Archives For The Firefly House

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!

Support in the Wake of Sandy: Pagan author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle and Solar Cross Temple have started a FirstGiving page to support Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington DC. The money for the campaign will help Miriam’s Kitchen buy sleeping bags, warm clothes, hypothermia kits and other necessities, along with feeding people, as they do all year long, but which is especially important in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

storm fundraiser

Solar Cross Temple will be coordinating locally with David Salisbury of Firefly House, who volunteers at Miriam’s Kitchen. If this campaign is successful, and raises its goal in a week, Solar Cross Temple will start another campaign to help food banks and/or first responders in New Jersey and NYC next week. They have currently raised 25% of their goal, and this could be an excellent joint statement from the Pagan community in response to the hardships and tragedies many on the East Coast are currently facing.

Cherry Hill Seminary Spring Symposium Features Historian Ronald Hutton: Online Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced that they will be partnering with the University of South Carolina to co-host a symposium featuring scholar Ronald Hutton, author of “The Triumph of the Moon:A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft,” as their keynote speaker.

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Ronald Hutton

“Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes will take place on the USC campus in this old southern capital.  The agenda includes presentations by Hutton, CHS’ own Wendy Griffin, and Jonathan Leader, chair of the USC Dept. of Archaeology, and South Carolina’s State Archaeologist. This is an unprecedented opportunity to meet and engage in discussion with an international figure such as Hutton, an English historian who specializes in the study of Early Modern Britain, British folklore, pre-Christian religion and contemporary Paganism.”

The symposium will take place April 13, 2013, on the USC campus in Columbia, South Carolina. Scholars wishing to participate have until January 1st, 2013 to submit papers. More information will be posted to the Cherry Hill Seminary website in the near future. We’re hoping that a Wild Hunt reporter will be able to attend and report on the symposium.

Faith, Fern & Compass Raise Awareness & Funds for Hunger and Homelessness: The podcast Faith, Fern, & Compass, which focuses on nature spirituality, ecology, art, and other topics, and is hosted by Alison Leigh Lilly and Jeff Lilly, announced that they will be donating half of the first month’s subscription fee for all new Pro Members to the National Coalition for the Homeless through November 18th.

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“On this week’s Halloween/Samhain Special podcast episode, Jeff and I explore the disturbing and tragic stories that homeless children in Miami pass along among themselves about the war between angels and demons, and the role of Bloody Mary as the fearsome, heartless murderer of children, who causes even trusted adults to betray them. We hope to help bring some awareness to the problem of homelessness in this country, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy which, like most natural disasters, impacts the disenfranchised and impoverished hardest of all.

For everyone who signs up to become a Pro Member between Oct. 31 (today) and Nov. 18, FF&C will donate half of their first month’s subscription to the National Coalition for the Homeless, to help spread awareness and support those who work for the cause of social justice. We’re also encouraging our current listeners to donate to National Homeless or another homelessness or disaster relief charity of their choice.”

More information can be found at the Faith, Fern, & Compass site.

In Other Community News:  

  • Patrick McCleary of the blog Pagandad is launching a new series of ebooks entitled “Voices from the Grain” that is “devoted to the idea of getting the voices of Pagan men out there.” Their first edition is scheduled to be released in December with the topic being Yule.
  • The Heathen Anarchist collective Circle Ansuz Bay Area Leidang has issued a press release about their recent leafleting and postering near Counter-Currents Publishing, a white supremacist publisher. Quote: “As Heathens, San Franciscans, and human beings we are outraged by the presence of this mouthpiece for backward, bigoted beliefs in the city.”
  • The 5th Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Religion and Spirituality, organized by the Program in Religious Studies at Tel Aviv University, has announced its call for papers. The conference will take place May 28th and 29th, 2013.  Featured Keynote Lectures will include Prof. Ronald Hutton (University of Bristol, UK), Prof. Jeffrey J. Kripal (Rice University, US) and Prof. James R. Lewis (University of Tromso, Norway). Deadline for proposals is December 15 2012 (email link for proposals).

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

Yesterday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals published their ruling upholding a California district court’s decision to deny Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum standing in his case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. McCollum’s case centers on the State of California’s “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. While the state of California and the judge’s rulings made so far argue that McCollum doesn’t have standing to bring this case to court, that assertion is challenged by a number of legal advocacy groups and faith organizations. One of those groups, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who filed a joint amicus brief in support of McCollum, sent me this statement regarding the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

“We are deeply disappointed by the court’s ruling.  Based on procedural technicalities, the court has allowed the California prison system to continue rank discrimination against Wiccan prisoners and chaplains.  The Constitution requires all persons to be treated equally regardless of what their religion is.  California’s practice of only paying chaplains of certain faiths, while requiring chaplains of other faiths to work for free, is religious discrimination that plainly violates the Constitution.” – Alex Luchenitser, Senior Litigation Counsel, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

In addition to Americans United, a number of prominent Pagan individuals and organizations have been weighing in on this latest development. Reclaiming co-founder, author, and activist Starhawk was one of the first to respond, making plain her deep disappointment in the ruling.

“I am deeply disappointed in the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling.  This is terrible setback for the rights of Pagans and of all prisoners to religious freedom.  I have personally experienced just a taste of the harrassment and obstacles placed in the way of those who would serve Pagans in the California prisons.  (See my account of a visit) Patrick McCollum has been tirelessly fighting for their rights for many years now, and I know he’ll continue, but more than ever he needs our support.  You can contribute at the Patrick McCollum Foundation web site.”

Patheos Pagan Portal Manager Star Foster said she was  “disheartened by the decision” but firmly believes “that the CA Dept. of Corrections policies are unconstitutional and will be changed.” Foster further noted that “this fight isn’t just about Wicca, and it doesn’t stop here.” Archdruid Kirk Thomas, speaking on behalf of Ár nDríaocht Féin, said they could “only express one reaction to this news – profound disappointment.” Thomas and the ADF say they “pray that equal treatment for all California prison inmates, regardless of religion, will eventually win the day.” California-based Pagan chaplain Joseph Nichter was “saddened and angered” by the news, and emphasized that Patrick McCollum “needs your help and support.”

Two groups that have worked very closely with Patrick McCollum over the yars, the Lady Liberty League and Cherry Hill Seminary also spoke out yesterday. Jerrie Hildebrand, Special Issues Coordinator and PR Coordinator for Lady Liberty League joined others in expressing disappointment in this ruling, and vowed that “the quest for religious freedom and equality will continue.” Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, released the following personal statement on the matter.

“In my tradition we hold sacred the balance of Ma’at, the principle which governed every aspect of ancient Egypt, and the goddess who stood by the scales at the weighing of each person’s heart after passing from this life. Patrick McCollum has spent so many years of his life seeking maat for all of us, including teaching for Cherry Hill Seminary, which supports Patrick’s fight for justice.  What does it take for the scales to return to a balance for Patrick and the Pagan inmates he has served these many years?  Only a week ago I wrote about my own decision to push back against those who would have marginalized my religion.  My situation is barely significant in comparison to Patrick’s long-running court case, but the lesson is clear: if we do not stand for our rights, with integrity, we will lose them.”

We still await word from Patrick McCollum on the matter, though he is outside the country right now and hard to access. I’m in contact with the Patrick McCollum Foundation and once I receive any formal statement, I will post it here. For now, what path McCollum and his lawyers might pursue remains an open question, though some think a Supreme Court appeal may happen. The Firefly House clergyperson David Salisbury, based in Washington DC, said his organization is ready to rally to McCollum’s side should a SCOTUS appeal go forward.

“Living in the nation’s capital, we are all too familiar with the legislative and political obsticles that have slowed the progress of equality for all. We were disappointed to learn of the 9th Circuit ruling and hope that McCollum’s legal team will press on. Should this matter be brought to the Supreme Court here in DC, our community will be ready to support this fight in the district.”

It’s clear that Patrick McCollum’s tireless work on behalf of Pagan rights has won him the support and admiration of a large cross-section of the Pagan community. The question now is how Pagans can best leverage that support towards ending California’s discriminatory policy, and fulfilling the constitutional promise of equal treatment under the law. As more reactions come in, you’ll be able to find them here at The Wild Hunt.

ADDENDUM: Statement from T. Thorn Coyle and Solar Cross on the ruling.

[The following is a guest post by David Salisbury and Iris Firemoon. They are both clergy with The Firefly House, a nature-based church that works to build community through environmental awareness, education, spirituality, and service. In addition, David heads up the Pagan Newswire Collective’s Washington D.C. bureau (aka Capital Witch) of which Iris is a contributor.]

This piece is presented as two narratives, the first from David Salisbury, the second from Iris Firemoon.

David Salisbury:

On Sunday through Tuesday, Iris Firemoon and myself had the pleasure of attending Clergy Call for Justice and Equality, a biennial conference sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. This year, nearly 300 faith leaders from every state in the country gathered to discuss the state of LGBT issues in America. The main message of Clergy Call is that religion is no longer a means to hinder the growth of civil rights issues. Instead, it is a way to advance the concept that equality is for all people born of the divine. This was shown in the representation of more than twenty faith traditions. Clergy Call is likely the largest gathering of clergy to discuss and advocate for LGBT issues, in the world. This year’s conference is of interest to our community as it was the first time that Pagans were there and joined with leaders of the more mainstream faith traditions to advocate for these issues.

Many of us would agree that it can be difficult for Pagans to get an equal seat at the table of any interfaith effort. Upon meeting with these faith leaders (most of whom were from some Christian denomination), I found it hard to think of why this might be the case. Throughout the conference there were several instances where we were asked to split up by state groups. Iris and I attended breakout session with residents of both DC and Maryland. In these settings, it became clear that not only were we the only Pagans there, but we were the only non-Christians as well. And you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When the opportunity came for us all to discuss our religious backgrounds, no one seemed to bat an eye when we said we represented a Wiccan church and were there to do our best to represent different traditions of Paganism. They had some questions, yet they were all kind and presented with a genuine curiosity and intrigue. Dinner on Monday night landed me in a heavy theological discussion on profound religious experiences with an episcopal pastor. I felt like I was chatting with any other High Priest about the mysteries of the divine. I have always thought that what we call “the mysteries” transcend religious borders and this experiences cemented that belief for me.

David Salisbury with other Maryland-based clergy.

In our conference sessions we viewed presentations on everything from youth homelessness to the legacy of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Our pens were busy with activity as we learned new ways to bring the spirit of openness and unity to our various congregations throughout the country. No matter our area or faith, concerns of the safety of youth, employment protections, and marriage equality were shared by all.

Tuesday was the final day of the conference and was set aside to lobby state senators and representatives on various pieces of equality legislation and to share the stories of our congregations. As I marched across capitol hill with a rabbi to my right and a methodist minister to my left, we sang out prayers of blessing and and strength for our meetings ahead. It was quite a sight to see both the senate and house offices filled with people of faith discussing important issues with legislators from every state. I would venture to say its unlikely that Pagans have ever participated in an organized lobbying day with such a religiously diverse crowd.

As the sun set on a ten hour day of lobbying, I was left with two powerful feelings. The first was pride in knowing that I participated in the civic process for issues that are important to me. The second (and one that I’ll never forget) was the satisfaction of having made friends and professional contacts with clergy from more faith traditions than I ever thought possible. Knowing that there are people of faith out there willing to work together to bring about justice brings me feelings of both hope and power. For this reason, I highly recommend that Pagans get more proactive in being involved with interfaith work of any kind. Though it may seem daunting at first, you’re likely to find the experience both pleasant and fulfilling. Though the mill of this work still turns, progress is being made and we should certainly be part of it.

David Salisbury
LGBT Ministry, The Firefly House

Iris Firemoon:

I had the honor to join David Salisbury from at the Clergy Call of the Human Rights Campaign to talk about activism in justice and equality in not only the LGBT community, but for all people. It was an incredible experience to sit in the pews with representatives from all 50 states, including a delegation of four from Hawaii. It struck us that this event was so important that someone came from Alaska and four people came from Hawaii. We just had to get on the Metro, but people crossed oceans and flew through Canada to be here. And, we were the first Pagans to be present at this gathering of faith leaders from all over the country. We were in a room with people who had been fighting for civil rights for all people for decades. Notable civil rights activists, who when spotted in the crowd, the presenters had to stop in the middle of a speech and ask for a round of applause.

Gathered clergy at the HRC Clergy Call.

Rev. Elder Darlene Garner gave the invocation, and in her words rang true a common theme, “We are not truly free until we are all free.” In the speeches and in the conversations with Clergy Call participants, the notion that we were fighting for LGBT rights was a part of this larger issue of total freedom. These rights that transcend sexuality, or that because one’s rights often find themselves based around one’s gender and sexual orientation conformity, we are fighting for the equal rights of all. We weren’t just standing up for LGBT rights, we were standing up for Black rights, Latino rights, worker’s rights, women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, religious freedom, resources for mental health, resources for folks who find themselves homeless, and so much more. We were standing up for the rights of all of us to be who we are, no matter our religion, our skin color, our sexual orientation, our gender, our gender identity, our age, or our disability. LGBT was the front of this movement, because there was action here, but this wasn’t the only focus. Joe Solemnese, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, stated that a poll taken said 86 percent of people said that their faith made then believe that all people deserve equal rights, including LGBT folks.

So, as a straight Pagan faith leader who is an ally of the LGBT community, I am not just fighting for the rights of my fellow humans, my fellow Americans, my fellow women, and my fellow Pagans, but I am fighting for my own rights. It was mentioned how we often draw the line in the sand and say that we’re only going to help Pagans. Only going to help women. Only going to help Black people. Only going to help those in the LGBT community. Only going to help those like me. But, we’re all in this together. And, we just have to help.

One of the first sessions we attended was a talk about LGBT homelessness in youth. A good majority of homeless youth are homeless because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Right off the bat, I was asking myself what I could do. What can we as Pagan faith communities do for these homeless youth? And, in a lunch presentation about military families, and how LGBT partners of soldiers who die in the line of duty are often cut out of the support provided for the family. In one example, because one family did not recognize the sexual orientation of their child as valid, a partner was not permitted by the family of a deceased service member to see the body or attend the funeral. And, our system is set up to allow that to happen, because the partner was not legally recognized. So, a group of folks got together and started providing support to those LGBT military families who find themselves cut off from support when their loved one dies. I ask myself what the Pagan community can do to help. In a breakout session, I paired up with a Methodist clergy person from Minnesota, and she told me about folks who are legally married in their states, but their partners face deportation, because the federal government doesn’t recognize same sex partners as sponsors. Again, I asked myself what we as a Pagan community could do to help.

David and I spoke with a transgender minister from Seattle who had taken in a transgender community member who had fallen on hard times. The deal had been a place to stay for two weeks, but that two weeks turned into six weeks with no way out. The minister said that after coming to Clergy Call, him and his wife knew that they had given all that they could give, and it would be time to ask their company to leave. And, this vibrated with me, because I kept thinking of ways that the Pagan community could help without putting ourselves in too deep that we loose ourselves.

I found a few ideas that I am going to act on as ways to be active, to engage in work that bring all of us closer to freedom without loosing myself. I will share some of them as I explore options for helping, so that you, too, might feel engaged to lend a hand. To give. To serve. To be a part of healing this bigger human community. Because we were the first Pagans to sit in this delegation of faith leaders, we have a responsibility to bring back to our faith community these mechanisms for change. Yes, we were the first, but that came with much responsibility to act.

Iris Firemoon
High Priestess, The Firefly House

I’d like to thank both Iris and David for participating and reporting on this historic first for the Pagan community. As Pagan academic and author Michael York said, “freedom has to be the highest pagan goal and virtue.” By making our voices heard, by showing up, by becoming a part of the conversation, we further the goals of working towards freedom and equality for all people, and all faiths.