Archives For Witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

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

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

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

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

  • Her practice of yoga was called “satanic.”

  • She was called a “Hindu witch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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[Manny Tejeda-Moreno is one of our talented monthly columnists. He brings you commentary each month that explores and validates many our most treasured traditions and spiritual practices through scientific studies. If you like his work and that of our other monthly columnists, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you articles, like the one below, is what we love to do. It is your continued support that makes it possible for us to continue. Support independent journalism! Donate today.Thank you very much.]

There is a pataki, which is a story of Orisha, about words, slander and stewardship. Obatalá is the king of the Orisha under Heaven. He is the wise Sky Father who designed and created the human body. The Orisha respect him as judge and counsel, because he rules with wisdom and not with power. Obatalá teaches patience and listening.

Changó, on the other hand, is the Orisha of leadership, but he is impatient, splenetic and impetuous. He is also the son of Obatalá, who saw Changó clearly for his limitations, but also recognized his intelligence, industry and commitment to helping others. It was for that reason that when Changó was very young, Obatalá put him in charge of governing people.

Many were concerned about this decision, but no one dared question Obatalá to his face. Instead, they just complained to him about Changó. The stories told ranged from silly to serious. And Changó would hear them whispered. The rumors swirled constantly until Changó confronted Obatalá asking, “Father why did you put me in charge? Everyone tells terrible stories about me and none of them are true! Why do they do this?”

Chango’s Axe- [Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Obatalá responded by asking Changó to prepare a dinner for him and all his children. He wanted to be served the most enchanting and delicious food that Changó could think of. When the evening came for the meal, Changó presented his father with a stewed beef tongue saying, “It is delicious and magical, full of aché!” Everyone enjoyed the dinner.

A few months passed and Obatalá requested another meal from his son. This time, he asked Changó, “Present me with the most dangerous of meals – the worst food you can bring!” Changó entered and presented him again with beef tongue. Obatalá was impressed and asked why. Changó responded, “A good tongue will save a village and bad tongue will destroy it.” Obatalá was pleased and said “This is why you lead. You now understand the power of your voice and your words for ill and blessing. And you have learned to rise above slander while speaking words of greatness. Worry only when they stop talking about you.”

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This past week, I was truly struck by a story that came out of Northern Nigeria that resonated with the above pataki. A 65-year old Muslim woman in Sokoto State was allegedly tried and publicly flogged with twelve strokes administered by palace guards in the royal courtyard of the area’s traditional leader. The woman’s trial and punishment were reportedly the consequence of a dispute with her daughter-in-law, who alleged that her husband was mistreating her and that he was aided by her mother-in-law’s witchcraft. Subsequent media reports note that residents of the community have requested gubernatorial intervention because, as they claim, this is not the first accusation of witchcraft and that such accusations are on the rise.

To put the story in context, it was shocking not only in terms of what happened, but also in the location of the atrocity. Witchcraft persecution is not uncommon in the Christian south of Nigeria. But for this event to have occurred in the Muslim north represents a departure from the location and group most likely to engage in witch hunts. It is a change that portends more could be on the way.

A belief in the evils of witchcraft is in fact indigenous, but this manner of remedy is not. The African Traditional Religions of Nigeria that were brought to the West, like Ocha and Ifá, approach the issue as an aspect of negative energy. Priests identify the spiritual problem and then properly work with Orisha, and their own aché to restore balance in the afflicted person. The current witch hunt and elimination of witches is chiefly the culmination of colonization and the importation of Scottish and American Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries into the local community. It has produced a truly noxious cultural brew that imperils lives. And now that Northern Nigeria is reporting the identification and hunting of witches suggests a sinister contagion into regions that have traditionally been disinterested in locating and punishing them.

These witch hunts have taken the most disturbing of turns in the south and east of Nigeria through the work of the Pentecostal community and their evangelical “prophets.” Children as young as 24 months of age are branded as witches and then tortured, abandoned and even killed by their parents in order to secure either their own safety or the salvation of the child. Preachers of such communities have even turned to the instruments of the Spanish Inquisition, using anything from whips to boiling water to even lye against toddlers and teens, to ensure their flock is free from “Satanic influence.”

The only instrument, many believe, to remedy such evil is to turn to the power self-proclaimed priests and prophets who purvey both salvation and antidotes. One such prophet is Helen Ukpabio self-declared as The Lady Apostle and founder of Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries in Calabar. Ms. Ukpabio produced and starred in a film called The End of the Wicked. While available on YouTube, I strongly recommend you watch it with caution if you intend to work your way through it. The Wild Hunt has previously reported on her activities.

Her proclamations are inconsistent with reason. But the real revulsion of the film is that it implies a basis for the systematic torment of children by demonstrating how witch-children are created, identified and ultimately eliminated through the power of exorcism. That exorcism isn’t free and, of course, no psychologist or other mental health professional is ever consulted. Religion is only part of the oppression: money is the other.

Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno Abuja, Nigeria

National Assembly and Aso Rock, Abuja, Nigeria- Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno

That is not to say that witches and witch hunts are solely the product of Christian faiths or that they are alien in the Islamic world. Far from it. Belief in Jinn, or the supernatural beings from pre-Islamic Arabian beliefs, is common and their abilities to empower witches are formidable and require suppression. Since 2007, when Egyptian pharmacist Mustafa Ibrahim was beheaded in Riyadh for “practicing magic and sorcery as well as adultery and desecration of the Holy Quran,” dozens of people have been sentenced to penalties that range from death to 1,000 canings and a decade of imprisonment. In many cultures, traditions and faiths, there can be found a real fear of witches. In July of this year,16 men were arrested in India for stripping and beheading a 63 year old woman in Assam State.

While these atrocities must unquestionably cease, it is unlikely they will.  It is not a folk belief within a specific tradition that is driving the hysteria. One mechanism that drives the fear is the terrible power held within the word “witch.” The Spanish word for witch, brujo/a, still conveys a dark identity to the practitioners of magic as do similar words for witch in other languages (strega, 巫婆, wrach, hexe). And while those mentioned in the articles above were likely not Pagan nor Witches by the common standards of our community, many of us would also undoubtedly be the targets of fanatical witch hunters. The persecution of Pagans occurs in all parts of the world: it only varies by degree.

Still, many of us fortunately find ourselves in a space of privilege. We live in societies where religious freedoms have helped us reclaim the word witch and temper its meaning. We do still experience persecution but not to the scale of our history or the reports above. In North America, the Salem Witch Trials are distant memory. Nevertheless, The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (a.k.a the Spanish Inquisition) only ended in 1834. It was part of the living memory of some of our most recent Ancestors, and elsewhere in the world events like it and the trials are unfolding today. The combined fear of the feminine and the supernatural potential to upset the power structure, will kindle fear in witches around the world still.

Paralleling the re-introduction of Halloween in the 19th Century, the concept of “witch” has been tempered by commercialization, urbanization, and the rise of witch-positive over the last century. And, I think, it would be possible to argue that witches are perceived in a more nuanced manner in Great Britain and North America.

But the changes in imagery are not enough to promote lasting and effective change in our world to stop the atrocities against children and the elderly. Many people in West Africa, the Levant and Arabian Peninsula all have access to the same imagery through the internet and even through simple broadcast and books. The same is true for other parts of the world. Language and images are one thing; but there is another mechanism of oppression as well that truly magnifies the fear of witches: economics.

Money is itself a structure of power that attracts wickedness far more effectively than a mere word. Economics can alter power structures as effectively as any magic. And losing power is another matter altogether.

This view is not new. Llorente (1822), an Inquisition historian, suggested that the purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was little more than the extraction of wealth on behalf of the Spanish Crown. He referred to it as little more than an income maximizing enterprise to repress groups that could potentially challenge the power of political and religious institutions.

Recent research has supported some evidence of an economic rationale for the Inquisition. Vidal-Robert (2014) found that while the Spanish Inquisition did not have increases in wealth as Llorente suggested, there were other economic effects from it. The Inquisition repressed opportunity by limiting entrepreneurship incentives and activity. At the same time it quelled the use of new technologies – all stifling economic growth.  Even still. The Inquisition brought censorship and suppression to the powerless and the different: from Jews to Protestants to Moriscos and from homosexuals to Freemasons.

Indeed, wealth and economic inequality may prove to be critical factors in creating fear and hatred toward witches. Though rising economic opportunity and access to education have worked their magic to promote understanding, peace and equality, failures to create opportunity for everyone may also have serious consequences. As Munro (1976) noted the rise of anti-witch sentiment co-occurred with economic instability. There rise in social paranoia toward witches and other supernatural beings paralleled upsurges in unemployment within urbanized immigrant communities.

Most interestingly, though, Konig (2013) examined an anthropological data set termed the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS) to question whether fear of witches was related to failing economic prosperity, specifically opportunity from agricultural development. In essence, the findings point to yes: the revitalization of agriculture and overall economic success reduced the fear of witches. This is not unique to the continent of Africa, both Latin America and Southeast Asia have also seen the growth in witch fear co-occurring with political and economic oppression (Hayes 2007). And that connection is not trivial: all three areas have experienced the repressive effects of Colonialism and subsequent economic injustice.

Oster (2004) found a similar pattern by looking at a connections between witch trials and climate changes (specifically temperature). She gathered climate records between 1520 and 1770 and found that the colder periods co-occurred with an increase number of witch trials in Europe. Miguel (2005) found a similar pattern in data from Tanzania. Extremes in rainfall, whether floods or drought, resulted in more accusations of witchcraft and ultimately more murders against “witches,” particularly elderly women. When crops fail, you look for a scapegoat. Witches made good scapegoats: they can control the weather. Elderly women have little power in the patriarchy to resist. The connection with agriculture as a proxy for economic bounty is underscored again. The fear that exists in the culture manifested in the word “witch” is magnified by poverty.

But the science also speaks to an advocacy and magic that we can create and sustain as well. Our traditions have collectively explored how systems of social and economic oppression ultimately fail people and Nature. Our demands for social justice include demands for social stewardship of resources and economic opportunity. They include the demand for fair and rational politicians and political systems that promote human dignity and erase the fears that create oppression. Our traditions also demand responsible stewardship and the sacredness of Earth. Climate change will undoubtedly stretch agricultural systems. But our approach to honor and work with Nature is being heard: we are overcoming a systemic deafness that has lasted decades.

While climate science points us in one direction for sustainability, economic and administrative science points us in a parallel one. Advocating for world-wide economic stability and opportunity will undermine witch-hunters the world over.  Calling out systems of economic oppression and fostering change by promoting fair and just business practices that create prosperity will ultimately subvert the power of witch-hunters to abuse children and the elderly. Economic and political stability will destabilize the fear needed to justify their actions and will end their control over congregants and communities.

As a Pagan community, we have made tremendous strides advocating for social and economic justice as well as the health of the planet. Tiring as it may sometimes be, we barrel headlong in our demands for all forms of equality and hold ourselves accountable for our actions when we fail to meet the expectations of our Ancestors. Those who have suffered or died under the accusation of witchcraft, whether Pagan or not, have exposed the fear and greed of the powerful.

I often think we make our Ancestors wonder, “What did we do to make that happen?” They see a seriously troubled world. But I also believe that within our Pagan community, our Ancestors are proud of our living voice that echoes their whispers demanding equality, claiming opportunity and wishing to live within and not above Nature. In doing so we honor those that brought us to now. We fulfill all their hopes. And as Samhain approaches, they will whisper their pride. The tongue is indeed powerful.

*Note: Ashé refers to spiritual energy. It is the power to make things happen.

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Hayes, K.E. (2007). “Black magic and the academy: Macumba and Afro-Brazilian ‘orthodoxies.'” History of Religions, 46. p. 283-315.
Koning, N. (2013). “Witchcraft beliefs and witch hunts.” Human Nature24. p.158-1814.
Llorente, J.A. (1822). “Historia critica de la Inquisición.” Imprenta del Censor.
Munro, J.F. (1976). African and the International economy, 1800-1960: An introduction to the modern economic history of Africa south of the Sahara. London:  Dent.
Oster, E. (2004). “Witchcraft, Weather and Economic Growth in Renaissance Europe.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18. p. 215-228.
Vidal-Robert, J. (2014) “Long-run effects of the Spanish inquisition. working paper. Coventry: University of Warwick. Department of Economics. CAGE Online Working Paper Series, Volume 2014 (Number 192). (Unpublished)


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

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


Ipsita Roy Chakraverti [Courtesy Photo]

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

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

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

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

Ipsita leading a group of Psychic Investigators [Courtesy Photo]

Ipsita leading a group of Psychic Investigators [Courtesy Photo]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ipsita with her daughter Deepta Roy Chakraverti

Ipsita with her daughter Deepta Roy Chakraverti

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

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

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

Covenant of the GoddessOver the past weekend, Covenant of the Goddess held its 40 year anniversary MerryMeet event in Ontario, California. The weekend included its annual two-day Grand Council, during which the consensus-based organization conducted its internal business including the election of officers.

After a tumultuous and uncomfortable beginning to 2015, the organization did come back to internally address what had happened. A break-out group was asked to review and present the organization’s revised social justice statement and make further recommendations. The result of the meeting was the creation of a permanent internal Social Justice committee to address the problems of racial inequity and systemic racism. Of this news, incoming First Officer Yvonne Conway-Williams said, “I think CoG is taking earnest effort at looking towards the future and drawing a line in the sand about who we are and what we stand for.” Conway-Williams is also a member of the new committee and was instrumental in the revising of the statement. More information on these developments will eventually be posted on CoG’s media sites.

The 40 year old organization is one of the oldest Pagan organizations in the country, and that was the theme of this year’s event. Looking toward the future, long-time member Amber K said, “I am fairly hopeful because representatives here seem to embrace change. They are cautious and careful but not stuck in methods of the past which would allow us to evolve and stay relevant.” Covenant of the Goddess will begin its 41st year on Samhain with new officers:  Co First Officers Yvonne Conway-Williams and Jack Prewett, Second Officer Glenn Turner, Co-Publication Officers Stachia Ravensdottir and Zenah Smith, Public Information Officer Greg Harder, Membership Officer Rachael Watcher, Communications Officer Rev. Peter Hertzberg.

 *    *    *

Cherry Hill Seminary

In April 2016, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) will be hosting a new three day conference in conjunction with The University of South Carolina. The symposium and environmental leadership training will be centered around the theme and title, “Greening of Religions: Hope in the Eye of the Storms.” The keynote speaker is University of Florida Professor Bron Taylor.

CHS Academic Dean Wendy Griffin said, “Laurie Zoloth, bioethicist and president of the American Academy of Religion, has called climate change the greatest moral issue of our time.  Increasingly, voices from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions are bringing the link between religion and climate change to national and international notice, from the Green Seminary Movement, to the expected Papal encyclical, to conferences ranging from the purely academic to those like the World Parliament of Religions, and to the growing emphasis on environmental justice.”

CHS is now calling for “proposals from a broad understanding of religion, including the Abrahamic, the Dharmic, the contemporary Pagan and the Earth-based, as well as from diverse methodologies: theoretical and practical, qualitative and quantitative, normative and descriptive.” The due date for abstract submission is September 30, 2015. The three day event runs from April 1-4, 2016 and will be held on the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia.

*   *   *

Rhodes-1-500x308The Supreme Council of the Greek National (YSEE), an umbrella group working to restore the traditional polytheistic religions of Greece. was dealt a blow in its quest to gain state recognition as a religious community. On Aug. 1, a spokesperson said, “Once again, the Greek State has shown that it has yet to get rid of its byzantine and medieval whims and, being unable to respect with dignity its own laws (in this case Act no. 4301/2014). It has rejected by the intermediation of its court of First Instance the motion signed by hundreds of Ethnikoi Hellenes to obtain recognition as a statutory corporation of religious character for their ancestral, indigenous and historically continuous to our day despite cruel persecutions by Christianity Hellenic Ethnic Religion.”

Founded in 1997, YSEE is currently registered as a non-profit organization and, as explained on its website, has been on the front lines in the on-going battle for religious community recognition. Such a recognition would allow them to do things like buy property for the community to use. Its work has included “14 years of activity in the (modern) Greek reality with more than 230 interventions (letters and press releases) and many protests for the protection of the Hellenic tradition, human rights and religious tolerance, 300 seminars, tactical celebration of the ancient festivals, public rituals and educational events.”

In Other News:

  • We are pleased to announced that Polytheist blogger Heathen Chinese will be joining The Wild Hunt as a monthly columnist starting this Saturday. His first work will be a review of the Many Gods West conference that wrapped up two weeks ago. In the meantime, he has posted a link list that includes a number of other reviews and discussions sparked by the new Polytheist conference. As for Heathen Chinese’s new Wild Hunt column, it is scheduled to be published regularly on the 3rd Saturday of each month.
  • The upcoming Haxan film festival has added another day to its roster. Organizers will be hosting a “ritual blessing of the birth of the HÄXÄN Festival” Thursday, Aug. 27 at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore. Along with film screenings, the festival also includes a Friday night costume dance party.  As noted on its site, “HÄXÄN Festival is a Bay Area film festival focusing on local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections through experiments in video and film. Celebrating witchcraft and the Personal Occult.”
  • Pagan writer and blogger Laura LaVoie was just voted “Childfree Woman of the Year” and featured on the website “International Child Free Day.” As described on the site, LaVoie has been a leading advocate for a woman’s right to NOT have children. She is one of the organizers for The NotMom Summit, and blogs regularly at The write-up offers more details on LaVoie’s work with the NotMom movement, as well as featuring her efforts advocating for Tiny Houses. Congratulations to Laura LaVoie!


  • A new Heathen podcast is now fully off the ground. Beginning in July, “Heathen Talk” has been airing “live every Wednesday at 7pm Pacific/10 Eastern and post new podcasts every Sunday!” The hosts said, “Heathen Talk was launched by four diverse Heathens who met on Reddit’s /r/Asatru community. This live podcast hosts weekly discussions on topics that are important to modern heathenry, focusing on representing the diverse points of view in the community. [Hosts] Josh, Lauren and Thorin, and producer Marc have a combined fifty years of experience within heathenry.” You can catch the new show through Heathen Talk’s website or its Facebook page.
  • A recent article in describes how Witchcraft is an empowering life choice for many “queer and trans people.” The article reads, “Witchcraft is seeing a resurgence among queer-identified young people seeking a powerful identity that celebrates the freedom to choose who you are.” Those witches interviewed include Colby Gaudet, Jared Russell, Dakota Hendrix, and Mey Rude. In the article, Rude was quoted as saying, “There is no one way to be a witch … It’s a really freeing identity.”
  • Nathalie Andrews, owner and operator of Girl and Cat Publishing, is looking for author submissions. As noted on the Bad Witch’s Blog, Andrews is a Pagan, whose “aim is to change the way authors look at non-traditional publishing.” She offers workshops and classes on the subject. Based in the U.K., Andrews describes Girl and Cat Publishing as “not a vanity press but more a self-publishing service.” She can be contacted through her website.

That’s it for now! Have a great day.

Today we update several of the big stories that we’ve been following… 

Instagram bans #Goddess

On July 30, we reported that Instagram had banned the hashtag term #goddess. The social media site was attempting to curb, as it has done before, the posting of unacceptable content or images. In a statement, Instagram specifically said that “#goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity.” The ban inspired a #bringbackthegoddess protest, including wide-spread criticism and backlash from around the world.

After a recent check, it appears that the hashtag is coming back. You can now tag your photos with #goddess and search the term (sort of). In July, if you searched #goddess, you would only see #goddesses. Now you can once again see a listing for the over 1,450,000 images using the #goddess label.


However there is a caveat. Although Instagram has brought its use back, the company is still limiting the search view to only “top posts.” You will not have the option to view the “most recent” additions. As Instagram explains, “We may remove the Most Recent section of a hashtag page if people are using the hashtag to post abusive content in a highly visible place.” The company adds that the limitation is placed on searches in order to protect the integrity of the hashtag and search page.

This may or may not be temporary. The partial unblock was also done to #curvy, after its banning inspired a similar backlash. That hashtag still contains a moderated search view. Similar to #goddess, the term #curvy will only yield a select group of about 36 “top posts.” In late July, Instagram told The Washington Post,

We want people to be able to express themselves, and hashtags are a great way to do that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to act when we see hashtags being used to spread inappropriate content to our community. In the case of #curvy, we don’t like putting restrictions around a term that many people use in very positive ways, so we have decided to unblock the hashtag while taking steps to ensure that it’s not used as a vehicle for bad content.

It appears that #goddess is now following the same moderated trajectory.

*   *   *

New Orleans HexFest Forced to Change Location

On Aug. 9, we reported that HexFest had been forced to change its opening ritual location with only two weeks to go. Opening Friday Aug. 21, the event is now taking place on the Creole Queen Riverboat rather than at its original location on the Steamboat Natchez. According to the organizers, a Natchez sales representative said that the cancellation was due to religion, but then later changed that reason to breach of contract.

When we originally published the article, we had not yet heard back from either steamboat. We finally did hear from both. Natchez spokesperson Adrienne Thomas simply told The Wild Hunt, “The HexFest river event has been relocated from the Steamboat Natchez to the Creole Queen Riverboat, and arrangements have been coordinated by all parties involved.” She declined to answer any specific questions, nor would she say anymore about the situation.

Creole Queen spokesperson Jill Anderson said that she was “surprised” by what had happened to HexFest. And that the organizers were lucky that Creole Queen was available at such at late date. She also reiterated that company was pleased to be hosting the evening event.

*   *   *

Florida Triple Murder Ignites Witchcraft Frenzy

After an Aug. 4 news conference, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) set off a media firestorm that focused enormous attention on “Witchcraft” and “Wicca.” As we originally reported, the first flood of stories emphasized the alleged reality of a “ritualistic, blue moon, witchcraft” triple homicide. Then, within 48 hours, the news shifted, with local, national and international outlets turning to Wiccans and Witches for reactions.

NBC, who published the first news report using the term Wicca, also returned to the story and included an interview with blogger Peg Aloi. In that update, journalist Erin Calabrese specifically noted that Sgt. Hobbes of ECSO did use the word “Wiccan” during a phone interview. Calabrese’s report is in direct contrast with the ECSO statement, which stressed that Sgt. Hobbes was misquoted and never said the word “Wiccan.”

Regardless, over the following days, there was a swell in similar mainstream reports demonstrating the outrage felt within Wiccan and Witchcraft communities. Along with Lady Liberty League, Covenant of the Goddess and others, even those outside of Pagan religious spheres, made public statements or posted commentary decrying ECSO’s careless use of either term.

On the flip side, the media attention also provided teaching opportunities. Priestess and author Courtney Weber was interviewed by Thom Hartmann for his show “The Big Picture”

Now, nearly ten days later, there have been no official updates to the case, and ECSO is refusing to take any more media questions. However, on Aug. 14, the local Pensacola CBS affiliate WKRG did once again attempt to get clarification on the use of the word witchcraft. While following the Sheriff outside, the WKRG reporter asked specifically if ECSO was still calling the crime witchcraft. The Sheriff said “pull up the tape” and “that’s where the misconception was.” The reporter does just that, demonstrating the Sheriff’s clear usage of the term. This interaction was caught on tape and is now posted on WKRG’s Facebook page.

As for the three victims, they were laid to rest on Aug. 14. Short obituaries with photographs are posted on the website of a local funeral home.

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA –  On Friday, July 31, three residents were found murdered in their home on Deerfield Drive in the coastal city of Pensacola. The victims were Richard Thomas Smith (age 49), his brother John William Smith (age 47) and their mother Voncile Smith (age 76). The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) found them at 9:30 a.m. during a welfare call, which was requested by Richard’s concerned employer.

During that morning check, officers found the three bodies. Their throats were slit, and Richard had a gun shot through his neck. As has been reported, the family was killed on Tues, July 28. and their deaths were caused by blunt force trauma by hammer. The police have ruled out robbery and are currently investigating.

This gruesome reality turned media frenzy after the department held an Aug. 4 news conference. During the opening speech, Sheriff David Morgan called the case “odd at best,” describing the family as reclusive. Then when he was asked about motive, he responded:

… initial research has led us to believe that there is a potential that it was a ritualistic killing … The method of the murder, blunt force traumas, slit throats, positions of bodies and then our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that.

When asked for more, Sheriff Morgan noted, “Well, again, the time of the blue moon every three years, the method of the murders and also our person of interest is known to practice this.” He was then asked directly “What religion?” Sheriff Morgan responded, “It is Witchcraft.” The full news conference was uploaded to You Tube.

That was all it took. Within minutes, the local, national and, eventually, international media were reporting on the triple murder. “Witchcraft suspected in savage murder of family” reported the local CBS affiliate WKRG. The Washington Post announced, “Florida triple murder tied to ‘witchcraft’ and blue moon, police say.” And asked,”Witchcraft’ and ‘blue moon’ behind Pensacola triple homicide?”

Shortly after, NBC quoted ECSO’s own Sgt. Andrew Hobbes saying, “It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon.” Witchcraft suddenly changed to Wicca. Several ABC and CBS affiliates around the country picked up the wording change. For example, one in Texas reported, “Wiccan ritual may be motive behind deaths of three family members in Fla.” And, the UK’s Daily Mail announced, “Florida family murdered with a hammer in ‘ritualistic Wiccan killing planned to coincide with the Blue Moon‘ ”

As the story continued to gain media traction throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, Pagans began to speak out publicly against both the sensationalist, and often false, coverage and the Sheriff’s premature speculation. Peg Aloi at “The Witching Hour” wrote, “I am fairly certain there is nothing in any book on Wicca that has ever been published on Planet Earth that describes body positions consistent with ritual murder.”

Lady Liberty League (LLL), who has been investigating the situation, published a statement, saying, “We are deeply concerned by the misrepresentations of Wicca, witchcraft and Paganism that have resulted, and are currently working to respond to the situation … We ask that all Wiccans, Pagans and those concerned send prayers and energy for healing to those affected by the murders, local law enforcement, the local community and the cause of religious understanding and Pagan civil liberties worldwide.”

LLL’s Rev. Selena Fox is one of two Pagans quoted in a Guardian article titled, “Wicca experts slam Florida sheriff for linking triple murder to ‘witchcraft.‘” Published Aug 5, the UK news outlet took a very different approach from others agencies by talking to actual Pagan practitioners. The Guardian quoted Fox as saying, “Ritual murder is not part of the Wiccan religion, it never has been, and it’s not now.” She also said added, “There are so many crime shows on TV and the Internet [that involve witchcraft], and I think that some story lines can complicate reporting on actual crimes.” Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, was also quoted and said, “If they had done even a modicum of research it would be clear this had nothing to do with Paganism.”

Riki Lee Para started a petition titled “Stop the Witch Hunt!” It reads, in part, “We send our deepest condolences to the victims and families involved, however the Wiccan community will not stand for allegations from a high ranking office of justice that these murders were due to a ‘Blue Moon Ritual by a Wiccan Practitioner'” In less then 24 hours, it has earned over 817 signatures.


[Courtesy Boston Public Library]

As is typical, the media storm caused some confusion on what had actually been reported by the sheriff’s department. In attempt to clarify, ECSO republished the portion of the news conference transcript that specifically mentioned Witchcraft. The second press release, titled “Statement Concerning Transcript of news conference,” read:

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office has received numerous inquiries relative to the triple homicide in Escambia County, specifically as to its potential ties to a ritualistic murder. We encourage everyone concerned about the truth and facts to read the following transcript …

In the following abridged statements, ECSO noted that Sheriff Morgan said “While it doesn’t bother me to release it being their being [sic], most assuredly, you do not want to want to [sic] defame or demean any particular practices.” He also noted that “our country” allows for the belief in “anything.”

The Wild Hunt reached out to ECSO and spoke with its PIO Sena Maddison, who said, “The department by no means meant to imply that Wiccans are killers.” She offered apologies to the community for this confusion. When asked about Hobbes statements to NBC, she said that Hobbes was misquoted. He never said the word “Wicca.” She further explained that it was the media confusion that prompted ECSO to release that second statement and to also post the news conference on its You Tube channel and Facebook page.

ECSO may not have intended to create the media frenzy, but the department did cause it by using hot button, or so called click-bait, terms in its initial news conference, which included reference to the blue moon. Unfortunately, the repercussions of such acts are not always limited to news reports and sensational banter. They can also lead to the real-life bullying of modern Witches and Wiccans. The Wild Hunt has received reports over the last day indicating that several Pagans living in small conservative communities have been harassed. Unfortunately, none of these people would go on record.

However, in the online petition, Pensacola Wiccan Katharine Jones did refer directly to this danger. She angrily, wrote, “I am a minister with Fire Dance Church of Wicca, operating in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The slanderous statements made by Sheriff Morgan present a risk to the safety of the residents of this county. He is inciting hate crimes against anyone who appears to be non-Christian, including essentially everyone who is a member of any counter culture. He is personally responsible for any violence which results from his comments.”

At this point, there are many dots that do not connect within the publicly available story. When asked why ECSO had linked the crime to Witchcraft at all and who this practicing “person of interest” was, Maddison said that she could not reveal any more details on the case, because it is still an open investigation. And, that is standard practice. Additionally, we asked if any officers had contacted local Pagan organizations or individuals, she said, “not yet.”

There currently is just not enough publicly available data to know exactly what happened. Did anyone in the family or associated with the family actually practice Witchcraft or any religion for that matter? Why was the crime considered ritualistic? And, why was the act linked to the blue moon, which actually occurred three days after the reported murder? There are many questions yet to be answered.

As for the media, the local CBS affiliate WKRG has since spoken to the victims’ family members, who are quoted as saying “witchcraft” had nothing to do with the murders. They also added – as proof – “the Smith family were normal folks.” In addition, WKRG followed The Guardians’ lead and is now reporting that “Witches say they’re not linked to Triple Murder.”

The latest news release from ECSO states that samples from the scene are currently being analyzed, and that the department will not update the media until the lab reports are back. Maddion invited us to contact her directly with any future questions. We will continue to follow the case and update as we learn more. In the meantime, the mainstream media will most likely continue to speculate, sensationalize and feed.

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

First, we update a story reported on last week:

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary has announced its plans to assist all PSG 2015 attendees, who are in need. Several Circle Ministers have volunteered to offer spiritual counseling. Included in this healing work was a special full moon ceremony last night, which was dedicated to “PSG Healing and Renewal.”  In addition, Circle Sanctuary has also announced that it will be “offering a gift to all 2015 PSG paid registrants who request it — a $100 certificate ($50 for minors aged 12-17) that can be used toward any Circle Sanctuary event.”  The announcement explains more about that gift certificate, Circle’s event insurance, and the various struggles faced by the organization itself.  “This year our community was tested and found to be strong, unshakeable and unbreakable.

Now on to the links:

  • We first visit Russia where officials in the city of Nizhnevartovsk have reportedly banned the practice and teaching of yoga in city-owned buildings. The Moscow Times reports that letters to several yoga studios explained that the “move is crucial in order to prevent the spread of new religious cults and movements.” In addition, the Times reported that Nizhnevartovsk city officials claim that yoga is “inextricably linked to religious practices” and has an “occult character.” In 2013, a similar argument was made by parents of an Encinitas, California elementary school. The U.S. courts eventually ruled against the parents, allowing for the practice to continue. More recently, an Austrian elementary school banned yoga for religious reasons and, according to Southern Poverty Law Center, there are a number of American school districts who continue to ban the practice as well. However, it appears today that more American school districts are concerned with the wearing of the pants then the actual physical activity.
  • Another story coming out of the same region tells of the Night Witches. However, they are not who you might expect. According to a story in Vanity Fair, the Night Witches were an “all-female squadron of [Soviet] bomber pilots who ran thousands of daring bombing raids” during World War II. The women, ranging from ages 17-26, flew silently over Nazi soldiers by turning off their engines and gliding. The Nazis reportedly heard only a “whoosh” sound and began calling them the “Nachthexen” or Night Witches. Interestingly, the article claims that the Nazi soldiers had “very real fear of witches.” This statement recalls the 1932 popular German film Blue Light directed by famed filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. In the movie, the townspeople’s fear leads to the labeling of a woman as “witch.” Blue Light was Riefenstahl’s first film and attracted the attention of a young Hitler, who eventually commissioned her to create Nazi propaganda films.
  • Back to 2015, in the United Kingdom, a fear of witches and witchcraft led to an arrest and court hearing. According to the Central Somerset Gazette, “Hilary Joy Osborne took an obsessive dislike to Lynda Brown who was a spiritualist and taught pagan drumming and also practised Druidism, mantra chanting and Buddhist traditions.” This “dislike” led to regular harassment; including threats, the beating on walls and doors, and verbal abuse. Brown called the police and Osborne was charged with harassment to which she pleaded not guilty. However, a magistrate judge slapped Osborne with a 2 year restraining order, fines and other conditions.  Osborne was disappointed with the results, believing that the police “let her down.”
  • Now moving south to a very different climate, witchcraft or the accusation of can lead to far more tragic and distrubing fate. It was reported Tuesday that Daesh, in a first, had beheaded two women for allegedly practicing witchcraft. The terrorist organization killed both the women and their husbands, along with two other women, who were accused of being “agents for the Nusayri regime.” According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Daesh has since seized one couple’s home and property. SOHR has been appealing to the UN for greater assistance in their human rights efforts and is now reporting that the month of June marks the deadliest month in 2015 with a estimated 5247 people killed in Syria alone.
  • In recent months, Americans have faced their own form of home-grown terrorism, including the AME church massacre and the recent church burnings. Religion News Service published an article titled “3 Religions, 3 Approaches to Forgiveness in the Aftermath of Evil.” Through three different voices, the article highlights the concept of forgiveness within the major faith traditions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. For our purposes, this might lead to the question of forgiveness within Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist practices. How and when do we forgive? Are there limits? But the article opens up another concern. None of the three people interviewed represented the American black community – the target of the recent violence. While Charlestonians themselves showed a remarkable unity and Mother Emanuel together with the victims’ families expressed forgiveness, the idea is certainly not universally accepted. A New York Times op-ed piece discusses the other point of view. Writer Roxane Gray writes, “…I do not foresee ever forgiving his crimes, and I am totally at ease with that choice.”
  • On that note, it would be impossible to run a link list without mentioning Bree Newsome, the activist who climbed the South Carolina flag pole to remove the Confederate flag. The photo of her on the flag pole itself is one that will live in the history books alongside famous images, such as the lone activist standing before tanks in Tiannaman square; the coming down of the Berlin Wall; firefighters in the rubble of 9/11; and even the photo of the famous kiss as World War II ended. This iconic image of Newsome will inspire generations to come. According to Jezebel, Newsome said, “We needed that moment to say ‘enough is enough.’ We want an end to the hate.” Newsome was recently interviewed by ABC News. Here is a link that video.
  • Now we travel across the world to Malaysia where a group of teens violated a sacred space – Mount Kinabalu. In this story, however, the only things broken were the rules. “Briton Eleanor Hawkins, Canadians Lindsey and Danielle Peterson, and Dutchman Dylan Snel” climbed Mount Kinabalu and disrobed for an impromptu photo shoot. They were caught, jailed and fined for public indecency. Some reports claimed that the Malaysian people, who consider the mountain sacred, are now blaming the teens for the recent earthquake that killed 18 people. One Malyasian tabloid headline read, “Your boobs have angered mountain gods.” However, some locals are discrediting these sensationalist media accounts, and simply remark that the mountain is a sacred place in Malaysian culture, and that the teens were disrespectful to the local customs, beliefs and rules.
  • According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ confidence in religion is at an all time low. The survey, which is limited in its observations, suggests that trust in religious institutions has dropped; now putting it 13 percentage points lower than the historical average. 42% of Americans are estimated to have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in religion; the historical average is 55%. However, as noted, the study is limited in its reporting by only breaking the surveyed sample into three sub-groups: Catholics, Protestants and non-Christian/No-Religion. Additionally, Gallup published a study on America’s overall confidence in various institutions. Until recently, religion was top of the list. Now it falls fourth behind the military, small business and the police. However it is still ahead of Congress, Medical institutions, the media and others.
  • Now for something a bit lighter. Robin Hardy, director of The Wicker Man (1973), has launched a crowdfunding campaign to produce his long-awaited third film based on the original cult classic.  Hardy’s second film, titled The Wicker Tree, was released in 2011. Despite its lackluster reviews, the sequel is considered to be better than the 2006 Hollywood remake of the 1973 original. Now Hardy wants to revisit the story one more time with a script that he has titled “Wrath of the Gods.” Hardy told the Guardian that he had always envisioned the story as a trilogy. Through an IndieGoGo campaign, the 85-year old director is hoping to fund the project. With various perks, he is also offering fans a chance to appear in the film and even act as the film’s producer.
  • And, in our last news link for this month, Japan says goodbye to Tama, the stationmaster cat. According to The Huffington Post, “The calico cat has been credited with saving the struggling station, and its railway line, from financial collapse.”  After she was appointed stationmaster in 2007, the financially struggling train station began to earn revenue from tourists and visitors who stopped by just to see the little cat at work. Tama died at the age of 16 on June 22. Nearly 3,000 people attended her funeral. As reported, “During the Shinto-style ceremony, Tama was elevated to the status of goddess.” In addition, she has been given the title, “honorable eternal stationmaster.”
[Photo Credit: Takobou via Wikimedia Commons]

The Goddess Tama [Photo Credit: Takobou via Wikimedia Commons]


I’m not a historian and I don’t play one on the Internet. I do think it’s good to have some knowledge and understanding of the history and development of our religious traditions, as mysterious, complex, and convoluted as they are.

There’s an increasing number of material available around the history and development of historic and contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft in Europe and the U.S. Ronald Hutton and Margot Adler, for example, have given us valuable scholarly insight.

We don’t hear very much about Australia, and I wasn’t sure where to start looking. Thankfully, a few Aussie friends have pointed me in the right direction, sharing some fascinating stories that highlight a few of Australia’s most important and colourful characters.

[Courtesy Tasmanian Pagan Alliance]

[Courtesy Tasmanian Pagan Alliance]

The Witches

Rosaleen Norton (2 October 1917 – 5 December 1979) may be Australia’s most famous Witch. Norton scandalised conservative Australia during the 1940s and 50s. Her art, which contained supernatural and sexual themes, was treated harshly. Police removed her work from exhibitions, confiscated books that contained her images, and attempted to prosecute her for obscenity. She was arrested countless times.

When Witchcraft was still illegal in Australia, Norton openly declared herself a Witch and a Pagan. She was an occultist devoted to Pan and led a coven in the bohemian area of Kings Cross in Sydney, where she lived. She was often at the centre of police and tabloid scrutiny.

Norton died in 1979 from colon cancer.  Interest in her life and her work hasn’t waned. A number of books about Norton have been published over the years. Most recently, Sonia Bible has written and directed a new documentary called The Witch of Kings Cross. Norton remains a key influence in Australia’s Pagan landscape. For more on Norton, read the two-part Wild Hunt series published last month.

81hGHd2uexLRhiannon Ryall is the pseudonym of an English-born Australian Wiccan who established a coven-based tradition in Australia. Ryall asserted that, at the age of 16, she and other youth in her village were initiated into a local, pre-Gardnerian, Wiccan tradition in West Country, England during the 1940s. However, as I’ve been told, historians and Aussie Witches are skeptical of her Ryall’s assertion. Her tradition appears to be a blend of Gardnerian and Alexandrian practices.

Ryall published a number of books, but her most important and best known work is West Country Wicca: A Journal of the Old Religion. Like Norton, she was no stranger to the media. After the unexpected death of her daughter in 1991, Ryall and her husband abducted their granddaughter. The saga lasted for years, and the couple, already in their sixties, served some jail time. It garnered media attention and public praise for the father, the man who rescued his daughter from the Devil-worshiping witches. The event inspired a made-for-television movie in 1999.

I don’t know when Ryall passed away. Despite having been known as “a bit of a fibber,” and her legacy being tarnished by the kidnapping, Ryall was involved in several traditions and left behind a number of students and initiates. I’m told she was a lovely woman who is missed by many.

Simon Goodman (16 September 1951 – 23 September 1991) may be one of the most enigmatic figures in Australia’s magickal landscape. It’s hard to separate the facts from mythic history, but it’s safe to say that Goodman was the main promoter and initiator of Wicca in Australia in the late 1970s and 1980s.

It appears Goodman was initiated into Alexandrian Wicca in Sussex. He met and corresponded with Alex and Maxine Sanders, who gave him their blessing and a charter to initiate others. Goodman made good use of the photocopier at his workplace, copying entire books for his network of covens across Australia. When he died, he left his collection of documents to Murdoch University. According to Douglas Ezzy, in his essay “Australian Paganisms,” Alexandrian Wicca is the most numerous initiate tradition in Australia mostly deriving from individuals who trained with Goodman.

The Scholars and Storytellers

9781472522467Douglas Ezzy is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania. His contribution is mainly academic with a number of studies and essays appearing in other works aside from his own books. His work includes Sex, Death and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival, a look at one of Australia’s more well-known and controversial festivals, Faunalia.

Lynne Hume is a University of Queensland anthropologist who published the first and major defining academic study of Australian Paganism. Unfortunately, Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia is out of print, but can sometimes be found from second-hand book dealers.

41U3NdnPE5L._SL500_BO1,204,203,200_Nevill Drury (1 October 1947 – 15 October 2013) was an English-born Australian editor, publisher, and author of over 40 books on subjects ranging from shamanism and western magical traditions to art, music, and anthropology. He has many titles worth exploring, but one book of special interest here is Other temples, Other Gods: The Occult in Australia, which is also out of print. He is also the author of “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton,” published in Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies in 2010.

Peregrin Wildoak is the blogger behind Magic of the Ordinary. He is doing important work cataloguing material that Simon Goodman left behind, as well as recording memories and wisdom from Perth Wiccan elders from the 1970s and onward. His work will be invaluable to those collecting the history of Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia.

Brittany McCowan is a young aspiring documentary filmmaker from Lennox Head, Australia. She is currently working on directing her first feature length documentary called Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia. You can read my interview with McCowan on my blog and find out more about this project by visiting her website or her GoFundMe page.

Australia does have a story to tell. It has people worth knowing, and a history worth recording for future Pagans and Witches.

In the U.S., March is national Women’s History Month, and Sunday was International Women’s Day. Around the world, individuals and organizations celebrated the role and influence of women in society. Pagans and Heathens were among them. There is much to celebrate. In many places, women have come a “long way baby” from the Victorian days of limited opportunity and arranged marriages.

However, this is not the case everywhere. Limited opportunities and crimes against women persist throughout the world, manifesting in many different ways. Last March, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter was quoted as saying in an interview with NBC, violence against women is “the worst and most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on Earth.”

Stop Gender Based Violence

[public domain]

According to a recent New York Times article,”35 percent of women worldwide, more than one in three, have experienced physical violence in their lifetime.” In that same article, it is reported that “38 percent of women who are murdered are killed by their partners.”

This past Monday and Tuesday, the U.N. convened the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. During the two-day session a number of prominent international women spoke about conditions in their countries. Generally, the speakers agreed that the problem is very serious and highly complex. As such, there is not one single solution that will fit every country and every culture.

In the U.N.’s official report, Phumzile Mlabmbo-Ncguka, undersecretary-general for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and executive director of U.N.Women was described as saying:

We need urgent action and much stronger political commitment.” Human rights were interdependent and indivisible, Mlabmbo-Ncguka said, adding that men must be partners politically and in the home, including as parents. Men and boys were key to dismantling the patriarchy. That meant, among others, saying “no” to early marriages. The bold, brave acts of one Head of State or one student leader could have far-reaching effects. “We must make the economy work for women,” she stressed, adding, “empowering women empowers nations

Unfortunately, some of the most horrific, violent crimes committed against the world’s women are connected to witchcraft. It is often said that the historical European and American witch-hunts were simply organized attacks on women. In contemporary society, this seems to be, at least partly, true. Whether the reasons or motivations are the same would be a project for sociologists and historians. However, it is enough to know that the current witch-hunts and related tragedies are very real, and women are most commonly the victims.

In June 2014, the U.N. released a report opening with the question, “Did you know violence and abuse against elderly women, the world’s fastest growing demographic group, range from sexual violence, property grabbing, financial abuse and increasingly, extreme violence against older women accused of witchcraft?” It continues on to say, “Witchcraft accusations that are used to justify extreme violence against older women are reported in 41 African and Asian countries…”

But none of that is news. Women, specifically older women, have been the primary victims of witchcraft violence for years. However, what is news, is the growing and very recent pressure worldwide to fix the problem.

In Monday’s U.N. Session, Nana Oye Lithur, minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, reported on the positive momentum and strides being made in her own country in an effort to bring about gender quality.The report describes her as saying specifically, “The [Ghana] Ministry had recently closed down one of the country’s ‘witch camps,’ which had held captive a number of women accused of being witches.” The December 2014 closing was marked as an historical event in the fight for women’s rights.

Women in Nepal. Video Still. ©Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank SB-NP01

Women in Nepal. [From Video Still. ©Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank SB-NP01]

There are efforts being made by local governments and international advocacy organizations to end this tragic cycle, one that is based on a fear, cultural stigmas and gender-bias. Last year, we reported on one of the most recent legislative attempts to curb the witch-related violence. Like others before it, Nepal made illegal all witchcraft accusations and related violence. The South African Pagan Alliance (SAPRA), Witchcraft & Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) and other similar advocacy organizations work with International Human Rights groups, the U.N. and local governments to continue pushing for this level of awareness and legal intervention.

Unfortunately, laws don’t necessarily bring an end to the violence. A 57-year-old woman, believed to be a witch, was just found “thrashed” in a village in Nepal. A recent article out of India suggests one of the reasons for continued hunts is a lack of law enforcement education. The article says:

Murders and other serious crimes in the name of witchcraft, sorcery and superstitious practices continue unabated in the State despite more than a year of enactment of Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013, thanks to utter ignorance of its provisions among law enforcers on the ground.

The article adds that India is now working to educate its local police force.

In Africa, Tanzania’s government has recently taken a different approach. This January, it outlawed the actual practice of witchcraft. Over the past several years,Tanzania has seen a marked increased in the number of albino killings caused by so-called “witch doctors,” who propagate fear and superstition. Many locals believe that the limbs of a person with albinism have magical powers. According to a Red Cross report, these “witch doctors” will pay upward of “$75,000 for a complete set of albino limbs.” While this horrific violence is not at all limited to women, it is yet another abuse in a long list. Last year, the Huffington Post featured stories from a number of Tanzania’s albino women and their struggle to survive.

But murder and dismemberment are not the only problems caused by the propagation of witchcraft superstitions. According to a recent BBC report, the U.K. is facing a similar issue with the African Sex Trade industry. The article reads “British courts have found difficulty in bringing African sex-traffickers to justice because a belief in black magic and juju “spells” makes victims afraid to testify.” The women, taken primarily from Nigeria, are made to believe that these “witch doctors” hold powers of them and, as a result, are terrified to fight back or speak out.

The problem here is twofold. There are women, mostly elderly, who are being accused of witchcraft and, consequently, face abuse, confinement and death. Then, there are others, again mostly women, who are being manipulated through fear of witchcraft, into prostitution, a life of solitude, abuse, dismemberment and death. In some cases, the governments have banned witch-hunting and, in others, witchcraft itself.


Unfortunately, the latter legislation causes problems for legitimate Pagans, folk practitioners, or others using magic for purely spiritual purposes, such as WITZAN in Nigeria. Members of SAPRA have been working to reform these laws within their own country of South Africa, while also raising awareness for the problem. March 29 marks the beginning of SAPRA’s annual event called “30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch Hunts.”

The problem rages on with no end in sight, and not just in the countries mentioned above. Equally as troublesome  is that “witchcraft,” even if it’s just in name, is being used as a method to promote gender inequality and to justify the abuse of women and girls.

At this week’s 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was described as saying:

Women continued to suffer disproportionately from the economic crisis, from the impacts of climate change, from the displacement caused by conflict, persecution and other challenges. Extremist groups continued to ‘viciously and systematically attack girls and women…

This work includes the detangling of cultural fears and gender-biases, from superstitions, from would-be “witchcraft,” and from the spiritual practice of magic and Witchcraft.

General Ban Ki-moon then called on the Commission to speed up its efforts, to find workable solutions for these problems and to finally bring about true gender equality and create a world safe for women – all women. He added, “The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realize their full potential.”