Nov. 6 for some Witches and Druids. Finally, in the Southern Hemisphere, many Pagans are currently celebrating Beltane.

Here are some thoughts shared by Pagans and polytheists about this time of year:

On this day, the world of our physical reality and the world of our spiritual reality come together and communicate. It is a time of connecting with our ancestors and offering gratitude for their part in our lives. I always incorporate a knotting/braiding activity in my ritual. I take three pieces of red yarn or ribbon about 20 inches long and begin braiding them and knotting in groups of three, with each knot, I invite and say aloud the name of the ancestor to my ritual celebration. I recount how they have positively impacted my life and offer gratitude for their presence in my life now and when they were alive. When I am done, I place the braid on my altar for the year to represent how they are woven into my life and to keep that energy alive. –Katie Pifer, What is Samhain?

In Urglaawe, the Wild Hunt is Holle gathering up the souls of the Dead, and then on Walpurgisnacht she grinds them in her mill so they can go on to the next life. I like that better than the idea of Vallhalla, which I always thought seemed too Christian-influenced. The thing is, once you’re ground in the mill, what is left of you? Is it anything recognizable as being you anymore? The person you were still becomes just a memory. –Amanda the Conqueror, Celebrating Allelieweziel this year

I got up early and before going to work I shaved my head, as I often have on this day as well. I like hair on one’s scalp–mine and others (other hair? Not so much…!), and so I didn’t want to do it, and in fact I really don’t like doing it (and I like doing it even less on-my-own/without assistance), but it wouldn’t be a sacrifice (in the modern colloquial sense) if it weren’t difficult. But, it is an important sign of mourning, an important aspect of Egyptian sacerdotal practice (though I am not entirely hairless at the moment, like they were), and it also ends up giving me a small pile (and smaller every year, sadly) of materials to give in offering at various places in the future. –P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Sacred Nights of Antinous 2016–Death of Antinous


Samhain Altar [Wilhelmine, DeviantArt]

Samhain Altar [Wilhelmine, DeviantArt]

And, Siobhan Johnson suggests 10 things to do on Samhain.

Many people who have been active members of our collective communities have crossed the veil this past year, including: Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Marc Pourner, Scott Walters, Richard Reidy, Daniel Kaufman, Jean Williams, Crystal Tier, Morgan McFarland, John Belham-Payne, A.J. Gooch, JD Taylor, Gavin FrostLydia Miller Ruyle, David Babulski, Nikki Bado, Michael Wiggins, Scott Symonds, Lady Epona, John Ravenmoon, Charlie Murphy, Margarian Bridger, Tisha Gill, Fallon SmartSeb Barnett, Lady Flora, Bryan David Zell, Carole Kitchenwitch.  There are also many others who have not been not named here but who have touched our individual lives, our practices, and our communities. What is remembered, lives.

May you have a blessed Samhain. May peace fall upon you and your beloved dead during this season. Let this be a new cycle of quiet joy and renewed blessings for all of you.

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14724656_10210624116742889_6722353328289287912_nCHICAGO – The mid-west Pagan community lost one of its elders last week. It was announced that Lady Flora, also known as Georgeanne Hollingsworth, had died on Oct. 7 after complications due to “diabetes and numerous bouts of congestive heart failure.”

Lady Flora was trained and initiated by David Cole and Janet Berres, the leaders of the Coven of Hecate. She eventually went on to establish her own group, becoming the high priestess of the Grove of Aphrodite, which thrived in the Chicago during the 1980s and 1990s. Due to her location, Lady Flora was able to easily attend the very first modern Parliament of the World’s Religions, which was held in Chicago in 1993.

Over the years, Lady Flora taught both Wicca and tarot. Additionally, she taught shamanism with the help of her husband, high priest Rex Hollingsworth, who was reportedly part Mohegan. Lady Flora’s sister, Lady Annabelle, who is high priestess of the Pittsburgh-based Grove of Gaia, said that “Lady Flora was a dynamic and amazing high priestess and teacher and initiatrix of Wicca.” Her group is planning a celebration of life in Pittsburgh, and is also working to host a second memorial in Chicago. What is remembered, lives.

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logo trothTWH – The Troth has voted to amend the oath taken by its elected or “titled” representatives. As explained in an Oct. 16 blog post, “The new verbiage includes some small changes to the third paragraph to make it read more easily and the inclusion of a new paragraph (fourth) that reflects current Troth policy.”

The new oath will be required of all newly elected representatives. However, opportunities will be made available for current representatives to renew their oath using the updated version. The board statement continues, “We on the Rede see this step as a positive, proactive change that is aligned with The Troth’s Mission and stated positions.”

What is this stated position? The oath’s new additions reinforce statements of inclusivity with regard to race, sexuality, gender and more. This oath change coincides with the Troth’s recent re-assertions of its mission to support inclusive Heathenry. The new oath can be read in full on the Troth’s blog.

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308979_10150223697084956_60467375_nNASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Oct. 1 Pagan Pride Day event held in Nashville, Tennessee was visited by a group of Christian protesters. The protesting organization, which is led by a man named Saint Quentin, is called the Nashville Saints. Quentin labels himself an “open-air preacher” and frequents Nashville street corners and other parts of the city in order to share his beliefs. In this case, Quentin explained, “The Nashville Saints take up the sword of the spirit against the wicked demonic powers at work within Nashville’s Pagans.”

Fortunately for the Nashville Pagan Pride Day organizers and attendees, the protesters did remain within their legal limits, and were monitored closely by the park police. The daylong event was considered a success, despite any disruptions from Quentin’s group. We will have much more on this story tomorrow. 

In other news

  • If you participated in Saturday’s Warrior’s Call to action “Voices on the Wind,” the group would like to share your photos and experiences. Organizers are asking people to send them links to blog posts or any photos taken for use on its own Facebook page and website. This blog, for example, shared the Voices on the Wind event held in Cheshire, England. In December, Warrior’s Call will be hosting a single day workshop in Glastonbury, England. The goal is to “explore ways to work constructively to prevent fracking around the world.”
  • Pagans in Need (PIN) has uploaded a Yule application for its holiday program. The application should be used to apply for any assistance needed during the upcoming busy holiday season. PIN hosts a number of assistance programs, including a Secret Santa service and a toy collection. PIN is affiliated with the collective of Michigan-based Pagan organizations and community services.
  • Priestess and author Courtney Weber has released her second book. The new book is called Tarot for One and was published by Red Wheel/Weiser. The new book focuses on reading the cards for yourself, rather than for others, and includes a number of layouts and methods. Weber, who is based in New York City, has been reading and teaching tarot for over a decade.
  • The Maetreum of Cybele radio station was mentioned in a New York Times article on local terrestrial FM radio stations. The NYT article doesn’t focus on the Maetreum’s station but mentions it as contributing to this niche industry and as part of the discussion on the value of these stations within our contemporary, digitally-driven culture.
  • While many Pagans and Heathens continue to spend their fall weekends celebrating together at Pagan Pride Day events, others groups are getting ready for their upcoming Samhain observances, festivals, rituals and classes. In New York City, Rev. Starr Ravenhawk will be hosting the 11th Annual Samhain Eve’ Masquerade Ritual. Across the country in San Francisco, Reclaiming will be staging its popular Samhain spiral dance, which is both a ritual and fundraiser. In Massachusetts, the EarthSpirit Community will be hosting its annual open Samhain ritual. These are just three examples of the many public and private events being held around the world over the next two weeks.

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Who would have thought that life’s most profound experiences come with tea and cupcakes?

Vanitas, by Phillippe de Champaigne. Life, Death, and Time. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Vanitas, by Phillippe de Champaigne. Life, Death, and Time. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Death, the final mystery, is an almost unavoidable topic in any religious practice. Of course, regardless of one’s religious beliefs, death remains unavoidable. Under the Pagan umbrella, many traditions treat death as a sacred event, a “crossing over” to a new world and often the fist step toward rebirth. Traditions that follow the Wheel of the Year annually celebrate the dead and the sacredness of death in October. Samhain is often the most popular sabbat of the year in Wiccan and Witchcraft communities, so –- in theory — Pagans should be the citizens who are most in tune with the natural cycle of life, which inevitably includes life’s ending.

And yet, those who practice a form of Paganism remain encompassed by mainstream culture, a culture which is often rather squeamish about the topic of death. We live in a culture that sanitizes death and separates us from it as much as possible. We don’t even like to think about it. A Gallup poll from May, 2016 show that only 44% of Americans have written a will, a number that is down from 51% in 2005. Understandably, more older Americans have wills, yet even in the over-65 category, 22% of respondents still did not possess a will. claims even lower numbers, stating that only 28% of Americans have written a will. If we accept that how well we plan for our inevitable death is a measure of how much we like to discuss it, our culture demonstrates a strong desire to avoid the topic altogether. Despite the importance of the topic for the health and happiness of loved ones as that finances and property be clearly distributed, a majority of Americans choose to look the other way. Ask a typical person to engage in a discussion about death, and you are likely to get a quick response and an even quicker excuse to leave the conversation.

Estate planning and property disbursement are not the only reasons it is important to talk about death. A 2012 article in Science News presents a study that shows that people who think about death can live a better life. “An awareness of mortality,” says the article, “can improve physical health and help us re-prioritize our goals and values” to help us live a happier life. Talking about death is important for life, yet it is a painfully difficult subject to bring up into any casual conversation.

That is the purpose of the death café. Popularized by Jon Underwood, the Death Café is an opportunity to come together in a comfortable environment, enjoy a little tea and cake, and discuss onee of life’s most mysterious and fearful topics. “Our objective,” says Underwood, “is to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” The model includes “no agenda, objectives, or themes.” It is conceived of as “a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session.”

Photo credit: Jon Underwood

[Image credit: Jon Underwood]

The first Death Café was held in a basement in East London in 2011, and since then the movement has blossomed. reports that, to date, 3,496 Death cafés have been offered around the world. Underwood states that “We’ve established both there are people who are keen to talk about death and that many are passionate enough to organize their own Death Café.”

Elsa Elliott and Danielle Dionne, the lead and deputy Scorpio Ministers for the Temple of Witchcraft, have been facilitating death cafés in the New England area since February. They emphasize that “Death Café fosters an environment where people can speak openly about death. The idea,” they say, “is to allow people to come together and talk openly about their feelings, ideas, and experiences in an open, confidential forum.”

“We sit together as mortal people who will die,” says Elliott, with no religious agenda, “respectfully accepting whatever the other people believe.” The hosts prioritize “holding space where everyone has a chance to speak and be heard.” This is especially important, they say, “since death has been separated from day-to-day experience and relegated to hospitals and other institutions over the past 100 years.”

The event begins as participants gather together in a circle.­­­ Elliott and Dionne explain their simple guidelines for discussion:

  • This is not an end-of-life planning even, bereavement, or grief counseling.
  • Listen to each other.
  • Take off your “fix-it hat.”
  • Share the air space – let everyone speak.
  • Speak from your personal experience. Try to leave your professional side out of the room.
  • Take care of yourselves – step away if you need to.
  • Get some refreshments. Have some tea and cake.
  • Respect the sanctity and confidentiality of our discussions.

To ensure that everyone can speak and not be talked over, the facilitators use talking stick in the form of a plush, stuffed Cerberus toy, as a marker of whose turn it is to speak. This representation of the fearsome three-headed hound of the underworld is soft and whimsical, which Elliott and Dionne say helps comfort participants who are feeling nervous about the discussion. Ultimately, they say, “We provide a warm, accepting environment so that people can talk about death.”

Cerberus [Photo credit: Elsa Elliott]

Cerberus [Photo credit: Elsa Elliott]

With the ground rules in place, the discussion begins. Naturally, some participants can be shy about getting such difficult conversation rolling, but many are eager to get right into the deep philosophy of death. I attended one death café in which a participant began the session by challenging us on “how we know” our beliefs about the afterlife are true. A fascinating philosophical conversation followed. This was at a Pagan event, so all attendees were either part of the community or friendly to it, yet each held a different set of beliefs about life after death, the soul, and exactly what death means. We explored these profound topics as co-religionists seeking clarification, which allowed us to refine our beliefs after they were exposed to new, inspiring ideas.

Then, an entirely different but equally challenging question arose. While the group questioned their thoughts on the afterlife, many expressing fear, a young woman who was raised Pagan declared that this was the very first time she had heard that people are concerned about these topics. Since she was not a migrant from mainstream faith, she had no experience in the often-terrifying dogmas and doctrines that other religions dictate to their followers. She was surprised. These clashing views from two types of Pagans: those born into Paganism and those who chose to come to it, provided even more fodder for deep, meaningful discussion. It was a thoughtful, respectful, and challenging two hours that helped us all deepen our understandings.

In other cases, participants are slow to get the conversation moving. For these times, Elliott and Dionne have some ice breakers meant to stimulate the participants and lubricate the discussion. They include questions such as:

  • What should someone not say to someone who is grieving?
  • What life experiences influenced your perspective on death?
  • What are some ways death influences your daily life?
  • Before I die, I want to….
  • Imagine yourself on your deathbed. What would you feel proud of? What would you regret?

At some point, the group breaks for cake. After a restful, grounding break, participants return to the conversation. With about 15 minutes left, Elliott and Dionne ask for final thoughts, especially from those who have not yet spoken. After everyone has had their say, usually about two hours after the start of the café, they close by sharing tea and cakes together.

Elliott and Dionne have experienced some moving discussions in their time facilitating death cafés. One session, said Elliott, “Included a conversation about suicide that prompted some to share their experiences with the death of loved ones from suicide.” Other discussions are marked by participants expressing frustration about not knowing the wishes of their deceased parents, a problem that results in family struggles and needless acrimony surrounding the parent’s final decisions. These conversations naturally lead to “stories about how to talk with parents while they are still alive about what they want for end of life care, as well as funeral and other arrangements.” In this small way, one small evening has the ability to improve the life of anyone with elderly parents.

In other situations, says Elliott, participants have discussed “DIY funerals” and “what you want to have happen to your body.” They talk about funeral options as far apart as “mushroom burial suits to transporting bodies in your station wagon.” Elliott emphasizes that these discussions, “prompt reflection on how we want to die, how we plan to communicate our wishes to loved ones, and how we provide care for our dead.”

“It’s been really cool witnessing and hearing people share their views and process,” exclaimed Elliott. Discussions stimulate thought, which can inspire action. The important decisions of life include those about how to handle our death, and burying our heads in the sand over the topic will only serve to harm our loved ones in the long run. Death cafés thaw the ice on extremely important matters and can ultimately lead to a better life, and death, for everyone.

The death café movement describes itself as a “social franchise.” As such, they state that anyone who can “sign up to our guide and principles can use the name ‘Death Café,’ post events to [their] website, and talk to the press as an affiliate of Death Café.” Given their impressive growth numbers since 2011, people all over the world, from all religious and non-religious backgrounds are doing just that.

Elliott advises everyone to attend a death café in their own area. “These events,” she says, “promote death positivity and bring death to everyday experience.” As strange as it may sound to talk about “death positivity,” the Pagan world is in a unique position to do so. For evidence, I Look back on the young woman who was raised Pagan and who could not comprehend the fear of death that other café participants were discussing. Without that burden of taboo and fear, we could do more with the time we have been given and provide for the continued happiness of our loved ones at the end of our finite lives.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Paganisms and Witchcraft traditions in Australia are no less subject to the times as they are anywhere else in the world. While we draw vast inspiration from the past of Europe, Christian and pre-Christian, we are subject to the influences of contemporary pop-culture, public discourse, prevailing political paradigms and social trends as they are manifest in post-colonial Australia. This influence can go one of two ways in terms of our practices. First, as a minority spiritual school(s) of thought, as a sub-culture, or indeed, a counter-culture, standing outside the square and looking in on society writ large, modern Pagans and contemporary Witches can be deeply progressive, revolutionary, subversive and flat out contrarian. Or, our practices change according to the influences of the over-culture.


[Photo Credit: Pöllö / Wikimedia Commons]

Our collective strength is in our ability to inhabit the Janus Head and look both ways, drawing inspiration from that past and being completely free to adapt it according to our present needs and into the future. We are not beholden to a dogma, our focus in on praxis, on the demonstrable, the experience of the individual such that the modern Pagan, or Witch, is free to completely re-examine our relationships with spirit, and indeed, notions of belief entirely. A literal reading of our collective myths is not required as it is in Christianity, nowhere is it written that we must subjugate our Will.

This is particularly true of Witchcraft. Here, the key lessons pertain to power; who has it, what doesn’t, how the web of Wyrd subtlety connects us all and moves us, how to see what has power over us, and how to diminish that influence, and exert our own, according to our Will. This key ability or fundamental lesson is not boxed in and cut off from any sphere of human activity or thought, we can, and do apply it broadly and examine power structures and influences in the broader culture as well.

It is precisely these freedoms and considerations that mean, in Australia, most Pagans and Witches celebrate Samhain at the end of April. Anyone with eyes can see that Samhain is linked to a particular power structure in Nature – a particular shift that allows a moment we often describe as the thinning veil between the Worlds. And anyone with eyes in Oz knows that shift in power doesn’t happen at the end of November, it happens on or around April 30.

That is a kind of power that one does not need to be a Witch to see. Everyone in the Southern Hemisphere is well acquainted with it, as is everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.

In Australia and New Zealand though, something else happens in late April: ANZAC Day. Increasingly, it pops up in reference to Samhain, or All Hallow’s Eve. And in terms of mainstream Australian culture and dominant political paradigms, it has become extremely powerful and, at the same time, increasingly contentious. The question I find myself asking is simply this: How well have Australian Pagans and Witches considered the influence and power of ANZAC Day to either the growth or detriment of the aims of our ancestral based practices at Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve?

Online advertisement for ANZAC Day 2016 including specials for restaurant Bivianos in Dural in regional NSW.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day falls on April 25, the anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing in 1915. Historically, it marks the operation of the Allied Forces in WWI designed to capture the Gallipoli Penisula and open the Black Sea to the Allied navies. In terms of engagement, ANZAC Day completely overshadows November’s Remembrance Day, which is the day to commemorate the end of the First World War as well as a day to honor all who have died in war.

In terms of the place, one might be forgiven for thinking Australians had a hand at winning the battle fought on the Gallipoli beaches. But, we didn’t. We lost; the Allies never took the Cove and Çanakkale Savaşı (The Battle of Çanakkale) remains one of the most celebrated WWI victories for the Ottoman Empire.

Since 1990, the annual pilgrimage to the Turkish shore has only increased, and the land suffers yearly from Australians’ collective rubbish, which is particularly lovely given the area is a National Park. The bones of the fallen are exposed due to foot traffic, and various efforts have been made to develop and redevelop the area to accommodate the yearly tourist visits. This big business is threatening smaller local enterprise.

At home, it has become acceptable to crack a tinny (open a can of beer) directly after an ANZAC Dawn Service, which is early even for most Australians. This has somehow become a patriotic duty according to both beer companies and former military leaders who advertise the very tinny that one should patriotically crack. And while Australia’s alcohol problem is conveniently forgotten for ANZAC Day, we also blatantly change the rules regarding gambling, so we can all partake of the (illegal every other day)  “Australian Diggers’ Game” of Two-up. While my tone may suggest that we have a serious gambling problem as a culture, fear not. In 2004, during a debate regarding the legalisation of Two-up, the then New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, told the House:

One of the charities most involved in problem gambling, the Wesley Community Legal Service, a body dealing with problem gamblers, has confirmed it has never encountered a problem gambler addicted to two-up. That is an interesting bit of trivia for everyone to take home with them. If anything, a slight extension of two-up to other days of significance would fit in with the Australian commemorative tradition when we remember our war dead not with strident nationalism but with a beer, a laugh and a few of these harmless games.

Perhaps that is the story of how Australia came to be known as “the lucky country.”

To many an Aussie, my complaints may just be examples of a lack of honour, duty, and the increasingly sacred tenet of Australian society; mateship. This is symptomatic of the fact I’m not a “digger,” not a patriot, and most definitely un-Australian. Peter Cochrane gathered a litany of such criticisms in his article for The Conversation’s article ‘The past is not sacred: the ‘history wars’ over Anzac.‘ Included in this piece is a quote from The Australian, originally published April 26, 2013. It reads:

The best advice we can offer is that they ignore the tortured arguments of the intellectuals and listen to the people, the true custodians of this occasion. They must recognise that the current intellectual zeitgeist is at odds with the spirit of Anzac. It recognises neither the significance of a war that had to be fought nor the importance of patriotism. Honour, duty and mateship are foreign to their thinking. They may be experts on many things, but on the subject of Anzac, they have little useful to say.

Arguably, ANZAC Day has become a leviathan of government and privately funded advertising, and the furtherance of an erroneous myth of Australianness that supports and underlies an increased sense of Australia as a military nation. It expresses a nationalism that feeds troubling social trends and promotes Anglo-centric white Australian patriotism.

ANZAC Day is supposed to be a remembrance, not just of the Gallipoli Campaign, but of all wars in which the Australian military have engaged, from the Boer War to Afghanistan. But we must not be confused, ANZAC Day is not for everyone.

The above video shows Murrawarri man Fred Hooper – a man who usually marches in official parades with his non-Indigenous Navy colleagues. Hooper’s grandfather served in WWI, and his great uncle was Harold West, who inspired ‘The Coloured Digger,’ a famous poem by WWII soldier Bert Beros. The poem was written while Beros and West were still on active duty, and it tells of the bravery of Private West, who attacked a Japanese machine-gun pit “single handed.” The final two stanzas read:

He’d heard us talk Democracy –
They preach it to his face –
Yet knows that in our Federal House
There’s no one of his race.
He feels we push his kinsmen out,
Where cities do not reach,
And Parliament has yet to hear
The abo’s maiden speech.

One day he’ll leave the Army,
Then join the League he shall,
And he hopes we’ll give a better deal
To the aboriginal

In 2015, Hooper decided to make the trip to Canberra to lead the ‘undeclared Frontier Wars’ march. As the Australian Federal Police Officer pointed out, “this day is not for you“, Mr Hooper.

In case you thought the AFP officer was just being nasty, or worse racist, he wasn’t really. They are, after all, the undeclared Frontier Wars. Wouldn’t it be disingenuous of us as a nation to recognise an Aboriginal military force as being raised and active at a time when we didn’t actually consider them a people; during a time when we didn’t consider them civilised enough to have so complex an institution as a military or even a guerilla force? Such things would fly in the face of terra nullius.

As Alan Stephens wrote for ABC s ‘The Drum’ in 2014:

According to the Australian War Memorial Act (1980), the AWM’s purpose is to recognise “active service in war or warlike operations by members of the Defence Force”. The act then defines “Defence Force” as “any naval or military force raised in Australia before the establishment of the Commonwealth”.

That definition allows the AWM to commemorate the wars of choice fought by white “Australians” in the Sudan, South Africa, and China before Federation, but excludes the war of necessity fought by Indigenous “Australians” for Australia itself between 1788 and the 1920s.

In other words, pre-Federation white volunteers who chose to fight overseas for the British crown and its commercial and colonial interests have been legally defined as “Australians”, while pre-Federation Indigenous warriors who fought invaders for their homeland, their families, and their way of life, have been officially defined out of our war commemoration history.

Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve have always been a way through which the neo-Pagan and Witch engages directly with the Ancestors. We actively feed them, their memory and propagate their wisdom, keeping that which enriches our lives. Not the positive and the happy memories alone, but also the negative, the difficult things as well. We recognise within these lessons and wisdom, which, by keeping, we strive against repeating mistakes of the past, in order to live more whole, healthier, and happier lives.

As ANZAC Day exerts its not so subtle influence on our lives and increasingly becomes associated with our Sabbat, what powers and structures are we feeding alongside our Beloved Dead? Are we so certain that “lest we forget” as a catch-phrase represents a concept wholly aligned with our goals at All Hallow’s? Here are some quotes:

Calypso Apothecary writes, “Today is Anzac Day. Gathering at dawn, today is a day to show respect and honour the men and women that served and died at war, fighting for our freedom. For me, this day also marks the beginning of Samhain. The decent into the dark part of the year and with the whole of Australia honoring those that have died, today they begin to walk among us.”

Coralturner writes, “In Australia Samhain occurs around the same time as Anzac Day. I find this significant as Anzac Day is the time of year that those from Australia and New Zealand remember those who died prematurely in war. Anzac Day is Ritualized across the country with services, parades, people getting together for meals to remember their deceased friends and relatives. Anzac biscuits are eaten and the game of Two-ups is played.”

Frances Billinghurst‘s, author of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, wrote,On the eve of 30 April those of us south of the equator pause in silent contemplation and remembrance of our ancestors. Following on the heels of Anzac Day (the day when those fallen in combat from Australia and New Zealand are remembered as well as the increasing number of victims of war), the timing for the Southern Samhain could not really be any better.”

The following was published on Spheres of Light: “It is a time to honour those who have gone before us and it is a poignant co-incidence that Australia and New Zealand’s day of Remembrance for their fallen in war, ANZAC Day on April 25, should be so close to the southern Samhain.”

Venerating the war dead is not new or unusual. Indeed, there are many military uniforms present on my own shrine to my Beloved Dead, and each serves to remind me to be thankful that for two generations, and counting, my family has not known war.  It is never a bad activity to remember the one thing that all wars have in common is a body count. The fact that, as a nation, Australia has troops currently deployed in conflict zones should be more readily discussed. History is written by the victors and we should examine how that fact has resulted in the otherwise contradictory nature of, on one hand, unabashed celebration of a mammoth defeat in a battle in a war we ultimately won, while on the other, denying completely the existence of a war fought on our own soil.

Another quote comes to us from writer Lee Pike, who lives in Perth. Ruminating on Samhain and ANZAC Day together, Pike writes:

I have been thinking a lot, too, about the role that my ancestors have on how I have been shaped and who I am today. How much are we products of our blood or of our soil? Do the dead remain on this plane or another? What can ancestor work offer a magical path? What would the Anzacs truly think about these ‘festivities’? I am sure the answers would be as diverse as they were. War is complex and so is the notion of sacrifice. When remembering the dead, the last thing we should do is boil it down to simple, digestible, and marketable slogans… and brands.

Lest we forget.

Blessed Samhain

The Wild Hunt —  October 31, 2015 — 1 Comment

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Tonight and tomorrow is when many modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. This holiday marks the start of winter and the new year according to the old Celtic calendar. It is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. Samhain is also recognized as the final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of all the modern Pagan holidays.

Samhain Altar [Wilhelmine, DeviantArt]

Samhain Altar [Wilhelmine, DeviantArt]

During this season, other celebrations and festivals are also being held such as Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic Pagans, Álfablót or the Scandanavian Sacrifice to the Elves, Winter Nights by Asatru, Foundation Night in Ekklesía Antínoou, Allelieweziel by the Urglaawe tradition, Fete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (Nov 11 this year) and the astrological Samhain on Nov 6 for some Witches and Druids. Finally, in the Southern Hemisphere, many Pagans are currently celebrating Beltane.

This season is a gift for pop culture practitioners, as the trappings of magick are just about everywhere hidden in plain sight in friendly pop culture packages. Everywhere you look things are draped in spiders, bats, witches, cauldrons, and cobwebs. Every television show has a Halloween special and spooky movies play on every channel; at least one channel seems to be playing nothing but Tim Burton movies. – Emily Carlin, Exoteric Magick: Pop Culture Practices for All

As I reflect on my fourth Samhain, I notice how profoundly my relationship with my community and Witchcraft has changed. While I had hoped to find new friends and power, I received more than that. I found loved ones whom I trust with my very life and I found empowerment. Each year I have grown more deeply into who I am. When I look back upon the desperate, abused wife wanting to end her life seven years ago, I hardly recognize her as my younger self … This year I am allowing myself to fall in love with Samhain. – Annika Mongan, Born Again Witch

In the faces of old women, these days, I see a lot of unfinished business. And in a few such faces, I see the bliss of knowing everything that needs doing has been done. As I go about my days, I am blessed to see families engaged in the important, loving work of saying everything that needs to be said; of holding one another in times of great emotion; of allowing each person to manage change and challenge in their own way … It is good to give honor to what must be lost before we let it go. – Maggie Beaumont, Nature’s Path

This is a nature-based holiday that celebrates the passing of fall and the onset of winter, the lengthening nights, the dying earth at the end of fall, and the relating of this death to our own mortality and the honoring of those who came before. My thoughts are on the seasonal change and the veneration of nature the whole time. It’s a beautiful thing. – Mike Ryan, Humanistic Paganism

Samhain is also a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently. – M. Macha Nightmare

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler, Pete Pathfinder, and many others who have not been not named here but who have equally touched our lives and our communities.

And, finally, in the spirit of Alley Valkyrie’s 2014 article, we also take a moment to remember the forgotten dead.

Grief is work. If you don’t know that, then your experience of grieving has been very different from mine. Grief is hard work, as hard as lifting a thousand pounds of emptiness, over and over again, with every breath, every moment of every day … This led me to thinking about how we could make this a sacred kind of work instead of a bare necessity? – Literata, Works by Literata

To honor Samhain let us live for a day as though it is our last. Let us see dawn and sunset and the beauty of the sky as though we might not see them again. Let us listen to the song of the birds as though they might not sing for us again. Let us live for a day, focused intensely in the absolute reality of the present, as though past and future do not exist. And then let us step forward on our journey around the Wheel, hopefully, purposefully, and with the courage and strength to live, to embrace, and to change the world. – Vivianne Crowley, Greening the Spirit

May you all have a blessed Samhain. May peace fall upon you and your beloved dead during this season. Let this be a new cycle of quiet joy and renewed blessings for all of you.

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[Columnist Lisa Roling is one of our talented monthly columnists. Typically she writes our book reviews. However, this month she takes a break to share her personal experience as a care giver. If you enjoy reading Lisa’s work, consider donating to our Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. We are completely reader-funded, so it is you that makes it all possible! So, donate today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

I didn’t give it much thought when the staff psychologist called and asked me to perform a suicide assessment on Glen.* Since I worked in palliative medicine, it was not an everyday occurrence for me like it was for the psychiatry department. But it wasn’t my first assessment and, as time has proven, it would also not be my last.

It was, however, the most memorable.

Glen was an elderly gentleman who had lived with a slow-growing cancer for nearly a third of his life. Aside from his cancer, his life had been full and good. His marriage was deeply satisfying until his wife’s death a few years prior. Glen enjoyed being a father and a grandfather. He had been passionate about his career then equally passionate about his retirement. His cancer had not been very threatening, just a sort of background noise that he occasionally had to deal with and manage. That was until the week before I met him.

Public Domain / Pixabay

Public Domain / Pixabay

His health had begun to decline significantly over the previous year, a sign that his cancer had become worse. He put off going to the doctor as he already knew what the news would be. He focused his energy instead on getting his affairs in order – updating his will to include his grandchildren; cleaning out and packing up his house; travelling as best he could.

When he did finally go to the doctor and do all the follow-up testing, it was discovered that he was terribly malnourished, had a life-threatening infection, and that his primary tumor had grown substantially. His doctor, apparently choosing to err on the side of blunt honesty, informed Glen that because of the location of his tumor, his death would be by asphyxiation. The tumor was destined to close off his airway over the next several months even though he would remain otherwise relatively healthy and competent. He would likely be very much aware of his suffocation, much as a person drowning would experience theirs.

Naturally, Glen was a horrified by this nightmarish prognosis. He was admitted to the hospital to begin a regimen of IV antibiotics for his infection. In a moment of honest dialogue with his nurse, he admitted that he had decided to commit suicide.

It was at this point that I was asked to see him. For the first 30 minutes of our visit, I just sat at his bedside and listened to Glen. Listening to him talk about his fears, his joys, his plans, including his plan to end his own life before that tumor could strangle him. When he finally turned to me I could sense his anger and defensiveness, as though he was ready to fight with me. As though he was ready to tell me where I could shove my platitudes. But I sat quietly, allowing the silence to be.

He eventually asked indignantly if I was going to have him involuntarily committed. I shook my head and said I saw no reason for it. He looked perplexed. He repeated to me that he fully intended to commit suicide as soon as things got really bad. I nodded and acknowledged his plan. He said again, as though I didn’t believe him, that he would kill himself; that he had been stockpiling opiates and benzos; that he had given many of his possessions away; that he was serious.

I nodded and acknowledged it all. Eventually, nonplussed by my seeming lack of alarm, he asked how I could support him leaving the hospital in a few days with such a plan in place. It was a fair question. 

Taking a chance, I said to Glen, “You said you aren’t ready to do it yet. It sounds like it will take you a few more months to take care of the things you want to accomplish before you kill yourself, so this doesn’t seem terribly urgent.” He blinked and seemed genuinely mystified. I added, “Besides, you just want more control over how you die. Given your prognosis, that’s understandable.”

The next several minutes were spent listening to his anger about wanting to have physician-assisted suicide and it not being available. Perhaps he should move to Oregon. Perhaps he could pay someone to give him an overdose of insulin. Why doesn’t he have the right to control the circumstances of his inevitable death? Why doesn’t he have the right to avoid the suffering that was predicted for him? What does anyone have to gain by watching him suffocate rather than just go peacefully?

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

Glen was in most ways the opposite of another patient in the hospital at the same time. Jennifer was a young woman who had lived an impoverished life. Not only was she raised in a family that was frequently homeless and always hungry, she had been terribly abused and sexually exploited beginning in early childhood. Jennifer became a shut-in as an adult, terrified by the world and the people in it. She had no family. She had no friends. Because she lacked sound medical care for years, by the time it was discovered that she had cancer, it was quite advanced.

Like Glen, Jennifer also had a tumor that was cutting off her airway. Unlike Glen, she was taking every offer of life-saving medical care offered to her. It started with chemo and radiation. Then it was a tracheotomy. Then it was a ventilator. Then it was drilling a tunnel through the tumor to allow air into her lungs.

Jennifer lived in a bed in our hospital for 6 months. What began as medical care to extend and improve her quality of life moved into the realm of medical interventions designed simply to delay death. Jennifer’s day consisted of pointing at letters on a board to communicate her needs, having diapers changed, getting bed baths, getting tube feedings, having her tracheotomy cleaned out, being shifted in the bed every hour to prevent skin breakdown, and pushing a button for more morphine.

It baffled most of her doctors and nurses when she still refused to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order. Despite a quality of life most of us would consider dismal and unthinkable, it was the first time in her life that her basic needs were met. It was the first time in her life that she felt safe and cared for. She went into cardiac arrest several times during her last week of life and each time her medical team helped her put her death off a little longer so she could enjoy this, the best time of her life.

I don’t think I would make the same decisions in the end of my life, but I understand how she came to value the life she had in the end, as much as I can understand it from my relatively privileged point of view. After her death, I grieved Jennifer’s life deeply, carrying the burden of her story in each chamber of my heart. I still think of her every Samhain, sending my love and care for her into the ethers.

I think of Glen each time I hear about the right-to-die movement. I think of his righteous anger, about his justified terror, about how cornered he felt to make a decision that did not fit in with his values because the options available to him were terribly inadequate. I think about the relief he expressed when I explained to him the potential option of a rarely used intervention called palliative sedation – the use of medications to reduce or remove conscious awareness of intolerable suffering at the end of life. I think about the strings I pulled to find a hospice that would consider providing this type of care, as it was (and still is) highly controversial.

Samhain Altar [Wilhelmine, DeviantArt]

Samhain Altar [Wilhelmine, DeviantArt]

But I mostly remember his smile and the immediate change in energy when he realized that he would not have to end his own life to avoid his doctor’s grim but accurate prediction. His change in plans when he realized he had a choice other than suicide. He went home the following week with my office number in his discharge paperwork.

I received a call from him several months later saying that he was ready to go on hospice care. His breathing had become difficult and he was too weak to care for himself at home. He moved into a hospice unit and, for a few weeks, moderate doses of morphine helped to ease the difficulty he experienced with his breathing. He spent those weeks sharing his most cherished memories with his family, laughing with the hospice staff, and enjoying his favorite foods for the last time.

When the morphine no longer sufficed and his gasping for whatever scraps of oxygen he could manage to inhale became too unbearable, palliative sedation protocols were implemented and he spent his last several days sleeping as comfortable as he possibly could. His dying process was peaceful as he wished for it to be. I also think about Glen each Samhain, grateful for the opportunity to sit at his bedside and help him plan the death he wished for himself.

I have no doubt that people will read Jennifer and Glen’s stories and have strong reactions. Death does that, but especially these sorts of deaths – the ones that are prolonged and full of difficult decision-making. It’s rare for me to find people who want to know they are dying. Most of us would rather die in our sleep or have a sudden aneurysm or stroke and die instantly, never knowing it was coming.

I also hear many people say vehemently that they would not accept any “life support,” having no awareness of how remarkably complex those decisions can be. There is no simple equation, after all, that can be implemented to determine the “best” course of action for any given person. Every person comes to death with unique life experiences, values, beliefs, and hopes and every person comes with different pain thresholds, physical abilities, and responses to medical intervention. All of these considerations (and so many more) contribute to the decisions made about how one will move toward their death. This is why I was able to sit with two different people going through nearly the same medical problem and be able to view each of their very different deaths as “good,” or at least as good as possible given the choices available.

Choice is the impetus behind support for physician-assisted suicide, and this desire for choice is leading to a growth in legislation securing terminally ill people access to medications that will hasten their dying. Though there are few states that allow for this, public support in the United States is strong and growing, with younger generations overwhelming in favor of this option being available. In some cases, just having the option is enough. It’s a comfort to know that there is a way out even if we choose not to take it.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

I am grateful for the work being done to make this option available to people with terminal illness, who are facing unfathomable suffering in their bodies, minds, or spirits. I am grateful to people like Brittany Maynard for helping us put aside the political rhetoric of the “Obamacare death panels” and to see a real person attached to these issues. I am grateful to the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have welcomed me into their homes and hospital rooms and helped me understand better what dying is and what it can be.  

This Samhain, I raise my chalice in toast to the people working to ensure we have a right to the best options medicine has to offer us at the end of our lives. I raise my chalice to the doctors, nurses, social workers, and countless others who sit at our bedsides with caring hearts and listening ears. And I raise my chalice to Jennifer, Glen, and Brittany to celebrate their courage, their lives, and their deaths. May they never thirst.

[Author’s Note: The names and identifying information have been changed or withheld to protect the privacy of my former patients and colleagues.]

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Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the calendar year, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our collective thoughts and guided our actions? In our worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? What were the high points and low?


public domain

The year 2014 kicked off with several debates already simmering. Early in January, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart’s quest to capitalize Pagan, which had begun in the fall of 2013, came to an end as the coalition mailed its petition to various style guide editors.  Although the immediate response was less than encouraging, The Associated Press did eventually revise its style guide to include Wicca. Whether the coalition’s work influenced that change is unknown. However, its letter may have triggered some level of awareness leading to that addition.

Another conversation brewing in those early months culminated in a packed PantheaCon session hosted in the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite. The debate over “Wiccan Privilege,” which began with a single article in the November 2013, inspired or incited a four-month blog-based debate. If nothing else, those conversations showcased the diversity and breadth of religious practices that, not only fall under the Pagan umbrella, but also run alongside it and near it; and often intersect with it.

Over the remainder of the year, many of these non-Wiccan based traditions and practices continued to demonstrate growth and forward momentum. For example, in September, was successfully launched and, more recently, Many Gods West, a new Polytheist conference, was announced. In August, the U.S. Air Force added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list.

Open Halls Project
As winter thawed into the brightness of spring, our collective communities were rocked with the news of Kenny Klein’s arrest. It served as almost a “wake-up” call, unearthing buried concerns, personal pain and collective traumas. Eventually the difficult conversations led to action. In May, the Council of the Phoenix was born, created by Green Egg Magazine editor Ariel Monserrat. In August, the Covenant of the Goddess established its own internal abuse advisory committee led by professional social workers and a psychotherapist. More recently, Lydia Crabtree established Pagan Pro, a project that proposes to qualify leaders. While time eventually gave way to other concerns, Klein’s arrest and the ensuing conversations brought to light serious problems that lurk in the shadows of many communities – not just Pagan or religious ones.

By late spring and early summer, attention had turned to the national and international news arena. In May, SCOTUS ruled on legislative prayer, “upholding the right of legislators to offer sectarian prayer before conducting business.” In June, SCOTUS ruled on the Hobby Lobby case, concluding that “some for-profit employers with religious objections do not need to provide contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).”

During that same period, Middle East violence began to heat up, drawing our attention to a world in crisis. ISIS, ISIL and now the IS became a household name, as the militant organization continued its assault on Middle Eastern territories and peoples. In addition, the Israeli and the Palestinian conflict escalated into a new round of military action. Israeli Pagans, reporting from within the war-torn region, called out for compassion and peace.

Inside an Israeli Pagan store, The White Wood Shop. [Courtesy Photo]

Inside an Israeli Pagan store, The White Wood Shop. [Courtesy Photo]

Throughout 2014, we covered other big stories originating from or affecting international Pagan communities, like the one in Israel. For example, the U.K.’s Centre for Pagan Studies, together with the Doreen Valiente Foundation, commemorated Gerald Gardner with a Blue Heritage Plaque. In South Africa, we spoke with SAPRA’s Damon Leff about the continued use of Witchcraft as a political weapon.  And, in Italy, the new Unione Comunità Neopagane was born.

As the wheel turned and summer came to an end, Pagan Pride Day and other harvest events were in full swing worldwide. For many people, it was “festival-as-usual,” but not for the Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary. Samhain 2014 marked the organization’s 40th anniversary, which it celebrated with month-long podcasts culminating in a single big birthday celebration.

At the same time, a uniquely modern problem emerged. First publicized by Sister Roma and other members of the drag queen community, Facebook’s “real name” policy became a thorn in many Pagans’ sides. Some of those affected included Silver Ravenwolf, Storm Faerywolf and Raven Grimassi.

Ironically, as many Witches struggled with Facebook over use of their Craft names, many of these chosen names were being featured in the mainstream news media. October is the month to interview a witch.

Outside of the festivities, celebrations and Halloween hullabaloo, this Samhain had a particularly pronounced sobering affect. We marked the passing of many Pagan loved ones, elders and leaders. As listed in our Wild Hunt Samhain post, those lost in 2014 included Margot Adler, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenhart, Jeff Rosenbaum, Lady Loreon Vigne, Sparky T. Rabbit, Apolinario Chile Pixtun, Peter Paddon, Brian Dragon, Donald Michael Kraig, Judy Harrow, Stanley Modrzyk, Colin Wilson, Jonas Trinkūnas, Eduardo Manuel Gutierrez (Hyperion), Randy David Jeffers (Randy Sapp), Chris Keith and Olivia Robertson. Since that Samhain article was published, Pete Pathfinder Davis and Niklas Gander have also passed, along with many others who are not named here.

Mother Tongue Singing at  Margot Adler's Memorial Oct. 31 [Courtesy Photo]

Mother Tongue Singing at Margot Adler’s Memorial Oct. 31 [Courtesy Photo]

In addition to the loss, the fall brought good news for two very public religious freedom cases. The Huntsville Alabama’s City Council invited Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk back to offer a pre-meeting invocation despite the citizen complaints. And, perhaps even more uplifting, the Maetreum of Cybele won its expensive and lengthly legal battle for property tax exemption.

These were not the year’s only triumphs. In Aug., Wiccan Janie Felix won her legal challange to Bloomingfield, New Mexico’s erection of a Ten Commandments monument. In Virginia, Priestess Maya White Sparks led the successful quest to remove antiquated anti-Tarot codes from the Town of Front Royal’s books. We also saw two Georgia college students defy the odds and form a campus-based “Old Faith Community” in their highly conservative school environment. And, finally, the New Alexandrian Library earned a certificate of occupancy and began the slow process of unpacking.

To add to that positive momentum, 2014 saw four openly Pagan or Heathen political candidates, including Cara Schulz in Minnesota, Kathryn Jones of Pennsylvania, Robert Rudachyk, in Canada’s Saskatoon West, and Ireland’s Deirdre Wadding, who won a seat on her local council.

As the final days of 2014 approached, holiday celebrations were once again tempered by national events. Just before Thanksgiving, our attention was drawn to a new place – Ferguson, Missouri. Since that day, the United States has not been the same. Frustration, pain, confusion and feelings of helplessness mingle with daily protests and pure rage. Over the past month, many people have donated time and money; spoken words of solidarity in many forms; have grieved; and have looked for ways to be part of a solution. This is story yet to be fully written.

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York at #ClimateMarch

Above are only a fraction of the many stories, reports and events that have touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. If we could sum the year up in one phrase or term, it might simply be #2014. The hashtag has become an increasingly useful rallying point, external to its Twitter origins, for many of the events and actions that have occurred throughout the year, from #PantheaCon, #PACO and #PaganPride to #MyNameIs, #ClimateMarch, and #blacklivesmatter.

As the final days of 2014 tick to a close, we say goodbye to what has been, and now ready ourselves for what is to come. #Bringon2015

This editorial was originally slated to be published two weeks ago, on the last day of our fund drive and a few days after Jason announced his retirement. However, life happened. As a result, we had to move with the news and not with our own agenda. I consider this a “take two” or perhaps even a “take three.” I have lost count. So before time escapes anymore and the world is lost beneath a flurry of silver solstice cheer, I now squeeze this article into the rotation. Please sit back and relax as I welcome you to join us as The Wild Hunt begins its new journey…

I remember as a child standing in the expansive LAX airport, tears rolling down my face, as we readied to board a jumbo jet and to wave goodbye to my grandparents. The pain of leaving was always oppressive. The bonds, which had been forged over a week’s vacation in sunny California, were now stretching, buckling and tearing under the weight of those goodbyes. Before stepping out into the jetway, my grandmother would always kneel down and hug me one last time. I would muddle out a little “goodbye” between sobs and, she would always say back, “This is not goodbye, Heather. This is just a ‘see you later.'”

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

Of course, the time eventually came when the ‘see you later’ didn’t happen. My grandmother died around Samhain 1999 before I could have one last hug. As painful as that was, the spirit of her yearly wisdom remained with me. Even before she died, I began to better understand the power in those words. When I embraced Paganism, their meaning deepened and eventually evolved into a profound truth. There is never truly a “goodbye.” There is always a ‘see you later.’

This concept is particular powerful at this time of year, as the veil thins and we honor our dead. As one road ends, another is always waiting. The memories and imprints of past journeys, good or bad, remain with us as we embark on new roads. The past becomes the archives of our lives – ready to guide, ready to remind, ready to influence. Although it may be hard to let go and frightening to continue, the journey does continue.

After landing back in New York City and returning to my daily routine, I carried with me the memories of our California vacation. I remember picking lemons off the tree while listening to my grandparents’ tales of working in Hollywood during its golden era. I remember my grandfather’s woodshed and my grandmother’s bright pink lipstick. Memories of those summer days made my childhood richer and stronger. They undeniably shaped my future. Furthermore, the bonds between us never broke no matter how far we traveled; even beyond the veil.

So here I am, at Samhain, facing another transition. The Wild Hunt has said goodbye to its founder and turned its attention to a new era. For me, this change is quite profound. Samhain not only marks my transition to full-time editor but also my start as a weekly Wild Hunt writer. My first article, an interview with actor Mark Ryan, was posted Oct.27 2012. Now, almost exactly two years later, I find myself taking on the role of steering this crazy ship or, better yet, leading this proverbial “wild hunt.” As it has always been for me, Samhain brings ends and beginnings.

When I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason said, “Write a post introducing yourself.” I never did. So I suppose this will serve partly as my introduction. Who will be managing The Wild Hunt going forward? Being a Gemini that is an extremely complicated question. What day is it?

Perhaps you would prefer to know what led me to Paganism? Last year, I was asked to write that story as a guest blog post and can still be read online. It has something to do with Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, high school angst, social anarchy and Manhattan.

What I can say now, in clarity, is that it all started with that book – The Heart of Darkness. There in that place, where all the social constructs are gone, there is nothing but raw, unbridled, animalistic humanity – body and blood, love and lust, hate and rapture, and spirit. It is the elemental point of beginnings. It is only from that point that we can see the world for what it is – a stack of cards. It is only from that point we can see ourselves, explore our past and find our motivation. It is honesty at a critical level. Deep within the Heart of Darkness, we are pure. Coming out from that space is the journey of a lifetime – and it just may blow your mind.

But that saga has already been written.

So let me begin at Samhain 2012. When Jason first asked me to contribute, I was very surprised. “Who Me? Why? Are you certain that you dialed the correct phone number?”

[Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

Deer in Headlights [Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

I had just ended a freelance job writing for an L.A. public relations firm. Sculpting articles for the wireless technology industry had become less than inspiring. I desperately wanted to produce something meaningful; something with more substance than could ever be extracted from stories on “converting old routers to access points” or “the right settings for optimal wireless streaming.”

Do I really need to elaborate on how Jason’s invitation presented a very welcome change?

Now exactly two years have passed and the best part of the entire experience has been in the learning. Before writing for The Wild Hunt, I was only moderately aware of the myriad colors, details and diversity present within the collective communities for whom we write. I did not personally know anyone practicing Asatru, or a Polytheism or Hellenic Reconstructionalism. Now I work with one of each. You can’t get that writing publicity materials for wireless corporations – at least not yet.

Last spring, when Jason asked me to take over as editor, I was equally surprised – honored but surprised. Stepping into the editor’s role brings with it new obstacles that will, no doubt, be difficult and, at times, grueling. However I’m willing to stand in that space and take up the reins, because I know that the work will ultimately be rewarding for me personally, for our writers and for our readers.

While the entire staff was sad to see Jason leave, we recognize and embrace the need for change – both his and ours. We are collectively thankful to him for providing us with the opportunity to be a part of this wild journey.

On Samhain, we finally closed that door and, in doing so, I was reminded of my grandmother’s words: “See you later.” Although one era is over, the cycle of influence never ends. Jason has left an enduring legacy and a strong foundation here. That influence remains no matter where he travels next or where we go. In that way, our “goodbye” is only a ‘see you later.’

This year’s fall funding drive was a huge success. With your generosity and help, we reached our goal in just two weeks and, then, far exceeded it. Thank you. All of those donations and words of support have empowered us to maintain and hopefully expand our work. Our columnists will be returning at their regular times to explore and discuss the issues of the day. Our two weekly staff writers will be covering the news as it happens. Next month, we will be welcoming our eighth and final weekend columnist, who will be focusing on the issues and subjects important to the youngest members of our communities – the college and high school students.

As editor, I will strive to uphold the ethical standards, sensitivity and substance, which has been the hallmark of The Wild Hunt. Our mission will not change. We will aim to provide a broad spectrum of news and poignant commentary as we have always done since The Wild Hunt‘s inception as one man’s blog and through its evolution into a respected independent news organization.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

As we usher in this new era, I welcome everyone to join us on the journey. Every day as we publish, we will be leaving new footprints along the path.Those marks will eventually become the memories of tomorrow – ones that will linger in a liminal presence waiting to inform, remind and advise our future writers and editors. And, as such, the cycle will continue on.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting us. And most importantly…see you later.

Column: Mise en scène

Eric O. Scott —  November 7, 2014 — 3 Comments
Deryk and Carrie Alldrit, the founders of the coven that would eventually become my coven.

Deryk and Carrie Alldrit, the founders of the coven that would eventually become my coven – my great grandparents, in a sense.

It begins with a woman holding a candle. She is walking around the room, a guide for the priestess, who is casting the circle for Samhain. But don’t look at the priestess just yet; hear her, yes, hear the words that begin every circle in our tradition, but watch the woman with the candle. The first bit of magick walks with her – for she is not only a woman with a candle, but an Evening Star, a psychopomp, the leader on a path down into the underworld. In the double-sight of ritual, she is both physical and mythical, both our friend and an unfamiliar star. Long before we make an open invocation to a god or a spirit, the magick has already begun.

A few months ago, I had a discussion about one of my essays with my doctoral committee chair. In the essay, I talked briefly about writing rituals – the choices we make in what to include, what to leave out, and what to invent anew. My advisor was surprised and delighted by this passage, because she had never heard of such a thing: the idea of writing a ritual struck her as a novel concept. She had never thought that a religious practice could also be a creative act.

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation, because it had never struck me that religion could be anything else. Ritual writing has always been at the heart of Paganism for me, so much so that I had always assumed that was just how Paganism worked everywhere. You might keep certain touchstones from year to year – the kings of Oak and Holly, the burning of John Barleycorn, the Maypole, and so on – but the actual form of the ritual changes every time, and even those touchstones find new shades of meaning as the ritual surrounding them changes. Now I know that there are actually many Pagans who dislike the idea of “new rituals,” and prefer that the word ritual be taken more literally: a ceremony repeated year-in and year-out, a constant in the turbulence of the rest of our lives. I understand that sentiment, and even sympathize with it, but I still reject it – at least for my own purposes. For me, much of the point is to be found in adding something new that still fits into the tradition. The hard, joyful work for me is in writing a ritual for, say, Samhain, that is not the same as any Samhain ceremony my coven has ever done before, but still feels right for the occasion.

In this case, the ritual started with one image: take a dark room – a basement, somewhere literally under the earth – and turn it into the underworld. Light it with a single candle; make that candle the center of the universe. Whenever something important happens, the candle moves to that actor; when the candle moves, the circle moves with it. That idea – the candle, and the darkness surrounding it – was the first thought I had when I began thinking about a Samhain ritual a year and a half ago. Even at that remove, everything in the ritual revolved around that single point of light.

I wanted to do this in deliberate contrast to the last sabbat my friends and I had performed at last year’s Beltane. That ritual was very much about light and color. We held it outside during the day, wore bright, ostentatious costumes, and danced a Maypole covered in a spectrum of pastel ribbons. We never brought up the way we used these visual tools to reinforce the message of our ritual deliberately – there was no point at which Sarah, my friend and priestess, announced that we were wearing bright colors to subconsciously reinforce the themes of creativity and hope found in the words of the ritual. She didn’t have to; the light did that work in silence, the way the cinematography shapes a film. Our Samhain would try to do the same with darkness.

I have written elsewhere about the project Sarah, I, and the other second-generation Pagans in my family set before ourselves: a grand cycle of sabbats, one a year for eight full spins of the Wheel. I suppose I have never worked on one thing for such a long time; eight years is long enough ago that, between here and there, I’ve finished two degrees, moved to three different cities, written two books, and gotten married. To say that I’ve changed in that time is such an obvious statement as to be absurd; every cell in my body has been shed and replaced since I first drew a pentagram into salt and water at Lughnasadh. This Samhain was the final ritual in our cycle; everything else had been leading up to it.

I wanted our ritual to be thoughtful, and, if possible, kind. Samhain is, necessarily, about death. While we could have made our ceremony a hard and unflinching one – the kind where you’re reminded that death comes to everyone, that there’s no escaping it and no ameliorating it – that felt cruel to me. We have had a lot of death in our family in the past few years, and I didn’t want to hurt the grieving any more than necessary. So instead, we focused on the memory of the dead. We always walk in their footsteps, I said at one point in the ritual, but only at Samhain do the dead stand next to us in the circle. As the ritual began, I tried to visualize those members of our family who had passed on into the next world standing among us: Deryk and Carrie, Ailene, Stephen, Image, Deborah, Kelson, Tom, others whom I knew I would inevitably fail to recall. They felt closer in the darkness, in the flickering candlelight.

I don’t know what other people do at Samhain. At ours, we call the names of the dead, just before the Great Rite. It’s one of the touchstones I mentioned earlier, like the Maypole or the Holly King; it’s the moment when we give voice to our memories. I like to think of it as the holiest moment in our Wicca: the time when we remember those who have walked before us, the time when others will someday remember us. In the darkness, we call to the past. Go if you must, but stay if you will, we tell the ones who have gone before. Hail and farewell, until the next time we call their names at Samhain.