Archives For Witchcraft

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.

30days

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.”

NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS –Climbing trees. Gregorian chants. Black velvet clothes. These are elements of author and priestess Vivianne Crowley’s personal spiritual journey, as told to a room packed with attendees at A Feast of Lights on Jan. 31. Weaving her own experiences and those she has observed together with cards from the Rider-Waite tarot deck, she posited a pattern of spiritual development that many modern Pagans and polytheists might find familiar.

[Photo Credit: Carmel Sastre, CC/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Carmel Sastre, CC/Flickr]

“I was the only child of older parents,” she explained. “We had no electricity at first, no radio or television, so I played for hours on my own each day.” Much of that play was out in the woods, and early her conception of “people” included trees and animals as well as her parents. It was through the trees, she said, that she found Paganism, although it would be many years before she connected her beliefs with that word.

One tree in particular got the young Crowley’s attention in quite a literal way. “I like climbing trees,” she said, in particular, “one that was split by lightning, but still growing.” Her foot could fit in the cleft created by that lightning bolt, but a shift in the wind would close the opening and hold her fast. Rather than panicking, it was an opportunity for her to learn patience and trust. She “let the tree decide” when to free her foot, leaving her to spend considerable time with it. Eventually, she recalled, “I let my consciousness merge with the tree, so that I felt my blood was green, and we communed without shared language.”

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

Those, together with many other experiences had before she was old enough for school, were formative in creating her own path toward Wicca, and she believes that is not unusual. “Childhood experiences are often the beginning of learning to connect the self and other,” she said. Her own experiences, which included spontaneous lucid dreaming and psychic images from her mother asking her what she wanted for lunch, molded her worldview before she had language to articulate it. That caused a bit of conflict when school began. At that time in England, the curriculum included “religious studies which were really Christian studies, and included frightening stories about a god who killed people.”

“Our reality and what we’re told don’t quite match,” she said of herself and other people who started on a Pagan-like path in their youth. “Animals don’t have souls? I didn’t believe that. Animal as deity made more sense to me. I saw The Ten Commandments, and cheered for the golden calf.” In addition to an awareness of nature spirits and a then-radical alternative concept of deity, Crowley said that by the time she was eight years old, she could get out of playing sports by making it rain. This is something she attributes to the altered state of consciousness that she learned communing with that tree. Her classmates were already calling her a “witch.”

Around that time, Crowley was baptized a Roman Catholic, which excused her from “religious studies” because they were considered a violation of the tenets of Catholic doctrine. Instead, Crowley was exposed to Latin mass at a local monastery, complete with Gregorian chants. As a result, “for the first time I got a sense of that other state [of consciousness] while in a building.” She continued to identify as a witch as well as a Catholic, and by the time she was eleven she had formed a coven, which lasted only “until the headmistress found out.”

It wasn’t until she was 14 years old, and the 1960s were unfolding, that Crowley learned a name for what she was feeling. “I saw witches on TV, and they called themselves Wiccans — it was a revelation to me!” Soon thereafter her family moved to London and, after a number of false starts, she was able to discover and be initiated by a coven.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“I wore a lot of black velvet clothes, and was attracted to stepping out of the ordinary,” she said. This entire portion of her journey she likened to the Fool card, which usually depicts the titular character setting off alone. “Something protects us at this point. I couldn’t find Wiccans at first, so I tried Buddhists, and mediums, and avoided some pitfalls” before finally meeting “kind witches.” She was clear that she wasn’t claiming that the young are always safe from harm on this quest, only that mistakes borne of that ignorance seem to be softened or minimized to some extent.

While the seeker is under the mantle of the Fool, Crowley likened the spiritual awakening to the Star. Talent in esoteric disciplines blossoms. Interests in incense, tarot, astrology, healing, herbalism, crystals, and a variety of such activities and paraphernalia are sparked by the emerging sensitivity a newcomer to the Pagan path experience.

“The first spells we try often succeed,” she said. As mastery of these ideas and powers grows, an initiate enters into the spiritual adolescence. Crowley compares this to the Sun and Magician cards, something she jokingly called “second-degree-itis” in her own Wiccan path. It’s a period characterized by “youthful arrogance and enthusiasm,” she said. And, it is often a time when one begins to attract students. “The first time you are asked for initiation, it is humbling,” she said, “and ego-inflating.”

Power is illusion, however, and in time the Sun card is replaced by the Moon, the Magician with the Devil. This is a stage many might find familiar, with relationships going wrong and a desire to “own” one’s group often gaining strength. “We realize that there’s no perfect people,” she said, and “we can be angry that our leaders are not perfect.” For small-group traditions, such as Wicca and other practices that fall under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella, she frames the problem in alchemical terms, saying that the challenge is to “accept the lead as well as the gold. People fall out because of relationships, not the path.”

From Rider-Waite Deck [Photo Credit: Julia Mariani / CC lic. Flickr]

From Rider-Waite Deck [Photo Credit: Julia Mariani / CC lic. Flickr]

In the following stage, Crowley said the Devil and Death come to the forefront as best representatives of the experience. “Which tradition is best?” she asked. Some people decide that their own traditions are the one true way, even looking down on other choices or dismissing them “rather than realizing that the path is for the person, just one part of the jigsaw puzzle, not the be-all.” She continued, saying “Some people just drop out” when faced with these obstacles. And if interpersonal challenges aren’t enough, “Sometimes there comes a time when the gods do not speak.”

That is the time of the Hanged Man and the Wheel of Fortune, which Crowley said is characterized by uncertainty and often when “change falls out of one’s pockets.” New ideas don’t fit preconceived notions, leading one’s world to be turned upside-down. “It forces difficult questions,” she said. It is a critical juncture when those, who have long been on a particular path, decide it’s the wrong one.

However, it may be too soon to make that judgment call. Eventually one may “reach a point of understanding,” a point represented by the Hermit and High Priestess, strength and mystery. “You can have your own gods,” Crowley explained, and they are not threatened nor blocked by the gods of others.

When looking back, Crowley said, a person should be able to recognize that they are not the same person who began journey. It is important, she said, to “send our younger selves love and care, and messages of encouragement,” in order to complete the more difficult parts of that journey as “our future selves guide us.”

She explained that such guidance can help one negotiate what to do if one’s student surpass the teacher. This can happen if one’s role is that of a point of strength, rather than a leading light. Such points are more replenishing than ritual in some cases.

“The point of the journey is to bring things back,” she said in closing. “We must give to move things forward, and we all have something to teach.” In that way, the partial knowledge still held about Paganisms of old can, like a phoenix, rise from the ashes in a new form, one that is relevant and vital for the spiritual, environmental, and political challenges of today.

For some, the phrase “tea party” conjures up images of little girls in pink taffeta dresses, or perhaps angry colonists on tall ships or, better yet, Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. What it doesn’t conjure up is 380 witches convening on the historic grounds of Exeter Castle in the UK. But that is exactly what happened this past weekend at the “Grand Witches’ Tea Party.”

[Photo by J.Moore]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

On Aug. 31, over 300 witches and others supporters, wearing pointy hats, capes and carrying brooms, arrived at Exeter castle to honor the lives of three British women hanged for Witchcraft. The Bideford witches are largely considered to be the last three women actually executed for the crime of Witchcraft under the 1605 statute.

As history tells, the judges believed that these women were innocent of their accused crimes. However, the men yielded to angry local mobs who called for a hanging. On Aug. 25 1682, Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles were all sent to the gallows at Heavitree. Today there is a plaque on Exeter Castle commemorating their lives and marking the tragedy in their deaths.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

Now 332 years later, modern U.K. Witches and their supporters rally at the same sight to call attention to the women’s story with the goal of having them officially pardoned of the accused crimes. In August 2013, author Christine Nash and local official Ben Bradshaw launched an e-petition to make this happen. However, the campaign failed with only 426 signatures. Ben Bradshaw is quoted as calling the hangings “a stain in our history.”

This year’s campaign was organized by local witch Jackie Juno and a group of her friends. However, the Grand Witches Tea Party became more than just a simple petition event. It grew larger, incorporating more expansive contemporary ideas within a respectful, yet festive, environment.

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Not only was the Grand Tea a rally asking the government to pardon the Bideford Witches; the event also aimed at becoming the largest gathering of witches in the U.K. or the world. Juno’s official count stands at a total of 380 people in all the regalia. She adds, “We set a new southwesterly record but fell short of world or U.K. records. But the main important bit of the day was the ceremony.”

The event began with a commemorative ritual dedicated to the three accused “willow” women. The ceremony was recorded and posted on YouTube in three parts. In retrospect, Juno says:

[The event] went beautifully, thanks to all the helpers and supporters of the event. I feel we did the women proud with the commemorative ceremony which was deeply moving.

The outdoor ritual included poetry, shrine offerings, moments of silence and sacred song. One of the organizers stepped forward to read Erica Mann Jong’s poem, “For Those Who Died,” which is a somber tribute to the many women who were tortured and killed as witches.

In addition to the ceremony and the gathering of signatures, the organizers also collected donations for the international organization Womankind.org, a “women’s human rights charity working to help women transform their lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America.” Womankind.org partners with other organizations around the world to “tackle the day to day issues that affect women’s lives.” Womankind’s projects include education and outreach, ending violence, gaining independence and protecting women’s health.

The organizers of The Grand Witches’ Tea Party sought to create a connection between the persecution of the Bideford Witches and the difficult conditions under which many women live today. A local Wiccan practitioner told an Independent reporter, who was present at the event,“Misogyny is still a massive part of our culture. It’s symbolic to get together to remember how women were being persecuted.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

During the ceremony, Juno read the following poem:

I am your grandmother killed for celebrating All Hallows. I’m your mother dragged from my bed to the gallows. I am your sister, a conquest of war at gunpoint. I am your daughter, a victim online at some point. I need all women who hear me to speak up for those without voices. I need you, every man who loves me, to protect me to make the right choices. I am your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your daughter. I call from beyond the mystery to say no to the horror and betrayal and the slaughter. We must right the wrongs of history.

At various moments, attendees raised their brooms and besoms to show support and solidarity for the cause. Juno says, “After the solemnity of the ceremony people enjoyed a fun and very friendly picnic, meeting new friends and old.”

As the event’s title suggests, many witches were seen drinking tea and enjoying the sunshine. Several bands entertained the group including The Mysterious Freakshow. On its Facebook fan page, the band wrote, “Witches, witches everywhere! Fabulous day at The Grand Witches Tea Party! The magic in the air was tangible. A true inspiration.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Juno was pleased with the turnout at the 2014 Grand Witches’ Tea Party. She added, “Folks traveled from far and wide to attend and we hope to hold a similar gathering next year.” She and several of the organizers are working to set up an organization that will continue this work. Although now just in the planning stages, the new organization will be called, “The Merrivale Group.”  In the meantime, they are currently counting the donated funds and enjoying the incoming photographs, videos and stories being shared on the event’s Facebook page.

[Note: With the exception of the plaque, all photos included here were taken by professional Pagan photographer James Moore of Balmy & Zen photography. They were used with permission but remain under strict copyright. For more shots of the Grand Witches’ Tea, go directly to Moore’s FB page.]

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 let’s get started!

Seekers TempleThis past week we reported extensively on the case of the Seekers Temple in Beebe, Arkansas, where allegations of a religiously biased local government exercising its power against a Pagan family have reverberated through our interconnected community. Now, it seems that a City Council meeting scheduled today in Beebe might mark the next flashpoint in this increasingly tense situation. Quote: We have been notified by a brave young Pagan girl that her mom is involved with a group of Christians who feel they must save Beebe, AR. from the Devil.  This group is planning to be at City Hall on Monday, June 23 at 6:30pm to combat us with our attempt to be recognized by the City Counsel. We would like to invite everyone to attend this meeting in the hopes that such a presents will keep things from getting out of hand.  We pray that the Christians AND Pagans will be Civil and polite and that our numbers alone will encourage the Mayor to rethink his position against Pagans.” We will keep you updated on this story as it continues to develop. 

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

Wiccan/Witchcraft credentialing and advocacy organization Covenant of the Goddess (COG) has launched a national survey to get feedback for a revisitation of their mission. Quote: “We are including a link to our national survey addressing our current Covenant of the Goddess Mission.  The Covenant of the Goddess(CoG) was founded in 1975.  Almost 40 years later, we would like to revisit our mission. To that end, we are surveying our membership and the Pagan/Wiccan community at large to determine whether these goals have been achieved, or should remain and/or whether others should be added. The survey is completely anonymous and should only take a few moments of your time.  Your input is really needed!  We will provide a report of the outcome (summary) data at the next CoG annual meeting in August 2014. Deadline for submission of this survey is July 20thPlease feel free to share the link to this survey to others in the Pagan/Wiccan community at large. We need feedback from all of you!!” The link for the survey is right here.

[Photo Credit: Damh the Bard]

[Photo: Damh the Bard]

On June 14th we reported on the installation of a commemorative Blue Plaque for “father of modern Witchcraft” Gerald Gardner. That article ended with a questions, which English figure would next receive that honor? Well Asheley Mortimer, trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, does have some ideas on that front. Quote: “A Blue Plaque is a marker for an historic moment, at the Centre For Pagan Studies we see it as a duty to ensure that as individuals like Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner pass, inevitably, from persons of living memory to figures of history the place they take in history is their rightful one, the blue plaques add to the positive wider public perception of Pagans and demonstrate that their achievements are every bit as life-changing and important to the world as historic figures from the mainstream […] As for who is next . . . it doesn’t have to be a witch at all, we are thinking about other figures from the Pagan community such as the druid Ross Nichols, and the like . . . , Alex Sanders and Aliester Crowley have also been mentioned as has Stewart Farrar . . . . basically we’re very open to suggestions . . . “ Do you have a suggestion? You can contact the Centre For Pagan Studies here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

  • I hope everyone had a good Summer Solstice (or Winter Solstice if you live ’round Australia), here’s how the Patheos Pagan Channel marked the holiday.
  • Hungarian Pagan band The Moon and The Nightspirit have a new album coming out! Quote: “We are happy to announce that our new album, “Holdrejtek” will be released on August 15th on Auerbach Tontraeger/Prophecy Productions. In tandem with “Holdrejtek”, our early albums, “Of Dreams Forgotten and Fables Untold” (2005), “Regő Rejtem” (2007), and “Mohalepte” (2011) will be re-issued in digipack format with revised layouts.” Here’s the label website.
  • The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions have announced the open bidding process for the next parliament. Quote: “We are pleased to announce the opening of the bid process for a city to host the 2017 Parliament of the World’s Religions. A Parliament event showcases ways in which religions shape positive action to address the challenges of our times, and seeks to develop new tools for implementing those actions in the years to come.” As The Wild Hunt has noted on several occasions, modern Pagans are deeply involved with the council and the parliament, and we will be keeping an eye on this process as it moves forward.
  • So, after your crowdfunding project gets everything it has asked for, what do you do next (aside from fulfill the funded project itself)? Morpheus Ravenna ponders the question. Quote: “I’m contemplating other ways to give back to the community out of the funds that are continuing to come in. I would love to hear from you. What else would you like to see as a next stretch project?”
  • Struggles between the Town of Catskill in New York and the Maetreum of Cybele continue. Quote: “This time the Town of Catskill is bringing suit against us for refusing a fire and safety inspection. (To clarify: this is actually a separate – though related – issue from the ongoing property tax case). Cathryn represented us and she did an excellent job. There was a different attorney representing the town this time (NOT Daniel Vincelette), this one was just as much of an obnoxious bully, though. He was accusing us of running an illegal Inn, pointing his finger at Cathryn and making aggressive gestures.” You can read our full coverage of the Maetreum’s tax battles with the town, here.

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

The Arkansas Times, at their blog, notice that there’s something going on in the town of Beebe.

“Heard of the Seekers Temple? If not, I expect you will before long. It’s a pagan temple and store that says it has run into a slew of headaches in attempting to pursue its business and religion in Beebe, Ark. Bertram and Felicia Dahl, the high priest and priestess of Seekers Temple, have this extensive account, “Problems in Beebe.” They say Beebe officials had welcomed their move from El Paso until they found out they were pagans.”

As the Arkansas Times noted, the Dahl’s narrative is eye-opening, and a reminder of how local officials can work against you if they don’t like who you are, or what you believe.

Seekers Temple“Mayor Robertson said that we were not zoned for a church or business, so we pointed out two churches across the street.  He said that our side of the street is not zoned for it, so we pointed out commercial property for sale next to us and a business out of a barn next to that and a business out of a house next to that (run by our alderman).  He said that the business zone ends at our property and was not allowed from there on down, so we pointed out a business next to us on the other side, run out of a home.  He said that in Beebe, they zone individual property and ours was not zoned for it, so we ask what we had to do to get it re-zoned.  He said we do not have enough parking, so we pointed out that we have more parking than some of the restaurants in town and much more than the other businesses run out of homes.  He said there was no way we were having our church there, so we ask about just opening the store and keeping our group as a small in-house meeting of friends.  He admitted that he can not stop us from having friends over, but that he would be watching and he would break it up if we had too many people over (true to his word, police sit and watch our house often).  He said we would have to speak with the city attorney about opening a store and what we could have in it and he would have that person call us (this never happened) and that was the end of our meeting.  We have ask many times since then, but he has not granted us another meeting.”

It gets worse, as there have been accusations of continual harassment by a local Christian church, and the arrest of Bertram Dahl when he tried to appeal to the church on their own property.

“On 2014 May 21, as the members of the church were gathering, I walked into the church and ask for there attention.  I told them what was going on and how the Pastor (which is who we thought the Bishop was at the time) and the Elders were ignoring our pleas.  I asserted that we did not believe they would all approve of what was going on and ask for their help in talking to their church leaders about not harassing us.  I left the church and went home in the hopes of having a meeting with some of the members and finding a solution.  Instead of having members show up, I was ask to come out of my home by three police officers and told we were no longer welcome at the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church.  The officers told me I would have to take the matter to the courts and they left.  I have not been over there since.   

    The next week, to the day, 2014 May 28, two officers came and arrested me for Disorderly Conduct and Harassing Communications.  This had been filled by Jason E. Scheel (who had in fact harassed us) and John Scheel (whom we have never met nor talked to).  The City must have informed Mr. Scheel that they were coming to arrest me as is evident by his sitting in a car across the street watching me be arrested (may I also point out at this time that they did NOT read me my rights).  We had to pay $320 to get me out of jail with a plea date of July 9.”

On the Seeker’s Temple’s official Facebook page, they further clarify their current status.

Seekers Temple house (Google maps).

Seekers Temple house (Google maps).

“Thank you to all the people who are giving us suggestions. We need to be clear on a few things that seem to be confusing.  We are not a new temple trying to open. We have in fact been open, and legal, for over five years. The reason Beebe is an issue is because we moved here.  We do not have the money for a legal battle and that is why we are asking for your help. We need letters saying you want us open in Beebe and we need people to stand with us at city hall to show that the public wants us to exist. All of this is spelled out at www.seekerstemple.com/problems-in-beebe . Please, before you comment, go read the story.  And truly, thank you all for taking your time to get involved at whatever level you are able. Blessed Be you All.”

Unlike other cases, I don’t think this is one where the local mayor will be easily pressured into grudging tolerance. As the Arkansas Times points outMayor Mike Robertson has some firm ideas of who should be in control (ie Christians). 

“Please remember in the coming November election for leaders of this nation to elect only those who will stand firm doing the will of God and not their will. If placing God or the simple mentioning of his holy name in this newsletter is offensive to some; so be it. I do not and will not apologize, ever, for giving him the praise he is due for all that he has done for our blessed country. Not now, not ever in the future, should we turn our backs to our creator.”

So what happens next? The temple is asking for fiscal, legal, and local support to help them navigate this seeming attempt to run them out of town through the exercise of “soft” power.

“We are asking that people show up at City Hall at 6:30pm on the fourth Monday of each month until we are heard and/or donate to Seekers Temple by mail or at PayPal account SeekersTemple@yahoo.com and/or write your letter of support in opening our temple and store in Beebe, AR. and send it to our address or by email to Priest@SeekersTemple.com”

The Wild Hunt is currently seeking an interview with Bertram and Felicia Dahl, and we should hopefully have that up later this week. In the meantime, it sounds like Arkansas Pagans have problems in Beebe, and it may be time for national Pagan organizations to step in and offer help.

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 let’s get started!

310617-250We here at The Wild Hunt do as much as we can to cover our ever-expanding and ever-changing religious movement, but sometimes we miss out on cool stuff. Like, for instance, The Morrigan’s Call, a weekend retreat held June 6th – 8th in Massachusetts (sponsored by Morrigu’s Daughters).  The retreat, dedicated to Celtic goddess the Morrigan, was focused on “self-empowerment, confidence and in living a magical life,” inspired several attendees to write about their experiences on the Internet. Corvus Black said the weekend was “intense,” and instilled the “sense of being in a tribe.” Morgan Daimler called the weekend “an awesome and amazing thing to experience,” while Stephanie Woodfield says she feels changed by the experience. Quote: “I feel changed. It is amazing how often I have said that in the course of a handful of years. So much has happened, my life has taken so many interesting changes, never the ones I expected but sometimes what the Gods have in store for you is far better than the futures we imagine for ourselves. The Morrigan has been an ever present force in my life, and I didn’t think I could feel closer to Her, but I do.” You can learn more about Morrigu’s Daughters, an online sisterhood dedicated to the Morrigan, at their official website.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 9.48.54 AMFulgur Esoterica has announced details of I:MAGE 2014, their annual exhibition of esoteric art. This year, the concept will be “Traveling With Unfamiliar Spirits.” Quote: “The spirit world comes to life in this two-week-long celebration of esoteric art. The show’s theme coincides with the time of year: the beginning of the dark months. Popular culture calls it Hallowe’en but contemporary Witches and Druids across Europe and North America call it Samhain, Heathens Winter Nights, Greek reconstructionist movements Thesmophoria; Vodou practitioners celebrate Fete Ghede, followers of Santeria and indigenous religions in Latin America observe Día de los Muertos, while Welsh folklore advises staying away from cemeteries on Calan Gaeaf. In most magical and esoteric traditions the end of October is a sacred time of year, a time for honouring the dead and communicating with the spirit world. It is a time to acknowledge the winter months and delve into the darker part of the year and of the self. The boundaries between the familiar and what is Other shatter. The veil is thin. The magic begins. For I:MAGE 2014, artists will explore what it means to communicate with spirits through art. They will give us a glimpse of a unifying theme across different esoteric practices and offer us the perfect opportunity to introduce you to a truly international show.” The event will be centered at the Cob Gallery in London, from October 21st through November 2nd. You can look at the list of I:MAGE-sponsored events here. Here are a list of the exhibiting artists.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

Last week I reported on Morpheus Ravenna’s IndieGoGo campaign to fund the creation of a book dedicated to Celtic goddess The Morrigan. Since then, the campaign has surpassed its $7,500 goal, and has raised over $10,000 dollars, taking the initiative into stretch goals, and allowing for expanded offerings. Quote: THANK YOU. You guys are amazing, and I’m so proud to be part of such a passionate community. I was going to video us enjoying our traditional method of celebrating by cracking open a bottle of champagne with a sword… but the champagne bottle got so excited it popped as soon as the foil was off! So this is what we caught on camera. Minus all the jokes about prematurely popping our corks, of course. […] as we’ve already met the primary goal, I’m putting your funds to work. I’ve jettisoned the extra hours I was working at a second job, and those hours have now been dedicated in my schedule to writing the book. This almost triples the amount of time each week that I will be able to dedicate to the book!” Part of those stretch funds will go towards funding additional art works for the book, including work by Valerie Herron, who also did the amazing Cernunnos header you see here at The Wild Hunt. Below I’ve embedded a celebratory video response from Morpheus Ravenna, who is no doubt working on the book as we speak. 

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • Peter Grey, author of “Apocalyptic Witchcraft,” has published an essay at Scarlet Imprint on “rewilding” Witchcraft in the face of chaos and eco-disaster. Quote: “How tame we have become. How polite about our witchcraft. In our desire to harm none we have become harmless. We have bargained to get a seat at the table of the great faiths to whom we remain anathema. How much compromise have we made in our private practice for the mighty freedom of being able to wear pewter pentagrams in public, at school, in our places of employment. How much have the elders sold us out, genuflecting to the academy, the establishment, the tabloid press. In return for this bargain we have gained precisely nothing.”
  • Speaking of events I missed, here’s a review of 2014’s Beltania festival in Colorado. Quote: “‘B14′ was a festival of firsts: the first year of our Rainbow Welcome Center, the first year we held a Continuous Bale Fire and the first year our Pagan Military were honored for their service in an official manner, honored in person by Selena Fox! For the first time this year, festival goers had multiple choices of Main Rituals from various backgrounds to attend on Saturday night. In addition to the Living Earth’s ritual, we had a Heathen Blot led by the fabulous Wolf Thye and Kathy Burton or the Gnostic Mass led by the local group Crux Ansata Oasis. I personally felt a lot of excitement from people who were looking forward to participating in something new.” Seriously folks, when does Selena Fox sleep?
  • Llewellyn Worldwide has announced the publication of their 2014 Tarot Catalog, so tarot enthusiasts rejoice! Quote: “We are proud to bring our readers our FOURTH annual tarot catalog! Discover the newest in tarot offerings from Llewellyn, Lo Scarabeo, and Blue Angel, plus get free shipping on US orders over $25 and 20% savings when you order online with the promo code found on the cover! Hurry, savings good through 8/1/14!” Read it online here.

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  • PNC-Minnesota interviews Gardnerian Elder Ed Fitch at Heartland Pagan Festival. Quote: “I find it is very good to work as a coven because you can exchange ideas, and do power workings with them. Solitary you get to study and meditate. People have personalities and there are sometimes conflicts. When that happens it is best to just ease away genially and then do your own research and study. I like both ways of working.”
  • Medusa Coils reminds us that Glastonbury Goddess Conference is coming up in July. Quote: “The 19th Annual Glastonbury Goddess Conference will be held July 29-August 3 in Glastonbury, England, with fringe events starting July 26. Themed ‘Celebrating the Crone Goddess: The Cauldron and the Loom.'”

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

Sparky T. Rabbit

Sparky T. Rabbit

On June 2nd, the ritualist, liturgist, performer, and Witch known to many as Sparky T. Rabbit passed away. Sparky T. Rabbit (aka Bruner Soderberg, Peter B. Soderberg) brought his acting and performance background into his modern Pagan experience, and as a result, helped shape Pagan liturgy and practice as we now know it. This included his work with the ritual music duo Lunacy, which released two albums during its tenure. Sparky T. Rabbit, during his lifetime, involved himself in several religious communities, was very influential in shaping gay male spirituality within religious Witchcraft, endeared himself to many, and gained a reputation as someone who would, in his own words, critique and satirize neopaganisms, monotheisms, and any other -isms that seem appropriate.” 

“I first met Sparky in a hot tub–I believe it was somewhere in Madison Wisconsin sometime in the ’80s when I was there to do a workshop.  I remember him singing and laughing, and how his beautiful voice transported me.  Sparky has given us so many of the chants that I still use in rituals and celebrations.  They form the rhythm and melody of my life in the Craft.  Sparky could be difficult at times.  He often stirred a bitter brew in his cauldron–yet out of that ferment came great beauty and inspiration.  I honor his spirit, and will play his music and remember him singing and laughing!  In love may he return again!”Starhawk, author of “The Spiral Dance.” 

Since his passing, a number of wonderful tributes and obituaries have emerged from those who knew him. Aline “Macha” O’Brien explores her long association and friendship with Sparky, and storyteller Steven Posch, a close confidant, posted three days of tribute to a man that he called his “heart-friend and partner-in-arts,” while Nels Linde at PNC-Minnesota shares remembrances from those who’ve been touched by his life.

“Sparky T. Rabbit’s voice is intertwined with the roots of my development as a witch, and we still use the chants that he wrote and the chants that he popularized within our covens today. I played the cassettes for his two albums so often that I wore them out and had to buy replacements twice. I cherish the one time that I had the opportunity to sing with him. It is still a luminous fan boy moment for me. I grieve the loss of such a beautiful man and his beautiful talents, but I also grieve that so many in the current generation of Pagans have not heard of him. What is remembered lives. Take the time to look him up and find copies of his music which is finally available again in digital formats. Then you’ll feel the joy of discovering his music, and also share my sense of loss as well. May he go forth shining.” - Ivo Dominguez, Jr. Elder, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel

We here at The Wild Hunt have been honored that Ray Bayley, Sparky T. Rabbit’s handfasted husband since 1984, took a moment from what must be a very emotionally trying time, to share a few words about his partner’s life and legacy.

Sparky & Ray at their handfasting at 1984 Pagan Spirit Gathering. Photo: Mari Powers of Circle Sanctuary.

Sparky & Ray at their handfasting at 1984 Pagan Spirit Gathering. Photo: Mari Powers of Circle Sanctuary.

“Peter/Sparky/Bruner worked on, showed me and others, and sought to walk the talk that spirituality, psychology, sociology, politics, and communication are all one thing. E.g. he sought to not tolerate hypocrisy and power-over manipulations, and he promoted clear communication, consensus, and empowerment.

He promoted high quality and people seeking to have high quality. E.g. he brought theatre skills and knowledge to ritual performance. He promoted experts doing their expertise and people becoming actual expert in what they claimed to have expertise in. He wanted us to be supportive of feedback/critique (thus given in a neutral or friendly fashion) and to do it in a positive direction where a suggestion is made for betterment. Some might think that supporting high quality and the authority of experts/expertise was allowing for power-over hierarchies. However, he wanted hierarchies only in the sense that some are better at some things than others and we consensually agree, through clear communication among us, that some among us have a position that is more authoritative, more guiding, even more boundary setting in some situations, for as long as we agree on that and their worthiness of that position continues.

Peter/Sparky/Bruner valued humor highly both in “it’s good to laugh” and in using tricksterism to stir the pot and poke at the overly serious and overly inflated. He valued sincerity highly, however seriousness was leavened with some humor. His laugh was said by some to be like a jolly, good king laughing, loud, spontaneous, and friendly.

He and I were concerned at first that my being a scientist would conflict with his being so on the poetry, stories, lyrics, spiritual side. However, my creed of ‘wide open to possibility, skeptical about actuality, probability is the only certainty’ turned out to fit well with his wanting clear communication, truth not lies, allowing for diversity, etc.”

Like Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who knew Sparky T. Rabbit for years, many are thankful for his spirit, wit, rituals, stories, and music.” It’s clear that he was an individual who reached deep into other people, and helped them toward their own realization and power.

“I remember Sparky from the beginning. Way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the beginning of many Pagan festivals and groups. I lived in Minneapolis at the time. There was an early gay men’s spiritual weekend at Rowan Tree. There was a Pan Pagan Festival in Indiana. COG was at Circle Pines. PSG started its long journey through the years and diverse locations. A dear departed friend had a post Pagan festival gathering of gay men at his lake house in Michigan. Conversations online and many deep conversations recently in Missouri and at Stonehouse are fresh in my mind. Long years, deep connections. Sparky was there for me to help loosen me up. I was a shy introvert. Every step of the way I learned how precious considered thought and action are, and how important being fabulous is. I learned that I was valued and that valuing others and sharing is what life is about. An abiding principle was that it is always a greater thrill to expect the unexpected than to expect the expected. I have a deep admiration for his music, teaching, and sharing; and a love for the man and his work in this world. I hope we meet again Bruner.” – Nicholas Sea, Kentucky

To celebrate Sparky T. Rabbit’s legacy, Ray Bayley hopes to reissue Sparky’s two Lunacy albums on CD, and publish other works. What is remembered lives.

Nearly daily there are news reports on abuses inflicted on people who have been accused of witchcraft. Just today the Zambia Daily Mail reported that a man was killed and another beaten over such accusations. These horrifying cases occur all over the world with a concentration in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, India and Nepal.

In most of these attacks, the victims are not Pagans or Witches in a western sense and are not likely practicing any form of witchcraft. The accusations are simply used as weapon against the unwanted who are more often than not women. Fortunately with the continued growth of the international women’s movement, these acts of violence are becoming the subject of real concern and decisive action.

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

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

Today we can report that Nepal, the country with the highest concentration of attacks, has taken some concrete steps to curb and, hopefully end, witchcraft-related violence. According to the Republica:

The government is working to finalize a draft of the ´Witchcraft Act (Charge and Punishment) 2014 to take stringent action against those involved in the inhuman treatment of females accused of practicing witchcraft. 

The new Witchcraft Act was prepared by Nepal’s Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW), a federal department dedicated to the legal protection that particular segment of the population. On its website, the Department states:

Its mandate is to empower women especially those who are economically poor … socially deprived or at a disadvantage.

The most recent draft of the Witchcraft Act states that the accuser can be fined up to 1,050 USD and given up to a ten-year jail sentence.  According to the Republica, the act makes it clear that “torturing women through thrashing, slandering, smearing them with black soot, pouring acid on them or forcibly feeding them feces, on the charge of witchcraft, will be considered a crime.”

This is the first time that the Nepalese government has legislated the meaning of the term witchcraft. While that definition may be a far cry from that found in the U.S. or Europe, the effort will potentially alleviate some of problems and, thereby, open opportunities for more progressive and aggressive work towards eradicating the problem.

A good example is South Africa which has had a Witchcraft Suppression Act since 1957, later revised in 1970. According to this law, accusations of witchcraft carry with them a fine of over 30,000 USD and up to ten years in prison. While the law has certainly not stopped the problem, it has provided a legal grounding that serves to elevate the conversation within the country. Today South Africa has an active Pagan organization, South African Pagan Right’s Alliance, that can openly fight against these senseless accusations as well as work with government officials towards a legal dissection of the modern meanings of witchcraft.

Nepal hasn’t reached that point in the process. Like the original South African law, the new Nepal law makes the accusations illegal but also fails to specifically recognize or allow for Witchcraft as a legitimate magical practice found within folk religious traditions or modern Paganisms. According to the Republica, the new Act will permit police investigations of those legally accused of witchcraft.

As with many of the areas that suffer from witchcraft-related violence, Nepal’s problem is grounded in deeply-rooted cultural beliefs. As reported by the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), the “belief in witchcraft” is embedded in the country’s “strong animistic and shamanic tradition.” Nepalese Shamans work with the spirit world to heal and assist the living but bokshi or “witches” are considered detrimental influences who only can bring harm to society.

The report also cites the problematic influence of the so-called Witch Doctor who often holds a good deal of power over a village. For the right price, these men will perform spiritual investigations to locate the source of a bewitchment. Their accusations are often guided by the whims of their clientele and not a concern for the general well-being of the population. (WHRIN 2014 Country Report: Nepal)

womenfoundation_logo

Currently there are multiple organizations in Nepal fighting to protect women from the horrors of witchcraft-related abuse. One of these organizations is The Woman’s Foundation of Nepal founded in 1988 by a group of concerned female college students. While its mission is to help Nepalese women in general, the organization is an active participant in the fight against witchcraft-related violence. Its website states:

Often widows in Nepal are termed “bokshi”, or witches, and are subject to extreme abuse and discrimination. Many of the victims have led very difficult lives, and once accused of being a ‘bokshi’, are beaten, tortured, or forced to commit degrading acts such as eating human waste, or the meat of other humans … In cases where women are being abused for “practicing witchcraft,” WFN directly supports the victims by removing them from that dangerous situation, treating them medically if necessary, and supporting them legally to file a case against their accusers.

The Forum for Protection of People’s Rights, Nepal (PPR Nepal) is another similar organization who worked closely with WHRIN to produced the 2014 Nepal country report. PPR Nepal says, “The magnitude of gender-based violence in Nepal is extremely high. Among the various forms of violence, witchcraft related violence especially against unprivileged women e.g. widow, poor, helpless is widespread in the country.”

As with other countries experiencing high levels of witchcraft-related violence, Nepal continues to struggle with extreme poverty, lack of education and sub-standard medical care. Advocacy organizations are not blind to the bigger problem within that bigger framework. Therefore their work often incorporates education, medical treatment and job placement.

With the new Witchcraft Act in place, the NGO advocacy groups and the Ministry will have another tool in their pocket to support their work. While the law is certainly not a panacea, it does provide the legal fuel needed in their fight to protect the rights and health of the women of Nepal. Over time, this Act and others like it may lead to opportunities for inter-cultural work and inter-religious education that will grow a better global understanding of the many meanings of Witchcraft.

 

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 let’s get started!

10171823_657991900922656_4489060788986826316_nOn June 25th in New York City, a “Night of The Witch” will take place, featuring talks from Christina Oakley Harrington of Treadwell’s Books in London, and Pam Grossman, an expert on the occult in Western art who co-hosted of the 2013 Occult Humanities Conference at NYU. Grossman’s talk will be on the figure of the witch in modern art, while Harrington will focus on British Witchcraft from the 1950s through the 1970s. Quote: “British Witchraft revived in the 1950s and 1960s. To the horror and fascination of the English press and public, some of these witches gave interviews and even allowed secret rites to be photographed. They wanted the world to know a non-Christian basis of ethics, a radical concept of the sacred, and the power of altered states of consciousness. Both tradition-based and forward-thinking, they were paradoxical. Tonight’s speaker comes from the UK Wiccan community, and brings these characters to life and shares insights into their vision of the Craft.” Tickets for the event at the Meta Center can be bought here.

Pagan activist Patrick McCollum holding the Earth flag.

Patrick McCollum

Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum is heading to the United Nations, and will participate in a special session on nuclear disarmament. Here’s an excerpt from a statement put out by McCollum through the Patrick McCollum Foundation. Quote:  “Today I am preparing for my trip to the United Nations on April 29th to participate in a special session on Nuclear Disarmament. I already know several of the key players who will attend and I am looking forward to meeting and creating relationships with several others. H.E. Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt the Permanent Observer for the Holy See (the Pope) will be present and I look forward to meeting him and creating a stronger connection with the Vatican. I have already made connections with several Cardinals and a number if Bishops and am continuing to have conversations toward partnering to address world peace issues.” In a statement sent to press, McCollum added that he is “honored to be in such revered company tackling such an important issue at such a high level,” and that he believes “it is only through partnering with others and including the voices of all concerned, no matter what their race, religion, or culture may be, that we can achieve world peace and create a planet that revers the sacredness of every sentient and non-sentient being!”

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

At Patheos.com, T. Thorn Coyle has announced a new public study-group focusing on the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. Quote: “I want to use this space for a monthly meeting. A study group. Each month, I want to discuss a chapter of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I want us to invoke the Power To Know. There is a call to start a movement to help overturn the devastation of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration through the Prison Industrial Complex. But before we start a movement, we have to know what we are up against. The prison industrial complex and the war on drugs have infiltrated every community in the U.S. They have changed our thinking, and how we build culture. Our assumptions are as unchallenged as the water we drink or the air we breathe. We barely notice they’ve become toxic. I am a Pagan and a Magic Worker. In my experience, everything in life and magic, every act of honoring the Gods or Goddesses, every encounter with our planet’s moon, or an apple tree has this in common: we are called into relationship. Our religious and spiritual practices ask us to deepen these relationships. To re-connect. To re-member.” For those wanting to buy the book from a local, Pagan-owned, source, Fields Books has agreed to stock the title for this initiative. Discussion posts will go up the fourth Wednesday of each month at Patheos.com.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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  • On a related note, a group of Pagans have founded the Council of The Phoenix (Facebook page), which seeks to address abuse within the Pagan community. Quote: “Every 15 seconds abuse takes place in America, and it is happening in the Pagan community at large. Abuse, whether physical, psychological and emotional as well as sexual abuse is the most under reported phenomenon in our society. It is high time for it to end at our gatherings and festivals. There is too much silence and turning a blind eye about this! We must strive to be violence free and never commit, condone, or stay silent about any act of violence.”
  • Holly Allender Kraig, the widow of author and teacher Donald Michael Kraig, who passed away in March, has posted an update to note that the campaign to help offset funeral and medical costs raised over $15,000 dollars. Quote: “Because of you being you, we were able to raise over $15,522.00!!! I am humbled, honored and blessed by all your love and support.” Kraig noted that a memorial service is still being planned, and will feature a ceremony written by Donald Michael Kraig during the struggle against cancer that claimed his life.
  • The second book in Raymond Buckland’s Bram Stoker Mysteries series will be published on October 7th of this year. You can pre-order “Dead for a Spell” at Amazon.com now. The first book, “Cursed in the Act,” is out now. While Buckland is no doubt an accomplished novelist, he’s best known within modern Pagan communities as one of the people responsible for bringing Gardnerian Wicca to the United States, and publishing several instructional books relating to religious Witchcraft.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary’s 2014 Hypatia Day Drive is winding up, they’ve raised nearly $12,000 dollars toward their goal of $17,000 dollars. Quote: “It’s been a busy spring, and a great many of you have helped us raise an amazing $11,842!  That’s a just over $5,000 away from our goal.  Remember that those who join during this 2014 Hypatia Day Drive will receive a lovely Hypatia altar/desk card. But best of all, you will be investing in the finest education for Pagans available. Click here to join or renew your membership to The Hypatia Society.”
  • Aidan Kelly, who blogs at the Patheos.com Pagan portal, has published a new book entitled “A Tapestry of Witches: A History of the Craft in America, Volume I.” Quote: “I have released the first volume of the history for which I began gathering data about 30 years ago. It covers from 1893 up to the mid-1970s. There were Witches before Gardnerian Witchcraft was introduced to America by Raymond Buckland, and there still are. The relationship between these two varieties is still a matter for active discussion. The book contains several hundred footnotes, mostly documenting the Wiccan and Pagan periodicals from which I gleaned the data about the existence of covens, nests, groves, etc. Hence I am not releasing it as an e-book, because the footnotes would be mangled in that format.” 

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

On Sunday WGN America debuted its first originally-scripted TV series: Salem. Crafted in the horror genre, the show follows in the footsteps of the popular American Horror Story: Coven.  WGN uses the tag line: “The Witch Hunt Has Begun – In Salem, witches are real, but they are not what they seem.”

On opening night Variety reported that the show earned “1.5 million viewers” which is “seven times the network’s season-to-date average in the 10 p.m. timeslot.” WGN is capitalizing on the recent popularity of witches in order to launch its new original production offerings. In July the network will premiere its second series, Manhattan, and then in 2015, Ten Commandments.

WGN America's Salem Promotional Poster

WGN America’s Salem Promotional Poster

WGN’s Salem is the latest in a very long-line of television and film productions using the city as its setting. Hollywood began its love-affair with the trials in 1909 with the release of Edison’s In the Days of Witchcraft. Perhaps the most famous rendering of the Salem story is Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” which transforms the city’s history into an allegory for McCarthy-era politics. Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem said, “The Salem Witch Trials are a rich and compelling subject for novelists and screenwriters…”

In this latest adaption, the witches are rendered as actual creatures. WGN’s Salem presents a historically-derived Puritan world complete with “witch” panics alongside the genuine existence of Satanic-based witchcraft. In doing so, it attempts to offer a far more complex ethical structure than past Salem or witch stories.

When production was initially announced, a group of Salem citizens and business owners discussed the potential for damage caused by yet another Hollywood show conflating history and horror. Should they protest? Elizabeth Peterson, director of Salem’s Witch House, said:

The Witch House is the only historic site left that was an absolute witness to the conversations and phenomena [of that time].  It is our responsibility to dignify and intellectualize that history. 

After multiple conversations, the group opted for a different approach. Fox said, “I will welcome the opportunity [the show] will afford to talk about the destination Salem with viewers who may find a new interest in our town.”

Salem Witch House [Photo Credit: Scott Lanes]

Salem Witch House [Photo Credit: Scott Lanes]

After seeing the show Peterson said, “I’m not worried that [Salem] could be mistaken as historical because it is so fantastical.” She points out that show contains many inaccuracies but it’s presented in such a way that there is no danger in mistaking it for fact. In other words, WGN’s Salem is not even pretending to be real. It is pure horror entertainment.

Due to the continued fascination with the trials, Salem and New England in general have ascended historicity to become a modality within American popular myth. Salem as a backdrop is strongly rooted within Hollywood’s own narrative symbolism. Even Samantha makes a trip to Salem for a Witches Convention in 1970. If you make a witch movie or show, it should be set in a small town in New England.

Just as it capitalizes on historical lore, WGN’s Salem also makes use of the archetypal Hollywood Satanic witch. Narratively speaking these witches are villagers who have sold their souls to the Devil for personal gain. They perform magic with oils, frogs, lizards, hogs, blood and fire. They hold sabbats in the dark woods wearing beastly masks. They have familiars and understand the nuances in “life, love, war and death.”

Visually speaking the witches are monstrous, zombie-like creatures that only appear in quick cuts or extreme close-up. Such shots are often flanked by tilted visions, screams and flashes of light. These are all very typical elements of the modern horror montage. To counter that extreme, these same witches appear as their respectable former selves during the day and are shot in a non-dynamic simple composition.

At first it might seem WGN’s Salem is yet another horror show fostering the negative representations of witches. It is after all presenting a typical Satanic witch story. However it does do something a bit different. It offers an atypical dynamic morality that embraces the complexity of contemporary social issues. This complexity is best demonstrated though three characters: John Alden, Cotton Mather and Mary Sibley.

John Alden is defined as the imperfect but good secular American. He fights for “his country,” befriends Native Americans and stands against the Puritan moral panic. At one point he tells Mather, “She needs a doctor not your prayers.” John is the open-minded, modern cowboy who believes in love and even Paganism. When Anne Hale explains that Mather calls drawing “idolatry” or nature worship, Alden responds, “There are worse things to worship.”

Cotton Mather is the polar opposite. He represents the religious zealot who publicly defines life through absolutes found in the testimony of his books. Giles Corey describes Mather as the “most dangerous type of fool…The kind that thinks he knows everything.” Mather is further demonized through his apparent hypocrisy. While inspecting the wounds on an hysterical young girl, Mather pushes her dress up to her thighs. At that point, the camera rhythmically cuts between his face, her face and his hands on her thighs. Then the show abruptly cuts to a salacious scene of Mather in a brothel. The viewer is left wondering if Mather abused the girl.

WGN America's Salem Poster

WGN America’s Salem

To complete the triad, there is Mary Sibley, the witch.  As a young unwed pregnant girl, Mary is led to witchcraft by Tituba in order to escape public shame and punishment. The show posits that Mary and ostensibly the others turn to the Devil in order to escape the horrors of Puritanism. However at the same time, Mary is also depicted as cruelly toying with John Alden, driving a young girl mad and killing Giles Corey. Her vengeance knows no boundaries.

These witches are morally complex representing a type of social defiance that is very contemporary. The show appears to oppose the tyrannical religious teachings of its conservative Christian environment.  At one point Giles Corey says, “Puritans know their sun is setting. Nothing like a new enemy … to get people behind ya.” This statement recalls recent discourse surrounding the religious climate in the Unites States.

Similarly Puritan leader George Sibley yells out, “We cannot expect God to be on our side if we tolerate abominations or those that commit them.”  While he is referring to “fornication,” his line resembles language used to counter the Marriage Equality movement.

WGN’s Salem explores the progressive ethics that are now appearing within contemporary American discourse. It is mediating the mythological Salem story through very current cultural politics. The witches themselves are the tipping point that places the viewer into the uncomfortable position of liking the goal but disliking the means. Through them we can ask, “success at what the cost?”

Are these witches representative of real Witches, Wiccans or Pagans?  No they aren’t.  As with the use of Salem, the witches are merely typical Hollywood archetypes representing social defiance. In fact the narrative makes a direct distinction between a “nature worshipper” and the Witch.

How the show proceeds over its run will be interesting. How will it negotiate the issues presented? How will it handle race and explain the origins of the young, beautiful Tituba as instigator of Salem’s witchcraft?  What is Nathan and Anne Hale’s story?

With all that said, was it a good entertainment? It was average, sensationalistic and at times campy. It falls into the category of recent shows pushing the limits of television horror by exploring the limits of our humanity. If the show continues on its current course, it may hold a season worth of interest beyond that, who knows.