Archives For Wales

UNITED KINGDOM — On Oct. 6 this year, the British Government granted fracking company Cuadrilla permission to begin operations at two sites in Lancashire (north-west England). This decision, taken by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, overturned a previous decision made by the Lancashire County Council to grant permission at just one of the two proposed sites.

Under the banner of Frack Free Lancashire, a coalition of local anti-fracking groups has formed. Included in the coalition is the inimitable mothers and grandmothers group The Nanas. Nana is a British colloquialism for grandmother and frequently used in the north-west of England.The Nanas used this term because they wanted to invoke the spirit of the typical Lancastrian matriarch synonymous with the county.

Frack Free Lancashire Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

Frack Free Lancashire Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

Among the many anti-fracking groups involved, there is the Pagan-focused group The Warrior’s Call (TWC), who has campaigned hard to get local voices against the fracking sites heard. We spoke to Alan from TWC to discuss the group’s involvement with the Lancashire campaign, and how they intend to move forward.

“TWC was set up by someone, who isn’t me, to be a focus for Pagans on the topic of fracking,” says Alan. “What the originator found was that a lot of Pagans don’t take a lot of notice of the papers or the BBC but listen to what other Pagans are saying, so the group was set up as a way of saying ‘this matters’ and being able to give it a voice to talk to other Pagans.

“It wasn’t ever intended to be a separate group. It’s for whoever feels the call to step up and defend their land in a magical or physical way. They’re answering the warriors call, so anyone who connects with that kind of protection.”

Frack Free Lancashire (FFL) ran a successful campaign uniting lots of different local anti-fracking groups against the granted permission to frack at one of the two proposed sites. The decision to overturn that ruling was disappointing, but not a surprise, according to Alan.

He says, “It’s expected that the industry is going to challenge. This happened in Wrexham in 2014. There was a site, just outside Wrexham in North East Wales on the border with England, which had been outlined for exploratory drilling. Local people put up a big campaign. The council turned it down.

“The company put in an appeal and the Government overruled the local council. That overruling sparked a massive local interest, because not only was it Government overturning the local council but the English deciding what is happening on Welsh soil.”

Alan thinks it is too early to say if these over-rulings from Westminster are a pattern or not. But he did say that the watershed Balcombe fracking protests of 2013 in West Sussex, Southern England, have ensured that campaigners are much more “clued up and found out what’s really going on” regarding the fracking industry.

One way the anti-frack movement tracks information is to identify where seismic testing is being carried out, and where Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences are being issued. PEDL licences are issued for a specific parcel of land where a company thinks gas or shale may be found. Seismic testing, which involves drilling shot holes about 30 feet deep and then filling the holes with dynamite, offers the data needed to build up a picture of where optimal places to extract might be located. According to Alan, this is also a big clue for anti-frackers as it involves a serious financial commitment on the part of the company and shows “they intend to drill there.”

Education is a big part of TWC message. Ensuring that people are properly informed about the effects of fracking is key. Much of the UK Government’s rhetoric in support of fracking has been to stress the number of jobs the industry will create.

However, as Alan explains, “Fracking is a specialised job, and [the companies] have to keep moving on. So there are no permanent jobs to come out of it. Once the initial set up is complete it runs on computer. One person can control about four sites. It’s not as if they’ll need more people to work in the sandwich or chip shop. Once the gas has gone, they move on.”

Australia, which has a much longer history of fracking than the UK, has already come to this conclusion. “In New South Wales, they banned fracking.They showed that for every 10 jobs created by the industry, 19 were lost from tourism or agriculture.”

Anti Fracking Protest in Chesire 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Anti Fracking Protest in Chesire 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

In the UK, one fracking company has already come unstuck due to its own claims. Alan says, “Somewhere in the South East, one company sent out a promotional leaflet about the benefits of fracking, which got pulled up by the Advertising Standards Agency.” According to Alan, the leaflet had based its information on then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s rhetoric about fracking.

“So basically the policy had been rubbished by the Advertising Standards Agency,” Alan chuckles.

Since the overruling in Lancashire, FFL has been intent on keeping the story in the public eye. The formidable Lancashire Nanas went down to London and camped outside Buckingham Palace. Alan got one of his local councillors to visit the Lancashire site with him, which led to an interview with Russia Today, as well as an increase in local coverage.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the anti-fracking campaign is the cross-pollination of ideas between different groups. Alan says, “[Anti-fracking campaigning] is a gateway into other things. People that are getting involved in opposing fracking are from ordinary life, as [they get involved] they realise the system doesn’t work like they think it does, and once they’ve goten over that they see injustices in other things.”

He continues, “What I’m seeing is that people come and get involved with fracking and move toward a Pagan way of thinking. I’ve seen a lot of people come through the camp, and they say they’re ‘almost Pagan’ and feel a good connection to the Earth, and loving trees, and loving water and loving air. And, although they’re not joining a coven or an order, or training or learning anything they are becoming genuinely Earth-loving, so there can be a massive boost to British Paganism in general.”

Alan compares this process to Gweir’s prison, referenced in the poem Preiddu Annfwn/The Spoils of Annwn. He explains, “Once your eyes are open though, and you see through the fallacy of what you thought life was, I don’t know if you can go back and close your eyes again. The first line of The Mabinogion is that Pwll feels the call to go hunting, and he responds to that call. He doesn’t decide to go hunting. He responds to the call, ‘He takes it into his heart and his head to go hunting that day.’

“It’s touched on in The Spoils of Annwn. The initiate is held in a prison of their own making, thinking that I have to go work, I have to have a car. Once you have engaged with this, and you’ve seen what the world is like then you’ve broken out of the prison and you’ve shattered that wall.”

Alan believes that the anti-fracking campaigning community also has much to teach Paganism – especially regarding group structure. He says, “We’re encouraging people through the Warrior’s Call to learn about what fracking is and to get involved with their local communities. We’re also encouraging people to look at consensus decision-making and horizontal structure to groups rather than hierarchies.

“All the groups I’m a member of now operate in that way. There’s no one in charge, there’s no leader and we decide by majority. This goes against how most groves and covens are structured as they are hierarchical and I don’t know if that could feed into Paganism. There is a lot of opportunity for crossover and for new ideas to come in now. If they work people can take them into other areas.”

Although the FFL campaign will now change its focus in terms of campaigning, the fight goes on. A fracking approval has recently gone through in Nottinghamshirem in central England, which TWC will be campaigning against.

The movement has produced a network of very committed people. As Alan explains, “One of the things we say, whether fracking goes ahead or doesn’t go ahead, is we can have this structure to campaign on why the local hospital is closing, or the local playground, and these structures are ready to go.

“It’s about driving power into the community again, rather than the people who you voted for three years ago deciding for you. It’s about setting up these groups that can do other things, so even if fracking goes, the network is still there. Part of the nine aims of the Warrior’s Call.”

Renewing the warrior's call 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Renewing the warrior’s call 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Alan stresses the importance of getting involved with local activism. “Pagans that I know of tend to turn up for the rituals but don’t get involved in the campaigning. Ritual is action, action is ritual. You have to give the help you requested from your spirits or your gods, you have to give that away to come through. You have to physically go and make this come about.”

He continues, “Once Pagans move in Pagan circles, in my experience, they tend to remove themselves from the contemporary world. Pagans tend to remove themselves and form their own society, and I think the warrior’s call is pulling people back into the community and saying, ‘You’ve got training and knowledge and spirits, come back into this world and use your skills for the benefit of this world and the land you’re on.’ ”

Alan adds that there is so much people can do. “The stereotypical thing is that you go and chain yourself to a lorry, and some people will want to do that, but there are so many other areas that need help as well, such as becoming a legal observer. They cannot be arrested and it’s vitally important role.

“There is quite a bit of social change involved with the Warrior’s Call. It’s not just about doing a ritual and then going home, or even doing a ritual and then chaining yourself to a lorry, there are different angles to it.”

This interaction between Paganism and activism can make for magical results. Alan says, “At the Upton Protection Camp [the base camp in Chester] we did a massive ritual. There weren’t that many Pagans there, it was mostly local people and we were going around and beating the bounds and I led everyone round the camp

“As I turned the first quarter, I turned around and saw a massive line of people behind me beating drums as if their lives depended upon it! We asked people to write a letter to state how far they were prepared to go to protect the land, and obviously, some are prepared to go further than others, it was secret and there was no disclosure, it’s not a competition or to compare.

“Then we burnt all the letters in a bonfire. After that ritual, when local people turned up to the camp to confront the people doing the seismic testing, there was a bit of a stand-off and a bit of arguing going on, and we got covered in ladybirds, they weren’t on the contractors they were on us, and they were swarming around us for about 15 minutes and then they just all went. This was at the end of September.

Alan says, “If you’ve learnt stuff from being a Pagan bring that back, use it to boost. There’s a crossover of people coming in being more sympathetic as well. As we come into mainstream society more, mainstream society moves toward us.”

The Warriors Call sigil. Image courtesy of TWC.

The Warriors Call sigil.

Author’s Note Some names have been changed to protect identity

[Dodie Graham McKay is one of our talented news writers and our Canadian correspondent. If you like her work and our daily news service, consider donating to The Wild Hunt. Each and every day, you will receive original content, both news and commentary, with a focus on Pagans, Heathens and polytheists worldwide. Your support makes it all happen, and every dollar counts. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]

UNITED KINGDOM – The Pagan Federation has expanded its resources, initiating a new service for Pagans living in England and Wales. The Pagan Federation Disabilities Team is the vision of Anna Lawson, who recognized that disabled people in the Pagan community needed to be given a voice and a vehicle to ensure greater access to events and practice. In November 2015, she reached out to Mike Stygal, who was president of the Pagan Federation at the time, for assistance. From this meeting, the Pagan Federation Disabilities Team was born.

As the team’s inaugural manager. Lawson’s first move was to create a Facebook group to recruit new membership for the team and also to see what types of services the public would want from them. After one month, Deputy Manager Debi Gregory was aboard to help.

But the line up changed quickly as Lawson was forced to leave her new position due to ill health. By February of this year, Gregory had moved into the manager position, and the team quickly enlarged to include Team Secretary Jean James and two new Deputy Managers, Beth Murray and Petra Lucas. In less than a year, the Pagan Federation, which divides England and Wales into 12 districts, had local representation for eight of those districts on the team, proving that this is was resource for which the Pagan community was ready.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-11-22-42-pm

Team manager Gregory is a mother and writer, living in Yorkshire, UK. She is very open about her own disabilities and the challenges she has faced in her own life, and encourages other team members to do the same. It is her belief that by being as candid and transparent as possible, the team will be approachable to community members who need its help.

“I tell my team all the time – without trust, we have nothing” said Gregory in a phone interview with The Wild Hunt. “All of the team are disabled in some way…we have all faced discrimination, we have all faced some issue within the pagan community when it comes to our disabilities and practicing our faith, and we shouldn’t have to. We are trying to fix it.”

Gregory and the team have established some clear priorities to focus on. These include: 1. Raising awareness and letting people know that disabled Pagans are trying to access the Pagan community and are finding barriers to joining in on events and groups, 2. Speaking to people who are actively discriminating against disabled Pagans and educating them in a professional manner about how to coexist with people with mental or physical disabilities 3. Working with event organizers to find spaces where physically disabled Pagans can participate and have access to ramps, public toilets and amenities.

This is no small task, as Gregory points out, because venues are scarce, many of the pubs where the popular moots are held are village or town pubs, built before current codes for accessibility were enacted. While atmospheric, these old buildings have narrow doors, cramped washroom facilities, and often have stairs throughout the space, making it difficult, if not impossible, for physically disabled people to enter.

Organizers may not want to abandon a favourite pub, or even have the option of an alternate venue, but Gregory suggests that relocating to an accessible establishment, even a couple times per year, would be a gesture of inclusiveness that would be appreciated by Pagans often left out of such important community building events. The team is also working on educational workshops to help people understand the needs of pagans with invisible disabilities.

Pagan Federation Disabilities Manager, Debi Gregory (courtesy photo)

Pagan Federation Disabilities Manager, Debi Gregory [Courtesy Photo]

The Disability Team has also taken their organizing of events online, offering online seasonal festivals, where participants only need to be able to get to an internet connection to take in the festivities. The first one was held over eight days in May as part of the Beltane celebrations. Gregory had the brainstorm to hold the event, and with the help of Pagan Dawn magazine’s editor, Kate Large, presenters were lined up to provide the streaming content.

The event was successful with 1,000 active participants and the videos reaching 20,000 people to date. The subsequent online festivals for Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox have been shorter in duration, but have received similar attention. The video content is stored on the event Facebook pages as well as the Pagan Federation Disabilities Team YouTube channel.

The next online festival will be in honour of Inter Faith Week in November. Following that will be the Online Yule Festival; the theme for this one will be Self Care. Presenters are being encouraged to speak from a comfortable place and to wear their pajamas, or whatever they tend to sleep in. This is meant to show solidarity with those who, because of a disability, are unable to leave their beds. The team provides updates on these events on its Disabilities Group Facebook page.

In addition to the new team’s creation, its onine events, and its work to raise awareness, the Pagan Federation has also launched the Disabled Pagan Voices Project as another platform for for participation. It was conceived by Kate Large, and quickly supported by the Disability Team. Submissions of art, blogs, short stories, poetry, music or anything that expresses the creativity of disabled Pagans or their caregivers is accepted and shared through the online festivals and the Disability Team blog. There are also plans in the works to include this material in the new, soon to be launched Pagan Federation UK website.

Pagan Federation dedicates ritual to those Pagans with disabilities who could not attend its 45th Anniversary event [Video Still]

Pagan Federation dedicates ritual to those Pagans with disabilities who could not attend its 45th Anniversary event (2016) [Video Still]

As far as Gregory knows, her team is unique in the world. There has been interest for similar teams to be established in other Pagan Federation territories, but for now, only England and Wales are covered. Disabled people from other countries have even been in touch with requests. Most recently a woman from Canada reached out for aid after encountering a problem when she took her service dog to a local moot. While the team may not be able to advocate on behalf of anyone outside of their territory, they are able to provide advice and share their resources.

In less than one year, the Pagan Federation Disability Team has broken new ground and instigated a new online gathering place for Pagans of all abilities to participate on their own terms.

As Gregory says: “We are trying to bring people together to let them know that they do have a voice, they are appreciated, and that the community does want to include them and they don’t have to feel alone anymore”

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London — Many Pagans dream of being able to say ‘I do’ in a handfasting and have their vows recognised in law. ‘Why can’t a handfasting be legal?’ is a complaint we heard around the UK for decades. Well, in 2004, the Scottish Pagan Federation addressed it first and then, finally, England and Wales followed suit in a groundbreaking case. 

[By Kam Abbott / Wikimedia ]

[By Kam Abbott / Wikimedia ]

The Glastonbury Goddess Temple was licensed for legal weddings after a whirlwind one-year process. In a first for Paganism, the Temple’s marriages are legally binding. The approval can now be used in precedent, which is incredibly important for the long term.

The journey to approval started when trainee priestess Dawn Kinsella started her celebrant training as part of her work toward ordination at the Glastonbury Temple of Avalon. While shadowing a wedding registrar (the UK equivalent of a Justice of the Peace) she learnt that a non-legally binding ceremony can be a legal contract if it takes place in a ‘permanent place of worship.’

Uniquely in the UK, the Glastonbury Goddess Temple is exactly that. Dawn realised this and started asking if her temple would be eligible. ‘I can’t see why not,’ said the registrar. And so the process began.

Not many peope know it, but handfasting itself is a ceremonial element – just as a church service is just a ceremonial element; the legality depends upon a few lines of legal wording and the proper paperwork. There are other requirements, too, set by the General Registrar’s Office (the national body for registering marriages). If it is a religious place, then it has to be a permanent place or worship. It must be licensed in a particular way; the building has to be inspected; the place solemnised. And, locals have to give approve approval.

In the UK, Christian priests or ministers can only perform legal marriages in their own church buildings; their name is tied to a specific licensed religious location. It’s just the same for the Temple of Avalon in Glastonbury. If they are doing a legally-binding ceremony, Dawn and sister priestess Sharlea Sparrow have to do it inside the Temple premises.

Once Dawn had gotten the approval of the Temple founder Kathy Jones, she approached local official bodies to see how the Temple could fulfill the necessary requirements. She quickly got the needed 40 signatures of local residents’ affirming that the Goddess Temple was known to be a place of worship throughout the locality.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Then Dawn learned how the official paperwork had to be submitted, as well other details of the bureaucratic procedure, such as the witnesses and timings of sending off the forms. The Goddess Temple ceremony template was approved – such that it contained within it some key wording (‘I am lawfully free to take X…’ etc.).  

Lastly, Dawn herself was approved as the person in charge, trusted with the bureaucratic and legal elements. Much rests on her shoulders. If the ceremony is not done right, you are not legally married. Years from now, none of us want to find out that we were never a legal spouse when tying to get our widow’s pension, applying for child custody in a divorce, or trying to collect on our insurance. This is why the UK’s General Register Office and its local branches are so careful in giving out approvals to new organisations.

Dawn convinced the governmental bodies that the Glastonbury Goddess can and will do all these things. They have a physical building acknowledged as a permanent place of worship by the entire local community. They have a permanent office which can store the paperwork, forms and a bank account to handle the payments. They have a priesthood that is trained for three years in public ceremonies. They have the necessary office-based structures and people who keep careful administrative records. And, the locals know just where they are, and that they are traceable, tax-registered and accountable.

Dawn and Sharlea set up the Temple’s web page, got ready, and lo – the requests came rolling in. The first marriage was, fittingly, that of the temple founders Kathy Jones and her partner Mike. The Temple can marry couples from all over the UK and Europe, and even abroad (though it’s a longer application process from outside the European Union). Same-sex marriages are legal here, and same-sex couples are welcomed at the Temple.  

In the UK most of us will carry on happily with our non-legally-recognised handfastings held in fields, clearings and homes. Then, later go down to the Registry Office (the UK’s equivalent to the Town Hall) and take a simple oath there and sign the forms – the ‘legal marriage’ bit.  

But now there is an option for the legal and the religious strands to meld together. Dawn, Sharlea, and the Glastonbury Goddess Temple priests and priestess are proud to be in the vanguard of the legal handfasting movement. They made an historic breakthrough, and have done British Pagans proud.

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.

Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon

Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon

  • This just in: walking in the woods is good for you! Quote: “In an effort to benefit the Japanese and find nonextractive ways to use forests, which cover 67 percent of the country’s landmass, the government has funded about $4 million in forest-bathing research since 2004. It intends to designate a total of 100 Forest Therapy sites within 10 years. Visitors here are routinely hauled off to a cabin where rangers measure their blood pressure, part of an effort to provide ever more data to support the project.” Those of us who love to sojourn into nature regularly can most likely attest to the salubrious effects of wooded terrain.
  • Religion Clause reports that the USDA has “released a lengthy report titled USDA Policy and Procedures Review and Recommendations: Indian Sacred Sites.” Quote from the summary: “[The report calls] for USDA and the U.S. Forest Service to work more closely with Tribal governments in the protection, respectful interpretation and appropriate access to American Indian and Alaska Native sacred sites on national forests and grasslands. The report recommends steps the Forest Service should take to strengthen the partnerships between the agency, Tribal governments, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities to help preserve America’s rich native traditions.” This seems a welcome step forward after some recent incidents involving sacred lands.
  • Moral panics often help promote the very thing they (sometimes literally) demonize. Quote: “The most common way for music to blow up from a small scene into global pop is for a controversy to erupt. Music history is littered with examples of “moral panics”: be-bop jazz was blamed for white-on-black race riots in the mid-1940s, just as rap music was blamed when riots erupted in Los Angeles following the Rodney King trial. In both cases, sensationalized news reports and especially a focus on the “dangerous” elements in the music attracted young people in droves. Moral panics, like magnets, repel and attract.” That quote is from Jennifer Lena, whose book “Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music,” looks very interesting. To give this a Pagan spin, one wonders if the “Satanic” panics of the 1980s and 1990s actually drew people into the occult and modern Paganism? Yet another factor to explore in the “teen witch” boom?
  • Remember folks, reality television, all reality television, distorts its subjects.
  • In a final note, Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish is going independent, and will subsist on reader donations. Which makes me wonder, will the future of media not be with massive ever-expanding content hubs, but with smaller, curated, islands that are more responsive to the communities they serve? Or, at the very least, will the new media ecosystem allow for both to thrive?

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.

Yesterday several British papers reported that a stone circle on Trinity Saint David University grounds in South Wales was damaged “beyond repair.” The circle had been used for years by the university’s Pagan Society, who called the destruction “heart-breaking”. The question now: Was it a religiously motivated attack, or simple vandalism? According to the BBC, University officials are not treating this as a hate crime.

Lampeter Stone Circle

Lampeter Stone Circle

Cen Powell, executive head of estates and facilities at University of Wales: Trinity Saint David, said: “We are aware of the situation regarding the damage caused to the site and are working with the Students’ Union to assess our options. […] “There is no reason to believe that this was a result of hate crime and would consider it to be an act of vandalism.”

However, this isn’t a unanimous opinion. Speaking to the Telegraph, police constable Richard Marshall noted the obvious religious connections to the site and its destruction.

Lampeter Pc Richard Marshall told town councillors at a meeting last week that the site had been “maliciously taken apart” and is now unsafe to use. “It is disturbing,” he added. “This is a place of worship. If this was a church I’m sure we’d be hearing more about it.”

This was far more than a few stones kicked over, the vandals apparently brought pick-axes and crowbars to demolish the site. That seems far more than drunken revelry or random hooliganism. In any case, it seems the university is not going to rebuild the circle, and is instead in talks with the Lampeter Pagan Society about finding a new site.

“We are looking to get a new space, but thanks for your best wishes. It has a 20 year history here and connects us to older students, but we are excited to be hoping to work on a new place soon.”

Meanwhile, outrage and calls of solidarity have been spreading through the Pagan community since the news of this event broke. It will be interesting to see if the vandals are caught, and find out what the motivations might have been for destroying the stone circle. Was it mere vandalism? Or could there have been a religious element? What do you think?

Top Story: Are you a Pagan family in North Carolina that would like to take a day or two off for holiday observances? A new North Carolina law would let you keep your kids home from school with an excused absence.

“It requires all school systems, community colleges and public universities to allow students at least two excused absences each academic year for religious observances. The law standardizes an informal practice. But some administrators hope it won’t create exam-week havoc.”

Sounds like a net positive, right? Practitioners of minority faiths that don’t have observances that overlap with existing Christian holidays can include the kids without hassle, and college students can attend a scheduled event without worry of hurting their GPA. But a comment from Rep. Rick Glazier, who co-sponsored the bill, have some worried about how it will be applied.

“It has to be a bona fide holiday; you don’t get to just take the day off because you want to pray at home.”

So who decides what’s a “bona fide” holiday? Will the school take the parent’s word for it? The law is vague on this point, only saying that schools can request a letter of explanation if they want. Faith & Reason’s Cathy Lynn Grossman notes the law could make minority faiths have to “prove their religiosity”, but it’s more the “praying at home” bit that I’m concerned about. If your “church” is the living room, or an open field, or a forest, does it still count as bona fide? It should be interesting to see how this law is enacted by different schools, and see how it handles Pagan requests for days off.

Guilty Sentence For Cop-Dragging Pagan Priestess: A Magistrate has found Eilish De Avalon, who gained international noteriety last month for dragging a cop by the arm during a routine traffic stop, guilty of recklessly causing injury. De Avalon, who is currently out on bail pending an appeal, made tabloid headlines by announcing she was a “pagan priestess”, and that man-made laws didn’t apply to her, much to the chagrin of other local Pagans who said that incident has set back local interfaith efforts. In a press release, the Australian Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) blasted those who were using this incident to put her beliefs, and by extension the beliefs of all Australian Pagans, on trial.

“The media has done its best to put Ms De Avalon on trial in the court of public opinion for her beliefs as well as her actions. I doubt they would bother if she were a Catholic or a Hindu or practically any other religion. What is the big deal about practicing an indigenous European belief like witchcraft? When it comes to the law, people’s actions are what matter.”

It remains to be seen what will happen next. I can’t imagine she’ll win on appeal with the involuntary “autonomous state” defense she used in the first trial. As for the reputation of Pagans in Australia, perhaps the soon-to-be-airing episode of Rituals: Around the World in 80 Faiths (which I covered here previously) that features Australian Pagans will help things a bit.

A Cuban Santera on Faith, Possession, and Divination: Journalism student Kelly Knaub interviews Cuban Santera Iyalocha Lourdes about her faith for the Havana Times, and undergoes a purification ritual as well. During the interview Iyalocha Lourdes goes into some detail on the matter of possession by spirits, which I found quite interesting.

“In the beginning you lose consciousness. It’s a process of spiritual development. Right now you’re an embryon – a person that doesn’t have the potential or capability to be a medium. Right now, that’s you – you don’t have any knowledge. You come to my temple to develop yourself spiritually, which means to process and open yourself and become a spiritualist. So, in the beginning, I pull the spirits so that they possess you. You lose consciousness, you don’t remember anything.

As the years go by, and you continue perfecting and working more with your spirituality, a moment will come when you’re seated, like I am, and a spirit comes to you and you speak, sometimes also in a conscious state and you can remember it. But this comes with practice.”

They also talk about gender within Santeria, “false spiritualists” who only do it for the money, and animal sacrifice. It’s definitely worth a read, especially since most mainstream journalism about Santeria doesn’t tend to allow this much detail or insight into their practices.

The Welsh Witch Problem: It seems that rural Wales is a hotbed of occult and strange happenings being reported to the police. A recent Freedom of Information Act request reveals that residents in places like Powys, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire are having all sorts of supernatural problems, including “witches” behaving badly.

The force, which covers Mid and West Wales, has received 86 reports of witches in the last five years. The force’s police incident log reveals details of the calls. One caller reported “that one individual is a witch and had attended at the house to put salt around the bed”. A caller in January last year claimed he had been fed a “fur ball” during a witchcraft ritual. Following a call from Llanelli, police recorded: “Caller, who was drunk, who rang regarding a gang of witches who want to sacrifice him.” Another call was a report of a “malicious communication: rumours that an individual’s mother is a witch”.

OK, which tradition’s been feeding people fur balls? There were also reports of ghosts, vampires, demons, and wizards, but witches topped the list. The Dyfed Powys Police downplayed these reports, saying they are far more ordinary taken in context, though local paranormal experts insist this is just further proof that “Wales is a frighteningly haunted country”. That still doesn’t explain the fur ball. Was it from a cat? Is it a euphemism? What?

I Can Only Imagine the Internet Spam I’ll Get Now: Plenty of places on the net are getting a decent chuckle over an Ebay auction that is selling a spell by a “powerful Wiccan Witch” to increase the size of your, ahem, “booty”.

“Are you desperate to achieve the perfect butt and perhaps a fan of the occult? For just $8.95, you can achieve your dreams by buying one “Booty Enhancement Spell” from a “Powerful Wiccan Witch” on eBay. Hurry, supplies are limited!”

There’s also a spell for breast enhancement. The powerful “Amelia” (it that’s her real name) claims that she’s “used this [spell] many times with stunning results!” But just in case, buying multiple castings ensures greater chances for success (naturally). There’s always been spell-peddlers in our community, but this level of brazenness and scammy-spammy-vibes may take this to a new high/low. One wonders what old Gerald would have to say about booty-boosting spells.

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

There’s good journalism and bad journalism, and then there are articles that simply bend your brain with how astoundingly far they travel from the fields of acceptable news-gathering. Tell me good readers, what comes into your mind when you read the following sentence.

“A Voodoo priest who was linked to the death of a young woman is coming to Wales to preach about his bizarre “religion”.”

That sounds horrible! Some woman-killing Voodoo priest teaching his “bizarre” faith in Wales?!?  But wait, there’s more…

“Wales on Sunday can reveal that mysterious Hector Salva – who compares voodoo to Catholicism – will be in Cardiff later this month to hold secret meetings about his faith.”

Secret meetings! Oh no! We have to… wait a second… did you say “Hector Salva”? I know that name.

“Authorities are awaiting results of a toxicology test to determine the cause and manner of Hamilton’s death, which has not been deemed suspicious. No charges have been filed, and Salva, who goes by “Houngan Hector,” said he is “100 percent confident” there was no wrongdoing on his part. Salva, soft-spoken and polite with a constant smile, said that no drugs were involved in the spiritual cleansing called the Lave Tet, but that small amounts of rum sometimes are consumed. “Maybe a sip,” he said, but he added that Hamilton had “passed on the rum.” …  “She was happy, very positive,” he said. “She seemed very fine as far as everyone knew.” What happened about 11 p.m., Salva said, is the same scenario he told dispatchers during a frantic 9-1-1 call. “She was taking a nap and we woke her up to see if she was hungry, and she was nonresponsive,” he reiterated yesterday. “We kept calling her name and she wouldn’t respond.” The other participants in the ritual could not be reached for comment. Salva declined to provide their names.”

In fact, the Wales on Sunday piece does grudgingly admit later on in the piece that New Jersey Vodou practitioner Hector Salva isn’t under suspicion for the woman’s death, and that the meetings are “secret” because the organizers are worried about “religious fanatics” (ie Christian protesters) gate-crashing the event.

“No charges are expected to be brought against Salva and police say they are not treating it as suspicious. But neighbours of Salva – who converted to being a voodoo priest in Haiti in 2003 – said there were often strange smells and foreign chanting coming from the house. Now Salva, whose followers call by his spiritual name Hougoun Hector, will be arriving in Wales to hold three clandestine gatherings in which he will talk about his religion. The location is being kept secret, as the organisers are worried religious fanatics might turn up and gatecrash.”

Well, if there weren’t any Christians looking to infiltrate and protest before, they may well want to now thanks to this article. Andrew Dagnell should be ashamed of this piece, littered as it is with half-truths, distortions, and moral judgements. Frankly, this horrible little article is an affront to good journalism. Is Wales on Sunday a gossip tabloid to allow such things to run? If Salva or Baron’s Magic (the shop sponsoring the talks) runs into trouble we’ll know who will be on our list to “thank” for it.

In recent years a small island in the UK with a rich pagan history has become internationally famous for its apples. No, it isn’t Summerisle, but a small island off the coast of Wales. Around ten years ago Ynys Enlli (aka Bardsey Island) became the home of the rarest apple tree in the world, and sparked a sensation.


Ian Sturrock with his children and Bardsey Apples

“One of the world’s rarest trees has become a must-have for green-fingered Welsh patriots. Nearly 10 years ago a birdwatcher noticed an apple tree growing beside a house on Bardsey, off the Lln Peninsula, and alerted Welsh orchard expert Ian Sturrock. One of the world’s leading authorities on apple species, based in Kent, later declared it the rarest apple tree in the world. Now Mr Sturrock – who specialises in growing native Welsh fruit trees by grafting small pieces of them onto rootstock – cannot keep up with demand for Bardsey apple saplings. Having sent them across Britain and overseas, he is now sending wood from a Bardsey tree to a nursery in the US – for grafting on the other side of the pond.”

It isn’t just any rare apple tree on a small Welsh island, Bardsey Island has been a pilgrimage place for pre-Roman pagan Celts and for early Christians, it is rumored to be the final resting place of Merlin the magician, and some claim it may be Avalon itself.

“Barber & Pykitt identify Ynys Enlli with the Isle of Avalon where King Arthur was taken to be healed of his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. The battle, they place at nearby Porth Cadlan on the mainland. Merlin’s “Castle of Glass” on Ynys Enlli would appear to be the “Chamber of Glass” where Queen Morgan (or Modron) Le Fay lived and worked with her nine sisters (Merlin’s companions) to heal King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon. Avalon, meaning “Place of Apples,” was an aspect of the Celtic Otherworld, usually called Annwfn…”

As a result both modern Pagans and Christians are eager to get their hands on the famous Afal Enlli (Bardsey Apple).

“Christian people want it because it’s got the Bardsey connection, … Pagan people like it because of the original Bardsey connection.”

So how does an apple from an apple tree growing on what might be the Isle of Apples taste? According to fans it has a tangy taste with a slight hint of lemon. But it may be awhile before enough is grown to satisfy an international demand (there is already a two-year wait for more saplings). In the meantime, 150 trees were sold to a Gwynedd business in hopes of producing a cider from the apples, and residents of other islands are buying the strain in hopes it will be hardy enough to thrive in that rugged environment. This includes residents of Hebridean islands off the coast of Scotland. So who knows, perhaps we will see a Sumerisle strain of apple sometime in the future.

For more information check out the official web site for Yns Enlli, and the official web site for Afal Ynys Enlli (the apples of Bardsey Island).