Archives For Witchcraft

CHICAGO, Ill. — On Feb. 6, a performance collective named WITCH will be hosting a ritual protest in Logan Square in support of local housing rights.The organizers describe the event as a “hexing and protective spell action,” which will include recognizable elements of Witchcraft practice. Due to this design, the protest has been attracting both mainstream media attention and social media backlash. We spoke with the group’s founders to find out more.

W.I.T.C.H. action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

WITCH protest action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

“Gentrification has been affecting Logan Square for the last 15+ years. Our action is concentrating on the increasing lack of affordable housing, which is certainly affected by gentrification, but far from the only issue surrounding it. We have all been impacted by housing speculation and insecurity, though our personal experiences vary,” explained Jessica Caponigro, Amaranta Isyemille Lara, and Chiara Galimberti, the three women who make up WITCH.

Jessica Caponigro is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and activist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she is currently working as an adjunct instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago. Amaranta Isyemille Lara is a student, poet, and single mother. She is working toward a master’s in linguistics and has lived in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood since 2004. And, Chiara Galimberti is an artist, activist, parent, and educator. She is currently working toward becoming a herbalist and acupuncturist.

Galimberti said, “My relationship to Chicago has been very difficult as housing insecurity has deeply affected me and my daughters. I have been working multiple jobs since moving to Chicago and I have never been able to afford rent without public assistance. I know that my situation is by no means unique and that the vast majority of people in the city is negatively impacted by housing speculation, especially as that reality combines with endemic racism and sexism.”

This is the type of personal experience that inspired the three women to come together and form the performance collective. Their first organizational meeting was in October 2015 and, at that time, they chose to name the group WITCH. The acronym stands for Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell and was used by a number of affiliated but separate women’s groups within the broader feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The original WITCH organization was formed in New York City on Halloween 1968. Its members created a manifesto that began:

WITCH is an all-woman Everything. It’s theater, revolution, magic, terror, joy, garlic flowers, spells. It’s an awareness that witches and gypsies were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression – particularly the oppression of women – down through the ages. Witches have always been women who dared to be: groovy, courageous, aggressive, intelligent, nonconformist, explorative, curious, independent, sexually liberated, revolutionary … [From the WITCH Manifesto, 1969]

This group of feminists chose to adopt the image and concept of the Witch to represent female empowerment in a way that was antithetical to socially-constructed, traditional gender roles and that flew, pun intended, in face of the patriarchal expectations. Several Pagan writers and historians, such as Chas Clifton, Margo Adler and Ethan Doyle White, have mentioned the 1960s WITCH organization in their writings, highlighting the similarities between that movement and the early modern Pagan movement in the U.S. In his book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America,Clifton wrote, “WITCH was not religious, yet as Eller, and before her, Margot Adler note, it was a small step from the intense, intimate feminist consciousness-raising discussion group of the early 1970s to the Witches’ coven.”(Clifton, p 120)

witch manifesto

Forty-seven years later, Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara decided to resurrect the name, capturing that energy, history and legacy for their own work. While their Chicago protests are not embedded in any specific organized feminist movement, the three modern women have found empowerment and purpose within the original group’s message. They explained, “We think of Witches as historically being women (and some men) who were at the forefront of resistance against oppressive systems, and we strongly believe that there is not one way to be a Witch. We are interested in looking at the connection between social justice, feminism, and the figure of the Witch.”

In November, the women staged their first protest action. It was held in front of Chicago’s Thompson Center on Randolph Street. Similar to the upcoming event, the November action was staged to “protest disparities caused by inequality, chanting to hex those who cause it and protect those who suffer as a result.”

Then, on Jan 3, WITCH announced its second action and created a corresponding Facebook event page. Unlike the November action, the new Feb 6 protest would be held in conjunction with a local art festival called 2nd Floor Rear 2016, a “DIY” event that features art in “experimental contexts.” The protest is listed on the festival site as one of the featured happenings.

Since that Jan. 3 announcement, the group has received media attention from various mainstream outlets, as well as backlash from the online Pagan community. Jezebel and the Chicagoist each published an article titled, “Chicago Witches Will Exorcise ‘Gentrification’ Demons.” The online site Dazed titled its article,”Chicago Witches Hoping to Cast Out Gentrification.” As is often the case for mainstream Witch articles, all three included flashy stills from the The Craft (1996)

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara expressed disappointment in the treatment of their story within these news articles, calling them “unfortunate and misleading.” And, it may have been this misrepresentation that is at least partially responsible for the subsequent social media backlash predominantly found on Facebook. One user wrote, “So you fight colonialism by using cultural appropriation … For many this is a way of life, and you mock it as merely a public art spectacle.” Comments like this one continued on with accusations that the women were disingenuously appropriating Witchcraft or Pagan traditions to serve their own artistic or political objectives. Another user posted, “YOU are not WITCH! You have no concept. I and many like me are witches. The real deal. How about you mock some other group inappropriately.”

But are they? The issue of their own religious or spiritual identity, or practice, was not publicly addressed. So we asked them, “Do you identify as Witches in a religious or spiritual sense? Are you Pagan?”

Caponigro said, “I most certainly identify as a Witch. I come from a long line of independent Sicilian women who strongly believed in holistic medicine and the powers of the earth and intuition, and passed down their spirit and knowledge to me and my sibling. Though I’m not currently practicing, there are parts of my life when I have identified as Wiccan.”

To this question, Isyemille Lara said, “I identify as a Witch. To me, being a Witch has to do most with using an honest and balanced voice to impart support, empathy, protection and power whenever necessary. Witchcraft is personal and adaptive. My family is from the northern deserts of Mexico. I carry this stoic intuition in my veins.”

And, Galimberti said, “I grew up in Italy, where the tradition of Witchcraft is different than in the United States. The memory of Witch hunts and persecution is still present, mixed with a classism that sees Witchcraft and Paganism as part of working class practices, and thus not taken seriously. I was raised largely by my grandmother who practices Malocchio, which mostly included a healthy skepticism for authority (whether of the state or the church), and a rich knowledge of herbs for healing and daily practices that allowed a connection with the spiritual world. I am studying Herbology and Acupuncture and I think of myself as a healer-in-training, with spirituality being a component of that identity.”

The three members of WITCH added that they are not in anyway mocking anyone’s system of belief. “We are empathetic to those who are angry because they mistakenly think we are appropriating their beliefs,” they said. “Those accusing us of being disingenuous or culturally appropriating Witchcraft are working under the assumption that because we do not practice in their particular way, our sincere connection to Witchcraft is somehow less valid.”

They added that Witchcraft has long and varied history, saying, “Witches were and are healers, spiritual workers, subversive independent thinkers, in addition to the definition of “witch” in the Pagan religious sense. The figure of the Witch is present in most cultures around the world, and can come to signify many different practices and beliefs.”

1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

As for the group’s mission, the women explained that the Feb. 6 action will hopefully attract the attention of “politicians and companies that are profiting from housing development at the expense of most Chicagoans and especially working class people.” They were quick to add that they are no experts and can’t speak for everyone who has been “impacted by predatory housing” practices. However, they do hope to give voice to those who have such stories.

“During the action people will be invited to speak out about their experience with housing insecurity, the impact of high rents, and speculative development on their lives,” they explained. “We will then perform a protective charm that acknowledges the people and organizations that have been working on these issues for decades, including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the Grassroots Illinois Action.”

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara described the upcoming protest action as a “combination of both magical ritual and performative gesture” that will be based on their collective “experiences and knowledge.” They welcome anyone to come and join them, Pagan or not. It is not a private or restricted event. They said, “We take our relationship with spirituality, Witchcraft, and social justice very seriously,” adding “Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a non-conformist, sexually liberated, independent thinker. Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a WITCH.”

SOUTH AFRICA — After years of lobbying by Pagan groups in the country, the South African Law Reform Commission has determined that portions of that nation’s Witchcraft Suppression Act are unconstitutional. Witches should be able to identify themselves as such, the commission found, as well as practice divination. However, the proposed replacement law still has its problems, according to members of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, because it singles out “harmful witchcraft practices” for regulation on the basis that they can cause “intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror.” SAPRA members are drafting a response to the bill and hope to see changes in it before it becomes law.sapralogoThe Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 is, like most similar laws in African nations, based on 1735 Witchcraft Act of the United Kingdom, which was itself repealed in 1951. SAPRA requested a review of this law in 2007, an effort which was joined by the South African Pagan Council and the Traditional Healers Association. That slow process has finally resulted in the release of a lengthy issue paper by the SALRC, an independent body created in 1973 to investigate South African laws and make recommendations to the national and provincial governments for reform.

In that issue paper, members of the SALRC agreed that by making it illegal to identify as a Witch, the act violates the right to religious expression guaranteed in the South African constitution. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that there is no definition of Witchcraft in the legislation. In other words, Wiccans and other Pagans fell into the same category as those who are more traditionally considered Witches in sub-Saharan Africa, a place where the word “witch” is often associated with people who use supernatural powers to cause harm.

Where the SALRC paper deviates from the hoped-for outcome is in how it tries to make distinctions between the different uses of the word “witch.” According to Damon Leff, who has been working on this cause for years, “The draft bill is focused on preventing accusations of witchcraft and witch-hunts, human mutilations and ritual murder, and what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices.’ ” In Leff’s view, that lumps together actions which should be unacceptable for any person to commit with beliefs that are protected.

We believe that existing laws may be used to deal with human mutilations and ritual murder – we already have a Human Tissues Act which prohibits the harvest and sale of human body parts, and murder is already illegal. We also believe that what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices,’ in the absence of actual demonstrable criminal activity, cannot be proven in any court of law to exist without reference to belief, and since the Bill of Rights protects the right to belief, ‘witchcraft beliefs’ aught to play no role in the determination of actual criminal guilt.

The bill has apparently been structured to address concerns that the widespread belief in malevolent magic makes it possible for one person to cause very real harm to another by convincing them that they intend to cast such a spell. Leff provided a copy of the response that SAPRA is drafting, which lays it out thus:

Whilst certain crimes may indeed be motivated by belief, those crimes identified in the Commission’s definition of alleged ‘harmful witchcraft’ practices, specifically, intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror, may be committed by a member of any (or no) religious faith. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence to show that some Christians and Traditional Healers have in the past attempted to justify their criminal acts by appealing to their beliefs as motivation for such acts.

Traditional healers may also underlie muti murders, committed to obtain a specific human body part for the purposes of healing another. Children, the elderly and disabled are most susceptible to these kinds of attacks. The draft response reads:

SAPRA must argue that since the perpetrators of such practices, specifically those who trade in human body parts, do not self-identify as Witches or as practitioners of Witchcraft, but have in the past been identified as traditional healers or as practitioners of traditional African religion (who do not self-identify as Witches), the application of the term ‘witchcraft’ to such practices constitutes an equally inaccurate misnomer. Muthi murders have nothing to do with Witchcraft, because actual Witches are not the perpetrators of such crimes.

Instead, they argue, such crimes should be enforced under the existing Human Tissues Act, which was passed specifically to prevent such crimes.

From the SALRC issue paper, it appears that the Traditional Healers Organization has pushed for a clear definition of Witchcraft in a new law, and regulation of the harmful practices associated with it. Traditional healers, according to Leff, would never identify as “Witches” because of the strong cultural bias against the term, which has only been challenged recently with the spread of Wicca and related religions.

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Pagan Freedom Day in South Africa [Photo Credit: Ginney May / Wikimedia]

Another problem with the replacement bill, insofar as Pagans are concerned, is that while accusations of Witchcraft are banned, it doesn’t go far enough to protect those accused. The existing law has even been flouted by public officials. SAPRA’s draft response asserts, “Such a Bill must however not merely prohibit accusations of Witchcraft and punish those who do make accusations of Witchcraft which lead to harm against the accused, it must also provide the victims of accusation, living refugees of accusation, with access and means to victim support and restorative justice,” Since the lifting of apartheid, restorative justice has become a powerful concept in South Africa.

In short, SAPRA’s position is that laws should be based on verifiable evidence of wrongdoing, and no crime should be associated with a belief system such as Witchcraft, since heinous acts can be committed by anyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof. The comment period on the draft bill and related issue paper ends in April, and it could be another year before it is presented as a white paper, and submitted to parliament for consideration.

“If the SALRC goes ahead with the proposal, the Bill will be sent to Parliament for review before it is published, and only after that, could it become an Act of Parliament,” explained Leff. “We plan to stop that from happening.”

MOUNT FOREST, Ont. – In November 2015, when Jean Swanson’s well ran dry, it did not seem too unusual. The hand-dug well on her older, rural property near Mount Forest, in Wellington County Ontario, was shallow, and it was not the first time in 17 years that she and her husband Barry had experienced decreased water levels. However, their concern came when, despite a very wet and rainy autumn, the well failed to replenish itself.

Mount Forest, Ontario. Courtesy Photo

Mount Forest, Ontario [Courtesy Photo]

Swanson and her family immigrated to Canada from North Yorkshire, England in the 1950s. From a very early age she was fascinated with all things related to Witchcraft. Information on the subject was hard to find, so she searched her local libraries, hunting for anything she could find to read about the Craft.

Then, on one fateful day in October at her new home in Toronto, Swanson, then 21 years old, saw a Witch on television. It was nearly Samhain, and Pierre Berton, an iconic Canadian broadcaster, was interviewing a real life Witch. Try as he might to provoke and insult his subject, the woman remained calm, polite and dignified. Swanson had finally found a lead. There were real Witches in Toronto, and she was determined to contact them.

Swanson wrote to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, begging to be put in touch with the Witch she had seen on TV. Eventually, someone in the mail room felt sorry for her, and disclosed the address of the Witch. Swanson traveled across town, to the Beaches neighbourhood and knocked on the door. Standing in the doorway was the woman who would be her first High Priestess and mentor for many years.

Now in her 70s, Swanson and her husband Barry both suffer from serious medical conditions. When their well failed, a drilling company was called, and the initial quote to re-drill the well was $6000. But when the drilling went down to an unprecedented 196 feet, the cost of the well skyrocketed to $12,000.

In addition, they were informed that the well would also require a filtration system to deal with the silt, iron and other contaminants in the water. A salesman came to their door a few days later, offering to have such a system installed for them within a day. But the price tag for this was another $7000. Barry Swanson has since discovered that he can get a comparable system at a local hardware store for a greatly reduced price.

When Durham Well Drilling came to re-drill the Swanson’s well, representatives reportedly informed them, that in the last 30 years, they have not had to re-drill so many old wells as they have had to since Nestlé, the water bottling giant, has moved in and started extracting mass quantities of water from the local aquifer.

Photo by Dreamstime

[Photo Credit: Dreamstime]

At present, Nestlé has government permission to extract water from two wells in Wellington County. One is located at Hillsburgh where they have a permit to take up to 1.1 million litres of water per day. The second well is located at their bottling plant in the community of Aberfoyle, 50 kilometers away from Hillsburgh. Here they have a permit to take up to 3.7 million litres of water per day.

Nestlé also has an offer to purchase a third well in Middlebrook, near the town of Elora. If this permit is granted, and the sale proceeds, it will be allowed to extract up to another 1.6 million litres of water per day. The price that Nestlé has negotiated with the province is $3.71 per one million litres. The total cost for 6.4 million litres of water would be $23.74. By comparison, the residents Elora pay $2,140 per million litres. On top of this, all of the water is moved to Aberfoyle by tanker truck, where it is bottled. If the water, for example, gets packaged into single serve containers, this would equal 12.8 million plastic bottles per day.

All of these locations are within a 45 minutes drive from the home of Jean and Barry Swanson, who are now responsible for the $12,000 bill to re-dig their own well, plus the cost of a new filtration system they did not previously need.

Swanson’s coven and friends have joined forces, and have started a GoFundMe page. They have also created a raffle to raise money for the cost of re-drilling the well.

Liz Souster, a coven member and proprietor of local shop The Raven’s Rune, said:

Both Jean and Barry have spent their lives helping others, mentoring and teaching, volunteering at the Humane Society, and despite her illness Jean still volunteers to drive for the local community services. Helping them was an easy decision, our only worry was how do we reach enough people…many of our elders have spent their entire adult lives not just teaching us the Craft but mentoring our lives in general. I know I’m a better person for having known Barry and Jean. There are lots of others in the same situation and until this problem becomes news, people in rural Canada will continue to face financial ruin while the big water companies get huge tax breaks and incentives.

In a recent phone conversation with The Wild Hunt, Jean Swanson agreed that rural people are the most affected. She said:

Its amazing, I’m gobsmacked sometimes, there is so much misinformation and misunderstanding. Rural people are more aware of this problem than town people, we aren’t on the civic water supply, we depend on these wells

Pagans in the area have responded to this alleged threat to their water supply in the past. In November 2015, high profile author and teacher, Brendan Myers, pledged to donate the profits from his November book sales to Save Our Water, a community activist group from his hometown of Elora.  His campaign was successful and resulted in some of his best social media coverage to date.

The efforts being made by the Swanson’s friends and coven is an effort to not only help Elders in need, but to raise awareness about the sacredness of our water supply. Natalie Davis Jones, one of the GoFundMe campaign organizers, said:

By starting a GoFundMe campaign, we’re able to leverage the greater Pagan community through social media, and bring attention to the plight of this couple, and highlight how important clean water is for everyone. It’s also a great parallel to the fact that clean water isn’t a legally protected human right in Canada, and companies such as Nestlé would like to see it made a commodity – which would have disastrous results globally.

There are so many causes we can all support, and this one is special to me not only because I know the couple in question, but because it centers on something many of us take for granted in clean water, and supports two of our pagan elders.These are the wise ones that we hope to become. There is a wealth of knowledge that they possess, and we are blessed if we have the opportunity to learn from them, and carry on the traditions that would otherwise be lost.

The controversy surrounding the water supply in Wellington County is ongoing. Nestlé Waters is heavily invested in the region, with two wells operating and a third in the works. They are the largest commercial taxpayer in the county, contributing $1.2 million dollars in taxes last year. They are also a major employer and help to support many local charities. Despite this, community members are still rallying to halt Nestlé, and block them from furthering their water extraction operations, in the name of saving a natural resource for future generations.

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the 2015, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our thoughts or guided our actions? In our collective worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? How did Pagans and Heathens specifically face world issues and local crisis? What were the high points and low?

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

As the light began to return, the world faced, almost immediately, the reality of global terrorism. On Jan. 7, the home offices of France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. This event seemed to set a tone for the remainder of the year, as the world faced additional attacks, the growing influence of Daesh, the Yezidi genocide, institutional sex slavery, the current refugee crisis and the painful reality of Islamaphobia. Who are these are these people and what do we call them? How do we stop them? And, what is their relationship to Islam?

The year also began with another unresolved struggle. The U.S. was grappling with the deep social justice issues brought to light after the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri in November 2014. Related conversations concerning race and diversity increasingly punctuated Pagan and Heathen communities. Some Pagan activists joined community protests and action throughout the year. Many organizations developed diversity statements and policies. Unfortunately for the Covenant of the Goddess, its own effort fell flat, causing internal strife and eventually serious public scrutiny. However, by the summer, the 40-year-old Wiccan and Witchcraft organization did apologize and make significant changes.

Social justice themes permeated the February PantheaCon conference, culminating in a special session after a satirical pamphlet, called PantyCon, offended a large number of attendees. The conversations concerning race and ethnic diversity continued to run concurrent with other narratives throughout the coming year, sometimes with celebration and sometimes not.

As if those two realities weren’t enough to begin 2015, another issue was already brewing internal to the collective U.S. Pagan community. A group of witches were attempting to rebirth the American Council of Witches. Bathed in secrecy, the group of founders would not reveal any details, causing community confusion, frustration, anger, backlash and eventually the demise of the project.

While the year may have begun with a bang or better yet a very difficult sigh, there was also much to celebrate in those early months. Many Pagans and Heathens applauded the presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the exoneration of #Flood11 protestors. Iceland would soon see its first official Asatru temple. The UK marked its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage. Northern Ireland saw the acceptance of the first Pagan priest. And Manannan mac Lir, who had been stolen in January, was found only a month later.

In March, Paganicon attendees even learned how to calm their inner dragons.

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

Then, spring rounded the corner and religious freedom took center stage. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church spoke out publicly against RFRAs, attracting significant mainstream media attention. In Iowa, Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard offered the opening invocation before the state legislature, drawing protests and walk-outs. The Open Halls project had to renew its efforts to have Asatru and Heathenism placed on the Army’s list of accepted faith group codes. And, in his first column for The Wild Hunt, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.

Then, as the Beltane fires were lit and festival season was underway, the U.S. faced a brand new round of social struggle and violence. In late April, residents of Baltimore experienced both peaceful protests and a devastating violent riot after the weekend funeral of Freddie Gray. Two months later, Charleston’s historic Mother Emmanuel Church was shocked by a hate-driven terror attack, leaving nine dead.

But time marched on and, as the summer approached, nature seemed to be making itself felt in the most extreme forms. Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April, and the California drought only continued to worsen.

Pagan communities began to directly feel the sting of these natural disasters. In June, Pagan Spirit Gathering was flooded, causing it to close for the first time in 35 years. The Alaska Pagan Community Center was completely destroyed by the Sockeye Wildfire. Later in the year, the Bay Area community witnessed the destruction of its beloved Harbin Hot Springs by the Valley Fire.

As many were coming to terms with the reality of such extreme weather conditions, climate change became an international “buzzword.” In May, a large group of Pagans published the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment that has since garnered 6,860 signatures. Then in June, the world finally was presented with the long awaited Pope’s Encyclical on the environment.

In that very same week, the U.S. also witnessed another landmark moment. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

For many, the summer months continued on with festival season in full swing. Early August saw the premier of Many Gods West, and Heathen Chinese shared his thoughts on this new event in his first column for The Wild Hunt. The summer conference raised the volume on an ongoing conversation about Polytheism as a definitive practice, which had been previously addressed by guest writer Anomolous Thracian in his Polytheist Primer.

The summer also brought with it some obstacles in the digital world. Etsy changed its policies on the selling of charms and spells. Instagram banned the hashtag #goddess, and a popular Witchcraft Facebook page was hacked.

Then, violence hit the U.S. again. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next town victimized by a terror attack. In October, a man opened fired at a college in Roseburg, Oregon. Then, in December, terrorism hit San Bernardino, California. In these latter two cases, a member of the local Pagan community was killed in the attacks. Both Kim Dietz and Daniel Kaufman, were reportedly shot, while trying to save the lives of others.

As the temperature cooled and the leaves began to fall, the mainstream news predictably began to ring the doorsteps of Witches, for better or worse. Additionally, stories with even the tiniest link to Witchcraft made headline news. In early August, a Florida sheriff prematurely ascribed a triple homicide to Witchcraft, igniting protest. Then, just days before Halloween, the sheriff announced an arrest. October also saw a public controversy over Pagan Libertarian candidate Augustus Sol Invictus. And, on the day before Halloween, local Massachusetts news decided to cover a minor legal battle between two well-known Salem Witches. And, at the same time, Heathens were also grappling with their own media issues.

The month also saw the publication of Alex Mar’s Witchcraft in America, which generated a string of publicity and reactions.

October 2015 also hosted something entirely different: The Parliament of the World’s Religions. In record numbers, Pagans and Heathens arrived in Salt Lake City to experience a unique event and to share their own perspectives with others, as both presenters and performers.

Autumn brings with it an end to the festival season, culminating in the well-known celebration of Samhain or Halloween. But there are other Pagan and Heathen holidays observed at the time. For example, this year the small Pennsylvania-based Urglaawe community shared its celebration of Allelieweziel.

Throughout the entire year, The Wild Hunt spotlights unique Pagan and Heathen practices and communities, like the Urglaawe. This year alone we shared stories from Thailand, Finland, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Norway. We covered Pagan news from Iceland and Italy. And with the help of our three international contributing writers, we were able talk Canadian politics, discuss religious freedom issues in Australia and celebrating the winter solstice on a hill in the UK.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Outside of the festivities and cultural hullabaloo that occurs around Halloween, these days also have a sobering effect as we mark the passing of our loved ones. The Wild Hunt Samhain post honored the following people: Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Thor von Reichmuth, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler and Pete Pathfinder. Since we published that list, we have also lost Marc Pourner, Richard Reidy, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Morgan McFarland, Scott Walters and L. Daniel Kaufman.

In addition, this year marked the end of two beloved Pagan media outlets: Circle Magazine and ACTION.

As cold winds creep in and November changes to December, the U.S. honored Transgender Awareness month, which was particularly poignant this year after Caitlyn Jenner had previously generated mainstream visibility. Within the Pagan world, conversations on the subject became heated in November, leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then, the holiday season arrived in all its warmth, glitter and commercialism. As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, terror struck the world again. Both Paris and Beirut were hit by multiple attacks. Due to anger and fear, Islamaphobia has now reached all time highs, and anything with the name Isis could become a target, as discovered by a metaphysical bookstore in Denver.

And so, while much has happened in the story of 2015, the year seems to have come full circle from Paris to Paris.

Despite all the struggles that we have seen this year, hope still remains alive for many in Pagan and Heathen communities, especially with those involved in progressive interfaith work. This Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CBS will air a United Religions Initiative “groundbreaking interfaith” special called, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Several Pagans are prominent and longtime members of this grassroots organization, and will be appearing in the show.

Above are only some of the many stories, reports and events that touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. Here is the best of the best from each of our regular, current contributing writers:

Promoting Healing and Justice for Change by Crystal Blanton
Imbolc’s Invitation by Erick DuPree
Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse by Heather Greene
UK Pagan Community Confronts Child Abuse by Christina Oakley Harrington
The Fire is Here by Heathen Chinese
Canadian Truth and Reconciliation by Dodie Graham McKay
Australia’s Pagan Festivals by Cosette Paneque
Improving Access to Death by Lisa Roling
Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructes part one by Cara Schulz
Iceland’s Temple on the Hill by Eric O. Scott
Terpsichorean Powers by Manny Tejeda-Moreno
Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie
Treating Depression in a Pagan Context by Terence P. Ward
Tomb and the Atheist by Rhyd Wildermuth

Bring on 2016!

[Today, guest writer Zora Burden continues her conversation with author Patricia Keneally-Morrison. Burden is a poet, author, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. Her work focuses on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism and the esoteric.The first part of this interview (side A) was published last Sunday. ]

“Patricia Kennealy-Morrison was one of the first female rock critics and journalists, having begun her career in the 1960s […] Along with her own work, Patricia was also the wife of the rock legend Jim Morrison. Her bestselling memoir Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison commemorates their life together and love for one another, and is one of the most candid and definitive books on Jim Morrison. […] Her prolific writing continues with the murder series The Rock & Roll Murders: The Rennie Stride Mysteries, the latest of which is set for release at the end of 2015. She is also the author of a series of Celtic-based science fiction novels, The Keltiad.

“In 1990, Patricia was knighted as a Dame Templar at Rosslyn Chapel, an initiate of the Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani. She is a historian and archivist of Celtic traditions, as well as a High Priestess. She was one of the first women in the U.S. to boldly and publicly acknowledge that she practiced Witchcraft, during a time when feminism was barely in its second wave.” – Zora Burden, a condensed version of the introduction from side A.

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Zora Burden:  What inspired you to write your books? 

81I0a7TepgLPatricia Keneally-Morrison: They just came to me. I don’t have a lot of ideas, but I have very deep and complex ones. The Keltiad Celtic legends set in far future outer space, King Arthur meets Star Wars came first, when I was at college; in fact, Jim was the first person I told about it, and he was very encouraging.  I wasn’t ready to write it yet, though, and I tinkered with it for years. But when I had been let go from CBS Records, in one of the great purges of the early 80s, I found myself with both time and money enough to do it, so I stayed home and wrote. I got an agent right away, he sold it very quickly, and the first Keltiad book, The Copper Crown, came out in hardcover in 1984. There have been eight more, including one short-story collection.

My series The Rock & Roll Murders: The Rennie Stride Mysteries, about a rock newspaper reporter and her superstud English guitarist boyfriend, first appeared in 2007, with Ungrateful Dead: Murder at the Fillmore, and the seventh one is just about to be published. There’s also ROCK CHICK: A Girl and Her Music: The Jazz & Pop Writings, a collection of my rock critical pieces for my magazine, and of course Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison.

Only the last three books of the Rennie series (Go Ask Malice: Murder at Woodstock, Scareway to Heaven: Murder at the Fillmore East and Daydream Bereaver: Murder on the Good Ship Rock & Roll), ROCK CHICK and the Keltiad short stories, Tales of Spiral Castle, are available on Kindle at the moment, But I’m working to get all the books up on it, including Strange Days, and the first four Rennie books are available on Lulu.com.

I’m planning on three or four more Rennie books to wrap up her story, two more Kelts books to wrap up that series in a blaze of glory, and my long-in-progress Viking book, Son of the Northern Star, which has 140,000 words on it and not nearly finished. After that, I think I’m done. Unless of course I have another idea. Or two. Which I might.

ZB: Do you feel with your book series, that you’re channeling spirits or manifesting energies with your characters?  

PKM: Well, no, because that would imply that I am reliant on outside help to write my books for me. And nothing could be further from the truth. But I do feel that the characters speak to me and tell me what they plan on doing. I never argue with them.

ZB: How did you become the editor for the paper you first started working with?  What are some of your fondest memories and experiences working with the paper? 

PKM: In 1967, I saw a copy of Jazz & Pop on the newsstand in the midtown office building where I worked for Macmillan Publishing, writing a kids’ dictionary. It was full of stories about the new progressive rock I’d been crazy about for several years, and I fell in love with the magazine immediately. So I wrote to the editor and publisher, Pauline Rivelli, and asked if there might be a job there for me. She called me about two months later, and I began as editorial assistant, becoming editor at the end of 1968, best job in the world.

Publisher Pauline Rivelli announcing Patricia's appointment as editor in chief of Jazz Pop Magazine.

Jazz & Pop publisher Pauline Rivelli (right) announcing Patricia’s (left) appointment as editor in chief of the magazine. [Courtesy Photo]

I got to meet pretty much everyone but the Rolling Stones (who cares?), including all my really truly favorites like Jefferson Airplane and the Doors and Janis Joplin. It was a four-color, slick magazine published entirely by women (four of us) for a readership about 80% male; I’d say we did a pretty good job. Sometimes the old Marxist jazzbos on staff, male, gave me a hard time for editing them not to their liking, but hey, I was the editor, not them. 

It was a difficult time for women, but I had very little difficulty. Maybe because I gave off a vibe of “Mess with me and I will end you,” but the only real unpleasantness was the time backstage at the Fillmore East before Led Zeppelin’s debut, when Robert Plant called across the dressing room, “Hey, you in the lace nightie, get over here and sit on my face!”

I was wearing my lace-tablecloth Joplin-style lace pantsuit, and I declined his offer in no uncertain terms. I mean, we’d had dinner together, all five  of us plus manager and publicist, the night before, and he’d been fine as we discussed all sorts of  things, from Aleister Crowley to JRR Tolkien. Besides, I had a MUCH better rock star’s face to sit on…

After Jazz & Pop and Jim’s death, I went to work for RCA Records as an advertising copywriter. My first big assignment: David Bowie’s first American ad campaigns. I got to work personally with him on these, as he had studied advertising at school in London and understood how it worked. We did some beautiful stuff for the first four albums: Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups. David was a delight to work with, the second smartest person I’d ever met in rock. As I met him for the first time in the studio, and we shook hands, and I looked up into those extraordinary eyes, I was hit by just one thought: “This man has come to Earth to kill the Sixties.” Right again, as usual…

Three years later, I moved over to CBS Records, to write ads there. I was twice nominated for Clios for my work for Billy Joel, and also wrote ads for Wings, Barbra Streisand, Mott the Hoople, James Taylor, Boston, Aerosmith, just about all the acts on the label. In my capacity as director of the radio spots I wrote for all these people, I even got to direct John Belushi, Bill Murray and Jane Curtin: we used  the cast of Saturday Night Live as voiceover talent.

In the early 80s, I was let go, as were hundreds of others throughout the industry, and that’s when the books began…

 ZB: You have written about being disillusioned by the romantic poets of the music world but when you met Jim he embodied that. What about him was different from the rest and how much of yourself do you feel brought that (poet) out of him? 

PKM: Oh, he was so smart, of course. Probably the smartest and best-read person I had ever met (with David Bowie not far behind), and I’m no slouch in either department. And when he realized that, in all modesty, I was just as smart as he was (Mensa level IQs, both of us), I think he found that really attractive: a woman he could talk to on his own level, and a woman he could tear up the sheets with. Sometimes at the same time. Also he was rather nice to look at.

ZB: Do you feel that you and Jim were fated to be together and that he sought you out to mentor him and fill a spiritual void he had within himself? 

PKM: Definitely. There were actual blue sparks that showered the first time we touched, to shake hands in his hotel room at the Plaza the day after the Madison Square Garden concert. I could hardly look up at him, but he was smiling. “Portent”, he said. He was right.

About the mentoring part, sort of. Jim sought people to learn from and who could supply with information. The greatest thing about him was his curiosity, and he never stopped asking questions when he was interested in something.

And yes, he did have a great god-shaped void to fill. He was a seeking soul, and I think that when he found me, and realized that I could tell him all this marvelous stuff that spoke to his own Celtic heritage, that was a centering and very intriguing thing for him. Unfortunately, he was taken away before he could work this out to his complete satisfaction. He wasn’t a stupid man by any means, and in the end he didn’t want a stupid woman.

[Photo Credit L. D. Bright]

Patricia Keneally-Morrison [Photo Credit L. D. Bright]

ZB: What wisdom that you imparted to him really affected him and what had he taught you spiritually in turn? 

PKM: I can’t really quantify it like that. I told him things, he told me things, we found things together. Just like any other couple in love.

ZB: Did Jim express wanting to travel to certain parts of Europe in relation to your own beliefs?  

PKM: We had discussed going to our respective homelands of Ireland and Scotland for a honeymoon, and perhaps eventually to Rome and Athens. We would have visited sacred sites, of course, because that would have been part of it. Stonehenge was high on the list.

ZB: What were Jim’s favorite mythologies? What were his beliefs or magical focus? 

PKM: Jim was a natural seeker, and what he sought, as I said earlier, was to fill a God-sized hole in his life. He got very little out of his born Presbyterianism, and had rejected it as completely as I had rejected my Catholicism. He grabbed influences wherever he could. I don’t know what his real, true inner beliefs were: sometimes he seemed to reject the existence of a Supreme Being at all, other times he wrote things like An American Prayer (“O Great Creator of Being, Grant us one more hour to perform our art, and perfect our lives.”) I don’t think he was being ironic when he wrote things like that.

ZB: What fascinated Jim most about Paganism? What did he like to practice himself?  

PKM: I have no idea if Jim ever practiced when he was not with me. You can see from his writings that he was very much into it, though. I think the fact that it was part of his own Scottish heritage intrigued him, and he did mention that in a poem or two. I gave him an amulet to wear, but I don’t know if he ever did.

ZB:  What Pagan holidays did you and Jim celebrate together, if any? What do you currently focus on most in your practice in terms of ritual or ceremony?

PKM: Jim and I became engaged right at Beltane, ring, knee, and everything,  and I performed a little ceremony to bring that Beltane energy into line with ours.  And of course our handfasting, which literally almost knocked Jim out.

I generally celebrate Beltane and Samhain most elaborately; flowers, candles, food and drink, a formally cast and very protected circle. Imbolc, which I prefer to call Brighnasa, and Lughnasa, less so. Very occasionally, I attend a ritual at the house of friends, or, once, in a lovely Unitarian church rented out for a Yule ritual, but I haven’t for years.

Oh, and people who call the fall equinox “Mabon” drive me up the wall. “Mabon” was invented by Scott Cunningham in the 70s, with not a shred of evidence for it Plenty of well-known and very learned Witches have written screeds debunking “Mabon,” and I’m with them. If we’re going to make things up, I prefer to call it “Fionnasa,” the feast of Fionn, in line with Lughnasa (feast of Lugh) and Brighnasa (feast of Bríd).

ZB: Do you feel that the stigma attached to Pagan religions is the reason that people are dismissive of your handfasting marriage?  

PKM: I can’t speak for other people and how they think, or don’t think. I expect the reason people are dismissive of our marriage is that they are jealous of me with Jim, personally. Or they prefer to buy into the fiction that people like the late Ray Manzarek or the late Danny Sugerman propagated. Whatever. I can’t get worked up about their stupidity. Jim said he loved me. Jim said we were married. Jim gave me two rings. Jim called me his wife. That’s all I need to know. It should be all they need as well. If they disrespect it, they disrespect Jim and his choice.

 ZB: Will you mention any of Jim’s poems that were based on his spiritual experiences you had together or on his own?  What are some memories you have of his writing as a poet that people may not know about?”

PKM:  Artists don’t really care to separate inspiration from achievement in that fashion. In fact, I don’t think we even can: it’s all one fabric, one piece of creation. I’m absolutely sure that some of Jim’s work, whether songs or poetry, was indeed the outcome of his spirituality, but I wouldn’t presume to put words in his mouth and arrogantly say what this poem or that song was based on.

The Jazz & Pop cover of Jim was the September 1970 issue and, per his request, I brought 40 copies of it down to Miami with me when I joined Jim there for a week of his obscenity trial. We thought to enter it into evidence as proof of his status offstage, as a poet, because his poem “Anatomy of Rock” was published in it for the first time. Didn’t work, as we were denied. The photo is by his friend Frank Lisciandro,  taken at Maximilian’s Palace, Mexico City, in front of a mural by Juan O’Gorman, and photographed in April of 1970

jazz-and-popI have a fair amount of Jim’s writings to and for me, that he left in my care. Gorgeous and erotic love poems,  songs, letters, even beautiful drawings and nude sketches of me (he was a talented artist, along with everything else).  Unfortunately, I cannot publish any of them.  According to law, the gift of such things does not include copyright, unless specifically stated, and in our romantic fervor, we didn’t think of such a thing back then. Well, what lovers would? So the Morrison estate lawfully owns the content of these very private things, even though they have nothing to do with them and the family has never seen them. I own the physical objects: I could sell them, or eat them, or even display them in public, say as an art show in a gallery. But the one thing I cannot do is publish them.

A while back, I had thought to be able to do this once Jim had been dead for fifty years, which was the state of copyright law at the time. However, thanks to Sonny Bono and Walt Disney and the desire to keep Mickey Mouse out of the public domain, the law has been changed, and now there is no hope of publishing these wondrous things in my lifetime. Still, you never know: should I ever be diagnosed with a fatal illness, I may just decide to self-publish Jim’s words to me and the estate be damned. That would be a fitting way to go out, don’t you think? Very rock and roll. I think Jim would like it…

ZB: Do you write poetry yourself? 

PKM: Sometimes. Songs also. They have nothing to do with my practice. I use the songs in my rock & roll murder series, The Rennie Stride Mysteries, and  the poems in The Keltiad.

ZB: As his wife, great love and mentor in the arts of magical traditions, how do you feel you affected Jim’s work in music? 

PKM: Again, I can’t speak for him and the sources of his inspiration. On the other hand, he informs my own work, as the daemon, the God, the male spirit, to a serious degree. Most of my male characters are based on aspects of him to some extent, either physical or spiritual: Gwydion and Morric in The Keltiad especially. Funnily enough, the only male character not based on Jim is the only rock star character, the superstar lead guitarist co-protagonist of the Rennie Stride books, Turk Wayland. He is most definitely not Jim in the slightest degree.

ZB: With poetry as a form of spell work, did Jim see his lyrics and songs as spells in essence? 

PKM: They can be, and it might have been. He liked to think of it that way, at least, and he was probably right to do so. Writing and poetry are the means by which ritual and spells are performed. I mean, how could they not be the means? You need words, obviously.

ZB: To many of his fans, Jim Morrison was considered a shaman. Do you feel this is something a person is born with innate abilities or the skills have to be learned?  

PKM: It’s usually idiots who have no glimmer of an idea of what a shaman is or does who are the first ones to bray about Jim being one. He wasn’t, not really, though he might have become one in time. He had no training, no teacher, no real idea. He certainly had no way of protecting others, or even himself, on his shaman journeys. Acid wasn’t really going to do it for him. If he got into shamanistic ways, it was purely instinctual. Which may be the best way to do it. I won’t say he didn’t see a ways ahead of the rest of us, because he did, and sometimes staggeringly so, but I would hesitate to say that that of itself made him a shaman. There’s too many other factors such a calling demands.

ZB: Will you talk about the lore of Jim being possessed by the Native American shaman after witnessing the accident in his youth. Do you feel he contained this other spirit or that the event triggered a prior knowledge within himself that he was born with shamanistic talents?

PKM: Complete bogus. Yeah, yeah, the accident happened, and clearly affected him, since he was only a little boy, but he did not believe he was actually possessed by some dead Indian who was almost certainly not a shaman. Oliver Stone has a lot to answer for, having made much more of the incident than Jim ever did. He just needed a hook to hang his execrable movie on, and that was what he picked.

ZB: How accurately do you feel you were portrayed in The Doors movie as a Priestess? What should they have included in the script that would have better defined you and your relationship to Jim?

PKM: That movie was an evil, monstrous spiritual rape of Jim, me, the Doors and the Sixties, and I will never forgive Oliver Stone for it. I was billed as a “consultant” to the film, and wrote my own lines for the ritual scene, but my advice was largely ignored otherwise and Oliver made me look like a naïve dupe, to be laughed at in a later scene. Jim was completely serious about our wedding and never at any point mocked it or me.

On the other hand, the movie was also the most public exposure with Jim that I ever got, horrible though it is, and Kathleen Quinlan, who is a dear friend to this day, portrayed me beautifully. (Though she took me aside before we shot the scene and bade me be very mindful not to accidentally marry her to Val…) So…two blades of the axe, right? I could have really used an axe… Still, it’s interesting how after that movie Oliver became a national laughingstock and punch line. I haven’t really kept up with his career, but I don’t think he’s done much, if anything, to equal his pre-Doors output. Hmm, almost as if someone put a curse on him…but no. He called down his karma upon himself. I just hung the karma mirror.  And, of course, it got me to write Strange Days, which I would never have done otherwise.

1020234ZB: Is there anything you wish you would have included in Strange Days that you didn’t? 

PKM: Well, I wish I’d known as much about the horrific circumstances of his death as I do now, and whom to blame for it. Because certainly that would have gone in, and a little of it did, in the paperback version. And I didn’t include anything in Days that I wish I hadn’t.

ZB: With regards to mainstream society’s attitudes towards paganism and witchcraft, do you see these changing?

PKM: I do think attitudes are changing, yes, and I’m thrilled to see it. What we do is analogous to what Native Americans do, a nature-based shamanic religion, and we should get the same respect. Of course, it’s taken hundred of years for them to get respect as well. But that too is changing, at least culturally; politically may take longer.

ZB: How do you think we can change this prejudice?  

PKM: I’m not sure we can. But maybe coming forward, getting out of the broom closet, is the way to show people that our religion is worthy and real, that we’re regular folks just like them. Only, our church is a teensy bit different from theirs. The more of us stand up and declare ourselves, the more “normal” our faith will look to the scaredy-cats

ZB: What else do you feel is important people should know about yourself?  

PKM: If I want people to know anything about me, I’ll tell them in my own way and in my own good time. It’s all in my books, really. Otherwise, it’s none of their business and they don’t need to know. That’s all. And thank you, Zora, very much. Brightest Blessings to you and all in The Wild Hunt.

[We welcome back guest journalist Zora Burden. She is a poet, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. She has written two interview books, “Women of the Underground,” featuring female musicians and artists. Burden’s autobiographical writing narrates Goeff Cordner’s feature-length film “Portraits from the Fringes,” a segment of which became the award-winning “Hotel Hopscotch.” In all her work, she likes to focus on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism and the esoteric. Today we present side A of her interview with author Patricia Kennealy-Morrison.The second segment, side B, will be presented next Sunday.] 

Patricia Kennealy-Morrison was one of the first female rock critics and journalists, having begun her career in the 1960s. She was the editor-in-chief of Jazz & Pop Magazine and, later, an award-winning copywriter and director for RCA and CBS Records. In her book Rock Chick: A Girl and Her Music- The Jazz and Pop Writings, 1968 to 1971, Patricia recalls her time as a rock journalist in a collection of articles, reviews, essays and interviews with the most notable musicians of the era and on festivals like Woodstock and Altamont

1020234Along with her own work, Patricia was also the wife of the rock legend Jim Morrison. Her bestselling memoir Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison commemorates their life together and love for one another, and is one of the most candid and definitive books on Jim Morrison. She was portrayed in Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors (1991) by actress Kathleen Quinlan. She served as a consultant to the film and had a cameo, performing her own wedding ceremony, between Quinlan as herself and Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison.

Her prolific writing continues with the murder series The Rock & Roll Murders: The Rennie Stride Mysteries, the latest of which is set for release at the end of 2015. She is also the author of a series of Celtic-based science fiction novels, The Keltiad.

After her work was published by such companies as NAL, Signet, ROC, and HarperCollins, she founded her own publishing company, Lizard Queen Press, in 2007.

In 1990, Patricia was knighted as a Dame Templar at Rosslyn Chapel, an initiate of the Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani. She is a historian and archivist of Celtic traditions, as well as a High Priestess. She was one of the first women in the U.S. to boldly and publicly acknowledge that she practiced Witchcraft, during a time when feminism was barely in its second wave. When she married Morrison on June 24, 1970, they used a Celtic Pagan handfasting ceremony officiated by a Presbyterian minister licensed to perform weddings in New York City.

A pioneer in her work and life, Patricia continues to be a role model for women, especially those practicing Witchcraft and other forms of Paganism.

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Zora Burden: What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up and what were the traditions of Witchcraft you learned as a child or in your formative years?

Patricia Kennealy-Morrison: I was born in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1946, the first year of the baby boom, which makes me a dowager boomer. We moved to Queens for a few years, then out to Long Island in the great wave of G.I. Bill-financed mortgages and pleasant homes with trees and yards and stuff. I lived there with my parents and three siblings until it was time to go away to college at age seventeen.

I wanted journalism and mountains, a really rural area, and the only place in New York State that had both was St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan school in the Allegheny mountains of southwestern New York State. The Catholicism was pervasive, but I managed to avoid the worst of it, and I truly loved my courses and the area. But two years was enough, and I transferred to Harpur College as it then was, it’s Binghamton University now. I majored in English Lit. and graduated in 1967, having just turned 21.

Both places taught me a lot about Paganism: many, many books, and I spent prodigious amounts of time in the stacks, learning. But I didn’t find a group to join until I was living in New York City after graduation, a Scottish traditional coven, which I was still in when I met Jim and later when we got married.

ZB: What magical gifts and talents or inclinations did you have growing up, and how were those encouraged?

PKM: They weren’t encouraged at all! My family was very strict Irish Roman Catholic, though the little gifts like Sight did sneak through, from both sides of the family tree. But we never discussed it.

One gift I could do without: precognition of deaths. I had a vision of Jim the night before he died: he was standing by my bed, so real that I could smell his indefinable scent; he bent over to kiss me and was gone. A few years later, I woke up screaming from a nightmare of my sister being killed in a car crash; the next day, my mom called to tell me that my sister’s fiancé had been killed in a car crash. I had a vision of my beautiful Irish wolfhound jumping on the bed as she used to do, again so real the bed sagged under her; the friends who had her called the next day to tell me she’d peacefully died. And of course there’s the earthquake precog … It never tells me anything nice, like winning lottery numbers, and I kind of wish it would stop. Being warned isn’t much fun.

ZB: What is the focus of your belief system? Did you learn mostly from oral tradition? 

PKM: I consider myself a Celtic Pagan. That is the chief pantheon I worship and the traditions I follow. I learned from both books and personal teachings.

ZB:  How have your spiritual or magical beliefs expanded throughout your life?

PKM: After [Jim] died, I didn’t want to be in the group on my own. I found the Pagan Way Outer Court group that Margot Adler ran, and met with them for a while, though it was mostly social rituals, not workings; then a Welsh Traditional group of only four people, but that was mostly Gardnerian. By then I was tired and disillusioned, so went solitary, and have been so ever since.

I had guests from time to time for rituals at home, including musician and actress friends, and once in a while I joined Phyllis Curott’s Temple of Ara for big public celebrations like Yule, which was nice. But that’s it really. I don’t feel the need at this late date to belong to a group. My Facebook private page serves the purpose nicely. If they all lived in New York I would definitely have them over for circles. Alas, they do not.

ZB: What specific lore, festivals, rites or rituals have the most meaning to you? How do you incorporate this into your daily life? 

PKM: It is so ingrained in me that I seldom think about it. The wards and protections and permanently cast circle are just always there. Samhain is my favorite festival, and I always do some sort of ritual to welcome the guests who come to visit from the other side: food, drink, flowers, pumpkins. I spend it very quietly, as a rule, though once in a while, as I said, I’ll have an actual physical guest, which is also nice. I don’t like to talk too specifically about it, as there have been incidents. But there are also precautions.

ZB: Who was most inspirational to you with regard to your practice?

PKM: No one, really. I just read and studied on my own, then later found groups to join. Unfortunately, the groups were more social than scholarly in nature, one of the reasons why I unjoined eventually.

ZB: What early magical experiences did you have that are most memorable?

[Photo Credit L. D. Bright]

Patricia Kennealy-Morrison [Photo Credit L. D. Bright]

PKM: I remember once at about age nine, lying in the yard in summer and seeing someone in a white robe walking along the top of a big puffy cumulus cloud. And down along the edge of the deep woods by our house I would frequently see large, iridescent clear-gold bubbles drifting slowly by, changing direction and speed, while down in the really deep blueberry woods I would sometimes see a small hooded figure that would disappear as soon as I looked at it. It wasn’t Blake and a treeful of angels, but hey, what is?

I could also do weather magic, a little: I rained out a high-school graduation (not mine) because I was an usher and I wanted to be inside so I could see friends graduate, but if the ceremony was held outside I would be stuck far away in the parking lot and wouldn’t see a thing. So I made it rain, despite a forecast of bright, hot and sunny and not a cloud in the sky.

But the thing that really turned me completely was a vision I had when I was sixteen. I was awake in the middle of the full-moon night and was sitting at the window of my room. A huge willow tree grew in the yard, and I was contemplating it when all of a sudden a woman appeared in it. She was beautiful, dressed in robes, barefoot, holding a tambourine sort of thing, which I later learned was called a sistrum.

She didn’t say anything, just looked at me and I looked back at her, completely unafraid. She was totally real: she stayed a full minute or two, then just smiled and vanished. Next day I went to the library and found a book I’d never seen before, a book called The White Goddess. And then some more books. There weren’t many resources in those days, the early 60s, but it all got started there.

 ZB: Which gods or goddesses are most important to you? Which were Jim drawn to?

PKM: So many! Though my main devotions are to the Goddess and the God in all their varying forms, I would have to say that my chief devotion is to Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwydion, Welsh gods of the Wild Hunt (Gwyn) and writing (Gwydion), and to Dionysus, in his aspect as psychopomp and healer.

On the Goddess side, Ariadne, mortal wife of Dionysus, I really relate to her and the Mórrígan, Irish war goddess.

I couldn’t say where Jim’s divine side led him: Dionysus, certainly, as has been well documented. I tried to show him the god’s other side, not the mad ecstatic libertine but the grave, bearded priest and guide of souls. We bought a book at the Strand, well several books actually about this topic, which I still have, along with Jim’s notes.

ZB: What sacred sites are you drawn to? 

PKM: I am drawn to, and have visited, wonderful sites in Ireland and Britain. The first sacred place I went to was Stonehenge, for the winter solstice in 1972. It was staggering: you could walk among the stones back then, not like now where it’s all fenced off. I had a cab drive me out there before dawn and told the driver to come back in four hours. So I snuck in, so easy to do, and walked around saying hello, and then sat down with my back to the Hele Stone and waited for the sun.

I could feel it coming in like a rushing tide. There was no one there: just me, the stones and the rooks and ravens. And the Unconquered Sun, Sol Invictus. That, I have always felt since, was my real and true spiritual awakening, a baptism of power, if you will. Later, when the place opened up for business, I snuck back out and entered lawfully with a ticket, still with no one around for hours. But it was an immense experience, and I will never forget it.

That same trip, my first to England, I also went to Glastonbury for Christmas, which was awesome in its own way. I didn’t climb the Tor, though: not ready for it, or it for me. Four years ago, I was back in Glastonbury, having attended summer school at Christ Church, University of Oxford, and went to the Chalice Well; still no Tor climb, though that was because I’d torn my Achilles tendon and couldn’t walk very well. I drank the well water and walked through a sort of large sluice where the sacred water rushes through, very healing. Next time, the Tor.

There were other trips to Ireland and England and Scotland and Wales, alone or with friends, and I’d steer them to sacred places like the Merry Maidens or Logan Rock or the Rollright Stones. There’s still quite a few places I’d like to get to, though.

I’ve also been to Hawai’i, the Big Island, and I paid respects to Madam Pele in her house at Kilauea. You can’t help but feel her presence there, with the lava bubbling up (at a safe distance) and the steam and all. I felt so safe with her and so at home: I sat on the edge of the firepit Halema’uma’u and made her an offering of food and drink. It was amazing. The Heart of the World, beating beneath me.

ZB: What orders do you belong to?

PKM: I am a Dame Templar in the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, invested in 1990 for services to Celtdom through my books. The investiture took place at Rosslyn Chapel, the one at the end of The Da Vinci Code. Spectacularly beautiful, and the power nearly took the roof off. There were 19 North Americans being invested, and supposedly there are 19 Templars buried in the deep crypts.  It was incredible: I received the full accolade, with a historic sword called the Deuchars sword, a cloak and a breast star, which last I have worn since on formal occasions, and was wearing Dress Morrison tartan for the ceremony.

Author Katherine Kurtz and her husband Scott MacMillan sponsored me to the order, and were there along with two other friends. Anyway, after the ceremony I went over and meditated with my hand on the Apprentice Pillar, about which there are all sorts of tales. Quite a day. One of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life.

As a bishop of the Antioch Rite church, Katherine also founded the Order of Saint Michael, a third-order kind of thing, in which Pagans and Jews and Christians all were welcome. It was based on the warrior order called the Michaelines that she wrote about in her Deryni books, but it was a genuine serious religious order, not some silly fannish thing. I was a founding member, and had a blue habit with a red cord and a Celtic cross. But after a while it began to feel less welcoming for me as a Pagan, even though there were plenty of other Pagans in the group, and so I fell away.

I have never had any problem reconciling my Paganism with my purely cultural Catholicism, Catholicism being so very Pagan anyway. When I worked in midtown at CBS Records, I would often stop off after work at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and visit the Lady Chapel to say hi to the Goddess. If people on either side have a problem with it, they are cordially invited to bite me. I’m quite comfortable with it. But I would never in a million years go back to being a Catholic, or any other kind of Christian. It would be very wrong for me and of me to do so.

[Photo Credit: Hu Totya / Wikipedia]

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC [Photo Credit: Hu Totya / Wikipedia]

ZBBeing that Celtic Paganism is earth-based, how hard is it to practice while living in an urban environment?

PKM: The earth is the earth no matter what. It would be a very poor Witch indeed who couldn’t reach down through a bit of concrete to touch it, or out through walls to find the winds and the stars.

ZB: Can you talk about the location for your initiation and what tradition are you a priestess in? 

PKM: It was nothing special, just someone’s loft, and the tradition was more Scottish and Irish than anything else.

ZB: Do you prefer solitary work, with a partner like Jim or in a coven?

PKM: Jim and I would certainly have been magical partners, had he lived to come back to me from Paris. I doubt we would have had a coven, though; we were both much too private for that.

ZB: What aids do you use in ritual? What is the primary focus of your craft?

PKM: At this late date, having been a practitioner for almost fifty years, I really don’t need any “aids.” I’m not a horse! Generally I don’t even bother with props, though they’re quite nice to have and I own some lovely and extremely powerful ones. These days I generally just do things for the people I care about: some Tarot or rune readings, protective/defensive spells and the like. I’m fairly fierce about it.

ZB: What is your opinion of drug use in spellwork in relation to  shamanism or your own practices?

PKM: I have no opinion. I know shamans and shamanesses have used drugs, traditionally. I wouldn’t use drugs myself for magical practice, and apart from trivial recreational pot or coke, in the 60s and 70s, I never used drugs at all. I haven’t used anything stronger than Advil since 1974. Just walked away.

ZB: Will you talk about your journey to becoming a high priestess?

PKM: I became the high priestess of my group only because I was the most logical person, at that time, to take over. I was really  too young for it, and I stepped down rather soon thereafter. It wasn’t for me, and except for that one brief interlude in a “Welsh Traditionalist” (heavy on the Gardnerian/Valientean) coven, I haven’t been formally with a group since, so there’s very little else to say.

ZB: You’ve mentioned your dismay with what you call fluffy bunny syndrome. Will you talk about this and the importance of embracing both the dark and light aspects of Witchcraft? 

PKM: Fluffybunnies! are the bouncy little teenies! (or older) who seem to think Witchcraft is just so adorkably cute! and squealy! They’ve read a book! (maybe), or seen TV shows or movies! And now they think they are these cool badass practitioners! Wrong, kiddiewinks. So very, very wrong.

I don’t consider magic to have a dark and a light side. The magic is the same power, regardless of the use you put it to, like electricity. And sometimes it’s a little too real for the fluffies, and they get all oooh scary stuff! and run away. Twits. As Terry Pratchett’s hilarious Witch Nanny Ogg says in Witches Abroad, “Witchcraft. Up at the sharp end.” There are times when you need that sharp end. So you’d better be prepared for it and you’d better be ready to use it, because when that situation comes along, giggles and bounces aren’t going to help you.

If you’re going to embrace the Light, you have to embrace the Shadow as well. Because the stronger the light you stand in, the blacker and sharper the shadow you cast. Never think you don’t have a Shadow. We all have them, even the purest among us. Maybe especially the purest. So when you can’t see where your Shadow is, look out, because it’s right behind you. And it’s reaching for your throat.

ZB: You have been described as extremely knowledgeable in the many traditions and practices of Witchcraft in history throughout Europe. Which fascinates you the most and why?

PKM: I’m well conversant really only with the traditions of the Celtic Nations and England. That is the tradition I’ve followed all my life, and the one I know best. I’ve read and studied a bit about other Ways, though: perhaps the one I feel most kinship to is the Nordic, and I’ve been known to say a word of thanks to Thor and Odin and Freyja now and again—I have Norse gods and goddesses on my altars, and hold great respect for them.

In fact, the book I’m working on now is about the big Viking raids on England in the late ninth century, and the faceoff between Paganism and Christianity there. I’m on the Pagan side, naturally. Greek and Roman gods, too, though not as much: my particular patrons there are Dionysus and Ariadne, obviously, for whom I have a great devotion.

But I don’t get my nose in a sling about Christian deities: I see Mary, Mother of God as everyone’s Mother Goddess. Jesus, not so much: a powerful avatar and a great teacher, but I don’t feel a connection. St. Michael the warrior archangel, and St. Joan, the warrior maiden Frenchwoman, are also very important to me. As I said, I have no problem with it.  Except for St. Patrick, who I think is the worst thing that ever happened to Ireland.

ZB: What legends and mythologies interest you the most and how do they affect your religious practices?

PKM: Oh, Celtic, of course. Though I think of them not as mythologies or legends, but as truths. I wrote a trilogy in my Keltiad series based on Arthur, King in the Light, and his court. But this was one Round Table that did not fall. I’m very proud of those three books: The Hawk’s Gray Feather, The Oak Above the Kings, and The Hedge of Mist.

517E0T4AWNL._AC_UL320_SR204,320_I’m adding a bit of Norse tradition as I write my Viking book, Son of the Northern Star. I occasionally wear a small silver hammer of Thor, in a Celtic style, with a wolf’s head, as a nod to my own roots. The name Kennealy, originally Cennfaeladh, means “wolf’s head”, and tribal shamans were said to wear a wolf’s head upon their own in ritual..

As for my practices, I’ve tailored them over the years. There is a permanent Circle in my house, warded and secure; you can tell a Witch lives here! I like statues, so I have quite a number of them, on three different altars, including a fragmentary Irish sixth-century Kernunnos bronze torso, a terra-cotta head of Zeus from Magna Graecia and a first-century Roman bronze head of Dionysus. On the Goddess altar, a 4,000-year-old statue of Tanith-Astarte, recovered from a Mediterranean shipwreck, and a little bronze Celto-Roman goddess figure from probably the second or third century, found in an English field. And a whole bunch more.

I respect all other traditions, and I have consulted practitioners of those Ways whenever I’ve felt that I could use some help from a different quarter. Sometimes you need to come at a problem from a new slant: I’ve asked help from Madam Pele, from Dionysus, from Artemis or Diana, from one or two orishas. Always making sure beforehand that the Powers don’t mind and approaching in a respectful way traditional to them.

ZB: You were incredibly bold for coming out as a Witch and Pagan when feminism was still in its early stages. Did you experience setbacks for doing this?

PKM: I don’t know as I would call it “bold.” I think it was more out of sheer fury, or just general pissed-offedness, that I wanted to throw it at people’s heads. I just wanted to be able to be honest. Nobody ever said anything to my face, perhaps because they feared I’d hex their faces off if they did. And perhaps I would have. But I really didn’t have to: I found early on that people will do that sort of thing to themselves quite efficiently if you just give them the idea and a bit of a nudge. Contrary to public opinion, I’ve never cursed anyone outright: it’s way too much trouble, and I’m a very lazy Witch. I just hang up the karma mirror and let them catch the reflection. With perhaps a little extra kick, just so they learn the lesson. But basically I don’t have to lift a finger.

ZB: How do you think views have changed today towards women Witches in society?

PKM: I think that TV and books and magazines have done a lot to alter the perception of the Witch: yeah, now we’re all expected to look like the “Charmed” sisters, or Angelica Houston, but that has to be an improvement. And we’re perceived as powerful, not like that twinkie Samantha, twitching her nose like a rabbit, but more like a lioness. So maybe not the best perception, but at least an improvement. Surely that’s something, right?

 ZB: With Witchcraft becoming such a part of popular culture today, and women taking back their power from the patriarchy of the church, how do you see this progressing?

PKM: I don’t think that we will see female priests in the Catholic Church in our lifetimes, or at least in mine. Other sects of the Christian cult are far more welcoming, and that‘s great, but we need to get women priests back into the Church to counteract, if nothing else, the vile tendency toward pederasty and child rape that male priests are neck-deep in. I hope they rot in the hell they don’t seem to believe in. There actually were female priests back in the early centuries of the Church, until the guys got their hands on the wheel and started driving straight to hell. It will happen, and either the Catholic church will change  or it will die. Either way, good outcome.

ZBWhat are the best book references, essays etc. on Paganism or Celtic traditions for people to study? Will you be writing any books on the subject?

PKM: There is so much complete trifling drivel out there, written by uneducated Witchlets or money-grubbing hacks,  that I hesitate to recommend anything. The only books I can recommend wholeheartedly are Caitlin Matthews’ works, and her husband John Matthews’ as well. They’re dear friends, full disclosure, but they know Celticness inside and out, and are careful scholars and trustworthy Pathfinders. Read anything of theirs.

As for reference books: I was lucky enough to be able to find some amazing books, back in the day. I’d start with P.W. Joyce’s Social History of Ancient Ireland, happily available in reprint, though I have a first edition and another early one; well, anything by him is helpful and good. Just go rummage around. The good books will present themselves to you and the crap ones will fall away.

And no, I will not be publishing any books on the subject myself, even though I did write one some years back (The Crystal Ship: The Shaman and the Priestess, a spiritual memoir of Jim and me, with prayers and rituals and practices). I have too much else to write, and people like Caitlin write in the field far better.

*   *   *

Next Sunday, the conversation continues. Patricia shares more about her own work as an editor and author, and more about her life with Jim Morrison … (Stay Tuned for side B)

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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.

[Courtesy http://www.ftmeade.army.mil/]

[Courtesy http://www.ftmeade.army.mil/]

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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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.”

  *    *    *

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.

*    *    *

Citations

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.

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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.