Archives For The Troth

bcaa26b7f8aca9110e5f183331315fcb_400x400FLORIDA – While putting the final touches on its upcoming festival, Temple of Earth Gatherings (TEG) has found itself, once again, at the center of community controversy. TEG’s Florida Pagan Gathering (FPG) is a popular festival and has been one of the most well-attended Pagan events in that state since its inception in 1995. But, in 2014, the TEG board hit a snag, when it invited Yvonne and Gavin Frost, two teachers considered controversial, to present at that year’s spring event.

Since that point, FPG has be staged biannually without incident until recent months. In January, the Frosts announced that they would be returning to the festival circuit and attending FPG 2016, but the couple made no mention of offering any workshops. Their blog post went largely unnoticed. Then, two weeks ago, an anonymous person emailed an unpublished FPG 2016 festival booklet to a large group of people. The booklet listed the Frosts as workshop presenters, which immediately launched a public conversation, raising old concerns. Rumors and stories began quickly circulating.

When TEG became aware that the booklet was out, it announced that this circulating booklet had not been approved, nor was it official. Within one week, TEG published a new one that did not list the Frosts as presenters. The TEG Board would not confirm or deny any of the rumors and declined any further comment.

Sage. a former FPG staff member, told The Wild Hunt that he and several others resigned over this very issue. Until recently, Sage was the FPG workshop coordinator and he said, “I resigned largely because I was instructed that it was my job to keep secret certain workshops that the Board of Directors was aware would upset some portion of the community. This deceit came in direct conflict with my moral and ethical codes of conduct.” There are also reportedly some copyright issues involving the printing and publication of the two versions of the festival booklets, which have nothing directly to do with the workshop issue itself. Sage did add that he personally will not be attending the event.

At this point, FPG is still moving forward. Several of the scheduled presenters have confirmed that they will be attending after speaking privately with the board about raised concerns, and no protests against TEG are currently in the works. As for the Frosts, they typically communicate via “snail mail” and could not respond for comment in time for publication. But we will update this story as needed.

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AdflogoTUCSON, Ariz. – Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) announced the election of its new Archdruid Rev. Jean Pagano. Effective May 1, Rev. Pagano will “take the reins” from Rev. Kirk Thomas, who has been serving as ADF’s spiritual and administrative leader since 2010. Pagano said, “I am touched and honoured that people have chosen me to be their Arch Druid – it is not a challenge that I take lightly and I promise to be Archdruid to all members.”

This past Saturday, Rev. Thomas led his final ritual as Archdruid at Trillium. He said, “I think that it’s been a good six years, and it has always been my intent to serve ADF well, but it’s time for me to move on. I shall, of course, remain highly involved in ADF, and perhaps even hold some minor leadership roles in the future, but I shall also be taking more time for myself. I want to thank everyone in ADF who has supported me in my journey as ADF Archdruid, and I know that ADF shall continue to grow and thrive in the future.”

Rev. Pagano will served as Archdruid for the next three years. He was thankful to be chosen and said, “He added, I want to thank the Earth Mother, the Kindreds, and all of the people who have made ADF what it is today. May the Gods always provide.”

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Priestess Miriam with Aiyda [Courtesy Photo]

Priestess Miriam with Aiyda [Courtesy Photo]

NEW ORLEANS – Priestess Miriam of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple has announced the new location for her famous New Orleans temple. As we previously reported, on Feb 1, the historic building, which had been the temple’s home for twenty-four years, was destroyed by an electrical fire. At first Priestess Miriam had hoped that renovations would allow her to move back into the classic Creole cottage. However, that was not the case. Damage was too severe.

She began searching for a new location, which was reportedly “not an easy task in one of America’s most fastly gentrifying and expensive cities.” However, she was finally able to locate a space at 1428 North Rampart near its intersection with Esplanade. Witchdoctor Utu reports, “The New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple will begin a brand new era.” He also said that the temple is “not out of the woods yet.” Most of the renovations and moving tasks are complete but the setup and “sense of normalcy” has yet to return.

On behalf of Priestess Miriam, Utu added, “We cannot thank everyone enough who have contributed to the still existing GoFundMe campaign, this would simply not have been possible with out the beautiful people who continue to support, promote and contribute to the various fund raising efforts, much of it from around the entire North American Continent. Lots of work ahead but we continue to count our blessings and gratitude abounds. Soon enough we will be able to share some photos of the new building as it begins to settle into its new home.”

In Other News

  • Earth Day is coming up Friday, Apr. 22 and people around the world are planning their events. In dedication to that day, several Pagans in London are reviving a yearly tradition formerly run by Wiccan High Priestess Jean Willams (1928-2015). On Apr. 23, organizers and attendees will gather at 1 pm at the Highgate Tube Station, Priory Gardens exit. They will then walk from the “tube to the wood.” The group will collect “rubbish in Queens Wood till about 3:30 pm.”  After that, the group will picnic and a have an “attunement in the clearing.” Organizers look forward to seeing everyone come out for this London Earth Day tradition.
  • Similarly, Tuesday Apr. 19, Starhawk will join Rev. Selena Fox on her weekly podcast to discuss current environmental issues, climate change and ways to incorporate eco-activism in daily life. Additionally, Starhawk will talk about her “Earth Activist trainings, her permaculture work, and her visionary novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing and its long-awaited sequel, City of Refuge.” The podcast, titled “EcoPagan EcoMagic,” will air Tuesday night at 7 pm CT. 
  • The Troth is preparing to host its annual event called Trothmoot. This year’s four day camping festival will be held in Port Townsend, Washington at Ft. Flagler State Park. The organization writes, “Heathens from all over the world are invited to gather in the Pacific Northwest for a celebration of Heathen diversity and spirituality. Hosted by Hrafnar and Heathen Freehold Troth KAP Kindreds, and our Washinton and Pacific Northwest Troth members, come for fellowship, ritual, workshop, skaldship, and of course Northwest hospitality.” Trothmoot begins June 9 and runs through June 12. Registration is open on the Troth’s site.
  • On May 1, Heathens United Against Racism will be hosting Light the Beaconsa worldwide action calling “on all Heathens around the world who stand for inclusive, tolerant, and diverse practice to light a beacon in solidarity with all other Heathens who stand for these values in our spirituality.” HUAR asks participating individuals to light a candle, or some other form of light, at any point during that day. They also ask for photos of that light to be posted on the event Facebook event site. Organizers write, “Together we will ignite a fire in our hearts and homes that will push back the shadows of fear & ignorance, shine light on our honor, and rally the hopes of Heathens everywhere.
  • Athena: Sharing Current Research is still looking for presenters for its June conference in London. The site explains, “This conference will share current research on a deity that has been a topic of interest since the dawn of classical scholarship and through its various ‘turns.’ The event will appraise various ways to approach the goddess by drawing together current researchers from the UK, France, Italy, and, we hope, elsewhere.” Submissions are due by Apr. 30. The conference will take place on June 3 at the “Adam Room, Grove House, University of Roehampton, London.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

Circle Sanctuary logoCircle Sanctuary has announced the launch of its new membership program. Since its founding in 1974, Circle has been an open organization that has relied predominantly on donations, volunteerism and community support without any form of official membership needed. At Imbolc, organizers officially changed Circle’s traditional structure. In a press release, they wrote, “By creating a more formal membership program, we can open stronger channels of communication; learn from our members about how we can support their spiritual and personal development; and focus on members’ needs now and in the times to come.”

Membership is open to a wide variety of people, limited only by a willingness to agree to “a set of three basic ethical tenets” involving nature, respect and inclusivity. Organizers said, “Circle Sanctuary’s community has always been diverse, including Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, Polytheists,Heathens, Unitarian Universalists, Witches, Humanists, Shamanic practitioners and many other names and paths. Within Circle Sanctuary we come together with a common intention to honor the Divine in Nature and create community together. Our membership program continues this tradition of honoring the diversity.”

Organizers were also quick to add, “Circle Sanctuary will continue to serve Pagans of many paths and places, regardless of membership.” Their events, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, will continue to be open to everyone. Details on joining and on other Circle programs can be found online.

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trothAfter the Jan 10 posting of controversial statements by Asatru Folk Assembly’s Steve McNallen, a wave of backlash and debate erupted throughout the Heathen world. As we previously reported, Heathens United Against Racism publicly responded with a strong response to McNallen’s comments. And, since early January the issue has not abated, with many Heathens adding to the growing public discussion on racism and the support of fascism within their religious communities.

More recently, on Jan 30, Troth Steersman Steve T. Abell posted a response to the situation on Patheos’ Agora, saying, “We have some colorful characters in the Heathen community.” The article, which calls out several members of the Heathen community by name, set off another round of arguments and more backlash. In response, The Troth as an organization posted a reaffirmation of its mission statement, and Redesman John T Mainer published an official response in an essay titled, “The High Cost of Rhetoric.”

Since that point, Heathens and Pagans alike have been weighing in on the volatile situation, including long time Troth member Diana Paxson. Speaking only for herself, Paxson wrote in a Facebook post, “Heathens are known for the variety and vividness of our opinions, and even those who are members of the Troth do not always agree. But the policies of the organization reflect the will of its members. […] If the Troth is to continue to support toleration and respect for all, all those who oppose racism need to stick with the organization and make their opinions known.”

The conversation is ongoing with many Heathens and others sharing stories and opinions on both McNallen’s original post and the follow-up response by various Troth members. How and if this will affect The Troth as an organization or the Heathen community as a whole is still unknown.

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ArcanaThe Academy of Arcana‘s museum containing “Morning Glory’s 40 year collection of Goddess Statues” is now officially opened. The Museum of Myth, Magick & Mysterie, as it has been named, held its grand opening Feb. 7 at 3:00 pm. Attendees were able to look at 366 goddess statues collected by Morning Glory over the years.

The ribbon cutting event was hosted by curator Oberon Zell and coordinator Anne Duthers, and was followed by a reception and guest presentation by Witch Elder Dr. Zsuzsanna E Budapest on “The Politics of Women’s Myths.” The academy, along with its curio shop and museum, are located at 428-A Front St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060. It is the “first physical campus for the Grey School of Wizardry, offering an educational center with a Museum of Myth, Magick and Mysterie, and a Library of Esoterica.”

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Ägyptischer_Maler_um_1360_v._Chr._001We are currently researching a breaking story in which a Pagan Facebook group was shut down because it “violated community standards.” The group’s name is “Following Isis” and was created for those people who are devotees of the Egyptian goddess. As we have reported in the past, it is not uncommon for the goddess Isis to be confused with Daesh, the terrorist organization more typically referred to as ISIS. We are currently in touch with the Facebook group owners and will follow up as we learn more.

In Other News

  • The Adocentyn Research Library, located in California, has been quietly building its collection over the past few years and is now up to 13,000 volumes. Its goal is to become the “premier Pagan research center in the Western US.” The library is managed by a non-profit organization and relies on donations of both money and materials. The management team recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise more awareness and funds toward the goal of finally opening its doors. Over the weekend, The New Alexandrian Library, a corresponding entity located on the East Coast, donated $250 to the cause with the words “in unity and support of the great work for the community.”
  • PantheaCon gets underway this Friday in San Jose, California. If you are attending, don’t forget to come out and meet The Wild Hunt writers on Saturday, from 5-6 p.m. in the Hexenfest Suite. We look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new people.
  • Speaking of PantheaCon, the Mills College Pagan Alliance met its fundraising goal in just 6 days and will be able to attend PantheaCon after all. Kristen Oliver called it “a blessing” and said that the group of women attending were extremely thankful for the support.
  • As Valentine’s Day nears, the Huffington Post decided to look into the meaning of Pagan handfastings.The article, titled “Here’s Why Couples Tie Their Hands Together During Pagan Weddings,” contains quotes and photos from both Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox and New York-based Witch Courtney Weber. Fox is quoted as saying, “In many ceremonies, the couple faces each associated direction as I do the blessing, concluding with being at the altar for the blessing of Spirit.” And, Weber, who shared photos from her own recent handfasting, said, “The use of the elementals encourages a balanced, healthy relationship […] When all parts are working together — earth, air, fire, water, and spirit — they created [sic] a holistic world that allows the couple to breathe, move, function and grow together.”
  • Dr. Ruth Lindley, a UK-based historian is looking to interview “women whose spiritual practices focus on, or relate to, ‘the Goddess’, for [her] PhD research on religion and spirituality.”  As posted on the blog Medusa’s Coils, Dr. Lindley, Ph.D, of the Department of History, University of Birmingham said, “[My] will challenge current scholarship on religious change in modern Britain, especially in relation to women’s experiences of faith from the 1960s to the present day.”  She is specifically “looking for participants based in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.” To get involved, contact her directly at RML033@bham.ac.uk.
  • The Glastonbury Goddess Temple, which was featured in our report on the legality of handfastings in England, launched a new website for its 21st annual Goddess Festival. The summer event will “honour Goddess as Lady of Avalon, Nolava of the Sacred Land,” and will take place from July 26 to 31. Included in the festival’s activities are presentations, workshops and performances by many speakers, artists, and musicians, including “Starhawk, Carolyn Hillyer, ALisa Starweather, Rith Barrett, Jana Runnalls, Kathy Jones, Kellianna, Katinka Soetens, Luciana Percovich, Lydia Ruyle, and Falcon River”  More information is available at the Temple’s new website.

CHESTERFIELD, Va — On Monday, two men were charged with “conspiracy to possess firearms after having been convicted of felonies,” and a third man was charged with the “conspiracy to commit robbery.” Through an undercover FBI operation, a detailed plan was uncovered to burn and bomb Black churches, Jewish synagogues and their occupants, to rob a jewelry store, stock pile weapons and more. After foiling the plot, the FBI filed an affidavit, which included a note that the men, to some unknown degree, were connected with the religion Asatru.

As written in the FBI report by Special Agent James Rudisill, “Doyle and Chaney … ascribe to a white supremacy extremist version of the Asatru faith.”

After news broke, the Asatru angle quickly went from a footnote in a long FBI report to a news maker and, in some cases, even a headline. A Richmond Times-Dispatch article, one of the first, clarified to its readers, “Asatru is a pagan religion.” And, the media cycle moved from there.

Some news agencies, such as CNN and ABC, did not ever mention the men’s religious affiliation, choosing to focus on the foiled crime. Others offered varying degrees of explanation from simply quoting the FBI document verbatim to inserting some limited facts about the religion. The Washington Post, for example, simply added “neo-pagan” into the FBI quote. Then, others went further exploring the white supremacy connection to Asatru. The Daily Beast went so far as to interview such a group with the added commentary, “Because pagans gonna pagan.”

Get Religion writer Jim Davis questioned the media’s reaction, asking whether journalists even care about implications surrounding the religious aspects of the case. The writer felt the media “missed the boat” by not better investigating the Asatru angle. He wrote:

Now, I’m not calling for some witch hunt, or Norse hunt in this case. If bigotry is not basic for most Asaturars and/or Odinists, fine. But so many media ask so little about a central question in this case. Here we have a story about members of a religion who are charged with wanting to shoot and blow up members of two other religions (and of another race). And journalists aren’t curious about that?

One Virginia-based NBC affiliate did reach out to a practicing Heathen family to talk about Asatru, rather than simply focusing on white supremacy. In that article, Asatruar Bryan Wilson told the reporter, “We’re not about destroying other religions or hurting people … Especially not because of the color of their skin. This is kind of ridiculous. It is very ridiculous.” He was later quoted as saying, “You can blame the religion all you want, but the religion doesn’t tell people to do things like that … That’s someone’s decision that they made on their own, and they just happen to be Asatru.”

As this was all happening, members of the national and even international Heathen communities watched in horror as the story fell like dominoes through the mainstream media. And, collectively, their immediate response was one of frustration and anger.

HAH_logo

Heathens Against Hate came out with this statement:

This is an all too familiar song and dance, so it is important for the Heathen community to be proactive in our response to it. These men are criminals with a violent history. According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Chaney, he and Doyle each are convicted felons. Some of the circumstances of this case are reminiscent of virulent forms of prison Odinism that bring stigma to the rest of Heathenry. What we see in these cases is Heathenry being co-opted to advance a political and social agenda that, at the core, has nothing to do with the religion. This perversion of our faith operates against the advancement of Heathenry. This is not a way to honor or to bring bright fame to our gods and goddesses.

HUAR LogoAnd, Heathens United Against Racism wrote, in part:

Such an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and cowardice is the total opposite of everything Heathenry stands for. The would-be race warriors apprehended by the FBI, distinguished by their fearful mentalities and established histories of violence, are not alone in promoting and adhering to doctrines of ethnic violence coated in a veneer of piety. Robert Doyle and Ronald Chaney are two of the worst examples of a much larger problem.

In denouncing these two individuals we further denounce the mental atmosphere giving fuel to their ideas. We denounce those who promote ideologies of fear and terror. We denounce all those who claim Asatru and Heathenry justify a life of bigotry, violence, and prejudice.

Canadian Heathen Robert Rudachyk didn’t mince words. He told The Wild Hunt, “I am personally disgusted that these pathetic nithlings would deign to even call themselves Heathens. They tar all of us with their filth when they act in a manner like this, and I hope the justice system shows them no mercy. They are not warriors, but mindless half-witted savages who want nothing more than to blame people of other faiths for their shortcomings in life rather than taking responsibility for the bad choices they have made in their lives. May Nidhogg gnaw their bones for eternity.”

trothThese Heathen groups and individuals do not deny that these men could possibly have identified or even formally practiced some form of the Asatru religion. Steven T. Abell, Steersman of The Troth, said, “The Troth cannot prevent idiots and creeps from saying they are Heathens, but we can say that idiots and creeps are idiots and creeps. These persons are idiots and creeps, and they are not welcome in our community.”

Two of the men’s online profiles do suggest that they had an interest in or a connection to Heathenry. For example, one of the men recently lost a friend to substance abuse and, in mourning wrote, “[He had the] strength of the Old Gods. Battle and struggle is our way of life. If we lose you Valholl with will improve its ranks.”  At the same time, one of the men showed an interest in some Christian-based groups.

But these are all speculative details coming from social media. What does remain clear is that, regardless of spiritual interest, there are very clear signs of white supremacist beliefs. As pointed out in one news article, one of the men is reportedly a member of the KKK, a claim that is supported by his online profile, and he is also allegedly connected to the Aryan Brotherhood.

Writer Dr. Karl E. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog told The Wild Hunt, “Something about Ásatrú seems to keep attracting this personality type. Maybe it’s incessant social media memes about defending the Folk and dying gloriously in battle. Maybe it’s endless essays proclaiming white victimhood and forwarding conspiracy theories about people of color. Maybe it’s organizations that constantly declare they’re not racist while actively promoting racist ideologies. Maybe it’s Heathens who support racist individuals and organizations in the name of neutrality. It’s probably all of these things. Together, they create a welcoming environment for the worst elements of society, and those elements are gleefully taking advantage.”

Frustration showed in his reaction to the recent incident. Seigfried went on to say, “If Heathens of positive intent are tired of their traditions being connected to racist extremists, they need to actively shut down all this nonsense and lock their doors against those who promote these ideologies.”

Rudachyk strongly agreed, saying, “It is long past time that we as a community stop coddling the racist factions of our faith and cut them out like the cancer they are before they kill our faith with their poisonous beliefs.”

While the media and cultural problems faced by Heathens are not entirely unlike the problems faced by Witches and Wiccans, the struggle appears to be more similar to that faced by Muslims. There are real factions of society who are claiming to be “true” practitioners of the religion, and who commit atrocities in the name of that religion. Overall, these factions are minorities, but they are loud, and they are aggressive, and they are violent. Like many in the Muslim community, Heathens are looking for ways to solve this problem, and protect their religious practice from the inevitable backlash, trauma and bad press.

Heathens Against Hate wrote:

The people in the churches and synagogues are not our enemies. The enemies are those who bring shame to our communities through reprehensible actions. Heathens Against Hate is thankful that the FBI thwarted the efforts of these men and that no one was injured. Issues such as this underscore the importance of In-Reach Heathen Prison Services.

Along with education and In-Reach prison services, Heathens have also been looking to become more active in the interfaith world. The Troth and the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry had their own booth at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. There were Heathen-specific workshops, and one group, the Urglaawe, maintained a healing altar.

Heathenry at the Parliament of the World's Religions [Courtesy Photo]

Heathenry at the Parliament of the World’s Religions [Courtesy Photo]

In its statement, Heathens United Against Racism wrote:

We call on all Heathens who feel as we do to join us in solidarity. We must all stand together for a truly hospitable, courageous, and honorable community against those who would twist the beliefs and ideas we hold dear into a hateful mockery of everything we, as Heathens, stand for.

Back in Virginia, two of the arrested men had their preliminary hearing Thursday, Nov. 12. As reported by the Roanoke Times, the men are being held without bond due to “their ties to a white supremacist group and potential danger to the community.” According to the report, the judge felt there was very “strong evidence” in the case and would not grant the defense any special conditions. The third man is schedule for a hearing today.

The U.S. Army has finally added Asatru and Heathen to its religious preference list after a five year effort led by the Open Halls Project. The Army is now the second branch of the U.S Military to include these two religious options. The Air Force led the way in July 2014. With these changes made, Heathen soldiers serving, or having served, in either of these two branches can accurately communicate their religious preference and, by doing so, earn a host of benefits and protections.

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/FreePhoto.com]

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/FreePhoto.com]

“This is a first step into showing how deeply integrated with serving our country Heathens are. We represent a significant minority of the world, but the large majority of Heathens have served their countries in some form or another. Taking care of our community is a Heathen worldview trait, serving in the military is one way to serve those communities. I hope that this recognition helps to encourage more Heathens to serve their communities in all ways,” said Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

It is currently estimated that there are around 500 Heathens serving in the U.S. Army alone. That number is purely speculative based on Open Hall Project registrations. Heath said, “I’m hoping that getting the religious preference added will allow us to eventually ask the military to do an official census.”

Heath’s quest began in 2009 after he and his wife Cat joined The Troth. At that time, Heath was on Active Duty with U.S. Army, and wanted to see both Heathen and Asatru added to the religious preference list. Since that application required the backing of a 501c3 organization, he asked the Troth for help, which they gave. Unfortunately, the Army made an error and put The Troth on the list, rather than Heathen or Asatru.

As a result, Heath had to begin the process all over again. This time, however, he looked for support from a group whose name contained the word Asatru, as advised by Army officials. With the help of Vince Enland of the Asatru Alliance and Patricia Lafayllve of The Troth, he submitted a second application in 2010.  This was also the year that he and Cat formally established the Open Halls Project.

Open Halls Project
A year went by with little to no response. In 2011, the team decided to submit a third application. This one contained a petition with the signatures of over 30 soldiers. But, once again, they were simply told that the application was being reviewed.

After two years of waiting, the Army had still made no decisions, and the team was faced with two new challenges. Heath said, “In 2012, we were told by the Chaplains Corp that a new system to request Rel Prefs was being developed and would take some time to get anything new approved.” Additionally, Heath himself was no longer on Active Duty. Therefore, they “would need to get someone [else] who [could] reprocess the whole request.”

Over the next two years, they put the project on “the back burner.” They periodically checked in with Chaplain Bryan Walker, personnel director of the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. They also worked to garner more support and allies for the mission.

By 2013, momentum began to build in the form of both interest and corresponding actions. In terms of earning increased support, Josh Heath credits a 2013 interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried, published on the Norse Mythology blog.  While the article is predominantly about the couple’s personal history and religion, it does mention the Open Halls Project and its deep involvement “in American Heathenry and … the struggle for its recognition as a religion in the U.S. military.” In fact, that very interview is what inspired Msgt. Matt Walters, the Air Force NCO, to seek out the Open Halls Project for help in getting Asatru and Heathen added to the Air Force religious preference list.

While support increased, other serendipitous events began to happen. In spring 2013, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs added the Mjöllnir, (the Hammer) to its list of symbols available for gravestones and markers. Then, in early 2014, the Army added Humanism to its religious preference list, and the Air Force added Heathen and Asatru.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

In a recent interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried, Heath admitted that the adding of Humanism, “riled him up!” He said, “I’d been working on this issue for Heathens for five years, and they still hadn’t approved us! I threatened a lawsuit, politely, and even contacted the ACLU and the humanists that won their campaign to ask for some guidance on how to proceed.”

Due the increase in support from the Heathen community, Heath was able to find four new Active Duty soldiers willing to work on the project. The team consisted of Christopher Gibat, Omar Bailey, Andrew Turner and Daniel Head, who would became the new principle point of contact. In a recent interview, Head told Dr. Seigfried that after some “back and forth” and questioning the chaplains signed off. Asatru and Heathen were added to the list.

While this designation is purely administrative, the benefits can be far reaching in the experiences of a Heathen soldier, and in the education of military officials. Heath said:

Some Heathens will still have a hard time getting the right to worship, but having their religious preference added will mean the Chaplains Corp, MUST, assist them within the regulation requirements. That is a huge advocacy pool, even a chaplain that doesn’t really want to help will have to or face disciplinary action for failing to uphold their oath. I think this will help, when good soldiers, are seen as good soldiers, and then someone finds out they are a Heathen, this will hopefully show that we are good for our units, good for the Army and good for our country.

He also noted that Heathen Veterans can apply to make a change to their religious preference. Doing so will help with any official census taken, as well as supporting Heathen specific needs for funerals and other religious-based services.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

After the announcement was made, Open Halls members were asked for reactions and thoughts. Heath shared some of those responses:

I have [had] to choose ‘other’ as my religious preference, that makes me and many others feel excluded. I will no longer have to worry, “Will there be someone who understands what I believe, and to speak for me, if the worse were to happen.” – Daron Regan

It is a great feeling not to be marginalized as “that weird guy that believes in comic book characters.” – Andrew Turner

I am thankful for those that have stayed the course, it seems to have paid off and brought honor to us all.- Omar Bailey

This is the seed from which something great may grow. Whether it be something as simple as full recognition or a full chaplain representation. Our deed will feed the well that feeds the seed.- Joshua Spencer

A few members were skeptical on how much this will really affect their day-to-day experience, but most reactions were celebratory and focused on the next chapter of the project. Heath said, “We are planning on pursuing the Navy and Marines next, as they use the same system for Chaplains, a win there will affect both branches at the same time. I seriously doubt they would add the preferences themselves without prodding, but I do not think it would be hard for personnel to make those requests now.”

For more extensive detail on the entire process and experience, turn to the recent interview with Daniel Head and Josh and Cat Heath at the Norse Mythology Blog

The cover of The Magical Confluence #19. Image by Penny Ochs.

The cover of The Magical Confluence #19. Image by Penny Ochs.

I have a box of papers in my office that I like to look at every now and then; it’s an archive of sorts, a collection of artifacts from what seems to me like an entirely different era of Paganism. The box contains old rituals, festival invitations, newspapers, zines, and even a few decades-old picnic leases for public parks, the sites of sabbats that were held when I was only a few months old. I am a child of the internet, and it can be hard for me to think of what “Pagan community” meant, exactly, in the time before it. But my box gives me a glimmer, sometimes.

One of my favorite items in the box is a run of a zine, The Magical Confluence, which was published by the Earth Church of Amargi quarterly in the late 80s into the early 90s. The average issue runs about 16 pages, all black and white, most of the text obviously produced on a typewriter rather than a word processor. Clippings from local newspapers and national publications like Green Egg tend to make up about half of the content, with the rest submitted by Pagans in the St. Louis community. There are occasionally Far Side cartoons for which I am not entirely convinced Gary Larsen received royalties.

Looking through Magical Confluence #19, published in Spring 1990, I found an article by none other than my father – “AMER: AN OPPOSITION VIEW,” an open letter published in a forum that reached, I’m guessing, maybe a couple of dozen people. He was weighing in on his general distaste for the Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions, an organization that tried to counter anti-Pagan misinformation through pamphlets, press statements, community meetings, and so on. AMER was founded in 1986 and lasted for twelve years before being disbanded. Despite his role as high priest of a long-standing coven in the St. Louis area, my father had little patience for community organizations; he compared AMER’s attempts to bring him and his into their fold as being “bludgeoned with a club.”

Much of my father’s article is inside baseball to a local controversy that happened almost 30 years ago, and even after I asked him for context, I’m still baffled. (It was something to do with Satanists.) But there’s a one section that I have been chewing over since I read it:

If true that AMER’s purpose is “to insure the individual’s right to privacy” then why do you seem to be so hell-bent to convince me that I am wrong to abridge my right of free association. Free association, you understand, is not only the ability TO associate, but also the ability NOT TO associate. It seems inconceivable to some of you that there are individuals and groups who simply ARE NOT JOINERS.[1]

Just that turn of phrase: “some people are not joiners.” My father certainly isn’t one – not just in terms of religion, but everywhere in his civic life. He has never claimed affiliation with any political party, never joined the PTO when I was younger, never been a part of an Elks Lodge or the sort. He is part of a union, but his career compelled him to join it. Even in his magical life, he eventually left the OTO exactly because it was too much of a “joiner” institution for him. If my father bowled, he would bowl alone. That inclination seems common in his generation of Pagans – and perhaps for many Pagans across the board. Our religions, after all, are made up primarily of converts – people who, for the most part, had a reason to reject the institutions of their parents. It’s not really surprising that people who turned away from organized religion might prefer not to join organizations – especially those which try to organize their new, previously unorganized religions.

But – and I realize this is something of a refrain for me – I am not a convert; I didn’t turn away from anything. And just like it can be hard for me to understand how publications like The Magical Confluence connected the Pagan community before we all had the internet, it can be equally as hard for me to understand the way that those who turned away see the world. I struggle with this. Some people are not joiners. Am I?

The covers to both volumes of Our Troth, from The Troth's website.

The covers to both volumes of Our Troth, from The Troth’s website.

For Yule, my parents got me a copy of Our Troth, the handbook published by the Heathen organization The Troth.  I haven’t had the chance yet to read through it, as I’m in the middle of preparing to teach the entire history of British literature[2], but just flipping through the book has made me think again about joining the organization. It was a thought I had when I first started thinking of myself as a Heathen in addition to a Wiccan, and had only been reinforced by getting to know some of its members a few years ago at Pantheacon.

But I have never actually gone through with it, even though I see the obvious upsides – a connection to a larger community, the support of an organization that more or less aligns with my beliefs, and a pretty, pretty journal. I suppose part of the reason for my prevarication is that it could end up being an empty gesture – would it mean anything other than a stamp of approval, a sign that I am a Certified Heathen? The other part is the general philosophical stance I have inherited from my parents: some people are not joiners. “Some people,” of course, means “us.” We keep to ourselves; we do our own thing. We keep to the edges, because the edges are free.

I see a debate in the Pagan community – at least the one I can see from my tiny window onto the internet – about what direction we are moving in, whether it’s towards more robust and public infrastructure or a move to remain with the largely decentralized nature of the movement as it currently is. I find myself, as ever, hedging about the middle. I grew up in the relative isolation of a handful of covens, and I know and love that environment; I also remember being a 13 year old kid who wished he could have just gone to a normal kind of church, except with Horus instead of Jesus.

My questioning over whether or not I want to join some organization is, I admit, a rather inconsequential element of that debate. But it’s those little decisions that, ultimately, pull us all in one direction, towards one definition of progress or the other.

 

 

[1] Sic.

[2] My department’s British Literature seminar is one semester, Beowulf to present. We go from John Donne to Oscar Wilde in about five weeks. I may keel over at some point.

On Sunday, avowed white supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross (aka Glenn Miller) allegedly shot at two Jewish community centers in the Kansas City area, killing three people. Cross reportedly shouted “Heil Hitler!” during his arrest, and authorities have officially classified the shooting rampage as a hate crime. This shocking incident, which happened on the eve of the festival of Passover, has had individuals, and the press, digging for more information on the alleged shooter. Daniel Burke, co-editor at CNN’s Belief Blog, believes he has uncovered the religion angle to this story: Cross is not a Christian, but an Odinist.

Frazier Glenn Cross

Frazier Glenn Cross

“Frazier Glenn Cross is a white supremacist, an avowed anti-Semite and an accused killer. But he is not, as many think, a Christian. […] The 73-year-old has espoused anti-Semitism for decades. He also founded racist groups like a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both groups have deep ties to Christian white supremacists. But according to Cross’ 1999 biography, he is an adherent of Odinism, a neo-pagan religion that experts say has become one of the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.”

The article then quotes from an autobiography written by Cross in 1999.

“I’d love to see North America’s 100 million Aryan Christians convert to the religion invented by their own race and practiced for a thousand generations before the Jews thought up Christianity. Odinism! This was the religion for a strong heroic people, the Germanic people, from whose loins we all descended, be we German, English, Scott, Irish, or Scandinavian, in whole or in part.”

As this new information came to light, Heathen groups and individuals were quick to distance their faith from the racist strain of Germanic paganism practiced by Cross and those like him. These voices speaking out included members of The Troth, one of the largest mainstream Heathen organizations in North America, and the activist group Heathens United Against Racism.

“Asatru and the worship of Odin have no connection with white supremacy, no more so than Christianity has to do with white supremacists. And there are bigots and haters in all faith traditions. In The Troth, we embrace diversity and welcome all who are called to our Gods, and are working with our program, In-Reach, to offer an alternative to the racist material that is circulated in prisons by members of racist gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood. Crime such as what Frazier Cross is accused of, is abhorrent to us. Personally I extend my prayers to the Jewish community on this heinous crime committed during the high holy time of Passover.” – Lisa Morgenstern, member of the High Rede of The Troth, and Volunteer Chaplain at CSP-Los Angeles County for Heathens, Druids, and Wiccans.

Heathens United Against Racism

“Equating all of Heathenry to the beliefs of a racist Odinist is the equivalent of equating all the beliefs of Christianity to the beliefs of the Westboro Baptist Church. While Heathens are by nature a highly diverse and sometimes argumentative lot, those who are discovered to be white supremacists are quickly ostracized from the general Heathen community. Heathens United Against Racism tries to help expose those who would try and use our faith to promote hatred.” – Natalie River Smith, a member of Heathens United Against Racism.

Another HUAR member, Harrison Hall, added that “Cross’s actions are unforgivable, without question” while Steven T. Abell, Steersman for The Troth, says that he hopes for “swift and harsh judgment and punishment for the perpetrator.” Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, who writes at The Norse Mythology Blog, called the shooting “heartbreaking” and “infuriating.”

“The disgusting violence in Kansas on Sunday is truly heartbreaking. I can’t begin to imagine the overwhelming pain of a family losing both a teenage son and his grandfather on the same day. The man accused of killing them seems to have been an ignorant racist maniac on a willful anti-Semitic rampage, which makes this horror not only tragic but infuriating. I find it personally abhorrent that the accused, at least at some point, claimed that his white supremacist delusions were rooted in his purported ancestors’ worship of Odin. I believe that there is no place for racism in heathenry. There is no place for anti-Semitism in heathenry. It is completely repellent to me that a violently disturbed individual tried to import his ideology of race-hatred into a contemporary religious tradition that focuses on wisdom, generosity and a balanced relationship with the world around us.”

These Heathen voices speak to the high value placed on honor, truth, and hospitality within their interconnected communities. Individuals, groups, and family units that abhor the racist appropriations that have blossomed on the fringes of society. That said, CNN’s assertion as to faith of the alleged shooter starts to get murky as the piece progresses. After quoting from the 1999 autobiography, we then learn Cross presented himself as a “traditional monotheist” when running for political office in 2008, and then, according to a religious studies professor who knew him, as an atheist.

“David Embree, a religious studies professor at Missouri State University, said Cross presented himself as a traditional monotheist when he ran for Congress in 2008. But when he spoke at Embree’s classroom in 2012, his views had apparently changed, the professor said. ‘He essentially self-identified as an atheist,’ Embree said.”

This section is inserted towards the end of the piece, and is then seemingly ignored in the closing (which again quotes the 1999 autobiography). So, what are the actual beliefs of Frazier Glenn Cross? Odinist? Generic monotheist? Atheist? If professor David Embree is to be believed, he hadn’t publicly identified as an Odinist for several years. Is there some source that Daniel Burke has tying Cross to Odinism recently that he isn’t quoting? As it stands, some Heathens are unhappy with the way this piece was reported, with Troth Steersman Steven T. Abell expressing the “hope that the reporter who wrote the CNN article will learn to do his job better.” Meanwhile, Dr. Seigfried notes that no Heathens were interviewed for the CNN Belief Blog article.

“Mr. Burke fails to quote a single actual follower of the Old Way. Maybe he made a heroic effort to contact heathen religious organizations, leaders, individuals and writers to gain their input, and no one responded. It would only be good journalistic practice to include the voice of at least one follower of a faith tradition you are covering, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, he was sure to get in a disclaimer distancing Christianity from white supremacist action: he quotes Jonathan White saying, “It’s hard to get a violent god out of Jesus.” Leaving aside the endless historical and contemporary examples that contradict this statement, wouldn’t it be nice to have had some heathen, any heathen, being asked by CNN to make a statement about their tradition?”

 The problem of Pagan and Heathen faiths being appropriated by racists is a real one, and it is necessary and right for our organizations to speak up on the subject when horrific and brutal incidents like this occur, but the headline “Frazier Glenn Cross’ racist religion: Odinism” seems misleading at best when the alleged shooter appeared uncertain if he believed in any higher power as recently as 2012. For this CNN article to travel beyond mere sensationalism, a solid source pointing towards what Cross believed recently should be added, and if such a source does not exist, the piece should be altered to reflect what we actually know. In the meantime, Heathens are currently organizing to raise money for the victims of the shooting.

ADDENDUM: Daniel Burke at CNN’s Belief Blog has updated the piece with commentary from Josh Rood, founder of Óðrœrir Heathen Journal, and an MA student in Norse Religion at the University of Iceland. He has also changed the headline to “The accused Kansas killer’s neo-pagan religion.”

“I want to say that Frazier Glenn Cross is a monster, and it cannot be denied that he’s not alone,” said Josh Rood, an expert on Asatru at the University of Iceland. “The prison systems, and the white separatist movements have been bastardizing Asatru beliefs, symbols, and myths for a long time.”

It should be noted that Dr. Seigfried’s quotation was written before Rood’s commentary was added to the CNN piece.

ADDENDUM II: Heathens United Against Racism have posted an official statement.

“We wish to make it clear that Cross, and any others, who invoke the names of our Gods, our traditions, or our symbols as justification for their bloody rampages are the lowest of the low in our eyes. We stand, as a community, against all who would try to co-opt and pervert our practices just as the Nazis once did to support racist, fascist, or otherwise bigoted agendas. Such people are unquestionably unwelcome in our community and any who give them aid, shelter, or otherwise enable their bigotry are equally unwelcome in our hearths, rites, and events.

We extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the victims of this terrible crime and the community this honorless, cowardly individual sought to terrorize. We stand with you in this time of terrible tragedy and will do whatever we can to help heal the wounds inflicted yesterday by one hateful man. We hope that going forward we can build a respectful, genuine dialog between our communities and work together against all who would inflict their hatred on others.”

You can read the entire statement, here.

ADDENDUM III: Joshua Rood, who was added to the original CNN Belief Blog piece as noted in my first addendum, has written a guest column for CNN on Heathenism’s battle with white supremacists.

“All religions have been used by people to justify what they know is wrong. All myths are subject to bastardization. We’ve seen this throughout history. Ásatrú is no more immune to it than any other religion. Myths and symbols can’t defend themselves. In the case of Ásatrú and the gods and symbols of Northern Europe, they have been latched onto and used by individuals and movements trying to push racialist, nationalist and violent agendas. It must be understood that these movements didn‘t evolve out of Ásatrú. They evolved out of racial or white power movements that latched onto Ásatrú, because a religion that came from Northern Europe is a more useful tool to a “white nationalist” than one that originated elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, as this aspect of the story continues to develop, TIME Magazine’s article on Frazier Glenn Cross features a quote from Robert Jones, the imperial klaliff of the Loyal White Knights, who described Cross as a “good Christian man who spoke out for what he believes in.” A strange description for someone who purportedly was immersed in racist Odinism.

On May 10th I reported that the Thor’s Hammer (aka Mjölnir) emblem was approved for veteran’s headstones and grave markers by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Since then, more details have been slowly emerging as to how the approval came about. We know that the listing went up on May 2nd, and thanks to a statement sent to The Wild Hunt from the Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth we now know the circumstances of the emblem’s approval.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

“Due to a number of inquires regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs approval of the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem as one of the “Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers” I have decided to write the following statement to try and answer everyone’s questions. Please note, that at the request of the Departed’s Family, I am withholding the last name and location of the grave markers.

The departed’s name is Shane, he was an Odinist and a Sargent in the United States Marine Corp. He was a Loyal Brother and Comrade to me personally for many years here in Midgard and although not a member of the OR, he was close with members of The Northern Winds Hearth and joined us in Blot and Sumbel on many occasions. Shane had passed from Midgard in August of 2012. After his Bael and Burial Ceremonies were held, I discussed with his Mother about the gravestone marker Emblems and how the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem was not on the approved list with the VA, even with the previous efforts made by others to get approved.

It was then that her quest began to submit a request to the VA to get the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem approved. She had written a lengthy heart felt letter to the VA with the request for the approval so her son may have an Emblem of Faith representative of his Beliefs on his gravestone. At this time she also requested that her Husband Mark’s headstone also bear the same Emblem for he practiced and lived by the same core teachings and virtues of Odinism, as their Son did. The VA required that she submit: (1) A three-inch diameter digitized black and white representation; (2) Free of copyright or trademark restrictions, or authorized by the owner for use and publication on the list of publicly available emblems; and (3) Reproducible in a production-line environment in stone or bronze without loss of graphic quality. At that time I enlisted the assistance of Comrades within the OR who were more then willing to assist her with this request.

After the VA accepted the image that was provided the waiting game began. She had made countless phone calls and sent numerous e-mails regarding the status of the request. Finally after all of her tireless efforts she received a letter from the VA dated May 2, 2013 advising her of the approval and that both Shane and Mark’s headstones that currently do not have any Emblem of Faith on them, would be replaced with new headstones inscribed with the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem. Although it is with sadness and a heavy heart that this came about, a great step forward has taken place for the Odinist and Asatru communities. From our loss a Great Victory has arisen that will positively affect us all for generations to come! Hail to the Fallen, Hail Shane and Mark! Hail to Shane’s Mother for Her Dedication and Perseverance! Hail to all of Our Service Men and Women! Past, Present, and Future!

FFF/HTR Haakon “Hawk” AOR Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth, AOR”

I’d like to thank Hawk for sending us this information, so that we can know the story, and who we have to thank for this advance for all Pagan and Heathen veterans. In addition, several groups like The Troth, Lady Liberty League, and the Open Halls Project have also released statements on this victory. I think this statement from the Heathen group Hrafnar sums up the general sentiments well.

“Today, Hrafnar stands with heathens across the US in pride as the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has approved the Thor’s Hammer as an emblem to put on the headstones of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. The greater acceptance of our faith anywhere is a victory for all of us, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

Today, Hrafnar also stands with heathens across the US in sorrow: such recognition can only be made after the death of one who has been sworn to that service. The death of one of us is a loss for us all, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

Hail the fallen! Hail the heathens!”

As for the future, we now clearly know how future Pagan symbols will be approved. Susan Granquist of Irminsul Ættir and the Our Freedom Coalition sent me this reminder for all Pagan veterans and their families.

“We, as an organization, recommend that veterans make sure that they include their desire to have that particular symbol on their headstones in their wills, and to make sure that their legal representatives have documentation and authority to make sure it is placed on the headstone.”

So if you are a Pagan, Heathen, or polytheist, who has served, or is serving, in the US military, please make arrangements now so that your preferred religious symbol can be approved for your gravestone or marker. If you need help, reach out to organizations like the Lady Liberty League, or your preferred national Pagan organization, to make sure everything is in order. Let’s ensure that all our fallen receive their proper honor.

In 2007, after a decade-long struggle, Pagan and Wiccan organizations succeeded in getting the Pentacle approved for military veteran headstones and markers. After that victory, in July of 2007, a rally was held to start the push for two more symbols: the Druid Awen and the Heathen Thor’s Hammer. Two Heathen organizations, The Troth and the Asatru Folk Assembly, were represented at that rally, and from it a wider movement to get the Thor’s Hammer approved emerged. Now, after a six-year journey which included some inter-organizational tensions within the Heathen community and a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs rule change, it appears the symbol has finally been approved.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

The updated emblems list is the only place where this addition is noted. There’s no media release, news story, or even blog post that I’ve been able to find about this development. So I have no way of knowing when, exactly, the official approval went through. I have sent a note to The Troth for an official statement on this victory.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders. Photo: Witchvox

Until we find out more, here’s a relevant quote from Diana Paxson, an Elder in The Troth, written in the wake of the Pentacle Quest and the 2007 July 4th rally.

“America has always been noted for creativity, in religion as in all else. Each new faith, whether immigrant or homegrown, enriches our culture. Today, when Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques may be found in many parts of the U.S., one might wonder why the VA denied a Wiccan veteran the right to have a pentacle on his headstone for ten years, and the Army has still not hired a Pagan chaplain. Paganism does not seek to replace other religions, but Pagan perspectives can revitalize the ways in which we relate to our history, our ancestors, and especially, in this time of climate crisis, to the environment. Rather than resisting, America should welcome the Pagan contribution to our cultural diversity.”

For now, congratulations to all Heathens and Asatruar on this amazing victory! Forward to the Awen! If you or a loved one are a Heathen veteran and want the Thor’s Hammer for a headstone or marker, you can find ordering information at the VA website.

ADDENDUM: The Troth has released the following statement.

“To our knowledge, current procedure to add an emblem of faith to a military headstone requires that the next of kin for a deceased Veteran request it. Josh Heath, of the Open Halls Project, has requested information in writing from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, but at this time we do not know who the Heathen service member was. In Heathen tradition, we greatly honor our slain warriors and offer Blóts and Fainings to them as the Einherjar, those warriors collected by Odin and Freya to take to their halls in Asgard. We are ever grateful to this fallen service member, both for their sacrifice to our country and for requesting Mjöllnir, or the Thor’s Hammer, for their headstone. We solemnly anticipate the time we can honor this newest of the Einherjar by name.”

When we talk about Pagans and interfaith, there are many different layers to consider, and different challenges inherent in each one. Because modern Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faith traditions, we have to expend almost as much energy on building relationships with each other as we do with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. For modern Paganism as a movement to effectively interface with the rest of the world’s religions, we have to be conscious of how we are progressing with Pagan ecumenical and intrafaith initiatives.

Considering the fact that many non-Pagans still have a hard time understanding that Wicca isn’t Druidry, and that neither of those are Asatru, and that all of those are distinct from the many reconstructionist faiths, every Pagan involved in the global interfaith movement must be, to some extent, a default representative for all of us. This is not an ideal situation, but one that many individual Pagans find themselves in when they attend an interfaith gathering. Gatherings often predisposed to only focus on Abrahamic concerns.

Don Frew at the Parliament of the World's Religions

In the latest edition of The Interfaith Observer, Don Frew, an official Covenant of The Goddess (COG) interfaith representative, talks about how 9/11 refocused interfaith efforts on peace, and on the dominant Abrahamic religions, making it harder for Pagans, indigenous traditions, and other minority religions to have their concerns addressed.

“The events of 9/11 had their roots in ancient conflicts among three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It was natural that the solution would be sought in dialogue among those faiths. The rest of us – some without any history of perpetrating religious violence – were shunted to the side. We watched what we had entered with optimism and enthusiasm about a fully inclusive movement, focused on issues of truly common concern, become ever more narrowly focused on one issue, rooted in in-fighting within one family of religions, the descendants of Abraham.

Where was the focus on economic justice, the environment, the concerns of women and indigenous people? Where were the representatives of the non-Abrahamic faiths? Repeatedly we were told that peace was now the highest priority for time and resources. Other program concerns have to wait. Repeatedly we were told that panels were full or that because the focus was on Abrahamic issues, other representatives were not as needed.”

Despite this attitude, which Frew says has started to subside somewhat, Pagans have made impressive strides in the global interfaith movementPagans currently serve on the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, play important roles within the United Religions Initiative (URI), and participate in several smaller regional interfaith councils. While some Pagans are skeptical of these interactions, they can make us important allies in our own struggles, and help change misconceptions. Further, we are only enriched when we pursue greater fellowship, cooperation, and alliances with religions that do share some of our values.

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about Pagans and interfaith, and at that time I pushed not only for greater engagement with the global interfaith movement, but for Pagans to use the skills learned in that context towards strengthening our own community.

Thorn Coyle, photo by Greg Harder

Thorn Coyle at a Pagan ecumenical gathering. Photo by Greg Harder.

“Interfaith can not only humanize us to the ignorant, but also create powerful bonds with those we can learn much from. In addition, I believe that those of us who are engaging in interfaith need to take those skills and bring them back to practice them within our own movement, to bring better communication between faiths and traditions that have, at times, chaffed under the crowded “Pagan” umbrella.”

This would be Pagan ecumenicism, a word normally applied to relations between Christians, but one that, at its root, is very Pagan. It doesn’t seem immediately apparent, but a large proportion of Pagan events are in fact large ecumenical gatherings in which we humanize one another, seek common ground, and build a common vocabulary. PantheaCon, Pagan Spirit Gathering, Starwood, and Pagan Pride days, are all manifestations of Pagan ecumenicism, and are vital to making the term “Pagan” mean something. Many pan-Pagan initiatives are born at these events, and they represent those rare instances when Pagan leaders and clergy are able to mingle, socialize, and learn from one another. Without these events, we not only have a hard time relating to other Pagan faiths, but it becomes impossible to sometimes answer even basic questions that may be posed to us at the interfaith level.

Diana Paxson leading Seidh ceremony at a Druid (ADF) gathering. Photo: ADF.

Diana Paxson leading Seidh ceremony at a Druid (ADF) gathering. Photo: ADF.

Another vital element to both Pagan interfaith, and Pagan ecumenicism, is Pagan intrafaith, how relations are handled within a single religious grouping under our umbrella. Covenant of the Goddess is an excellent example of an Wiccan intrafaith effort, one that creates coalitions and empowers individuals like Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, and M. Macha Nightmare in their larger interfaith activities. Their yearly MerryMeet and Grand Council a chance to not only conduct business, but to strengthen bonds that have lasted for decades. Another example of a Pagan/Heathen intrafaith organization is The Troth, which seeks to build fellowship between practitioners of the pre-Christian religion(s) of the Germanic peoples. They, like COG, also hold a yearly meeting, called Trothmoot. Steven Abell, part of the Troth’s leadership (Rede), recently wrote about Trothmoot, and how best to deal with theological tensions that arise within Heathenry/Germanic Paganism.

“Each of these viewpoints [concerning the god Loki] significantly affects how people practice their Heathenry, but The Troth is not a sect. Somehow, we have to get all of these people drinking peaceably from the same horn at Trothmoot’s Grand Sumbel. If we can’t have frith, grith will do. […] What should our policy be? It needs to be based on the fact that The Troth is not a sect. It needs to pay attention to a wide range of strongly felt sensibilities. If you belong to this organization, don’t base your membership on any kind of belief that everyone here thinks just like you. This is religion and that’s not how it works. Furthermore, this is The Troth and that’s not how it works.”

Abell speaks to the important work of building fellowship at a basic level, between individuals who share (comparatively) large amounts in common, and how even that can be fraught with complications, challenges, and heated emotions. It may not seem like disputes between Heathens (or Wiccans, or Druids) are as important as working on the global stage, or even on finding common ground at the large Pagan ecumenical events, but the process Abell speaks to is vital in making our collective community “work”. If we are to collectively ask the world to pay attention to what we find important, vital to our survival, and our planet’s survival, we must do the sometimes frustrating work of building coalitions and understanding among ourselves.

As Pagans, we understand that we must tend to the microcosm in order to influence the macrocosm, that we must align our Will in our own lives if we ever hope to influence the wider world. In some circles this is called “As Above, So Below,” but the ethos transcends any one tradition’s teaching. Pagan interfaith is vitally important, but it rests on a foundation of Pagan ecumenicism and intrafaith work. Without that, our efforts to transmit our common values would fail, and our efforts on the global stage undermined. So let’s remember to do the real work of understanding those we already assume are with us, to build bridges among those we think we already understand, so that we can better communicate with those who don’t understand us at all.

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 lets get started!

Pagan Spirit Gathering Breaks Registration Records: Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), one of America’s oldest and largest Pagan festivals, begins in less than a week. On Saturday, Selena Fox, senior minister and high priestess of Circle Sanctuary, the organization that sponsors PSG,  announced that they will set a new record for attendance at the event.

Selena Fox holding 1000+ "spirit bundles" for PSG attendees.

Selena Fox holding 1000+ "spirit bundles" for PSG attendees.

“Breaking News! Pagan Spirit Gathering 2012 is going to be the most attended PSG yet! Just learned that we now have over 1000 people (all ages) registered. […] This is the first time we have had more than 1000 people at a PSG!”

This is a remarkable achievement for the event, which has been held since 1980, and in several different locations over the years. A testament to the sense of community built during the 10-day-long festival. This year’s featured presenters include Margot Adler, author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” Crystal Blanton, author of “Bridging the Gap,” and chaplain/activist Patrick McCollum. There will also be musical performances by Damh the Bard and Arthur Hinds, among others. Representatives from the Pagan Newswire Collective will be there, and I have no doubt we’ll be hearing much, much more about the event in the weeks to come.

Temple of Witchcraft at Boston Pride: June is LGBT Pride month in the United States, and Pride parades and marches are happening across the country. This past Saturday was the 2012 Boston Pride Parade, and in addition to local politicians and local celebrities, several religious groups also took part.  One Pagan religious group marching in the parade was the Temple of Witchcraft, an organization that was co-founded by author Christopher Penczak.

Temple of Witchcraft at Boston Pride.

Temple of Witchcraft at Boston Pride.

“Many thanks to all those who came out to march behind the Temple of Witchcraft banner in the Boston Pride March — our largest group of Pagans ever! — and thanks to those who supported us (and continue to do so) from afar!”Steve, Gemini minister

The Temple, founded by gay men, marched to proclaim that “All Acts of Love and Pleasure Are Our Rituals.” You can find more pictures and commentary on their participation at the Temple of Witchcraft Facebook page. Later this month the Temple will be holding their own TempleFest gathering in in South Hampton, NH.

Witches & Pagans Magazine Adds Bloggers: In recent months Witches & Pagans Magazine, a publication that emerged from the merger of PanGaia and NewWitch, has been stepping up their web presence. The Pagan periodical has been reprinting older articles to their website, hiring new columnists (like Raven Grimassi), and now adding a fleet of Pagan bloggers to their site.

Screenshot of W&P's "PaganSquare" blogs.

Screenshot of W&P's "PaganSquare" blogs.

“I’m pumped up by our new bloggers at WitchesandPagans.com. My DH Alan had to drag me kicking and screaming (sometimes literally — the screaming, I mean) into doing this for our magazines, but now I’m as jazzed as he is. There’s been a lot of ego-stripping going on around here, but I believe it’s all to the good.”Anne Newkirk Niven, Executive Editor, Witches & Pagans Magazine

Active bloggers at Witches and Pagans Magazine include Cat TreadwellDiotima Mantineia, Kenaz Filan, Selina Rifkin, Tess Dawson, and WitchDoctor Joe. In addition, if you look at their contributors page, it seems like they have more bloggers coming soon. I’m happy to see W&P take this step into providing exclusive, regularly updated, content for their site. A healthy Pagan media is one where several outlets thrive, interact, and yes, compete. As such, I wish Anne and the W&P team every success, and look forward to following their output.

In Other Community News:

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