Archives For Wisconsin

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.

 

Selena Fox, founder and co-executive director of Circle Sanctuary, an international Nature Spirituality resource center based in southwestern Wisconsin, will be appearing in an upcoming documentary about the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway entitled “Rhythm of the River.”

“Explore the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, a unique slice of our state that flourishes under a public/private land management plan.”

Fox appears in a segment dedicated to spiritual dimensions of the river, and part of a public ceremony facilitated by Fox and members of Circle Sanctuary will be featured.

“Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary was among those appearing in the interfaith part of the film that explored some of the spiritual dimensions of the river. Toward the end of the film, Selena also spoke about the need to celebrate and preserve the river as part of a public celebration of the river in August 2009. This event included an environmental ceremony facilitated by Selena that celebrated the river and those connected with it. Members of the Circle Sanctuary Community also took part in the celebration and ritual.”

You can glimpse just a snippet of the ceremony at the end of the preview clip. For those with access to Wisconsin Public Television, the documentary airs Thursday, September 8th, with rebroadcasts throughout the month of September. For those who don’t live in Wisconsin, the film is available on DVD from producer/director Dave Erickson. For more information about the project, call 608-583-3366.

Congratulations to Selena Fox and Circle Sanctuary!

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

Pagan Japan Relief Project Reaches Finish Line: The initiative started by Peter Dybing for the Pagan community to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has almost reached its conclusion! As of this writing, there is less than 1,400 dollars left to raise, and the hope is that this goal will be reached by the end of the weekend.

“When disaster strikes, it means that the Earth is finding Her own balance. But it is our job to feel compassion, lend aid, and support our fellow creatures that they may survive this terrible time and regain wholeness. And while we do this, let us also remember that it is this life that matters – the next will take care of itself. So as we come to the aid of our fellow beings on Mother Earth, let us live as though each day is our last, and let every day be a blessing.” – Rev. Kirk Thomas ADF Archdruid

Today, there is a joint Patheos and Pagan Newswire Collective (via PNC-Minnesota) article up interviewing various Pagan leaders about the initiative, and why the success of this project is so important. If you haven’t donated yet, and wish to show that serious fundraising for worthy causes can happen among our interconnected communities, please head to the Pagan Japan Relief project FirstGiving page. I’m hoping that before Monday I’ll be able to post about our collective success in meeting our fundraising goal!

Paganicon Opens Today: The first ever Paganicon conference near Minneapolis, Minnesota starts today, and PNC-Minnesota has interviewed Elysia Gallo from Llewellyn Worldwide, one of the sponsors of the event, and Guest of Honor John Michael Greer.

“There are two ways you can take a talk about Paganism and the future. One is what is going to be the future of Paganism, the other is how is Paganism going to deal with the broader future, that is breathing down our necks at this point. I will be talking about both. We are moving into a future that a lot of people are going to find very challenging, especially if they have bought into the attitude, that “Our ancestors were stupid. We are smart, and we are going to go zooming off to the stars.   We know the truth, and no one else has ever done so.”

Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for more updates from the conference.

Independent Pagan Film Shooting: Morrighan Films in Canada is shooting a new film “99% made by Pagans” entitled “Our Pagan Heart.” After a small article ran in a local paper about one of the actors, film producer Laurie Stewart contacted me with a short synopsis and some stills from the production in progress.

Still from the film.

“Our Pagan Heart is an independent film, being shot over the course of a year.   It follows a village outside of time (neither truly Norse nor quite Mad Max) over the nine sabbats followed by my Druid group.  We added the ritual for Fallen Warriors at Remebrance Day (Veterans Day) because so many of us are military, ex-military or base rats.  Each 10-12 minute episode not only tries to show the reason for the sabbat, but also to explore one of the nine virtues of Celtic-Norse tradition.

As the villagers face challenges ranging from the death of their only healer, to a radical change in leadership and the resulting change in priorities, we see the heart of our faith.  What does it mean to live these virtues, these beliefs, the result of believing in ever-present, personally committed Gods who touch every aspect of your life.  There are real struggles for meaning, real questioning of their faith in the face of devastating loss.”

You can find more film stills and information, here. Between “Our Pagan Heart,” “Dark of Moon,” “Tarology,” and other independent film productions with Pagan and occult themes, it almost seems like a small grass-roots industry is emerging. It could be a trend worth exploring as it develops.

In Solidarity with Madison: Pagan singer-songwriter Sharon Knight, a member of the excellent band Pandemonaeon, recently participated in a gathering of Oakland, California musicians to record a song showing solidarity with the Madison, Wisconsin labor protesters.

“This week I joined a group of my fellow musicians to create a music video in support of the protesters in Madison, Wisconsin. The song, “Madison”, was written by my friend Mark Vickness of Glass House, and spoken word artist PC Munoz. It was produced start to finish at EMB Studios, the studio Winter and I share with Paul Nordin. I was proud and honored to be a part of this project and thought I’d share it with you all here. Enjoy and may it bring you hope and good cheer!”

Thanks to Sharon for sharing this with the Pagan community. For more on Pagan participation in the Wisconsin labor protests, click here.

Health Updates: I have an update on the condition of Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who underwent surgery on Wednesday. I spoke with him on the phone yesterday, and while he’s (understandably) experiencing some pain, is mobile, alert, and active. He says that there won’t be word on test results regarding what was eating the tissue in his jaw until early April. He also expressed his thanks to everyone who has been sending prayers and energy his way. Meanwhile, Selena Fox has an update on Circle member Ed Francis, who recently suffered a stroke.

“Ed Francis is doing better & has begun speech, physical, and occupational rehabilitation at a hospital in St. Louis. Please continue to send healing to him & support to his partner Linda & other caregivers. Share words of encouragement for his rehab at this Healing page. Thanks much!”

Circle has also set up a healing page for Patrick McCollum as well. Please continue to send both your healing thoughts and prayers for their swift recoveries.

Theologies of Justice: In a quick final note, I’d like to point my readers to an essay just posted by T. Thorn Coyle about developing and acting on “(poly)theologies of justice and connection.”

“If everything is holy – imbued with divine power – how do we relate to that holiness? We pay attention. We find connection. We give back. One definition of sacred is “set apart and dedicated to a deity.” How do Heathens act in ways that are dedicated to Thor or Ing? How do Thelemites act in concert with the energy of Nuit? How do Celtic Reconstructionists honor the ever abundant cauldron of the Dagda? I could go on, but the implications of these questions should be clear: we bring everything in our lives into alignment with our worship and our practice. We can give food to the hungry as an act of devotion to the Dagda. We can offer protection to the weak, in Thor’s honor. And we can remember: Nuit is everywhere, the circumference of all that lives.”

There’s a lot there, so I hope you’ll read the entire essay, and use it to spark discussions on your blogs, social networks, and within your communities. As modern Pagans start to act within the world in an increasingly prominent and public manner, how our theologies drive and inspire our actions is something that we’ll need to hold close to our thoughts.

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

A few quick news notes to start your morning.

Pagan Japan Relief Project a Success: As of this writing, the Peter Dybing-initiated drive to raise money from within the Pagan community for Doctors Without Borders’ work in Japan has raised nearly $10,000 in three days. Here’s a message from Dybing about the drive that was posted yesterday.

“Pagans from all over the country have donated and stepped forward to endorse the project. We received donations from individuals as well as organizations. To all those who stepped forward THANK YOU. We still have been unable to generate significant numbers of small donations. It continues to be the goal of this project to engage the entire Pagan community in a unified effort. If you are concerned that you do not have the funds to donate consider just a few dollars. Each of us can only do so much in these tough economic times. What is important is participation not the donation amount.”

The Pagan Japan Relief Project is working towards a goal of $30,000, and it looks like this target may be reached sooner than anticipated. Major figures within modern Paganism like Selena Fox, Thorn Coyle, and Starhawk have already been spreading the word on Facebook, and Peter Dybing says that statements from well known Pagans about this effort will published today. This is a hugely positive cooperative effort, one that we can all take pride in. So continue to spread the word, and be sure to read about the work Doctors Without Borders is doing on the ground in Japan.

You can find all The Wild Hunt’s coverage on this issue, here.

ADDENDUM: Please see this update on the Pagan Japan Relief Project from PNC-Minnesota.

More Pagan Voices From Madison: Nels Linde at PNC-Minnesota has posted more interviews with Pagans taking part in protests against anti-union initiatives enacted by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and state Republican lawmakers.

“I’m a teacher and I’m here because I am very passionate about what is wrong with our democracy today. I am a Druid, I have been practicing for about 12 years now, with a group out of the Twin cities. It is very powerful to be here today because the energy is just so intense. There is so much pride and hope. People are coming together, it brings tears. I have already signed my petition to recall my Senator, Sheila Harsdorf, and also for Walker. I am involved in some local community protests, next in Hudson on the bridge, Sunday. I have been through all the emotions, you know, shock, anger, and despair. I’ve cried. You start with one group and target, demonize them and once they are taken out, there is another group. Most Walker supporters do not like non-Christians, so it is very, very scary.”

Nels has been doing amazing and essential work covering Pagan involvement in these protests, and I urge everyone to head over to PNC-Minnesota and catch up on his reports. Here’s his installment on Saturday’s events. More is promised on Thursday.

You can find The Wild Hunt’s previous coverage on this issue, here.

Checking In With Treadwell’s: In a final note, the Guardian interviews Christina Oakley Harrington, proprietor of the well-regarded esoteric bookstore Treadwell’s, about her shop and the unique spirit of London that makes its success possible.

“London is a place for unusual people who need to find other unusual people. Cities are where misfits always go. If you can’t manage in the village with the curtain-twitchers – if you can’t live like that because you’re gay, or you’re massively artistic, or because you have to talk to angels and demons and spirits … Where else are you going to go to find others who might be like you? You go to London. Could Treadwell’s exist anywhere outside of London? No.”

Treadwell’s recently moved to a larger space, the very building where Mary Wollestonecraft wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women. Congratulations to Christina and Treadwell’s on their continued good press!

That’s all I have time for at the moment, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. But first, let me offer my prayers and support to the people of Japan, who just suffered8.9 magnitude earthquake, and all those potentially affected by subsequent tsunamis in the Pacific basin. For updates, resources, and information, check out the Google Crisis Response page.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

For almost a month now protests have raged in Wisconsin over legislation proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker that would weaken collective bargaining rights for most public employee union members as part of a plan to address the state’s budget shortfall. Many have pointed to this being part of a larger initiative by Republican Governors across the country to weaken public sector unions in an effort to stymie a traditional Democratic fundraising stronghold. Now, in a procedural move that some are calling legally “murky,” and in the case of Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Lagley, “unconstitutional,” the collective bargaining measure was stripped from the budget bill (which requires a full quorum, denied due to a legislative walkout) and passed with simple majority.

This latest development has reignited already ongoing protests throughout the state, and PNC-Minnesota was able to conduct an interview with a Pagan Union Steward for his reactions and views of what’s happening in Wisconsin.

What is your reaction to tonight’s Republican action eliminating collective bargaining for State workers?

” The Republicans admitted tonight that was their goal. They clothed real intent in their budget repair bill, but it is pretty obvious what they were after from the beginning. I can’t say I am surprised. I am surprised it took them this long to do something. They were using the budget bill to provide themselves with cover, but it was pretty transparent. “

What do you think will happen going forward?

” There are 2000 (supporters, 200 tractors) tractors lined up to come to town. Family Farm Defenders is organizing that. They realize that there are a lot of farmers that are on Badgercare (Wisconsin Health Program),  and Walkers budget is going to decimate that. A lot of farmers are depending on this health care and don’t have anything else.  It is not just about the unions, its never been just about the unions. There was so much bad policy in that budget repair bill, you hate to even call it that. It is just a phrase. Koch industries, one of their biggest things is energy, and the Governor has the authority under that bill to accept a no bid contract from anyone. I am not saying it is going to be Koch… but ya know… We aren’t talking just big power plants, there are a lot of state facilities, like prisons, that generate their electricity. Some of the big UW campuses have their own power plants. Twenty or thirty of them, they are all small, but hey,  if you can tap a vein. The billionaire vampires have a clear path to suck more for themselves. Sucking off the body politic.”

Do the unions workers have a specific response plan?

” I know that in southern Wi. the AFL-CIO has put out some word about a general strike. I don’t know what that means. My current contract says I cannot strike. We have is a contract extension that put all the existing contract terms, extended into the future. We signed that with Doyle. We bargained for a new contract. I was on the bargaining committee. I tell ya, you know which side has power, the side which looks at you and says, “I think your asking too much”, not interested at this time”. “not interested” to every proposal. We had 18 months of that shit. Anyone who says that unions are big powerful entities is just plain wrong. We have been without a contract since July of 2009, and working out of continuing contract extensions. Last month Walker sent notice the extensions would no longer be honored after March 13th. The unfortunate thing for him is there is provision in state and federal law, the ‘evergreen’ clause, that should apply here, mandating a continuing contract. Well unless he somehow abolished that in the budget repair bill, too.”

“There are sixteen recalls going on, for both Democrats and Republicans. In fact the ones for the Democrats started first. There is a lot of energy focusing on them, by those that want to recall Republican right now. A group out of Utah has started all the petitions against the democrats. They are a group that is against immigrant rights. (The group filed electronically with the GAB between Feb. 18 and 21, calling itself theAmerican Recall Coalition. It lists the founding organization as Americans Against Immigration Amnesty. )”

You can read the entire article at the PNC-Minnesota site. PNC-Minnesota reporter Nels Linde, who lives in Wisconsin near the Minnesota border, has also been traveling to the protests and has written a couple of editorials on the subject.

In addition, Wisconsin photographer Nataraj Hauser, who has worked quite a bit with Pagans, including shooting the cover image of Witches and Pagans #22, has been documenting (and participating in) the protests in Madison.

“Within a few minutes word came out that the vote had been rushed through, and passed. Collective bargaining rights had been stripped from workers – including the police department responsible for Capitol security by the way – undoing more than 50 years of progressive Wisconsin worker protections. A voice on the PA announced that Senate was no longer in session and the Assembly was not going to vote until Thursday, so we all had to leave the building. No one budged. No cop made an effort to ask us to leave. At this point no one believed that the Republican Assemblymen would not simply use that pretext to clear us out of the building, then vote. Hell no, we won’t go.

I left the building – which was still in lock down – to meet up with my partner. While I was in the building, additional protesters had climbed in through second floor bathroom windows, been let in in groups at doors that were not staffed by law enforcement (until reinforcements arrived) so the crowd was pretty large. Outside I found several thousand people had arrived in the hour or so that I was inside.”

You can see a slide show of his images from the protests, here.

Finally, Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox has been traveling to some of the protests, and offering short updates on her Facebook page. Here’s an update from March 5th.

“Powerful outpouring of support for public workers’ rights & unions today at Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. I joined the thousands in the streets & at the rally on the steps of the Capitol where filmmaker Michael Moore spoke as did US Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin & others.”

I’ve previously mentioned Fox’s participation in the protests back in February.

I make this report not to push a particular political stance, but to reinforce the idea that the headlines often do involve and affect the lives of modern Pagans. I’m always looking to amplify the Pagan voice in a variety of situations that may not seem, at first, to be “Pagan issues.” But there are, as you can see, Pagan union stewards, and Pagans at these protests, and Pagans are a part of the fabric of life in Wisconsin. No doubt there are several Pagan public employees wondering what the fallout of these events will mean for their lives. If you are a Wisconsin resident, I invite you to share your perspective in the comments, and The Wild Hunt, The Pagan Newswire Collective, and the wider Pagan media will endeavor to continue looking for the Pagan voice within larger stories going on in the world.

ADDENDUM: PNC-Minnesota has just posted more Pagan voices from Madison, Wisconsin.