Archives For Selena Fox

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

green-faiths-3atrans

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

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

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

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

Interfaith Panel at MerryMeet 2014 [Photo Credit: HGreene]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

CoG Award of Honor Presentation

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

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

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

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

 

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

[The following is a guest post by Florence Edwards-Miller. She is the Communications Coordinator for Circle Sanctuary, which runs Pagan Spirit Gathering, and she has attended PSG for six years. At PSG Florence presents workshops on nonprofit management and development for the Pagan Leadership Institute. She is also editor of CIRCLE Magazine, a quarterly publication for the Pagan and Nature Spirituality community.]

As each car passes through the Stonehouse Farm gates on the opening day of Pagan Spirit Gathering, those who have already arrived wave and shout, “Welcome home!” Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) is a festival known for a strong sense of community that embraces newcomers and brings others back for years or decades in a row. The intervening year between PSGs is jokingly referred to as the “51-week supply run.” Every year, those attending Pagan Spirit Gathering for the first time are amazed to find such a welcoming and accepting community of like-minded people. They feel like they have come home.

PSG 2014 Logo White Small for WebLike Brigadoon appearing from the mists, Pagan Spirit Gathering is essentially a bustling Pagan town that manifests the week of the Summer Solstice every year. This year, PSG broke its own records with well over 1,000 people attending and more than 400 events, including workshops, concerts and rituals. This was, by every measure, the largest PSG ever. Yet despite its size, PSG has been able to maintain that sense of ‘home’ and of community.

That sense of community is deliberately nurtured through all aspects of the festival. Each year’s Pagan Spirit Gathering has a theme, and in 2014 that theme was “Heart and Harmony.” These concepts have always been core to what PSG is about. The very first PSG, 34 years ago, was intended to be a place where Pagans of many different traditions could come together harmoniously. This year, focusing on “Heart and Harmony” helped the PSG community accept a record number of first-time attendees with open arms.

A strong sense of community supports each participant through the festival. It is so much easier to try something new, from dancing freely around the bonfire or singing in front of an audience for the first time, when you know that everyone present is cheering for you.  At times of difficulty, when looking into the depths of your soul during an intense spiritual experience, while mourning the loss of a loved one or just coping with a leaky tent during the rain, it helps to know that there are hundreds of new friends ready to offer a hug, a tissue or a dry tarp.

The process of building community starts months before the gates ever open. The creation of a safe, welcoming and cohesive community drives every decision made by Circle Sanctuary staff – the festival’s organizers. PSG has a thriving Facebook group where participants support one another through life transitions during the year; exchange ideas and tips for next year’s PSG; and support newcomers. A week before the festival begins, members of the local Circle Sanctuary community come together to assemble hundreds of ‘spirit bags,’ which contain herbs harvested from Circle Sanctuary’s nature preserve and are charged with energy for a great festival. At the festival site, an amazing team of volunteers works in sweltering temperatures to erect communal tents, post signs and prepare for the instant village that would bloom almost instantaneously on the Sunday before the Solstice.

[Photo Credit: S. Fox]

Burning Heart [Photo Credit: S. Fox]

PSG, like every other town, has its municipal services: daily garbage and recycling collection, parents shepherding children to lessons or childcare. EMTs race off to respond to occasional medical situations and even watchful guardians patrol their beats.  But, in this town all of the ‘police’ are volunteers, as are the medics who will patch up your blisters or sunburn; the heralds that call out the day’s news all over camp; the smiling gatekeepers who greet each car with clipboard in hand; and the workers at ‘city hall’ (otherwise known as the heavy canvas Info Tent.) PSG is more than just a destination; it is a community that functions because everyone contributes their love, their effort and their energy.

Volunteerism is at the core of what makes PSG work. Every adult member of the ‘tribe’ is asked to contribute four hours of labor during the week toward making the festival run smoothly. Some teens volunteer as well, and some adults even take on more than the required number of two hour ‘work shifts.’ Directing their efforts are a team of volunteer coordinators who oversee services such as the Teen, Tween and childcare centers; sacred sites such as the Ritual Bonfire Circle; the Moon Lodge or the Temple of the Sun God; or events such as the Zodiac Potluck or Magical Gift Exchange. The coordinators’ service to the community starts months before PSG and often continues throughout the year.

Pagan Spirit Gathering strives to feed the heart on so many levels. One ‘heart’ of PSG is the community Sacred Fire. Lit during the opening night’s ritual and, then, fed and carefully maintained by the bonfire coordinators and volunteers through rain and wind, the fire is energized by nightly drumming and dancing, and is the focus of the Solstice morning ritual. The bonfire circle is also the site of the daily morning meetings, when the community comes together to hear both practical announcements about the days’ activities and to get ‘teaser’ performances from musicians who will play later on during the day.

Music is a key part of every PSG. Three or more concerts a day are the norm. This year’s musical guests included Arthur Hinds (of the band Emerald Rose), Celia, Helen Bond and Fode Camara with Diamana Diya, Spiral Rhythm, Tuatha Dea and Picti (David Doersch and Catherine Hauke, formerly of Coyote Run). In addition to performing, these musicians add to the harmony of the gathering by presenting workshops and participating in rituals.

Baby Blessing [Photo Credit and Permissions: F. Edwards-Miller]

Baby Blessing [Photo Credit and Permissions: F. Edwards-Miller]

A variety of handfastings and weddings happen at PSG. At a time when friends from all over the country come together, many couples choose to recognize their unions surrounded by their spiritual community. While ministers at PSG have been blessing same-sex unions for decades, this year saw the first same-sex marriage that was equal under the law. Other rites of passage throughout the week recognize times of transition, including Coming of Age rites for young men and young women; the Blessingway for mothers; the men’s Personal Rite of Passage; planning for a new women’s rite called Daughters of the Dark Moon; and rites for those recognizing the transition into Crone and Sage years.

PSG also tends to the hearts of those who are in mourning. At the beginning of the 2014 festival, Selena Fox, Moonfeather and Nora Cedarwind Young officiated at a Ceremony of Remembrance that honored members of the PSG community who had passed away in the preceding year, and gave support to community members who had lost loved ones. The Ancestors’ Altar was erected near the bonfire with tokens and pictures of the beloved dead of the community.

In addition to tending to the hearts of individual community members, PSG seeks to help educate and train those who go back and become the ‘hearts’ of their home communities. The Pagan Leadership Institute (PLI) is a special track of programming with workshops that are designed to help those serving as Ministers, Priestesses and Priests. PLI workshops are taught by experts, Circle Sanctuary Ministers and PSG’s featured presenters. Some of this year’s guest presenters were T. Thorn Coyle, Kathryn and Arthur Hinds and Byron Ballard. Over thirty-five workshops were part of the 2014 PLI program, including a five-day minister’s intensive by Selena Fox on Supporting Life Passages.

PSG continues to grow, thrive and change to fit the needs of the community. In 2014, PSG added a new center called EnCHANTment, which hosted nightly singing and chant shares. EnCHANTment started one year as a single night of singing around a bonfire and grew to a nightly informal gathering. This year it not only became an official part of the festival, but the EnCHANTment team also coordinated the beautiful main ritual on the evening of the Summer Solstice.

[Photo Credit: S. Fox]

[Photo Credit: S. Fox]

Together everyone processed onto the ritual grounds, carrying a heart made of vine, ribbon, and canvas inscribed with messages from the community. To the throb of drums, we chanted. “I am the Heart.” “We are Harmony.” “I am Home.”  This year we promised not to just let it be a 51-week supply run; we pledged to bring that same energy of the heart and spirit of harmony to every aspect of our lives and to widen the circle of community to include all who we touch. I invite you to join us next summer, June 14-22, as we once again welcome our Pagan community home.

For the second time in five years, Ft Hood, Texas is the site of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. For the second time in five years, military members, dependents, and area residents must deal with the emotional aftermath. Among them are members of the military’s first officially recognized Pagan congregation, the Ft. Hood Open Circle.

“We still have to go to work here every day. How do I help my congregation do that?” asks Ft. Hood Open Circle Designated Faith Group Leader, Michele Morris.

The Ft. Hood Open Circle is comprised of up to 100 active duty soldiers, dependents, and military retirees. They, like other military communities, have endured repeated overseas deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. For them, coming back to Ft Hood isn’t just coming back to a job. It’s coming home.

sidebar ft hood historyDesignated Faith Group Leader (DFGL) Michele Morris understands how challenging recovering from this incident will be. “The most difficult aspect of this is that many soldiers have deployed, some several times. This is supposed to be home, where they’re safe, and can recover from the emotional stress of deployment. When something like this happens, you lose that feeling of being safe at home.”

Emotional, spiritual, and mental assistance for area Pagans dealing with the effects of April 2nd’s shooting, in which 4 soldiers were killed and 16 were injured, comes from several quarters. The military, DFGL Morris, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and a team of volunteer Pagan counselors are working to provide assistance for Ft. Hood Pagan community members.

DFGL Morris, ‘boots on the ground’ assistance
DFGL Morris, a civilian, describes herself as a “full time minister, a full time student, and a full time mother.” She’s been leading the Open Circle since February of 2009, just months before the earlier mass shooting where 13 people were killed and 30 injured. Her background is in mental health and she’s currently in college working toward a degree in social work. Normally her role at Ft. Hood primarily uses her skills as a High Priestess and ordained minister, but with last week’s shooting she’s using every tool she has to help her Circle.

DFGL Michele Morris

DFGL Michele Morris

Upon hearing the news last Wednesday that there was an active shooter, Morris got word out to those in the Open Circle to not come onto the post as Ft. Hood was in lock down. Then, using her phone and social media, she tracked down her congregation to make sure they were accounted for and safe. She quickly assessed her community’s immediate needs and offered her support. Thankfully no one in Ft. Hood’s Open Circle was physically injured. Her next move was to ensure that the planned Pagan retreat, scheduled to start on Friday, and last through the weekend, was still a go. It was.

DFGL Morris said the retreat allowed Open Circle members the chance to come together in privacy and begin to heal. The retreat was held in tents adjoining the grassy, outdoor worship area set aside for the Open Circle at Ft. Hood. They physically and spiritually rebuilt the stone circle surrounding their worship area. They purged themselves of grief and strengthened community bonds. “Through ritual, Ft Hood Pagans have a way to process grief that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” says Morris.

ft hood open circle

Morris was able to make something else available, a way to connect to Pagan counselors, organized by Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. While the military offers extensive and caring counseling services, “The military resources are soldier specific. What Circle Sanctuary offers is Pagan specific,” says Morris.

Circle Sanctuary offers assistance

Rev. Selena Fox

Rev. Selena Fox

Just as she had five years ago, Rev. Selena Fox, immediately reached out to DFGL Morris and offered Circle Sanctuary’s help. Rev.Fox assembled a team of seven Circle Sanctuary ministers and ministers-in-training to be available to Ft. Hood Pagans through phone consultations. Confidentiality and anonymity is of paramount concern and Rev. Fox says all the counselors understand this.

Due to Rev. Fox and Circle Sanctuary’s long association with Ft. Hood Pagans in particular and military Pagans in general, Fox knows the complex dynamic specific to counseling military members, “Most people don’t understand the constant stress military deployments cause, then you add a trauma like this, and they still have to do their jobs. They do it without complaint and they don’t normally ask for help.”

Rev. Fox says providing support early is crucial, as it creates a solid framework for healing. Feeling alone and not connected complicates trauma.

In addition to standing ready to counsel Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, Rev. Fox has been offering support to Pagans who have family members stationed at FT. Hood or who formerly were stationed there.

How other Pagans can help
Rev. Fox says it’s important for Pagans to pray for the soldiers and their families. Another thing she stressed was the need for Pagan groups to discuss how they honor military Pagans, “Warriors in Native American cultures are both honored and visible. Pagans can look at their religious ancestors and find out how warriors were honored and bring those traditions and practices back.”  She says too often Pagan warriors are invisible or feel they need to keep that part of their life private. Having community support, when honored or acknowledged, is what sticks in their minds and helps them heal from any trauma they may have experienced while serving their country.

A long road to recovery
Although the counselors haven’t yet received a call from Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, DFGL Morris says this isn’t unusual, “Some experience the stress right away, for others it takes a while for the shock to subside.”

Rev. Fox agrees, “Sometimes people need to talk in the first 24 to 48 hours, sometimes they don’t feel the need to talk for weeks after the event. Whenever they are ready to talk, we will be here for them.”

[Cara Schulz has joined The Wild Hunt team as a weekly staff writer.]
Note: An earlier version of the article said the retreat was held in cabins. This was incorrect. The retreat was held in tents.

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

worldwide heathen census asatru norse mythology blog norsemythResults from the 2013 Worldwide Heathen Census have been posted at The Norse Mythology Blog. According to Dr. Karl Seigfried, who initiated the project, “the results will give at least an approximate answer to a question on the minds of many heathens: ‘How many of us are there?’” So what is the estimated number of Heathens worldwide based on the results? From the over 16,000 entires, Seigfried believes there to be around 36, 289 Heathens in the world. As for what this project signifies? According to Dr. Seigfried it is, quote, “a wonderful take-home message from the census is that, when there is something positive for everyone to work towards, the often furious disagreements between various branches of the heathen community can be temporarily put aside. I was very glad to see posts by and receive emails from people who don’t agree with my approach to mythology and heathenry, yet still took part in the census and urged their friends to do so, as well. I was very happy to see members of diametrically opposed heathen communities urge people to take part in the survey.” You can see all of my reporting on this project here. It should be interesting to see how Heathen organizations like The Troth react to the projected numbers.

RandyDavidRIP-1024x1024T. Thorn Coyle has posted a moving remembrance of Randy David Jeffers (aka Randy Sapp), a musician, magician, incense maker, and co-owner of San Francisco-area metaphysical shop The Sword and Rose (currently closed). Jeffers tragically died from wounds sustained in a fire on Christmas evening. Quote: “Randy Jeffers was as kind to me the day I showed up at The Sword and the Rose – age 18, fresh to San Francisco – as he was twenty years later, when my first book came out, and as he was years after that, whenever I stopped by. I didn’t see him as often in the later years as those early ones, but when I did, there was always something of interest to talk about as he carefully packaged blessed oils and fragrant incense. This one to the Faerie Queen. That one to Ganesh. This one to the Djuat. That, to Tetragrammaton. [...] Every person who planned to visit San Francisco, looking for interesting places to go, I sent to the Sword and the Rose. People from many parts of the globe visited the shop. A hidden gem, tucked back behind two buildings and a small garden courtyard, fountain always burbling. Lit by a fire in winter. Warm or cool, depending on what was needed. Always hidden. If you didn’t know it was there, there was no way you could find it. Even people who had instructions sometimes missed the way inside. The shop is hardly big enough to hold much more than the rows of bottles filled with Randy’s art – everything blended and consecrated in sacred space. Magic. All of it. Just like Randy’s life.” Links to donate to his partner, injured in the fire, along with more remembrances, can be found at Thorn’s entry. What is remembered, lives.

304902_345967782158513_2076648666_nAfter last year’s successful event at PantheaCon in San Jose, Coru Cathubodua and Solar Cross Temple are teaming up again with Blood Centers of the Pacific to organize a blood drive in honor of, quote, “the Morrigan, your own Gods, or to help save a life.” To pre-register for the drive, simply head to this appointment form, and type “Pcon” into the top box to see available appointments. Here’s what Coru and Solar Cross had to say about the drive last year, which drew over 90 people: “Every three seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. The Coru Priesthood and Solar Cross are hosting this blood drive as an act of kinship, hospitality and devotion to our community and to the Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of sovereignty, prophecy, and battle. We encourage all people to donate the gift of life, whether in the name of your own deities, the Morrigan or without devotional intent.” So if you can, sign up to be a Blood Hero!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Pagan singer-songwriter Sharon Knight writes in honor of her friend, Teresa Morgan, who died on December 26th. Quote: “Teresa was a trained magician. And honestly, I have no better explanation for why her death was so much more majestic than my father’s. She departed this world in an array of lights, shimmering blues and golds and whites. I began seeing these lights as soon as we got the phone call on Christmas night, and they lasted several days after her passing.” What is remembered, lives.
  • Journalist Beth Winegarner, whose new book “The Columbine Effect” explores how different teen pastimes got “caught in the crossfire” after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, will be having her book launch, with reading and Q&A, at Bird & Beckett in San Francisco on January 13th. Quote: “Stop blaming teen violence on the wrong things–and…understand how Slayer, Satanism and Grand Theft Auto can be a healthy part of growing up.”
Selena Fox

Selena Fox

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

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

Chris Keith

Chris Keith

Last week Lansing, Michigan resident Chris Keith, and her son, Isaac, were murdered by Keith’s estranged husband, who then killed himself. This tragedy has sent shockwaves through the Michigan Pagan community, where Keith was active and had many friends, including Elayne Glantzberg, who writes of the intense grief and sense of loss. Quote: “She will never come to church with me.  She will never come help teach me how to work my own urban homestead garden. Kender will never dance in her Zumba class.  No more movie nights, no more nights out, no more dancing, no more.  Isaac will never finish growing up.  Oakley may not remember his mother when he grows up.  No more. Gone. It’s not right.  It’s not fair.” The Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, of which Chris Keith was a member, has set up a memorial fund to help support her surviving children. The member of the Michigan Pagan community who sent me the link to the memorial fund added that, quote, “Chris was active not only in the Pagan community but also was an environmentalist, a home-schooler, a naturopath, and a crusader for LGBTQ rights. She was an amazing person.” What is remembered, lives. My thoughts go out to her family, and friends, during this time.

Book-Fault-Lines-Gus-DizeregaWiccan author Gus diZerega’s new book, “Fault Lines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine,” is now out through Quest Books. At Witches & Pagans Magazine, diZerega talks about new book. Quote: “Faultlines argues that this alternative Pagan perspective is particularly appropriate for modern men and women. Further, American Christianity as well as Judaism and Buddhism is moving closer to views in harmony with these.  From this perspective we Pagans are in the forefront of a spiritual transformation taking place across many religions to the degree they have not been polluted by the demonic spirituality of the religious right and equivalent movements elsewhere.  We are in the midst of a struggle between a new spiritual sensibility in harmony with the needs of the modern world and an old one rooted in the hierarchy and domination and spiritual isolation that long characterized agricultural civilizations, a position that has lost what truth it once had and so focuses solely on issues of power. This struggle defines the spiritual crisis of our time, and underlies the more visible secular political and cultural struggles we are living through.” You can read endorsements of the new work at the publisher’s website.

1487255_10151888593279285_1684773642_nFor the first time, Circle Cemetery will be taking part in Wreaths Across America, a nationwide program that lays wreaths at gravesites honoring deceased veterans. On Saturday, December 14, 2013, Wreaths Across America ceremonies will be held at Arlington National Cemetery and at more than 900 public and private cemeteries across the nation. A multicultural and interfaith Wreaths Across America ceremony will be held at Circle Cemetery, located at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in the forested hills of southwestern Wisconsin near Barneveld, at Noon central time that day. “I am glad that Circle Cemetery is taking part in this program this year,” says Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary. “Thanks to Circle Sanctuary Community member Roberta Stewart for her work with this program and her help in making Circle Cemetery participation possible.” Roberta, who lives in Nevada, is the widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, the first Wiccan soldier killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. His grave is among those at Circle Cemetery that will be decorated with a wreath.

249444_113766545446334_287218438_nBay Area Heathen Holidays, a non-aligned Heathen organization in the San Francisco Bay Area, presents the third annual Bay Area Heathen Yule Dinner on Saturday 14 December. Steven T Abell, group founder, says “This is an annual opportunity for the local Heathen community to get together beyond the boundaries of kindred or faction. All who come in peace and honor are welcome here.” Along with dinner, the event will formally recognize and welcome the local land spirits and gods of the Heathen Pantheon. Hosts Abell, Hilary Ayer, Gail DeCamp, and Robert Russell provide the major meats for this dinner: ham, lamb, goat, goose, and turkey. Attendees are asked to bring a side dish, salad, or dessert to share. Heathen events are noted for excellent fare in more-than-adequate amounts. This year’s BAHY Dinner will be no exception. Beer, wine, and mead are also welcome. BAHY is held in a civic facility rented from the City of Fremont. Heathen artisans are encouraged to bring and show their wares, but city regulations do not permit sales or the exchange of money at the event. Visit Bay Area Heathen Holidays on Facebook for more details and to RSVP. Bay Area Heathen Yule Dinner 7:00 – 10:00pm Saturday 14 December Olive Hyde Art Center 123 Washington Blvd. Fremont CA 94539.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • The anthology “Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul,” edited by Tara “Masery* Miller, has been published. Quote: “One purpose of this anthology is to help people find comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Some of the authors turned to a magical practice as a way to find healing and the anthology includes rituals and stories about healing. Covens, circles, temples or any other type of magical group can use it as a resource toward understanding members or potential members with disabilities.”
  • Another new anthology my readership may be interested in: “Essays in Contemporary Paganism.” Quote: “In this absorbing anthology twelve Pagan writers from across the globe offer a unique perspective on Paganism today in both its theoretical and practical aspects. Each writer began with a blank canvas, other than their essay must reflect a contemporary theme. In turn the essays are philosophical, practical, personal and reflective, with issues ranging from parenting to polytheism, from being a Pagan in London to the sacred landscapes of Australia, from mysticism to the World Wide Web. In their breadth these essays reflect a concern with living in a modern world, with modern technology and with understanding oneself within a tradition that is evolving and adapting to meet the needs of its adherents whilst staying true to its fundamental principles.”
  • Sex blog Slutist (probably NSFW) recently named Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile one of their “favorite feminist Witches.” Congratulations! While I’m on the subject of Ms. Grossman, the Occult Humanities Conference, which she co-organized, was written up in ArtForum. Not too shabby.
  • Remember the Warrior’s Call anti-fracking ritual at Glastonbury Tor, with solidarity actions in other locations, that was held this past September? Well, Warrior’s Call now has a website up and running, with resources for Pagan who want to fight the practice of “fracking.” Quote: “On the 28th of September, 2013, one of the largest pagan rituals in history was held to weave protection around Albion and all areas currently under attack. Thousands of people on four different continents gathered on that day to stand as one against the blight of fracking. From this global event, the Warrior’s Call pagan anti-fracking movement was born.”
  • Hellenion’s Musings Magazine has released issue 3! Quote: “Welcome to the third issue of Musings, Hellenion’s E-Newsletter. As we move further into December, a month traditionally seen as a time of giving, I encourage you to turn your eyes towards the less fortunate. In the state of Texas alone there are 3.4 million people living in impoverished or homeless conditions.  I encourage you to seek out organizations that help the homeless and needy in your area.”
  • Back in August, Friends of the Gualala River started a public action campaign to convince a winery to spare 154 acres of Gualala River’s redwood forest in California. Pagan author and activist Starhawk was on hand to do a ritual to turn “wine back into water.” Now, Starhawk notes that Friends of the Gualala River have won a favorable ruling in their court case against the winery. Quote: “The issue isn’t done yet, but the case is a victory for the people and the trees! Thank you, all who have worked on this!” More on this here.

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

As the wheel turns, the merry month of December is now upon us. ‘Tis the season for many things – one of which is a swell in public religious discourse.  Is the Christmas tree really a Pagan tradition?  Have the holidays become overly commercialized?  News outlets and blog sites are brimming with articles discussing and dissecting the traditional American holiday hullaballoo.

Chicago Daley Square 2013

Chicago Daley Square 2013

One of these media side-shows is the negotiation of the Christian nativity scene.  When located on private property, the crèche causes no alarm.  However nativity scenes are often found in public spaces such as parks, squares, and government buildings.  As one might expect, these particular displays find themselves at the center of “first amendment” debates.

At the forefront of this particular issue is the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national Atheist organization.  This year for the first time, FFRF has erected a “free thought display” in Chicago’s Daley Square. Standing near a menorah and life-size crèche is an enormous “A” denoting “Atheism.”  In addition, FFRF has posted a sign defining the term and a banner that reads:

adsolistica

Bill of Rights Nativity Banner

Dan Barker, FFRF’s co-president wrote, “If the government is going to open up a public forum to religion, then it has to permit the nonreligious… to express our point of view as well.”

Faced with increasing religious diversity, many local governments have chosen to enact a policy of inclusiveness with regards to holiday displays.  That is exactly what happened six years ago in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  After receiving complaints about the crèche on City Hall, officials invited other faiths to erect their own displays.  Circle Sanctuary responded with a Wiccan Pentacle Wreath.  Shortly after its placement, the local news reported that a “witchcraft symbol had been placed above City Hall.”  The wreath was eventually vandalized and taken down.  Since that incident, Green Bay officials have chosen not to put any religious holiday symbols on their building.

Green Bay City Hall with creche and Pentacle Wreath

Green Bay City Hall with creche and Pentacle Wreath

In this particular case the holiday commotion ultimately resulted in the complete “separation of church and state.” According to co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, that is FFRF’s primary goal – to “protect the Constitutional principle of the separation of state and church.”

If such a forum is created, FFRF won’t be left out of the conversation.  In the Florida State Capitol, its “Bill of Rights Nativity” banner is hanging.  In the Illinois State Capitol, FFRF has posted its “Winter Solstice” sign.  In the rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol, FFRF placed a “natural nativity.” The traditional Christian figures are replaced with symbolic figures and recognizable icons of science, nature, human advancement, and freedom.  This includes a sign that reads “Heathen Greetings,” information about the Winter Solstice and an image of Botticelli’s Venus –  all of which may evoke religious meaning for Pagans.

Solstice "natural nativity" by FFRF

Solstice “natural nativity” by FFRF

Has FFRF received any complaints from the Pagan community? Gaylor remembers receiving one phone call but could not recall the details.  That one call was from Rev. Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League. Selena says:

Last Yuletide, I called and talked with administrative staff of Freedom from Religion about Pagan holiday diversity concerns.  I told them that we were hearing from a variety of Pagans who objected to their appropriation of a Pagan Goddess in their mock “nativity” scene in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda.  I suggested that instead of using a Pagan Goddess for the Mary figure, they use a representation of Susan B. Anthony or some motherly Freethinker which would keep their display consistent with their name “Freedom from Religion.”

Gaylor stressed that FFRF’s intention is not to “outright offend.” The “Venus was chosen in a hurry” as a substitute fertility image for Mary. However, Gaylor also admits that “even if we had known there would be a problem, nothing would have changed.” FFRF’s primary message is that “public religious displays are offensive.  If someone was offended, it only proves our point.”

FFRF’s targets are not limited to mangers.  Last week the Sacramento branch created a “billboard blitz” called the “out of the closet” campaign which encourages Atheists to speak out without fear. Later this week FFRF will formally announce its newest public display located in Pitman New Jersey. Over the past few years, the Knights of Columbus have been allowed to hang a street banner that reads “Keep Christ in Christmas.”   Because city officials have denied FFRF the permit to hang a “counter” banner, they had to find a workaround. This year FFRF is sponsoring a seasonal billboard bearing its latest holiday slogan: “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia.”

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Once again the Atheist organization is using terminology to which Pagans ascribe religious meaning.  Does the use of this religious terminology cause confusion in the general populous?  One Chicago news site reporting on the “free thought display” wrote: “Signs explaining the display say it’s to celebrate the pagan holiday of the winter solstice.”  A text link sends the reader to a BBC explanation of Paganism.  The same language is used across news sources including the Huffington Post and Kansas City Star.  In response, Rev. Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League says,

We cannot support Freedom From Religion’s use of “Pagan” as part of what sometimes has been called [the] “War on Christmas.”  We object to their tactic of waging political war with “Solstice,” Pagan Divine forms, and the word Pagan, which is a term thousands of Pagans use to refer to themselves and their practice of old and new Nature religion.

Is Paganism now caught in a cross-fire between Christian conservatives and Atheists?  Some crèches, such as Green Bay one, were originally erected in direct response to Atheist activism. When the manger goes up, FFRF responds back with its own banners and displays. And the battle wages on.

Currently FFRF has a ready supply of banners to be used by any local chapter as needed. In Hancock Maryland, for example, FFRF has complained about a new Christian manger in the public park.  According to the Associated Press, government officials have declared the area a safe space for people to “exercise their First Amendment rights.”  Will we be seeing a new banner or “natural nativity” display?  If so, will that display refer to Saturn, Odin, magic, Heathens, the Goddess or any other terminology that holds religious meaning for Pagans?

The organization’s end game of “Separation of Church and State” is very much in-line with many other freedom-based organizations, including Pagan ones.  As Rev. Selena Fox says, “Lady Liberty League has supported a variety of separation of church and state efforts over the years as part of its work for Pagan civil rights and religious freedom.” However, do FFRF’s ends justify its means?  And what affects, if any, do those means have in the positioning of Paganism within greater socio-religious politics?  Should Pagans even be concerned?

Interfaith Awareness Celebration in Capitol Rotunda, Madison WI

Interfaith Awareness Celebration in Capitol Rotunda, Madison WI

Rev. Selena Fox adds, “Let’s keep with the ancient traditions of making peace at Winter Solstice time and work together for a better world.”  In that spirit, Circle Sanctuary will be contributing its own religious “Winter Solstice” display in very same rotunda as FFRF’s “natural nativity.”  Circle’s Pagan informational display is part of Wisconsin’s yearly World Religion’s “Interfaith Awareness Week” – an entirely different way of negotiating the very tumultuous holiday season.

“May the road rise up to meet you in blessing, Grand-Father of our nation.”Damon Leff, South African Pagan, Penton Independent Pagan Media.

On Thursday, news agencies reported that former South African President, and legendary anti-Apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, had passed away at the age of 95 after a prolonged illness. Immediately tributes to, and reflections on, Mandela’s life and work emerged.

In his lifetime, Mandela had already passed into a place of history, though he spent his post-Apartheid years working towards peace, reconciliation, and human rights at home, and across the world. Few were left untouched by his work and legacy, including groups and individuals within the modern Pagan movement. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, saw Mandela speak in 1999 at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in South Africa, and participated in a ritual for peace at the island where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. Fox says she has “powerful memories of an amazing person.”

“Remembering Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ‘Madiba.’  Thankful to have been among those at his inspiring talk at the 1999 Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Cape Town, South Africa which received a rousing standing ovation.  Celebrating him, his life, his work with peace and reconciliation, freedom and human rights, environmental preservation and interfaith cooperation.  May he continue to inspire humans everywhere now and in generations to come to continue these endeavors.” – Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Members of the EarthSpirit Community, who were also at that peace ritual in South Africa, describe the experience.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Pagans processing in South Africa, 1999

Pagans in South Africa, 1999

“Many religious leaders had prepared blessings for the pole, but, due to time restraints, a bishop from Johannesburg gave the official blessing for all. He blessed the pole with incense and water and asked that everyone there go forward to the pole before they left, place their hand — or even better their two hands — on the pole and fill it with their light, to bring it to life, so that it would not be a dead piece of wood, but a living beacon of light, of hope and of peace for all who come to that place. It was a beautiful blessing and, even though he was strongly based in his own tradition, he was very inclusive in his language – not only blessing in the name of Jesus, but in the name of all of the “great ones” of every tradition.

He was followed by a traditional African priest who made an offering and blessed the pole in the name of his ancestors and in the name of all of those who suffered and died on the Island. The pole was then officially given to the Island by Africa Msimang, the South African director of the Parliament. At the end, before we returned to the boats, all of the pagans there went to the pole and made our own blessing together.”

Andras Corban-Arthen of EarthSpirit, on learning of Mandela’s death, said that he was feeling “sadness, gratitude and admiration toward this truly great man, whose life will continue to be a source of strength and inspiration for a very long time.” The Covenant of the Goddess, another organization represented at the 1999 Parliament where Mandela spoke, released this short statement on the news of his passing.

Covenant of the Goddess joins the world’s tribute to honor the life and work of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). We are humbly thankful for Mandela’s humanitarian vision, his perseverance in the face of adversity and his personal sacrifice in the name of freedom for all.  Although his initial efforts were aimed at atrocities found in his own country, Mandela’s message knew no boundaries and inspired millions across the globe. May his spirit live forever in the memory of his life and the legacy that he has left.”

Crystal Blanton, a member of COG, left a more personal tribute at the Daughters of Eve blog.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“Today Nelson Mandela passed away and moved on to rest in the land of the ancestors, in the arms of the divine. And as I am sad today, it is hard to be sad when his life reminds me of the incredible sacrifices others have made for me to be able to be who I am today. It is on the shoulders of the ancestors that I stand, and I am so very honored to live in a world that cultivated the incredible spirits of people like Nelson Mandela, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Michelle Alexander, Little Bobby Hutton, Bobby Seal, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Malcolm, Martin, and so many more that are known to us and unknown; the slaves with no name, the activists, and the revolutionaries. What a beautiful thing to look back upon the faces of the brave, and know that I have been gifted this chance at life because of those who’ve been willing to lay their lives in front of the bullet for justice. A celebration of life is the gift that Mandela left, a gift he often was not able to enjoy for himself because he was too busy changing the world.”

Another tribute came from author, teacher, and activist T. Thorn Coyle, who shared a memory of how Mandela’s imprisonment inspired her to stand up against collaboration with the apartheid South African government.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“One day, the floor was going crazy. Paper was flying. Men were shouting. Blood pressure was rising. One of my Market Makers called me over to his trading pit and shouted an order for me to buy Krugerrands – the South African currency minted from gold. I looked at him and said, “No.” He stared at me. I stared back. His face flushed red, then purple, color rising from his neck up to his forehead. His mouth pinched. He threw his trading cards down and stormed out the of pit to buy the gold himself. Word spread around the floor like wildfire. At the end of the day, after the last bell had rung, I was collecting reams of paper for recycling – this was in the days before recycling was commonplace, I and another woman gathered the paper and carted it away. The lone African American trader crossed the floor, held out his hand, and said, simply, “Thank you.” Today, I say to Nelson Mandela: you were a giant in our minds. You were an inspiration. Your life was a clarion call goading us toward freedom and justice. Mr. Mandela, today, I hold out my hand in thanks.”

Pagan activist and first responder Peter Dybing said of Mandela that he “stood as the ultimate example of the struggle for human dignity in the face of oppression, confinement and political intrigue.”

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

Peter Dybing

“For those of us in the U.S. his struggle represented an ideal.  In our deepest thoughts and desires we aspired to emulate this great man who was able to engage his oppressors with dignity, honor and true courage. Many of us believed by his example that a new world ethic of mutual respect, peace and cultural understanding was not only possible but also achievable. If Nelson could defeat the abomination that was Apartheid with love and compassion then all things were possible. For activists world wide, his example lead to a well spring of young idealists willing to engage in the great struggle for universal human dignity. It may be decades before the world realizes how profound his influence has been on international events. [...] Today we can imagine him being welcomed to tea by Gandhi, seated next to Dr. King, and engaged in conversation with Mother Teresa. It is a portrait that needs to be painted,; a legacy that will not be diminished.”

Quaker and Witch Stasa Morgan-Appel, notes that Mandela’s life was a gift, and that his death does not diminish what he gave to the world through his work.

“How many of us are sad to learn of Nelson Mandela’s death is likely not countable. We all die. Death is part of life. Mandela died at the end of a long and amazing life. He gave South Africa and the rest of the world the gift of his life and his service, and we are tremendously enriched by that. His death in the fullness of time is sad, yes — but it is not tragic. His death cannot make us poorer, cannot take away all he has done for his people and many peoples, cannot take away what he has given us. His legacy goes on. Who is remembered, lives; may his memory be a blessing. And a goad to work for justice.”

 I have no doubt that across different faiths, cultures, and nations, Mandela’s legacy is being honored. He has shown that peace can emerge from chaos, that reconciliation can emerge from hate, and that no system of oppression is inevitable or unchangeable. His memory, his legacy, will continue to watch over those who he worked to free. Our deepest respects go out to him.

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. Pagan Community Notes is just one of the many regular features The Wild Hunt brings you to help keep you informed about what’s going on in our interconnected communities. If you appreciate this reporting, please consider donating to our Fall Funding Drive (and thank you to the nearly 200 supporters who have already donated). Now, on to the news…

TCE-frontcover-med copyJournalist Beth Winegarner, who moderated a panel on Pagans and the press at the 2013 PantheaCon in San Jose, has a new book coming out in December that explores how different teen pastimes got “caught in the crossfire” after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Quote: “‘There are stories in The Columbine Effect from teens who got themselves through horrific incidentsincluding severe burns or parent who might dieby listening to heavy metal. Other teens told me about discovering themselves and finding a network of friends through Wicca or Satanism. And there’s research to back them up,’ Winegarner says.’The Columbine Effect’ highlights the voices of academics, authors, legislators and others whose work supports the idea that some of the most demonized pastimes are actually good for kids. From Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to pagan author and NPR reporter Margot Adler, the book is filled with experts who see no harm in letting teens explore these interests.” It should be a thought-provoking work, and I’ll be lining up an interview with Winegarner in the near future to talk about Paganism within the context of her book’s thesis. For now, you can see a promotional video and read a sample chapter of “The Columbine Effect” at Winegarner’s official web site.

spiralheartSpiralheart, a community within the Reclaiming tradition, is launching Alchemeet, a once-a-month “Pagan meeting-of-minds that takes place online and is available to anyone who would like to join.” Quote: “The views presented in Alchemeet are designed to spark creative discussion in a safe environment and may be controversial by nature. These views do not represent the Spiralheart community as a whole and indeed may not even be the opinion of the host. Instead, the topics are meant to be edgy mental exercises in spirituality and to foster online community each month. Our hope is that you may feel infused or inspired to take these discussions and allow them to influence your daily practice—or not. It’s up to you.” The first talk will be held on November 5th, hosted by Boneweaver, on “The Necessity of Cutting Off One’s Legs In Spiritual Work.” Quote:  “I’ll explain my symbolic missing legs and what I’m willing to sacrifice for my deep work—and why!—and then I’d like to hear from you. Are you willing to be brave for the spiritual realizations you seek?” Details on how to join the Google Hangout-based discussion/symposium can be found, here.

10279415704_0dda6c8066_mGuatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun, who got quite a bit of press a couple years ago debunking the 2012 Mayan calendar “doomsday” hype, recently visited Oakland, California where he led a Mayan Fire Ritual for a gathering of the People of the Earth Community. M. Macha Nightmare published her impressions of the event back in September. Quote: “What appealed to me was the obvious care and reverence with which everything was brought together and performed, the sense of fellowship I felt, the beauty of the surroundings, both natural and human-made, the quiet filled with actions but not with talking, and the flames.  I’m grateful to have had this opportunity.” Now, photographer Gregory Harder has posted his photoset from that event to Flickr. For those clued into the California Bay Area Pagan scene, you’ll see several notable folks, including Luisah Teish, Don Frew, Gus diZerega, and more. Below I’ve included one of the photos, from the ritual in progress.

Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun

Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, please remember to support The Wild Hunt during our Fall Funding Drive so that we can continue to bring you reporting from our interconnected communities!

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

20130908_165455Adocentyn Research Library, a Pagan library located in the San Francisco Bay area, has reached a new milestone. According to Adocentyn board member and co-founder Donald H. Frew, the institution has now catalogued over 5000 books. Quote: “At the end of last weekend’s cataloguing day, we broke the 5000 mark and reached 5150 books in our online catalogue! You can see them, here. The most recent additions are shown at the top. (Make sure the drop down tab at the upper left shows “All collections”.) There are over 6000 volumes currently on-site (plus hundreds of periodicals) with another 5000+ coming (plus ephemera such as correspondence, notebooks, etc.). Cataloguing takes time, but we have 19 volunteers helping us move things along.” You can keep up with the latest announcements at their official Facebook page. Adocentyn has had preliminary talks with the New Alexandrian Library Project (currently under construction) and other institutions in forming a Pagan Libraries Organization so that they can share information, and offer inter-library loans.

Plans for the New Alexandrian Library

Plans for the New Alexandrian Library

Speaking of the New Alexandrian Library, work and fundraising on the project is ongoing. A project of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the library hopes to become “one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance.” If that is something you’d like to be a part of, September might be an excellent month to donate. The Louis Claude de St. Martin Fund of the Luzerne Foundation has offered a $500 matching challenge grant to the library. Assembly of the Sacred Wheel member Leanne Pemburn asks supporters to “consider a $10 donation, that will become $20, or a $50 donation that will become $100″ and that “now’s the time to magickally grow your donation!” You can find donation information, here. In other New Alexandrian Library news, if you go to their official Facebook page, you can see some of the books in their collection awaiting opening day. As their websites says, “you can play an important part in bringing this dream into reality. The immediate need is for the funds to build the library, although donations of books and other materials will be welcome. The New Alexandrian Library will be located in the sacred woods of Seelie Court in Southern Delaware and will be under the aegis of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, a 501(c)3 organization. All donations to the NAL are tax deductable.” You can see all previous reporting on this project, here.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

The Patheos Pagan channel has launched a new blog entitled “Voodoo Universe” featuring the writings of Lilith Dorsey, author of “Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism,” and an initiate in Santeria, Vodoun, and New Orleans Voodoo. In her first blog post, Dorsey lays out her spiritual journey. Quote: “My personal spiritual journey includes numerous initiations in Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo, and Santeria. In 1995 I became editor and publisher of the Oshunnewsletter, providing accurate and respectful information about Afro-Diasporan Pagan religions. I hold an undergraduate degree in anthropology and my graduate degree comes from a inter-disciplinary program in cinema/television studies and anthropology. Training is vital in any discipline, but takes on special significance in a spiritual context. Voodoo, Vodou, Santeria, Candomble, Ifa, Obeah, Hoodoo, and for that matter any other African based religion survives on it’s lineage, history, and training of it’s devotees.” As Afro-diasporic and African Traditional Religions become more popular, and more Pagans become initiates into these traditions, good information and news from these communities will be increasingly vital. I look forward to reading Voodoo Universe.

In Other Pagan Community News:

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

In a final note, today is the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. My prayers and thoughts go out to all who have suffered and died as a result of that day. I think Heather Greene’s recent thoughtful piece on visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York is an appropriate mediation for this day. You may also want to read my pieces from 2012 and 2011. Blessings to you all.

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down rulings on United States v. Windsor, which challenged the constitutionality of DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which centered on California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that banned legal same-sex marriages. In short, both rulings are seen as victories for proponents of marriage equality, and for clergy who perform same-sex marriages. The first ruling this morning from the Supreme Court was on the matter of DOMA, and it was ruled unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote. Here’s SCOTUSblog’s “Plain English” take on the ruling.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March of this year.

“The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

The California Proposition 8 ruling was more complex, and hinges on issues of standing, but it is widely seen as clearing the way for legal same-sex marriages in the state.

“The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.”

As I’ve reported several times before at this site, this issue is both about the basic human rights of same sex couples, and the rights of clergy who officiate their unions. The banning of legal same-sex unions was seen by many as privileging the religious views of those opposed to legal recognition over those who supported it. Now, with this latest hurdle crossed, same sex unions performed in states where it is legal (soon to include California) will be federally recognized, and those couples will receive all the benefits currently granted to married couples by the government. Washington DC Pagan, and Human Rights Campaign employee David Salisbury, in reacting to the SCOTUS decisions, celebrated today as a “watershed moment.”

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

“Although we were hoping for a broader decision, this is still an incredible day to be working for equality and a watershed moment for this movement. I am so proud of my colleagues at the Human Rights Campaign for all the work we’ve done to encourage nationwide support and excitement around this issue. We still have a lot of work to do in this area and many others in the future, but we here in Washington DC will celebrate this momentous day at the Supreme Court with cheers from the rest of the nation behind us. It is also a proud time to be an American Pagan, which is a movement of people who have largely always supported equality for all.”

Kathryn Robinson Kyair, a Gythja in the Asatru faith who was legally married to her partner in California before Prop. 8 won passage in 2008, was initially in a state of shock over the news, but eventually realized the ramifications: “We are equal.”

“How long have we fought, tooth and nail, for this?  Every step along the way has been a fight.  And suddenly, this one makes our marriage equal.  WOW. Prop H8:  thrown back to CA.  Judge Walker’s ruling stands.  Prop H8 is unconstitutional…his words…and now marriage in CA can resume!  Wow! It all slowly sinks in.  It’s all good.  Yes, there are still details to fight, but, it’s good! Holy S***!  My wife, Jeani, and I are married!  REALLY married.  It DOES feel different.  It finally feels REAL!”

For decades, many within the modern Pagan movement have performed marriage rites for same sex couples, and welcomed them into their religious groups and communities. Ivo Dominguez, Jr., an Elder of the Assembly of The Sacred Wheel, noted the irony of being able to officiate federally recognized wedding without be able to obtain one himself.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

“In the decades that I’ve been a Wiccan priest, I have officiated many federally recognized weddings. My lover and I will have been together 35 years next February. I have always noted the irony of being able to perform such a service without ever being able to be the recipient of the same. Today’s Supreme Court decision finally makes this possible, and we will soon be married. However I will remain vigilant because every step forward also brings out those who wish to drag us backwards. My religion views all love as sacred, but some other religions have different perspectives on this matter. Neither my religious views nor their religious views should matter in the eyes of the law. However my beliefs as a Wiccan will encourage me to make choices to defend my rights and the rights of others. I am overjoyed, and I am also prepared for this to be the beginning of yet more decades of work towards a nation that sees the intrinsic value of all love and all beings.”

Michael Lloyd, co-founder of the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering and author of “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan,” who has performed same-sex marriages as a Gay Pagan priest, noted the historic inequality between different religious views of same-sex relationships as this debate has evolved.

“As I look back on the debate that has surrounded the struggle for marriage equality in this country, I am struck by how much deference has been paid to the beliefs of religious institutions which have a long history of antipathy toward the gay community, while for the most part ignoring the beliefs – and the rights – of those institutions which have recognized the innate humanity of LGBT people who wish to form loving, supportive families. [...] Leaders of these religious organizations certainly bear a responsibility for their own dogma and how they manipulate it to maintain control over their own followers. However, they have no right to impose those beliefs upon society as a whole. In matters of faith, we are each the master of our own soul. And for that reason, I am joyful that the SCOTUS has seen fit to allow those who have lawfully taken this most public of private steps to be recognized by their government. May we all be so free within my lifetime. So mote it be.”

This is just a sample of the flood of positive reactions from Pagan leaders, clergy, and activists on these rulings. Covenant of the Goddess (COG), released a statement saying that “today we celebrate with all of our LGBT members, their friends, families and communities as they take a huge step forward in their struggle for acceptance and freedom under the law.” Author and Priestess Crystal Blanton said that today’s decision “brought us all one step closer to true spirituality,” while Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary exclaimed: “May our society continue to work toward having Equality, Liberty, and Justice for All!” David Shorey, GLBT Liaison for the House of Danu, looked to the future saying that he celebrates the rulings today but knows “that Love knows no borders. I know that one day Gay and Lesbian couples will be able to declare their commitment and love in all 50 states.” For many Pagan clergy, the sentiments of Lisa Morgenstern seem to hold true.

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

“As the former Public Information Officer for COG, back when the first CA court decision was rendered legalizing gay marriage,I am thrilled to see DOMA struck down, and Prop 8′s suit dismissed. COG clergy have been performing same gender marriages since the inception of the organization, in 1976, as their consciences permit.  As a member of The Troth who also performs Heathen weddings as well as Wiccan and Pagan ones, I believe that this step of legal recognition was long overdue. Right of survivorship is an important one, as well as the federal income tax benefit of filing jointly as a married couple. These benefits will apply to members of our military as well. The Troth does not discriminate against our gay members and never has. I have performed many same gender marriages and I look forward to resuming that joy in a legal capacity.”

Michele Morris, Distinctive Faith Group Leader for Fort Hood Open Circle, US Army Fort Hood, TX, noted how these decision will also affect same sex couples in a military setting, saying that for “most of the people that I work with it’s about the things that so many of us take for granted, like the right to be notified if your spouse is injured. To be able to be married in the faith and community of your choosing is something everyone should have access to and this decision will give pagan clergy the opportunity to grant that access to even more people.”

“Today’s Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8, while not as decisive and far-reaching as they could have been, are an important step in the decades-old movement to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples. Paganism has been at the forefront of that movement – many of us have performed religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples long before other religions started following suit. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but as of today, the writing on the wall is sharper and bolder than ever.”Andras Corban Arthen, The EarthSpirit Community

In the long run, what this is about, and why so many Pagans support marriage equality is simple. As Mage and Chiromancer Jim Barker puts it, “by allowing marriage between two people of the same gender, I can actually call my domestic partner “husband.”  When people ask if we are married, I can simply say, YES.  I don’t need all kinds of funny explanations.  And neither do my loved ones.  They can just say we’re married.” Our community embraces multiplicity, it embraces difference and all manifestations of love. “Our diversity is our wealth,” says Chris Moore, and he’s not wrong. 

There’s so much more to say here, and we’ll be doing follow-up posts. For now, I want to leave you with the words of Pagan author and activist Lydia M. N. Crabtree.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree

“I am struck at how yesterday the idea that there is discrimination against minority voters was scoffed at by the Supreme Court and today that same Court embraced the idea that the United States is discriminating against same sex marriage. It is almost as if we as a society do not have an ability to hold in our minds the prejudice of two groups at the same time. In both cases, these fights have been sent back to the state level – upholding the view that state rights is paramount. As a Southerner this disturbs me. I am all too familiar with what happens when States have control of making and governing minority groups. Things here in Georgia are unlikely to change for my friends who wish to marry whom they love regardless of gender. Just as I suspect that more voting laws will be attempted making voting more difficult for minority groups and redrawing district lines to keep Georgia a red state for as long as possible, given the fact that these practices of voter suppression have been on going. I do not think the United States people should breathe a sigh of relief. This Court clearly shows the great imbalance between the will of the people and the people who hold power. A clear reflection of the disparity of power between the will of the people and the Senate and Congress. Now isn’t the time to celebrate, it is the time to recognize two important thing. 1. Any minority discrimination is too much discrimination, whether the issue is around same-sex marriage or voting rights. 2. If the states retain the right to restrict minority groups indirectly, we should understand the dangerous precedent and remember the historic cost of state rights throughout history.”

Today we have a victory, but our collective work for justice continues. Let’s all keep standing for love.