Archives For Wicca

HIGHLAND MILLS, N.Y. –Throngs of people smiling under sunny skies after days of chilling rain, a festive maypole, live music, rows upon rows of vendors hawking their wares.  This was the scene that welcomed Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar to the ninth annual Beltane Spring Festival put on by the owners of Brid’s Closet in the gently rolling landscape of Palaia Winery. The pair were actually on hand for several days, offering workshops, running rituals, presiding over a wedding beneath the ribbons that hung from the maypole and hummed like a flock of the eponymous birds, and talking about their new book, Lifting the Veil. The only potential cloud that might have been cast upon the events was the fact that copies of their book had not yet arrived. Signings were taken off the schedule. If Mercury going retrograde two days earlier had any bearing, no one mentioned it.

[From Farrar and Bone's website www.callaighe.com]

[From Farrar and Bone’s website www.callaighe.com]

A conversation with these two authors, each of whom has had a high profile in Pagan spheres for decades, can wander like an expedition through a hedge maze, with surprises and delights. That includes personal recollections of other well-known Pagans. Raymond Buckland, Gerald Gardner, and Ronald Hutton were all mentioned. It also includes observations about the way the Paganism itself has been divided and transformed, and has multiplied. A fair amount of time was also devoted to talking about Lifting the Veil.

Farrar described Lifting the Veil as a labor of love over many years; indeed, she promised a long wait for this book when the pair was interviewed for The Wild Hunt in 2008. It’s an exploration of trance and possession work that attempts to place these concepts in a Wiccan context. It’s an area of particular interest to Bone, who started exploring these ideas before he met Farrar and her late husband, Stewart.

“I’ve had an eventful life in the craft,” Bone said. He recalled being a solitary Pagan in 1985, and meeting some people to go into the woods near Portsmouth for his first ritual on Halloween. “I was quite Catholic,” he recalled, and he “wasn’t quite comfortable” with the observances. That discomfort may have come from a “nasty elemental,” which had attached itself to him during the ritual; he learned about its presence some time later when the owner of an occult shop made note of it. Then, he said, “I found out that behind every occult shop is a secret group.”

Bone recounted how he built a rather eclectic resume that wove Arthurian elements in with Sufi mysticism, ritual magic, energy work, and spirit contact through mediums. Meanwhile, members of the mainstream Wiccan community in England “shunned” him for not having had an initiation. He eventually was initiated into Seax Wica using a Tree of Life ritual run, he explained, by a dyslexic: “I was the first Jesuit introduced to Wicca,” he joked.

Even as he was exploring esoteric and religious paths, Bone was training as a psychiatric nurse. Studying in these two fields simultaneously placed him in positions where he started seeing patients who had already died and needed assistance crossing over, as well as those who were in trance or ecstatic states induced by conditions such as grand mal seizures and hypoglycemic shock. These altered states of consciousness excited his interest. “I was curious about the physiology” that was tied to these states, he said.

Lifting the VeilThat curiosity led him to look into the seidr practices in Anglo-Saxon cultures, as well as the possessions which take place during Vodou ceremonies. When he met the Farrars in the 1990s, he learned that people sometimes shared with Janet their frustrations about not being able to use the techniques she described for drawing down the moon, in which a deity is invoked into a person. The problem, Bone felt, was that “drawing down the moon was missing training in trance work.”

Farrar and Bone have traveled the world researching this book, including the techniques practiced by Aleister Crowley, shamans of the Russian steppes, Hellenic oracles, Thessalanian and Thracian practices from antiquity. Bone explained that many ancient oracles began their work in caves, and that traces of ethylene found at Delphi validate the hypothesis that subterranean gases helped induce the necessary trance states for them and for similar priestesses such as the Sybils.

Looking into the past and at different modern cultures drew them back to modern Paganism to try to fit together the missing pieces, and they consulted with Diana Paxson about trance work. Seidr priestesses of northern Europe, unlike the Sybils, were traveling seeresses; the methods of inducing trance appear to have included veiling and singing. From other cultures come elements like drumming and alcohol, and gradually Bone and Farrar started to develop the concept of there being four keys to successful trance induction. This includes energy work such as chakra stimulation, recognition of spirits and deities as separate beings, our concepts of mythical cosmology, and exterior elements including drumming, veiling, masking, and use of entheogens.

Even speaking about these topics, Bone can never quite turn off the medical side of his brain. Use of entheogens — hallucinogens — for ritual purpose is not without peril, he warned, just as other intense techniques such as fasting and sleep deprivation can be overwhelming. He recalled a friend who used those last two to have what Bone described as “genuine experiences,” but experiences that his friend “couldn’t come back from” afterward.

“The line between illness and psychic experience can be thin,” Bone said. “Schizophrenics have them, but in that case it’s a symptom, not a cause.” On the other hand, “One person’s madness is another person’s seer.”

Combinations of techniques are most common, and one element — pain — entered into the Pagan communities forcefully in the 1980s, when there started to be overlap with the BDSM community. The release of endorphins caused by those practices are reminiscent of the scourging used in early Gardnerian ritual, he explained, and can be much more intense than entheogens or even substances like opiates. “You can get hooked on it,” he explained.

Some of the work done in writing this book tried to place things like the ecstatic trance of Vodou “in a European context;” not an appropriation, but an attempt to revive practices such as the Dionysian rituals of Italy using techniques which have survived elsewhere in the world when the European traditions did not fare so well.

They did have an opportunity to share views about Paganism more generally, and that’s when Farrar — who took pains to let Bone talk up the book — was more than happy to weigh in. Sometimes described as an oath-breaker for the information she has put into her books, Farrar is unapologetic about her life, and contrasted herself and her husband from English Pagans in particular. Where many of the British “can be stiff-upper-lip people,” they are instead “salty and earthy,” willing to make ribald jokes about well-known figures and otherwise shock their more proper countrymen.

Bone and Farrar describe themselves as polytheists, and count that as part of the Wiccan march away from monotheism. “First it was one god and one goddess,” said Bone. “Then there was a triple goddess. It was awhile before people were polytheists again.”

How they see those gods is as shapeshifters, something which is attested to in many myths and evidenced in the various names and epithets some gods are referred by. “I wear a nurse uniform,” said Bone, but that doesn’t make him a different person. “Do the gods even get a voice?” Many Wiccans, they agreed, get “stuck in the maiden-mother-crone stuff” and seek to mold gods into that model.

“Frey wears an Armani suit and carries credit cards,” said Farrar. “Mercury is a telecommunications worker. Jehovah thinks he’s all alone.” She delighted in announcing that the Venus de Milo statue once bore a name plate of “Eris.” Doreen Valiente, she said, was definitely a polytheist, and likely worshiped Diana. In practice, “she was much more of a hedge witch. She wanted to commune in the forest, not practice high magic.”

Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone

Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone [Courtesy Photo]

Recollections of people who brought modern Wicca into the world include this observation by Farrar: “Gerald Gardner was its mother; Doreen Valiente its father and Alex Sanders smacked its bottom.” Sanders, she said, was a much more complex person than his public persona, but that face was necessary for Wicca to grow.

Farrar practiced with Valiente and is beside herself with excitement over the revelations that she had a secret life working for the British government. “She never mentioned it,” although friends might have had suspicions, and it took the research skills of Heselton to prove it. “I saw Doreen with the Queen Mother, and they were clearly old friends,” she recalled. Knowledge of the occult make creating and breaking codes a natural progression, they theorized, making people with that background more effective than the “chinless wonders” who were otherwise recruited for that work. The Official Secrets Act technically only binds a person for 50 years, but in practice most people take those secrets to their graves, as did Valiente.

On the differences between American and British Wicca, Farrar said the most obvious thing that she noticed when she first visited these shores was a tendency towards titles. “Everyone was lady this and lord that,” she said, but “I’m no lady.” She also said that “American covens tend to watch over each others’ shoulders,” while the British ones are largely left as autonomous units.

They are bemused by the emergence of the term “British Traditional Wicca,” which they say isn’t used anymore in England than the French refer to themselves when frying potatoes. “It started like a group label” around the turn of the century, Bone said, “and now it’s a rejection of it.”

Another interesting evolution is the distinction between Witchcraft and Wicca. When she was initiated by Sanders, Farrar said, “We were Witches and Wicca was the religion.”

Bone said that at one point the aphorism was, “All Wiccans are Pagan, but not all Pagans are Wiccan. Now it’s turned about, so that all Wiccans are Witches, but not all Witches are Wiccan. It’s a generational shifting of the goal posts.”

Generally, they’ve watched as Paganism has matured over the decades. One change they specifically noted is that magic is becoming less the center of Wicca and related practices, and more a tool. The shifting language may at times puzzle them, but they do see a genuine interest in honoring the gods. The path to do so may have changed into an umbrella, and even that umbrella is rejected by many who fall under its shadow, but that may be because like the gods themselves, Paganism is a shapeshifter.

[The Wild Hunt welcomes journalist Claire Dixon to our weekly news team. She is our U.K. correspondent and will be covering news and events specifically in that region, as well around the world. To learn more about Dixon’s background and her experience, check out her bio page.]

BRIGHTON, England — The doors opened on an exhibition of artifacts from the Doreen Valiente collection this month, but it was the new biography of the U.K.’s most famous Witch that caused the biggest stir. Why? The book revealed that Valiente had worked at the legendary MI6 spy base Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

doreen valiente

[Courtesy Doreen Valiente Foundation]

As reported in The Wild Hunt in January, Philip Heselton’s book, Doreen Valiente Witch, was published by the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) to coincide with the landmark exhibition in Brighton, West Sussex. It is the book’s third chapter, titled Glimpses Through the Shadows (Or What Doreen Did During the War), which has been attracting the most interest.

MI6 used Bletchley in Buckinghamshire as its code-cracking centre and would intercept all manner of German ciphers. The most famous was the Enigma code, because it had more than 100 million variations. Heselton states that Valiente had signed the Official Secrets Act and was part of Bletchley’s ISOS division, whose job it was to translate intercepted messages.

DVF trustee Ashley Mortimer said that Heselton, in his research for the book, had finally confirmed a long-standing suspicion that she was involved with this code-cracking. The discovery was an exciting development for DVF and the Pagan community, in general.

Mortimer said, “John and Julie (Belham-Payne, founders of the foundation) had always believed Doreen was involved in secret work during the war, they’d both speculated that Doreen may even have been at Bletchley Park. So to have this confirmed by Philip was truly thrilling.” He added, “This aspect of Doreen’s life, now revealed, throws a new perspective on other aspects – certainly her ability to be secretive and to take her promises seriously, as she plainly did with the Official Secrets Act.”

Unfortunately, this new chapter of Valiente’s story, which Heselton has now opened, may never be fully told. The work carried out at Bletchley Park was first disclosed in the 1970s. But because Valiente signed the Official Secrets Act, she was prohibited from speaking about the nature of her business with the government. For intelligence work, this limitation would usually apply to the remainder of the signatory’s lifetime and , furthermore, any information covered by the Act can sometimes be officially classified for up to 100 years.

So what do we actually know? According to Heselton, the ISOS division, which was based in Hut 18 at Bletchley, was part of the effort to counter the Abwehr, or German military intelligence. Abwehr had spread itself through Europe by sending out spies posing as refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. These spies would then report back on enemy military sites, training regimes and so on. ISOS worked to intercept those messages, crack ciphers, and track down the spies.

Once detected, German spies were given a stark choice. They could become double agents or face execution. Many chose the former, which led to the creation of the highly successful double-cross system. False information was fed back to German, and one very notable success was to convince the Nazis that the Allies would be landing at Calais rather than Normandy on D-Day. These double-agents went unnoticed by the Germans, and it is estimated that the work of Valiente and her colleagues at Bletchley saved millions of lives, cutting the length of the war by up to four years.

Heselton also claims that Valiente spent a lot of the Second World War travelling between Bletchley and South Wales. She was reportedly gathering information from foreign merchant navy men regarding the Battle of the Atlantic, at the core of which was the Allied blockade of Germany. It was during this time that Valiente met her first husband Joanis Vlachopolous, who drowned only six months after they were married in 1941. However, Valiente’s role in South Wales is less clear than her role at Bletchley.

Heselton’s research has undoubtedly added an important new dimension to Valiente’s story, and the Pagan community is abuzz with questions. However, as noted earlier, given her signing of the Official Secrets Act, we may never know the true extent or nature of her work during the war – or at least not for some time. Mortimer said, “The research continues, and we are all convinced that there will be further information and other revelations to discover. Doreen Valiente remains an enigma and it seems the more we find out about her the more we realise how little we know.”

Bletchley Park was contacted for a comment but did not reply.

[Courtesy Doreen Valiente Foundation]

[Courtesy Doreen Valiente Foundation]

Meanwhile, another interesting disclosure in Heselton’s biography is Valiente’s acquaintance with the British royal family – particularly the Queen Mother (who passed away in 2002). Heselton told the Brighton Argus: “I have had it from a number of people that she indeed knew the Queen Mother. As with a lot of her life, much of this is a mystery and will remain so but we have certain clues to their relationship.”

According to Heselton, the Queen Mother flew Valiente to Balmoral, which is the royal family’s official summer residence in the Scottish Highlands, by private jet in the 1980s to warn her that the government of the time was thinking about outlawing Witchcraft again. Witchcraft had been banned in Britain in the 16th century under the reign of Henry VIII and was punishable by death. Notable purges include the North Berwick witch trials in East Lothian, Scotland (1590) and the Pendle witches trial in Lancashire, northern England (1612).

However, in 1735 a new Witchcraft Act was passed to reflect the Enlightenment values of the times. Being a practitioner was no longer punishable but belief in witchcraft was. The maximum penalty was one year’s imprisonment or a fine, and the Act remained statute law until 1951.

When Gerald Gardner introduced Wicca to popular culture in 1954, Witchcraft began to enjoy a resurgence. Therefore, the possibility of a fresh ban must have been alarming. Heselton was unclear on the exact timing of Valiente’s flight to Balmoral, but he said, “My impression is that her meeting with the Queen Mother was some time in the 1980s.”

Another related rumour cited by Heselton is that the hand-held mirror used by Valiente in her rituals, which can be seen in the current DVF exhibition, once belonged to the Queen Mother. Valiente reportedly picked it up at a jumble sale at a village neighbouring Balmoral after the Queen Mother had a clear-out. She is said to have got chatting to the Queen Mother at the sale, who confirmed that the mirror was hers. However, there is at present no way of verifying this story.

As with this rumour and the Bletchley tale, it would appear that there are many more stories to be told about Valiente. We will keep reporting as they continue to surface.

TAOS, NM — After four hours of deliberation a Taos jury found 51-year-old West Virginia native Ivan Dennings Cales Jr. guilty of the murder of Roxanne Houston and of tampering with evidence. During the investigation as was brought forward during the trial, the state found data and gathered testimonies, suggesting that the accused may have been on a modern day Witch hunt.

[Photo Credit: Billy Hathorn /Wikipedia]

[Photo Credit: Billy Hathorn /Wikipedia]

Houston, a Wiccan practitioner from Colorado, disappeared in July 2014 after moving to New Mexico. Her body was found by a hiker near the “Two Peaks area” in December of that same year. According to a local news agency, “Elizabeth Hagerty said she was walking with her husband, Robert, and their two dogs when one canine began rolling on what appeared to be a burnt part of a brassiere.” Police later identified the body as Houston’s and launched an investigation.

Prior to her 2014 disappearance in New Mexico, Houston’s life was reportedly complicated and unstable. According to her estranged ex-husband George Houston, Roxy, as she was called, was bi-polar and had been off medication for quite some time. She has four children, who all live with adoptive parents, and was frequently moving between relationships.

In June 2015, Mr. Houston, a non-Pagan, laments his own involvement and failures to help his wife. In a public Facebook post, he demonstrates his continued affection for her, despite their past problems. He pledged to fight for justice in the courts.

As the story goes, Roxy reportedly left Colorado in 2013 with a boyfriend, and arrived in Carson, NM. The couple camped for some time and, eventually, moved into a home with several other male housemates. She lived at that location until her death.

Houston was last seen hiking in June 2014, but her body wasn’t discovered for six months. Then, after a long investigation, Cales was found living at a local shelter and arrested Feb 23, 2015. The Taos Sheriff’s office noted that this case was particularly difficult because many of the involved parties were “transients,” including Cales, who had only arrived in New Mexico in April 2014.

In a post on the Rainbow Gathering Family site, Cales described himself as a survivalist, and includes “loves the outdoors. open minded. non drug user. native American beliefs.” In 1999, he renounced his American citizenship in an AIM forum titled, “The American Indian Movement” on the basis that the government was illegal. He reportedly met Houston when he moved into the residence where she was living.

During the March trial, Cales’ cellmate Raymond Martinez reportedly testified that Cales actually claimed “Native American” heritage and connected that fact to his motivation to kill Witches. He reportedly said that he was on a “witch-hunt” and that Houston was a Witch. As the local paper reports:

He testified Cales drew pictures of a witch hunt […] He said Cales told him he was Native American, and that Native Americans believed if a witch cast a spell on them, they needed to kill the witch to break the spell. Artwork that looked like pencil sketches of a witch hunt — done in jail and presumably signed by Cales as “Kwenishguery Manito Lenepe Witch Hunter 2000”— were exhibited in the courtroom as evidence.

Another witness Thomas Thebo reportedly testified that Cales said, “If a Wiccan ever cast a spell on him, he would have to kill the witch to get rid of the spell.” We reached out to the Lenape Nation for a reaction to the testimony, but did not get a response back by publication time.

In a number of media interviews, Cales’ defense attorney Thomas Clark calls the Witchcraft testimony “nonsense.” Before the trial began, he filed a motion to have these documents and the Martinez testimony removed from the case. The motion was denied. All evidence pointing to the Witch hunt was included.

District attorney Donald Gallegos also suggested that Cales was in love with Houston, making the alleged Witchcraft accusations simply a mask. In his public post asking for prayers, Houston’s ex-husband also suggested that there may have been a love triangle. But Gallegos also reminded reporters, “the unrequited love and the witch theories are just that — theories. However, he and his staff are sure that Cales is Houston’s killer.”

Houston was given what was called a “New Age, mystic, pagan service” funeral. Her boyfriend and other roommates did not attend. We reached out to several local Pagans in the region, but did not get a response by publication time.

While Roxy’s mental illness was well-known and led to instability, she was remembered fondly by the few that knew her. As reported in the news, “several local residents […] remembered her for the compassion she is said to have demonstrated towards neighbors. Houston reportedly worked as a caretaker for one neighbor and is also said to have lent a hand distributing food to Carson area residents.”

Upon learning the guilty verdict, Houston’s friend Cheryl Bailey Payne wrote a note to the Taos Sheriff’s office, saying “Thank you from the bottom of not only my, but my daughter’s, and Roxanne’s sister’s hearts – RIP Roxanne – we love you!!”

*   *   *

Although Houston’s case was not labeled a hate crime, the concerns over such aggression and violence directed at Witches and other minorities do loom in the background for many. Ardanane Learning Center, located in New Mexico, will be running an online two-part seminar dealing specifically with the subject of “Hate Crimes.”

Logo-n-logotype-tag

Over those two days, instructor and former investigator Kerr Cuhulain will “share the lessons he learned dealing with hate crimes during the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s and his experiences with educating law enforcement and other public agencies about Pagan religions.” The classes will take place on March 26 and April 2.

ROSENDALE, N.Y. — Not every Pagan has written books, given lectures, or led life-altering rituals. Most are ordinary people, expressing their faith in simple ways as they live their lives far from the spotlight that follows the luminaries of the Pagan communities. Such was the life of Deana Reed, whose loved ones approached this reporter after her death and burial to tell her story.

deana_reed_at_keegans

Deana Reed [Courtesy Gene Santagada]

Reed and her sister, Regina Chiarello, grew up next to one of the many apple orchards which once dominated the Hudson Valley in New York. Her sister recalls the cloud that would sometimes follow tractors working among the trees, and come into their house without warning. The toxins which were used to maintain those pristine apples are today the reason why it is so difficult to re-purpose old orchard lands; the top several inches of soil often must be removed and replaced because it’s irrevocably poisoned.

While that’s understood in 2016, the consequences of those chemicals on human life was not nearly so well considered years ago. Reed believed that her chronic health problems began due to that exposure, and Chiarello agrees.

Deana Reed suffered from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory condition that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus, and impact virtually every inch of it, as was her case. Chiarello tearfully recalled the sores that would erupt in her sister’s mouth, and the “hours of injections every month” to try to stem the ravages of the disease. The side effects of those treatments were often as bad as the condition itself, she said.

Crohn’s disease caused Reed to be in near-constant pain, but it did not stop her from living her life, especially when it came to caring for other creatures. Her longtime boyfriend Gene Santagada is full of stories about that compassion, from her willingness to climb a rickety ladder even when crippled by her disease so that she could fill bird feeders, to the time she saved the life of a crow that he didn’t believe would have lasted another hour without her help.”Its head was flopping,” he said, and it looked like its neck was broken. Hundreds of crows were gathered around the house when she brought it inside, standing as if in witness to their comrade’s fall.

Reed got advice from a bird specialist who was too far away to come and help in person, and by the next morning the bird’s head seemed to be atop its shoulders properly again. Not long after, a state wildlife specialist was able to release it into the sky.

Chiarello said that her sister was a devotee of Bast, and one day a feral cat that she had fed from a distance came to the door, crying, ahead of a storm. “That cat never came near,” Chiarello said, “but I could see that his face was cut up.” Reed ordered them to trap it, and the veterinarian who examined the cat discovered it was both injured and riddled with parasites.

“It was like a M*A*S*H unit,” said Santagada. “The vet said that cat would not have survived the storm.” Another vet in the same office ended up adopting the cat, who became known as Ulysses, and now he spends his days curled up by a wood stove.

In the eulogy he gave to his lover of 27 years, Santagada said,

In our belief system, cat’s spiritual journeys through life are somewhat similar to our own. Many of us believe it is the Great Egyptian Goddess Bast who can grant a cat up to 9 Sacred Lives, but when those lives are all expended, or Bast decides to grant no more, the the soul of the cat is transported to Bast’s Temple, where all the cat souls gather before Bast. There, they tell the Goddess about the humans who were kind and good to them. Goddess Bast, over the years you must have gotten an ear-full about Deana!

Environmentally conscious to a fault, Reed had been excited by the prospect of a green burial since first hearing of the concept ten years ago. At the time, however, no nearby cemetery offered such interments, so she and Santagada always kept their ear to the ground in the hopes that this would change. Neither of them was aware that the Rosendale Cemetery, less than an hour’s drive away, had started offering natural burial plots until after Reed’s passing.

Santagada became horrified by standard burial practices as he researched alternatives. “It’s not the formaldehyde,” he said. “It’s the other chemicals that they mix in with it,” and then inject into the deceased through existing body cavities.

“They even embalm you before cremation,” added Chiarello, eager to share a fact which had stunned her. Cremation is an alternative that many people consider when natural burial is not an option, but their research suggested it was not in any way an environmentally preferable choice. According to Santagada, in addition to the embalming, the cremation process can take up to two days, releasing toxins into the air all the while.

Cremation “is the least environmentally sensitive way, the total antithesis of what Deana wanted,” said Santagada. “Her whole life, she felt like she was the victim of chemicals and drugs.”

No such artificiality followed her body into the ground. The natural burial rules at Rosendale Cemetery not only don’t permit embalming, but also disallow artificial fibers in the burial clothing. “If her shirt had plastic buttons, we’d have to remove them,” Santagada said. Interment is either done in a pine box built in the tongue-and-groove method, or simply on a plank with a shroud.

Hudson Valley, New York [Photo Credit: Tin Brook / Flick]

Hudson Valley, New York [Photo Credit: Tin Brook / Flick]

According to Dick Hermance, president of board of the Rosendale Cemetery, where Reed was the first to receive a green burial, the rules are based on those of the Green Burial Council, with only a few modifications. “We had requests from people to dig their own graves, and at first we were all for it, because it would save us the work,” he said, as green graves must be dug by hand. “We opted to dig them ourselves for insurance reasons, but we do allow people to throw a few shovelfuls of dirt in,” he explained.

The natural section has both field and forest sections, Hermance said, but all the plots so far sold have been among the trees. Chiarello was struck by how Reed’s funerary procession led participants far beyond the rows of headstones until finally they were “stepping over tree roots and rocks until we got to the edge of the forest.” Deer tracks were in evidence, and one person in attendance saw a crow watching the service.

Rosendale is a non-denominational cemetery, and Reed was given a Wiccan service, as she had been an initiated member of a coven for nearly eight years. Santagada serves as the coven’s High Priest. The ceremony included blessing her with frankincense and myrrh, and leaving her with a walking stick that Santagada fashioned to help her on her way to the next life; no varnish allowed. “Metal is allowed, because it comes from the earth,” he said, and she was buried wearing some jewelry.

Santagada added that the Pagan path spoke to his girlfriend because she felt those beliefs were “closer to reality” than those of the Abrahamic faiths, which she found to be full of “terrible stories of rape and incest, and not relevant for today.” She didn’t hate Christianity, he said, but she felt it had failed her when she needed it most.

Reed’s mother wanted her Christian minister to say a few words, and he did attend, but the offer was declined. “I told her that Deana wasn’t a Christian,” Chiarello said, and her mother “didn’t argue. It wasn’t Deana’s way.”

Burying his companion when she was only in her fifties has made Santagada think long and hard about his own fate. He and Chiarello now have made arrangements to be buried beside their beloved Deana, but as he said, “There are Christians in my family, too, and if I don’t make my wishes clear, they might give me something I don’t want.” His advice to anyone who wants to ensure that their wishes are honored in death is to make those plans now, and not to wait.

Deana Reed’s name will not be found in the New Alexandrian Library, nor did her love of music ever translate into her making albums of her own. If Santagada is correct, though, her name is being whispered in Bast’s ear, and will be for some time to come.

That which is remembered, lives.

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

News Update…

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

Convicted killer Charles Jaynes, who has been serving a life-sentence for the murder and molestation of a ten-year-old boy, lost his three-year-battle to change his name. As reported in 2012, Jaynes petitioned to adopt a new name to coincide with his conversion to Wicca. The new name, Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V, was reportedly was given to him by “God.”

As noted in the Dec 2015 appeals decision, Jaynes originally testified that his new name was required for his “Wiccan religious tenets” and that his “old heathen name is religiously offensive. It is also spiritually debilitating due to the fact that God and Jesus Christ had given me a new name.”

The Appeals Court upheld the original decision to disallow the name change, saying that it was not found to be required for the Wiccan religion nor was it in the best interest of the public. The ruling states, “We affirmed the probate judge’s denial of the petition, as ‘granting the petitioner a name change would likely cause significant confusion in the criminal justice system if he were ever released . . . [and] would not be in the public interest if the petitioner were able later to elude criminal prosecution and conceal his identity.’

Jaynes was up for parole in early 2015, but he declined the option. No new date for a parole hearing has been set.

More links:

  • A recent Gallup poll on religion confirmed the statistics gathered earlier in the year by Pew Forum. Americans are slowly becoming less religious. According to the Gallup Poll, 75.2 percent of Americans identify as Christian; 5.1% as other religions; 19.6 as nones. By these stats, the Christian population is down 5 percentage points, while the nones are up by the same number. The “other religion” category lost .2 percentage points. But with the margin of error be +/- 1 percent, the population of non-Christians appears to have stayed constant. Unfortunately, this constancy cannot be explored further. The Gallup poll does not break down the “other” category, and therefore it is impossible to analyze anything specific about the population increase or decrease in any one of the minority religious practices.
  • Capitalizing on Pew Forum stats, Inverse published an article titled, “Paganism grows on Campus.” Writer Sarah Slot concludes that, even though America is becoming less religious, Paganism is on the rise. She writes, “An all-you-can-eat buffet of naturalistic practice, polytheism, social awareness, and environmentalism, modern Paganism is both the outgrowth of Europe’s neolithic neuroses and a belief system well-suited to a generation grappling with the idea of privilege and rejecting the bromides offered by powerful institutions.” The article goes on to explore the growth and expansive nature of the religion both on campus and off, through a number of interviews.
  • According to The New York Blog, women wrote the majority of top books checked out from New York City Public libraries. The NYPL system annually publishes its top ten most requested books in December. Lists are compiled system wide, per borough and per branch. Interestingly, the Eastchester Branch, located in the Bronx, had a Llewellyn book in the top slot. The locals in that area were reportedly most interested in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names for Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Heathens, Mages, Shamans & Independent Thinkers of all Sorts Who are Curious About Names from Every Place and Every Time by K.M. Sheard.
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Isis as represented in Goddesses Alive! 2015 [Phote Credit: Greg Harder]

  • Speaking of names, this December saw a new surge in confusion between the Goddess Isis and the terrorist group Daesh. As reported, this confusion has led to some violence and vandalism. On Dec. 25, the news site Broadly decided to set the record straight in an article titled “The Women who worship Isis for Christmas.”  Writer Sirin Kale begins by saying, “No, not that ISIS.” She goes on to discuss the modern veneration of the Goddess Isis through interviews with several people, including Rowan Morgana, Holli Emore, Lady Nephthys, and Mani Novalight. Within the article, Kale shared a video showing a blessing, and several photos, including one from the Goddesses Alive! performance at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
  • Moving outside the United States, the BBC reported that the historic Boleskine House on Loch Ness had been partially destroyed by fire on Dec 23.The house was originally built in the 1760s and was the home of Aleister Crowley from 1899-1913. Due to his occupancy, the house earned somewhat of a notorious reputation. According to legends and stories, Crowley never completed some of his magical work within the space, leaving “demons” about. In the 1970s, Jimmy Page bought the house due to his interest in Crowley’s work. He then sold it in 1992, and the house has since passed through several hands. According to the reports, it was unoccupied when the fire broke out.
  • In Japan, temple administrators are hoping tourism will save their sacred spaces. According to the Religion News Service, Japanese attendance at these temples is in decline, which is “crimping revenue.”  In order to pay for upkeep and support the monks in their studies, some temples are now looking to the booming tourism industry to help cover their costs. With new hotels and bullet trains nearby, administrators hope to capture some of the tourist money by providing a uniquely Japanese experience to would-be visitors.
  • In November, while many were focused on Mar’s book Witches in America, some might have missed another new “Witch” book. Released in late October by publisher Little, Brown and Company, The Witches: Salem 1692 is an historical account of the Salem Witch trials. The new book has gotten rave reviews across mainstream media on both historical accuracy and the depiction of events, including one reviewer who remarked that the writing is “light on sensationalism.” That is often a rarity for Salem stories. The Witches was written by author Stacy Schiff, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the book Cleopatra: A Life.
  • Now for something a little different, here is some folk music from Mali. It is categorized as Folk Wassoulou, and is performed by the talented Fatoumata Diawara.

 

Missing Texas Man Found Dead

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas — On Nov 14, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office discovered a burned GMC Sonoma in a wooded area near Firetower Road. The partial plates revealed that the truck belonged to 28 year old Marc Pourner, who had been reported missing since Nov. 12. During a search of the area, Pourner’s body was eventually discovered only a short distance away from the vehicle.

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[Online Profile Photo]

Pourner, also known as Axel in Wiccan circles, was a resident of Spring, Texas. He was a very active member in several online Wiccan groups and had helped administer the popular Facebook group The Cauldron – A Mixing Place for Witches, Druids and Pagans. He was very open and proud about his religious beliefs, and about being gay. Pourner did not hide who he was and what he believed.

On Wed, the Montgomery Sheriff’s office told The Wild Hunt that they had not yet determined a motive and could not comment on possible suspects. However, since that conversation, the department did issue a warrant for the arrest of David James Brown, a reported acquaintance and Facebook friend of Pourner.

The accused was eventually found in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, where his girlfriend lives, and was booked at 10:30 pm Wed. night. The arrest warrant charges Brown with capital murder. Brown is currently being held without bond and waiting extradition to Montgomery County, Texas.

For Pourner’s family and friends, the news has been overwhelming. A Prayer Vigil was held Wed, Nov 18 at Caney Creek Apostolic Tabernacle on FM 1485, Montgomery County, Texas.  And, there is also a GoFundMe campaign to help his father pay for some funeral expenses.

We will bring you the full story on Pourner’s life and all updates on Sunday.

  *   *   *

Isis Bookstore Vandalized

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Over the past weekend, Isis Books and Gifts was vandalized for the fourth time in the past year. In this recent incident, a brick was thrown through the lower portion of the sign.

[Facebook Photo / Isis Books & Gifts]

[Facebook Photo / Isis Books & Gifts]

The book store owner, Karen Charboneau-Harrison, doesn’t know who did this. However, the reason itself is not a mystery. The vandalism happened one day after the Beirut and Paris terrorist attacks. She told a local reporter for CNN, “I don’t know if somebody walking down the street just saw our name on the sign and kind of lost it for a moment and threw a rock through it … or if it was an ignorant person who actually thought this was a bookstore for terrorists, I don’t know.”

Although confusion between the store’s name and the terrorist group is causing problems, Charboneau-Harrison has no intention of changing the name. On Facebook, Isis Books posted, “The name Isis is that of the Egyptian Goddess of women, marriage, magick, healing and more. However, with our media and politicians constantly using the word to name those in the Middle East who are the source of such horror, some people seem to get confused. Please help us to educate the media and your family and friends to call the terrorists by a more correct name – Daesh – not Islamic State, not ISIS, not ISIL.”

We will have the full story next week, including more on the ongoing controversy over the terrorist group’s name.

NEDERLAND, Col. – Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and resting at an elevation of 8,230 feet lies the small town of Nederland, Colorado. It was founded in 1874 by settlers who were attracted to the lowland valleys as a outpost for their trapping work. Eventually mining became the town’s sustaining business and, when that disappeared, tourism and farming took its place. But since the 1960s, the town has slowly attracted new types of residents, including artists, musicians, and those specifically interested in the great outdoors. Being only 17 miles southwest of Boulder, the town has thrived, while still retaining its unique small town feel.

[Courtesy H. Wendlhandt]

Rev. H. Wendlandt [Courtesy Photo]

Within this little town, there is a congregation called the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church (NCPC) led by Reverand Hansen Wendlandt. The congregation, like the town, has a long history beginning the with mining boom. The church building itself was erected in 1912 and is still being used today. Rev. Wendlandt, originally from Arkansas, describes how his religious beliefs are unmistakably merged with his love of the outdoors and the mountains of Colorado. In a bio, he writes, “Mountains have always made me feel small, but grand in the responsibility God gives us to steward all this creation. Whether it is through nature, or music, or arts, or gardening, or however you feel the Spirit alive …”

Rev. Wendlandt has served the NCPC community for only 2 and half years, but he is making quite an impact. Included in his personal devotion to service is a passion to help the community, both his congregation and the entire town of Nederland. With that in mind, he recently initiated a new program hosted by NCPC. He announced his concept in an article published in the Mountain-Ear, a local newspaper, Titled “Religiously Literate Citizens,” the article discusses the importance of religious literacy in an increasingly diverse world. He writes:

Religious illiteracy hurts our communities by creating distance; it hurts our political system when ignorance breeds fear; it hurts individuals who could otherwise explore on their own any spiritual ideas and practices for well-being. And to make matters worse, all of this has been magnified with each successive generation over the last century or so.

In that article, Rev. Wendlandt goes on to discuss the need to expose children to the religious beliefs of their neighbors, saying, “I believe it is time to do more for our young people, so that they can do more for our world.” He notes that there is remarkable religious diversity just in the small town of Nederland and added that, as children make their way into the bigger world, they will face even more difference. “We can help prepare them,” he writes.

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church. [Courtesy Photo]

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Rev. Wendlandt further explained that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for kids to learn about different religions – to become religiously literate. He said that he himself comes from a background of pluralism, and sees this type of education as essential for life.

So Rev. Wendlandt set out to create his own religious literacy program with lessons to be held each month. The program is aimed primarily at teens and pre-teens, and is open to anyone in the surrounding communities, not just his congregation. One Sunday each month, a period of time is set aside to teach and learn about a different belief system. Rev. Wendlandt wrote:

The plan is to have food associated with each religion, make the learning interactive and fun, look at sacred objects and texts, and have plenty of room for questions and conversation. There will be no persuasion or argument, just a chance for young people to grow.

For the first session, held Oct. 18, the Community Church welcomed Naveen, a follower of Hinduism. He brought food to share from Kathmandu, a local Nepalese restaurant. Rev. Wendlandt explained that he chose to begin with this particular religion due to the October festival of Navarati. He believes that the lessons are all the more richer if they coincide with a specific holiday.

For the second installment, held Nov. 1, the Church welcomed Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane, two local Pagans, to talk about Wiccan traditions. As with the Oct session, Wicca was chosen for this date so that the lesson coincided with the festival of Samhain.

Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane are part of a Nederland-based Wiccan group called The Five Weird Sisters. Culver is a local chef and herbalist. She has been practicing Wicca since 1976, when she lived in the Bay Area of California. She remembers the early days when Covenant of the Goddess was still forming. Stefane is the owner of the Blue Owl Bookstore, which sells a mix of items from books, jewelry, local art and music and some metaphysical supplies. It also serves as the local ice cream parlor. Both women are well-known in Nederland.

Joining Culver and Stefane in the Five Weird Sisters are Janette Taylor, Nancy Moon and Gail Eddy, all locals. In an interview, Culver explained that they each were practicing solitaries.Then, five years ago, the women began to meet for social outings and discussions, which eventually led to the formation of a group practice. In the past, the Five Weird Sisters have sponsored a public, annual Witch’s Ball, hosted open rituals and even orchestrated an spiral dance.Their next ball will be in October 2016.

Five Weird Sisters

Five Weird Sisters: (left to right) Janette Taylor, Kim Culver, Nancy Moon, Gail Eddy, and Kimba Stefane. [Courtesy Photo]

Rev. Wendlandt knew both Culver and Stepfane, and contacted them about participating in his religious literacy program. The two women agreed. Culver said that they saw this as a fun community opportunity and a great way of fulfilling the “service aspect of Wicca.”

The Nov. 1 session was held at 11 a.m. at NCPC. The women set up a table containing a number of religious items, which are typically used in Wicca. Culver said, “We touched on history, tools, magic, and beliefs..nothing too in-depth.” The lesson also included some traditional harvest foods and a hands-on project. The group made Fire Cider.

Since the program is directed at children, there were very few adults in the room. Culver said that Rev. Wendlandt wanted “to create a safe space for the children to learn” without adult interruption. And, he agreed saying that children are “less likely to ask questions” when adults are in the room. He wanted them to have the comfort of freedom to engage.

Culver described the participating children as being both surprised and fascinated. Laughing, she recalled that their first surprise came when she and Stefane arrived not wearing pointed hats and long robes. The children didn’t expect the visiting witches to be dressed in “normal” clothing. Rev. Wendlandt also noted how intrigued and enthusiastic the children were. He said that one nine-year old boy asked, “When did you know you were a witch?”

Of all of the presented topics, Culver believes that the history lesson provoked the most curiosity. This was particularly true when the women touched on the oppression of folk healers, in general, as well as the practitioners of old religions by the Roman Catholic Church. After it was over, Culver said that an adult women, who happened to be a Deacon at the local Catholic Church, approached her saying that she was shocked and had no idea about witchcraft persecutions. She said, “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hold that against us.”

Additionally, Culver noticed that “the young girls and even the women” were particularly surprised by the presence and even dominance of a Priestess. Culver said, “They were surprised that they could be in charge.” Rev. Wenderlandt used this moment to open a dialog about a woman’s role in other faith traditions. He asked the children, “Why do you think some religions don’t treat women this way?” He noted that a similar discussion had come up during the Hindu presentation, saying that these sessions are creating opportunities for extended discussions, and it’s the kids asking the questions.

Table with Wiccan religious items at the NCPC Church religious literacy lesson [Courtesy K. Culver]

The entire Wiccan lesson lasted for about an hour and a half. Culver said that the event was beneficial to the community, but also to herself and Stefane. She said, “The event reaffirmed my personal beliefs and made me think about who I am and who I project out into the community … It also made me realize that there are people out there who want to know, even if they don’t want to follow.”

She added that being in that church to share her religious beliefs with people, who she had thought would be closed-minded, “opened her heart.” Culver said that, after class, she and Stefane immediately went into the forest for an impromptu ritual, during which they “dug into their roots.” .

When asked if they have received any backlash or complaints, Culver said, “nothing really.” Rev. Wendlandt said the same. He has received nothing but support. In fact, next month, a local alternative high school will be sending its World Cultures Class to the Sunday session. And, he has even been asked to run a similar program for adults, to which he currently answers maybe.

Going forward, Rev. Wendlandt has scheduled a Jewish speaker for December in conjunction with Chanukah, and a Buddhist speaker for January. Beyond that, he is working on scheduling the rest of the year through May. He said that there are already plans to feature Islam, Humanism, possibly Catholicism and Mormonism, Eastern traditions and various Native American religions. Rev. Wendlandt added that he prefers to welcome local residents as speakers, which has its limits. Why locals? He said, “I want the kids to see their neighbors as diverse, not just the religions.” He wants the children to see these practices and people as normal, real and in their lives; rather than just concepts floating in space.

As for Culver and Stefane, they have decided to continue this outreach work. After witnessing the need for and interest in Rev. Wendlandt’s program, the two are now planning an independent interfaith potluck women’s group, during which people can share their religious beliefs. Culver also said that they might be doing another session at NCPC around Imbolc. She added, “This is a really good thing. There is a quest for this kind knowledge.”

Rev. Wendlandt said that his “religious literacy” program is really not very unique and that many small churches across the U.S. are doing the same thing. And, while it may not be well publicized, the trend is growing and this delights him. As he expressed in both the article and in conversation, “We’re in this life thing together. I hope these events can help our young people be a little more ready to make their lives and their world a bit more connected, peaceful and meaningful.”

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PENSACOLA, Fla – It was announced Tuesday that the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) had made progress in the July triple homicide dubbed the ‘Blue Moon’ murders. Donald Wayne Hartung Sr, age 58, was arrested the morning of Oct 27 for the murder of his mother Voncile ‘Bonnie’ Smith (age 76) and his two half brothers Richard Thomas Smith (age 49) and John William Smith (age 47). Hartung is being held in the Escambia County jail without bond.

pensacolaThe case, as originally reported, was labeled the ‘Blue Moon’ murders after Sheriff David Morgan linked the case to that week’s blue moon. He called the murder “ritualistic” and the scene “odd at best.” Additionally, during the Aug. 4 news conference, Morgan reported that the case was connected to Witchcraft, which set off a week-long international media frenzy.

Over the past three months, there has been no public updates on the investigation. Then, on Tuesday, ECSO announced Hartung’s arrest and, subsequently, held a press conference. According to the Sheriff Morgan, the crime scene was confusing with “significant forensic evidence.” This was corroborated by State Attorney Bill Eddins, who said that it was one of the “most complicated he’d seen in his career.” They both cited this factor as the reason for the delays in making an arrest and updating the public.

When asked more specifically about the motive, Sheriff Morgan said, “I don’t concern myself as much with motive, you know because again … from my area of this in law enforcement we don’t really care so much as to why they did it, as the fact that it did occur.”

Then, he was asked specifically about the ‘witchcraft’ motive, to which he said, “Yes, it is still in play.”  Although in this press conference, he himself did not use the term ‘witchcraft’ or any related words. Sheriff Morgan did, however, clearly note that there was evidence in the home that Hartung practiced Witchcraft, and that the suspect made statements supporting that evidence. ECSO would not release any more information, saying that the details will come out in court.

Later that same day, Sheriff Morgan gave an exclusive interview to the local ABC affiliate. In that video, Sheriff Morgan did use the word ‘witchcraft,’ saying “it is still an element of the case.” He elaborated, saying that investigators found “photos, items, physical evidence” suggesting the practice of Witchcraft. Those details along with the July 31 blue moon and the reported “self-admissions” are keeping the Witchcraft theory in play. This interview can be seen in full below.

Despite the arrest and news update, the alleged ‘Witchcraft’ connection still remains mystery to the public. As noted by Sheriff Morgan, there were two other possible theories being pursued as well. One involved R.T. Williams’ connection to the Department of Homeland Security, but that has since been dropped. The third is monetary, or “financial gains.”

Additionally, it is now being reported that the crime scene, originally called ‘ritualistic,’ was not at all staged suspiciously. According News 5, “investigators are now [saying] that the bodies were not found laid out in a ritual pattern. All three bodies were discovered in separate rooms of the house.”

Despite the changing details and downplaying of the ‘Witchcraft’ angle, the media is still working the ‘Occult’ angle, which may be partially due to the upcoming holiday. News reports are now calling the case “the Witchcraft murders.”

Regardless of motivation, it is entirely possible that the suspect did dabble in the Craft in some form. Books and online information are easily accessible to anyone. In fact, local News 5 is now reporting that the victims’ family members state that “Hartung ‘loosely’ practiced some form of witchcraft or Wiccan religion, and kept at least one Wiccan book in his office.” This may be what ECSO found.

We reached out to local Wiccan Priest Rev. Edward Livingston, who said, “[Hartung] is not part of the Pagan community to anyone’s knowledge…. I’ve never heard of him.” Livingston is the founder of the Fire Dance Church of Wicca, the only 501(c)3, Wiccan church in the area. He has lived there for 50 years and been active in the Pagan community for over 20.

Livingston described the Pensacola religious climate as very conservative. He said that it is dominated by the Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, and Pentecostal Churches. He added that there are two Jewish synagogues, a few Catholic churches, one Unity Church and one UU congregation. Due to this atmosphere, most Pagans remain “in the broom closet” and practice in small covens or alone. Livingston said, “We all know solitary practitioners that have never had any training. If it turns out to be this [is] the case maybe its once again a good reason for proper education within our community.”

1917403_177645989062_5187128_nWhen asked if there had been any backlash due to the very public ‘Witchcraft’ accusations, Livingston emphatically said “no.” As he explained, this is partly due to the solitary nature of most Pagans in the area. Additionally, he added  “[Most locals] saw this as our silly sheriff over speaking  He has a history for histrionics and over reaction.”

Livingston himself was outraged by the entire fiasco in August, both with ECSO and in the media. He also said that, to date, no one from ECSO has contacted him, or any other Pagan known to him, to assist with the case or clarify the details about Witchcraft or Wicca.

As announced Tuesday, the so-called ‘Blue Moon’ murder case has now been handed over the the State Attorney’s office, who will be seeking the death penalty due to the number of victims and the situation. Hartung is due in court for a Grand Jury hearing on Nov 18 at 8:30am.

Until the court case makes more details public, there are still questions remaining. Is there really any tangible connection to Witchcraft or Wicca? And, if so, is that Witchcraft connection truly the motivation behind the gruesome act? Or is it simply the religious practice of the suspect – an irrelevant, but very distracting, detail?

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FT. MEADE, Md. – A civilian dental technician alleges that she has suffered religious discrimination, a hostile work environment and was subsequently fired after filing a formal complaint. Deborah Schoenfeld said that her Evangelical coworkers and managers at Epes Dental Clinic called her a witch, discriminated against her religion, and called her practice of yoga and meditation ‘satanic.’

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

In a recent interview with The Wild Hunt, Schoenfeld described her faith as Hindu, but has also been studying Wicca for 2 years. She said that the harassment began in April 2015 and that both military and civilian coworkers and managers took part in the problem. Schoenfeld described this harassment as such:

  • Employees were expected to attend Evangelical religious events and were asked to pray that SCOTUS would rule against same sex marriage.

  • Predominately Christian music was played in the office during work hours.

  • Schoenfeld was told that, due to her practice of meditation, she was bringing demons into the office.

  • Her practice of yoga was called “satanic.”

  • She was called a “Hindu witch.”

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has sent a letter to US Air Force officials, notifying them that the MRFF is “immediately providing aggressive advocacy services for Ms. Schoenfeld as a MRFF client pursuant to her resolute quest to obtain a just resolution to her shocking complaints.” The MRFF also said it has filed a formal complaint with the military Equal Employment Opportunity (EO) channel.

As explained by Schoenfeld, she first reported these instances to her chain of command, but received no help. Then, on Sept 2, she filed a formal complaint regarding the harassment. Later that day she was fired for “using profanity against coworker.” Her manager declined to name the coworker or further define the situation on which they had based the firing.

Schoenfeld said that this harassment and the subsequent firing has been stressful. “I have been trying to still deal with the whole complexity of the situation as a whole. If it were not for my Pagan friends and for all the support from outsiders, I don’t think I could have kept myself going. Even my yoga teacher roots for me saying, ‘I’m glad you keep on coming to yoga, it will ground you.’ ”

She also added that the firing itself was a complete surprise. Schoenfeld explained that she had worked very hard and had been asked to perform two jobs at once. Even with the increased workload, she was praised for the quality of her performance,“I even got an award for patient safety back in March 2015. My non-abusive co-workers would give me accolades for helping them with their extra patients, so they would not have to work through lunch or stay after work. This has been my first military job, and the first time in all my career I have ever felt this type of discrimination.”

In an off-the-record interview with the Air Force Times, two of Schoenfeld’s former coworkers confirmed that the harassment against Schoenfeld took place and that they themselves were threatened with termination if they were to back her claims. Additionally noted in the article, those two same co-workers added that a deep suspicion of Hinduism was the motivation for the harassment.

According to USAF regulations, all persons in leadership positions “must ensure that their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief or absence of belief.” Violations can be charged as a felony under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

[Courtesy http://www.ftmeade.army.mil/]

[Courtesy http://www.ftmeade.army.mil/]

The Air Force District of Washington has received Weinstein’s letter and is looking into the allegations raised, said spokesman Maj. Joel Harper.

The Wild Hunt contacted Ft. Meade Public Affairs, but as of publication we have not received a response back.

After this experience, Schoenfeld said that she now has a different view of religious freedom in the US. “I believe it’s only free for certain of the religions. Polytheists are looked down upon by many faiths, although there are many of us. I do hope that one day the Christian church will realize some of us are really just happy just the way we are.”

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When reporting on witchcraft in India, journalists must invariably tell the tragic tale of accusations, persecution and extreme violence. However, there is another side to the practice of Witchcraft, more specifically Wicca, in the country. While most of the victims of witchcraft-related crimes are not actual practitioners, there are Witches and Wiccans thriving in India’s unique and rich culture.

The Wild Hunt spoke with Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, arguably India’s most well-known and public Witch. She answered questions about her own journey and about living in a society that struggles with real witchcraft violence. Aside from being a Wiccan priestess, Ipsita is an author and the founder of The Wiccan Brigade of India and The Young Bengal Brigade, based in Kolkata.

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Ipsita Roy Chakraverti [Courtesy Photo]

We first asked Ipsita how and where she discovered Witchcraft and Wicca. She said, “My journey into Wicca began many, many decades ago [in] a chalet in the Laurentians in Canada. My father Debabrata Chakraverti was in the diplomatic service, and was then posted as India’s Permanent Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organisation of the U.N.. My mother Roma came from the blue blood of India’s royal houses of Mayurbhunj and Coochbehar. We were living in Montreal … We were part of the elite and the official world. Also, very much the orthodox world.”

During that time, Ipsita met the “the enigmatic Carlotta,” a lawyer and “scholar of the esoteric and ancient traditions of the world.” Carlotta was involved in a private women’s study group of ancient religions. After a series of interviews, meetings, and discussions, Ipsita was allowed into this somewhat secret society.

Ipsita remembered, “The room in Carlotta’s house in Lachine would have the glow of lamps and velvet drapes drawn close. There, we would study and delve into ancient esoteric traditions of the world. We would research and discuss subjects as diverse as Taoism, the Jewish traditions, Egyptian magic, Celtic lore and much more. It was like stepping through a portal and into a monastery from another time, another place. It was there that I going was first introduced to the subject of [Witchcraft].”

Her parents were very supportive in Ipsita’s spiritual quest for knowledge. She studied at the chalet “hidden in the Laurentians.” For periods of time, she said, “We’d be living the monastic life. The chalet seemed to me to be set at a special power spot. It was surrounded by the elements, and by nature … I still recall vividly the room of a thousand crystals, which Carlotta had shown me. And I recall the beauty and depth of my own initiation there.”

Ipsita leading a group of Psychic Investigators [Courtesy Photo]

Ipsita leading a group of Psychic Investigators [Courtesy Photo]

When Ipsita returned to India as an adult in the 1960s, she was faced with a culture that had a very different relationship with Witchcraft. Despite the new setting, Ipsita continued her studies and her association with the women’s group. In an article published in 1977, Ipsita wrote, “Our society contains 75 female members. I have never met them all… I am in the only Indian woman in the coven. We choose to call ourselves ‘pagan priestesses’ and sometimes ‘witches.’ ”

Over the following years, she continued her practice and studies and eventually began using the word ‘Wicca.’ As time went by, her work became more public. She began writing and was often interviewed by India’s media. Through that work, Ipsita took up the crusade to empower India’s women. In a 1994, she told a Delhi Mid Day reporter, “I want to awaken the witch in every woman.”

By the 1990s, Ipsita was directly addressing India’s witchcraft-related violence problem and the reality of women being “branded ‘daayans’ or witches.” In an essay for the Hindustan Times, she wrote, “Wicca and Witchcraft are the key to liberation.” Her religious beliefs and practice were, and still are, interwoven with a dynamic feminist spirit.

Ipsita explained, “India is very patriarchal, even today. When they saw me, standing up for those they were trying to brand and destroy, and saw that I was helping these women by calling myself a ‘witch’, these lobbies erupted with fury. These were vested interests which could not tolerate me because I was saying that a woman who was an individual had her own rights.”

Because of Ipsita’s social status, these “lobbies” couldn’t touch her, which only caused more friction. She said, “In India, class and background still count.” Using her social privliege as leverage, Ipsita was able to “show up” the motives behind the witch hunts, whether caused by gender inequality, ageism, property ownership, vendettas or sexual advances. Ipsita added that she also wanted to demonstrate that “superstition is a very carefully cultivated industry” and there are many who “gain from it – money, property, ego, power.” She said, “I was unmasking them.”

While working on these varied socio-cultural problems, Ipsita was also teaching her Wiccan tradition and building her personal practice. We asked her specifically about that tradition and how Indian culture or the Hindu religion informs it. She first said, “I follow a tradition which encompasses the goddesses of all cultures, east and west. After all, the Wiccan tradition spans something which is beyond barriers of land and people.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

When asked specifically about the inclusion of the Hindu pantheon, one that is often incorporated or revered by Wiccan traditions in U.S., she said, “There is no formal bind on us regarding the Hindu pantheon. However, since we follow the goddess culture, we acknowledge the Indian goddesses Durga for strength, Kali for detachment and power and Saraswati for learning and the quest for knowledge. All these goddesses seem to have western counterparts, hence we look upon the goddess power as one, whose manifestations are many. In that was, our Wicca is more monotheistic.”

Ipsita approximates that there are around 5000 Wiccans across India, both men and women. Through her own groups, she teaches “the culture of the great goddesses of the world [and] the tools of Wicca.” She added, “Most of all, I teach them what was ingrained into me – the attitude. The way of life. Of how one deals with the ups and downs of life. It is something monastic and something beautiful. And yet one lives in the normal, everyday world, going about one’s business. One learns to make a success of that too. A strange contradiction perhaps … I believe it is in us to achieve the ‘super-mind’ as taught by great Indian mystics like Shri Aurobindo,– to be a super-breed among men and women.”

As a child back in Canada, she was introduced to Witchcraft not as a structural religious institution taught within a hierarchical organization, but more of a way and or a method. She said, “I come from a world … when the name and the word ‘Teacher’ was enough. When Wicca was taught and passed on from a handful of teachers to their students. It was partly an oral tradition, and partly through the study of old parchments and books. And a lot of it was experience – of the power in rocks and earth, or the sacred forces which can come alive, and much more. My teachers were not those who were looking to run a Pagan organizations. They wanted perhaps only that some of their knowledge should pass on to a few of the next generation. That the ancient ways should not die out with them.”

Ipsita explained that she is like that in many ways. However, facing the socio-cultural issues within India, she felt “forced” to create an organization. In 2006, she formed The Wiccan Brigade. However, Ipsita still refuses titles and only wants to be known as a teacher. She said, “We delve into the old ways and mystical learnings, old texts and writings from different cultures. It is a  path, where the teacher-student relationship is important, like the Indian “gurukul” system of old. The student learns from life and the ways of the teacher, and not just book learning. Ours is a blend of both the eastern and western systems – passing on the old knowledge.”

Over the years, Ipsita has written a number of articles, essays, and books, including Spirits I Have Known, Beloved Witch and Sacred Evil. She has appeared in several movies including a 2006 Bollywood film called Sacred Evil based on her book of the same title. In 2011, her story was featured in a telefilm called Mannequin. And, a third film, Loving Doll, is currently being produced, which is also based on her true-life stories.

Appearing with Ipsita in Mannequin is her daughter Deepta Roy Chakraverti. Like her mother, Deepta is also a Wiccan practitioner, and is publicly open about her practice. Deepta is the general secretary of the Wiccan Brigade and has studied both mathematics and law. This summer Deepta released her own book titled, Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters.

Ipsita with her daughter Deepta Roy Chakraverti

Ipsita with her daughter Deepta Roy Chakraverti

Ipsita said, “I have taught [Deepta] to learn from the world around her. As my own teacher had once told me, ‘life is the greatest school,’ so I have taught her. She studies the texts and subjects which are part of our Wiccan curriculum. She has an enquiring mind which enjoys delving into the why’s and wherefore’s of things, and to not take things at face value. I have taught her to align herself with the forces and elements around us, for they have much to teach. She lives with an attitude which is that of strength and independence.”

Ipsita’s journey is not yet over. Over the years, she has garnered support from the “highest echelons” of Indian society and politics in her “fight against the misuse of the term witch.” She said, “The goal is not yet reached because our women still suffer at the hands of a male dominated society and are tortured. My goal will be reached when I can show the perpetrators of crimes in the name of ‘witchcraft’ that every strong woman is a witch …”

Despite those struggles, Ipsita remains hopeful looking back on all of what she has already achieved. She said, “Today, I have the Wiccan Brigade which receives so many applications every day from men and women, of all ages, who want to be a part of the movement … But perhaps my greatest satisfaction all said and done comes from seeing how my detractors have fallen by the wayside. Today, I write books which become best sellers. Today, what I say counts.” Her voice is being heard.