Archives For Wiccan Privilege

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the calendar year, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our collective thoughts and guided our actions? In our worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? What were the high points and low?


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The year 2014 kicked off with several debates already simmering. Early in January, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart’s quest to capitalize Pagan, which had begun in the fall of 2013, came to an end as the coalition mailed its petition to various style guide editors.  Although the immediate response was less than encouraging, The Associated Press did eventually revise its style guide to include Wicca. Whether the coalition’s work influenced that change is unknown. However, its letter may have triggered some level of awareness leading to that addition.

Another conversation brewing in those early months culminated in a packed PantheaCon session hosted in the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite. The debate over “Wiccan Privilege,” which began with a single article in the November 2013, inspired or incited a four-month blog-based debate. If nothing else, those conversations showcased the diversity and breadth of religious practices that, not only fall under the Pagan umbrella, but also run alongside it and near it; and often intersect with it.

Over the remainder of the year, many of these non-Wiccan based traditions and practices continued to demonstrate growth and forward momentum. For example, in September, was successfully launched and, more recently, Many Gods West, a new Polytheist conference, was announced. In August, the U.S. Air Force added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list.

Open Halls Project
As winter thawed into the brightness of spring, our collective communities were rocked with the news of Kenny Klein’s arrest. It served as almost a “wake-up” call, unearthing buried concerns, personal pain and collective traumas. Eventually the difficult conversations led to action. In May, the Council of the Phoenix was born, created by Green Egg Magazine editor Ariel Monserrat. In August, the Covenant of the Goddess established its own internal abuse advisory committee led by professional social workers and a psychotherapist. More recently, Lydia Crabtree established Pagan Pro, a project that proposes to qualify leaders. While time eventually gave way to other concerns, Klein’s arrest and the ensuing conversations brought to light serious problems that lurk in the shadows of many communities – not just Pagan or religious ones.

By late spring and early summer, attention had turned to the national and international news arena. In May, SCOTUS ruled on legislative prayer, “upholding the right of legislators to offer sectarian prayer before conducting business.” In June, SCOTUS ruled on the Hobby Lobby case, concluding that “some for-profit employers with religious objections do not need to provide contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).”

During that same period, Middle East violence began to heat up, drawing our attention to a world in crisis. ISIS, ISIL and now the IS became a household name, as the militant organization continued its assault on Middle Eastern territories and peoples. In addition, the Israeli and the Palestinian conflict escalated into a new round of military action. Israeli Pagans, reporting from within the war-torn region, called out for compassion and peace.

Inside an Israeli Pagan store, The White Wood Shop. [Courtesy Photo]

Inside an Israeli Pagan store, The White Wood Shop. [Courtesy Photo]

Throughout 2014, we covered other big stories originating from or affecting international Pagan communities, like the one in Israel. For example, the U.K.’s Centre for Pagan Studies, together with the Doreen Valiente Foundation, commemorated Gerald Gardner with a Blue Heritage Plaque. In South Africa, we spoke with SAPRA’s Damon Leff about the continued use of Witchcraft as a political weapon.  And, in Italy, the new Unione Comunità Neopagane was born.

As the wheel turned and summer came to an end, Pagan Pride Day and other harvest events were in full swing worldwide. For many people, it was “festival-as-usual,” but not for the Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary. Samhain 2014 marked the organization’s 40th anniversary, which it celebrated with month-long podcasts culminating in a single big birthday celebration.

At the same time, a uniquely modern problem emerged. First publicized by Sister Roma and other members of the drag queen community, Facebook’s “real name” policy became a thorn in many Pagans’ sides. Some of those affected included Silver Ravenwolf, Storm Faerywolf and Raven Grimassi.

Ironically, as many Witches struggled with Facebook over use of their Craft names, many of these chosen names were being featured in the mainstream news media. October is the month to interview a witch.

Outside of the festivities, celebrations and Halloween hullabaloo, this Samhain had a particularly pronounced sobering affect. We marked the passing of many Pagan loved ones, elders and leaders. As listed in our Wild Hunt Samhain post, those lost in 2014 included Margot Adler, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenhart, Jeff Rosenbaum, Lady Loreon Vigne, Sparky T. Rabbit, Apolinario Chile Pixtun, Peter Paddon, Brian Dragon, Donald Michael Kraig, Judy Harrow, Stanley Modrzyk, Colin Wilson, Jonas Trinkūnas, Eduardo Manuel Gutierrez (Hyperion), Randy David Jeffers (Randy Sapp), Chris Keith and Olivia Robertson. Since that Samhain article was published, Pete Pathfinder Davis and Niklas Gander have also passed, along with many others who are not named here.

Mother Tongue Singing at  Margot Adler's Memorial Oct. 31 [Courtesy Photo]

Mother Tongue Singing at Margot Adler’s Memorial Oct. 31 [Courtesy Photo]

In addition to the loss, the fall brought good news for two very public religious freedom cases. The Huntsville Alabama’s City Council invited Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk back to offer a pre-meeting invocation despite the citizen complaints. And, perhaps even more uplifting, the Maetreum of Cybele won its expensive and lengthly legal battle for property tax exemption.

These were not the year’s only triumphs. In Aug., Wiccan Janie Felix won her legal challange to Bloomingfield, New Mexico’s erection of a Ten Commandments monument. In Virginia, Priestess Maya White Sparks led the successful quest to remove antiquated anti-Tarot codes from the Town of Front Royal’s books. We also saw two Georgia college students defy the odds and form a campus-based “Old Faith Community” in their highly conservative school environment. And, finally, the New Alexandrian Library earned a certificate of occupancy and began the slow process of unpacking.

To add to that positive momentum, 2014 saw four openly Pagan or Heathen political candidates, including Cara Schulz in Minnesota, Kathryn Jones of Pennsylvania, Robert Rudachyk, in Canada’s Saskatoon West, and Ireland’s Deirdre Wadding, who won a seat on her local council.

As the final days of 2014 approached, holiday celebrations were once again tempered by national events. Just before Thanksgiving, our attention was drawn to a new place – Ferguson, Missouri. Since that day, the United States has not been the same. Frustration, pain, confusion and feelings of helplessness mingle with daily protests and pure rage. Over the past month, many people have donated time and money; spoken words of solidarity in many forms; have grieved; and have looked for ways to be part of a solution. This is story yet to be fully written.

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York at #ClimateMarch

Above are only a fraction of the many stories, reports and events that have touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. If we could sum the year up in one phrase or term, it might simply be #2014. The hashtag has become an increasingly useful rallying point, external to its Twitter origins, for many of the events and actions that have occurred throughout the year, from #PantheaCon, #PACO and #PaganPride to #MyNameIs, #ClimateMarch, and #blacklivesmatter.

As the final days of 2014 tick to a close, we say goodbye to what has been, and now ready ourselves for what is to come. #Bringon2015

This year at PantheaCon, the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite hosted a Sunday afternoon discussion called “Engaging ‘Wiccanate’ Privilege.” This meeting was a follow-up to an on-going debate centering mostly on “the way in which aspects of Wiccan … theology [are] assumed to be normative for Paganism as a whole.” Moderated by Jeffrey “Shade Fane” Albaugh, program manager for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, the PantheaCon meeting attracted a diverse, standing-room only crowd lasting a full two hours.

Don Frew

Don Frew

It all began three months earlier when The Interfaith Observer (TIO) published Don Frew’s article “The Rudiments of Neo Pagan Spiritual Practice.” A link to the article was posted here at The Wild Hunt after which an intense debate ensued. Non-Wiccan practitioners took serious issue with the article’s language and assumptions. The conversation then spilled over into other blog environments including Patheos’ Pointedly Pagan, Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous and Of Thespiae.

Recognizing that “a number of people were feeling left out of the conversation,” Don asked the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite to host a talk. He said,“On the Internet we argue with an argument; not a person. It is important to keep the human element involved … We needed to meet.” Don wanted as many voices at the meeting as possible. “I invited P. Sufenas Virius Lupus because I knew e comes to PantheaCon.”*

Lupus accepted the invitation saying:

I accepted Don’s invitation to the talk because, in my opinion, we had a very productive discussion in the comments section of my blog post on some of the initial objections I raised to his article… I hoped that some basic understandings would emerge from this discussion, on what makes more strict, literal, devotional (or, though I don’t like the term, “hard”) polytheists different from Wiccans, Wiccanate Pagans, and more general eclectic Pagans would emerge.

After working out logistics, moderator Jeffrey Albaugh handed the floor to Don and Lupus. Don explained that the TIO article was only a portion of a longer response piece and that he had no input in its editing or titling. Next Lupus spoke thanking Don and other interfaith representatives for their ongoing work. Then Lupus went on to say, “Everyone has privilege because we are here. It is not a bad thing to be privileged. [But] there is a hierarchy of privilege in our community.”

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

After these introductory words, Albaugh started the conversation by asking Lupus to define Polytheist. Lupus said simply, “Many Gods.” Several attendees then defined the term in relation to their own practice. Many present consider themselves polytheists in some form. In response, Lupus said, “Nobody owns the word.”

After this terminology discussion, the conversation moved on to concerns over the use of prayer in mixed-faith environments. Several speakers referenced T. Thorn Coyle’s prayer during Saturday’s Pagans and Privilege Panel. According to reports, Thorn’s prayer had alienated some panel attendees. In a post-PantheaCon blog post, Thorn herself considers this very issue. Her words mirror much of what was said in the Wiccan Privilege discussion. She wrote “I almost said, ‘I would like to start us with a prayer from my tradition … and invite you all to meditate or pray to whomever you feel called.’ Almost.” She counts this as both a failure and an opportunity to “try again.”

Don stressed the importance of saying “from my tradition” in mixed-faith situations. These words clarify both expectations and the relationship between speaker and audience. As Don suggested, ecumenical prayers are nice but they teach us nothing about each other’s beliefs. Lupus then asked the group, “If I did a panel would you be offended by my prayer?” The response was a unanimous “no.”

Present at the meeting were both Margot Adler and Starhawk who offered an historical perspective. Margot noted that in the 1970s “Wicca” was all that was available to most people including herself. Many attendees agreed. Starhawk added “Wicca has come to mean something different. [Being] Wiccan has a different connotation now.” Times have changed affecting language, availability of education and visibility of practice.

Rayna Templebee

Rayna Templebee

The conversation went on to acknowledge the relational power structures within the greater Pagan and Heathen communities. Several people stressed the importance in examining the oppressions that affect us and in staying aware of the points of privilege from which we speak. Who is given automatic authority by virtue of the established, dominant power structure – by virtue of age, position, accomplishments or religious tradition? Rayna Tempebee noted that people communicate from a position informed by who they are. Mistakes are often made unintentionally. But is still important for each of us to “be as clear and precise as possible” in our communication.

Don and Lupus remained attentive and quiet for most of the talk as Jeffrey Albaugh negotiated a complex discussion in a crowded room of participants. Eventually the conversation did return to Don who brought up the idea of “inside and outside voices.” The language used to define and explain “Paganism” within greater society is very different from the language used to define ourselves to ourselves. One remains broad while the other can be and should be much more detailed and specific.

Jeff Albaugh

Jeff Albaugh

Then several people shared their own feelings of alienation due to unique religious practices. At least three attendees said they identify as both Jewish and Witch or Pagan. Taylor Ellwood noted that his pop culture magical practice often raises eyebrows. Another woman emotionally expressed her feelings of isolation caused by her spiritual affiliation to Guadalupe, the Virgin Mother. She then said, “The paradigm is shifting.” We are no longer a “melting pot. We are a salad bowl.” We must learn to “tolerate diversity.”

As the session came to a close, Don said “we are headed for a big wake-up call. Paganism(s) will look very different.” He was referring to the growing number of indigenous groups who are finding their voice in the global interfaith conversation. Wicca and “Wiccante” practices will not be the dominant Pagan faith tradition forever. Russia’s PFI coordinator Gwiddon Harvester corroborated this point when noting that Russia’s dominant Pagan/Heathen practice is Slavic Reconstructionalism; not Wicca.

At this point Minos Lugh of the Minoan Brotherhood and a Kemetic Priest called upon the community to “show up” for conversations such as this one. He also emphatically said, “Do not put down another Pagan.” This sentiment received an applause.  Earlier in the discussion, Starhawk also emphasized this point when lamenting “how little time [we have] to discuss the Earth” and those larger issues affecting all of us. She said in that bigger context “we should have each others’ backs where it really counts.”

Lord Lugh

Lord Lugh

The entire session was not without controversy and frustration. There was a give-and-take that at times became quite heated. Overall the meeting seemed to be a solid beginning where important issues were placed on a table for open examination.

In the final moments of the meeting, Lupus challenged the attendees to attend one of eir PantheaCon events. The yearly convention provides an excellent opportunity to learn about other faith traditions and practices. The very next morning Don attended Lupus’ Beard Blessing and has since made future plans to continue that education. In retrospect, Lupus says:

I have never been in a situation with so many Pagans of various stripes telling me exactly what I believe, or what my group stands for, or who is included and excluded in my group, than on that occasion.  In every case, all of them were wrong, misinformed, and have not availed themselves of the resources out there on my tradition … [However] I think it was an encouraging event, and one that demonstrates to me that some people are trying to make an effort and want to come to a better understanding of these matters.  I also think it illustrated how far we have to go, and how good intentions can’t accomplish much of this work…

Looking back Don says “I hope everyone came away with a better understanding of each other and each other’s position.” He adds that people were able to express “how they felt” but the meeting did little in the way of education on faith traditions and practices.That would have to come later.

This article only highlights the key points raised at the Wiccan Privilege meeting. It only grazes the surface. Many people spoke from many perspectives. The conversation will undoubtedly continue in live-format and over the blogosphere. Several attendees have already published posts on the subject including Lupus and John Halstead. Look for more in the days and months to come.


*Note on Pronouns: Lupus prefers to use Old Spivak pronouns. For more details, see here.