Archives For Samhain

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.

Blessed Samhain

Heather Greene —  October 31, 2014 — 4 Comments

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

Ancestor Altar

Ancestor Altar

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 ElvesWinter Nights by Asatru, Foundation Night in Ekklesía AntínoouFete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (October 23 this year) and the astrological Samhain on November 6th for some Witches and Druids. Finally, in the Southern Hemisphere, many Pagans are currently celebrating Beltane.

We pray to those whose names are gratefully remembered. This includes people we were directly related to by blood, and also anyone we cared for who has passed on. These prayers remind us of the sacredness and impermanence of life. It reminds us of the strengths these people had, the challenges they faced, and the courage they roused up. They urge us to have these things too as we face the new day. – Lilith Dorsey, Voodoo Universe

The Crone is the guardian of the crossroads, and this is Her time. As we journey through our lives we come to many crossroads; we have so many choices, so many roads not taken. How do we choose? How do we know we’ve made the right choice? – Nicole Kapise-Perkins, Walking the Ancient Paths of Witches & Pagans

There’s something spooky and marvelous about Samhain-time, something that was expressed by the Celts and by more modern peoples afterwards … There’s an irrepressible spirit in the air this time of year. It lived with our pagan forbearers and lives within us. – Jason Mankey, Raise the Horns

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

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including 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, Olivia Robertson and many others who have not been not named here, but who have equally touched our personal lives and our communities.

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

On the whole … the ancient feast of Winter’s Eve has regained its ancient character, as a dual time of fun and festivity, and of confrontation of the fears and discomforts inherent in life, and embodied especially in northern latitudes by the season of cold and dark. – Ronald Hutton, The Guardian

So as we approach Samhain we honor the cycle of death, rebirth, and new life; and we honor the memory of those who have passed through the veil. We honor too the gift of life, that most precious of gifts, and we seek to drink of the cup of the wine of life to the full so that no precious drop is ever wasted. – 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.

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

2433370_1414184043.751On Oct 24, Brian Dragon (Tony Spurlock) passed away. He was a beloved member of the Feri Tradition, an active participant in many Bay Area Pagan groups, an occult scholar and talented Bard, who loved to sing and tell stories. The loss has been felt by many in the local community.

To help fund funeral expenses, his friends launched a GoFundMe campaign to pay “for the cost of an urn and cremation so that Rhiannon can find comfort amongst family and friends and closure as she mourns the passing of her partner in life and magic.” Less than 3 days later, the goal of $2000 was reached and exceeded. This show of support demonstrates the true coming together of community for the care of a family and in tribute to a treasured friend and spirit. Organizer Maya Grey expressed her heartfelt thanks on the funding site.

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The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

On Oct 21, the New York State Court of Appeals began hearing oral arguments in the Maetreum of Cybele case. As we have reported in the past, the Maetreum of Cybele has been caught in an eight year legal battle with the town of Catskill over its property tax-exempt status. In 2013, the Appellate Division of the state’s supreme court ruled in favor of the Maetreum, but the city would not relent, and appealed once again.

The day after the oral arguments were heard, the organization said,The Maetreum exists because of one miracle from the Goddess after another. We never should have been able to buy the property but did … never should have been able to stay in the legal battle to the end but did. We view the property as belonging to the Goddess.” Currently, the Maetreum reports that it still owes $1360 in legal fees and its fundraising efforts are ongoing. However, once those bills are paid and legal processes are over, the organization hopes to return to the project of getting its “community low powered FM radio station on the air.”

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Pantheon FoundationThe Pantheon Foundation will be hosting the first annual Pagan Activism Conference Online (PACO) Nov 22-23 2014. The conference will take place entirely online, allowing for global participation and attendance. According to the website, “The goal of the Conference is to equip Pagan activists from all over the country with the tools necessary to advance the goals and aims of their own activist efforts, and to build bridges between Pagan activists for mutual support.” The keynote speaker will be T. Thorn Coyle. Registration, information and a schedule of events are currently listed on the site.

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[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

With frustration mounting, Silver Ravenwolf has responded to the Facebook name controversy with a new blog post. A few days earlier, she told The Wild Hunt, in part, “As the days progressed I’ve received many e-mails and posts about individuals who have been targeted — radio show hosts, tattoo artists, writers, singers, Native Americans, etc. — but, more worrisome? Many of the individuals indicated they fought and lost, that the experience was painful and upsetting, and that they were treated unkindly by FB employees.” Ravenwolf added that she will fight this because, “FB is purposefully putting the safety and security of individuals at risk — and that is unconscionable.”

In Other News:

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It took me a few hours to find the girl whose face had appeared to me so clearly that morning, but as soon as I spotted the figure sitting on the bench out of the corner of my eye, I immediately knew that I had found the right person. She had a pile of cards, a handwritten cardboard sign, and, as my eyes met hers, she broke into an impish grin. She was definitely the one.

I handed her five dollars and sat down on the blanket.

“What is your question?” she asked me.

“I need to know what story to tell,” I answered.

She drew three cards, turned them over in front of me, and started to study them. As soon as I glanced at the cards, an old friend flashed through my mind, and instantly my question was answered. I quickly glanced at the cards again, snapped a picture of them with my phone, and then gently interrupted her thought process.

“No need,” I told her. “All I needed was to see the cards. I’ve got everything I need to know now.”

She looked at me, puzzled. “If all you needed was to see the cards, why did you pay me for a reading?”

“I was supposed to seek you out,” I answered, momentarily drifting back to the vision I had on the riverbank that morning and remembering that I had neglected an important detail. “I was also supposed to compensate you twice what you asked, so here…”

I reached into my pocket, handed her another five dollars and started to get up.

“Wait,” she said. “I have to ask. What’s the story? What are you writing about?”

“Its about the dead,” I quickly answered, realizing as the words left my mouth that she deserved more of an explanation than that. I took a breath and tried again. “I’m being nagged to write about the dead. But I’ve got too many possibilities in my head and I was drowning in an indecisive fog. Those three cards made it perfectly clear who and what I need to write about.”

She smiled and nodded. I thanked her again and headed home, ever so grateful for the simplicity of that exchange.

*  *  *

It was Samhain, and we had dedicated the day to honoring the forgotten.

We had started the afternoon at Washington Square Park, on the east side of the park where an estimated 20,000 bodies were buried and forgotten beneath one of New York City’s most well-known landmarks. The park was packed that day with children and adults alike in Halloween costumes, milling about in anticipation of the parade that would pass through Greenwich Village in just a few hours.

Jim and I stuck out for our lack of costumes and, yet instantly, attracted attention as we spread flowers throughout the east side of the park and sang songs and left offerings for the dead, purposefully ignoring the confused and questioning stares from passers-by. The crowds of people dressed as ghouls and ghosts hadn’t a clue that they were atop one of the city’s largest graveyards, and observing the depths of that ignorance only fueled our energy towards the task at hand. If only they knew what lies beneath, I thought to myself as I sprinkled flowers along the perimeter of the park.

From Washington Square, we walked uptown to Madison Square Park and then Bryant Park, performing the same ritual again in both places, and then briefly over the pedestrian bridge to Ward’s Island and back before taking the 6 train up to Pelham Bay in the Bronx and hopping a bus over to City Island.

The day before, I had arranged to borrow a boat from a friend whose family lived out on the island. It was a rickety old skiff, perhaps 12 feet long with a sputtering old Evinrude motor, that had seen better days but was sufficient for the purpose of our voyage. I was given a quick lesson on the boat’s quirks and operations before dragging her on the dolly down to the dock. I looked out into the water and focused my eye towards our destination in the distance.

City Island (left) and Hart Island (right). Photo by Bjoertvedt.

City Island (left) and Hart Island (right). Photo by Bjoertvedt.

The sun was just starting to set as we strapped on our life jackets, grabbed a few flashlights and a set of oars, and headed out into Long Island Sound with a large plastic bag filled with fresh-cut flowers. It was a clear night, the water was still, and Jim piloted the boat while I helped navigate us northeast past Rat Island, the nautical map of this stretch long committed to my memory. I had been out on the Sound only a few times before in years past, but I had taken this trip many times in my mind, to the point where I felt a definitive déjà vu while we crossed the sound, despite the fact that I had never taken this exact route before.

A short time later, we stopped the boat and shut the motor off a hundred feet or so away from the shoreline near the northernmost tip of Hart Island. We carefully stood up in the boat and gazed out towards the island, immediately noticing that the land formation before us was literally shrouded in mist against an otherwise clear sky. Without a word we each grabbed an oar and slowly rowed closer in silence, drawn to the eerie, numinous energy that was emanating from the shoreline. Before us was a literal island of the dead, a 101-acre tract of land that held the distinction of being the largest publicly-owned burial ground in the world.

Over a million of New York’s indigent, forgotten, stillborn, and otherwise unclaimed dead are buried on Hart Island. The island has served as New York’s potter’s field since 1868, when the city purchased the island and designated it as “a public burial place for the poor and strangers.” Prior to the city’s acquisition of Hart Island, potter’s fields had been maintained throughout Manhattan from the time of the city’s inception. The area that is now Madison Square Park was the first large-scale potter’s field, until the city purchased the area that is now Washington Square Park in 1797 and designated that tract as a potter’s field until 1825. Bryant Park was used to bury the indigent from the 1820s until just before the Civil War; Ward’s Island was then used for burials for several years prior to the purchase of Hart Island in 1868.

In addition to a potter’s field, Hart Island had also alternately housed an insane asylum, a drug treatment center, a boys’ reformatory, a tuberculosis sanitarium, prison dormitories, and a Nike missile base. The island was dotted with ruins from these various incarnations – ruins that were left crumbling and unexplored as the island had been closed to the public for as long as anyone could remember. The burials on Hart Island were performed by prison inmates from nearby Rikers Island. The inmates and employees of the New York City Department of Corrections were the only living souls legally permitted on the island. Signs warning the public not to land ashore were scattered all around the perimeter of the shoreline, and anyone who did step foot on the island was potentially subject to arrest.

A trench at the potter's field on Hart Island, circa 1890. Photo by Jacob Riis.

A trench at the potter’s field on Hart Island, circa 1890. Photo by Jacob Riis.

Before I had met Jim, I had never even heard of a potter’s field, let alone had any thoughts of ever visiting one on Samhain night. I had occasionally wondered in the past what became of those who died and were unclaimed, or those whose families could not afford a burial. But I had never taken those thoughts to their logical conclusion until I started spending time with the segment of society that tends to end up in such places. I understood why nobody ever spoke of potter’s fields, as poverty and death are equally uncomfortable subjects as far as society is concerned. And yet, I found that once it truly sunk in – that there were untold thousands of the forgotten dead scattered throughout New York City – I couldn’t ignore or look away from the implications of that knowledge. I felt a need to honor them, and I wasn’t alone in that feeling.

Jim was unusually familiar with Hart Island, having worked as a prison laborer on the island during his last stint at Rikers some years back. A long-time petty criminal, he consistently credited his experiences at Hart Island with scaring him straight and setting him on the right path. Burying the indigent dead had moved something in him, forced him to examine his life and the hand that he was dealt. He spoke of the dead redeeming him in the same emotional manner that so many others spoke of Christ and, while I hadn’t known him prior to his prison experiences, I could regularly sense the deep changes that were continually occurring within him. He was homeless, struggling with sobriety, and stumbled regularly in that struggle, and yet there was a consistent fire within him that lifted him through his struggles, a fire that was deeply connected to the sense of purpose that he found while working with the dead on Hart Island.

“I got at least ten or eleven friends out there, that I know of, anyway,” he had said to me a few weeks prior to our trip. “Two of them died while I was locked up that last time, and for all I know I helped to bury them. It’s literally an island of forgotten souls out there for the most part. Most folks don’t even know its there.”

He told me of the memorials that the prisoners would build after they finished filling a trench. Altars of sticks and rocks, left in corners and crevasses throughout the island, built out of a sense of solidarity and empathy with those inside the simple wooden coffins that they stacked into the trenches day after day. “After a while, you feel a responsibility, an obligation to the task,” he told me. “Being locked up is a lesson in what it means to be forgotten. and most everyone who ends up on Hart Island is forgotten, whether you’re out from your cell for the day or freshly arrived in a wooden box. The forgotten in boxes, after a while, you realize that you’ve got perhaps a little too much in common with them.”

I thought of Jim’s time out on the island as we rowed close to shore and, as I looked over at him, I had a feeling that his thoughts were in similar places. We steered the boat eastward through the still water, and slowly started to circle around the island. I grabbed the bag of flowers and started to sprinkle them out of the side of the boat as we moved through the water. Jim rowed, and I sprinkled flowers, and we sang songs and prayers, rowing a full circle around the island of the forgotten dead as the sun set behind us.

As we made our way around the island, serenading the dead, the mist over the island started to glow in the  moonlight. We felt shifts in the air as the island seemed to respond to our presence. A whistling breeze picked up, and it was almost as if the dead were singing along with us. The veil was thin, time and place started to blur, and there was a sense of ever-strengthening connection as we slowly rowed through the water.

By the time we had completely circled around Hart Island, it was well after dark and both of our voices were hoarse. The island was pitch black, the moon was half-full, and we sat in the boat staring out at the island, watching as a sudden gust of wind stirred the mist that had been hovering throughout our journey around the island. We looked at each other and without a word spoken we decided it was time to depart. Jim started up the engine, which promptly sputtered and died, and we took it as a sign to maintain our silence as we gently rowed back to City Island without a word said between us.

As we landed back on City Island, the sky opened up and it started to pour, and as we looked back towards the opposite shore, the island of the dead was still eerily glowing.

*  *  *

In the time since our trip out to Hart Island, which took place in either 2002 or 2003, the island’s existence and the mystery around it has become much more well-known and widely publicized.

Among those buried at Hart Island are an untold number of stillborn children who died in city hospitals, many whom were buried at Hart Island without the knowledge or permission of the mother. Many of those mothers, along with the help of a local filmmaker and advocate, steadily fought the city and the Department of Corrections for the right to visit Hart Island. The department had always refused all requests to access the Island, from grieving relatives to filmmakers and journalists alike, but over the years their fight has gained traction, and the department gradually started to soften their position. In 2007, the department allowed ‘closure visits’ for the first time, which they granted only to family members who could legally prove that they had a relative buried on the island. The families were restricted to a gazebo next to the dock at Hart Island and had no view of the actual gravesites.

After eight women threatened to file suit against the Department of Corrections in 2010, seeking to visit the actual grave sites of their children, the department finally relented and allowed the women to visit the graves under tight security. The Department simultaneously lifted the overall requirement that visitors to the island need to legally justify their request through burial records. According to the Department of Corrections website, Hart Island is currently open to the public on a limited basis, although the visits are still restricted to the same rules that govern visits to Rikers Island, which means that no photographs, flowers, or mementos are allowed.

I lost touch with Jim a few years after our trip, and learned from an acquaintance several years later that he had died of cirrhosis in the hospice ward of Bellevue Hospital after a long battle. I was told that his body was unclaimed after his death, which means he was undoubtedly buried on Hart Island.

I put this story to words in the spirit of honoring his memory, and in the hopes that others will take it upon themselves to remember and honor the otherwise forgotten dead. What is remembered, lives.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.


  • A prison beard ban case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could have far-reaching implications for religious freedom in our prisons. An anaylsis at SCOTUSblog of Holt v. Hobbs notes that SCOTUS have already ruled that corporations have the ability to avoid complying with some government mandates that they believe infringe on their religious beliefs, but what about prisoners? Quote: “Having ruled that a corporation can rely on the devoutly Christian beliefs of its owners to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, will at least five Justices be equally receptive to an inmate’s desire to comply with his Muslim religion by growing a half-inch beard? Throw in yesterday’s announcement that the Justices will review the case of a Muslim teenager who alleges that she was not hired for a job at a popular clothing chain because she wears a headscarf, and it looks like it could be another significant Term for religious freedom at the Court.” The Becket Fund frames the case as whether prison officials can arbitrarily ban a religious practice (in this case beard-growing).
  • Is religion on the wane in the West (say that ten times fast)? There’s some recent evidence that it might be. Ben Clements at British Religion in Numbers analyzes the latest British Election Study (BES), which shows a huge growth in “nones” (those who don’t identify with having any particular faith identity). Quote: “The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%.” It should also be noted that “other” faiths are also on the rise among younger respondents. Meanwhile, in the United States, a growing majority thinks that religion is losing its influence over American life. This is according to a Pew Research poll. Quote: “Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade.” 
  • Religion News Service covers the latest iteration of people over-reacting to Halloween, in this case a school district in New Jersey that banned, then un-banned Halloween parties. Quote: “For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus. But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.” Of course, Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, it’s a Christian holiday that was thoroughly secularized over the last 100 years. Now, Samhain (and other pre-Christian harvest/Winter festivals), that’s a different matter. Anyway, what’s truly ironic is re-labeling Halloween as a “Harvest Festival” just makes is sound MORE Pagan, not less. Stick with the jack-o-lanterns and candy.
  • Catholicism is slowly losing its grip on Brazil, but that hasn’t dimmed the popularity of an annual processional in honor of the Virgin Mary. Quote: “An arduous public display of devotion, Cirio (pronounced see-rio) has persisted and thrived as a centerpiece of Amazonian regional culture — maintaining consistent levels of participation year to year — even as Catholicism loses ground to evangelical faiths in a dramatic transformation of Brazilian society.” Why the enduring popularity? Because the festival goes deep into the cultural history of their society, quote, “in Brazil, where African and indigenous traditions melded with Christianity for centuries and where Catholicism has deep cultural roots, religious identities are not so clear-cut.” Indeed, indeed. Meanwhile, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths feel under attack.
  • Affirming belief in a higher power, or going back to jail? Thanks to a lawsuit in California, that may be a choice that’s on its way to extinction. Quote: “The real victory here is that California will no longer be able to force anyone into a faith-based treatment program. It’s fine to have different rehab programs available to drug offenders – even if they’re faith-based – but religious ones must remain optional.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on how two prominent Santeria organizations (Kola Ifa and Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé) have joined forces to, quote, “establish a central and very visible hierarchy for a faith often associated by outsiders with mysterious rites, colorful deities and animal sacrifices.” Here’s a video report on this new agreement. I’m thinking this move could have significant ripples into the wider Santeria/Lukumi world.

That’s all I have for right now, as always, some of these stories may be expanded on in future Wild Hunt posts. Thanks for reading, have a great day!

IMG_2836There are so many different ways to celebrate during this time of year, and the plethora of Pagan celebrations go throughout the month of October and through the first week of November. While a large majority of Pagan practices happen on October 31st or November 1st, the actual astrological day for Samhain this year is November 7th, lending for more time to have more celebrations. Festivals of ancestral honor continue in many different traditions and cultures; two of the most known, of course, include Dias De Los Muertos ending November 2nd, and All Saints Day on November 1st.

After writing my ancestral piece last month, we were contacted by a priestess in the Bay Area about her coven’s practices and process of ancestral worship. I took the opportunity to correspond with Cynthia of Circle of Winged Toads, a coven that is a descendant from the Compost Coven started in the 70’s, because I was very moved by the pictures of their elaborate ancestor altar.

Different practices dictate different processes, and the length of time needed for the preparation of any rite; practices at this time of year can take a matter of days or weeks to get ready for.  This is one of the covens that take a lot of time in preparation to put up their ancestor altar every year.  I found the pictures of the altar that were sent to the Wild Hunt fantastic and quite fascinating. Cynthia answered a few questions for me about the altar and ancestral practice during this time of year.

IMG_2835What do you find to be important about this time of year?

I feel connecting with ancestral spirits and my own mortality is important at this time of year. I also want to honor those in the community who have passed. This year I noticed that where as I used to have several people each year who had died from AIDs now it is bicyclists here in San Francisco. So I hung white ghost bikes on the altar.

How long have you been building this ancestral altar?

I have been doing this for around 25 years. It started pretty simple using the buffet in my dining room. As I continued to host our covens ritual each year people would leave things behind. So when I take the altar down I save photos and drawings for the next year. Thanks goddess I have an attic.

When do you put it up and take it down, and how long does it take?

I put it up over 2-3 days in early to mid October. Then fine turn as I meditate with the spirits each evening. I leave it up until early November so I can appreciate the transformation after the covens ritual on Samhain night.

What types of things do you look for in a well-crafted altar and how do you gauge what should go on it?

It’s all about the spirit. Items that belonged to my grandmother always have pride of place. I am fortunate to live in San Francisco within walking distance of the Mission district where I can find many Dia De Los Muertos items that are beautifully made. I like a touch of whimsey too.

IMG_2837Inspiration, creativity, and ideas can be ignited by the sharing of some of the incredible practices of other Pagans.   I hope you enjoy the pictures of this incredible and detailed altar as much as I did.

As the ancestral celebrations this time of year come to a close, I wish everyone a season of love, health, wisdom and guidance. May those who have gone before inspire and inform us on our journeys.