Archives For Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. — Hundreds of people flocked to the capital of Wisconsin yesterday, braving sub-zero windchill temperatures to express their displeasure with a bill that would put Native American burial mounds — and any natural burial, they say — at risk of desecration. The protesters, estimated to be in the hundreds, included members of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Circle Sanctuary. In the end, they received welcome news when Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters that the bill won’t be coming to a vote this session.

Procession around the state capital [Selena Fox]

Procession around the state capital [Photo Credit: S. Fox]

The protesters were flanked by an honor guard of Native American military veterans. They listened to speakers in the frigid temperatures for an hour before processing around. Then they entered the capital rotunda where their words could be more easily heard by state legislators.

Robert Birmingham, a former Wisconsin state archaeologist and expert on the mounds which dot the Wisconsin landscape, explained how changes to the law could imperil the structures, which are formed in the shape of people and animals. “The current law presumes that the mounds are burial mounds based on a great deal of scholarship,” he said. From the mounds that were excavated “long ago,” Birmingham said that 90% yielded human remains. “The law does not prohibit disturbance” under certain circumstances such as building a highway, but “there is a process.”

That process apparently doesn’t sit well with the executives of Wingra Stone, whose sand and gravel mining operations are impeded by the presence of one such mound. Their efforts to obtain permission to dig through it have been stymied in court. That is why the company has backed legislation that would require the Wisconsin Historical Society to issue permits so that property owners could, at their own expense, dig into a mound to determine if there are actually human remains inside.

According to reporting by WRN:

The bill (AB-620), from state Representative Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) would allow property owners to challenge whether human remains are actually buried in a given mound. Brooks and the bill’s Senate author, Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), have cited property owners’ rights to use their land as they see fit, and overly restrictive oversight of mounds by the Wisconsin Historical Society, as motivation for the legislation.

“In my professional opinion,” Birmingham said, the idea that the mounds might not contain remains “is not a reasonable argument. It would be like arguing that there aren’t any graves in a cemetery.” Some 80% of the mounds, which were constructed by people believed to be ancestors of the Ho-Chunk Nation, have been plowed under or bulldozed to make way for modern land uses.

Protesters inside the rotunda [Selena Fox]

Protesters inside the rotunda [Photo Credit: S. Fox]

Rev. Selena Fox was among the representatives from Circle Sanctuary participating in the protest. “Most public attention is on the fact that this directly threatened native burial mounds and other sacred sites, but it also impacts other natural burials, such as old pioneer burials before embalming and steel caskets. Basically it’s saying you must desecrate a grave to see if remains are there.” Circle Sanctuary maintains a Pagan cemetery which promotes natural burials, and could theoretically be susceptible to the same challenges under the bill.

Before Assembly Speaker Vos announced his intentions concerning the bill, some protesters saw a bald eagle flying high overhead, and took it as a fortuitous sign.  Fox recounted how they moved into the rotunda, drumming and chanting, “Save our mounds.” She noted that the speaker released his statement either during that portion of the protest, or immediately thereafter. “I’m not taking credit for it in the least,” she said. “The statement is being hailed with great appreciation.”

“I think it requires an awful lot more study, an awful lot more conversation,” Vos told reporters.

Fox and others are warning that the fight over this bill is not yet done. The fact that it made it so far into the legislative process without being noticed was troubling to her, and she expects that it will be raised again in a future legislative session. At least as long as Governor Scott Walker is in office, she expects that the idea will continue to be floated in one form or another. She spoke extensively about the issue in her Jan. 12 podcast, which was recorded shortly after she returned from the rally.

MT. HOREB, Wis. — The Mt. Horeb Primary Center, a public elementary school, had scheduled a reading of the children’s book, I am Jazz, in an effort to foster compassion and understanding for transgender students. On Nov 19, they sent a letter home to parents informing them of this special school assembly. In less than 24 hours, complaints began to surface. In fact, the very next day, Mt. Horeb School Board President Mary Seidl received a letter from the Liberty Counsel regarding, the “Inappropriate discussion of gender confusion and sexuality with primary school students.” As news quickly spread, Mt. Horeb Primary Center decided to cancel the book reading.

Author Alex Bledsoe lives in Mt. Horeb and his son attends the school. He heard about the reading and controversy first through other parents. He explained, “Originally only one floor of the school, the students who’d have direct contact with the transgender girl, were notified.”

Mt. Horeb Primary Center has a transgender child, whose name has been purposefully kept out of the news, in one of its 3rd-floor first grade classes. As noted in the parent letter, the school had been working with this child and her parents to provide a safe learning environment within the school. The letter reads:

We believe all students deserve respect and support regardless of their gender identity and expression, and the best way to foster that respect and support is through educating students about the issue of being transgender.

After hearing about the book, Bledsoe purchased a copy and read it to his own children. Written by young transactivist Jazz Jennings and co-author Jessica Herthel, I am Jazz shares the real-life experiences of transgender child. Bledsoe said, “

I discussed it with my son, and we read the book, which is entirely age-appropriate. He’s seven; he’s fine with it. If a child wants to dress a certain way and use a different name, it doesn’t bother him at all. From what I’ve observed, none of the children had any issues; only the adults.”

Author Alex Bledsoe reading "I am Jazz" to his daughter [Courtesy Photo]

Author Alex Bledsoe reading “I am Jazz” to his daughter [Courtesy Photo]

This isn’t the first time that the book has created controversy. For example, in April, it elicited parental protests at a Maine elementary school, after guidance counselors read it allowed without first informing parents. After a wave of backlash, Mitchell Primary School in Kittery apologized for not notifying parents of the reading first, in order to give them a chance to opt out. However, the school stood by its decision to read the book, saying, “The Kittery School District embraces diversity and is committed to creating an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for all people…”

As in that example, some parents in the Mt. Horeb districts did not agree with the school’s decision to read I am Jazz. However, Mt. Horeb did give advanced notice, which caused a near-immediate response. As reported by The Capital Times, “concerned parents” contacted the Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based group that describes itself as a “Christian Ministry” and “international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989.” The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the group as an “extremist” group and “anti-LGBT.”

Already engaged in litigation regarding transgender bathroom usage in a Virginia public school system, the Liberty Counsel quickly emailed an official letter to the Mt. Horeb School Board. It reads in part:

The decision [to read the book] ignores the District’s obligation to support the vast majority of students who are not gender-confused, and creates the potential of gender confusion and resulting harms in these other students, who are currently happily living as normal, well-adjusted First, Second, and Third Graders.

The Counsel also states that the school has “violate[d] parental constitutional rights to direct the upbringing of their children,” and requested a cancellation of the reading with the threat of a federal lawsuit.

Under pressure and with the Thanksgiving holiday only days away, the school backed down and cancelled the assembly. In a statement to local radio station WORT, Mount Horeb Area School District Director of Student Services Theresa Daane said that “the school is providing additional time for parents to review the material.” In a later statement, Daane said, “Please know that our continuing goal is to protect all students from any bullying, harassing or intimidating behavior at school so that all of our students may learn together in a safe and caring environment.”

When author Jazz Jennings learned of the cancellation, she simply stated on Facebook, “Meanies”

Then, all went mostly quiet during the four day holiday break, but the controversy picked back up as children returned to class the following Monday. It was over that long weekend that Bledsoe finally heard the entire story, which also began to attract national attention. He said, “First, I went to the school principal and expressed my disappointment with the decision. She was sympathetic, but of course couldn’t really say or do anything until the school board made a decision. Then I contacted a member of the board and discussed it with her.


[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

In response, the Mt. Horeb High School Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) group produced and uploaded a support video and staged a public reading of the book. Before school on Wed, Dec 2, SAGA students and 200 community members gathered at the school’s flagpole to hear a reading of the book. Bledsoe said, “To get that many people outside on a Wisconsin winter morning is something.

In addition, Bledsoe and several fellow community members organized an evening reading at the local Mt. Horeb library on the same day. Bledsoe said, “I contacted Jessica Herthel, co-author of I am Jazz and helped arrange for her appearance. We also had Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, send a representative.” The event attracted far more than the 80 chairs allowed. Local news sources reported anywhere from 500 to 700 people showed up for the reading. After the event, Herthel herself stated on Facebook that she was thankful for being asked to participate, adding “I [am] astounded by the magnitude of support for both the book itself, and for the 1st grade transkid at the heart of it all. Your actions are not going unnoticed by the world!”

Bledsoe was pleased with the turnout, but not surprised by the support. He described the Mt. Horeb community as “accepting” and “very open.” Bledsoe said, “We have a number of churches, primarily Lutheran. This is anecdotal, but I know that some of the most vocal opponents either homeschool their children, or have no children currently in the school system […] these people are definitely in the minority, which is something I think we showed rather clearly.”

He added, “I think the vast turnout for the library event really put the exclamation point to Mt. Horeb’s willingness to accept this little girl.” There were no reported protests or backlash directed at either event.

[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

Then, this past Monday, the Mt. Horeb School Board addressed the issue, which resulted in the Board “unanimously passing an Equal Education Opportunity policy that supports measures to protect the rights of transgender children. As published in a post-meeting eblast, the district policy clearly states:

It is the policy of the Mount Horeb Area School District to provide equal educational opportunity for all students, regardless of sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, color, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation, transgender status (including gender expression, gender identity and gender nonconformity), or physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability.

This new policy clarifies that a transgender student should be allowed to participate in sports and in-school physical education programs that are “consistent with the gender identity.” They should also be permitted to use the restrooms “consistent with the gender identity.”

A number of people spoke out during the meeting, including several opponents who predominantly identified with the Liberty Counsel position. However, as Bledsoe already noted, these people are in the minority. To demonstrate his point, he added, “The last parent who spoke at the school board meeting, in fact, stressed that Christianity was not monolithic, and that she as a Christian wanted to welcome and accept this student.”

Board president Mary Seidl told The Wild Hunt that a video of the meeting and the minutes will be available online in the coming weeks.

I am Jazz and other children’s books teaching or addressing difference do regularly run into entanglements within school systems. This includes books regarding minority religions, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and more. Each school administration handles the policies toward the reading and availability of these books differently. As we have reported in the past, these type of books are key components to building and supporting a healthy diversity in communities as well as teaching tolerance and change.

Bledsoe, as an author himself and a parent agreed, saying, “History had shown that banning books never works. I guarantee that more children have now read I am Jazz than ever would have, had the school not been threatened. The world is changing, and people who were once forced by societal norms to deny their true natures are now able to be open about who they truly are. I want my kids to be aware of that, and accepting of it.  And I’m really glad my community feels the same way.”

Just over 10 years ago work started on a new Egyptian temple dedicated to the Goddess Hathor. The design for the temple was revealed by the Goddess herself to Tim, a solitary Kemetic Wiccan living in rural Wisconsin. Over the years, Tim worked almost daily to recreate the temple that he saw during his trance.

Now nearing completion, the temple consists of an eleven foot entry gate and two circles of cement pillars 11 feet high and weighing two tons each. The temple is a testament to Tim’s dedication and shows what one devoted polytheist can accomplish when he’s sincere in honoring his Gods.

Tim describes himself as a Kemetic polytheist who was initiated into an eclectic Wiccan Goddess path back in 1979. The Wild Hunt talked to him about why he built this temple and how it has affected his worship.

View of the entire temple. [Courtesy photo]

View of the entire temple. [Courtesy photo]

The Wild Hunt: Many people dream of building a Pagan temple, how did your dream start?

Tim: By 2006 I had been a practicing Wiccan for 27 years following an eclectic Goddess path and was wondering if maybe the circle casting for Wicca could be a subconscious residual type memory carried through from previous lives relating to the stone circle rituals of a forgotten distant past. I wondered what would happen if someone built a modern structure to practice ritual in. I also wanted to move away from the eclectic path of many Goddesses and go into a path of total devotion to one Goddess only. With these two issues at the forefront of my ritual practice every time I did ritual, I decided to act on them both.

For Spring Equinox of 2006 I did my usual circle casting and put myself into a trance and asked Goddess to reveal a specific form for me to put my devotional efforts towards. She whispered the name HauetHer to me and simultaneously I was shown many images of Goddess Hathor and Her temples from old Egypt. OK, I now have a Deity to direct my efforts towards, even though I had pretty much never heard of Her before. So then the next time I did a circle and ritual, which was Beltane of 2006, I asked Goddess Hathor for Her help in designing a temple as I had tried for almost 10 years and just could not get any ideas. Again, in a ritual trance, I put my question to Goddess Hathor and Her reply to me and I quote Her on this, “if you are to build a temple for me, this is how you shall do it”, and in a split second I had a sort of video clip put into my memory of the structure I have built.

Still in trance, I wondered how am I going to build this. She replied that I need not be concerned, She will show me all I need to know. The next question I had was what am I going to use to build this and Her instant reply was “liquid stone” and images of concrete were put into my mind. And that is how it all got started.

TWH: This is a major undertaking. How long have you been working on the temple and how have you funded it?

Tim:  I have been working on the temple for 9 years now, with the first 7 working on it almost daily. The temple itself has cost about 5 thousand dollars total in materials. It is built on a 40 acre parcel of land I bought in 1989 which is also where I built my house. I have financed the whole project through my paychecks from my employment as a Tool and Die maker for manufacturing.

Images of Hathor can be seen from any point in the temple [courtesy photo]

Images of Hathor can be seen from any point in the temple [courtesy photo]


TWH: The pictures are amazing. Can you describe the temple layout and the significance of why it laid out in that manner?

Tim: The layout of the temple is 2 concentric rings of columns with a semicircle entry/transition path. When I was building the structure, I had no idea why it was built this way. I put my complete trust in my designer, Mother God Hathor and as construction progressed, She would reveal to me the exact purpose behind each group of components.

The inner circle of columns is 33 feet across and consists of 4 pedestal quarter markers with a pair of obelisks equally spaced between the quarters. The obelisks make this a strictly solar temple. For some reason still unknown to me, the obelisk shape works only with solar energy .This is also the main working circle, creating a ring of energy, a permanent version of a cast circle. Alignment of the temple is to magnetic north.

The main circle entry is also on the north end, as we enter as earthly beings, earth being a north aspect in my practice. The center point of the central table is the point of origin for all measurements used to build the temple. In the west, there will be a Naos shrine with sacred image of Hathor in it. For now, I have a temporary image of Her at that spot.

The outer circle of pillars, the T shaped ones, are the outer boundary of the temple. These are an array designed to collect and amplify the natural energies flowing through the Earth and create a large and permanent bubble or sphere of living interactive energy flow. This circle is 47 feet across and consists of 26 triangular shaped pillars with capstones placed on top of each one. The capstones somehow change the vibrational frequency of the whole temple. Before the capstones were put on the outer pillars, the site had a low hum type of feel to it. After I put on the first 6 capstones I noticed the hum started to change to a ring. After all 26 pillars had capstones installed, the site had a constant ringing feel to it, sort of like the effect you get with a Tibetan bell. Not an audible ring, just a sensory type of feel to the site. The outer pillars are equally spaced based on a 27 position circle, however one was removed to allow the entry ring to be built.

The entry ring, the stargate looking structure, is a molded concrete ring 9 feet across on the inside and 11 feet across on the outside. It is of critical importance for safe passage in and out of the temple circles. The entry ring leads out to the transition pathway, a pathway lined with 9 pairs of equally spaced pillars, another critical component and a safety feature. Pairs of pillars create a mild energy field between them and you get energetically groomed passing through this area. When doing temple ritual, one enters and maintains very heightened states of being and the transition path reintegrates you into the regular world.

At the end of the semicircular transitional pathway are the massive entry pillars. These pillars are 10 feet tall and over 2 tons each. They are spaced closely so you can stand between them with hands on both to completely ground yourself whether entering or leaving the temple. All structures in the temple have integrally molded foundation posts extending into the ground between 4 and almost 6 feet. This withstands frost heave in the winter and gives a solid connection to the flow of earth energies. And that is the basic operating principles of this temple.

The entry arch spans 11 feet and the flanking pillars are 12 feet high. [courtesy photo]

The entry arch spans 11 feet and the flanking pillars are 12 feet high. [courtesy photo]

TWH: I know the Goddess Hathor asked you to build the temple, but what purpose does it serve? How will it be used?

Tim:  The purposes of this temple so far are for worship and personal spiritual development. It also is developing into a metaphysical research device. For now, it is private worship only as I have very few facilities for any larger uses. Future plans call for building a small pavilion shelter and getting a porta toilet put in place to accommodate small groups. The religious holidays I celebrate are the 8 quarter and cross quarter days and also an additional 20 ancient Egyptian days to honor Mother God Hathor.

When I started out on this project, I had some ideas on how I was going to utilize a permanent temple. In very short order, I found out that what I thought I knew and what actually happens with a functioning temple are very different realities. Because of the permanent energy field the temple generates, circle casting is not needed. I was made aware of that very clearly when I went to cast a circle to use after the inner circle of columns was completed. I started to cast my circle and had a rather firm thought come to me that it is not necessary to do circle casting anymore. I continued anyway and as I almost was done with my circle, I got a command, “you don’t need to do that anymore”. So I haven’t cast a circle since. Have not needed to either.

The space between the inner and outer circles of pillars I use as a processional path to do temple purifications and cleansings. There are 33 images of Hathor of 4 different types in the temple so wherever you are in the temple Her image is visible. Symbolizes Her presence everywhere in creation. The entire structure is an interactive device that seems to stimulate the intuitive areas of the brain and heighten this type of sensory awareness. I have used it daily since I started on it in 2006 and have noticed a dramatic increase in creative abilities, intuition and chakra activity.

Another very important side effect is the instant credibility I get from the mundane world when it comes to discussions of the religious practices I follow. So that is the story behind my adventure into the world of contemporary temple building.

Construction is now

Construction is now focused on detail work such as painting the pillars and images. Tim works under a portable shade canopy. [courtesy photo]

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For now, the temple is for private use only, and Tim is still working to finish painting the pillars, images of Hathor, and the capstones. If the temple space becomes available for groups to use or visit, The Wild Hunt will update readers.

Priestess Deborah Maynard [photo from facebook profile]

Priestess Deborah Maynard [Courtesy Photo]

Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard successfully delivered an invocation before the Iowa State Legislature on Thursday, April 9. With reportedly two-thirds of the representatives present, Maynard stood before the government body and asked for the blessings of “God, Goddess, Universe, that which is greater than ourselves.” To benefit the day’s legislative work, her invocation called to each element, asking for support with things such as balance, compassion, reason, and strength. Then, she called to spirit and ended with “Blessed Be, A-Ho and Amen.”

Her invocation was met with backlash from some visitors and lawmakers. Several conservative Christian organizations called for silent protests and prayers during her invocation. Visitor Rieke Plecus, for example, told a local news reporter that he was attending to “pray for her salvation.” Others reportedly prayed to protect the legislative body from the Wiccan prayer. A number of lawmakers, such as Rep. Rob Taylor, turned their backs in silent protest, while others simply did not show up.

Despite the backlash, Maynard remained upbeat. She told The Wild Hunt, “There were some individuals in the audience that closed themselves off to hearing the words on my invocation. For the majority of those present that were open to at least listen, I think my words showed the positive message I had for the legislative branch. I hope more states learn to honor the diverse faiths of their constituencies as Iowa has begun to do.”

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Circle Sanctuary logo

In similar news, the video of Rev. Selena Fox’s 2009 invocation before the Wisconsin legislature has been recovered. Circle Sanctuary has purchased rights to show the video and has made it publicly available. Fox’s approach was different than Maynard’s. She called for a day of effective collaborative work through recognizing a connection to Wisconsin’s land, history and diversity. She used inclusive language, allowing all people present to connect with their own “religious, spiritual or philosophical” beliefs in the name of that work. The video can be seen here. (Note: a Silverlight add-in must be installed to see this video. It will instruct you on how to do this.)

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margot-adlerThe Firefly House has proposed a worldwide celebration of a new Margot Adler Day on April 16. As described, it is a day to “celebrate the birthday of legendary priestess, journalist, and activist Margot Adler.” She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on April 16, 1946. After a long battle with cancer, Adler died in July 2014.

On the first birthday after her death, Firefly members are calling for this annual day of remembrance. They have set up a Facebook event page, on which people are already sharing their memories of Adler or how her work touched their lives. Organizers offer suggestions on various ways to celebrate and honor Adler’s life. They say, “contribute writing to your favorite publication; preserve your community’s history by interviewing or archiving stories from your tradition; donate to your favorite Pagan or secular media outlets; learn about the growth of the Pagan movement and what you can do to get involved.”

In Other News

  • The Church of All Worlds (CAW) and the Morning Glory Zell Memorial Foundation have launched a new campaign to raise money for the purchase of a large property in northern California. As organizers explain, “Morning Glory’s & Oberon’s lifelong Dream was for a permanent sustainable Eco-Village where people would honor our Mother Earth through community gardens, green technology, seasonal celebrations, and passing on their skills and traditions to future generations. A place where residents could live, Elders could retire, students could study, and visitors could enjoy.” CAW has identified an ideal property, once used as a children’s camp, and is now turning to the greater community for financial support to make this dream a reality.
  • In a related story, Four Quarters Farm, located in Artemas, Pennyslvania, announced that it has just recently purchased another 110 acres of land adjacent to its current property. The Farm now owns 250 acres that are all dedicated to its mission: “to provide safe harbor for the practice of both indigenous and modern Earth Religions, and to help preserve their spiritual roots into the future.” The new property was purchased with the help of member loans and donations. Organizers added that “43 acres of this new land will be used in the coming years as altar sites and additional space for members camps.”
  • For those who watch the Fox Network show “Backstrom,” you may have caught Circle Magazine at the beginning of the April 9 episode called “Love is a Rose and You Better Not Pick it.” The magazine appears in full close-up during the credits within the first 10 minutes of the show. Its appearance had nothing to do with the episode itself, and was a complete surprise to Circle Magazine staff.
  • Erin Lale has written a short two-part history entitled “Early Net Experiences.” In these blog posts, she discusses her introduction to the early MSN Asatru group, and how she became its moderator. She then goes on the discuss how that work lead to the writing of her book Asatru for Beginners. She added, “Since I first wrote it, Asatru has experienced some generational change, and some change sparked by the changing technology of the internet. I’m working on a new edition to reflect these generational changes, which I hope to publish in 2017.”
  • Singer-Songwriter Celia Farran is currently traveling in Ireland, where she stopped to visit the broken Manannan statue at sculptor John Stutton’s studio. While there, she performed her “Song for Manannan.” In addition, Farran was invited to speak on BBC Radio Foyle. She played a portion of the same song and spoke with Mark Patterson about her work. The interview begins at about 1:38:40.

That’s all for now! Have a nice day.

The first time I ever drove cross-country, my only real objective was to get it over with as quickly as possible. I was moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, and I wasn’t looking forward to the long hours and days behind the wheel. I mapped out the quickest route that I could find, and took off in a precariously packed minivan full of my worldly possessions with the goal of reaching Oregon in five days.

It turns out that the route that I thought would be the easiest was also the route that those who blazed trails long before me found to be the most practical as well. By the time I hit Nebraska, I quickly realized that I was following the general route of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Following the railroad, with the train in my constant line of sight, it occurred to me that there was an entire history there that I knew very little about, a history that was crucial to the successful settlement of America. Prior to that moment, I had understood the importance of the railroad in theory, but there was something about literally keeping pace, face-to-face with that history that emphasized its significance in a way I had never considered before.

It wasn’t long after I diverted from that route north into Wyoming that I discovered that I was traveling the same route as the Oregon Trail. Similar to the railroad, I was again faced with an essential piece of American history that I knew little about. The farther west I went following the Oregon Trail, the more the rest stops started to double as historical markers. By the time I approached the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon, learning about the horrors of westward migration become synonymous with stretching my legs. A layer below the initial digesting of that history, the colonial perspective of that telling also gnawed at me, as I knew that there was a whole other story within the saga of westward expansion that had not been inscribed on state-owned plaques at rest stops.

The Oregon Trail. [Public Domain]

The Oregon Trail. [Public Domain]

There was also something in the land itself that was commanding my attention– something unexplainable, a pull entrenched in the power of the wounds and stories and spirits of America. In connecting briefly to the history of the land, as one-sided as it was being reflected, I was quickly realizing my overall disconnect to these places as a whole. They themselves seemed to reflect that disconnect to me quite clearly, and the closer I got to my destination, the more I felt the urge to backtrack and explore.

By the time I made it to Portland, I felt like a stranger in my own country, but a determined stranger who wished to understand and befriend the unknown. That small taste of America had suddenly stirred up an enormous yearning, and my new surroundings in Oregon quickly started to relate and reflect the same themes and realizations that I had stumbled upon during the trip. Immersing myself in history wasn’t enough. I needed to meet the land, to understand these places from the bottoms of my feet. I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to find, but I knew that I needed to search for it, and that need only grew stronger as time went on.

A few years later, time and money finally conspired in a way that was too precise to ignore, and I threw an old mattress into the back of my van and hit the road. I left with the intention of connecting with place and with history, of trying to understand my own complex relationship to the America I felt that I didn’t really understand. I wanted to learn from the places that made me feel as a stranger. I wanted know this land by its nooks and crannies.

I decided that my path would be dictated by both fate and curiosity, by signs and invitations alike. I was guided by paragraphs and articles in books and magazines, by roadside markers, by suggestions from friends and strangers and gas station attendants all the same.

From the time I first started out, those same people often asked me where I was going and why, and I quickly found that, while I understood my intent and motives, I didn’t necessarily have the language to express that to others. It was part pilgrimage, part adventure, part surrender, part obligation, part reconciliation, part sequel, and yet none of those things sufficed on their own as an explanation. After a few days of trying to explain it a variety of ways and seemingly failing every time, I simply told folks that I was “searching for America”, which seemed to be an acceptable answer no matter where I went.

Astoria, OR

The mouth of the Columbia River has been known among sailors for well over two centuries as the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific.’ One does not have to be schooled in sailing to sense its treachery; simply standing at the edge of the mouth on a windy day puts one quickly in touch with the intensity, the enormity and mortality that emanate from this crucial intersection of river, sea, wind, and sky.

It is a notable place of both power and history, both as a port in itself and as part of the story of American expansion as a whole. The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1804 bunked down at this spot, and a few years later a party funded by fur magnate John Jacob Astor founded Fort Astoria, the first permanent American settlement on the West Coast. Reminders of that history and the wealth that accompanied it are reflected in the mostly well-preserved Victorian architecture dotted throughout the town. The town reflects both history and modernity, feeling neither gentrified nor stuck in time.

Mouth of the Columbia River as seen from Astoria, circa 1912. [Public Domain]

Mouth of the Columbia River as seen from Astoria, circa 1912. [Public Domain]

As I stood at the mouth, watching the bar pilots guide a cargo ship through the treacherous channel, I thought back to something I had read about Concomly, the Chinook chief who served as the original bar pilot for the Columbia in the early 1800s. Aside from the obvious technological advances, what I was currently witnessing on the river was essentially an unchanged ritual that had been performed regularly in this same spot for over 200 years now.

Thinking of Concomly, the question that approached me seemed to come from outside, from the mouth itself. What did Concomly call this river? This graveyard, this mouth of ghosts – what was her name?

I was only a few days into my trip, but it was already apparent to me that actively decolonizing my surroundings whenever possible on this journey was both a challenge and an obligation on my part, an obligation to the land and the ancestors as well as to myself. I knew from prior research that there was no single indigenous name that the Columbia was known by, and most of the names that had been recorded were badly translated and phoneticized. Nonetheless I wished at that moment that I had one of those names at the tip of my tongue. I wanted to greet the river properly without also invoking the name of a colonizer, but I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have the ability to do so at that moment.

But while that specific name may not have been known or available to me at that moment, I also knew that the indigenous place-names of numerous lakes, rivers, and mountains throughout the country were well-known and were easily accessible information. From that point onward in my travels, I took it upon myself to revert to the indigenous names of the places I visited whenever possible, and to make notes and research specific places and place-names when the information wasn’t readily available.

Fargo, ND

“We’ve been staying here for well over two months now. My hope is to get back to New Mexico by the time school starts.”

She paused for a second, looking over at her two daughters across the table, who were distracted by a set of crayons and the activities on the diner placemat.

“But we need to stay for long as there’s decent work. School will do them no good if we can’t afford to eat.”

I had met Marcela and her daughters the night before, at a rest stop right outside of Fargo. Their family had been sleeping in the van next to mine, and it had been immediately obvious to me that they had been living at the rest stop for quite a while. I saw the father leave on foot before dawn and, instead of taking off immediately, I felt pulled to take Marcela and her kids out to breakfast.

I learned over breakfast that her husband was a migrant worker who was currently working in the local sunflower fields. She also worked in the fields on days when she could find someone to watch her girls, but she hadn’t been able to find anyone for at least a few weeks. They had been living out of the van for nearly two years at that point, with brief periods spent on and off with relatives near Santa Fe.

The sunflowers were the focus of my attention the day before, stretching for miles as I was driving down I-94 towards Fargo. When I first saw the sunflowers, I had spotted a few people out in the fields as well, and I had been thinking about the relative invisibility of migrant labor in this country on the drive into Fargo. So it seemed fitting that Marcela was the first person I found myself interacting with when I stopped.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. Photo by Hephaestos.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. [Photo Credit: Hephaestos.]

I knew that there were an untold number of families just like Marcela’s, skirting on the edges of existence and survival, but there was something in listening to Marcela’s story that brought that struggle home for me. Hers was a story that so many know abstractly and yet so few actually hear. I was grateful for the opportunity to share this space and time with this family, as heartbreaking as it was.

After breakfast I took them back to their van, said goodbye, and headed back out. A few miles down the road, I stopped at a roadside stand to buy a bunch of sunflowers. I looked out towards the farm and saw small dots out in the fields that I knew to be humans, and I couldn’t help but to wonder if one of the men out in the field was Marcela’s husband.

Sparta, WI

The first time I drove past the sign I though I must had read it wrong. I did a literal double-take as I passed it, somewhat convinced that I had just seen a sign for an astronaut and bicycle museum and concerned that my eyes were playing tricks on me.

A half-mile later right before the exit, I saw the sign again, and it was no mistake. “Astronaut Deke Slayton and Bicycle Museum”, the sign said. I laughed out loud and turned off towards the exit.

Neil Gaiman has suggested that America’s roadside attractions are America’s most sacred sites, and I was finding more and more by the day that there was a deep truth to that sentiment. I had passed up on several other similarly quirky roadside attractions prior to that morning, but I had no immediate destination. It seemed the perfect day for such a detour. I wasn’t sure what bicycles and astronauts had in common and how or why this was being presented to the public, but I was curious to find out.

It turned out that what the two had in common was the town of Sparta itself. Sparta, Wisconsin was the birthplace of Deke Slayton, one of America’s first and most famous astronauts. Sparta is also known as the “Bicycling Capital of America,” and the museum was a rather impressive (and surprisingly cohesive) expression of those two aspects of transportation. I spent the afternoon unexpectedly immersed in the histories of both bicycles and space, appreciative of both the actuality of what was in front of me as well as the process that led me to this point. While the phrase “only in America” is so often reduced to meaningless cliché, it was the defining thought on my mind as I walked back from the museum to my van.

In finding that museum, not so much the exhibits themselves but the very existence of the museum itself, I found a piece of the unexplainable that I had been itching to immerse myself in.

Lincoln, NE

I pulled up at the gas station, parked in front, and went inside the convenience store to grab a bottle of water. The front door was partially propped-open, and taped to the door was a huge sign. “No hoodies. No exceptions.”

I was wearing a hooded jacket. I pushed open the door the rest of the way to enter, and I immediately started to take off my hoodie as the bell on the door sounded my entrance. The woman behind the counter spotted me and waved me off. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said with a smile. “I’m not worried about you.”

I stood for a moment in discomfort, wondering who she was ‘worried about.’ I then walked to the back of the store to grab a beverage and as my back was to the door the bell went off again. I looked over behind me, and a young Hispanic man was walking into the store. The woman looked up at him sternly and immediately pointed to the sign on the door. “Please remove your hoodie”, she said to him firmly.

I looked at her in horror, gave him a sympathetic look, and quickly made my exit without purchasing anything.

Back in the van, I tried to shake off my anger. I had been on the privileged end of racial profiling before, but there was something about the bluntness of that experience that caught me off-guard. I zoned out on the highway, driving what was quite possibly the straightest stretch of road that I’ve ever driven, to the point where my elbows started to ache for lack of movement. My heart ached along with my elbows, albeit for a different reason.

Pike County, KY

The roads are quite narrow through Appalachia, and navigating them requires a very specific attention to detail that I wasn’t used to in my travels. I spent so much time hyper-aware of my position on the road that I nearly missed a key aspect of my surroundings. Winding through the heart of Hatfield-McCoy country, I was quite taken by the stark contrast between the various rock formations and the lush green beauty.

It wasn’t until I pulled over to stretch my legs that took a wide-range inventory of the terrain that I noticed that I was at the base of a mountaintop mining operation, surrounded by what used to be mountains. While I had been aware on some level that mining companies actually remove the tops of mountains, it had only affected me as an abstraction until that moment.

This is ‘progress’, I thought to myself. We remove the tops of mountains.

Mountaintop removal in Pike County, Kentucky. Photo by ilovemountains.

Mountaintop removal in Pike County, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: ilovemountains.]

I walked up a gravel path into the woods at the base of the mountain, and I was quickly overcome by how angry the woods felt. It was as if a mist of despair and sadness and rage had enveloped this place around me. I felt angry back; I also felt absolutely heartbroken and disgusted. The actual brutality in how this practice affects not just the land itself but the people and the creatures who live here was all I could focus on as I stood there observing the the beauty around me, a beauty which emanated so strongly despite the sadness of the woods.

Later that afternoon, I stopped off for lunch. When I parked the van, a woman was getting into the car next to mine. She had a bumper sticker that read “I Love Mountains”.

“Are there any mountains left?” I asked her, nodding towards the sticker.

“Not for long at the pace they’re going,” she replied, the sadness evident in her voice.

Medora, ND

The distance from the parking lot to the comfort station was less than fifty feet, but by the time I got to the entrance of the building, I had seen at least three separate signs warning me not to try to touch the bison. Inside the restroom, there was another prominent sign, and by the time I made it out of the building and up to the main patch of land overlooking Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the number of bison warning signs I had seen had approached the point of repetitive absurdity.

Who in their right mind would try to touch a bison in the first place? I shook my head in amusement as I climbed up and looked out upon miles of badlands, the untouched wilderness peppered with picturesque herds of bison.

Then I noticed people out on the bluffs, trying to touch the bison.

And I realized that a dozen signs are no more effective than one or none or a hundred when it comes to overcoming the mentality of entitlement that so many feel in terms of our wild places and the creatures that inhabit them. I was furious, watching the display of utter ignorance and disrespect in front of me, not to mention the danger. Suddenly I had no desire to stay and explore this place.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt national Park. Photo by Matt Reinbold.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt national Park. Photo by Matt Reinbold.

Walking back, I remembered a talk I had seen by a Native woman who spoke of the prevalence and pervasiveness of ‘settler mentality,’ especially in the American West. I glanced around at the parking lot, at cars bearing the license plates of at least a dozen states and thought back to the bison and what I had just witnessed. That entitlement, that defiant exercise of blatant disrespect, right there was a painful example of the pervasive behavior that she had spoken of.

Rock Springs, WY

I’ll admit that there wasn’t much that caught my eye as I drove into Rock Springs, but I also wasn’t there for the scenery. I was there to pay my respects to the victims of the 1885 Rock Springs Massacre, where at least 28 Chinese immigrants were murdered and mutilated among an ugly backdrop of racism and greed. While the West is dotted with countless massacre sites, the Rock Springs Massacre had always stuck out in my mind as especially significant both in its barbarism and its political implications, and Rock Springs was one of the destinations that I had in mind from the very beginning of the trip.

My mistake was in assuming that there was a memorial.

I asked first at a gas station, and then I asked a few residents who had no idea what I was talking about at all. Eventually I came across the local history museum, where the man at the front desk embarrassingly assured me that there was no such memorial, although he “personally felt that there should be”.

I came here looking for something that did not exist, and the fact that it did not exist was extremely unsettling. Outside the museum, I watched the people walking to and from, realizing that they were mostly clueless about the horrifying carnage that once took place on these very streets.

I thought again of history and of colonization, and of the oft-repeated adage that history is written by the victors. I suppose that going to work each day is much easier when you’re completely unaware that there was once a massacre in the middle of your downtown. I suppose that to publicly recognize such a history would be more than a little inconvenient and uncomfortable, to say the very least.

The wind suddenly blew rather harshly as I stood there, and I could feel something extra in that wind. It was as though the land and the spirits themselves were screaming for recognition, screaming for justice.


I spent nearly six weeks on the road, visiting at least twenty states and traveling over 10,000 miles. When I finally got back, it took nearly as long to recover. I spent the next several months processing what I had taken in over the course of the trip. To this day, I find myself often drifting back to some of the people and places that I had come across along the way.

While I can’t say definitively that I found all the answers to my questions or discovered all I was looking for, it was an eye-opening and life-changing experience that greatly influenced my understandings and attitudes about this country, for better or for worse. Looking back, part of what I was searching for was a unifying energy, a linking thread of sorts that I never did find, but in not finding it I also came to see why it was not there in the first place.

More than anything, I came into and remained in touch with the anger and trauma of this land itself, one that is continuous throughout with so many of her wounds unacknowledged. That trauma, and the strong undercurrent of denial that feeds and sustains it, quietly expresses pain and consequences in ways that no history book could ever truly convey.

*   *   *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth. 

In September of 2011 Wisconsin-based Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch was accused of participating in, and masterminding, a bizarre hostage scheme with the alleged goal of winning a transfer for her and an inmate.

Jamyi Witch

Jamyi Witch

“The charges stem from a police investigation of an Aug. 10 incident in which Witch, a chaplain at the prison, claimed to have been taken hostage by an inmate. […]  The inmate told Witch about being jumped by three men while he was in his cell on Aug. 7 and said he needed to get out of Oshkosh. She told him she wanted to leave Oshkosh too because of threats from other staff and she had a plan to get them both out of the facility. Witch told the inmate the plan, which involved him coming into her office, blocking the door and acting like Witch was his mother. She also discussed giving him pills to make him sleepy and allow the guards to enter her office. The inmate said he left his cell on Aug. 10 without signing out and went to Witch’s office. He blocked the door with a board from a bookshelf and Witch’s wheelchair before requesting Witch have sex with him. She complied.”

Considering the dramatic nature of the charges, the story soon spread to sensationalist outlets like Gawker and The Daily Mail, however, the lurid case against Witch started falling apart almost from the start. For instance, there was the little matter of the prison cell being under observation the entire time.

“Department of Corrections spokesman Tim Le Monds says it happened about 8:30 a.m. He says prison staff members were able to persuade the inmate to open the door and come out after an hour. He says staff members could see into the room the whole time and could have gotten into it in seconds if necessary.”

Chaplain Jamyi Witch

Chaplain Jamyi Witch

Indeed, as the case progressed, it seemed clear that there wasn’t really a case. As WTAQ noted in their story from last night, “officials learned that she was on a medical leave when the alleged victim claimed that she proposed a false hostage situation during which time the chaplain was accused of molesting and drugging the man. Also, prosecutors said Witch had a prescription for the drug allegedly used – and she could use it as needed.” 

So it doesn’t seem too surprising to learn that all charges were finally dropped against Witch this past Monday, after which she posted a public statement to Facebook.

“The District Attorney Dismissed the Case against me. It is over. People keep asking, how do you feel? I do not have an answer yet. Relieved, angry, frustrated, puzzled, outraged…. I expect many more emotions to creep in. […] When the Hostage situation was over it was clear the D.O.C. was unwilling to accept is responsibility over their many shortcomings that could have prevented my Rape. The abhorrent and despicable part came when they turned the tables and blamed me for their deficits. […] People must and will be held accountable. You cannot smear/ruin/torture someone Just because of her faith. I have no doubt that Gov. Scott Walker was involved in this.”

Gov. Scott Walker? Why would he be involved? Well, you see, he’s been opposed to Witch’s hiring from the very beginning.

“In December 2001, Scott Walker, then a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and chair of the Assembly Committee on Corrections and Courts, learned that theWisconsin Department of Corrections had recently hired Rev. Jamyi Witch as a prison chaplain at the Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin. Witch, who had volunteered for two years as a chaplain and had an extensive knowledge of alternative religions, had competed against 9 other candidates for the civil service position and was hired as the most qualified candidate for the $32,500 per year job. The chaplain was a practicing Wiccan and had, in fact, changed her last name to Witch in honor of her chosen religion.“

The story made the national press at the time, was dubbed the “Wisconsin Witch Hunt,” and brought a lot of publicity to the ambitious then-Assemblyman Walker. Considering Walker’s recent history of what seems like vindictive behavior, it isn’t too far-fetched for Rev. Witch to believe she was also being punished for her temerity more than a decade earlier. That said, it’s quite possible Walker wasn’t involved at all considering the many people who seemed to be personally offended by Witch’s 2001 hiring. Barring the discovery of new evidence, the “why” of this latest situation will have to simply remain the delusions and schemes of a desperate prison inmate, a seemingly skewed DOC investigation, and sadly, a media more interested in salacious details than seeing justice done.

“This is great news.  Here’s another case of the system rushing to judgment when a Wiccan is involved.  A negative finding would have not only been terrible for Jamyi, but would also have been devastating for Pagan chaplaincy.  It’s great that the DA decided to drop the charges.”  – Rev. Patrick McCollum

In any event, this dismissal of charges not only clears Witch’s good name, but has also removed a possible mark against the larger cause of Pagan prison chaplaincy in general. In her statement, Witch made clear that she sees her personal struggle as a microcosm for the larger struggles of the Pagan community. Saying that, quote, “the fight for my life is over, the fight for every Pagan persons rights is just beginning.” 

Yesterday a neo-Nazi by the name of Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and opened fire, killing six, and wounding at least three others, before being shot and killed by police at the scene. The shocking incident brought up past trauma for the American Sikh community, which has faced over 700 reported bias attacks since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. To the ignorant, Sikhs, with their beards and turbans, fit the stereotype of “Arab-ness” in the post-9/11 era and found themselves literally caught in the crossfire as American extremists decided to “retaliate” against Islam. The World Sikh Council – America Region, released a statement yesterday urging everyone to pray for the victims and their families, and thanking the first responders. The organization called this “a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but also for all Americans,” and promised to launch an investigation into understanding how this terrible incident happened.

Sikh Temple of Wisconsin

“In the coming days, along with Sikh advocacy organizations, we will be working with public officials, and law enforcement authorities, to understand the events of today and to help the community in whatever way we can. The Council will also be providing support mediums for our interreligious partners and the public as we sort out this situation. This shooting comes on the heels of another tragedy, as our country continues to recover from the senseless shootings in Aurora, Colorado.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, expressed “that this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful,” calling the shooting “dastardly.” Also weighing in was Jathedar Singh Sahib Giani Gurbachan Singh, the current religious head of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib, the supreme religious authority of the Sikhs, who opined that “this is a security lapse on the part of the U.S. government,” and called on American Sikhs to enact stricter security measures at their temples.

Meanwhile, American Dharmic and Pagan organizations have been issuing statements of prayer, condolence, and support in this time of tragedy. The Hindu American Foundation issued a statement saying they “join all Americans in shared shock, disbelief, and outrage” at the killings.

“Dharma traditions–the Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Hindus–hold non-violence and peaceful co-existence as paramount values. It is a cruel irony that Sikhs, donning the turban as among proud symbols of a spiritual mandate to serve humanity as defenders of dharma against all onslaughts, find themselves sought out and victimized by ignorant assailants on too many occasions. We call on all Americans today to join Sikhs in mourning a senseless attack and to take this opportunity to not only learn about the sublime teachings of Sikh gurus, the Sikh faith, and the meanings of its external symbols, but also join hands to ensure that the gurudwaras remain sanctuaries of joyous worship and celebrated sharing of langar, or community meals, for generations to come.”

Another prominent American Hindu, Universal Society of Hinduism president Rajan Zed, pointed out that that “Sikhs had made lot of contributions to America and the world. Various faith and inter-faith groups nationwide should join hands to express support to the Sikh community and to spread the message of peace, love and harmony at grassroots level.” He is calling on all Hindus to say prayers for the victims and their families.

Within the Pagan community, learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary issued a statement calling for reflection and silence within their community to mark this tragic and senseless eruption of violence.

“As Pagans, we are particularly sensitive to the violation of sacred space and disregard for human life which occurred.  Furthermore, we cherish the pursuit of ongoing education as an antidote to the violence bred in ignorance and misunderstanding.  We call on each member of our seminary community as well as our supporters and friends to set aside a moment of contemplative silence today in memory of those who lost their lives, and in support of all who are suffering because of this tragedy.  In addition, we recommend that you seek ways to express support for Sikhs in your own community.”

Phyllis Curott a noted Pagan who serves as a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, said she was “deeply saddened by the terrible shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.”

“There is so much hatred and fear in this country, in this world – and so much work for us to do to heal and transform it. Today, prayers and offerings of peace to my Sikh brothers and sisters, especially those whom I know and work with at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and to all in their community who suffer and grieve. Please join me in these offerings.”

Other Pagans who have made public statements include author of Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Christopher Penczak, who sent “magick and love and prayers to the victims and mourners of the Sikh Temple attack,” noting that  “at one time I almost joined a Sikh group,” and T. Thorn Coyle, who posted: “May Guru Har Krishan dispel your sorrow. We stand by your side.”  Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, which is also based in Wisconsin, offered “healing, protection, peace, condolences, [and] other support to all those impacted by the shootings today at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.” 

As fellow Patheos contributor Star Foster said earlier this morning, I want us to be better than this. That such hate and fear runs rampant can wound the very soul with its meaninglessness. I also want to echo Teo Bishop,  who hopes that “our collective response to the temple shooting tragedy be one of compassion.” At this moment of crisis and tragedy, we should stand together, firm in the notion that religious minorities in this country are, in the words of our President, “a part of our broader American family.” The Dharmic and Pagan family of faiths have deep and interweaving ties, and this moment should be a catalyst for greater outreach, interaction, and mutual support. Today we stand in unity with the Sikh community, you have our prayers, and our support.

ADDENDUM: Thorn Coyle adds: “Solar Cross Temple gave $100 to help the Sikhs of Milwaukee with medical bills incurred by the temple shooting. The officer wounded will also get some assistance. Can you help?” 

The campaign has already raised over 46 thousand dollars, and are now trying to hit a new goal of 75 thousand.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Teo Bishop’s Sacred Electric Grove: Pagan blogger Teo Bishop of Bishop In The Grove fame has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money so he can record an EP of original songs entitled “Sacred Electric Grove”. According to Bishop, this is a chance to “offer up another voice of mine; a voice used in ritual to invoke, to inspire, to conjure up emotion and passion.”

“This is the voice I used before I had language, or before I was fascinated by religion. This is the voice that preceded my Pagan identity (or any identity for that matter), and this is the voice which has come to inform so much of who I am. This is the voice of my soul, and I share it with you when the Moon is most full.”

Bishop is hoping to raise $10,000 dollars in one month, and says that “this is not a time to throw our money away, clearly, but it can still be a time to invest in something that stirs our heart.” For those interested in donating, Bishop has arranged a number of nice “perks” for those who donate, even if only a dollar. I certainly hope that Teo succeeds in his goal, not just for his sake, but as a model for other Pagan musicians to use, creating a community of support for our bards and artists. Teo Bishop is one of our rising leaders and thinkers, someone who I’m proud to call a friend. This addition to his writing at Patheos, and newly-launched contributions to HuffPo’s Religion section, should be one that enriches us all.

Starhawk on the Wisconsin Recall Elections: At her Dirt Worship blog, activist and author Starhawk weighs in on the Wisconsin recall elections being held today, and the upcoming elections cycle, stressing the need to remove the “toxic thought-blanket the political fabricators are laying over us.” The author of 2012’s “The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature” calls on Pagans to send energy towards Wisconsin to counteract the “massive amounts of money” being spent to influence the results.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“Today, June 5, I and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary invite our allies to focus on Wisconsin, using the Goddess atop the State Capitol as a beacon to rouse the forces of truth and justice. For today is vote on the recall of Scott Walker, the union-busting governor who was the focus of protests and a sit-in in the Capitol in January of 2011, at the same time as the Arab Spring. Republicans are spending millions to defend him. Democrats—not so much. But this election isn’t just about Democrats and Republicans, it’s a test of whether or not massive amounts of money can determine who gets into office or who stays. Generally the answer to that is ‘yes’—whoever spends the most wins the race. Money is one form of energy, and most of us don’t have a lot of it. But we have other forms of energy—let’s see what we can do!”

In addition to Starhawk, Selena Fox of the Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary sent out a blessing that “the voting process be fair & honest” and “may there be progressive change for the better.” She has also sent out a picture of herself with her “I Voted” sticker.

Sharon Knight of Pandemonaeon at Faerieworlds: Yesterday the Faerieworlds festival in Eugene, Oregon announced that they had added Pagan musician Sharon Knight to their main-stage lineup. Knight is a member of the gothic-tribal fusion band Pandemonaeon, and has recording two albums of seasonal chants with T. Thorn Coyle, in addition to her solo career as a Celtic-influenced singer-songwriter. This is the first time Knight has played the main stage of this event.

Sharon Knight

Sharon Knight

“Just when you thought our stellar line up was complete, we are happy to announce that Sharon Knight of the gothic tribal rock band Pandemonaeon will be performing on the Faerieworlds main stage. Based in San Francisco, Sharon’s musical foundations are solidly based in her Celtic heritage from which she has evolved her uniquely rich and powerful personal style. The music of Sharon Knight combines a love of antiquity and romance with an affinity for the haunting and melancholy, adds a hearty dash of feistiness, reminding us that we can all see the world through the eyes of enchantment.”

Knight joins an amazing lineup this year, including the Persian tribal-fusion band Niyaz, long-time Pagan favorite SJ Tucker, shamanic throat-singing from Soriah with Ashkelon Sain, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Donovan. So if you’re in the Pacific Northwest this July, don’t miss out on what should be a legendary year for this faerie festival! [In the interests of full disclosure, I work for the company that produces Faerieworlds, though I do not decide who’s booked on their main stage, so I’m just as pleased as anyone to see Sharon Knight joining the lineup.]

In Other Community News:

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

Back in September, newswires and blogs reported on the case of Jamyi J. Witch, a Wiccan chaplain at Oshkosh Correctional Institution who is accused of sexually assaulting an inmate, illegally transporting drugs, and hatching a fake hostage scheme to procure a transfer for her and an inmate. The twist? Jamyi Witch is Wisconsin’s first Pagan prison chaplain.

Jamyi Witch

“In December 2001, Scott Walker, then a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and chair of the Assembly Committee on Corrections and Courts, learned that theWisconsin Department of Corrections had recently hired Rev. Jamyi Witch as a prison chaplain at the Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin. Witch, who had volunteered for two years as a chaplain and had an extensive knowledge of alternative religions, had competed against 9 other candidates for the civil service position and was hired as the most qualified candidate for the $32,500 per year job. The chaplain was a practicing Wiccan and had, in fact, changed her last name to Witch in honor of her chosen religion.

Since that initial report, which was sensationalized by outlets like Gawker and the Daily Mail, the case has slowly progressed.  A judge declared in late September that the trial could move forward, and the inmate involved in the incident gave his initial testimony.

“This is all her plan,” explained the inmate. “Only thing I know is that I knew Ms. Witch eight to ten years. Throughout that time, I gained a lot of respect and a lot of trust for her, so when she told me, you know what I’m saying, that I was not going to get into any trouble and that this would not be a hostage situation, you know what I mean? I took her word for it and that’s why I went up there.”

Then, this past Friday, Ms. Witch officially entered a plea of not guilty. In addition, supporters of the chaplain are now starting to speak up. Lady of the Lake Church, of which Witch is a clergyperson, issued a statement defending their colleague.

“Jamyi Witch was held hostage by a inmate “John Washington” in her office and she was raped by this inmate. She gave the inmate some of her prescription pills to make him sleepy and weak allowing the officers to enter her office and give her aid. […] The inmate later sent his mother a letter, knowing full well that after his actions his mail would be monitored, telling his mother that Jamyi Witch helped him come up with the plan to take her hostage. NOTE: This inmate 20 years earlier, was arrested and charged with rape and sentenced to prison which he is now serving. (Same crime)  Two weeks earlier he attempted the same attack on another female staff member at the correctional facility. (Not in the story.) The facility read the inmates mail and charged Jamyi Witch with the crime of suppling drugs to the inmate, raping the inmate and suppling the inmate with illegal materials. Jamyi Witch has been in the correction system as a wiccan chaplin for 11 years and never had any violations. The police who interviewed her told her and her boyfriend that they worked for god and thought she was lying. We need to stand with her and help tell her story and raise funds for her legal defense which is now racking up. We need to call our congressman and state officials and protest the treatment of a rape victim (Jamyi) .”

In addition, someone who claims to have attended the preliminary hearing posted the following:

“Ok, here’s the TRUTH of the whole matter: At the preliminary hearing, the inmate admitted after finding out he could recieve another 25 years in prison for rape, lied about the chaplain’s involvement in the whole situation. Jaymi Witch is a very accomplished woman, speaks 9 languages, and has counselled hundreds of victims of child abuse, etc. Amazing how quick everyone is to take the word of a convicted criminal over an innocent victim of a violent crime. Scott Walker got her out of Waupun and now he’ll get her out of Oshkosh.”

Are police and prison officials working against Witch as her church alleges? Are these charges being trumped up due to anti-Pagan hostility? Prominent Pagan prison chaplains like Patrick McCollum have shared stories of hostility, threats, and obstruction of their efforts, allegations backed up by prominent Pagan figures like Starhawk.

“But our visit to CCWF did not go well.  Again, they had ‘lost’ our paperwork—this time, five separate copies of our event package which Sister Mary Ann had personally delivered to five separate officials.  The warden was not on site on a Saturday—nor were other personnel who could have okayed the event.  The Watch Commander, who could have authorized it, said “No way.”  We were allowed in as visitors—which meant a much more exhaustive process of listing every single thing we were wearing or carrying.  Tiki’s underwire bra would not go through the metal detector, and she had to go out, change into a bathing suit, and put up with snide comments about her breasts.  But, we got in, though Patrick was quietly fuming while being ever so polite to everyone.”

In 2008, McCollum gave testimony to the US Commission on Civil Rights that Pagan prisoners faced “endemic” discrimination from prison officials. Considering the battles Jamyi J. Witch faced simply to work at the job she was hired for, it isn’t inconceivable that officials are now obstructing the course of justice now. If these charges are indeed bogus, we can only hope that Witch’s lawyer can navigate her trial successfully and bring the truth to light. Further, if Witch is cleared of the charges against her, what will that mean for the staff at Oshkosh Correctional Institution? Won’t that implicate them in helping to orchestrate this anti-Pagan incident?

The newswires have just lit up with the story of Jamyi J. Witch, a Wiccan chaplain at Oshkosh Correctional Institution, who is accused of sexually assaulting an inmate, illegally transporting drugs, and hatching a fake hostage scheme to procure a transfer for her and an inmate.

Jamyi Witch

“The charges stem from a police investigation of an Aug. 10 incident in which Witch, a chaplain at the prison, claimed to have been taken hostage by an inmate. […]  The inmate told Witch about being jumped by three men while he was in his cell on Aug. 7 and said he needed to get out of Oshkosh. She told him she wanted to leave Oshkosh too because of threats from other staff and she had a plan to get them both out of the facility. Witch told the inmate the plan, which involved him coming into her office, blocking the door and acting like Witch was his mother. She also discussed giving him pills to make him sleepy and allow the guards to enter her office. The inmate said he left his cell on Aug. 10 without signing out and went to Witch’s office. He blocked the door with a board from a bookshelf and Witch’s wheelchair before requesting Witch have sex with him. She complied.”

The story has already been picked up by Gawker and the Daily Mail, who are having a field day. This is in addition to local coverage of the incident. This is not Witch’s first time in the spotlight, she was involved in the “Wisconsin Witch Hunt” scandal of 2001-2002, when now-governor Scott Walker tried very hard to get the chaplain fired from her position.

“Walker objected publicly on the basis of her religion to the chaplain’s hiring, saying: “Witch’s hiring raises both personal and political concerns. Not only does she practice a different religion than most of the inmates — she practices a religion that actually offends people of many other faiths, including Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Walker threatened to launch a government investigation of the chaplain’s hiring, and was joined by Representative Michael Huebsch of West Salem, in his efforts to terminate the woman’s employment. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to accept this hocus-pocus,” Huebsch stated. Huebsch proposed to delete the state appropriation which funded Witch’s position, even though in the past he had repeatedly advocated increasing state funding for prison chaplains. Walker and Huebsch continued their pursuit of the case over the 2001-2002 Christmas holidays. After several weeks of unwanted publicity, the chaplain began to receive death threats and reported that on one day alone she had received 432 emails and 76 phone messages at her home.”

It should be noted that Jamyi Witch was well-qualified for the position, having a masters degree in theology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The question now is if the inmate’s testimony is accurate, and if it is, why Witch, who served for nearly a decade in this position, would suddenly act is such drastic fashion. One that could potentially set back the cause of Pagan and Wiccan chaplaincy in prisons. We will be following up on this story, and will be sharing reactions from Pagan leaders and chaplains soon.

ADDENDUM: A.C. Fisher Aldag has found an interesting news report from the August incident.

“Department of Corrections spokesman Tim Le Monds says it happened about 8:30 a.m. He says prison staff members were able to persuade the inmate to open the door and come out after an hour. He says staff members could see into the room the whole time and could have gotten into it in seconds if necessary.

If that’s true, doesn’t that instantly invalidate many of the charges being made here? Especially the charge of them having sexual intercourse? Wouldn’t that be an event that would make staff member access the room “in seconds”? I think there’s a lot we aren’t being told in regards to this story.