Archives For Seba O’Kiley

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Part of Southern culture is a deep loyalty to one’s Alma mater. That loyalty is often synonymous with kinship, sister or brotherhood and community. Although this deep attachment is most obvious during big sporting events, it lasts long after the lights are dimmed on any playing field.

"William J. Samford Hall" at Auburn Univ. [Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr/Wikimedia CC. lic]

“William J. Samford Hall” at Auburn Univ. [Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr/Wikimedia CC. lic]

For that very reason, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren was all the more devastated when she found out that her position as an english instructor at Auburn University (AU) had been terminated without a given reason. Not only was she an employee but also a three time Auburn graduate. When she was in her 30s, with a GED, three children and divorce papers in hand, she earned a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. She says:

As an alumni, myself, I cannot reconcile such an action against my deep loyalty to my university …  I have been, in effect, disowned by the very institution that created me as a teacher and a scholar without any more ado than that given to a stranger.

In the local Alabama Pagan community and in the blogosphere, Dr. Privett-Duren is better known as Seba O’Kiley, the Southern Fried Witch. She has been a spiritual leader, Pagan teacher and blogger for years. However, until May, her two identities were, more or less, kept separate. Religion is generally not discussed. A former English Department colleague Dr. Robin E. Bates said:

In the Auburn English department, faculty and staff don’t discuss religious feeling openly. I think that, for  most, this is because it is a publicly funded school and many feel that faith has no role in the workplace there … No one discusses religion with students, because it’s outside the purview of the job as teachers of English, and discussion of anything personal like religion would be considered unprofessional.

While some colleagues, like Dr. Bates, knew Dr. Privett-Duren’s religion and even followed her Pagan blog, the College of Liberal Arts administration did not. Due to the alleged “hush hush” circumstances surrounding her termination, Dr. Privett-Duren believes that her religion was, in fact, the cause. She explained:

They [administrators] found out when a colleague complained about me to the Dean’s office. I have never been allowed to know the details of that complaint and it (apparently) was unfounded and dropped. Soon thereafter, the Dean asked that I not accompany my committee of which I was a member for our meeting with the Dean. He did not want me there. From that moment, it escalated.

Seba O'Kiley

Seba O’Kiley or Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren

The initial problems arose in the fall of 2013 but, as she noted, appeared to have been dropped within a month. In fact, in April 2014, Dr. Privett-Duren was honored with the English Department’s teaching award for the 2013-14 school year. In addition, she was being considered for a promotion to a permanent lecturer and for a grant to establish online class material.

However, things turned sour that very same month. On April 4, the administration sent Dr. Privett-Duren an email informing her that she was “was not selected” for the grant. Her department chair admitted that he was “surprised by the decision which was made outside the department.” She was unable to obtain any further information about the decision-making process.

A month later, Dr. Privett-Duren was sent the termination letter with no further explanation. Within days, she contacted her chair, the administration and the Affirmative Action/EEO offices. During that time, she was neither able to gain an audience with the Dean, nor learn the conditions of her termination.

Frustrated and confused, Dr. Privett-Duren turned to the American Civil Liberties Union. Within days, the organization returned her letter stating, “We have reviewed your request for assistance and concluded that your situation raises serious questions about the possibility of discrimination with your company.” However the ACLU also added that her complaint did not constitute a civil rights issue and recommended that she contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

On June 16, she filed a charge of religious discrimination and ageism with the EEOC in Birmingham. The organization is currently investigating her case and, she is waiting for a response. She says:

How do I feel about the whole thing. I feel betrayed–not by my department, as I understand that their hands were tied, nor by my students, who didn’t know nor care about the status of my religion. I feel betrayed by the red tape of administration that did not protect me from the machination of Dean’s Aistrup’s decision and by the refusal of the Provost’s office to investigate it. The unprecedented act of terminating an employee without regard to work record, the opinion of the supervising faculty or the simple (ethical) step of allowing that employee the right to meet with the dean of the college is nothing short of a witch hunt. 

While Dr. Privett-Duren was communicating with officials at the school and with these outside agencies, her students launched their own protest in the form of an online petition. By June,142 students of many faiths digitally signed a request to “Bring Dr. PD Back to Auburn University.” While the petition doesn’t directly address the reason behind her dismissal, it does highlight her reputation as a popular, well-loved teacher. Former student Sam Christensen said, “I don’t know anyone who disagrees with the petition. I can say that I would be surprised if there was serious student opposition to it, I haven’t known many professors as universally liked by students as her.”

Many of these students didn’t find out that “Dr. PD” was Pagan until the petition was made public. Former student Casey Jo Berland, a practicing Christian, said, “Kat kept her religion completely hidden from her students. I had absolutely no idea until after the semester was over and I called her for advice. And even then she was hesitant to open up about it.”

Dr. Privett-Duren’s hesitation to discuss her religion was more about professionalism than about fear of discovery. All of the interviewed students and faculty agree that Auburn’s climate is generally more progressive as compared to many other locations in Alabama or the Southeast. The University was even home to an active Pagan student organization, Pantheon, for years.

More recently, the town itself has become host to the only Pagan Pride Day event in the state. In fact, Auburn Pagan Pride Day is held at the Arboretum on the University campus. APPD organizer and longtime resident Linda Kerr says, “I’ve lived here since 1983, and have been Pagan here since 1988, and have never had any issues due to being Pagan. I worked at Auburn University for 25 years, and never had any trouble there either.” She holds the Pagan pride event on campus because, “the site is beautiful and lends itself well.” However, APPD is not endorsed or sponsored by the University in any way.

Kerr’s comments, however, were corroborated by other Pagan residents and students. Former Pagan AU student, Jillian Smith, actually applied to the university upon encouragement from Dr. Privett-Duren. She said:

Kat told me how open-minded and accepting AU was, allowing for a great deal of personal expression, pursuance of personal interest and acceptance of differing viewpoints when well presented. She spoke of AU as forward-thinking, encouraging of new ideas, and a supposed melting pot of creed, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, and so forth. This was not only a driving point for my application to AU, it was also the kind of community environment in which I wanted my son to be raised — an environment of AU “family” and “All in.”

Despite this progressive climate and academic environment, Dr. Privett-Duren still maintains that her termination was related to her religion. She says that the University is located in the very conservative South and that administrators are sometimes not as open-minded as the professors working in the departments. As she points out, her termination came from the college administration, who didn’t know about her religion prior to last fall, and not from her department head, who did.

Unfortunately, the University declined to comment due to this situation being “a personal employment matter.” Both the AA/EEO department and Dean’s office responded similarly saying that they are unable to speak publicly in such cases.

Dr. Privett-Duren

Dr. Privett-Duren in her garden

Therefore, the investigation into Dr. Privett-Duren’s termination and her allegations of religious discrimination now rest entirely with the EEOC. In the meantime, Dr. Privett-Duren has begun other projects. She will be teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary and at another online university. She is writing a memoir about life as a witch in the south and has already sent a fiction project to a publisher. In addition, she is the newest, regular writer at Crone Magazine. Her column, which begins this October, is aptly called “Southern-Fried Crone.”  Dr. Privett-Duren says:

As a direct result of my termination, I have been forcibly outed by the process. For over a decade, I existed in fracture:  Seba O’Kiley, the country witch versus Dr. Privett-Duren, the academic. That fracture has healed from the chaos.  What I am now is quite a force of nature, and for that alone, I am grateful. I am now whole, a witch/teacher/mother/academic with no apologies.

Regardless of the outcome of the EEOC investigation, Dr. Privett-Duren says that she will keep fighting. She loves Auburn University and the students that call it home. With the spirit of “War Eagle” in her tone, she says, “I just want my job back. I just want to teach.”

Today, July 4th, is Independence Day in the United States, the nationally celebrated mark of freedom in this country from the Kingdom of Great Britain. On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted and we begun a history of celebration of freedom, an ideal of freedom. Recent Supreme Court rulings bring many questions to the forefront about that ideal of freedom, and the idea that the United States has a history of writing social policy that does not actually equate to freedom for the ethnic minorities within this country. Slavery was still a legal institution here while we simultaneously adopted the declaration and celebrated freedom for Americans. Since the Declaration of Independence, and other such policies, did not give freedoms and rights to African Americans, what social and government policies did? And how important are those today?

Johnson and Civil rights leaders for Voter's Rights Act.

Johnson and Civil rights leaders for Voter’s Rights Act.

On June 25th, 2013, the Supreme Court made a landmark, and unexpected, decision to dismantle Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that was signed into law on August 6th, 1965. President Johnson signed the Voters Rights Act into law in the presence of prominent civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks; it was a historic moment for the civil rights movement and for the movement of equality within this country.

Section 4 of the VRA identified those states and counties that would receive the oversight of Section 5, restricting any changes to qualifications or prerequisites for voters in their coverage area without the approval from the Federal Government. Why? Post Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crow laws and racism in this country continued to become systematic, affecting African Americans’ access to their citizen-given voting rights. Common tactics employed to restrict categories of voters included everything from literacy tests, to voting poll taxes, to classic voter intimidation, to even death. Civil rights leaders fought to make sure that African Americans had the same access to their voting rights as others in this country.

Then, on June 25th, the Supreme Court removed this section of the VRA, citing it as unconstitutional, referencing that problems of racism or prejudice were no longer prevalent in today’s society. Within 48 hours of this ruling, numerous states that were restricted under Section 4 of the VRA moved to make changes to their voting requirements, redistricting and other modifications that would have formally required approvals, some of which were already denied. It is important to note that the areas that were still covered under this section of the VRA were not previously able to prove 10 years of fair voting practices within their state or area, and other areas had already been removed from the VRA when they had petitioned and proven fair practices.

After the changes in the Voter’s Rights Act, the following day the repeal of DOMA and ruling on Proposition 8 overshadowed the SCOTUS ruling and little discussion has been generated in greater society, and especially within the Pagan community.

And so why is this important to Pagans?

In order to answer this question for Pagans at large, we should consider the varying reasons that equality, access to fair treatment under the law, and the intersectionality of privilege plays a role in the perception of liberty. As Pagans, we can often relate to the challenging and temperamental balance of rights within United States society, even with freedom of religion as one of our constitutional rights. How often do we have to fight for our freedom of belief as minorities in faith practice? Within the last few days, several Pagans have commented on their belief of the importance of this in society, and within Paganism.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree

“As a Pagan the mixed messages of the Supreme Court this week has left my heart heavy and shaken my belief in the country and laws that I love and respect. With state’s rights the battle cry, this war is likely to be as emotionally scarring and traumatizing as the Civil War. This New Civil War is one that is utilizing cold war tactics to pit us against each other. Even as the courts proclaim we are equal in the law it is simultaneously saying individual states have the right to restrict and disenfranchise people based on their opinion, color, and sexual orientation. It has created a world where living in one state over another will mean different freedoms for different people. So many seem to be cheering around me without completely understanding the full weight of the coming fights ahead. The Supreme Court itself has tried to deflect responsibility to the state level only to guarantee that these fights will reappear before them. It isn’t just voting and marriage I worry about. It is the right to have a body without government imposed restrictions. It is the right to worship without fear of losing a job, house or state benefits. It is the right to have a congressional and state governing body that accurately reflects the opinions and will of the people regardless of how varied they are.

In this New Civil War it is crucial that we win the fight of exposing “state’s rights” as a euphemism for “power to the powerful” or “right to restrict individuals in the name of sovereign government.” The principle of our country was not that individual states have rights superseding the rights of individuals. The Declaration of Independence said “We the people…” have rights and no authority can willfully, maliciously and methodically destroy the rights of us, the people. Not England. Not the United States Government. Not an individual state or city.

These are real issues and it seems to me that now more than every minority persons should stand together. This is why being closeted in any minority matter is dangerous. If we are quiet, uneducated and unmoved by the trials and tribulations of other minorities then we are easily picked off.” – Lydia M. Crabtree – Pagan author.

Rhiannon Theurer

Rhiannon Theurer

“I don’t know that I have anything particularly deep to say as a Pagan, but I will say that as someone who believes we are all expressions of the Divine I am saddened and angered by the decisions of the Supreme Court that reinforce inequity and hierarchy. The decisions this week attacking Native sovereignty and the VRA show us yet again how some voices are privileged over others, and that these are structural problems that require us all to speak up for equality and justice. In addition, these decisions are an important reminder for the Pagan community that as minorities we can never take legal rights for granted. I hope that all Pagans can stand together with all the people directly affected by these rulings, both within and without the Pagan community, and continue to work for justice and the liberation of all beings.” – Rhiannon Theurer – Pagan, Therapist.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“The Voting Rights Act offers a chance of full participation in government. Its passage ensured that states with a history of voter suppression could not change voting laws without checking with the federal government. The VRA is an attempt at establishing equity.

This article by Paul Shepard states: “with 13,000 separate voting districts around the country, there are 13,000 different ways that elections are conducted, opening the doors to discriminatory practices to disenfranchise minority voters.” Disenfranchisement in the US is real and present. If a high percentage of poor people don’t have IDs and my state decides to pass a Voter ID act, then poor people have less of a chance of true representation. The power of their voice decreases. If district elections help Latinos get governmental representation, then district elections support the process of equitable government.

“One person, one vote” is a good policy, but is not sufficient to build systems that foster fair treatment, health, and happiness for all. As long as we are living within cascading systems of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and religious intolerance, we are hard pressed to build an equitable society. Systemic racism is a consistent force of disenfranchisement. So is classism, which often goes hand in hand with racism. This racism isn’t the ugly face of the screaming bigot, but rather is embedded in the interlocking systems that uphold the status quo.” –  T. Thorn Coyle – Activist, Pagan author,

Seba O'Kiley

Seba O’Kiley

“Assuming that there is no longer any need for Section Four (and by proxy Section Five) of the VRA (specifically for the Deep South) is like throwing a tarp over invasive weeds for a while then assuming that, simply because the plant rots over the surface, there is no longer a live root.  The question is not why keep what 1965 America sought to put into place, but why disarm those defensive measures against such an invasive, deeply-rooted monster.  As pagans, we are under the awesome responsibility of caring for our Universe, being the watchdogs for inequities and calling out injustices.  We are not called to “look away,” but to shine light into dark places–even if those places are our own hearts.  As a life-long Alabamian and a pagan, I know and love my home all too well to assume that it no longer needs such a light.  As a former Housing Authority Councilwoman, I have seen redistricting along racial lines as they pertain to our city schools in only the last ten years.  Leaving racial justice in the hands of the state without some parameters, checks and balances is naive disconcern at best–veiled racism, at worst. Neither are acceptable for a pagan sensibility of interconnected beings.” - Seba O’Kiley, Beloved Woman/Priestess, Gangani Tribe of Alabama.

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

“To me this ruling is first about privilege, and through the lens of privilege SCOTUS’ VRA verdict breaks down the fabric of democracy. I feel as Pagans we lift up the right to self determination as a sacred rite, one where we hold our self accountable first.  As Pagans we give privilege a name, and the actively choose to disengage, and break down the walls of oppression, destruction that living within privilege bring. The ruling has potentially taken that right (and rite) away from millions of US citizens.” – Erick DuPree, Dharma Pagan and blogger.

“I’d love to contribute if I can; right now my head is swirling with conflicting mix – relieved & delighted that my marriage wasn’t taken away by the state, dismayed at gutting the VRA, paranoid that dismantling oversight on elections opens the door to all sorts of voting fraud along not only racist lines but anti- immigrant, anti-women, anti-what calls itself Christian in politics lines. They’re all tied together – white privilege is what allows most Pagans to assume their differences will be accepted, but as a white bisexual who passes as straight, i know that’s not true – my marriage has been in limbo, held hostage for 5 years.  What-calls-itself-Christian-in-politics is deeply, inherently racist & anti- sexual freedom; I fully expect neo pagans to be openly targeted next.” – Lise M. Dyckman

And in later dialog:

“Many, if not most, US neo pagans accept as tenets certain ideas that are hotly contested in the political arena. Responsibility for the health of our planet, allowing value to non- human life forms, honoring the female divine,  & sexual self-determination are woven into a lot of neopagan belief. They’re also frequently contested by lawmakers, policy makers, regulation enforcers. If our beliefs are explained away as merely left-wing attitudes, we’re at risk of losing the ability to practice our religion (just ask First Nations / Native American folks how quick & easy that can be).

But we mostly-white, mostly-middle class, mostly-educated neo pagans don’t really think that could happen to us. And we’re wrong. That’s why gutting the Voting Rights Act matters to even privileged, comfortable pagans. The Act was crafted with the intent to force proven racist communities to “play fair” in elections, and to take corrective measures when they had been caught at fraud. There isn’t anything else like it in the US, that has such teeth & such oversight powers. Without it, there’s no real mechanism to keep special interests from meddling in elections. And we all know how likely that is.

[Neo]paganism is one of the fastest growing religions in the US, according to a recent Pew Survey. Particularly among younger, educated, and generally left-leaning adults. You can bet those special interests are looking at us, and at how we vote. And they’re lumping us together with Blacks, women, & immigrants as voters-to-be-suppressed. I fully expect to see more attacks on the voting rights of all these groups in the near future – and without a mechanism like the VRA to ensure franchisement, we’re gonna be silenced. This isn’t (just) paranoia; the voting record of districts under VRA corrective oversight is consistently more liberal than comparable districts without it. Wendy Davis’ district in Fort Worth , for example.” – Lise Dykeman

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

“The Supreme Court has gutted the voting rights act. Taking the position that progress has been made the court essentially withdrew the very protections that have created the change they cited. My heart is heavy with thoughts of what this change will mean. Conservative legislators across the south are already engaged in manifesting laws that will cause the voices of minority Americans to be even further marginalized. For those, like myself, who are interested in freedom and justice for people of color it is a sad day in America.

These feelings are complicated by our communities urge to celebrate recent victories around LGBT rights; yet all of our civil rights are bound together in the fabric of social justice. The courts recent gutting of the VRA has begun the process of unraveling the very fabric we are celebrating having weaved new threads into.” – Peter Dybing – Activist, Pagan blogger.

Yeshe Rabbit

Yeshe Rabbit

“The dismantling of VRA protections opens the way to great potential abuse of state and local power. It allows for further possible institutionalization of overt and subtle racism by authorities representing and protecting the highest-paying or most privileged voices in any given landscape. This may end up leaving many voiceless. It represents the very real threat that the picture of racial politics and racial justice in our nation might slip backwards into a state more closely resembling the Civil War era than any of us cares to envision.

Racism has its roots in an untrue, unfair, illusory, ill-informed story that caucasian people have been collectively, blatantly, and insidiously telling ourselves as a means to justify our cruelty to people of color for a very long time, despite ample evidence that the story is wrong. As Pagans and Polytheists, many of us understand the power of myth and story to shape reality. It is our responsibility to each question our own stories about race, to discuss them, to peel them apart and investigate them, to critique them heavily, and to help write new stories of equality, dignity, reparation/rectification, and access for all the distinct races as well as the many diverse combinations of races we see growing in our population. This has the possibility of being an amazing magical wave of change, a gift of collective growth from our community to the nation, if we each choose to take it up with a full heart and willingness to really learn and grow, to refine ourselves, to commit to improvements for ourselves and for our future descendants who will still be working on this issue for many generations.” – Yeshe Rabbit, CAYA High Priestess and blogger.

“If we do not defend the rights of others, there will be no one left to help us defend ours. It is one of the principles of our belonging to the “Pagan” label. Strength in numbers. But if we do not use that strength to fight for what is right, what is this community of “Paganism” for?” – Jelen VanderYacht, Pagan

In my personal beliefs as an African American practitioner of the Craft, I have been quite dismayed at the lack of attention that this subject has gotten from mainstream Paganism. Regardless of differing opinions on the method to ensure freedoms, the idea that reversal of the VRA has an impact on the African American sense of place is very important to consider. The very Eurocentric construct that exists within Paganism often leads to perceptions of reality that are based in theory that does not apply to all of today’s Pagan practitioners. The Pagan community often sees this when it comes to the rights of Pagans as a religion, the rights of other oppressed groups that are highly connected to our Pagan community, but not when it comes to those things that are related to race. It leads me to wonder whether the Pagan community is afraid of race relations, thereby creating a larger challenge to the idea that Pagansim indeed encompasses more than just the notion that race does not matter in our spirituality. For the Pagan of color, it indeed does.

 Author, Lydia M. Crabtree, summed up this thought for me on her most recent blog post:

“So pagans fight for rights when they infringe upon our direct religious rights and when they directly infringe upon our strongly held spiritual beliefs (the Earth is sacred and should be protected).

Yet when presented with knowledge that an apartheid like atmosphere is being created in our own country, pagans are silent.  This silence is in essence turning away from another principle of earth-centric religion. Thou art God. Thou art Goddess.

Our silence says, “Thou art God, if you are white or if your issues reflect a direct impact upon my spirituality.”

“Thou art Goddess, only if your problems directly infringe upon my religious freedom.”

And in this division, apartheid legislation will become a norm unchallenged. It is the classic deflection and deferral, “I am pagan and I am not black, so these laws will not affect me.” This line of thinking lacks a foresight and vision that I feel is another spiritual cornerstone of earth-centric spirituality: We are one.”

When we are considering the impact of any limitation of rights towards oppressed and minority groups, we should consider how the limiting of rights to one minority could encourage or connect to our own Pagan freedoms. When policies are created to protect the rights of an underprivileged or oppressed population, it is important to think about the varying levels of “freedom” that are or are not experienced by others. To assume that we are all entitled to the same liberties and freedoms under the law, is to assume that we as Pagans are due liberties that are not guaranteed either.

What freedom will you celebrate on this Fourth of July?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Flickr's play4smee

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s play4smee

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Motherhood from Pagan women:

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

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

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

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

R. Watcher

R. Watcher

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

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

Seba O'Kiley with her sons

Seba O’Kiley with her sons

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

Sirona

Sirona

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

Happy Mother’s Day!