HAGERSTOWN, Md. – Anybody who has attended a Pagan event in the Mid-Atlantic region has most likely encountered Irene Glasse.
As the president of Frederick Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (FCUUPS) in Frederick, Maryland, and the organizer of that organization’s annual Frederick Pagan Pride Day, Glasse has contributed to numerous events and organizations in Maryland and nearby environs.
Frederick CUUPS is a large and diverse Pagan organization located in western Maryland. The community includes Witches, Wiccans, Druids, shamans, eclectic practitioners, Heathens, Hellenics, and other sorts of Pagans.
“There are a lot of voices that help govern the community and I think it’s our greatest strength,” said Glasse in an interview. “We openly embrace queer-identified pagans, and our board includes a lot of LGBTQAI+ folx. We’re fortunate to have a beautiful facility and grounds to work from – the UUCF is situated on seven acres just outside Frederick, Maryland. Our events are family-friendly and open to all. This means we draw a diverse crowd – people who are curious about Paganism to 30-year-plus practitioners mingle at our events. We have a couple smaller groups that fall under our umbrella – a kids’ group, a teen group, and a Heathen group.”
Glasse’s has been a practicing Pagan for “25-ish years,” which encompasses her time in the Unites States Marine Corps.
“I was already out of the broom closet when I joined the Marine Corps,” said Glasse. “I even elected to have ‘Wicca’ put on my dog tags when I enlisted.”
At the time of her enlistment in 1998, she was likely the first openly Pagan servicemember that most of her fellow Marines had ever met. “Being a member of a minority religion in a large, historically conservative organization like the military was interesting,” she says. “I did encounter a fair bit of misinformation. It mostly makes for good stories now.”
While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, Glasse encountered other Pagans in the military. “On Okinawa itself, there was a little pamphlet that listed religious organizations called ‘Okinawa This Week,’ and I found two Pagan groups listed in it, one of which I ended up joining.”
As a busy stopping point for missions from all branches of the military, Okinawa presented a unique opportunity for Glasse to find others with common spiritual interests.
“On nights we were having a ritual, other members of my group and I would head to the PX and play ‘spot the pentacles,'” she explained. “We’d run up to people openly wearing Pagan jewelry and ask them if they wanted to come to a ritual while they were in town. The answer was almost always ‘yes,’ and I have a lot of fun memories of driving a car full of service members from various branches out to the beach to celebrate the high holidays with us.”
Glasse’s time in the military also afforded her the opportunity to hone her skills as a tarot card reader. “Not everyone realizes it, but service members as a whole are pretty superstitious,” Glasse said. “There’s a lot of blessing and charming of tools, weapons, aircraft, and more. The upshot of this for me personally was a line of people waiting for readings any time I broke out my cards.
“There were some very late nights at the barracks,” she continued, “but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Nothing teaches like doing. Getting a chance to read for people from every corner of the country with all manner of concerns and destinies was fascinating.”
Glasse said that though she has heard stories from other service members whose experiences in the military were difficult, her own experience was a positive one that continues to reverberate in her life and practice.
“I honor my time as a Pagan veteran every year at Samhain,” she says. “My partner and I have a tradition of visiting all the graves of our family members buried within driving distance. We clean the graves, visit with our deceased loved ones, and make offerings. We end our journey at Arlington National Cemetery, and I visit my grandparents’ graves there. I also have a list of all the graves at Arlington with pentacles carved in their markers. We visit each of them every year to say the names of those veterans aloud, tell them they are remembered, and leave a little offering.
“Within the minority religion that is Paganism, those of us who choose to serve the country are an even smaller group. It’s important to me to honor those bonds. We’re a family within a family.”
Glasse’s experiences with the concepts of family, community, and duty have served her well in her life after the military.
In addition to her work with Frederick CUUPS, Glasse is also on the board of the Sacred Space Foundation, the organization that produces and hosts the annual Sacred Space Conference in Hunt Valley, Maryland.
“I tend to have my fingers in a lot of pies,” said Glasse.
One of those pies is the Blackfeather Mystery School, which Glasse helped develop and where she now teaches. The school is “an intermediate magickal training program that offers bimonthly classes,” Glasse says. “Blackfeather specializes in teaching the skills of shamanism concurrently with the techniques of Witchcraft with a focus on empowerment practices.”
Glasse teaches yoga as well, and operates Glasse Witch Cottage, which she describes as a small Pagan business that provides a weekly blog along with divination, healing, pastoral counseling, and Pagan mentorship services.
And then there is Kindred Crow, a Pagan folk band that has become a fixture at regional events.
“Kindred Crow is my musical project,” said Glasse. “My partner, Chris, and I founded KC in 2016 as a deliberate choice to fuse music and magick together.”
The band is not Glasse’s first venture into music. “I’ve been on the Pagan music scene for a while – my first folk band, Revel Moon, and my metal project, Cassandra Syndrome, played a fair few Pagan festivals over the years. However, both those bands tried to keep the Pagan themes couched in language that obscured it to be more ‘marketable.’ With Kindred Crow, we decided to just say ‘the Hel with it,’ and create the band we really wanted to be in.”
Glasse explained that Kindred Crow is, at heart, a “Pagan festival band’, and that they have played at many gatherings throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, such as Earthspirit’s Rites of Spring, Fertile Ground Gathering, and Free Spirit Gathering. Members of the band, including Glasse herself, also teach at these events.
“It’s the most exhausting fun I’ve ever had,” said Glasse. “Kindred Crow is my family and I love them more than I can possibly describe.”
Like almost everybody else, Glasse has had to change the way she goes about her practice and her organizing activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am now an involuntary expert in Zoom,” said Glasse. “I’m lucky in that I was already using Zoom to perform readings and offer pastoral counseling to clients who live far away. The UUCF, my Unitarian Universalist congregation, is run by folks who skew younger and are tech-friendly. Both the congregation and Frederick CUUPS were able to pivot quickly to offering content online. We realized as the pandemic continued to unfold that finding ways to keep everyone connected was absolutely vital for the community’s mental health.”
Glasse said that she feels fortunate to be working with a strong, committed community in difficult times.
“I’m incredibly proud of the FCUUPS community,” Glasse said. “A lot of people stepped up to offer streaming classes and workshops and to help design and perform online rituals. The sad truth is that a lot of CUUPS chapters simply folded or hit ‘pause’ while the pandemic is still raging.”
In fact, the support from the FCUUPS community has allowed them to dramatically increase the amount of programming on offer online without the extra work becoming burdensome.
This does not, however, mean that it has been easy.
“We’ve had to totally rethink how we offer ritual, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons,” said Glasse. “What works for a group of 70 in a big hall is very different than what works for one or two Pagans in their homes.”
The organization’s 2020 Yule ritual was very different from years past. In lieu of a typical ritual, this year’s event featured storytellers who spoke of myths from different cultures.
“It’s a way to tap into the energy of the solstice that’s accessible and works well given the platform we’re using,” explained Glasse. “Having different storytellers will let people see and hear from community members they love as well. That’s so important right now. This take on Yule is a good example of the way pagan communities need to evolve their offerings to meet this very strange year. It’s honestly a great opportunity to take another look at what ritual can mean.”
Glasse believes that even after the pandemic ends, some of the changes it has made necessary will become a part of the way FCUUPS will operate going forward, and that those changes have helped to bring even more people together.
“I think we’re all bursting at the seams to get back to in-person gatherings, but I’m just so proud of the work we’ve been able to do given the circumstances,” she says. “We also know now, going forward, that the majority of FCUUPS offerings will include an online component – our further-afield guests have become friends, and we want to keep those connections.”