Pagan Community Notes: PUF manages through white supremacist gathering, lawsuit citing 1st Amendment against VA, and more!

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BURNS, Tenn. – Opponents of white supremacists converged on Montgomery Bell State Park to demonstrate against the American Renaissance group, who had reserved the inn and conference center in the park.  The Southern Poverty Law Center states that American Renaissance group “is a self-styled think tank that promotes pseudo-scientific studies and research that purport to show the inferiority of blacks to whites”.

On the other side of the park, Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) was hosting its 22nd annual event, and the 20th anniversary of the event being held in Montgomery Bell. The demonstration against American Renaissance was unrelated to PUF, though festival goers and organizers became very much aware of the activity.

TWH spoke to PUF attendees who reported that while the idea of white supremacists being nearby in the park was disturbing, the festival did not seem to be overly affected. Tish Owen, founder and organizer of PUF said that she did not think the presence of the white supremacists impacted the festival much, “Most people had not heard about them. We actually had guests who cancelled their reservations at the inn and stayed with us.”

Phoenix Silverstar, a festival VIP, was one of the guests who checked out of the inn. Silverstar said, “The Nazis were booked in the Inn at the State Park, and once I found out I checked out of the hotel.  I did see police at the campground, and I assume that they were there to protect us.”

Jason Mankey, another of this year’s VIPs said, “So apparently there was a Nazi convention rather close to PUF, but it had no impact at all on the festival, other than a few Tennessee State Patrol Cars driving through the festival grounds a few times to check on our welfare. PUF was amazing, full of great people doing great work. There were no disruptions and not much talk of the Nazi convention near by either.”

According to a number of sources, there was a heavy police presence, both local and state police, as well as park rangers, throughout the area with a tactical team stationed at the entrance to Montgomery Bell State Park. Saturday night festival organizers announced that some of the park rangers asked if they could come down and enjoy the bonfire. Tennessee State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement drove through the main loop of the campgrounds approximately every 45 minutes.

Owen said of the rangers, “They were wonderful. We got to meet rangers from all over the state plus officers from Burns and Dickson. They waved. They went shopping [at the festival vendors]. They stopped for coffee, and took their breaks with us because they said we had good vibes.”

Amy Blackthorn, another VIP presenter, recounted her experience after leaving the event on Friday night. She said, “When we left to go back to the hotel [in Dickson] a car followed us to McDonald’s and the police pulled in and arrested them.” She said that other attendees who were staying off-site told her they also reported being followed to PUF security staff.

Blackthorn said she had heard that law enforcement apprehended someone who was driving an ATV through the woods that surround the campground. Owen said she and the staff had heard the noise of ATVs being driven in the woods and notified the park rangers. While they had heard someone had been arrested, neither she nor anyone on staff had witnessed the arrest.

Despite the tension, Blackthorn said she “met a lot nice of people” and all of the law enforcement she encountered were, “super professional” as well as having praise for the efficiency of the event’s own security team.

Musician Louis Garou said despite the police presence, the staff seemed to have everything well in hand and it did not negatively affect his enjoyment of the event. “Everything seemed to run really smoothly. I had no complaints.”

TWH asked Owen if she felt the park should’ve notified her about the white supremacists having reserved the inn for the same weekend as PUF further in advance. She said, “I feel they should have advised their guests at the inn.”

Owen said that she only learned that the white supremacist group would be gathering on the same weekend as PUF about a week before the event. She said the reason the supremacists are using the park is because private venues have refused them. Owen said, “I have dates for [PUF] the next three years, but I will call the inn to find out what the Nazis’ plans are. But if they come in after we have set our date, we will just have to live with it.”

She went on to say, “I like to think our peace, love, and light affect their hate. We cannot hide, we must not be fearful. We must let our light shine.”

Editors Note: We incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this article that “park rangers were be assigned to the drum circle at the bonfire to protect festival goers.” It has since been corrected.

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MANCHESTER, N.H. – Last Thursday, the Veterans Administration (VA) announced it would remove religious texts and items of other faiths except the Bible that it currently displays from the Missing Man Table.  The Table was set up as a memorial for POW/MIAs at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The items that had been added to display included texts from the Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and Wiccan faiths, as well as a blank tablet representing those who did not adhere to any faith.

Press secretary, Curt Cashour said, “We will not tolerate interference with and/or alteration of approved displays — such as this Northeast POW/MIA Network-sponsored POW/MIA table — and as a result these items will be removed.”

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder, Michael Weinstein said, ”As expected, the VA is unconstitutionally doubling down on its illicit promotion of fundamentalist Christian ideology at the total expense of the United States Constitution and the religious and non-religious beliefs of all veterans who do not subscribe to such an illegal and oppressive religious viewpoint.”

The display of the Bible had been removed in January after complaints were voiced by several patients to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who cited First Amendment violations to the administration of medical center. The Bible reappeared in February in a clear display case. On May 7,  Air Force veteran James Chamberlain filed a lawsuit in federal court against medical center Director Alfred Montoya, citing it should be a memorial to all who have served, regardless of their beliefs.

The VA appears to plan to fight the lawsuit according to this statement issued by VA spokesman, Cashour, “This lawsuit – backed by a group known for questionable practices and unsuccessful lawsuits – is nothing more than an attempt to force VA into censoring a show of respect for America’s POW/MIA community. Make no mistake: VA will not be bullied on this issue.”

The removal of the other religious texts will likely prompt more legal action, Weinstein said the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, “welcomes the opportunity to challenge this flagrant violation of the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state in federal court.”

In other news:

  • Last week, NASA announced the name of the new project that will send astronauts to the moon is named Artemis. Jim Bridenstine, a NASA administrator said, “It turns out that Apollo had a twin sister, Artemis. She happens to be the goddess of the moon,” referencing Greek mythology. “Our astronaut office is very diverse and highly qualified. I think it is very beautiful that 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man — and the first woman — to the moon.” The Artemis program will include the first woman to land on the moon.
  • A local farm pest control expert, Brian Lemin, suggests that two lambs found with their heads missing in on a farm in south eastern Cornwall was the work of witches. The idea was refuted by Richard Blackett, Pagan Federation media officer. Blackett said, “This has no part in any practice by Pagan groups. I would say it smacks of antisocial behaviour, cruelty to animals. What has been done to these lambs is gruesome and unpleasant and it is not something those in the Pagan community would ever condone.” Others commenting on the story believed it was the work of depraved vandals. The two lambs, each weighing around 40 lbs, were found three days apart, with their heads removed and missing from the area.
  • Druid Paul Beer is on a mission to clean up Chester, England and the surrounding area. In an area he often visited to meditate, he came across the skeleton of fox its stomach area full of plastic—which he assumed was likely what caused its death. Soon after he found a viral social media challenge post using the hashtag, #trashtag. The challenge called for people to locate areas where trash had been dumped or accumulated, and clean it up, posting before and after pictures using #trashtag. Being part of a nature-based belief system, Beer felt this was a campaign he could easily support. He collected seven bags of trash, and challenged others in the area to take up the challenge.
  • Excavation and restoration of a temple built to the goddess Hecate, considered to be one of the largest built to her, is underway at the Lagina Sanctuary in western Muğla province’s Yatağan district in Turkey. The team doing the excavation work is being led by Bilal Söğüt. The site is over 3000-years-old, and contains some twenty 2000-year-old columns that the team intends to restore to their original positions. “Our major work here is to unearth the temple, altar and ceremonial areas within the Lagina Hecate sanctuary,” Söğüt said. Officials claim that over 100,000 modern Pagans visit the site annually. They hope the restoration will increase those numbers.
  • Earlier this month the Druid Network, a registered charity based in England and Wales, released a statement on climate change. In conjunction with Culture Declares, the Druid Network issued a climate and ecological emergency, citing the 2018 International Panel on Climate Change report. The report emphasized that only 12 years (now 11) remain to make urgent and unprecedented changes, to mitigate the rise of global temperatures. The two groups outline their plans for action in three simple steps: 1) To ensure that the truth is publicized by governments, and media agencies, 2) To work with local and national governments to change policies with a goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, 3) To help address the issues of inequality and injustice that they believe to be part of the core issue.

Tarot of the week by Star Bustamonte

Deck: New Era Elements Tarot by Eleonore F. Pieper, PhD, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Card: Father of Air

The focus this week is liable to be on the ability to use one’s mental acuity, adaptability, and cleverness to see through or reveal the duplicity or even mind games of others.

 

Decks generously provided by Asheville Raven & Crone