Archives For The Pagan Newswire Collective

I like to consider myself a pretty savvy guy when it comes to journalism. I’ve spoken to a range of local and national reporters about Paganism, I’ve been interviewed, and I’ve been used as a resource for reporters looking for sources. I’ve spent years of my life analyzing, and critiquing, journalism that covers our diverse faiths. Despite that savvy, or perhaps because of it, I allowed myself to get suckered by a sensationalist tabloid journalist looking for dirt.

M.L. Nestel

M.L. Nestel

I was contacted by a reporter from the New York Post who wanted to do a story about Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran, currently accused of fraud and bribery, and was looking for information about Halloran’s Theodish faith. I was justifiably skeptical, since I do know that the New York Post is a sensationalist rag, but after speaking to the reporter, a Matt Nestel, I agreed to put him in contact with a couple sources. Why did I do that? On the phone, he said the right things: He said he wasn’t out to do a hit job on our religions, he expressed how he wanted to learn about Theodism and modern Pagan/Heathen religions, he stressed how he had treated other minority religions sensitively, he even offered to let me vet the piece for accuracy before it went to print. So I put him in contact with Cara Schulz, Managing Editor of The Pagan Newswire Collective, who had interviewed Dan Halloran in 2010, and Nick Ritter, my trusted go-to source on Theodism, and someone who actually knew Dan’s religious history.

Needless to say, things didn’t work out so well…

“The city councilman who bungled his way into federal bribery charges is also a total bonehead in his kooky heathen religion — whose members wear medieval garb, make sacrifices to multiple gods and compete in combat games. Dan Halloran (R-Queens) — who was arrested Tuesday as the suspected bag man in state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s alleged plot to buy his way onto the mayoral ticket — has been publicly flogged and lost a spear-throwing contest as part of his Theodish punishments. Halloran converted in the 1980s from Catholicism to the pre-Christian Germanic religion, whose believers drink mead or whiskey from horns and dress like characters in a Renaissance fair.”

When I saw the article my stomach sank. I knew this was a tabloid, and I knew they’d be going after Dan Halloran, nothing could prevent that, but I thought that at the very least our faiths would be treated with some sensitivity since we had cooperated. How foolish I was. I got played. I never saw a draft, naturally, nor did I ever hear back from Mr. Nestel once he got what he wanted. That’s not entirely true, I did get a cryptic one-sentence reply when I expressed my disappointment at the published piece, but that was it. In an editorial published at PNC-Minnesota, Cara Schulz noted how much time was spent trying to provide good information to Mr. Nestel, only to have it thrown aside once a sensationalist scoop was found.

newyorkpost_screenshot

“To his credit, Nestel spent the better part of two days researching Theodism.  That’s a considerable amount of time in the news industry.  He asked intelligent questions, asked for more information on areas he still didn’t understand, and requested multiple sources to interview.  We spent just over 4 hour son the phone with him during the course of two days answering his questions.  We connected him to some really fantastic, knowledgeable people to interview.   Sources to read to learn more about the religion of Theodism.  Then we stepped back and hoped our assistance wasn’t in vain.  We can help, but we can’t write the article for the reporter.” 

Having settled on the “part of a kooky religion that whips people” angle, The New York Post’s piece quickly became fodder for a series of blog posts and like-minded tabloids across the pond.

  • “I’ve been following politics for 40 years and seen a lot of characters come and go who believed weird things, or acted in a bizarre manner. But Halloran’s beliefs and actions top the list. Not only is it bizarre, but kind of pathetic as well. He is obviously seeking something that he doesn’t get from mainstream Christianity. And hey! Who wouldn’t want to be a prince with their own cult?”Rick Moran, American Thinker
  • “And that’s what the Post gets down to today with an exclusive report on some of the more unsavory details about his religious beliefs. The most ‘juicy’ detail is that Halloran was once publicly flogged after he committed an undisclosed act against a female “thrall” (a follower). He was stripped to his waist, strapped to a tree and flogged with a belt 11 times. Meh, it’s not like he helped make Steve Guttenberg a star, or was shackled to a ‘stone of triumph.’”Ben Yakas, Gothamist
  • “But now he can be best remembered for something else: Halloran was voluntarily tied to a tree and flogged 11 times with a leather belt by the leaders of his pagan sect as punishment for an “undisclosed act” against a female “thrall” (probationary servant, in non-pagan-Religion-terms).”Peter Moskowitz, Gawker
  • “Formerly a Catholic, the First Atheling of New Normandy converted to Theodism in the 1980s. In those early days, Halloran was punished for committing an undisclosed act with one of his lady “thralls,” a probationary servant. He was stripped to his waist, tied to a tree, and flogged 11 times with a belt, a source told The Post.”Sarah Rae Fruchtnicht, Opposing Views
  • “For Dan Halloran, being arrested was not the most memorable thing about him in the news this week. The Republican councilman in New York City was indicted Tuesday on bribery charges, which was newsworthy enough, until Friday’s New York Post revealed the bizarre rituals he engaged in while practicing the pagan faith of Theodism. According to the report, Halloran was once voluntarily flogged against a tree as punishment for unspecified acts against a female “thrall,” and participated in a spear-throwing duel with a religious rival, all while dressed like a Renaissance Faire employee. He remains innocent until proven guilty on the bribery charges, but the court of public opinion likely won’t be holding back on judging him for that spear-throwing duel.”msnNOW

The only clear-headed take on this was from The League of Ordinary Gentleman, who chided those engaged in merely mocking the Pagan, instead of sticking to the serious charges facing Halloran.

“Whether Halloran is or is not guilty of corruption is one thing. That’s not what these articles are about. What is shameful is the point-and-laugh articles pretty much openly mocking Halloran for embracing a restated version of ancient Germanic polytheism. He worships the old gods. And that’s his right as an American citizen. It’s our obligation as a people to disregard the apparent silliness of his religious beliefs and judge the man on the content of his character. Let us focus on the moral and legal merits of the man’s case. He’s only interesting to anyone outside of New York because of the corruption accusation. Is he guilty or not? If he is guilty, ought what he did be deemed a crime at all? His religion is irrelevant to such inquiries.”

Sadly, voices of reason in this renewed feeding frenzy are few.

All I wanted was for good information to overcome bad information. That a reporter would be brave enough to be accurate and fair, even if they worked for a tabloid. I was wrong, I was too liberal in my trust, and I exposed people I care about to an industry that only cares about grabbing as many page-views as possible. I was foolish, and I am sorry. My hope is that this unfortunate incident can be a learning moment for me, and for the wider community. Consider the source, even if the reporter seems nice, even if they say the right things. If someone writes for the New York Post, or any tabloid, they don’t care about what’s fair, they only care about finding more dirt. Work only with reporters who have proven themselves to be fair, to avoid sensationalism when writing about our faiths. Don’t talk to the news simply because you can, remember that sometimes silence is better.

I was suckered by a tabloid, and I’ll try to not let it happen again. I have failed my community in this moment, even if it was not me who decided to write that piece. Mea culpa.

In yesterday’s link roundup I mentioned that the LA Times did a feature on Pagans in the Air Force Academy, I thought it was merely OK, but it turns out that the piece had been edited from a far more mocking tone according to Star Foster at Patheos.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy. Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

“Because I’m an idiot, I didn’t take a screenshot of the article, which has now been edited for tone. (I will always take screenshots going forward, just in case.) Her previously snarky piece is now much calmer, yet still complains that the Air Force is spending money to be inclusive of non-Christians. While I’m glad they removed some of the cheap jokes, I don’t think you should edit an article that much after publication without an editor’s note explaining the change.”

Lest you think the alleged earlier version was simply in Star’s imagination, Mark Thompson at Time’s Battleland blog also picked up on the LA Time’s anti-Pagan snark and calls them out on it.

“The Air Force then earnestly tries to deal with – and encourage – religious diversity, and they get stung by stories like this in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times [...] It’s tough walking that careful line in don’t-offend-me America. If you hew too closely to one religion, you’re criticized; if you welcome all, you’re zinged for that, as well.”

On a more positive note, if you click that link on the word “welcome” from the Battleland blog, you’ll notice it heads to part one of the two-part PNC-Minnesota story on Pagans in the Air Force and Air Force Academy. That piece, which was reprinted here at The Wild Hunt, and was written by Cara Schulz at PNC-Minnesota, deserves that attention its getting, and I’m glad Time’s Battleland blog linked to it. While I’m not going to jump to some of the conclusions that Star did, I do think that the Pagan Newswire Collective’s piece did act in some small way to jump-start the current rush of coverage on this story, now running at places like The Telegraph in England. So kudos to Cara, and here’s to Pagan media influencing the narrative!

A somewhat lazy Sunday today, exacerbated by the fact that I have a lingering upper respiratory infection. So I thought I’d do a quick round-up and check in with my colleagues at the Patheos Pagan Portal and the Pagan Newswire Collective.

  • To start off, Gus diZerega’s latest column for Patheos expands on the distinctions between ”cultural” and “religious” Paganism, using Lithuanian Romuva as an example. Quote: “For my present purposes, what is most important is that for many Lithuanians cultural and political values were the major motivation for their interest in her Pagan past. Religious and spiritual values were not so important. Lithuanian Paganism was for them a kind of “identity politics.” A ritual was more a political and cultural statement than a religious one. It seeks to build solidarity within the community, not better connections with the Sacred.”
  • Meanwhile, fellow Patheos columnist P. Sufenas Virius Lupus talks about the importance of indexing, and wonders what would be revealed if we indexed our own day-to-day speech. Quote: “Would this kind of indexing look different if it were a workday for you as opposed to a day off? Would this type of indexing’s results depend on who you’re around, or what your activities of the day end up entailing? Would the “chapters” of your life in which you’re at a big pagan gathering feature certain words more frequently, as opposed to the days in your life that are more “mundane” and not inclusive of specific spiritual events? Would this indexing vary more if it involved a tabulation of the words of your thoughts as opposed to the words of your speech? And if there are large patterns discernible within each of these possibilities, and they are patterns that you find unexpected, uncomfortable, or upsetting, what can you do to change them and bring them more into line with what you would hope they would be rather than what they are at present?”
  • At the Pagan Newswire Collective’s culture blog The Juggler, Tim Titus takes notice of the “Wicca Club” on the popular television show “Glee”. Quote:  “What, if anything, will the show do with a Wicca Club?  The season has hit the middle of sweeps and there is a constant need to find new controversy to fuel the plots.  One of the show’s challenges is to remain light and funny while tackling some important issues like homophobia, bullying, and physical/mental disability. Could Wicca be next?”
  • The Bay Area bureau of the Pagan Newswire Collective has had some excellent event coverage recently: the 32nd annual Spiral Dance (more here), the 16th Annual Festival of the Bones, and the Answering the Call; Battle Goddesses in Times of Change weekend intensive. Here’s what T. Thorn Coyle told the PNC about that intensive: “This event feels important for many reasons. One, people around the world are obviously sensing a need to gather together and better learn how to support each other. We see this in the rise of community gardens, in the relearning of the skills of our grandparents, in the “Occupy” movements, Arab Spring, and in the outpouring of creativity with which people have met times that feel really hard for many. These times of difficulty are also times when a lot of energy is rising, and it feels right to take some of that energy and channel it toward our personal training and effectiveness. We can become stronger, more capable, and more kind. We can rise up for what we love.”
  • Finally, the PNC’s nature and environment blog, No Unsacred Place, continues its quality run of essays and explorations of how modern Pagans engage with the world around us. Meical abAwen writes about the “hand of man” in nature,  Crystal Tice discusses the importance of walking outside, and Juniper Jeni follows the trail of the Lord of Animals. Quote: “Margaret Murray read Breuil’s work and combined with her other studies, and with her desire for a revival of Pagan practices, she built upon Breuil’s theories. In her work “The God of the Witches” she called The Dancing Sorcerer “…the earliest known representation of a deity”.  An idea that became so poplar even Breuil himself adopted it. So did many others, including Gerald Gardner.”

There is, of course, much more to be found at the Patheos Pagan Portal and Pagan Newswire Collective websites. So be sure to check in often! As for me, I’ve got some great stories coming up this week, and I’ll also be heading off to cover the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting, so lets all take a breath before we dive back in! Have a great day!

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

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

This weekend Covenant of The Goddess, one of the largest and oldest Witch and Wiccan associations, held their 2011 Grand Council. This year the council, part of the larger yearly event known as MerryMeet, took place in Irving Texas and was hosted by the Texas Local Council (click here to download an audio interview with Chuck Peart of COG’s Texas Local Council). In a historic first for this national Witchcraft organization, their traditional opening invocation featured an interfaith blessing with Tatiana Androsov, Russian Orthodox, of the Thanks-Giving Foundation, Bill Matthews, Methodist, of the Dallas Peace Center, and Revathi Srinath, Hindu, of the Sanatana Dharma Foundation. Speaking with Greg Harder of the Pagan Newswire Collective COG First Officer Peter Dybing called the invocation “a beautiful testament to the work our interfaith representatives have been doing over the years” (Click here to download the audio interview with First Officer Peter Dybing).

“Today we saw an example of other faiths blessing the work of Witches on a national level and that is a beautiful thing [...] I found it a very touching moment and I think it’s historic.” – COG First Officer Peter Dybing

MerryMeet is a mini-convention complete with vendors and presentations, but one built around a business meeting. The Grand Council, which is run on a consensus basis, is where the organization perpetuates itself and makes all major decisions for the coming year. This year, in an initiative spearheaded by Rachael Watcher, COG’s National Public Information Officer, Internet conferencing technologies were used so members outside of Texas could observe, listen, and ask questions during deliberations.

A view of the Grand Council meeting space.

“What was new this year was the inclusion of Adobe Connect, an on line meeting room which allowed the members of the Covenant who were unable to attend physically to join the meeting through this virtual space. As this year was the first time for such an experiment, the members who joined us on line were not able to participate in a total give and take but were, in fact allowed to listen and chat among themselves asking questions of myself and Daryl Fuller who were manning the two meeting computers that were hosting the meeting space within the physical space of the meeting.  We had between 10 and 16 folks who were logged on for the entire time of the meeting  from opening to closing and the enthusiasm was “over  the moon” as one participant, who had not been able to participate for some years due to physical disabilities, stated.”

The initiative was so successful that Chamisa Local Council, who is hosting the 2012 Grand Council, is looking into expanding the experience so members can participate more fully during the meeting.

Finally, a new slate of officers for COG’s national governing board was elected, and the new First Officer/President, who will guide the organization for at least the next year starting on Samhain 2011, is COG member Ginger Wages (aka Hawk). Wages is part of Dogwood Local Council, which serves Witches and Wiccans in Georgia and Alabama, and has acted as an outspoken voice for Pagan rights for many years. Wages will replace Peter Dybing, who has been a dynamic force for COG, and the wider Pagan community, bringing much-needed energy and passion to the position. In a short interview, Wages talks about her vision as First Officer for the coming year (click here to download the audio interview with First Officer-elect Ginger Wages).

The COG board-elect. F.O.-elect Ginger Wages is second-row third from left.

“[Peter Dybing] set a precedent for getting out into the community and seeing COG people face-to-face, I plan to continue that. [...] Interfaith is probably the thing that I really put at the top of the list for COG, and I really want to keep that supported, and hopefully give it even more support. [...] I plan to work with the wonderful people in this organization to help us keep moving forward. We’ve been around a long, long time and its the job of everyone in this organization to make sure we’re still here thirty years from now.”

Peter Dybing will remain as Emeritus First Officer through 2012. When asked about a possible leadership shift, Dybing said that “change is good” and that if there’s a new First Officer “that would be great for this year.” Dybing also shared his plans to travel more extensively in 2012, visiting many Pagan festivals and doing more outreach on behalf of COG. Also of note is that longtime COG member and Interfaith Representative Don Frew will be joining Rachael Watcher as co-National Public Information Officer in 2012. Both Frew and Watcher are heavily involved in COG’s interfaith activities, and will no doubt compliment Wages in her desire to place more emphasis on interfaith work.

I wish Ginger Wages good luck in her new leadership role, and look forward to what the COG Board will achieve during her tenure. I’d also like to thank COG NPIO Rachael Watcher and Pagan Newswire Collective correspondent Greg Harder for gathering the interviews, quotes, and pictures for this article.

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

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

A Pagan Festival in Israel: September will see the nation of Israel’s first Pagan festival, at least in our modern era. A new site is promoting a Mabon (Autumnal Equinox) festival, with word being spread by other Israeli Pagan sites.

“The first Israeli Pagan Festival that we shall celebrate together, on September the 22-24th, 2011. [...] Pagans from all over the country are invited to celebrate together the spirit of kinship and community that Mabon invokes.”

It may seem like an odd occurrence for a land considered holy by all of the Abrahamic faiths, but modern Pagan religions have become a global phenomenon, and according to Dr. Marianna Ruah-Midbar, they could find fertile soil in Israel.

“At the moment paganism is not a large-scale practice here, but I believe it has very big potential,” she said. “Pagan religions are the fastest growing religions in the West, and it could succeed here too, because Hebrewism and Zionism could connect to paganism due to the emphasis on land and Hebrew holidays. Paganism is a close, unusual parallel of more common practices, like environmentalism or traveling to the East. In practice, it really is not very different.”

As I’ve pointed out before, the growth of Paganism in places like Israel helps puncture the lie that our faiths flourish merely as a rebellion against Judeo-Christian norms or as a result of secularism’s ills. The truth is that Pagan beliefs, practices, and theologies, offer an appealing alternative to the often exclusionary monotheisms that have come to dominate the West. I’ll be interested to see how their first festival goes, how many show up, and if they experience any trouble.

TheurgiCon Is Today: Today is TheurgiCon in Berkeley, California, a one-day intensive that focuses on the practice of theurgy, the use of magic and ritual to invoke (or evoke) the gods. This year’s theme is “Tools of Neo-Platonic Theurgy” and features presentations by Don FrewTony Mierzwicki, and John OpsopausTheurgiCon was founded in 2010 by Glenn Turner, who also founded PantheaCon, here’s an interview with Turner from 2010 about the event.

You can also read impressions from last year’s event here, here, and here. Read more about this year’s presentations at the TheurgiCon website. I’m hoping to have more coverage of this event in the near future.

Transitions for a Circle Minister: Drake Spaeth, a longtime Circle Sanctuary minister and key participant in Circle’s yearly Pagan Spirit Gathering, has announced that he’s amicably stepping down from his clergy position and taking a break from participation at PSG.

“Yet, open circles sometimes close, and the moment of realization comes that the time to move on has arrived.  I am at such a juncture. I would ill serve the many folks whom I have counseled to recognize and heed the call to take a new risk when the time comes, to make the proverbial Fool’s leap into the unknown, if I now backed away from this moment when it has now come upon me with such clarity. Circumstances have impelled me to the point where, despite any wistful desire I feel that the dream might have continued just a bit longer, that I must step down from being a Circle minister.”

Spaeth is not leaving Pagan ministry, but is instead dedicating his time exclusively to Earth Traditions, an organization he co-founded with Angie Buchanan of Gaia’s Womb. Our best wishes to Drake Spaeth on this transition, we have no doubt his decision will be to the benefit of our interconnected communities.

Gus diZerega Joins Patheos: Gus diZerega, political scientist, Beliefnet blogger, and co-author of “Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue,” has become a columnist at Patheos. His first column, “The Ethics of the Universal Potlatch,” is now up.

“This is my first contribution to what I hope will be a weekly column here at Patheos. I am delighted to be in such good company with other Pagan contributors, both those I know and those I have not (yet?) met. I hope to explore some of the insights I think Pagan spirituality brings to challenge Western modernity, which far more than many realize, incorporates transcendental monotheistic assumptions antithetical to our own, and does so even in its secular guise.”

I’m honored and pleased to have Gus in our ranks here at Patheos, and I have no doubt his columns will be enriching. As for his blog at Beliefnet, he’ll continue on there, though in slightly different form.

More Community Notes:

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

On Monday night, Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum held a press conference at the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering where he discussed the recent 9th Circuit Court ruling in the Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; et al. case. The PSG Media Camp have provided me with audio of the entire Q&A, which I have uploaded to Archive.org for public dissemination. The audio is in the public domain and may be rebroadcast by any podcast or radio show so long as proper attribution is made.

Listen to/download the audio here.

Here’s the initial write-up of the press conference from PNC reporter Cara Schulz:

McCollum calls press conference to clear up misconceptions in Pagan prisoner rights case. Alleges state admitted to perjury, destroyed key documents. Systemic discrimination. Says states are moving to end chaplain programs and replace with privately funded Evangelical chaplains. McCollum must decide next step in legal battle withing the day, asks community for input.

Monday night, Pagan minister and civil rights activist Patrick McCollum called a press conference at the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering.  McCollum discussed the recent 9th Circuit Court ruling in the Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; et al. case.  McCollum called the presser to clear up what he saw as misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the case in the mainstream media and in the Pagan community.  He also said that the Pagan community needs to know how this case affects Pagans across the country, both inside and outside the prison system.

McCollum stated since this is a federal case, it affects how the government interacts with minority faiths far beyond the borders of California.  Likewise, the nature of the case doesn’t limit it to only the prison system.  It is applicable to all federal agencies.  McCollum said if the Pagan community understood how the ruling could be applied and that it does affect them, they would mobilize similar to the VA Pentacle Quest.

McCollum said this action by the correctional department was part of a larger movement by fundamentalist Christians to  use governmental institutions to pressure persons to convert to aggressively proselytize, such as was seen in the Air Force Academy in the USA.  Aggressive, and sometimes violent, proselytizing is also being carried on by some Evangelical groups in places like Haiti, India, and in Africa.  He outlined how the California correctional system officials heavily discriminated against McCollum and Pagan inmates over a period of years while pressing him to file a lawsuit.  Prison systems in three other states have since cited court costs associated with minority religion discrimination cases, such as the one McCollum filed, as a reason to end the state run chaplain program.  The prison systems then allow private religious 501c3s to bid on administering a private chaplain program and the groups selected pay all costs.  McCollum says that Pagans shouldn’t be surprised that the winners of these bids are mainly Evangelical Christian groups.

McCollum listed how prison officials had admitted to perjury, shredded thousands of inmate grievance filings, and how the court had continued to use the perjured testimony as a basis for its ruling.  He also noted that the headlines stating he lost a ruling based on standing is incorrect.  The case was started as a class action lawsuit involving prison inmates, but that portion of the case was thrown out.

Towards the end of the press conference McCollum said that he had a decision to make regarding the case.  If McCollum decided to continue fighting this in court, it could be 8 or more years before there is a final resolution.  He has already been involved in this case for over seven years.  He said it is very emotionally and financially draining to fight a legal battle of this magnitude, but he has done so because it’s the right thing to do.  He laid out his options as he sees them.  He could push this fight through and seek to eventually end up in the Supreme Court.  He noted that SCOTUS hears very few cases each year and the likelihood of the court taking this case is small.  He could seek a settlement with the state of California.  Or he could drop the case and fight it in the public arena similar to the pentacle Quest.  For any of these options he would need the support of the entire Pagan community.  It is for this reason that McCollum is seeking to hear from the community on what they feel he should do – continue in the courts or drop the case and use social pressure to affect change.  He asks that Pagans comment quickly as he was given a shortened time frame to decide.  He has less than 24 hours from the time of this publication.

Another PSG media camp member, Iris Firemoon from PNC-Washington D.C., has posted a Facebook event to ask for community feedback on what move Patrick should take in this struggle.

We’ll post further updates as we know more. My thanks to Star Foster for recording and getting this audio to me.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

Summer Festival Season Begins: This weekend the Pagan Summer festival season officially begins! You’ve got Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois and Wisteria in Ohio both starting on Sunday, not to mention Eugene, Oregon’s own Faerieworlds happening this weekend. At the beginning of July the recently relocated Starwood, now in Ohio, starts up. This year, The Pagan Newswire Collective, Proud Pagan Podcasters, and other Pagan media outlets have formed an official “media camp” at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

“In the tradition of the dedicated camping communities at Pagan Spirit Gathering we are forming Media Camp for the 2011 festival. This is a project organized by several Pagan media organizations, but open to all podcasters, vidcasters, bloggers and other folks who are active in Pagan media. As the PNC did last year, we will be coordinating our efforts, sharing our resources and ensuring that all media participants are respectfulof the privacy of PSG attendants. We are grateful that PSG is welcoming us back and we intend to maintain the relationship of trust and respect we have built with the Circle Sanctuary staff.”

2010 was a huge step forward in coverage for Pagan festivals, and I hope the infrastructure being built at Pagan Spirit Gathering can be replicated at other large Pagan events. With a growing Pagan media recording experiences and stories, preserving memories, and sharing this unique culture with a wider audience. An audio and textual archive of Pagans coming together to celebrate and create community. A resource that could be a boon to future historians, academics, journalists, and seekers. I’m hoping to post updates from PSG as the week progresses, and we’ll be seeing plenty of stories and interviews rolling out in the weeks following.

Llewellyn and COVR: A big congratulation to Pagan/metaphysical publishers Llewellyn on being named a finalist in five categories for the 2011 COVR Visionary Awards.

“The Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) is an organization formed by a unique group of businesses that deal in “Visionary Resources,” and who work with and support each other as independent retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and publishers of visionary books, music, and merchandise.”

The titles nominated for awards include Biting Back, by Claudia Cunningham, Planetary Spells & Rituals, by Raven Digitalis, Witchcraft on a Shoestring, by Deborah Blake, and Modern Wicca, by Michael Howard. Llewellyn’s website is also nominated for an award. COVR’s Awards will be presented on June 25th at the International New Age Trade Show (INATS) banquet in Denver, Colorado. Good luck!

Pagan Families is Born: A new website and resource on pregnancy and childbirth, Pagan Families, has just been launched. Founded by Sarah Whedon, the site hopes to “pool our collective wisdom about Pagan pregnancy and childbirth.  Think The Pagan Book of Living and Dying for the childbearing year.” Like many just-starting Internet ventures they are looking for contributors to help build and develop the site.

“Pagan Families seeks carefully written contributions on all aspects of Pagan pregnancy and childbirth.   Examples of the kind of writing we are seeking include: scripts for conception rituals; theological essays on the ethics of reproduction; prayers to mother goddesses; Pagan sensitivity guides for birth professionals; personal essays on the experience of spiritual practice during pregnancy; reviews of Pagan-friendly birth resources; and Pagan birth stories.  This list is by no means exhaustive.”

So far Pagan writers and bloggers like  Sierra BlackLily Shahar Kunning, and Niki Whiting are planning to contribute. If you’d like to submit material, the guidelines are here. Good luck to Pagan Families, I look forward to seeing how this site develops.

Heathens Have Festivals Too: If you saw my top story and perhaps wondered if there were Summer events and festivals for the more Heathen-minded, wonder no longer! Kari Tauring, who recently joined the staff of PNC-Minnesota, is traveling to several Heathen/Northern/Nordic events, things, and moots this Summer and reporting back on her experiences. First up: Northern Folk Gathering.

“The childrens performance was a moment that the entire hall found exceptional. Here we are, modern humans of Nordic ancestry watching our children re-create the story myth of our deepest root. It is this realization that our ancestors are alive in our children that made this moment of the event a sort of pinnacle. Listening to each person in the hall raise a horn to their parents, grand parents, great grands…by name and by deed really marks a huge difference between general pagan events and heathen events. There is a deep understanding that we are creating the world for our children based on how healthy our relationships with our ancestors are. There is a sense in each raised horn that deep healing is going on in the family of origin issues we all face and that there is a commitment to maintaining a high level of functioning for our children’s sake. I find this compelling whether at a small kindred meeting or a large regional gathering. This path is for our ancestors and our descendants, not just for us here and now.”

Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for more updates from Kari, I’m glad we can benefit from her coverage of this often overlooked events and festivals.

Get Well Terry Dobney! In a final note, we here at The Wild Hunt would like to wish Terry Dobney, Archdruid of Avebury and Keeper of the Stones, our best wishes as he recovers from a stroke.

“Druid Keeper of the Stones Terry Dobney who traditionally leads a Pagan greeting to the rising sun will be missing from the Summer Solstice celebration at Avebury on Tuesday. Mr Dobney, 64,who lives in West Kennett and has who has been involved in the solstice celebrations at Avebury for more than 30 years, suffered a stroke and is currently recovering in the Great Western Hospital, Swindon.”

Dobney was recently embroiled in a tabloid scandal in the UK concerning welfare fraud. Luckily, the Druid was cleared of all charges, and was able to return to his life and spiritual duties. Here’s hoping he’s back on his feet and able to lead ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Solstice at Avebury.

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

The Pagan Newswire Collective’s Minnesota bureau (PNC-Minnesota) has begun a new series this week on Pagans in prison, starting with an interview with chaplain and prisoner-rights advocate Patrick McCollum. McCollum specifically mentions a recent case from Minnesota, where a Wiccan inmate alleges he was denied basic religious materials.

“The only time, by law, that they can deny an inmate something is if  what they ask for is a valid security issue. This must be verified as an issue first, and then upon determining that it is a security issue,  they have to provide a substitute that represents the least restrictive means of accommodating their religious practice.  Example; a  State prison inmate in the USA who is a Sikh, who as their religious practice is required to carry a steel knife at all times. Well the prison obviously says that is a security issue. The way this was resolved in a tort case is that the Sikh was allowed to have a small cardboard knife with three small steel wires wrapped around it. The security needs of the institution were met, and the inmate was allowed to feel he was meeting his religious need. The states are now required to provide those type of accommodations. Any time they restrict something required for a religious purpose they have to show how that relates to something else.

In the Minnesota case the prisoner is asking for incense and oils to use. In the case of oils, prisons in Minnesota and across the country have allowed prisoners to have oils of all sorts.  So why this person being denied this oil?  The reason given was it could be used to mask odors. Well in this case that is not a reasonable argument under RLIUPA. If they really thought this was a security issue the state should offer to allow an alternate oil, like scent free sage oil, that is available. It really wasn’t about that though, they just didn’t want him to have the oil. Mainly because they could not understand the religious significance to him, and they just thought it was weird.

There is a big issue about the security aspects of combustible substances in prisons. For over a hundred years both state and federal prisons allowed inmates to smoke. They stopped it only after issues of health arose, and the issue of second-hand smoke effects on others came up. Generally speaking, those issues do not apply with incense. The institution should provide ways and places for incense to be used in religious services where is does not have those effects. It could used outside or in a ventilated room. If it is needed it to consecrate items, they can limit the amount available or the length of time it can be used. The limitations should solve the issue, in the least restrictive way without preventing totally its use. In the case of Pagans, prisons haven’t come to fully understand, since their main experience is with protestant religious practice, is the religious connection one can have with the use of incense, or a candle, or a chalice of water, or a bird feather, or a crystal. To them these are just some kind of junk. They don’t recognize that for some it could be as sacred as say, the Bible. In my tradition, to not be able burn incense, or use our particular sacred oil, that we use in our ceremony, I could not practice my religion.”

McCollum is an expert on the treatment of Pagans in the United States prison system, and has given testimony to the US Commission on Civil Rights on that issue. He is also fighting the discriminatory “5 Faiths” policy in California’s prison system, a case that has been in litigation for over five years, and is currently before the 9th Circuit. I recommend heading over and reading the entirety of this informative piece.

Future installments of this series will include interviews with Pagan religious volunteers helping inmates, what Pagan practice is like in prison, letters from Stillwater prisoners, and information about how you can help. So stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota, and I’ll be sure to highlight future installments of this series as well.