Pagan Community News: Unauthorized ritual at Istrehågan in Norway, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel amends its charter, and more!

Image credit: Arne Schau

LARVIK, Norway – A 1500-year-old heritage site, Istrehågan was in the news last week when a beheaded black rooster, discarded plastic candles, and an “occult” symbol was drawn out on the ground with what appeared to be baking soda was discovered and reported by a hiker.

Istrehågan is a protected cultural heritage site and a burial ground that dates to 400-550 C.E. The site consists of a series of standing stone monuments that are arranged roughly in the shape of a ship. The site is owned by the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo and overseen by Ragnar Orten Lie, archaeologist and project coordinator in Vestfold and Telemark county.

Initial reports cited it as being an occult ritual reflective of 18th-century Icelandic traditions, but upon further examination, Lie said, “We first thought that this originated from an occult ceremony, but we now believe that it may be about voodoo.”

Linköping University religious scholar, Fredrik Gregorius, believes the symbol drawn out on the ground is more aligned with the practice of Voodoo.

Symbol etched in baking soda at Istrehågan – Image courtesy of Cultural heritage department of Vestfold and Telemark county

Ghebe Nibo is a loa in Haitian Vodou and considered to be an intermediary between the living and the dead, guardian of the graves who died prematurely, and can be the voice for those who have died but who bodies have not been found.

This is not the first time that evidence of similar activity has been found at Istrehågan. Lie told the Norwegian newspaper, Vart Land, “We discovered similar tracks in 2018 and 2019, and the practice can go back to 2007. It therefore seems that this is something that now happens once a year.”

Lie went on to say that cultural heritage sites attract a variety of faiths and political groups. He also said that the county council is considering sending the photos of the disturbance of the site to the police, as the council is weary of such unauthorized activity.

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GEORGETOWN, Del. – The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (ASW) issued a press release announcing an amendment to their charter to be more inclusive and affirmative to non-binary leadership, and have added the gender-neutral term, “Priestx” as an option for leaders.

“Since our beginning, the ASW has strived to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible,” said Ivo Dominguez, Jr., one of the Elders of the organization. “Our tradition was founded by LGBTQ people and our rituals have not been constrained by gender binaries for quite some time. These charter changes are one more step we can take to ensure people outside the gender binary feel welcome and affirmed in our rituals and covens.”

Though non-binary people have always been welcome in the ASW, and many covens have non-binary members, the organization previously required each coven to have two opposite-gender leaders. With the charter changes, covens may now have two leaders in any combination of genders.

The organization has also added the gender-neutral term “Priestx” as an option for leaders.

“An individual’s choice of title is theirs to make, and no individual shall be limited by the gender assigned to them at birth in making these decisions,” the charter reads.

The charter changes were developed by a subcommittee and voted as official by the organization’s leadership May 17.

Spearheading that subcommittee was Annie Lynsen, who identifies as non-binary. In 2019, Lynsen became the Acting High Priest of a coven based in Kensington, Md. – a first for the organization.

“As someone who felt the call to leadership, I was unsure whether I’d be able to serve, since my understanding was that covens required a gender binary demonstrated in their leadership,” said Lynsen. “But the Assembly leaders made it clear they welcomed me as a leader, and they were eager to make changes to allow for more people like me to see a path to leadership in the organization.”

ASW was established in 1993 as a  non-profit Wiccan religious organization and granted its 501(c)3 status by the I.R.S. in 1995.  They practice a form of Wicca that is “syncretic and draws inspiration from Astrology, Qabala, the Western Magickal Tradition and the folk religions of Europe.” ASW is based in the mid-Atlantic region and currently consists of fourteen covens and includes the founding coven, Keepers of the Holly Chalice.

ASW also founded and built The New Alexandrian Library which is defined as “a research and lending library dedicated to the preservation of books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, artworks, artifacts, photographs, and digital media focused on the metaphysical aspects of all religions and traditions. There is a special focus on the preservation of materials from the Pagan, Polytheist, and Western Mystery Traditions.”

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In “witch-hunt” news:

  • An 83-year-old man, KonYan Yariban, was kidnapped on August 3 from the village of Nakpanduri in the Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo district, in the Northern Region of north Ghana, and taken to camp in Tobo. The group of people who abducted him accused him of practicing “witchcraft,” and being responsible for the death of one of their family members. Yariban managed to escape from the camp, but not before he was tortured and forced to consume “blood concoctions.” His family allegedly agreed to pay a ransom that his captors claimed was necessary for the ritual to determine his innocence, but once he escaped and they saw how he had been abused they refused. Yariban was taken to a hospital for medical evaluation and treatment and then moved to an undisclosed village for his safety. It is unclear which branch of law enforcement is handling the case, as district authorities referred the family to regional officers.
  • Two brothers, Bharat Murmu and Shyam Prasad Murmu attacked their sister-in-law in the village of Totasahi of the Mayurbhanj district in Odisha State, India. Bharat Murmu’s son had a fever that was not responding to medications and he had been told by a “sorcerer” that his son was ill due to “witchcraft” and he suspected his sister-in-law. The two Murmu brothers along with three other people forced their way into the woman’s home and attacked her, but fled when neighbors hearing the commotion entered the house. The woman, who has not been identified by name, was taken to the hospital for treatment of her injuries.
  • In the Giridih district of Jharkhand, India, a 30-year-old woman, Geeta Devi was attacked in the Khesnaro village by residents who accused her of practicing “witchcraft.” Devi was returning to her in-laws home when a mob led by Munshio Mahto, who believed she was responsible for his son’s death several weeks prior, began beating her with lathi sticks (a type of Bangladeshi martial arts baton) and other rods. There were allegedly 10-15 people in the group, who also attacked her brother, daughter, and mother-in-law when they tried to intervene and stop the murder. By the time police arrived, Devi was already dead. Devi had been staying with her father in Kankani village after accusations of “witchcraft” had first been leveled against her. Her family has filed a complaint against Mahto and others with the police who are said to be investigating.
  • Last week in the town of Soledad del Doblado, which is about 30 kilometers west of Veracruz, Mexico, residents armed with rocks, shovels, and even guns searched for what they believed was a “nahual”— “mythical creature that according to legend is half-human, half-animal, drinks human blood, and causes all manner of ills, including disease.” The term “nahual” is derived from the word “naualli” which means sorcerer or magician, and its legend is linked to pre-Columbian shamanism. One of the residents fired multiple shots which did not result in anything other than bringing police, who advised the group to return home in accordance with pandemic protocols and to stop firing guns into the air. No one was injured.

In other news:

  • The Birr County Gardens in County Offaly in Ireland is growing redwood trees and is seeking to become the largest redwood forest outside of California. The project, named “Giants Grove” was begun in 2017 by Lord Rosse, the Seventh Earl of Rosse, in partnership with Crann “Trees for Ireland,” an organization dedicated to the planting and protection of trees, hedgerows, and woodlands in Ireland. Redwoods are native to Ireland, and Rosse is passionate about the project and is firm in his belief that the planting of the redwood grove will both benefit generations to come and help preserve the dwindling redwood population.
  • Cyndi Lauper started a fundraiser that benefits “True Colors United,” an organization that provides assistance to homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Lauper’s fundraiser asks for a minimum $10 donation to be in the drawing for the grand prize giveaway which features a tarot reading done by Lauper herself, two VIP tickets to upcoming Lauper concert, meet-n-greet with Lauper, and other tour-related gift items.
  • The Henley Standard ran an unusual article about a retired race car driver, David Brodie, who was approached by four strangers who identified themselves as being part of a group called the “New Candlemas Society.” The four people who approached Brodie wanted to perform a “curse” on the people who had stolen his vintage race car in June in hopes of using magic to force them to return it. While the police have been investigating, as of yet they have not turned up the car’s whereabouts. Brodie figured he had nothing to lose, so agreed to let the four members of the New Candlemas Society have a drop of his blood and perform their cursing ritual.

Call for research participants:

  • Angela M. Chamberlain, M.A., a Pagan and sixth-year Clinical Psychology doctoral student at Fielding Graduate University is conducting a study that seeks to examine how the spirituality of Wiccan women is impacted by their experience of infertility. The study will consist of an online interview about their experience. Participants may withdraw at any time from the study. Those interested in volunteering for this research should contact Chamberlain directly.


Tarot of the week by Star Bustamonte

Deck: The Divine Canine Tarot by Zack Loup, printed by Wheel of Fortune Tarot.

Card: Major arcana, Devil

The week ahead offers the opportunity to recognize fears, unhealthy behaviors, and relationships, and the prisons we collectively create for ourselves. Awareness of an issue is the first step towards correcting or managing it. The potential for freeing ourselves from that which binds or imprisons is prominent.

Decks generously provided by Asheville Raven & Crone.

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