Archives For Tarot

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.

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!

Fort HoodYesterday, a shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas killed 3 people, and injured 16, before the shooter took his own life. This tragedy comes after the 2009 base shooting that claimed 13 lives. I mention this here because Modern Pagans in the military and Fort Hood have a long history, and that history became controversy back in 1999 when several politicians made an issue of Wiccans and Pagans having religious gatherings on-base. Today, Pagans are an accepted part of military life at Fort Hood, and there is a regular open circle held there, with military spouse Michelle Morris serving as Distinctive Faith Group Leader. Circle Sanctuary, which has supported the Pagan circle since its inception in 1997 and is currently its sponsor, released a short statement calling for prayers of healing and support. Quote: “I, along with others with Circle Sanctuary, are networking support for the Fort Hood Open Circle as well as all in the Fort Hood community & beyond who have been impacted by today’s shootings.  We are encouraging Pagans and those of many paths to send prayers, rituals, meditations of healing, strength, and support.” We will be following up on this story next week, and speaking with Pagans on-base. For now, our prayers go out to them.

Florida_Pagan_Gathering_58705The Florida Pagan Gathering’s Beltaine festival is coming up at the end of April, and concerns are being raised over the event allowing Gavin and Yvonne Frost to present there. The Frosts, founders of The Church and School of Wicca, have had controversy follow them for decades over material published in their “Witch’s Bible” that included instructions on ritually deflowering underage youth. While a disclaimer was added in a later edition of said book, their sexual politics have often seemed very out of step with the rest of the Pagan community. I think it would be fair to say that their reluctance to remove or recant the material first published in 1972 have kept these controversies alive over the years. Now, a joint resolution signed by a number of Florida Pagans, plus supporters outside of Florida, has called for the festival to not let the Frosts teach at FPG. Quote: “We stand together, as modern Pagans, to urge the FPG Board to listen to our concerns and to help host and foster discussion about this critical issue. We call for a removal of the Frosts as presenters at FPG and a ban on any distribution or vending of their materials.” Meanwhile, the board of FPG seems to be, for now, standing by their decision to allow the Frosts to present. Quote: “Over the last 24 hours there has been several emails sent to the Board and many messages on Facebook in protest of the attendance of Gavin and Yvonne Frost as guests and workshop presenters at our upcoming FPG. At the same time we have gotten a flood of emails supporting FPG and its staff and guests. Our attendance numbers have not been affected and we are confident that this Beltaine will be well attended by the people who were truly meant to be there.” We will have more on this story on Sunday.

unnamedpathsquaresAfter the unexpected passing of Eddy Gutiérrez (aka Hyperion) back in January, there were questions as to what would happen with The Unnamed Path, a shamanic path for men-who-love-men that he had founded. Now, with the blessings of Hyperion’s family, the Brotherhood of the Unnamed Path has pledged to carry on the work of their tradition. Quote: “Hyperion has left a legacy and although nobody can replace him, we The Brotherhood recognize that we have a calling to continue this legacy and reach out to other Men-Who-Love-Men through the teachings of the Unnamed Path. His vision has become our vision and will continue to flourish despite his recent transition. This path WILL continue for Hyperion and for our selves. Classes are continuously forming for Men-Who-Love-Men seeking apprenticeships that lead to initiation by wonderful teachers who have gone through teacher training under his loving and knowledgeable guidance.” The Unnamed Path has an open group on Facebook, and you can also keep an eye on the official Unnamed Path website for further updates.

In Other Pagan Community News:

The Sigilic Tarot

Draft from The Sigilic Tarot

  • Hey tarot lovers! There’s a new tarot Kickstarter, this time it’s The Sigilic Tarot by Olivia Cox. Cox, who runs the popular The Living Wiccan Tumblr, says the deck emerged from extensive craft work using sigils. Quote: “The Sigilic Tarot is unique in its design, with 50 cards made up of 5 suits of 10 instead of the traditional 78 of major and minor arcana. Each suit represents a different aspect of our lives.” Do check it out, the designs seem very inventive!
  • Pagan elder, and avid Second Life user, Circe (also known on Second Life as Nepherses Amat), is terminally ill and raising money for home hospice care. Quote: “Circe has no money to pay for professional care. Over the last two and a half months wonderful friends and family from around the country have come to spend a week or more with her as she cannot live alone and needs assistance.”
  • For the third year in a row, The Norse Mythology Blog has won the Best Religion Weblog category in the Weblog Awards (aka “The Bloggies”). Quote: “THANK YOU to everyone who voted & asked others to vote! I hope that this groundbreaking win will send a message that the Old Way still lives in the modern world. However people approach the myths – as simple stories, as exciting adventures, as ancient truths, or as sacred writ – there is something for all of us in this wonderful tradition.” The blog now enters the hall of fame of this contest, and will no longer be eligible to run.
  • Immanion Press has issued a call for papers to be collected in an anthology on Pagan leadership, group dynamics, community activism, and healthy boundaries. Quote: “This anthology will explore leadership for real Pagans and real groups. We’re looking for essays and articles that detail leadership success stories, best practices, and ways you have worked through challenges and obstacles. Our specific focus is on techniques to help Pagans build healthier, stronger, and more sustainable groups and communities. We’d like to see a combination of hands-on how-to, personally-inspired, and academic pieces that will offer readers tools they can use in their own groups.”
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be participating in a Peace Ambassador Training lead by James O’Dea. At this gathering once can, quote, “learn from the world’s top peace visionaries, and become an impassioned ambassador for inner and outer peace.”
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering has announced its featured presenters for this year’s festival. They include Byron Ballard, T. Thorn Coyle, musician Arthur Hinds, and several others.

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

Art and Tarot

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 25, 2014 — 5 Comments

While I love attending PantheaCon year after year, it certainly doesn’t exist in a vacuum of Spring events. This is particularly true for me, as the very next weekend I found myself in Seattle working at FaerieCon West in Seattle. I’ve been a part of Faerieworlds Events for a couple years now, working on event programming, and they are truly vibrant gatherings that should please any Pagan who loves art, music, performance, and craft. This year, I was honored to moderate a panel of artists who have created tarot and oracle decks. The panel included Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, creator of the Shadowscapes TarotLinda Ravenscroft, illustrator of the Mystic Faerie Tarot, and Amy Brown, who created the Faery Wisdom oracle deck with her mother.

Amy Brown, Linda Ravenscroft, and Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Amy Brown, Linda Ravenscroft, and Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

We discussed the creation process, their experience with tarot and oracle decks, and future projects. Later in the panel with were joined by Satyros Phil Brucato, who is working with Stephanie Pui-Mun Law on a new oracle deck. I was lucky to record the entire panel, and you can listen to it at Soundcloud (or embedded below).

Often with tarot decks we speak with the writers and experts who craft meanings from the commissioned images, so I think it is important to give voice to the artists and illustrators who bring these tools to life, who make them into true art objects. Whatever their level of commitment in the creation process, without the art these decks would lose their impact, their connection to deeper symbolic pathways.

The Hermit, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.

The Hermit, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.

I continue my work with FaerieCon for exactly these confluences of talent, these instances of connection and inspiration. While formal Pagan events often have a lot going for them, sometimes, when you cross into the borderlands where Paganism intersects with other cultures, and subcultures, you can enter into circumstances that enrich you in ways you might not anticipate. I’d like to thank the artists for taking the time to share their stories and creation process with me this past weekend. Enjoy the panel!

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!

open_halls_squareThe Open Halls Project, an organization serving military Heathens, has announced a letter writing campaign to urge the U.S. Army and Department of Defense to expedite allowing Heathens to choose “Asatru” or “Heathen” as their religious preference (which they currently can not do). Quote: “We’ve already processed this request twice, with the support of the Asatru Alliance and the Troth. That was over two years ago now and we are being told we will have to wait even longer. The OHP would like to initiate a letter writing campaign to our legislators, in the hopes that putting congressional pressure on the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense will have some positive effect. We specifically are calling on those who live in a district run by a member of either the House Armed Services Committee or the Senate Armed Services Committee. These are the folks that can really bring some political muscle to bear for us!” You can download and edit a sample letter, here. With the recent publicity over the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for veteran grave markers and headstones, now seems like opportune time to press this issue forward.

AREN_ACTIONThe Lammas edition of ACTION (plain text version), the official newsletter of the Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN), has been released. This edition has a special focus on Pagans in South Africa, and according to editor Christopher Blackwell “deals with the development in the community from coming out until today.” Interviewees include Dr. Dale Wallace, who wrote her doctoral thesis on South African Pagans, Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), Donna “Darkwolf” Vos, founder of Circle of The African Moon, and more. This is a rare, in-depth look at Paganism in South Africa, and these interviews deserve to be read widely. Here is a quote from Dr. Dale Wallace’s interview: “Far more than Paganism per se, it is the witchcraft issue that affects almost all religions in South Africa with many divisions arising over differences of opinion, experience and interpretation. Where these become really important is in finding some consensus over a definition of the terms in light of the repeal or replacement of current legislation, and also the very real possibility of this not being adequately addressed. Different outcomes will have some serious consequences for many communities.” In addition to the section on South African Paganism, this issue of ACTION also features an interview with Taliesin Govannon, director of “Dark of Moon.”

terra mysteriumThe Chicago-based performance troupe Terra Mysterium, who create “experiential works of music, theatre, and performance art that are rooted in the Earth mysteries,” has launched a new IndieGoGo campaign to fund their 2013 season. Quote: “This year we are looking to add even more exciting elements to two wonderful new productions – a full-length play that will feature animations and light mapping, as well as a touring production – and, as a stretch goal, two more music videos. In addition to these artistic projects we will incorporate this year as a non-profit theatre company with the intent to achieve a 501 (c)(3) status in the near future. Both these actions will help to make Terra Mysterium a sustainable troupe.” Terra Mysterium is trying to raise $6,500 in 30 days, and have raised nearly $2000 dollars so far. You can see samples of Terra Mysterium’s work at their official Youtube channel. I’ve embedded their official 2013 fundraiser pitch video below. You may also want to check out Terra Mysterium’s official Facebook page for further updates.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

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

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk, noted activist and author of “The Spiral Dance,” took to Facebook to speak out on the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, and to also speak more broadly about race, and “stand your ground” laws. She initially posted: “I’m enraged and heartsick at the injustice of the Zimmerman verdict. I stand with the black leadership and their allies calling for a Department of Justice investigation, for an end to racial profiling, and the end of the dangerous laws that encourage vigilantes to target anyone they consider ‘other’ with impunity! So much work to do!” Then, followed up to expand on her previous statement. Quote: “I am indeed heartsick and enraged at how many young women are given long sentences for fighting back against their abusers. But people, both those cases underline one of the core ways racism and patriarchy work–by defining who gets to use violence and who does not [...] I advocate nonviolence. But nonviolence is not passivity. It calls us to actively acknowledge that racism and patriarchy are deep, inherent, endemic forms of perpetual violence that infuse our society deeply, and will take much thought and work and courage to transform.” She finished by addressing critics who would rather she focus on “spiritual stuff” rather than her activist work by noting that “this IS my spiritual stuff.”

pent-o-clockA new Pagan-themed community television program and videocast has launched, with a mission of serving Pagans in Oregon while also covering national and international Pagan news. Called “The Pent O’Clock News” the 30-minute program will air on Salem’s CCTV Channel 23 and Corvallis’ CCAT 29 television stations. Quote: The monthly show includes stories on the national and international level that impact our Pagan Community. The focus of the show is on news about the Pagan Community in Oregon. Hosted by Oregon Pagans Carl Neal and Michelle Hawkins [...] The show is an opportunity not only to more deeply connect Oregon’s Pagan Community, but it is also an opportunity to introduce ourselves to our non-Pagan neighbors. Understanding begins with knowledge and it is hoped that both Magick Moment and The Pent O’Clock News can help to provide that knowledge.” The Pent O’Clock News joins other Pagan-themed community television programs like Keepers of the Flame in Connecticut, along with several ongoing Pagan videocasts

a2514629697_2Pagan singer-songwriter Sharon Knight has released her new album “Neofolk Romantique.” Quote: “A collection of Celtic traditional and original songs ranging from romantic and fanciful to dark and brooding. Faery lore, lively jigs, and haunting ballads of pirates, murder, love, death, and the quest for poetic inspiration, sung by a feisty redhead. Comes with a 21-page booklet of lyrics and song notes.” This is Knight’s first solo album since 2005′s “Song of the Sea,” though she’s hasn’t been idle in those intervening years, releasing an album with her band Pandemonaeon in 2010, and two album of chants with T. Thorn Coyle in 2008 and 2009. Sharon Knight will be hitting the road to promote her new album at the end of July, which includes a stop at the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon, where she’ll be sharing a stage with Pagan-friendly artists like Omnia and S.J. Tucker. In a recent interview Knight said that she’s already working on her next album, a collaboration with her husband Winter. Quote: “I am finishing up my next album with my husband Winter. He is my main collaborator and a fantastic musician [...] over the years we have developed such an outstanding rapport, we practically read each others’ minds in the studio, it is such a great working relationship, I can’t imagine doing this without him.”

Nora Cedarwind Young

Nora Cedarwind Young

Back in March I reported that that Circle Sanctuary Priestess, Death Midwife, chaplain, and Green Burial advocate Nora Cedarwind Young is terminally ill, and wasn’t expected to live for much longer. However, Young has beaten the estimates and predictions, and is still with us. This happy news has created a financial crisis for Young and her family as they deal with ever-increasing medical bills and a fundraiser has been started to help them cover the costs. Quote: “One of Nora’s favorite adages, “The gift you give is the gift you get!” is the theme for our efforts here.  This amazing and beloved priestess has stayed with us much longer than anyone thought possible!  Nora has been somewhat stabilized with a strict routine of medicines and wound care, but the cost of such endeavors, as you can imagine, has been quite a burden on the couple, even though they have insurance. The intent of this fundraiser is to alleviate the extreme stress they have been under by providing some financial help for the non-covered costs that have accumulated, and cover additional treatments, like intravenous vitamin and mineral therapies, that Nora says really make a difference in how she feels.” If Nora Cedarwind Young has touched your life, please consider helping out.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

The Magician

Eric O. Scott —  May 17, 2013 — 16 Comments

the magician

Your humble author.

The sewing machine’s name is Elizabeth. I am borrowing her from my girlfriend’s sister. Her manual, produced on clean white paper with green ink by the Babylock Corporation, refers to her exclusively with feminine pronouns. Elizabeth is a very talented seamstress. She will help me with all of my sewing projects. She knows dozens of stitches and has a built-in arm.

I am more than a little afraid of Elizabeth.

The first thing Elizabeth needs is a bobbin. I have never heard of a bobbin before. When I finally get the white thread to spin onto the tiny plastic cylinder, Elizabeth makes a noise like she’s being minced to death, feet first. I call my girlfriend in a panic, asking if this is normal. It is. Elizabeth just makes noises like that sometimes; she is an excitable girl.

Beltane is in three days. In that time, Elizabeth and I need to assemble the collection of squares and triangles of white cotton laying on the floor of my living room into a robe. We will also need to make a red overcloak, for which I haven’t yet bought the fabric. I also need to buy wine, cakes, plastic wear, ribbons, and at least five other items that I haven’t even thought of.

We are having Beltane in Tower Grove Park this year, in one of the beautiful, ancient Victorian pavilions that Henry Shaw bequeathed to future generations. I have been envisioning this ritual for months now: a sweeping ceremony, full of spectacle and pomp, set against the backdrop of St. Louis’s most picturesque public park.

It is supposed to rain on Beltane.

I still haven’t written the damned ritual.

I am not a very good magician.

* * *

We are going to do all the sabbats.

That’s a simple goal, but when I and the other members of my generation in Sabbatsmeet took it up seven years ago, it seemed scary as hell. I had never led a ritual before we did that first Lughnasadh together in a park near the edge of the city. I had no idea of how to write a ritual, really, and no idea of what I actually wanted in one. I was twenty years old and had no idea what I was doing.

I am twenty-six now. It feels weird to talk about twenty-six as though that were some kind of advanced age, worthy of an experienced master – I mean, I’m an adult, but just barely. But it’s hard to look back on your past with any other perspective. That kid thought he knew everything, but he was barely even sentient. I’m sure at fifty-two I’m going to look back at forty-six and think that guy was an idiot, too.

One thing that twenty-year-old me did was put a bunch of rules into place for our Sabbats, and I have done my best to honor his wishes. Sarah, my best friend and High Priestess, and I do one sabbat per year. That sabbat is always based on a particular mythology and its attendant culture. Everyone in our age bracket, a group that has had as few as four and as many as ten depending on the year, gets a part in the ritual. We don’t repeat sabbats. We don’t repeat gods. Not until we get to Samhain.

So we’ve had Norse Yule and Roman Harvest, Egyptian Imbolg and Greek Litha, always invoking different gods, always doing our best to do right by them. But we had hit most of the low-hanging fruit as far as mythologies go years ago, so we stretched our definitions a little bit. Sarah, being something of an Anglophile, really wanted to do a Victorian-flavored festival, and given my love for Tower Grove Park, I was okay with that. But what would we actually do in the ritual? What were we going to invoke?

And then I thought: the Rider-Waite Tarot. What could be more Victorian than that?

And then I thought: I don’t know anything about Tarot.

And then I thought: what’s the worst that could happen?

I am not a very good magician.

* * *

Elizabeth cannot tell me how to hem a neck-hole. Neither can my girlfriend, Megan, who is asleep down the hall. Elizabeth and I are running thread through the edges of my robe, folding the cloth over into something approximating a hem. But the neck-hole is a strange and terrifying part of the garment, and I’m afraid that I’m going to accidentally give myself a plunging neckline if I mess with it too much.

I look at the clock and see that it’s almost three in the morning. It’s the night before Beltane, and as much as I would like to get the Mystery of the Unhemmed Neck solved, it’s probably more important to get the ritual finished. I bid Elizabeth goodnight and sit down to finish writing the ceremony.

I was stumped by how to write a ritual involving the Tarot. The biggest problem, of course, was deciding on which figures to include. We don’t draw enough of a crowd to justify 22 named parts, and besides, that ritual would take hours. I have to cater to the needs of my audience of the young and the middle-aged; they don’t have patience for that kind of thing.

john fucking madden

Above: John Madden presents Beltane.

As usual in these circumstances, I turned to my father, who suggested I cut it down to seven: the trumps corresponding to the classical planets, The Sun, the High Priestess, the Magician, the Empress, the Tower, the Wheel of Fortune, and the World. (“Why is the moon the High Priestess and not, uh, The Moon?” “Ask the Golden Dawn, son. I didn’t make up that list.”) As it happened, I needed exactly ten speaking parts to accommodate my rules, and this gave me exactly that many: six trumps plus four suits plus one Maypole for the Wheel of Fortune. I declared this a miracle and accepted it immediately. We got together three weeks before Beltane and drew up an outline of the ritual, complete with a strangely football-esque diagram; all I needed to do was sit down and write out the text. Nothing to it.

I finish the Empress’s speech at four AM the night before Beltane. Only three more trumps to go.

the high priestess

Above: Look at that hat!

It is the day of Beltane. It’s cold, and the sky is thick with clouds, but it doesn’t rain. As people start to arrive, I realize that we’ve cast our spell too well: we planned for an English festival, and the weather has complied. As always, the danger of magick is getting what you asked for.

Small things go wrong throughout the course of the day, mostly in the realm of things I never got a chance to buy. Thankfully my friends are both dutiful and clever, and the only thing of real importance missing is a bit of salt for the ritual’s opening. More troubling is that we had not one but two people set up to play the King of Swords, and neither of them made it to the ritual. Oh well. That’s one not in costume.

The defects don’t matter much, in the end; they rarely do. Because when the circle is cast and the wind picks up and blows my red cloak around me, I can feel the power of ritual overwhelm me, bubble over me and drown me. When I raise my tools to the sky and call upon the elements, I feel them with me and within me, responding to my summons as they have my entire life. This is a thing which is always rote and always strange.

We take a deep breath, each of us looking ahead at the Maypole, at the Wheel, at the spokes on that wheel each of us represent, and we begin.

Sarah is draped in blue, her head covered by a hat in the shape of the three-fold moon. A hush comes over our congregation as she casts the circle. Sarah, the High Priestess, the Moon.

I, clad in red, the infinity sign on my brow, hand the Priestess her tools. All of the exhaustion and worry of the past few days melts away, fading into the ritual. I am ready now for the Great Work, the creation of something full of wonder and hope.

I am now something more than myself; I am Mercury. I am The Magician. And a pretty damned good one, too.

We each silently mouth the words in unison with her, the words we have heard so many times before, the most powerful words we know:

This is the circle.

This is the space between the worlds.

Here be magick.

Here be love.

So mote it be.

And, gods willing, so it always will be.