Archives For Starhawk

RobertRudachukHeathen Robert Rudachyk has announced his candidacy for Canada’s Liberal Party of Saskatchewon. Rudachyk ran in 2014 and, in an interview with The Wild Hunt, talked about his goals and his work as an openly Heathen candidate.

He said,If I am able to become the candidate, I intend to run my campaign on the issues facing all Canadians, not on my faith. I will never hide who I am, but I will also not whip my hammer out in public and shove it into people’s faces.”

This year, Rudachyk is running “to be elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly ( MLA) for this seat or district as you might call it. It is for the provincial government of Saskatchewan It is essentially the provincial parliament.” The campaign was just announced, and we will have more from Rudachyk in the weeks to come. The election itself will be held in April 2016.

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Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

(Photo: T. Mierzwicki)

On July 17, Professor Sabina Magliocco created a new survey for an independent study on fairy legends in the Pagan community. Magliocco is a professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge. Her online survey was titled “Fairies in Contemporary Paganism.” She wrote, “I’m interested in your legends, experiences and beliefs surrounding the fairies, fae, sidhe, Fair Folk, pixies, trolls, and similar creatures from any cultural tradition. What are they? Do you work with them in your spiritual practice? What is their role in the world today?”

Within one week, Prof. Magliocco received over 500 responses, far exceeding the allowances of the technology used. She announced the survey’s closing and began compiling the data. Although the work has only begun, she offered this quick assessment: “a majority of respondents believe fairies are real and associate them with the natural world. Nonetheless, fairies are not central to the majority of respondents’ religious practice — but a substantial number of respondents do interact with them, mostly by making offerings.” The full results will be presented at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, held in Claremont, California in January 23-24, 2016

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Many Gods West Facebook Photo

Coming up this weekend is the brand new conference, Many Gods West. As noted on the event website, it is “meant to be a celebration of [many] traditions, those newly-reconstructed and those continuously-practiced. There are many gods in the world, and many peoples worshiping them.”

Held at The Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia, Washington, Many Gods West will feature three days of workshops, lectures, rituals and more. The keynote address will be delivered by Priest and Author Morpheus Ravenna on Friday at 7:00pm. Rituals include the Bakcheion (Βακχεῖον)’s “Filled with Frenzy,” Coru Cathubodua’s “Devotional to Cathobodua,” and Viducus Brigantici, Filius’ “Kalends Ritual” and more. Many Gods West opens for the very first time on Friday, July 31 and runs to Sunday, Aug 2.

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HUAR Logo

Over the past few months, there have been some changes to the group Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR). According to various sources, the group experienced internal conflict in June, which led to a split between the various moderators, organizers and facilitators. The disagreements were centered around internal operations and structure.

HUAR is currently still in operation and slowly re-building. In a recent post, The HUAR Team wrote, “We have undergone some recent internal reorganization to be more effective in accomplishing our goals of opposing racism and co-optation of Heathenry by racialist groups and organizations. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons from the mistakes of the past few years and are working to be more effective now and going forward.” *

In addition, a new group has formed called Heathens For Social Justice (HFSJ), which was created after the June events. HFSJ is run by nine democratically-elected board members. They describe the group as a “safe space” and as being “committed to fighting all oppressions, wherever [they] find them, in service to both [the] heathen community and [their] local, regional and national communities.” Organizers added, “We are about action, not platitudes.”

While the two groups do have some crossover in purpose and goals, their focuses do appear to be slightly different. We will continue to report on both groups as they continue or begin their advocacy and work.

In Other News

  • The Sacred Harvest Festival is about to kick-off its eighteenth year at its brand new location in Northern Minnesota. The festival will be held at Atchingtan in Finlayson,MN, which is 90 minutes north of St. Paul. As always, the scheduled is packed with rituals, drumming, workshops and other events. The guest speaker will be Shaman Joy Wedmedyk. PNC-Minnesota has recently published an interview with Wedmedyk, in which she says, “I want the people who attend to know the reason I teach is because I want people to have as much information as possible to be able to move forward spiritually and to know prosperity and abundance in all levels of their life. I love to encourage people to develop their own skill set, and perhaps offer them a different perspective about a practice they may already be doing.” Sacred Harvest Festival begins on Monday, August 3 and runs through Aug. 9.
  • Mills College Student and co-founder of the Pagan Alliance Kristen Oliver has been selected as a Chapel Programs Assistant. Oliver said, “I will be working for the interim Multifaith Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life (SRL). I will be doing things like managing SRL’s Facebook page, helping to organize and lead activities and events like the school’s multifaith Festival of Light and Dark which happens in December, and being available to students who have spiritual/religious queries.” Oliver added that she “continues to be impressed” by the school’s support of the Pagan Alliance and Pagan students.
  • As we reported last week, Starhawk has ventured into self-publishing for The City of Refuge, the sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. To accomplish this task, she will be opening a Kick Starter Campaign to pay for various aspects of the process. The campaign will begin on July 31, as suggested by Starhawk’s favorite astrologer. As she writes, “It’s also the eve of Lammas or Lughnasad, August 1, one of the eight great festivals of the Celtic and Pagan year.” 
  • EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen was invited to sit on a panel called the “Indigenous Leadership Talk Issues and Innovation” at the Nexus Global Youth Summit, held at The United Nations. The other panel participants included “Abhayam Kalu Ugwuomo, Chief Kalu Ugwuomo, Tonatiuh Cervantes, Aina Olomo, Ricardo Cervantes, Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk.”
[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

  • Ivo Dominguez, Jr will be hosting a new workshop in Delaware to be taught by Byron Ballard. Held on Aug. 29, the workshop, called “Old Wild Magic of the Motherlands,” will be based Ballard’s new research on Appalachian traditions. Ballard’s work is focused on the magical traditions and cultures of her home in the mountains of the Appalachian region. For her next book, she has been studying the various customs that came over from the British Isles. Ballard notes, “The charms, spells and talismans that crossed with those ragged immigrants from Scotland, Northumberland, Cornwall and Cumbria are little known and very interesting. Weather workings, healing charms, curses and blessings–all handed down to us from a by-gone age.” The new workshop will present her findings and will be held in Georgetown, Delaware on Aug. 29.

That is it for now! Have a great day.

american heathens A new book American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement will is now available from Temple University Press. Written by Professor Jennifer Snook, the book “is the first in-depth ethnographic study about the largely misunderstood practice of American Heathenry (Germanic Paganism).” Snook traces the trajectory of the movement itself and highlights stories from modern practitioners.

Snook is a professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi, and has been a practicing Heathen since the age of eighteen. Because of her perspective, the book “treats Heathens as members of a religious movement, rather than simply a subculture reenacting myths and stories of enchantment.”

American Heathens was published on June 12 and is available in print and ebook. For those interested, the publisher’s website is currently offering a content list and a PDF excerpt from chapter one.

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Cambridge University will be hosting a day-long workshop titled “Generation Hex: Politics of Contemporary Paganism.” To be held on September 10, the workshop “aims to explore the political discourses of contemporary Pagan religions, whether Witchcraft, Druidry or Goddess spirituality.”

Organizers say, “Pagan ideologies are interwoven with the political, from the feminist eco-anarchism of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, to the conservative racial essentialism of Stephen McNallen. How these representations translate into ethical/political commitments is open to question.” They are currently calling for papers on the topic within the disciplines of “Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, Gender and Religion, Study of Religions, Social Anthropology, Intellectual and Political History, Gender Studies, Queer Studies.”

The conveners include Jonathan Woolley, University of Cambridge; Kavita Maya, SOAS, University of London; Elizabeth Cruze, Druid Elder and Activist. For more information they ask that people contact them via email at l genhex15@gmail.com.

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Starhawk

Speaking of Starhawk, she has just announced the publication of the long-awaited sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. Written over twenty years ago, The Fifth Sacred Thing has become one of the Starhawk’s most notable and popular works. As she writes, it is a “futuristic novel in which an ecotopian Northern California struggles to resist an invasion by the brutal, militarist Southlands using nonviolence and magic.”

Since that publication, Starhawk moved through many other projects, which even included a potential film version of the novel. But, then in recent years, she returned to the story, saying, “the characters from the world of Fifth were coming alive for me again, clamoring to tell more …” Completed October 2014, the book was shipped to Bantam Publishing, Fifth‘s publisher.

Unforutnately, after several months of waiting, Starhawk received a rejection letter. As a result, she has decided to venture into the world self-publishing. She wrote, “I was mad. Yes, there is an audience for the book … Maybe not Stephen King’s audience, but I believe there are a significant number of people who would like to read the book. And I intend to get it to you all!” The new book, entitled City of Refuge, now has a Facebook page, where readers can follow the Starhawk’s progress on this new adventure.

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Emblem_of_the_United_States_Department_of_the_Army.svgMaking the mainstream media rounds is a report featuring a story that we’ve been following for quite some time. Active-duty Heathens in the U.S. Army continue to push for recognition or, as The Washington Post asks, “Will Thor Join the Army?”

In January, Josh Heath and other Heathen soldiers had been informed that recognition was finally achieved. However, neither Asatru or Heathen was ever added to the approved list. As we reported in June, the decision was put on hold “pending the findings of a Defense Department working group investigating how to create a single set of faith group codes across the service.”

With this recent article, which was produced by Religion News Service, the story has now attracted the attention of mainstream audiences. RNS journalists interviewed Jeremiah McIntyre, an active-duty sergeant who has joined the cause. McIntyre is quoted as saying,”It’s all well and good to be allowed to display my religion on my tombstone, but I’d like to be able to display it while I’m still alive.”  He is, of course, referring to the Department of Veterans affairs acceptance of Thor’s Hammer for gravestones in 2013. While the symbol is accepted for tombstone markers, McIntyre and other Heathens still cannot claim the religion while on active-duty.

The RNS article recounts their struggle, saying that, six month after being informed of acceptance, Heathens are “back to square one.” It also notes that Heath, McIntyre and others are now doubling their efforts with a brand-new letter writing campaign and outreach. Time will only tell if the increase in visibility, both through the new campaign and recent media attention, will help turn the tides in their favor.

In Other News

  • There has been a small update in the Kenny Klein case. In 2014, Klein, a well-known Pagan musician, was charged with the possession of child pornography. Ever since the arrest, his case has been lingering in the Louisiana courts. Now, it is being reported that there are eight charges open, and Klein’s attorney has made a motion for a speedy trial to be heard on August 21. We will continue to bring you updates on this story as they occur.
  • Treadwell’s bookshop in London will be featured in a music video for the up-and-coming singer/songwriter Ben Craig. Owner Christina Oakley Harrington spent Saturday and into Sunday morning at her store while filmmakers did their work. Interestingly, this was not the first time that Treadwell’s was used in a music video. She said, “The last time we hired out the shop the unknown band was a little folksy group called Mumford & Sons.” The video, “White Blank Page (The Bookshop Sessions)” is still available on the internet.
  • Pagan Pride season is getting closer and groups are beginning to announce their programming. Pagan Pride Raleigh, which reportedly attracts over 3,000 people, is held over two days in September. Organizers have added a new feature called “Friends and Family Day” that will focus on educating the non-Pagan public about “Pagan lifestyles.” Further north, Philadelphia Pagan Pride has announced its return on September 5. They are currently looking for vendors, presenters, donations and volunteers. Look for more Pride event announcements in the future.
  • Wild Hunt journalist Terence P. Ward has put together a new book of prayers to Poseidon. Titled Depth of Praise, the book, as Ward explained, “started out as an assignment [directly] from Poseidon. ‘Learn more about me,’ he said, ‘by writing hymns to my epithets’. ” First Ward wrote, “29 separate hymns and prayers that explored [Poseidon’s] aspects.” Seven of those writings will be included in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina volume From the Roaring Deep” and he has since written more. While much of this new devotional is finished, Ward has started a small kickstarter campaign to fund interior illustrations, which he admits that he cannot do himself. He hopes that the final book will contain a good number of line drawings “depicting Poseidon in his many aspects.”
  • Gods and Radicals is now accepting submissions for its first print journal. The subtitle reads, “Forest-edged dreams against Capital Inked Dreams of an Other World.” Editors are looking for everything from prose to poetry; photographs and reviews. All submissions are due Sept 15. Interested parties can contact them at gods.and.radicals@gmail.com

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

CORRECTION: We originally reported the publication date of American Heathens as being in August, which was the date given in the press release. However, that date did change and the book is currently available.

Andy Paik at the Grand Canyon  (Feb 14 2015)

Andy Paik at the Grand Canyon (Feb 14 2015)

Andrew Paik, teacher, longtime Reclaiming member and founder of Free Activist Witchcamp, has passed away. The above photo was taken only days before his death. As indicated in a public post written by his wife Karen, the image depicts “how [Andy would] like to be remembered.”

Andy was born and raised in California. He grew up in Mill Valley and attended Marin Catholic High School. After graduating in 1983, he enrolled at the University of California, at Berkeley and graduated in 1988.

In 1994, Andy joined the Reclaiming Tradition, a San Francisco-based collective of Witches that had formed in the early 1980s. Starhawk, one of its original founders, remembered Andy in a blog post, calling him, “a dedicated and courageous activist and a good friend.”

By the late 1990s, Andy, a passionate nature-lover, had joined several environmental activist groups including Earth First! and Cascadia Forest Defenders. He was frequently interviewed in the news media and attended rallies across the country. Andy eventually also joined up with the Pagan Cluster, a national group of loosely connected Pagan activists. He discussed and cataloged some of his work in articles published in Reclaiming Quarterly (RQ).

170781_121893051217382_4803387_oIn 2004, Andy began contemplating the idea of a free Pagan gathering. In an RQ article titled “Money, Power and Free Witchcamp,” he discussed the evolution of his thought process. He wrote:

In our world today, learning magical skills is not a new age, fluffy bunny way to while away a weekend. Magical skills are survival skills … And these skills need to be available to everyone, not just to people who can write a check.

As noted, Andy found support for this idea both at Reclaiming’s 2004 Dandelion Gathering, held in South Texas, and within his local Reclaiming community.

Using the Earth First! national gathering as a model, Andy helped coordinate and host the very first Reclaiming Free Activist Witchcamp. It was held in 2005 at the Twin Lakes region of the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. By 2009, Andy left as the organizer but the event continued on. It is now called Free Cascadia Witchcamp and will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in Summer 2015.

Throughout the decade, Andy was an active member of ReWeaving, an open circle in the Reclaiming Tradition based in Los Angeles. He was a tireless environmental activist and teacher of the Reclaiming Tradition. In her blog post, Starhawk also noted that Andy was an accomplished stage magician. Other friends have recalled his love of puns, his friendship and his many stories.

In recent years, Andy was living in Hawthorne, California with his wife Karen. This February, he drove to see the Grand Canyon and, in one of his last public Facebook posts, he wrote, “Just out on a road trip to see what we can find…”

According to Starhawk, on Feb. 23, Karen returned home from work to find Andy unconscious in his home. The Paramedics were unable to revive him. Writing from Belize with limited and unreliable internet access, she added, “I am really devastated and sad.”

A memorial will be held at a friend’s home on Mar. 14 at 2 p.m. in Glendale. For those that would like to attend, Karen has posted the details on Andy’s public Facebook page. In addition, she included these words by Rumi:

Beyond ideas of rightness and wrongness there is a field. I will meet you there when the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

What is remembered, lives.

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

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As noted in The Guardian, the short list for the coveted Bookseller/Diagram Prize was just announced, and a Pagan author was on it. Diana Rajchel’s Divorcing a Real Witch has been selected as finalist in the annual competition that celebrates books with “odd titles.” It is a light-hearted literary award that has been on-going since 1978. In recent years, the winner has been selected by popular vote through Bookseller’s website. Last year’s winner was How to Poo on a Date written by Mats & Enzo.

When asked how she felt about being nominated for what is called “Britain’s most prestigious literary award,” Rajchel’s said, “In its own strange way, a Diagram award nomination makes me feel a bit vindicated. When I shopped this book, I went back and forth on this title. My friends that are longtime veterans in publishing loved it. Some readers in the UK apparently quibble about what kind of witch is a real witch anyway so this hit a nerve for a few; people in the US found the title either funny or offensive depending on their own worldview. If the attention brought to my book by this nomination gets people to read it, and to think about divorce and taking care of themselves in a different way, I’m glad of it.”  Other nominees include: Nature’s Nether Regions, Where do Camels Belong and Advanced Pavement Research. To vote, go to Bookseller’s sister site “We Love This Book.”  The winner will be announced on March 27.

  • Although it doesn’t appear to be October, The Guardian has published a long article titled “Season of Witch: why young woman are flocking to the ancient craft.” Written by Sady Doyle, the article explores the unending, youthful fascination with Witchcraft. She writes, “Images of witchcraft call to so many women – straight and not, white and of color, religious and devoutly atheist – because the task of reclaiming the witch is a fundamentally poetic one.” Doyle begins and ends with quotes from rapper Azealia Banks who equates her interest in Witchcraft, in part, to being a minority and associated experiences. However, Doyle fails to explore the full implications of Banks’ statement, jumping right into the discussion of feminism and its ties to the cultural mythos of the Witch. She quotes a number of different practitioners, including Starhawk, for an in-depth discussion of Witchcraft as female empowerment.
  • On Feb. 26, The Debrief published an article in reaction to the Guardian’s piece. It is titled “Are More Twenty Something Women Turning to Witchcraft? We asked an Expert.” Who was that expert? None other than our own columnist Christina Oakley Harrington. Writer Stevie Martin, once a teenage dabbler herself, talked to Harrington about the reality of young people “flocking” to Wicca. Martin quoted Harrington as saying, “[Witchcraft] is empowering for young woman, it addresses the sacredness of their individuality, it says that a woman is entitled to power, and the more powerful she is, the more healthy she’ll be. Psychologically. She is not a sex object and she is not a consumer object … She has the right to a place in society, but if she’s forced to the margins of society then she should stand proud of who she is.”
  • Speaking of Witches, the Courtauld Gallery in London is now exhibiting “Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album.” According to the site, “This major exhibition reunites all the surviving drawings from the Witches and Old Women Album for the first time, offering a fascinating and enlightening view of a very private and personal Goya.” As the curator’s note, these works were never meant to be seen beyond a few of Goya’s friends. The exhibition will be open until May 25.
  • The Pew Research Center just released its report on the Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and HostilitiesTaken from data collected in 2013, the report analyzes “the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.” According to the Center, “social hostilities involving religion” decreased from 2012-2013, while incidents of antisemitism steadily increase. New in this report is an “analysis of government restrictions and social hostilities aimed primarily at religious minorities.” This data is not broken down by specific practice.
  • A recent U.S.A Today report highlights the recent increase in the tragic and horrible Albino killings in the African country of Tanzania. In Jan, NPR published a similar report, in which they asked, “Can a ban on witchcraft protect the Albinos of Tanzania?” Last month, the country banned the practice of witchcraft in a desperate attempt to curtail the killings of those citizens born with Albinism. Tanzania is considered to have the largest population of Albino citizens. Unfortunately, their condition brings with it real dangers. Many superstitions ascribe magical powers to Albinism, and believers will kill and mutilate those affected to acquire body parts. The witchcraft ban is an attempt to end this practice and to protect the Albino population. News sources and humanitarian aid organizations are littered with these horror stories. But is banning witchcraft really the solution?
  • A student at a Portland, Maine high school sparked a local controversy after changing the way she welcomed others to recite the morning pledge of allegiance over the school’s intercom. Student Council President Lily SanGiovanni said, “At this time would you please rise and join me for the Pledge of Allegiance if you’d like to.” According to reports, SanGiovanni and two friends had recently learned that reciting the Pledge was optional, and wanted to make that point clear to the student body. In a recent interview with local reporters, SanGiovanni explained, “The reference to ‘under God’ makes us uncomfortable because it’s a public school. It has nothing to do with our patriotism.” Backlash erupted almost immediately and spread throughout the community.
  • ISIL militants have reportedly been destroying priceless, ancient artifacts in a Mosul museum. The leader of an ISIL resistance group was quoted as saying, “Our civilisation and the culture of our people is being destroyed.”
  • The Hallmark Channel turned its successful film franchise, The Good Witch, into an original series. The 2-hour premiere debuted yesterday, Feb. 28.

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Leonard Nimoy, 1931- 2015 [Photo Credit Gage Skidmore]

 

 

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

justice graphicOn Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, Wild Hunt columnist, Priestess, writer, and long-time activist, issued a challenge to the collective Pagan communities, saying “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community, and society, by saying… we see you. We are not ignoring you, we are not staying silent.” Over the past four days, a growing number of individuals, groups and organizations have responded by publishing statements of solidarity, open letters and personal blog posts.

The Wild Hunt will be covering this story in detail in the coming week as others organizations and individuals are currently finalizing their own words. Some of statements already published include those by Starhawk, T. Thorn Coyle, Pantheon Foundation, CAYA covenSolar Cross, Ár nDraíocht Féin, and more. Stay tuned for more on this subject.

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The New Alexandrian Library announced that it has received its certificate of occupancy. The statement read, in part, “This means we are now ready to do the final walkthrough with the contractor; to begin the process of moving in shelves, furniture, books and artwork; and to think about a grand opening. We want to thank everyone who worked so hard and so long to make this dream a reality, who believed that the ASW could create such a resource for the Magickal Community.”

Additionally, the library has launched a new fundraising campaign for its 2015 Gala to be held at Sacred Space on Mar. 7 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Maryland.

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The Druid NetworkThe Druid Network announced that it has compiled and recreated the shared liturgy of the now closed Solitary Druid Fellowship (SDF). Shut down in September, SDF was an experimental project for solitary Druids and an extension of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). As explained on the Druid Network website, “The Fellowship provided free liturgies for each of the Eight High Days of the Pagan Wheel of the Year, each based on ADF’s Core Order of Ritual.”

In the spirit of digital archiving and preserving important work, members of The Druid Network have uploaded all of these liturgies in one location for easy download. Organizers said, “It was such an excellent resource – not only for ADF druids – but for the whole community.” They also added that, if SDF should re-emerge, they will be happy to pass on the files to the new founders.

In Other News:

  • Over the past two weeks, Facebook has shut down several Pagan accounts as part of the enforcement of its “real name policy.” A number of people were targeted in this sweep, including authors Raven Grimassi and Storm Constantine. Speculation continues as to how and why this happens.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the opening of registration for spring classes. This registration is for both the masters courses toward a degree, as well as they four-week insight classes for non-seminary students.
  • Rootworker and Orisha Priest Lou Florez will be taking a pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an interview with Erick DuPree, Florez said, “…an invitation has been extended to travel to Nigeria in February with an esteemed elder and teacher, and to take the high priesthood initiation in IFA, the root of all Orisha religions. In addition to receiving this once-in-a-lifetime spiritual elevation, I will also train in traditional medicine making, and herbalism from elder priestesses and priests.” Florez has started a fundraising campaign to help fund the trip.
  • The deadline for submission to Paganicon 5 and Twin Cities Pagan Pride annual Third Offering sacred art exhibition is drawing near. As organizers explain, “Inspired to gather and create beauty as our third offering to our Gods and our community, this exhibition welcomes all types of visual media by artists who are capable of expressing a Pagan or polytheistic aesthetic.” The deadline is Jan. 1. The exhibition will be held at Paganicon, Mar.13-15.
  • Tea & Chanting Sangha is “is doing 100,000 recitations of OM MANI PADME HUM to create healing and change regarding police brutality:” The organization “integrates Pagan and Tibetan Buddhist practices.” Throughout the month, organizers will tally the number of recitations, whether recited together or individually. They encourage people to participate or join them on line. As of Dec. 7, they have done 13,075 recitations.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

PACO 2014 logoThis past weekend, more than fourscore Pagans attended the first Pagan Activism Conference Online, or PACO. The event was sponsored by the Pantheon Foundation, which also serves as fiscal sponsor for The Wild Hunt, and included a total of nine sessions on how activism fits into Pagan lives. Having been given a press pass to the conference and experiencing some of the sessions firsthand, I’ve elected to depart from my usual style of journalistic third person, and write about what I learned at the conference, as well as pull together reactions from other people.

On a technical level, the conference was a success. The minor hiccups that did occur, such as presenters unable to log in to the software on time, some people being harder to hear than others, were no more distracting than similar challenges faced during any in-person workshops. Yeshe Rabbit, one of two event organizers, worked hard to find the right platform for the job. She said:

PACO exceeded my technical expectations. I have been using the conference software Zoom for over a year for my personal readings, CAYA Coven meetings, and the Tea & Chanting sangha, so I have a pretty decent familiarity with it. I know it’s easy to learn, user-friendly, and generally reliable. I researched 4 different conference software programs before choosing this one for its clean, simple interface and how it had performed in my other projects.

The software was indeed easy to use, and allowed participants to see each other and the presenters, as well as chat with each other individually or as a group — something which Rabbit gently discouraged at the beginning of each session by asking attendees to show restraint until the floor was opened to questions. Zoom also allowed attendance by phone only, or by watching online and listening via phone. That’s the combination I chose during one session, because I could watch the action and move around my kitchen. But the convenience for me paled in comparison to the simple access it granted to others who normally wouldn’t be able to participate in an event like this. Rabbit said:

Online conferences, in my opinion, are one of the best ways to host a really inclusive conversation about ideas, data, and strategy. They are: widely accessible, Earth friendly, economical, and they allow people from all over the nation to connect meaningfully when they might not otherwise be able to. We had attendees at PACO who cannot attend other Pagan events due to disability, financial reasons, and chemical sensitivity. That level of inclusion felt like a big win. While not a replacement for street activism or the connections we create at in-person events, this conference showed me that we can take our online activism a step further. Beyond just sharing posts that outrage us, or commiserating in the comments sections of blogs, PACO showed me that we are able to use this medium to learn, trade tools, connect, plan, and strategize for actual change.

That strategizing for change came through in a number of different panel discussions. Some sessions addressed using existing tools (e.g., the media) or models (e.g., building infrastructure) to amplify the voice of Pagan activists. Another session focused on the nuts and bolts of the “Care and Feeding of Pagan Activists.” In the spirit of keeping our own house in order, one session was entitled “Consenting Adults: Sexual Ethics in the Pagan Community,” while another focused on Pagan religious rights and how to defend them. The opening panel for the conference, called “Earth Activism,” addressed an area of concern near and dear to Pagans of many paths, while two other sessions focused on Pagans who may often feel silenced, those of color and the LGBTQI community, and how to ensure that their voices are heard.  In the keynote address, T. Thorn Coyle spoke to the how that silencing can happen. She pointed out that white people feel that they must contribute to the conversation, and that is usually done by talking and not listening. As a white man who has worked very hard on speaking out rather than giving into shyness, I found that Coyle got more than too close for comfort with that observation.

Organizers Yeshe Rabbit and Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir made sure to take advantage of the online nature of this conference. The hashtags #PACO and #RITEaction were promoted as tools to talk about the event on social media, along with individual hashtags for each session: #PACOECO, #PACOMedia, #PACOPOC, #PACOGender, #PACOCare, #PACOBuild, #PACORights, and #PACOConsent. While these hashtags can reveal of wealth of commentary about the conference, I found that #PACO has many other uses on Twitter, so it’s more difficult to sift through to the good stuff using that hashtag alone.

Each of the sessions was also recorded, and I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to see sessions that I didn’t attend.


One theme that I noticed cropping up, and Rabbit remarked upon as well, was hospitality:

The focus for this year’s PACO was, ‘Human Rights & Relations.’ We were looking primarily in this conference at how humans oppress one another, how we can support one another instead, how we think about the issues on the table, who is at the table for the discussion, and how we can safeguard that everyone has a voice at that table. From there, the biggest theme that emerged, and it emerged brilliantly through our speakers, was that at its foundation, activism for human rights sits most effectively on a commitment to hospitality. Learning the art of welcoming people to the table, making room for those we might otherwise ignore from our positions of privilege, treating one another’s needs and preferences as worthy and sacred, and creating an atmosphere of celebration of our differences rather than competition are all aspects of the hospitality our speakers called for this weekend. “If I had to sum it up briefly, I’d say that I came away from this conference with the clear message: ‘We are all guests on this Earth. Let’s host one another while we are here with great care.’ And then we learned lots of different ways to care for one another well.

Could hospitality be one of those elusive shared values among the many Pagan, Polytheist, and Indigenous religious communities? I won’t say for sure that it is, but as someone who is always seeking to articulate the common thread among our traditions, it certainly appeals. Hospitality is implicit in being able to talk with, and ultimately work with, people of widely different viewpoints by setting those aside long enough to find common goals. While it’s possible to suppress or ignore differences among people working together, it’s a lot harder to vilify someone of a different color, political affiliation, or socioeconomic class if you know them to be a human being, too.

What’s next for Pagan activism? That remains to be seen. Any conference, online or in person, can create more light than heat if the passion felt by participants doesn’t translate into action. I’m hopeful that, in the coming weeks and months, the hashtags used during the conference will be able to track #RITEaction that follows, but only time will tell.

What’s next for PACO? Yeshe Rabbit pronounced it a success, and is already planning for the next one, tentatively scheduled for November of 2015. “One change we are looking to make for next year is to have an American Sign Language interpreter in a separate, high-resolution window so that D/deaf folks can follow along more readily if they don’t have closed captioning for this sort of software on their own computers,” she reported. “We also intend next year to leave the chat windows open for 15 minutes after the sessions have closed, to allow for the kind of mingling and informational exchange that would happen if one attended an in-person event.”

The conference has also inspired two related projects for the Pantheon Foundation. One is a weekly roundup of Pagan activism links (submissions for which can be submitted via email to pantheonfoundation@gmail.com), and the other is an annual Journal of Pagan Activism Studies to be edited by Rion Roberts.

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

WH2014_BIG

We’ll start off Pagan Community Notes with a big thank you to all those people and organizations who supported our 2014 Fall Fund Drive. You helped us meet and exceed our goal, and for that we are very grateful. Over the next month, we will be contacting those people who requested perks. Columnist Eric Scott is already hard at work on those Panda drawings.  Again thank you from all of us at The Wild Hunt.  Now on to the news….

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margot-adlerOn Oct 31, Margot Adler’s closet friends and family gathered in a private memorial service to honor her life. The event was held at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New York City. Andras Corban-Arthen was in attendance and has posted several photos on his public Facebook page. In her will, Margot had requested that EarthSpirit’s ritual singing group, Mother Tongue, perform at her service. Corban-Arthen said, “We were all very glad and honored to perform a few pieces in her memory.”

Starhawk has published the words she wrote for the memorial service on her blog. She ended the piece saying, “As [Margot] takes her place among the Mighty Dead of the Craft, she becomes even more fully what she has always been: an ally, a friend, a wise guide, a challenger and a refuge.”

On Oct 30, Rev. Selena Fox, another longtime friend of Margot’s, announced that Circle Sanctuary was “dedicating a memorial stone for Margot and placing it at [it’s] green cemetery, Circle Cemetery, a place that Margot visited and loved.” The stone includes the words, “Drawing Down the Moon, Inspiring Pagan Voice.”

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time-logo-ogOn Oct 28, TIme Magazine online published an article entitled, “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in Real Life.”  The article has generated a storm of controversy that has led to a petition on Change.org and numerous other mainstream articles outlining Pagan response. Blogger Jason Mankey wrote, “I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.” We will be following up on this story later in the week.

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Cara Schulz

Tomorrow is election day in the U.S. As we have already reported, Wild Hunt staff writer Cara Schulz is running for Burnsville City Council. In recent weeks, she ran into some conflict over her religion. Although Schulz hasn’t hidden her beliefs, a local resident only recently discovered that she was Pagan, and sent a concerned letter to the editor. After it was published, Schulz responded by saying “The letter wasn’t explicitly degrading towards Pagan religions, but it’s clear the motive was to induce fear and sensationalism about my religious beliefs and encourage people to vote for my opponents specifically because they aren’t Pagans.” She called the situation laughable, adding, “Religion is irrelevant to a person’s fitness for public office and is private.” Schulz has called on her opponents to denounce the letter’s intent. However, that has yet to happen.

In Other News:

  • The organizers of Paganicon have announced that Lupa will be the 2015 Guest of Honor. They wrote, “We at Twin Cities Pagan Pride are extremely excited and honored to have Lupa join us.” They added that she’s a “perfect fit” to help explore the conference’s theme: Primal Mysteries. Paganicon 2015 will be held March 13-15 at the Double Tree in Saint Louis Park.
  • As announced by the Polytheist Leadership Conference, the New York Regional Diviners Conference is coming up this month.  As written on the site, “For one day in November, diviners from a plethora of traditions will gather in Fishkill, NY to discuss their art, network, exchange knowledge, and learn new techniques.” The conference is held on Nov 29 at the Quality Inn in Fishkill.
  • Treadwell’s Bookshop owner and Wild Hunt UK Columnist Christina Oakley Harrington was interviewed for a short film called “Witches and Wicked Bodies: A ZCZ Films Halloween Special.” The 9 minute film focuses on the British Museum‘s current exhibition of “Witches and Wicked Bodies.” Toward the end of the program, the host visits Treadwell’s and talks to Christina about modern day Witchcraft and Pagan practice.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary announced the start of a new class called, “Indigenous Traditions of the Sacred.” The class is being taught by Leta Houle, who “is Plains Cree from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan.” The program’s goal is to introduce students to the “meaning of what is sacred to Indigenous peoples, including the issue of cultural appropriation.”
  • This October the Northern Illinois University Pagan Alliance decided to try something entirely new. They ran a Pagan Spirit Week from Oct 27-31. President Sara Barlow explains that the purpose was “to raise awareness of and celebrate the presence of Pagan students at Northern Illinois University. We invited others on campus to learn more about aspects of our culture through activities such as meditation, anti-stress charms, divination, runic magic, and our open Samhain ritual.”  Barlow said the response was excellent and that they even picked up a few new members. Now the group hopes to make Spirit Week a yearly tradition.

That is all 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. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!] 

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

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

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The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

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

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

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

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[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

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

In Other News:

[We are excited to introduce our newest column: The Wild Hunt Book Review. Each month writer Lisa Roling will offer a review of a new release that may be of interest to our readers. We hope to include a wide variety of topics that highlight the current trends in thought and expression. Remember our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. If you like this new column and want to see The Wild Hunt grow by adding new voices and columns, please consider donating today!]

In September 2014, Emma Watson stood before the UN and delivered a speech that inspired and touched many. Announcing the kick-off of the HeForShe initiative, she offered an invitation especially to men to join this movement and to help bring about true gender equality worldwide. Not only does she point out the ongoing daily struggles that women world face, such as poverty, lack of education, lack of authorship in their lives, but she also reminds us that feminism is not only about women and women’s rights. Feminism is about human rights. The right of women to make decisions regarding their own bodies. The right of men to be sensitive and in touch with their emotions. The right of women to earn as much as men when they do the same work. The right of men to be valued equally as parents. To those who are reluctant to join the cause, Watson reminds us of Statesman Edmund Burke’s statement: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”

Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World is a collection of essays, interviews, and calls-to action by people who have refused to do nothing. Much of their work goes beyond simply bringing about equality.  It reaches farther into what they see as the root of sexism, violence, and the decline of the environment’s health: the lost connection with the sacred feminine.

VSF Anthology Front CoverEdited by Rev. Dr. Karen Tate  and featuring the voices of some of the most well-known advocates of the sacred feminine, this anthology highlights the important work that has been done and insight into the work that still remains. Starting with an essay by Amy Peck, MA (aka Amalya) of the Goddess Studio, the book first defines the paradigm of the sacred feminine: one which “restores the balance of the spiritual, cultural, and pragmatic relationship between Feminine/Masculine, Mother/Father, Women/Men and Earth/Spirit ideals.” From there, the book shows the myriad and creative ways that men and women are bringing about change in the world, whether through ritual, education, publishing, media outlets, environmental activism, or political change.

Many readers will recognize the names of several of the book’s contributors. Reverend Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary makes an early appearance to introduce us to Lady Liberty – the Goddess of Freedom – and her many incarnations through time. An interview with Starhawk offers the opportunity to learn about her writing and work in permaculture as a means to change. Reverend Patrick McCollum speaks to the importance of breaking down class divisions and creating avenues for partnership and conversation. Gus diZerega makes a call to Pagans to vote Democratic, arguing that the Republican party’s assault on women is an affront to spiritual paths that venerate the Goddess.

The evidence of patriarchy, a system that gives control and power to men, is overwhelming. In her piece “Sekhmet: Powerful Woman,” Candace C. Kant of Cherry Hill Seminary and Goddess Ink points out:

…War is an ongoing fact of life. Poverty is endemic to almost all societies to a greater or lesser degree. The climate is warming, the waters are polluted and our land is soaked with deadly chemicals.Commercial agricultural areas have a continual haze in their air, the result of toxic pesticides and fertilizers, and this air is breathed by living beings, while the food that is produced in this way is fed to our children. We are eating genetically modified food with no idea of how that will affect us. Species are being extinguished at an alarming rate. The top soil is disappearing. Human rights are suppressed. Animals are tortured than slaughtered. Women are subjected to rape and what is euphemistically called ‘domestic violence,’ a clever way to hide the reality of many women’s lives… (p. 46)

The contributors of this book contend that these global problems are not separate and distinct issues, but rather they are all symptoms of the subjugation of the Goddess to the God. In her piece titled “Honoring Goddesses Reawakens Women-Honoring Multiculturalism,” Elizabeth Fisher explains:

Patriarchal religions… often suffer from a split between matter and spirit. These religions honor a male god –a father – with no female aspect of the godhead. Spirit is often perceived as limited by the body. Nature is a demon to be overpowered, contained, and re-directed. As a result, around the globe we are struggling with violence, wanton destruction of ecosystems, a social climate of disrespect for women’s rights, and over-production of goods at the expense of service and creative expression. Much of this results from a profound feeling of human alienation from nature. Death, if we are lucky, is an escape to Heaven after living a pure life untainted by the realities and callings of nature. (p. 125)

Many of the writers call upon everyone to look at what religion teach us about God and Goddess, and to consider how this shapes our relationship to nature, life, and the qualities we perceive as “feminine” vs “masculine.” While the Abrahamic faiths arguably have more work to do than other religions, the Goddesses of the monotheistic traditions, such as Sophia, Lilith, and the Virgin Mary, are not alone in their suppression.

As psychotherapist and author Rev. Shirley Ann Ranck Ph.D. points out, the story of Persephone and Demeter changed following the introduction of patriarchy to ancient Greece. Whereas early stories about Persephone speak to her decision to descend on her own merit and accord, later versions have her kidnapped and forced into the underworld and into a marriage with her captor. Some say her father, Zeus, was even complicit in her abduction. Her mother, rather than grieving her daughter’s decision, becomes angry and bitter and curses the earth. In her piece titled “Persephone Returns: Worshipping the Divine Mother and Daughter,” Dr. Ranck challenges us to ask, what impact does this newer story have on relationships with our mothers? With our Goddesses? With nature? What influence does it have on our beliefs about the “nature” of men and women?

In the forward, Ms. Tate states that a paradigm shift is in the making.  However, those who subscribe to the ideals of the sacred feminine are what she refers to as the cognitive minority. As Tate points out, all important and significant changes occur over time, as ideas are shared, ridiculed, rejected, reconsidered, and finally accepted as true. A shift in consciousness is needed to restore balance to humanity, and the Earth requires that we each use our own unique strengths to create waves. This collection will inspire and energize many to find their own way to tilt the world toward the ideals of the Sacred Feminine.

The book’s variety of voices, stories, and points of view make it likely that most readers will find something that speaks to them within its pages. Some of the essays are so thought-provoking that their brevity is unfortunate, seemingly ending just as they have begun. For communities that find themselves inspired to start a Transition Movement or a Red Tent Temple, the essays will be a way to start productive and important conversations. Due for release November 28, 2014, it will be available through the standard internet book sellers. But in the spirit of the book’s message, look for it in your local bookstore or purchase it directly from the editor.

[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. Your support and your donations are what make our work possible. If you like reading our articles, like the one below, and commentary on a daily basis, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. We are now very close to our goal. Will you help us reach it? Donate here. Thank You.]

“I didn’t really set out to be a priestess for a living . . . that’s what happened.”  — Selena Fox

Indeed, that’s what happened. Selena Fox is the High Priestess for Life at Circle Sanctuary, a legally recognized Shamanic Wiccan church that will be marking its 40th year this Samhain, October 31 and is celebrating with events and online reflections all month. The Wild Hunt spoke with Reverend Fox and several longtime members of Circle, as it is alternatively known, to get a sense of what Paganism looked like in 1974, and how Circle Sanctuary has participated in its evolution.

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle is aptly named, as circles are particularly significant in Wiccan theology, serving as both the border of sacred space and a metaphor for the repeating cycles of life. Over the past four decades, the group has focused a lot of its energy on the beginnings and endings of life. Its Lady Liberty League was instrumental in efforts to get the pentacle approved as a religious symbol on military headstones; the group’s retreat center now includes a Pagan cemetery; and Reverend Fox has performed dozens of baby blessings, including one for this reporter’s long-since-grown stepson. The church’s calendar begins each year at Samhain, around which time some of the most significant milestones in its history tend to congregate.

In late October 1974, Fox “had a vision of starting Circle Sanctuary, the name and logo came to me, as well as the concept of having a rurally-based center that would help humans of different nature religion paths connect with each other, as well as the circle of nature of which we are all a part.”

Before the explosion of online social media, Paganism was a very different group of religions. How diverse the religions were under the Pagan umbrella is difficult to say. Solitary practitioners were very isolated, while some people practiced together in circles, covens, and groves. In the days before Drawing Down the Moon and The Spiral Dance, books were rare and publications, such as Green Egg, were the best source of knowledge. Fox had been traveling and working with Pagans around the country, “but it was not very public,” she recalled.

CIRCLE Magazine's incarnations over time

CIRCLE Magazine’s incarnations over time

With a vision clear in her mind, Fox put an ad in the Witches’ Almanac, inviting like-minded individuals to write to her at a Madison, Wisconsin post office box. From those early responses she formed a core group that rented some land and lived together. Networking locally wasn’t quite enough to satisfy her desire to connect across traditions.

So Circle began publishing a two-sided, typewritten newsletter and, together with her partner at the time Jim Alan, Fox became one of the earliest traveling Pagan musicians in the United States. She said:

Now it’s common for Pagan musicians to travel, and for there to be festivals, but in the 70s there was not much in the way of face-to-face communication across traditions. We felt called to do that.

There were other calls, as well, and other things for which Circle found itself at the forefront. Fox’s chants became a songbook, for which there was an incredible demand. They experimented with radio and television before most other Pagan groups, and still produce podcasts today.

First edition of Circle Guide

First edition of Circle Guide

But 1979 was the year that Paganism in general — and Fox in particular — got pulled into the public spotlight. It was the year that Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was published on the east coast, and Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance was released in the west. Circle began putting out the Circle Guide to Wicca & Pagan Resources to help Pagans find each other. It was also the year that Time magazine set out to write about Paganism for its religion page, which was a significant departure for the staid publication. To that end, Time staffers went to the Pan Pagan Festival in Indiana to learn more.

“I happened to be doing a handfasting, and that got their attention,” Fox said. “Maybe it was the broom.” A picture of Fox, holding the broom aloft, accompanied the Time piece on Paganism, and led to her being “bombarded with media requests,” including an interview in People magazine. The coverage was largely positive, and “really positive things came out of it.”

While the seventies were a time of change, no change comes easy. After four years in the same place “with no problems,” Circle’s landlord decided to evict the group due to the media interest. The eviction came from the sheriff right after Samhain, and they were faced with finding a new place with the Wisconsin winter looming before them.

With her typical optimism, Fox explained what went through their minds when dealing with the big pile of lemons that life had dealt them. She said, “Sometimes, you really just have to make lemonade. We found an opportunity to rent month-to-month, and we moved up the timetable to buy our own land.”

CSNP Prairie, Barn, House overviewAcquiring land for Pagan use was also a new idea. But in 1980 Circle Network News evolved from a two-page newsletter to a newspaper, and carried in it the announcement of the ambitious project. The network of Pagans, who had been corresponding through Circle’s network and meeting at the occasional festival, responded with half-throated support. “There were a lot of different opinions about that,” Fox said. A vocal portion of the Pagan community raised concerns about adopting an institutional model. Circle had incorporated as a church just two years earlier, and acquiring land raised a red flag for some. But several years later, in time for Samhain 1983, those who supported the idea had their way, and the land, destined to be the Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, was bought by the organization.

Circle Sanctuary bought their land in 1983, and by doing that Circle transformed the community and their organization: people put down roots here, and some portion of the organizational energy flow shifted toward maintenance and stewardship of the land. That exerted a powerful stabilizing influence.– Bob Paxton, a 20+ year Circle member

That stabilizing influence allowed the organization to start focusing on helping people whose problems stemmed from being Pagan. “It does help to have some kind of institution when you’re fighting for Pagan rights,” Fox explained. The land allowed Circle to ramp up holding festivals of its own, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, and use those events to fund other activities, which included public education and assistance for those being discriminated against.

That work was increasingly needed as this was the time when the United States was gripped by a “Satanic panic.” In Fox’s mind, it also led to what happened next. But the events she described are complex, so it’s not easy to draw clear lines of cause and effect.

  • 1983:  Circle members began remodeling buildings on their new property, including the conversion of a barn into the church’s headquarters. “In the 1980s, people were running businesses and non-profits out of barns . . . it seemed to be common practice,” Fox said.
  • 1984: A zoning administrator from the county came by to inquire into the work being done. “He starts asking questions, So I ask him some back,” Fox recalled, such as, “Are you asking people having boy scout meetings in their homes?” She adds, “I was polite, but it was really clear somebody was opposed to us having a Pagan center on that land. The administator couldn’t find anything to charge us with, so we did not hear for awhile.”
  • 1985: Circle applied for — and received — the necessary permits to do additional work, to remodel part of an old, historic barn into offices. “We had no building inspectors in that rural area back then, and started remodeling,” Fox said.
  • 1985: In September, three amendments were circulating through Congress with the aim of stripping tax-exempt status from organizations that “promote witchcraft.” One of these was attached to a tax-reform bill by unanimous voice vote of the Senate. Originally introduced by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms to an appropriations bill for the postal service, the bill got the attention of many Pagans including those in Circle. “We got very involved in battling that,” Fox said. “We sent out thousands of fliers, urging people to contact their congress people about this.”
  • 1985: Just in time for Samhain, the amendment was laid aside in joint conference, having been deemed “not germane” to the bill.
  • 1986Local zoning officials sent Circle a notice of violations that could result in fines of a hundred dollars a day. In Fox’s words, “The zoning wars began. We got an attorney, went to the first meeting, which should have been a discussion of traffic patterns and sound, but it wasn’t — it was about religion. Government officials were attacking our religion in a government meeting. The room was packed with people riled up and concerned.” She later learned that much of that concern came from an earlier meeting, held without notice in violation of open meeting laws. In that meeting, attendees were shown a Geraldo Rivera special about Satanic crime in America, spliced in with some footage of Fox on the Phil Donahue and Today shows.
  • 1987 An “intense religious battle” continued to be waged with the press reporting on discrimination, while Circle Sanctuary was subjected to trespassing and threats of violence and death. Reverend Fox called this: “close encounters of a problematic kind.”
  • 1988:  The “zoning wars” ended when Circle Sanctuary received the church zoning designation that local officials had said it needed. Fox attributes the success in large part to the network of Pagans and others who rallied to support the church. But, in the end, the ACLU attorney working on the church’s behalf was able to secure a settlement without going to court, “when [local officials] realized we knew they were doing illegal things.”

Whether the “zoning wars” were directly connected to the fight against the Helms amendment can’t be corroborated either way, but it felt that way to Fox. That time was also a test for the nascent Lady Liberty League, which Circle had formed in the wake of that federal fight to defend Pagan rights. “In its earliest days, it was involved in our own Pagan rights cause,” Fox said.

The reason the land purchase was, and still is, so important to Circle’s success, is because it established a place where shared activities could occur and collaborative activities could occur. Over the many years I have been involved with Circle, it has become plain to me that people working together on projects, helps people form bonds. The more passionate people are about the work and the results of the work, the stronger the bonds. Wherever I go now, that is one of my primary mantras; collaborate together on projects that deliver real consequences in our own lives and to the benefit of the many outside of our own selves. — Nicholas Sea, Circle member since the 1970s

The first Pagan-Christian VA marker was placed in 2007.

The first Pagan-Christian VA marker was placed in 2007.

The years since have been perhaps less turbulent, but no less active for Circle Sanctuary. Its cemetery project began in 1995, after the land was paid off, and now has about 25 people interred on the grounds. Lady Liberty League led the charge to get pentacles onto military headstones to honor the Wiccan fallen. Although Fox’s role is enshrined in the by-laws, the organization includes its members in decision making. It recently completed developing a strategic plan that sought input from all community members, and is now surveying users of its lands for their input into the nature preserve’s future.

And Circle is active in interfaith dialogue, including that which takes place within Paganism. “Our world is not a monoculture,” Fox said, “and neither is Paganism. It’s a beautiful diversity. Everyone can be enriched by being part of a larger community. We do have to problem solve around issues having to do with language in different traditions, there are some challenges  but it’s still a really exciting thing.”

Rev. Selena Fox may not have set out to be a full-time priestess, but as High Priestess for Life at Circle Sanctuary, Selena Fox has had close encounters of the historic kind. For four decades, Paganism has unfolded around this organization, much of which is not included in this remembrance. On Oct 22, Circle Sanctuary will have a call-in radio show celebrating its anniversary, providing another opportunity for interested readers to hear more of Circle’s story.