As the light began to return and the daze from holiday celebrations faded into the past, the new year promised to be an interesting one, as the U.S. presidential election drew closer. However, before American politics took center stage, there were much going on in the collective communities that make up the Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist worlds.
In the beginning….
The early months saw the tying up loose ends from 2015, demonstrating both hope and positive momentum. A new Hellenic temple was established in Washington D.C., the Doreen Valiente Foundation published the long-awaited book Doreen Valiente: Witch, the U.S. Department of Defense accepted a newly created “Heathen Resource Guide for Chaplains,” Denver-based Isis bookstore restored its damage sign, the popular Toronto pub moot celebrated 20 years, and one Mexican Heathen community launched a magazine.
In addition, Pagan Ryan Reyes, the boyfriend of San Bernardino shooting victim and hero L. Daniel Kaufman, was invited to attend the 2015 State of the Union address. He also spoke out publicly on television about the ordeal, saying “I know [Daniel] would approve of what I am doing. He would not want people suffering or being treated differently just because they share the same religion as extremists/radical groups do.”
Those early months of 2016 also saw the continuation of much Pagan activism. In January, a group of San Jose Pagans held a memorial service for those people who had “died homeless” in 2015. Pagans in Ontario stepped up to assist elders as the wells ran dry, allegedly caused by a local bottling company. In Chicago, an art collective called WITCH staged a ritual to protest local housing inequality. Then, after a Boko Haram attack in Cameroon, two American women called for the global Witchcraft community to unite in order to help stomp out terrorism.
As always, religious freedom issues wove in and out of our news stream, as well as questions surrounding the legality of practice and the truth in claims of sincerely-held religious beliefs. This issue was raised in two mainstream Pagan-based stories: the Phoenix Goddess Temple case and the New Orleans #bonegazi story. Where does religion stop and crime begin?
Religious freedom was also the center of concern when Texas-based Fort Hood Open Circle found itself the victim of a hate crime.
However, outside of the U.S., Pagans were celebrating major victories. For example, the South African Witchcraft Supression Act was ruled unconstitutional, allowing breathing room for South African Pagans to practice their craft.
There was also tragedy in those early months, as we learned that the historic and beloved New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple was destroyed by an electrical fire. Priestess Miriam salvaged what she could and pledged to rebuild. With an outpouring of support from around the world, the Voodoo Spiritual Temple did find a new home only blocks away. It reopened fall 2016.
In addition, 2016 began, quite literally, with loss. It was announced on Dec. 31 that Wiccan High Priestess Jean Williams had died. Then, in February, as the Doreen Valiente foundation was making strides in launching big projects, its beloved founder John Belham Payne died.“[John’s] spiritual work began as a typical personal journey, just as many do, but ended with the legacy of a lifetime. […] Just as Doreen passed a light to him to share with the world, he has passed that same light to others who will now carry his vision far into the future.” That they did with the publication of a book, two museum exhibitions, and a play Doreen: An English Witch.
As winter turned to spring, there were signs of what was to come on the U.S. political playing field. We looked at how the term “witch” and other occult subjects were playing out in early campaigning. These trends only continued through October when accusations of the use of Witchcraft and occult practice in politics reached a peak.
Tiptoe through the tulips…
While presidential campaigning continued, there were other national debates on the horizon. By April, the country was talking about the famous (or infamous) North Carolina “Bathroom Bill,” which served to reignite the larger social discussion of transgender inclusion, both in and out of Pagan circles. As we reported in May, “While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication. And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week.”
During this same time, Canada was hit with wildfires that devastated parts of Alberta and affected other nearby provinces. Then, as the world watched in shock, the U.K. voted to leave the EU. After the vote, a Pagan Federation statement was released which read in part, “It’s more than fair to say that June 2016 has been a time of significant change and upheaval in this green and pleasant land. […] Our world is changing, as all things inevitably do, though with such massive changes as we are seeing now, we are all scrabbling to deal with these turbulent currents.”
In April, the world learned that recording artist Prince had died. Then, in June, Orlando made national news when a popular LGBTQ+ nightclub was attacked, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others.
Over the spring, Pagans and Heathens continued their vocal participation in political and social actions. John Halstead and Margaret Human, for example, protested the use of non-renewable fossil fuels and 41 people including Halstead were arrested. In June, Melanie Hexen launched the now famous hexing action against a convicted sex offender in California.
In more local news, an Ontario-based metaphysical store was destroyed by fire, and a Pagan family in Oklahoma was the target of a hate crime. In Virginia, tarot reader Heather Cooper found herself unable to realize her dream of opening her own metaphysical shop due to antiquated laws anti-fortune telling laws. Cooper eventually opted to fight her city council, and won. And, in Detroit, long-time Pagan community leader Michael Wiggins died.
Then, in news of the odd, Oberon Zell reported that a man had broken out of his newly established California-based store and museum, the Academy of Arcana.
But the spring months weren’t only filled with devastation, tragedy, and debate; there were also organizational changes and uplifting stories of hope. For example, the Canada fires, which had caused so much damaged, spared one man’s sacred space. ADF said goodbye to Archdruid Kirk Thomas and welcomed Jean Pagano. Similarly The Troth said goodbye to Steve Abell and welcomed new Steersman Robert L. Schreiwer.
Outside of the U.S., the Goddess House opened in Glastonbury, and it was announced that Paganism would be listed as a religious option on Irish hospital admittance forms. Pagan chaplaincy was reportedly growing in Canada and in the U.S. The South African Pagan Council celebrated its ten-year anniversary, and PFI-Ireland made headlines after its candid social media response to a couple looking for chaplains.
We are most happy to report that none of our clergy subscribe to your views on mixed race or gay marriage, and so we cannot assist you in your upcoming visit to Ireland. Fuck Off. Yours very sincerely, Everyone at the Pagan Federation of Ireland.
Spring 2016 also marked the launch of a unique, new Pagan music festival: Caldera Fest. Held in the north Georgia mountains, Caldera Fest’s inaugural event was a success, and it will return in October 2017. At that event, twelve Pagan musicians debuted their compilation project, called The Green Album, which was partly a fundraiser for the Rain Forest Trust.Into the Summer …
By late spring, festival season was upon the Pagan world, and Circle Sanctuary was trying out its new location after the floods forced them to move. At the same, election coverage began to hit full steam as the parties announced their candidates. We looked specifically at how religion is treated within each of the four party platforms, and also reported on how a Wiccan Priestess was asked to participate in an interfaith prayer circle at a major party convention.
In July, New York City’s popular WitchFest USA attracted Christian protesters. Although such aggressive actions are not common at Pagan events, they do happen. In fact, it was only a few months later that Nashville Pagan Pride Day experienced a similar problem.
During that same time, groups of Pagans joined major national protests and rallies for social justice after the widely-reported shooting deaths of two more black men.
Later in the summer, a number of Florida Pagans spoke out at a rally and performed a public ritual to help protect the endangered Florida Everglades. In Salem, a local Witch was arrested for trying to help a dog that had been locked inside a car.
It was also in the late summer months that Pagans began publicly responding to the growing protests at Standing Rock.”I thought about my role as a Pagan in the space I was occupying while I was there and it really felt most appropriate to follow the leadership of the indigenous leadership there,” Colleen Cook told The Wild Hunt. Similar reports continued to pour in through the fall into winter as people to join the efforts to support the Standing Rock Sioux.
Adding to those actions, by late 2016, Canadian Pagans began to speak out against new developments in their own nation’s pipeline projects.The summer also saw the tragic death of Kansas Pagan Tisha Gill. Then, in September, it was announced the controversial author and Witch Gavin Frost had died. These two deaths and others were all listed in our Samhain article.
In August, the Texas-based Council for the Magickal Arts announced that it had been the victim of embezzlement. During this same time, Cherry Hill Seminary announced that it was at its own organizational crossroads, struggling to continue its programming. However, neither institution has since shut down, and each continues to operate with the help of volunteers and their communities.
After months of negotiation, Patheos was purchased by Belief Net, a site owned by a holdings company known to be guided by evangelical Christian thought. At the time, channel manager Jason Mankey told The Wild Hunt, “As in all acquisitions, there will be some changes but we believe these changes will be in the background and focused on the technology and supporting infrastructure, and we anticipate that these changes will be about improving the experience of the reader.” So far, his words have proven true, and there have been no reports of conflicts.
As with every season, there was also much good news. The Sacred Well Congregation earned its EEO status; the Michigan Pagan Council awarded another needed scholarship. It was announced that the Buckland Museum was being reestablished in Ohio, and Heathen Matthew Orlando would be running for U.S. Congress in Michigan. Although he did not win, he had a positive experience.
In England and Wales, the Pagan Federation continued to grow its newly-established program for disabled Pagans, and the Patrick McCollum Foundation sent two youth delegates to the U.N. for its 2016 International Day of Peace celebration.
In addition, the world convened in Rio for the summer Olympic Games, and we looked at the ancient traditions still deeply embedded in the modern spectacle.
News of the odd brought the story of a British wand maker being verbally attacked by “muggles” for not wanting to sell his wands to Harry Potter fans. The story made international news and even attracted the attention of J.K. Rowling herself. In reaction, wand maker Richard Carter told The Wild Hunt, “The point that I tried to make, but was misunderstood or more like misquoted, was that the wands, which I am guided to make, are for other like-minded people to partner with.” He added that they are made “to help [practitioners] with spells, to use during an healing, or to sit with in meditation. They are not toys.”As Labor Day arrived and the summer came to a close, The Wild Hunt news team attended DragonCon for the first time. Through the eyes of Pagan attendees, performers, and presenters, we examined the similarities and differences between pop culture and Paganism.
What just happened…
The year ended not with a whimper but with a bang, as the saying goes. October is always predictably interesting, but this year’s presidential election made it all the more so. Our coverage continued as the political scene became more volatile and more hostile. In early fall, columnists Karl Seigfried and Tim Titus explored voting values and viewpoints coming out of our varied collective communities. We also asked several diviners for their predictions.
At the same time, a major hurricane moved across Haiti, eventually hitting the U.S. southeast coast. Two months later, the southeast was hit with a drought that contributed to a devastating fire destroying Gatlinburg, Tennessee, home to a large Pagan community and the popular band Tuatha Dea. We also learned of the arrest of local North Carolina Druid Scott Holbrook. His trial has been postponed to 2017.
As the fall season turned to the holiday season, many people continued to express concerns for the coming year and pondered the meaning of leadership. The surge in reports on hate crimes and the seemingly unending terrorist attacks around the world continue to weigh heavy on the minds of many in minority communities. Former Canadian police office Kerr Cuhulain offered a two day series on how to handle hate crimes.
In that vein, although not necessarily connected, a Maryland-based Christian church was vandalized. A Pagan working at the facility organized a vigil to support the frightened spiritual community. A week later, it was reported that a Minnesota metaphysical store had became the victim of religion-based harassment. Around the same time, in Texas, a Pagan woman found scripture painted on her front door.
With that said, there were also forward strides made in areas of religious education and freedom. A man in Maine was successful in having his state-issued ID photo taken with his horns, and the Satanic Temple opened its first After School Satan clubs. And, in the U.K., The Druid Network and Pagan Federation were both granted full memberships to the Inter Faith Network after years of work.
Transgender Day of Remembrance was once successfully held. As with last year, we asked a few transgender Pagans to share their views and experiences. “The last few years have been an interesting and exciting moment in public consciousness around trans* issues,” Jake Bradley said.
It was also during this time that the world witnessed a so-called Black Moon. Due to the confusing media reports, we decided to look more closely at what that term exactly meant and how it all got started. In addition, during this season of the witch, we examined what Witches really look like.As the year came to a close, Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists the world over began to turn inward to self, to family, and to friends. Despite new reports of terror attacks and concerns expressed about the future, celebrations, both religious and secular, began. While, in Canada, the Dragon Ritual Drummers had their event cancelled last minute when, as it turns out, the facility owners felt uncomfortable with the leader’s practice of Voodoo, most celebrations were staged without a hitch, and continue to this day as people look forward …
…to the end of 2016.
* * *
This retrospective only lists a very small fraction of the stories that TWH covered or that happened over the year. Along with our own team’s work, we invited a number of guests to share their unique views, voices, and stories from their local regions. Some of these guests include: Kenya Coviak (Detroit), Dr. Gwendolyn Reece (Washington D.C.), Christina Engela (South Africa), Katrina Messenger (Maryland), David Halpin (Ireland), Christine Hoff Kraemer (Boston), and Liz Cruse (England).
We also spoke directly with Pagan artists, authors, activists, and occultists, all of whom candidly took time to share their work and their inspirations.These included author Raymond Buckland, author Orion Foxwood, Reclaiming founder Starhawk, authors Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, filmmaker Ricardo Gamboa, author S.M. Stirling, occultist Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, author John Awen, artist Glyn Smyth, political speaker Avens O’Brien, musician Azizaa, artist Allan Spiers, NAACP branch president Dianne Daniels, theater producers Roman Withers and Gavin Caine, author Kate West, publisher Anne Newkirk Niven, and author Iona Miller.
Back in January 2016, we asked our readers the question: What will Paganism look like in 100 years? Not only did we hear from those interviewed, but we received more than 65 comments sharing thoughts on this subject. Occultist Phaedra Bonewits speculated, “Assuming our overpopulating, invasive species hasn’t driven ourselves to extinction by then! A hundred years from now, the Neopagan/Pagan umbrella will be a thing of the past. It’s fragmenting even now, and in a century, those fragments will have taken up independent lives.”Now it is one year later. Would those answers look different? One U.S.-based commenter wrote, “I foresee the future of Paganism in the context of the future of the country.”
With the changes that have happened worldwide, we ask again, what will Paganism look like in 99 years?
Here is a sample of writings from our current 2016 TWH team:
Claire Dixon: Review: The English Magic Tarot
Heather Greene:No Witchcraft books in Prague, according to historian
Dodie Graham McKay: Clan mother fights back with spiritual fast
Nathan Oididio: Pagans take a public stand for Florida Everglades
Cara Schulz: The responsibility and training of Pagan clergy
Terence P. Ward: Reviving the ancient visiting traditions of Europe
Columns and Editorials:
Crystal Blanton: Honoring the Slaves as Ancestor Reverence
Erick DuPree: Amas Veritas and the Confessions of a Romantic
Heather Greene: Editorial: Music and the Magic of the Night
Heathen Chinese: Dionysos
Lyonel Perabo: Shaministic Echoes from the Arctic North
Eric O. Scott: Pagan Roleplaying with Gregor Vuga’s Sagas of the Icelanders
Cara Schulz: Where is Community when Illness Strikes?
Karl E. H. Seigfried: Tyr and the Wolf in Today’s World
Manny Tejeda-Moreno: Abrázame
Tim Titus: Column: Tea, Cake, and Death – the Value of the Death Cafe
Alley Valkyrie: Death, Fortune, and Adventure