Archives For Tarot

TWHEnglish Magic Tarot is a deck devised by magician and comic book artist Rex Van Ryn, painter Steve Dooley and Pagan writer and musician Andy Letcher. With a foreword by Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids Philip Carr Gomm, the new deck deftly entwines all aspects of English Magic.

As Philip Carr-Gomm states: “With this deck and book, you have the chance to explore the world of English magic directly, engaging with its peculiar charms and eccentricities. And with what excellent guides!”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Drawing on High Magical Traditions represented by organizations such as Order of the Golden Dawn and embodied by the likes of Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and Austin Osman Spare, the deck is replete with Hermetic symbolism. It also acknowledges the low magic path of the cunning folk and how the tarot has been used in that tradition. As Andy Letcher notes: “We regard the tarot as a kind of distillation of Western wisdom.”

The deck is set in the Tudor and Stuart periods, beginning with the reign of Henry VIII (although the Tudor period began earlier), through the upheaval of the Stuarts.This was a time of radical change in England.

The Elizabethan part of the Tudor period and the subsequent Stuart age almost fall into two distinct halves in terms of differences in culture and attitude, and the outlooks towards religion and magic going a long way to define each period.

The Tudor period featured the Reformation and the subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries, which resulted in conflict with Europe that culminated in the Spanish Armada. It was also in this period that the Enclosure Act restricted the use of common land, having a huge impact on poorer people. But under Elizabeth, this was also a time of relative freedom in religion and the arts flourished as a result.

As Matt Sutherland for Foreword Reviews notes: “The mysticism, mysteries, rituals, and lore of Elizabethan-era England (were) perhaps history’s most fervent period and place for the magic arts.”

Elizabeth was much more tolerant of religious differences than any of her other family members and her successors – James I, instigator of the witch trials, being the most notable example. She also employed Dr John Dee, astrologer and occultist, as one of her courtiers and spies during her reign. His interest in the esoteric as well as alchemical and magical practices paved the way for later luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon.

[Public Domain due to age of image]

[Public Domain due to age of image]

The English Magic Tarot acknowledges this overlooked period of magical tradition and celebrates the spirit of possibility and exploration synonymous with the Elizabethan age. In Europe, this period, as well as overseeing the Renaissance, saw the birth of the tarot and its establishment as an essential tool in high and low magical traditions. One cannot help but wonder what kind of world we would be living in if the alchemical traditions celebrated in the deck had been developed and explored to their fullest capacity.

Another aspect of this deck worth mentioning is the emphasis on storytelling and how important this was in the Elizabethan age, evidenced by the growth of the arts during this time, the theatre in particular. The cards themselves are awash with riddles and symbols inspired by the Elizabethan era.

As Letcher confirms: “There are indeed riddles, references and lore scattered through every card. All these are significant and have been placed there deliberately. On one level, they are there simply to encourage readers to look more closely at the cards and to entice them into a deeper understanding of English magic. But we also wanted there to be an overarching theme to the cards, something that ran through them all and bound them together. The riddles do all point to something. It’s a kind of treasure hunt, if you will, and there is an actual answer at the end.”

Each card feels like a story in itself and the entire deck appears to be telling its own tale of some kind. The companion booklet discusses at length the growth of the arts during this period – theatre in particular  – and the magical, transformational aspects of that process.

Letcher says: “Our storytelling approach to the tarot means we encourage people to use the cards as a device to help them discover, and take control of the stories they tell about themselves and their lives.”

The set also gives the reader some unique techniques for using the cards, which are inspired by the Art of Memory tradition. This technique utilises concepts such as the alchemy of theatre and art in general, which only add to the depth and mystery of this deck.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

The visual impact of the deck cannot to be ignored. It’s rootedness in the comic book genre via Rex Van Ryn’s work gives it a contemporary edge and vitality but it clearly acknowledges the classic Waite-Smith deck and salutes the contribution of Pamela Colman Smith’s work as an artist, and how art can be magical and transformative.

As Van Ryn explained, the imagery of the deck was conceived in a very magical way. “I meditated on the cards’ meaning using a drum beat to induce a trance state, sometimes dancing, sometimes prone. When I had imagined the ‘image’, I broke my trance and drew what was in my mind.”

Dooley’s colouring work added to this process. He says: “At no point did Van Ryn say how I should colour the cards. He had faith. I devised an entire palette purely on instinct. It had to work for me on many levels. Each card had to work as an individual image, yet they also had to work together. I wanted them to be earthy yet bright, old but relative to today.”

Obviously, the artistic and magical backgrounds of both Van Ryn and Dooley would ensure that the visual impact of the deck and the significance of art as a transformational tool would come to the fore. As a result, the deck is a rich, with every card layered with symbolism and meaning.

It is interesting that the English Magic Tarot has emerged from the collective unconscious at this time. As stated earlier, the Tudor and Stuart periods were a turbulent time in English history, with a great deal of social and religious change. Given the upheaval across the world at present, it is no surprise that this period should emerge and remind us of how the use of magical practices and the occult helped to temper seismic upheavals in previous eras.

As author John Matthews, co-creator of The Wildwood Tarot and other decks, states: “Its clear (they’re) tapping into the national psyche, and with all that’s going on since Brexit that can be quite lot.”

The English Magic Tarot comes with a companion booklet that has a wealth of information about period and its magical practices. The deck stays true to the classical format of the period from which tarot emerged and consists of a 22 major arcana deck and a minor arcana of four suits of cups, wands, coins and swords. The booklet gives some very interesting techniques of how to use the cards, not only giving spreads but also going into great detail about the art of memory technique employed by alchemists during this period. This is a fascinating technique, invoking the literal magic of theatre into the process.

There is also a description of the use of archetypes and how they were used by the flourishing theatre movement during the Elizabethan age, which used many neo-Platonic techniques (this is why the famous theatre was called the Globe).

This is a great tarot deck, lovingly crafted and which gives respect and acknowledgement on many levels to the tarot and those who have shaped its development, yet with an edgy and fresh style.

In an article posted May 31, Kari Paul at the Broadly channel on Vice pitted Wiccans and professional tarot card readers against popular smartphone apps that purport to offer divination to any user at the tap of an icon. To Paul’s credit, her piece was not the sort of exploitation piece you often see when mainstream journalists cross paths with Witchcraft and Paganism. Her tone comes off as that of a sincere investigator trying to discuss a real tension between two different types of people.

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The Wildwood Tarot Application by Fool’s Dog [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

At the same time, Paul presents a relatively black and white world where the battle lines are clearly drawn: Witches have a bone (or a card, or a rune) to pick with programmers who think they can mathematically create the randomness and relationships necessary for accurate divination to occur. For example, she quotes one professional reader named Tea Cake who calls divination apps “extremely gimmicky and next to useless.” Tea Cake goes on to question the tarot skills of app programmers, stating that their unknown credentials make it “difficult to sort out what is bullshit.”

Another Witch in the article, Maria Palma-Drexler, tells Paul that “technology has its place in witchcraft, but only as an aide,” while another, known as Blue June, states emphatically that “practices like divination are better carried out the way they have been traditionally: by humans, not apps.” She stresses that “there is no need to add technology.” While Paul does quote author Mary K. Greer in support of apps toward the end of her piece, the overall picture is one of Witches and readers distrusting the skills and sincerity of software developers. It is right there in the headline: “Covens vs. Coders.”

Is that picture correct? Pagans are often less black and white in their thinking than other people and, much like the rest of the industrialized world, most have embraced the digital culture we live in today. Smartphones and the apps that go with them are just another part of that culture. According to some professional and experienced readers, there may actually be a much more complicated relationship between them and the new experience of divining by tapping an icon.

Fiona Benjamin [Courtesy photo]

Fiona Benjamin [Courtesy photo]

Fiona Benjamin, who reads tarot and bones professionally at modernfortuneteller.com, believes the apps can be used for divination, especially in public situations. “Sometimes you need to pull your cards out in a location where you can’t shuffle your cards,” said Benjamin. “I don’t see it as an ‘evolution’ of the physical cards so much as a welcome alternative.” As a parent of young children, she also notes the convenience of being able to answer a question for herself “without fear of ripped cards in the hands of babies.”

Lupa, a professional reader, blogger and author, believes these apps are useful for answering a querent’s needs. “I don’t see them as less effective than paper cards or carved runestones,” she said. “After a certain amount of experience the exact tool you use is kind of like Dumbo’s feather—it’s just a way to trick your mind into getting in the right place for divination.”

While some professional readers are on board with smartphone divination, others are not so certain about it. Yet their criticism does not come from the “extremely gimmicky” place mentioned by Paul. Their concerns are little more nuanced.

Lupa [Courtesy photo]

Lupa [Courtesy photo]

“I would love to say these apps are completely useless, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” states Mat Auryn, who reads tarot at shops throughout New England as well as on his own website. “Do they work for divination?” asked Auryn. “Yes and no.”

Basing his theory of the tarot on Carl Jung’s ideas of synchronicity and the collective unconscious, he said that, “The collective unconscious is always trying to communicate psychic information to us via symbolism.” He stressed that, “the cards that are drawn are the cards meant to be seen.” Divination, by that theory, is admittedly possible.

The trouble, according to Auryn, comes both with how the software is developed and how it is used. The apps rely “on computer generated algorithms instead of randomly shuffling,” a weakness which harms the random nature of card pulls. “Both are random,” he explained, “but one is based on preset coding, which will eventually repeat.”

A further concern, according to Auryn, is that “most of the meanings are set and short,” which means that, “without a deep understanding of the cards, the answer is totally out of alignment with the question and the position in the spread.” The cards, then, may be providing the correct message, but the finite number of keywords available to the user may not be able to accurately convey the intended message. The implication here is that one must already be experienced in the tarot in order to accurately interpret the messages on the screen. Of course, an appreciable number of users do not have that expertise.

Mat Auryn [Courtesy photo]

Mat Auryn [Courtesy photo]

Auryn concluded that, while the apps are not useless, they need to be used wisely. “A legit psychic is tapped into the collective unconscious,” says Auryn. “The professional reader is an expert in their field.”

“The difference,” he said, “is the same as going to the doctor and having a WebMD app.”

In Paul’s original Vice article, the lack of person-to-person energy was a major concern. “Each client comes in with their own energy,” Blue June was quoted as saying. “The problem with an algorithm is that it’s just random—it has nothing to do with intuition.”

Auryn only partially agreed with that statement. “It is important to feel the energy of a client,” he admitted, “but that doesn’t have to be in person.” Since we are all connected by the collective unconscious, in his view, “distance has no bearing on a reading.”

Mary Paliechesky, who has been reading tarot for over 30 years, agreed. She said that, “I used to agree that you needed to feel the energy of the person that you are reading. However, I think that was an artifact of my skill level and training. The energy is all around us. You can connect to a person across space as long as you know their energy.”

Mary Paliechesky [Courtesy photo]

Lupa said that she does prefer to check in with clients during a reading. “Any reader, no matter how good,” said Lupa, “is by necessity projecting some of their own biases into the reading, and it’s important to make sure that they match up with the client’s experiences.” The ability to check in with a client, a capability that is difficult to obtain through an app, helps to eliminate a reader’s bias.

In her professional life as a reader, Benjamin is more concerned with communication than with energy. “I can feel the energy all day long,” she explained, “but if I am failing to meet the needs of the client or if I don’t communicate the message in a way that is clear, the reading will not be useful.”

To be fair, the Golden Thread Tarot app, which is featured in Paul’s article, does contain some emotional interfacing to address this concern, but it allows only a limited number of emotional responses from the user, leading back to the criticism of being finite. It’s not useless, and some professionals even say they use this app regularly, but as experts it is much easier for them than it would be for a typical client. In the end, perhaps unsurprisingly, the relationship of professional readers and experienced Witches to electronic divination is a much more complicated picture than Paul seems to paint. While there are some reservations in the community, there is not an attitude of wholesale rejection, and there is a definite strain of recognizing their value.

Auryn cautioned that, “It is important to remember that you always get what you pay for. There is no app that can ever replace a talented psychic or an advanced student of the tarot.” Others, however, are much more positive. “Divination apps are genius,” concluded Benjamin. “A tarot reader’s skills will never be diminished because of technological aid.” In the same camp, Paliechesky put it simply: “Times change and energy is all around us. If it works for you, it works.”

PARKERSBURG, W. Va. — A single mother who wanted to bring in some extra income by opening up a tarot-reading shop has found her plans thwarted by a decades-old law that most city council members weren’t even aware was on the books. However, it was definitely on the radar for the zoning administrator who explained that she’d need a zoning variance to practice her craft legally. Instead, Heather Cooper opted to try to get the law repealed.

[Photo Credit: Atell Rohlandt / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Atell Rohlandt / Flickr]

Cooper, who has been reading tarot at home, was offered space in a friend’s building to open up a new metaphysical shop called Hawthorn, which would focus on card readings. A longtime resident of this West Virginia city, Cooper learned that there’s been a law on the books forbidding the practice of any “trade or profession having as its object the foretelling of happenings of future events.” While there isn’t a tarot police enforcing the law, which was first passed in 1906 and then amended since 1947, Cooper decided she wanted to start her business on the right foot.

“I’m too honest for my own good, and put a stop to the readings. I have a store and no customers; nothing to advertise,” she said.

Her shop Hawthorn has not remained entirely vacant while this process plays out; Cooper has opened the space up to local artists who wish to display their work.

Anti-fortunetelling laws are nothing new. In a 2014 Wild Hunt report on efforts to repeal such legislation, Jason Pitzl-Waters discussed how such statues come into being:

There have been, generally speaking, two primary reasons why fortune telling and other divinatory services are banned in a town or city. The first reason is to address concerns about fraud, about individuals running cons to bilk the gullible out of their money. The second reason is about religion, specifically in America, the Christian prohibition against (some forms of) divination. Often these two threads will conjoin, sometimes inflamed by prejudices against minorities who have engaged in divination to make money (the Roma, for example). In our modern era, these laws have been increasingly challenged by those who believe it limits free speech, or the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Despite the town being located in a what is considered to be a conservative region, Cooper has not found Parkersburg to be populated with people opposed to divination on religious grounds. For her, the hurdle is the time value of money. Even with city council members appearing supportive, Cooper is unfamiliar with the process for changing the law, one which invariably isn’t quick.

Heather Cooper [courtesy photo]

Heather Cooper [courtesy photo]

“I don’t know what I will do” in the meantime, she said. “[My] family sacrificed so much for this business. Hawthorn, my little tree of knowledge, is not doing so well now.”

Cooper doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer for advice on the actual procedure, but she recognizes that she needs one. This week, she started a crowdfunding campaign to get that professional guidance. She said:

I am fighting this and have hired a lawyer so I can get this city ordinance removed. My business is just getting started so I do not have the funds to afford said lawyer. Please help me in this fight so I and other readers can use our gifts in the town that we love.

With an autistic child to care for, Cooper hopes that the flexibility of her own business will give her the ability to earn a bit more money “to buy that loaf of bread” since her responsibilities at home make it difficult to work a job with set hours. She’s been interested in tarot since she was a teenager, and been reading professionally for over a year.

Cooper is optimistic that this law can be repealed without controversy, although she admits to having some trepidation. A similar effort in Front Royal, Virginia met with stiff resistance only a few years ago, and if this debate is framed in a religious context, it could bring out opposition to her request.

Cooper, herself, does not label her religious views. “When everybody asks my faith, I say, ‘I’m Heather.’ I was raised in a church, believe what I do; why can’t I just be me? Christians might think I’m horrible, but I can’t really say I’m Wiccan. I’m stuck in the middle. Why should I have to choose a face to do what I love, what I’m good at?”

Nevertheless, she’s well aware that divination is considered a core part of the religious practices of some of her customers. “They use it to guide them, to answer their questions. It’s a kind of prayer for a lot of people,” she explained.

hawthorn
The erstwhile business owner is facing unanticipated challenges with this effort; not only does she need to raise money to start earning money legally, she also is not very comfortable with the public speaking that’s required. “It kind of bothers me,” she said. “Why am I the one that wanted to step up?”

More than willing to follow her own advice, Cooper did consult a psychic about this issue. She was told, “I’m on the right path,” but that the story could get bigger before it’s done, which isn’t exactly what she wanted to hear.

“I gotta do this,” she concluded. “I may be crazy for doing it, but it’s what I gotta do.”

A Place in Tarot History

Terence P Ward —  November 15, 2015 — 3 Comments

SAUGERTIES, NY — Robert Place didn’t set out to be a tarot artist and scholar. Once upon a time, he made jewelry, including the wedding ring worn by Margot Adler. Through a series of messages and signs he received from his patron deity Hermes, Place set aside that work and turned his artistic abilities to the creation of cards for divination, including tarot. Along the way, he became an expert in the history of how cards have been used for oracular purposes.

Place’s best-selling work thus far has been the Alchemical Tarot, but he has created several other decks in that style, as well as writing a treatise on the subject, called The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination. He’s also explored other divinatory card traditions, such as Lenormand; his newest project, the Hermes Playing Card Oracle, is named for his card-publishing company, as well as the two activities its creator designed the deck to be used for.

Over lunch one autumn day in the Hudson Valley, Place spoke to The Wild Hunt about his work and scholarship, which have become his life’s journey.

Robert Place

Robert Place [Courtesy Photo]

Place’s calling to the tarot began, as he tells it, with a dream, one that was “vivid, near-lucid” in its clarity. In it, he received a person-to-person call from a secretary at a London law firm. In the 1980s, when this tale begins, these type calls were used to avoid expensive long-distance charges; the caller did not have to pay if the individual they wished to speak with wasn’t available.

In his dream, Place accepted the call, and was advised that he had an inheritance from an ancestor coming. “They asked me if I would accept it, but warned me that there was certain karmic debt associated with it, but it had a lot of power. I remember thinking, ‘How can I resist this?'” he recalled. “They wouldn’t tell me what it was, only that it was going to come in a box from England, and is referred to as, ‘the key.’ It was so vivid that I woke up the next morning expecting the box at the foot of the bed.”

The box actually arrived with a friend, someone who wanted to show him a tarot deck he’d just purchased, the Smith-Waite deck.  Although this deck is more commonly called the Rider-Waite, Place names it Smith-Waite, which comes from long years of research into tarot. First published in England in 1909 (by the Rider Company) and first introduced into the United States, the deck was conceived by the mystic and academic A. E. Waite, but drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, who followed Waite’s instructions. Smith’s illustrations, by which the deck is instantly recognizable to so many, were given no credit in the name settled upon by U.S. Games when it acquired the stateside rights in the 1960s. “Scholars call it the Smith-Waite deck, because Pamela Colman Smith designed it,” Place explained.

Nevertheless, his friend arrived with this English-born treasure, and Place felt a compulsion on him. “I remembered the deck from college,” he said. “I realized that the trumps were called ‘keys,’ and that even the instruction book was called, ‘The Key to the Tarot.’ I decided I had to buy one of these decks.”

1909 original (left) and 1971 revisions (right) of the Rider-Waite tarot.

1909 original (left) and 1971 revisions (right) of the Rider-Waite tarot.

Buying tarot decks today is as easy as an internet search can be, but this was before Amazon was a glimmer in Jeff Bezos’ eye. There was no internet, and the closest metaphysical shop to Place’s home on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border was in Manhattan, close to a hundred miles one way. However, that’s exactly where he went and what he did.

Not long afte,r he was contacted by another of his friends, an astrologist named Ed. “He told me he had a deck [that] he had a feeling I was supposed to have,” Place said, a Tarot de Marseille, the traditional French deck that popularized tarot throughout the world. “I was never a writer, but I started making notebooks,” as he learned about the decks. Books, too, began piling high in his studio: volumes on Gnosticism and alchemy in particular.

From those, he started to see connections. The World card, in particular, struck a chord: “It opened a door in my mind, and images were flying out. Alchemical images, and how they related to tarot cards. I got out my psychology and alchemy books by Jung, to look at the images. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I was taking notes, and I would tell anyone about it who I could corner. Then it dawned on me to write it down, rather than accost people at parties with what I’d learned. Eventually, my friends asked me why I didn’t just design this deck already. ‘After all, you’re an artist,’ they said.'”

Place continued to have weird moments of synchronicity. He found a magazine called Gnosis, which he read cover to cover. He recalled, “Then, in the back of my mind, I got the idea to send in the Star card I’d already done since they were doing an issue on tarot.” When he did so, the editor called him. They had no plans for a tarot issue, despite the idea planted in his head, but could use the drawing as an illustration for an article on Sophia in an upcoming issue on the goddess. That led to a request to illustrate a tarot book by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, and further work as a ghost writer for her on alchemy, all while continuing to work full-time as a jeweler.

Finally, Guiley asked about his tarot deck. “I told her it was going slow, and she said that I needed a contract, with an advance,” and opened doors for him. That led to the Alchemical Tarot, which is still Place’s best-selling deck, in part because problems with the publisher led people to believe it was out of print long before it actually was, and the demand grew. “When I saw that thirty-dollar deck sell for $2,017 on Ebay, I decided to get the rights back, and publish it myself,” he said.

Priestess from the Alchemical Tarot

Priestess from the Alchemical Tarot

This also allowed him to correct problems he’d had with some of the creative decisions, like having to replace the original Lovers card — which showed the act quite clearly — with a chaste version depicting the couple simply kissing. Later editions have both cards, representing different aspects of love energy. He’s put out three editions himself, in runs of 1,500 or 2,000, as well as art copies which are printed on rag paper, signed by the artist, and packaged in a decorative box.

While he hadn’t set out to create a tarot deck, much less several, Place had always had a deep appreciation for art history and used that in his research. To his surprise, “All of the books on tarot were nonsense. They said things like it came from ancient Egypt, but they didn’t have paper. Some people said that things were in the primary sources that, when I finally got translations, just weren’t there.” Scholars like Michael Dummett have since raised the quality of the literature, but Place’s early research eventually led him to lecture about tarot at the NY Open Center, where he taught about its real history.

In short, the earliest known decks, Mamluk cards, found their way to Spain from Islamic sources in the 1300s. Even those first examples often included Arabic calligraphy that included divinatory meanings, suggesting that cards were used for games and divination from the get-go. Once they reached the Italian city-states, some artists added a fifth suit, the carte de triomphe, or “triumphant march” in the tradition of the Caesars returning victorious. Such parades would be organized from the least important captured soldiers all the way up to the winning army’s leaders; likewise, these cards would be ordered so that each one trumped the card preceding it.

Originally they had neither names nor numbers; the order of the trumps varied based on local preference, and all the users knew each card by sight. Once these five-suit decks made it as far as France, users unfamiliar with the images needed names for identification, and numbers so as to order them correctly. The carte de triomphe become tarocchi, and “tarot” in French.

The Smith-Waite deck was based on the Tarot de Marseille, and its wide distribution gave the sense that, not only was tarot the only type of card deck used for divination, but that the suits and trumps were standardized, which they never had been. In fact, that deck switched the order of Strength and Justice, to fit with a belief that astrological symbolism was secreted in the original tarot. Place has seen much older decks, such as one of 40 trumps that was made in Florence, which discredits that theory. He said, “It’s got astrological symbols all through it. That wasn’t considered esoteric knowledge. If they’d wanted to use astrology, they would have; the artists at the time were just more familiar with mysticism.”

Place also knows that tarot was also not intended as an alchemical tool either, despite how well the system fits. Creating a Buddha tarot was surprisingly easy once Place saw that the three groupings of seven cards each within the major arcana (not counting the Fool) paralleled the periods of Gautama’s development.

Some decks were created simply because he was hired to do so. “They were using angels to sell shoes in the 1990s,” Place joked about why he did the Angel deck in six short months. But other decks were works of love, such as the Sevenfold Mysteries, which he developed over ten years.

His research also made him realize that tarot was almost nonexistent through much of the history of cards, while the four-suit Lenormand decks were commonplace for divination. In addition to painstakingly recreating one of those decks in what he imagined was the original, vibrant color, Place collaborated with reader Rachel Pollack to create an entirely new one, the Serpent Oracle deck.

Hermes oracle cards

Hermes oracle cards

With Lenormand, an image was added to each of the 36 cards, and the deck could be used for games or the telling of fortunes. There were no two, threes, fours, or fives, hence the small number of cards. With Place’s most recent project, he took that idea and expanded it for the modern 52-card deck, by adding other traditional imagery to fill in where the Lenormand decks didn’t have cards. He’d already had experience with such adaptations in the Serpent Oracle deck, which included dimensions not contemplated in the original Lenormand. For example, as Place explained, in many versions of Lenormand, “The aces of hearts and spades were significators, a woman and a man, and you’d do the reading in relation to the appropriate one. We added a second man and woman, so the relationships could be more dynamic, as well as a god and goddess to represent a higher level.”

He’d originally planned on calling this latest project the “Playing Card Oracle Deck,” but that wasn’t very descriptive, so he went back to the beginning, and named it after Hermes. That’s the name of the publishing company that he created to keep his cards and books in print. And that is the name he came in time to realize, of the voice which had nudged him onto this path in the first place. “He almost always talks to me in dreams, and he’ll lie to get me to do the right thing,” Place said. “I go to Pagan events, but I don’t really fit in with other covens or groups. I’m just a spokesperson for Hermes.”

The Hermes playing card oracle is currently being funded on Indiegogo.

Crowdfunding to finance a project is nothing new in Pagan circles, sometimes successful, sometimes less successful. And new tarot decks aren’t exactly thin on the ground either. So a crowdfunding effort by a Pagan to finance a new tarot deck would have to be something very unique and appealing to have even a slim chance of succeeding.

Lupa Greenwolf’s Tarot of Bones crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign hit its goal in less than 100 hours.

The deck isn’t yet created, but the campaign page shows a few photos, and one mock up of what it will look like. From these visuals, it easy to see why it appealed to so many people. It is unlike any tarot deck you’ve seen before. For each of the 78 cards, Lupa arranges animal bones and other other natural materials onto a display board. She then takes a photo of the display and, from that, will create the cards. A companion book for the deck will explore the symbolism of each card in detail, including her inspiration.

Sage Runepaw is one of the people who helped fund the Tarot of Bones campaign. He said that he wanted the deck because it is so unique. “I decided to contribute to her campaign because the tarot decks out there have nothing like what she is offering,” said Runepaw, adding “It will be a unique addition to the greater collective of decks and I believe it will stand out.”

Magician

© Lupa Greenwolf

Lupa is an artist and author from the Portland, Oregon area. She said that she started reading tarot cards in 1996, shortly after becoming a Pagan. By 1998 she was incorporating animal hides, bones and other natural items in her artwork and spirituality. Several of the books that she has written are focused on nature spirituality, and now she’s bringing together all those portions of her life to create the Tarot of Bones.

The Wild Hunt caught up with Lupa and asked her about this project, what the Tarot of Bones means to her, and why she thinks it’s such a success.

Cara Schulz: Why do you think this deck, one created out of photos of animals bones and other parts, had such an appeal that it was funded in under 100 hours?

Lupa Greenwolf:  One factor is the trend in taxidermy and other curiosities as aesthetically pleasing motifs. I’ve been making my hide and bone art since 1998, and I’ve watched as in the past few years natural history specimens have become chic decor. Taxidermy’s always been a beautiful art, even when it was primarily relegated to those of us who grew up in rural areas, but it’s reached a broader audience since then. Some of that appeal is purely looks-based–Portland is full of hipster establishments that have a couple of “ironic” taxidermy animal heads on the wall, for example.

However, there are also people who are genuinely interested in natural history, and who appreciate taxidermy and related arts both for their beauty and their preservation of specimens. Of course, there have always been Pagans running around picking up bones and moss and stuff in the woods. But I’ve observed the sort of nature-inspired art in which I engage gaining in broader popularity in recent years. I know I’ve gone from being that weird girl with a collection of dead things to becoming the founder and organizer of Curious Gallery, a two-day yearly arts festival here in Portland that celebrates modern-day cabinets of curiosity, due in part to this growth of interest.

More specifically regarding tarot, the majority of decks out there are fairly anthropocentric–that is, they concentrate mostly on human-centered symbolism. There have always been decks that focus on non-human animals, or on plants, or other natural phenomena, though many of them are more generalized oracle decks that depart heavily from the traditional tarot’s 78 cards. Many of the animal-based tarot decks still have a lot of human animals running around in them with their critter companions. So I think there’s definitely a demand for divination sets that still stick to the tarot framework but which depart from the usual “humans doing things” imagery.

I have worked hard for many years to get my creations out to where others can enjoy them, and I do have to give a lot of credit to fans of my work when it comes to the success of this campaign. I am absolutely and eternally grateful to the growing number of people who have been enjoying my artwork and my books and other writing. Some of them are dear friends, many are people I’ve never met in person (though some of them seem quite sweet over email), but all of them have just given me such a morale boost over the years, never mind the financial support of my work. So while I don’t think people would buy something just because I created it, there are some backers who thought me being the artist and author was a good incentive to chip in.

CS: Can you explain one of the cards and why you choose to create it the way you did?
LG: Oh, I get to talk about one of my favorite cards I’ve made! So when I was first plotting out which animals best fit my interpretation of each card, there were some that were really persnickety and wouldn’t come to a conclusion easily. But then there were a few where the combination just worked, immediately and perfectly. The Hermit was one of those. I chose a female black-casqued hornbill skull that I got from the Bone Room for very good reason.

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© Lupa Greenwolf

So. Hornbills are a group of birds endemic to Africa and Asia. Some species nest on the ground, but others nest up in trees. These tree-nesting hornbills seek out a crevice high in a tree trunk, big enough for the female to climb in. She and the male then wall up the opening with a delightful mix of mud, fruit pulp and bird poop, until there’s only a small bit left open. Did I mention the female is inside the tree when this happens? She stays in there for the duration of laying, incubating and hatching her eggs. She’s so dedicated that she moults all of her flight feathers; even if she broke out she couldn’t go much of anywhere. So she’s pretty committed at this point.

This was the very first thing I thought of when I started meditating on the Hermit. Here we have this figure who, like the hornbill, goes into a productive solitude. He’s not just antisocial; he’s gaining wisdom that eventually he’ll bring back to the community. In the same way, the female hornbill comes out of her isolation both with a shiny new set of flight feathers and the newest generation of baby hornbills to join the forest community. I think that’s quite appropriate for the Hermit card, and I also enjoyed being able to break that card out of its usual gender stereotype.

CS: When you set $5000 as your goal, did you think you would hit it?
LG:  I was pretty dubious. $5,000 is a lot of money to ask people to give for something that isn’t even going to take material form for another year and a quarter. Actually, $5,000 is just a lot of money period. And it’s my very first limited-time crowdfunding campaign. My first foray into crowdfunding was my Patreon account, which I started last summer.

While I have awesome people who like my work, I’m not one of those really well-known artists or authors whose work routinely goes super-viral. I’ve been posting my art, blog posts and the like in various places online, and I’ll usually get some likes and comments on Facebook and a few dozen notes on Tumblr and a handful of likes and retweets on Twitter. Occasionally there’s an outlier; people REALLY liked the Magician assemblage for the Tarot of Bones, for example. But I’m not getting hundreds of shares for every piece of art or writing I post. So I was really startled (and grateful) when I got this tidal wave of response to the IndieGoGo campaign!

I admit I was coming up with contingency plans in case the campaign didn’t get funded–right up until the first day ended and it was already a third of the way there. Okay, to be honest, I was still making backup plans through Day 2, just in case Day 1 was a weird fluke. Apparently I set the bar too low, because everyone so far has showed me how much I didn’t need to worry. And now I’ve had to scramble to figure out stretch goals because the campaign is still going for another month and change and who knows at what level of funding it’ll end?

I do want to note that even though the campaign is now over $6,000, we’re far from the point where I’m just shoveling money into my pockets. The initial $5,000 was mainly meant to help me buy the rest of the materials I needed for the assemblage pieces, which I estimated at about $3500, less IndieGoGo’s and Paypal’s fees, of course. The leftovers from that would be put toward various administrative costs–printing and shipping, fulfilling perks, and so forth. The final costs are still a lot more than $6,000; this is part of why the IndieGoGo campaign isn’t my only form of funding for this project. That being said, the better it does, the easier it’ll be for me to stick to my production schedule for the Tarot of Bones and the less time I’ll have to spend in other fundraising pursuits instead of just making the set already!

CS:  How did you get the idea for this deck – it’s very unusual!
LG: I show my work at local galleries, and last October I was in a group show with a tarot theme held at Splendorporium in SE Portland. I created a piece, “Blight,” inspired by the Five of Pentacles, which is a card commonly associated with financial and material strife, something that a lot of people in the current economy still have to deal with. It had a simple black background with a single coyote skull in the center, flanked by five ears of wheat that I had spattered with black paint to represent fungal blight, and a piece of red slider turtle shell to represent coinage.

blight

© Lupa Greenwolf

The piece was displayed amid other artists’ works that interpreted the tarot theme in a variety of media and motifs, and between the fun of creating “Blight” and being immersed in this gorgeously curated collection, I started thinking that I really wanted to work with the tarot imagery even more. So there was that fateful moment after the opening, when I was hanging out with my partner and a friend of ours, where I said the thing so many other esoterically-minded artists have said: “I’m going to create a tarot deck!” And of course being the overachiever that I am, I couldn’t just do a deck–it had to have a full-length companion book, too.

I didn’t just go home and start throwing bones at things though. There are very specific reasons for the bones and other materials in the assemblages. The Major Arcana each have a complete animal skull whose species has been chosen for the appropriateness of the card; each court card has a partial skull with a missing or detached jawbone, and a single bone that represents its suit. The suits of the Minor Arcana are represented by specific types of bone: vertebrae for pentacles, teeth or jaws for swords, long bones for wands and ribs for cups. I also had to make sure that the bones I selected were both legal to possess and could be obtained sustainably. In a few cases I chose to use resin replicas of skulls. I strongly dislike resin because as a plastic it’s petroleum-based, which means it produces a lot of pollution in its manufacture and, unlike natural bone, it won’t safely biodegrade over time. But sometimes it’s the only option.

CS: Anything else that people should know about this project?
LG: I want to reiterate that the Tarot of Bones is a nature-based deck. One of my goals with it is to entice my fellow Homo sapiens back into our place in nature — not necessarily as hominin apes in the wilderness, but humans with an acute and conscious awareness of our interconnectedness with everything else. It’s part of why most of the materials are recycled or reclaimed; almost all of the backboards for the assemblages are thrift store finds like old cutting boards and TV trays, and many of the other materials, from acrylic paints to dried moss, are secondhand as well. And as with all of my work for the past almost-twenty years, I will be donating a portion of the money I make from the Tarot of Bones to nonprofit organizations that benefit wildlife and their habitats.

Folks who are reading this, even if you can’t back the campaign at this time, please pass the link on to other people who may like the project! Word of mouth goes a long way in this sort of promotion, and I would be quite grateful.

I have to admit there’s part of me that really, really hopes someone goes for one of the bigger Art Collector Packages, where one of the perks is an original assemblage used in the creation of the Tarot of Bones. Partly because I like seeing my art go to people who enjoy it, and partly because I live in a tiny apartment and the twenty-three pieces I’ve already completed are eating up the wall space and I still have fifty-five to go!

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!

150318_285637801541688_2098495770_nJust as we were going to press, the passing of Jeff Rosenbaum was announced. The cause of death was a brain tumor. Rosenbaum is perhaps best known as the conceiver and a founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE), the Chameleon Club, the Starwood Festival, and the WinterStar Symposium. Through the 1990s and early 2000s the Starwood Festival was arguably one of the most popular (and populous) outdoor festivals of its type, thanks to organizers cross-pollinating Pagan communities with other religious and visionary movements, featuring guests like Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson. Rosenbaum talked a bit about this organizing vision when he was interviewed in the book “Modern Pagans.”

“Starwood is a big college of alternative thinking and alternative spirituality that suddenly appears like a carnival or circus. The tents go up, it stays there for a week, and then BOOM it’s gone, til next year. We have 140 or more classes from 9:30 in the morning till 6:15 in the evening–sometimes as many as 12 at a time. You can learn about Druidism, Ceremonial Magic, Wicca, Tibetan Buddhism, and Native American Practices. We have classes on psychedelia and psychology, and different “movement systems” like tai chi, yoga and aikido. Past speakers have included Timothy Leary, quantum physicist Fred Allen Wolf, Paul Krassner, and Steven Gaskin, who created the Farm, the biggest hippie commune in America. It’s all included in the cost of admission.”

As Rosenbaum puts it, he was “a student of an eclectic array of spiritual paths, philosophies, and illuminating pursuits,” and it was that wide-ranging desire to experience and know that drove his life. In addition to his work with ACE and Starwood, he was Robert Anton Wilson’s lecture agent for six years during the 1980s, played guitar & percussion with Ian Corrigan and Victoria Ganger in the bands Chameleon and Starwood Sizzlers, and was published (and interviewed) in a number of Pagan-themed publications. Tributes to Rosenbaum are already flooding his Facebook profile, but I think the most apt was a posthumous status update from Jeff Rosenbaum himself, which I think does a good job of capturing his spirit. Quote: “At 6:23 pm EST tonight I crossed over and left my body behind. My friends were by my side, the Firesign Clones were playing on the TV. It was calm and peaceful. Thank you all for your good wishes and support. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” What is remembered, lives. ADDENDUM: Here’s an obituary written by close friend Ian Corrigan.

dwsLWG1w_400x400The Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC has sent out a call for help. The People’s Climate March is less than a month away and the number of Pagans pledging to march as part of the Interfaith contingent is “exploding,” according to organizers. PEC-NYC has started an Indigogo campaign with the goal of $3,000 by Sept. 18th. The monies will cover supplies for the weekend and hopefully, fund the transportation for Pagans from far-away to get to NYC for the weekend.  “$10 is breakfast for ten people. $100 is a bus ticket for a marcher from the midwest, $250 is a train ticket for a west coast based Marcher.” said Courtney Weber, an organizer with PEC-NYC. “We are at a pivotal point in history, and history has shown that boots in the streets truly can change the world. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show world leaders that the people want serious action to address climate change, now. Marching alongside other faiths is the perfect opportunity to increase our knowledge and understanding of one another, and cross belief-barriers to fight for a common cause.” The link to the campaign can be found, here. If you are interested in attending the march with a Pagan contingent, please see their blog

pic01Pagan organizations and individuals have endorsed a campaign to urge California Governor Jerry Brown to sign California Senate Bill (SB) 1057 into law. The measure, which overwhelmingly passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, would mandate the reform of history and social science materials used in California schools. Supporters of 1057 claim it will “prevent bullying and promote a positive self-image for children” of different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities. This will be done by requiring “an expert advisory group to create new History-Social Science Content Standards in a fair, open, and transparent manner. The advisory groups will be composed of scholars and educators, and must make a good faith effort to seek the input of representatives from diverse communities.” Pagan organizations that have signed on to this effort include the American Vinland Association/Freya’s Folk, Our Lady of the Wells Church, and The Patrick McCollum Foundation. In addition, Sabina Magliocco, author of “Witching Culture,” has signed on as a supporting academic. SB 1057 has also garnered the support of several religious minorities in California, including Hindu, Jain, and Jewish organizations.

10513320_1519749801581160_4666587913269014328_nThe new resource/website Polytheist.com will be launching this week! In an update to the forthcoming site’s Facebook page, posted last night, the official launch’s imminent arrival was heralded. Quote: “Coming this week, the official launch of Polytheist.com! Please stay tuned for this exciting set of columns, from a talented team of writers, voices, and visionaries from our Polytheist communities!” Polytheist.com, once launched, will be a “an online hub of columnists, contributors and content creators who are dedicated to many gods across many traditions.” The site is spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax), who recently explained why this site is important. Quote: “For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” Stay tuned, as we will be talking more about this project very soon. In the meantime, be sure to bookmark that link!

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

Earlier last month I reported on an initiative to raise money for a memorial bench in Central Park honoring Margot Adler, author of the landmark book “Drawing Down the Moon,” who passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. Quote: “Many of you have asked about ways to honor Margot’s memory. After discussions with a few of her closest friends, it’s been decided that collecting donations toward buying a memorial bench in her name in Central Park is the best plan. It’s something she spoke of in her final days. As you know, she lived on the edge of the park nearly her entire life and walked through it daily.” I’m happy to report that the month-long fundraiser has managed to raise over $11,000 dollars, enough to pay for the memorial bench, and to also endow a tree in the park. A large number of Pagans and Pagan organizations donated money towards this initiative, including The Sisterhood of Avalon, the Michigan Council of Covens and Solitaries, and The Witches’ Voice. This is a fitting tribute, one that will no doubt become a place of pilgrimage for all who honored her and her work.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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

There have been, generally speaking, two primary reasons why fortune telling and other divinatory services are banned in a town or city. The first reason is to address concerns about fraud, about individuals running cons to bilk the gullible out of their money. The second reason is about religion, specifically in America, the Christian prohibition against (some forms of) divination. Often these two threads will conjoin, sometimes inflamed by prejudices against minorities who have engaged in divination to make money (the Roma, for example). In our modern era, these laws have been increasingly challenged by those who believe it limits free speech, or the free exercise of religious beliefs.

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Tarot cards.

Because many Pagans, Polytheists, occultists, practitioners of Afro-Caribean or indigenous faiths, and other fellow travelers, study, use, and sometimes sell divinatory arts, this site has taken a keen interest in how challenges to these ordinances (not to mention the creation of new ordinances)  might affect our own lives. The current trend has been towards regulating fortune-telling shops to “red light” districts, along with the strip clubs and pawn shops, since the courts have been largely favoring divination as a form of protected speech, making total bans hard to defend. Back in 2010 I interviewed Rachel Pollack, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the modern interpretation of the Tarot, who categorically rejected the need for regulating divination.

rachel_pollack“I do not see any need for such regulation. If people are using the guise of divination to defraud or steal from people I would think current laws cover that. It’s not divination that is a problem it’s con artists. If con artists pretend to be doctors in order to trick people out of large sums of money, should we be fingerprinting doctors? Con artists who pretend to be diviners are just the same.”

Pollack’s view isn’t shared by everyone who offers professional divination services, but I think her stance gets to the heart of something regarding the regulation of divination. That while fraud can be carried out in a myriad of ways, there’s a focus on tarot cards, crystal balls, and psychic services that seems to expose a cultural bias, despite the occasional high-profile fraud trial. This cultural bias was center stage recently in the town of Front Royal, Virginia, where the local town council have been moving forward to remove an old law against fortune telling.

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“For decades, the town of Front Royal has had a code listed among its ordinances that bans  fortunetelling and the practice of magic arts. Understandably, the ban’s legality and use of offensive terms like “gypsies” has come under fire. More than 50 supporters and opponents showed up at a hearing last week to voice their concerns, after a local tarot card reader was allegedly asked to stop practicing her craft because it violates city code. The town council voted to remove the section of the code that prohibits fortunetelling and the use of offensive terms, but a second reading of the motion will be heard at their next meeting.”

However, opposition to removing the fortune telling ordinance took an ugly turn at a recent Town Council meeting, exposing a toxic nexus of both homophobia and fear of the religious other.

“Foes of repealing a ban on fortunetellers in Front Royal recently attacked a nonprofit group and claimed it supported pagans. The executive director of the Center for Workforce Development ended her silence this week by responding to the accusations, including one claiming the organization recruits youths into the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community through witchcraft. Arlene Ballou called the actions by a few people who recently spoke at a Town Council meeting in favor of keeping the ban on fortunetellers “disgraceful” and accused them and others of spreading misinformation about her organization. Ballou said she hopes to get a chance to speak to Town Council soon about the issue.”

The issue began when a Pagan, Maya White Sparks of The Spiral Grove, was asked to stop giving readings at a local shop due to complaints. In the aftermath of that incident, White then discovered there was an old anti-fortune telling ordinance on the books and started working to get it repealed.

Priestess Maya White Sparks [Photo Credit: M.W. Sparks]“This law had no influence or bearing on the Marketplace incident. However she decided to use the code, or the removal of the code, as a rallying point to begin the conversation. She wants this effort ‘to be a catalyst that gets [the local community] talking about religious discrimination.’ When she informed friends about her discovery and mission, Maya received immediate support both in person and on Social Media. She says ‘Within seconds of posting on Facebook I had a tremendous’ response from people across the country.”

That initiative, which was initially thought to be a quick and simple matter, soon became increasingly complex as it brought out a strong current of hostility towards the local Pagans who spoke out on the issue, with the predominantly Catholic opponents of the repeal heckling them at Town Council (it should be noted that Front Royal has a thriving Pagan community, and supports a metaphysical store).

“Addressing council as the last of 18 public hearing speakers, ordained Pagan Reverend Kelyla Spicer found herself being shouted down after giving her Middletown home address. Before she could continue someone in the crowd rose and yelled ‘Is this necessary?!?’ challenging Spicer’s right to speak […] Spicer disputed allegations by some that allowing [P]agan practitioners to operate legally in Front Royal would lead to general social descent into criminality and otherwise ‘un-Godly’ behavior, including the recruitment of children into a life of homosexuality.”

It was quite clear that opposition to repeal was seen through a starkly religious lens, with local Christian groups holding prayer sessions outside the government center, and anti-Pagan rhetoric being spewed inside by self-proclaimed Christians. 

“Do you want it to be your legacy that you are the ones who opened the door in this community to make Front Royal a haven for witchcraft, fortunetelling and other pagan practices? […] I guarantee you that no American family, religious or not, will want to raise their children next to a shop that sells fortunetelling, tarot cards, witchcraft and so forth.”

At the most recent council meeting the councilors seemed to be moving towards regulation and licensing, rather than just removing ordinance and being done with it. Legal council for the town referenced a recent 4th Circuit Court ruling that was covered here at The Wild Hunt, which says that local governments do have the right to regulate divination services in a reasonable manner. That said, officials of Front Royal should be careful, because that ruling also leaves a door open for divination performed within the scope of a religious service.

Cognizant that defining the borders between the personal and philosophical on one side, and the religious on the other “present[s] a most delicate question,” id. at 215, we conclude that Moore-King’s beliefs more closely resemble personal and philosophical choices consistent with a way of life, not deep religious convictions shared by an organized group deserving of constitutional solicitude. Yoder teaches that Moore-King must offer some organizing principle or authority other than herself that prescribes her religious convictions, as to allow otherwise would threaten “the very concept of ordered liberty.” Yet Moore-King forswears such a view when she declares that instead of following any particular religion or organized recognized faith, she “pretty much goes with [her] inner flow, and that seems to work best.”

For the foreseeable future (no pun intended), barring intervention from the Supreme Court in the United States, we’re most likely going to continue on the course we’ve been on. A mixture of unenforceable bans, a web of different (and sometimes arbitrary) regulations depending on where you live, and an undercurrent of fear of beliefs and practices considered outside of a certain norm. The ban of fortune telling in Front Royal will be removed, and no doubt some licensing procedure enacted, as it has been in other towns, but what’s important here is what we’ve learned about why some of these laws persist. That in places like Front Royal it isn’t about fraud, or con-artists, it’s about control. Control not only over what kind of businesses can exist, but control over what kind of belief systems can exist.

Be sure to check out the previous installments in our coverage of this repeal effort:

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!

310617-250We here at The Wild Hunt do as much as we can to cover our ever-expanding and ever-changing religious movement, but sometimes we miss out on cool stuff. Like, for instance, The Morrigan’s Call, a weekend retreat held June 6th – 8th in Massachusetts (sponsored by Morrigu’s Daughters).  The retreat, dedicated to Celtic goddess the Morrigan, was focused on “self-empowerment, confidence and in living a magical life,” inspired several attendees to write about their experiences on the Internet. Corvus Black said the weekend was “intense,” and instilled the “sense of being in a tribe.” Morgan Daimler called the weekend “an awesome and amazing thing to experience,” while Stephanie Woodfield says she feels changed by the experience. Quote: “I feel changed. It is amazing how often I have said that in the course of a handful of years. So much has happened, my life has taken so many interesting changes, never the ones I expected but sometimes what the Gods have in store for you is far better than the futures we imagine for ourselves. The Morrigan has been an ever present force in my life, and I didn’t think I could feel closer to Her, but I do.” You can learn more about Morrigu’s Daughters, an online sisterhood dedicated to the Morrigan, at their official website.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 9.48.54 AMFulgur Esoterica has announced details of I:MAGE 2014, their annual exhibition of esoteric art. This year, the concept will be “Traveling With Unfamiliar Spirits.” Quote: “The spirit world comes to life in this two-week-long celebration of esoteric art. The show’s theme coincides with the time of year: the beginning of the dark months. Popular culture calls it Hallowe’en but contemporary Witches and Druids across Europe and North America call it Samhain, Heathens Winter Nights, Greek reconstructionist movements Thesmophoria; Vodou practitioners celebrate Fete Ghede, followers of Santeria and indigenous religions in Latin America observe Día de los Muertos, while Welsh folklore advises staying away from cemeteries on Calan Gaeaf. In most magical and esoteric traditions the end of October is a sacred time of year, a time for honouring the dead and communicating with the spirit world. It is a time to acknowledge the winter months and delve into the darker part of the year and of the self. The boundaries between the familiar and what is Other shatter. The veil is thin. The magic begins. For I:MAGE 2014, artists will explore what it means to communicate with spirits through art. They will give us a glimpse of a unifying theme across different esoteric practices and offer us the perfect opportunity to introduce you to a truly international show.” The event will be centered at the Cob Gallery in London, from October 21st through November 2nd. You can look at the list of I:MAGE-sponsored events here. Here are a list of the exhibiting artists.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

Last week I reported on Morpheus Ravenna’s IndieGoGo campaign to fund the creation of a book dedicated to Celtic goddess The Morrigan. Since then, the campaign has surpassed its $7,500 goal, and has raised over $10,000 dollars, taking the initiative into stretch goals, and allowing for expanded offerings. Quote: THANK YOU. You guys are amazing, and I’m so proud to be part of such a passionate community. I was going to video us enjoying our traditional method of celebrating by cracking open a bottle of champagne with a sword… but the champagne bottle got so excited it popped as soon as the foil was off! So this is what we caught on camera. Minus all the jokes about prematurely popping our corks, of course. […] as we’ve already met the primary goal, I’m putting your funds to work. I’ve jettisoned the extra hours I was working at a second job, and those hours have now been dedicated in my schedule to writing the book. This almost triples the amount of time each week that I will be able to dedicate to the book!” Part of those stretch funds will go towards funding additional art works for the book, including work by Valerie Herron, who also did the amazing Cernunnos header you see here at The Wild Hunt. Below I’ve embedded a celebratory video response from Morpheus Ravenna, who is no doubt working on the book as we speak. 

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • Peter Grey, author of “Apocalyptic Witchcraft,” has published an essay at Scarlet Imprint on “rewilding” Witchcraft in the face of chaos and eco-disaster. Quote: “How tame we have become. How polite about our witchcraft. In our desire to harm none we have become harmless. We have bargained to get a seat at the table of the great faiths to whom we remain anathema. How much compromise have we made in our private practice for the mighty freedom of being able to wear pewter pentagrams in public, at school, in our places of employment. How much have the elders sold us out, genuflecting to the academy, the establishment, the tabloid press. In return for this bargain we have gained precisely nothing.”
  • Speaking of events I missed, here’s a review of 2014’s Beltania festival in Colorado. Quote: “‘B14’ was a festival of firsts: the first year of our Rainbow Welcome Center, the first year we held a Continuous Bale Fire and the first year our Pagan Military were honored for their service in an official manner, honored in person by Selena Fox! For the first time this year, festival goers had multiple choices of Main Rituals from various backgrounds to attend on Saturday night. In addition to the Living Earth’s ritual, we had a Heathen Blot led by the fabulous Wolf Thye and Kathy Burton or the Gnostic Mass led by the local group Crux Ansata Oasis. I personally felt a lot of excitement from people who were looking forward to participating in something new.” Seriously folks, when does Selena Fox sleep?
  • Llewellyn Worldwide has announced the publication of their 2014 Tarot Catalog, so tarot enthusiasts rejoice! Quote: “We are proud to bring our readers our FOURTH annual tarot catalog! Discover the newest in tarot offerings from Llewellyn, Lo Scarabeo, and Blue Angel, plus get free shipping on US orders over $25 and 20% savings when you order online with the promo code found on the cover! Hurry, savings good through 8/1/14!” Read it online here.

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  • PNC-Minnesota interviews Gardnerian Elder Ed Fitch at Heartland Pagan Festival. Quote: “I find it is very good to work as a coven because you can exchange ideas, and do power workings with them. Solitary you get to study and meditate. People have personalities and there are sometimes conflicts. When that happens it is best to just ease away genially and then do your own research and study. I like both ways of working.”
  • Medusa Coils reminds us that Glastonbury Goddess Conference is coming up in July. Quote: “The 19th Annual Glastonbury Goddess Conference will be held July 29-August 3 in Glastonbury, England, with fringe events starting July 26. Themed ‘Celebrating the Crone Goddess: The Cauldron and the Loom.'”

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

On May 11 we reported on a story in which Priestess Maya Sparks White was excused from reading Tarot in a store on Main Street in Front Royal, Virginia. During the process of researching her legal rights, Maya unearthed an antiquated town ordinance banning “strolling persons from pretending to tell fortunes or practice any so-called ‘magic art.'” She and several other local Pagans, then, made it their mission to have this antiquated ordinance removed.

Priestess Maya White Sparks [Photo Credit: M.W. Sparks]

Priestess Maya White Sparks [Photo Credit: M.W. Sparks]

In the following weeks Maya was assured by town officials that this particular code would be formally discussed. Town Attorney Douglas Napier told The Wild Hunt that Code 110-17 was “one of those century old laws that has long been forgotten” and that the Council was currently revising the entire Code in order to remove any “invalid, old and superficial provisions.” Town Manager Steven Burke sent a letter directly to Maya stating:

Thank you for bringing this section of our Town Code to my attention. Code Section 110-17 appears to be a section that would prove difficult for the Town to enforce.

Prior to Maya’s discovery, local residents and town officials, were unaware the Code existed. It played absolutely no role in her removal from the Main Street store. However, after learning of its existence and Maya’s intent, several citizens from Town Royal’s small but vocal conservative Catholic community began expressing their support for the Code.

The issue has now evolved into a larger public community dialog that no longer centers solely on Maya’s presence on Main Street. It has become a larger debate over the general practice of “magic arts” or Witchcraft within the town’s boundaries. As a result, there now rests an opportunity for conversation about modern cultural diversity and religious freedom.

May 27th, 2014 Front Royal Town Council Meeting from The Town of Front Royal on Vimeo.

On May 27 twelve pro-Code citizens attended a town meeting to voice their opinions. Three of these people spoke at the podium. The first speaker on topic is Jane Elliott (8:30) who compared tarot readers to bank robbers, prostitutes and drug dealers. She said, “What a calamitous door that is threatening to be opened.” She questioned the legitimacy of Maya’s claims to being a spiritual counselor and concluded that tarot reading is “one step from Vodou which is one step from Satanism.”

The second speaker, Manuel Vicennes, introduced the word “Witchcraft” calling their ancestors “smart” and the Code “well-thought out.” He asked the Council, “Do you stand for what is just and right?”

The third speaker, Elizabeth Poel, agreed calling the law “just and reasonable.” Like Elliott, she questioned Maya’s legitimacy wondering how someone offering spiritual counseling could ethically charge money for those services. She then suggested that Maya “get a real job.”

All three speakers were concerned that the town would once again live up to its 18th century nick name “Hell Town.” Elliott asked if the Council wanted Front Royal to become an “up and coming center for the black arts” living in a “bygone error of superstition.” Poel wondered what next: “Drug dens” and “bath houses?” She asked, “Which street would become the town’s “red light district?” Poel concluded that Code 110-17 was a “good law for this good town” adding that Shenandoah Valley is “host to many covens of witches.” Maya should go somewhere else to “ply her craft.”

After the speakers were finished, Mayor Timothy W. Darr addressed the attendees saying that Code 110-17 was not currently on the meeting agenda because they had just received these citizen complaints. He also noted that this particular Code conflicts with another one. The specifics and legalities of both need to be addressed before the Council could rule.

Main Street, Front Royal VA [Photo Credit: milknosugar/Flickr]

Main Street, Front Royal VA [Photo Credit: milknosugar/Flickr]

What is the other Code? As noted in the Town Manager’s letter to Maya, it is Code section 98-42 that “does in fact provide for the Town issuing a business license to fortuneteller[s] and other similar businesses provided that they are undertaken at a fixed location.”

In a recent Warren County Report article entitled Playing the Fool: the Tarot Debate, senior writer Roger Bianchini makes this very distinction:

What these citizens, fearful of an outbreak of Black Magic and Satanism in a community once known as Hell Town, are failing to understand is that the statute is essentially a ban on street peddling, with that peddling specified in this section as fortunetelling and other “magical” endeavors once associated with … [an] ethnic minority of central Europeans called Gypsies.

The article goes on to explain just what the Town Manager told Maya. Code 98-42 actually permits the practice of “magic arts” as long as it is in a stationary location with a proper business license. The code states:

For every license for a person engaged in business as a fortuneteller, clairvoyant, phrenologist, spirit medium, astrologist, hypnotist or palmist, there shall be paid a license tax of $400 a year.

The concerned pro-Code citizens appear to be aiming their arrows at the wrong town law. At the same time, these citizens have directed their discontent at the town’s beloved annual Wine & Craft festival which they deem inappropriate due to “lewd behavior,” public drunkenness and tarot readers. In her speech, Elliott said, “Is this what they meant by ‘Craft’?”

At the May 27 meeting the Mayor was clear that the Council would not consider these two particular Codes for a few more months. However at the very next meeting on June 9, a brief exchange between two town officials indicates that the Council has not entirely tabled the issue and is taking the debate seriously. Conservative Councilman Thomas H. Sayre asked if Town Attorney Napier had heard from anyone regarding the “t-reading issue.” Napier confirmed that he had indeed spoken directly with members of the Pagan and Heathen communities.

[Photo Credit: Carmel Sastre, CC/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Carmel Sastre, CC/Flickr]

The antiquated town code 110-17 was not originally meant to derail anyone’s religious practice. As noted in the Warren County Report article, the Code was simply a protection from what was deemed fraudulent practice by roving charlatans – Gypsies or others. Considering both ordinances together, the town, historically speaking, has never been against Tarot and “the magical arts” but rather against the practice of fraud.

However times change and laws can show their age  As Maya had hoped, her work has become a catalyst to force the local “community into talking and thinking about religious discrimination” within a modern 21st Century context.

 

In April Priestess Maya White Sparks was asked to read Tarot at a local store on Main Street in Front Royal, Virginia. Maya has been a practicing witch for 39 years and reading Tarot for 28 of those years. She is the founding Priestess of the well-established Spiral Grove, a local “interpath community of nature spirituality.”

Priestess Maya White Sparks [Photo Credit: M.W. Sparks]

Priestess Maya White Sparks [Photo Credit: M.W. Sparks]

On April 12 she spent the day reading cards and offering spiritual counseling within the popular store, Brooklyn’s Marketplace. As far as she could tell, the day went very smoothly. Unfortunately she was blissfully unaware of the trouble brewing.

Several days later Maya received a voice mail from store owner Brooklyn Ballou informing her that she was no longer welcome to read in the store. According to Maya, the message said, “People in the shop and people from Main Street didn’t think she was appropriate for Main Street.”

Front Royal is a small Virginia town 70 miles west of Washington DC nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. This Blue Ridge Mountain community has a population of 14,666 most of whom are either Protestant or completely unaffiliated with any church or religion. There is also a strong conservative Catholic presence which is not surprising for a town that is home to Christendom College. The region also has a sizable Pagan and Heathen population who support Front Royal’s metaphysical store Mountain Mystic Trading Company.

However Mountain Mystic is not located on Main Street which seems to be the crux of Maya’s problem. Brooklyn’s Marketplace is at the town’s center surrounded by antique shops, restaurants, a theater, a Methodist church, and the Catholic bookstore “Faithful and True.” On the day Maya was reading, several regular Marketplace customers and Main Street business owners voiced their concerns with her presence on Main Street. Many of the offended customers threatened to never return.

Brooklyn called the situation “ridiculous” but had to do what was best for the store. Brooklyn’s Marketplace is not a typical shop. It is a project of the nonprofit organization Center for Workforce Development which aims at:

…[improving] the lives and well-being of our participants and their families by providing a livable wage and opportunities for life-long learning while always being of service to our community.

The Marketplace supports 15 separate small business owners who depend on the store for their livelihood. In making any decision Brooklyn has to consider the welfare of all 15 people not just herself.

Main Street, Front Royal VA [Photo Credit: milknosugar/Flickr]

Main Street, Front Royal VA [Photo Credit: milknosugar/Flickr]

Brooklyn explains that this was not the first time Maya’s presence raised eyebrows. Last year she invited Maya to read at the town’s spring Wine & Art Festival. During that day several people voiced complaints saying that “they couldn’t believe she’d allow witches in her store.” Brooklyn didn’t take any of it seriously until this year when the off-handed remarks turned to direct threats. She says, “I just can’t “afford to lose customers.”

Brooklyn would not reveal the identities of those making the threats or offending comments. Regardless Maya doesn’t blame Brooklyn or anyone for that matter. In fact she sees this as an opportunity to teach and hopefully change the local climate of misinformation and fear. As such she has taken it upon herself to use the incident as way to “shine a light on discrimination against Pagans.”

During her initial research to formulate a plan, Maya was surprised to find a town ordinance outlawing the practice of divination and magic.

110-17 FORTUNETELLING OR PRACTICING MAGIC ART

A. It shall be unlawful for any company of gypsies or other strolling company or person to receive compensation or reward for pretending to tell fortunes or to practice any so-called “magic art.”

 B. Every person violating this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not less than five hundred dollars ($500.) or confined in jail not less than one (1) nor more than six (6) months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

This law had no influence or bearing on the Marketplace incident. However she decided to use the code, or the removal of the code, as a rallying point to begin the conversation. She wants this effort “to be a catalyst that gets [the local community] talking about religious discrimination.”

When she informed friends about her discovery and mission, Maya received immediate support both in person and on Social Media. She says “Within seconds of posting on Facebook I had a tremendous” response from people across the country.

One of these supporters was Elizabeth Tucker, a 17 year-old Pagan high school student and daughter of a friend who took it upon herself to immediately call Town attorney Douglas W Napier. Elizabeth says:

I was really mad and felt it needed to be taken care of immediately. I asked [Mr. Napier] if he was aware of the ordinance and he said he wasn’t. So I told him the number of it and he looked it up then said he would bring it up at the next council meeting.

Attorney Douglas Napier was indeed surprised by the ordinance and told The Wild Hunt that it is one of those century old laws that has long been forgotten. He added that the town’s council was currently in the process of fully revising the code in order to remove “invalid, old or superficial provisions.” Looking at the town’s municipal code, it is easy to see that it contains many outdated laws and regulations. The code uses terms like “dancehall” and “pinball arcade.”

When asked about the situation at the store, Mr. Napier had no knowledge of what had occurred until Elizabeth’s call. Neither the town nor Code 110-17 was involved. Mr. Napier commented that this law is “certainly not something that could be used against anyone in its current form.”

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park near Front Royal [Photo Credit: Ken Lund/Flickr]

Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park near Front Royal [Photo Credit: Ken Lund/Flickr]

Maya is still researching the proper procedures and protocols needed to remove Code 110-17. When asked if she was planning on calling Lady Liberty League or other similar national organizations, she said, “No. That doesn’t really fit my goal.” She wants to keep the focus on the community and the effort very local. She also added, “I don’t want to force my way into the shop … I just want to get people thinking.”

In the past few days Maya has made significant headway. Her story was published on the front page of the local North Virginia Daily. Town Manager Steve Burke sent her the following letter:

Thank you for bringing this section of our Town Code to my attention.

Code Section 110-17 appears to be a section that would prove difficult for the Town to enforce.

Section 98-42 does in fact provide for the Town issuing a business license to fortuneteller and other similar businesses provided that they are undertaken at a fixed location. We could therefore not pursue conviction of a crime for a business that is specifically approved by Town Code.

If you are interested in conducting this business in the Town, please visit our Planning & Zoning Department at 102 East Main Street to complete the business license application.

Maya has also spoken directly to Mr. Napier and now feels confident that Code 110-17 will be removed without a fight. Meanwhile Maya will continue to read in other venues such as the Mountain Mystic Trading Company and over the phone. She has not received any personal backlash nor have any of her Pagan supporters such as Elizabeth Tucker and family. Maya only hopes that this situation has raised enough awareness “to get the local community talking and thinking” about religious discrimination.