All the latest witchy news from around the world. On this page you can find the latest news and relevant information for Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Heathens and all walks of the Pagan Community.
It is with great regret that we announce the passing of Raymond Buckland, an elder of the craft who will be sorely missed. His importance to the growth of both Wicca and Paganism cannot be overstated as he introduced Wicca into America in 1964, ultimately leading to the massive growth in the community there and elsewhere. He went on to write around sixty books that have been translated into seventeen languages, further extending his influence around the world. He has been a spokesperson for the craft in America for over five decades. Our sympathy and best wishes go to his family and friends at this difficult time.
Blessings from everyone at Children of Artemis,
may his spirit find it’s way into the Summerlands
- ● Pagan Community Notes: Hugh Hampton, Mexico City, Dan Halloran, and more
TWH – Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship lost one of its long times members: Hugh Hampton (1956-2017). Hampton was best known as ADF’s office manager, and had been serving in that position since 2003. Due to that work, he was known, even if only by name, to a good portion of the Druid community nationwide. According to Archdruid Jean ‘Drum’ Pagano, Hampton was “tireless,” “served with distinction,” and “could be found online seven days a week and at many different times of the day and night.”
Hampton reportedly received a number of ADF service awards. Others posting memories describe Hampton as being “kind and helpful.” ADF offered a prayer on their Facebook announcement that reads, “May you be welcome with open arms, as you welcomed those that came to you. May you be greeted with the same care, as you greeted the many that came to you for help. May the ancestors make you welcome, as you made so many who came your way be welcomed.” What is remembered, lives.
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MEXICO CITY — Mexico City Pagan Pride March has just reached a milestone, celebrating ten years of Pagan pride in the region. The march, Caminata del Orgullo Pagano – México, is hosted annually by Consejo Wicca Mexico, and this year’s anniversary edition was organized by visual artist Alejandro Estanislao.
The march and celebration began at 11 a.m. in ParqueEspaña and continued on from that point. During the event, organizers went live on Facebook and that video is posted on the event site. It shows people chanting, singing, and dancing in celebration.
Both the host organization and the pride event are dedicated specifically to the preservation and celebration of diversity, community tolerance, Pagan spirituality, and the well-being of the planet. In its own words, the mission is to “Inspirar a que cada ser humano se convierta en un promotor del bienestar del universo, ayudando con esto a conformar una sociedad mas libre, más tolerante.” [Translated: To “Inspire so that each human being becomes a promoter of the universe’s well-being, and with this helping to shape a more free society”].
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NEW YORK — Dan Halloran’s Facebook fan page appears to be active once again after two years of no updates. The page, once called simply Dan Halloran, was recently renamed to Dan Halloran: An American Political Prisoner and is now categorized as a cause.
Halloran, who was an openly practicing Pagan and member of the Theodish community, was elected to the New York City council representing Queens in 2012. He was later arrested on bribery charges and, in 2015, sentenced to ten years in prison. The Facebook support page appears to have been revived as a rallying point including responses using the hashtag #FreeDanHalloran.
What provoked the sudden change on Halloran’s page? It is possible that the catalyst was the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent refusal to hear the appeal of former state senator Malcolm Smith. Smith was part of the 2013 bribery scheme with Halloran, along with several others. They were all arrested in 2015 as part of an FBI sting, and Smith was eventually convicted on federal corruption charges. His appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was declined Oct. 2.
In other news
- A survey is posted online requesting participants answer questions about death and dying. The survey is specifically interested in “Pagan Attitudes to Death, Funerals and Ancestors.” The survey is being run by Jenny Uzzell, a doctoral researcher at Durham University in the department of theology and religion Uzell is also a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), and the Druid Network.
- The Bad Witch’s Blog reports on a day spent at London’s Mind Soul and Body festival.
- A new calendar dedicated to Heathenry has become available. Published on Lulu by Erin Hale, the calendar is promoted as including “images from heathen life and belief,” and includes Norse holidays.
- Blogger and polytheist Bonkira Bon Oungan is beginning a “novena” Oct. 25 and is opening up the nine-day prayer tradition to the community. He writes, “My novena for All Soul’s Day is for the dead of all sorts. I couldn’t find a prayer format that I liked, so I wrote my own last year and updated it this year.” He explains his process and welcomes people to join.
Weekly tarot with Star Bustamonte
Deck: Medieval Cat Tarot by Lawrence Teng
Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Card: six (6) of swords
The six (6) of swords reflects movement forward but can indicate a more narrow path that may require letting go of some of the burdens that reflect sadness and or loss. Often we do not realize initially how much relief and greater freedom can be found by setting aside those things that no longer serve us.
The week ahead offers us the chance to discard the worries and stress of the past, and move towards a new, and calmer, beginning. What are you carrying around with you that may be impeding your progress and it is time to let go of?Read more »
- Museums, collections, exhibitions explore magic, occult, Witchcraft
TWH – Around the world, there are artifacts and other pieces of history brought together to celebrate, honor, explore, and preserve the practice of magic in its many cultures forms. These museums and gallery collections are dedicated to showcasing regional folk magic, Witchcraft, and other forms of the occult. There are also dedicated museums that focus on the history of Witchcraft persecutions and mass hysteria. Some do both.Before we look at some of permanent museums and seasonal exhibitions, it is important to note that not all magic or occult museums have the same focus.
Often Witchcraft- and occult-themed displays are cross-pollinated with paranormal collections, such as is the case with the Warrens Occult Museum in Connecticut. In these collections, the subject matter is dedicated to paranormal-specific histories such as ghost hauntings. The Warrens Occult Museum, for example, is interested in the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren of “Amityville Horror” fame. While there may be some interesting artifacts related to the practice of Witchcraft as known in the Pagan community, paranormal museums have a different focus than the celebration and preservation of spiritually-honored magical practice.
Similarly, most lists of magic-related museums don’t differentiate between magic, as practiced by Pagans, and magic as in Harry Houdini’s craft. There are many museums dedicated to the art of illusion, such as in the American Museum of Magic. However, this collection and other like it should be confused with the displays found in museums dedicated to Witchcraft and the occult.
Just as with the collections focusing on the paranormal or illusion-based magic, some museums are solely dedicated to fictional magic, as is the case in a small museum in Stratford-upon-Avon, located near Shakespeare’s birthplace. Magic Alley and the World of Wizard’s Thatch is a little-known tourist location that is often listed as a museum of magic. However, its focus is Dave Matthews’ fictional world in the Chonicles of the Wizard’s Thatch. It has its own draw, but its focus is strictly fictional magic.
Today we offer our own list of interesting museums and exhibitions around the world that do showcase, in some form, the practice of Witchcraft, the occult, or magic within a spiritual understanding. Some collections take up whole museums, and some are part of a smaller display buried in a storefront or on book shelves of libraries.
Regardless of the size and scope, for the Pagan, Heathen, or polytheist, these sites can offer a connection to history through a common spiritual understanding, answer questions, or even inspire news ones.
Museums and galleries
- Arguably the most famous museum is the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall, at the southwestern corner of the isle of Britain. The museum has been a rich repository of artifacts and lore since 1960. Its collection has grown to more than 3,000 objects and some 7,000 books to cement it as a place of pilgrimage for Pagans of all stripes and a curious draw for tourists visiting the fishing village. A recent exhibition is “Poppets, Pins, and Power: the art of cursing.” The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is one of most extensive and dedicated museums on the occult, Witchcraft, and folk magical practice.
- Possibly just as famous is the Salem Witch Museum. However, the Massachusetts-based site has a very different in focus than the museum in Cornwall. The Salem Witch Museum chronicles the infamous moral panic and witch trials that the area endured in the late 1600s. The Salem Witch Museum is not focused on Witchcraft practice, but rather on the preserving the city’s famed history. Along with that museum are a number of other historical sites that explore early U.S. regional history.
- Similarily, in Zugarramurdi, Spain, the Museo de las Brujas shares the history of that region’s Witchcraft persecutions that occurred during the Inquisition. The museum was founded in 2007, the museums attempts to demonstrate both the reality of magical practice and the superstitions that were held throughout history.
- The curators at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, located in Hólmavík, are seeking to preserve the history of magical practice found in that region of the world. According to the site, work on the exhibition has been on going since 1996. It includes Icelandic grimoires, runes, stones, and also catalogs the area’s Witchcraft persecution history.
- In New Orleans, visitors can explore the city’s Voodoo history. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum has been in operation since 1972, and is considered one of the most interesting small American museums. It is located in the city’s French Quarter, and offers a range of experiences and exhibitions, including readings, tours, and more.
- Italy boasts a tarot museum. Located in Bologna, the Museo dei Tarocchi says that it treats art and tarot with some respect, showcasing that particular intersection. It offers “an opportunity to all artists who have been working on this subject matter and will bring to light what is often at risk of remaining hidden and of being forgotten.”
- In Belgium, there is another tarot museum. Located in Mechelen and run by Guido Gillabel, this museum showcases “2500 contemporary and antique tarot decks, fortune-telling games, old etchings, funny tarot gadgets.“
- Owned and operated by Pagans, there is of course the new Buckland’s Gallery of Witchcraft and Magic. As we have reported in the past, Raymond Buckland originally set up his museum in the 1960s on Long Island. Over the decades and several moves, the museum is now located in Cleveland, Ohio. The collection includes the many items and books that Buckland had collected over many years of personal practice.
- Another Pagan-owned gallery is located across the U.S. in Santa Cruz, California. Operated by Oberon Zell, the Academy of Arcana boasts the collections of both Zell himself, and Morning Glory Zell, including her extensive collection of goddess figurines. After Morning Glory died in 2014, Oberon launched the Academy to showcase the many Pagan and magical items that the couple had collected since the start of their practice 50 years ago.
- Other similar museums located around the world include the Museum of Witchcraft Switzerland (Hexenmuseum Schweiz), and the Museum of Witchcraft and dark forces (Obscurum Thale) in Germany,
Collections and special exhibitions
- Cornell University Libraries boast an extensive collection of rare historic Witchcraft material, which also includes movie posters from Witch-related movies. The posters as well as the material are now on display in a special exhibition. The collection is called “the World Be’witched” and features “some of the earliest known writings on witches as well as 21st-century witchcraft movie posters to illustrate how popular views on witches have evolved over 500 years.” The exhibition is on display Oct. 31 through August 2018 at the Kroch Library’s Hirshland Gallery.
- The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) at the University of London also has a Witchcraft collection, and it is already on display. It includes the institute’s many books on Witchcraft, both academic texts and original source material. Curators of the exhibition, called “Accusations of Witchcraft,” highlight four specific cases of British Witchcraft to showcase the collection and inform visitors. The exhibition will be available through Oct. 31, and is located on the 3rd floor of IHR.
- Not to be outdone, the British Library located in London has opened a new exhibition called “Harry Pottery: a history of magic.” While the exhibition does include material from J.K. Rowling’s famous book series, the focus is not on that fictional world. Curators have brought together the libraries extensive material and artifacts on Witchcraft to explore the history inspiring the books. “We unveil rare books, manuscripts and magical objects from the British Library’s collection, capturing the traditions of folklore and magic which are at the heart of the Harry Potter stories.” They also included the “original drafts and drawings by J.K. Rowling and illustrator Jim Kay, both on display for the first time.”
- Connecticut’s Windham Textile & History Museum has staged a new exhibit called “Nightmare on Main” that features both Witchcraft history as well as fictional constructions. Located in Willimatic, the museum will run the Witch-themed exhibit through Nov, 17, 2017.
Read more »
- Cardiff University Library, located in Wales, maintains a special Witchcraft historical collection similar to Cornell University and other large research institutions. Such libraries maintain historical documents used predominantly for research. Cardiff is not currently hosting an exhibition of its Witchcraft material.
- Owned and operated by Pagans, the New Alexandrian Library has been operated since 2014 in its own building. Located in Delaware, the NAL is “dedicated to the preservation of books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, art works, artifacts, photographs, and digital media focused on the metaphysical aspects of all religions and traditions.” Where most large libraries might have Witchcraft collections, the NAL’s entire collection is Witchcraft- and Pagan-related.
- Across the country, the Adocyntyn Research Library provides the same service. Like NAL, Adocyntyn is operated by Pagans and its entire collection is devoted to the Pagan community. Adocyntyn has its own space located in Albany, California.
- As we reported, Frederick CUUPS has just acquired a Pagan library collection. It is not yet available. However, it will provide yet another Pagan-run collection of material focused on the occult, Witchcraft, and magic.
- Other examples of libraries that contain occult, magic, and Witchcraft related material include: the Ritman Library in the Netherlands and the University of Miami.
- Column: California Wildfires
Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire
— Robert Frost
At the time of writing, 22 different wildfires in Northern California have burned 217,566 acres, killed at least 40 people, and destroyed over 5,700 buildings, including entire neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa; an alarming departure from past wildfires, which have mostly affected rural areas. Over 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate and the smoke caused “the worst air quality ever recorded for smoke in many parts of the Bay Area.”It is common sense that California’s prolonged drought exacerbated many wildfires, but last winter’s pouring rains were no relief, for they too abetted the intensity of the current fires by encouraging the proliferation of annual grasses, which have already died and turned into a fuel source. The fires have also burned the primary wine and marijuana-producing region of California, a region indisputably ruled by the god Dionysos, blackening the skies and bloodying the sun with the ashes of grapevine and cannabis. But Frost’s poem and the current fires bring a different set of powers to mind as well.
In the old Norse poem Vǫluspá, the vǫlva prophecies to Óðinn that at Ragnarök, the forces of Múspellheimr, the world of fire, will attack the Aesir and Vanir:
51. O’er the sea from the east | there sails a ship
With the people of Múspell, | at the helm stands Loki
After the devourer | do the clown’s sons [fíflmegir] follow
And with them | the brother of Byleist goes
52. Surt fares from the south | with the scourge of branches
The sun of the battle-gods | shone from his sword
In Gylfaginning, the fire giant Surt is the guardian of Múspellheim and fights in the vanguard of the “sons of Múspell” as they cross the rainbow bridge Bifröst, causing it to shatter beneath them. While there is considerable contention about potential Christian influence in Vǫluspá and other accounts of Ragnarök, it is undeniable that the sons of Múspell and the “scourge of branches” are loose upon California right now.
Gylfaginning also contains a strange story in which Thorr and Loki travel to the castle of the giant Útgarða-Loki (“Outyard-Loki”), who challenges the travelers to a series of contests. Loki claims that no one is faster at eating than him, and his boast is contested by a being named “Logi:”
Then a trough was taken and borne in upon the hall-floor and filled with flesh; Loki sat down at the one end and Logi at the other, and each ate as fast as he could, and they met in the middle of the trough. By that time Loki had eaten all the meat from the bones, but Logi likewise had eaten all the meat, and the bones with it, and the trough too; and now it seemed to all as if Loki had lost the game.
In the morning, however, Útgarða-Loki reveals that “he who was called Logi was ‘wild-fire,’ and he burned the trough no less swiftly than the meat.” Dagulf Loptson analyzes this story as an illustration of the difference between Loki as sacred cremation fire and Logi as uncontrolled wildfire (150-151). Both are fire, but one preserves the bones for burial, and the other consumes them entirely. One is directed (though never truly tamed), the other is completely unchecked.
When Loki captains Naglfar, the ship made of dead men’s nails, against the Aesir and Vanir at Ragnarök, the distinction between Loki and Logi is effectively incinerated. All the world is cremated, all the world is consumed. Though some modern Heathens see Surt as “king” of Múspellheimr, Gylfaginning portrays him as a guardian, and Loptson theorizes that Loki may instead be seen as ruler of that land, thus explaining his blood-brotherhood with Óðinn as a pact between two kings. Furthermore, by parallel to Freyr and Njörðr, Loptson suggests that “identifying Loki as a hostage king of Múspellheimr may explain his presence in Asgard, as the Muspilli demonstrate no threat to Ásgarðr until after Loki and his children have been imprisoned, thus breaking the truce between the two nations” (139-140). According to this theory, the broken pact is the dissolution of the world.
Apocalyptic PolytheismIn Miðgarðr, it is clear that “mankind has broken the covenant with nature,” as Peter Grey writes in Apocalyptic Witchcraft (4). In California, indigenous tribes used to do controlled burns every year, and historian Mike Davis points out that in addition to climate change, relentless capitalist development of wilderness area makes it inevitable that houses will continue to burn:
This is the deadly conceit behind mainstream environmental politics in California: you say fire, I say climate change, and we both ignore the financial and real-estate juggernaut that drives the suburbanisation of our increasingly inflammable wildlands.
It is too late to restore balance between civilized mankind and nature, but that does not mean that we should not respond to the imbalance:
Apocalypse is not escapism as some suggest. It is being held in the jaws at the threshold of life and death. It is sacred confrontation and revelation. It is utopia and dystopia in eternal exchange. It sees through. In Christianity apocalypse is used by the world haters who argue for war, in the New Age as a panacea for those who long for ascension, I use it to awaken us from dream.
There is no other way to talk about apocalypse. I do not choke the inspiration in my throat. I will not simply watch the last dance or describe the dancers without losing myself amongst them. We must be brought to an awareness of the moment. (6)
The eternal exchange between utopia and dystopia is exemplified in the twin prophecies of Badb (here identified with the Morrígan, who in other texts is described as her sister along with Macha) at the end of the Second Battle of Maige Tuired, one full of blessings—”Strength in each/A cup very full/Full of honey”—and the other much bleaker: “False judgements of old men/False precedents of lawyers/Every man a betrayer/Every son a reaver.”
Like Badb Catha, the battle crow dancing on the points of spears, we must lose ourselves in the last dance, which is also the final battle. Our awareness of the moment demands action, even — especially — in the greatest moment of despair. As Grey writes in “A Manifesto of Apocalyptic Witchcraft:”
13. The War is upon us.
14. Choose then to become a Mask.
15. Those with nothing left to lose will dare all.
Constant disaster (from the Latin roots dis + aster, “an unfavorable star”) is the new normal in these times of violent climate change, but it is the old normal as well. As was written on the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief page on so-called Columbus Day, “we must remember that for some communities, disasters have been unfolding for centuries, depriving people of life and liberty every single day.” In the wake of disaster, the state prioritizes maintaining its control above all else. Officials of the city of Santa Rosa imposed a curfew within evacuation zones to prevent looting. In Puerto Rico, police and military personnel stay “in luxury hotels with power, clean water, dedicated catered buffets, air conditioning and internet service while elderly residents with cardiac conditions lie sweltering in structurally damaged homes without access to any of the above.” And on October 16th, SWAT teams tellingly decided to spend their resources raiding Mutual Aid Disaster Relief’s base of operations in Puerto Rico.
Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a network founded on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. Their mission statement frames their project as “solidarity not charity,” explaining that they believe that “disaster survivors themselves are the first responders to crisis; the role of outside aid is to support survivors to support each other.”
They write in their guiding principles that they understand their relationships to be reciprocal: “We seek as much as possible to break down the barriers between givers and receivers of aid. Everyone has something to teach and something to share. And we all need assistance at times.” The ancient Greek word ξένος (xenos) meant both “host” and “guest,” for there was an understanding that the hospitality of the host would be reciprocated if they ever traveled to the home of their guest, a relationship divinely protected by Zeus under his epithet Xenios. In the Bay Area, mutual aid for wildfire survivors has already begun, both organized by people in the North Bay and with people driving up from other parts of the Bay Area to distribute supplies and volunteer medical skills.
Disasters also bring social tensions to the fore: “We recognize that disasters are times of localized upheaval and suffering, but are also opportunities for the rich and powerful to consolidate power.” In California, as elsewhere, one of the major tensions and consolidations of power is prison.The wildfires are being fought by prisoners: “The inmates, who roughly equal the state’s civilian firefighting forces . . . . receive $2 per day for their time spent in any of the state’s 43 inmate firefighter camps, and an extra dollar per hour while on a fire line.” The state has proven extremely unwilling to relinquish any part of its slave labor force. In 2016, when the state of California was considering reducing its prison population of 115,000 prisoners, “lawyers in the office of then-Attorney General Kamala Harris said that releasing too many prisoners ‘at this time would severely impact fire camp participation—a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought.’” The state is literally keeping people in prison longer in order to be able to send them to fight fires. In North Carolina, however, fire provided an opportunity for liberation, the latest in a wave of prison revolts across the country. On Oct. 12 at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution, “inmates started a fire around 3 p.m. at the prison’s specialty sewing plant, where about 30 inmates work. After the fire was started, several inmates tried unsuccessfully to escape.” Dionysos, destroyer of the dungeons and palace of Pentheus, inciter of slave revolts, possesses the epithet Eleutherios: Liberator. Even as his vineyards and marijuana grows burn, a chthonic sacrifice by fire, the use of prisoner firefighters does not escape his notice. Nor should it escape ours.Read more »
When I was still a little child, I admired the hardened convict on whom the prison door will always close; I used to visit the bars and the rented rooms his presence had consecrated; I saw with his eyes the blue sky and the flower-filled work of the fields; I followed his fatal scent through city streets. He had more strength than the saints, more sense than any explorer – and he, he alone! was witness to his glory and his rightness.
Along the open road on winter nights, homeless, cold, and hungry, one voice gripped my frozen heart: “Weakness or strength: you exist, that is strength.” You don’t know where you are going or why you are going, go in everywhere, answer everyone. No one will kill you, any more than if you were a corpse.” In the morning my eyes were so vacant and my face so dead, that the people I met may not even have seen me.
In cities, mud went suddenly red and black, like a mirror when a lamp in the next room moves, like treasure in the forest! Good luck, I cried, and I saw a sea of flames and smoke rise to heaven; and left and right, all wealth exploded like a billion thunderbolts.
-Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.
- Column: Wouldn’t You Like to See Something Strange?
I remember certain parts distinctly; or I should better say that the images are clear; some details less so. I was cooking something, but not in a house. It was a professional kitche; there were lots of pots and a few Dutch ovens. I also remember seeing a tin food mill hanging close by. I know I was preparing some kind of food, but it wasn’t a quick dish. For some reason, I think it was a terrine of some sort. As I looked away from what I was cooking toward the entrance of the area, something happened. The pain was sharp and sudden. I think it was in the chest. I remember holding myself up with my left hand against the stove and a hat —my hat — flew off to the side and on to a pilot flame. It burned, and I got burned trying to hold myself up, but pulling my hand away made me fall to the floor.Then, when I hit the floor, I could see beneath the stove. It was black with charcoal dust, and I thought it needed cleaning. A moment later, someone was yelling — it was very muffled — and then I was flipped over. The rest I remember even less well. The yelling faded away. It got darker — at least as I remember it now it was a shimmering, odd sort of dark foam – almost like the edge of a fog made from soap suds, and it was sort of everywhere with no starting point. I stood up and waited around. Someone was there, but I don’t remember who.
The next thing I remember is sitting under a tamarind tree at home. It was the one in our backyard, my hands were covered in sticky pulp and I still had pieces of the husk attached to my skin from the goo. I remember more stuff later, just as you’d expect.
The tamarind tree is my earliest memory. The earlier story is the one I told my parents as soon as I could talk. It didn’t go over well.
In a Christian-dominated society, toddlers talking of such things is neither entertainment nor encouraged. It’s an unappreciated and unwanted type of childhood storytelling that may require a physician, an exorcist or both. Such memories of survival are described by most Christian faiths as the workings of demons. Preexistence is heresy, And when I occasionally tell the story even now, I still creep people out, and it goes from discomfort to fear to anger.
Other faiths and cultures aren’t so sure about the demonic origins of memories crossing the death passage. The transmigration of souls is/was commonly accepted, not just among Hellenic Greeks but by Romans, Celts, Hindus, Jains as well as in the Yoruba faith. In the Yoruba tradition, reincarnation can happen and is often familial. The expectation of reincarnation is even embedded in names like Babatunde which means, “father returns.” While some souls may rest elsewhere, some come back.
I was fortunate. I was raised at the confluence of three religions, and what Catholics and Jews could not explain, the Yoruba could. My experiences were affirmed as normal, requiring spiritual rather than psychiatric attention.
When we approach the Samhain season, I end up reflecting on those childhood memories, and yeah, I really do get the creepy part about it. The transmigration of souls does imply that some of us are our own ancestors (whoops, eerie). I’ve seen the movies too, about the creepy kid doing weird things (someone cue Tubular Bells).
All of that doesn’t quite explain the emotionally-charged reactions around personal reincarnation stories. Reactions that range from simple disbelief to disturbing glances to calls for diagnosis, almost exclusively from parents. It’s not clear why, either. Parents may justifiably worry for their child’s welfare, but what I have come to learn is that these stories are troubling because they confront the illusion of control. The child becomes a vehicle for something that adults cannot explain nor command. Parents look for causes, altering the narrative from normalcy to pathology, from illness to demons; usually never considering that it might be part of the natural flow of the universe.
Reincarnation doesn’t just complicate our views on death, it complicates our view of children. Some children may have memories that extend their experience beyond their age. The presence of a past life suggests that age and agency are not conjoined, and while that may raise questions about the child’s consent to all sorts of things from adultism to imposed medical procedures to belief indoctrination and faith involvement, it also raises questions about the perceived — even desired — order of the universe. The challenge when children remember is accepting the inability to explain what has occurred. The dominant faiths of the West are ill-equipped to offer guidance, so the usual formulas for control, like invoking authority, become lame. Offering explanations like possession and witchcraft means adults can avoid an uncomfortable confrontation with the unknown.
The very idea that souls transmigrate deeply challenges priestly authority and the common expectations of a well-behaved monotheistic universe. To obviate the structure is to undermine a basic belief that whereby choice and free will cannot extend beyond death. It is like accessing “other memory” with no spiritual mechanism to explain how it happens other than heresy, anathema or abomination. Monotheism isn’t required either. The dogmatic mechanics of scientism will also drive emotional stances. When there is no explanation for what is happening, there is no means to control what is happening. That lack of control produces only fear.
Most seriously, in order to maintain control and authority, we suppress the sense of the natural. In the case of a child remembering, adults will subordinate a child’s sense of the universe. We often demand the children align their spiritual sense with adult expectations: a path that leads to fearing the spiritual world instead of working in it.
Quelling our inborn spiritual sense is a poor choice, one that our community has routinely experienced, that our sense of the world is flawed. I would argue it’s even a form of violence, a type that many of us have experienced. We collectively feel the onslaught of reeducation to mis-align our spiritual experience of preexistence with foreboding, and even oppressive adult spiritual architecture. We are victimized when people in power insist that our spiritual experiences are not real, merely the product of delusion or indigestion. Through it all, that tactic tears away at our self-esteem and trust our own spiritual sense. We have each survived this kind of gas-lighting as adults and as children.
Access to that spiritual ancestry is much of what Samhain is about, and it is the one sabbat that survived oppression by recognizing our access to spirit, now and as children. Long before the modern Pagan revival movement, our ancestors used trick-or-treating to resuscitate what had become a minor, lost even dead (pun intended) holiday. The modern rise of Halloween happened through children. In a way, ancestors called back the sabbat of Samhain through its secular counterpart, Halloween. For many Pagans and non-Pagans, Halloween became a spiritual gateway: some fear it, some do not. Halloween may not be a sabbat, but it is certainly an entryway. There is something universally — even intentionally — clear about this holiday; something more is happening than just candy and costumes.
Our ancestors can be crafty folk. Whether present as children or guiding our society from the far side of the veil, they had a remedy to restore their presence, heal our senses and break our indoctrination through Halloween, we reclaimed Samhain. That reclamation is now a powerful blessing. It’s as much an invitation to explore the veil that we may have crossed when we entered this life, as it is an opportunity to explore it with the agency we may have denied children, and been denied as children. That is ancestral magic at work and an ancestral gift for us to honor this season. Remembering, perhaps, that some of our ancestors may already be here, and asking for candy.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.Read more »
- NHS England proposes ban on alternative medicines; Pagans respond
UNITED KINGDOM — A petition has been circulating around UK-based Pagan websites calling on Parliament to act in the wake of a proposed plan by the National Health Service (NHSE) England to stop prescriptions for herbal, homeopathic and other alternative forms of medicine.Up until now, the NHSE has prescribed herbal and homeopathic remedies for patients. For example, it is used for those those patients who suffer from severe side effects caused by pharmaceutical medicines or for patients who have experienced no improvement in their health from those medicines.
In the UK, treatment is free at the point of delivery, although patients have to pay a basic fee (£8.60 per item) for each prescription. This chosen route has not been without controversy historically speaking. In 2010, Tom Dolphin, a leading member of the British Medical Association described homeopathy as ‘witchcraft.’
The NHS system is partly funded by a National Insurance scheme, which British citizens pay into through wages.
While it is of course possible to take out private health insurance, the NHS was founded in order to provide for everyone, including the poorest and most marginalized members of society. The system has been extended in recent years to include some alternative treatments. Over the last 5 years, the NHSE has spent over £600,000 on homeopathic treatments.
However, as noted, there has been dissent based on the assertion that homeopathic remedies are not evidence based. Now, the NHSE is saying that prescribing homeopathic and herbal remedies is a ‘misuse of scarce funds.’ NHSE chief Simon Stevens commented that “at best homeopathy is a placebo.” He said that “NHSE funds which could be better devoted to treatments that work.”
The NHSE includes 16 other treatments in the ban and is encouraging patients to buy over-the-counter remedies for complaints, such as indigestion and sore throats with the aim of saving approximately £250 million a year. The ban covers some 17 items, including herbal medicines, Omega-3 fatty acids, liniments, and travel vaccines.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs (general practitioners), said that reducing prescription costs was desirable, but warned that the more vulnerable members of society could be significantly affected.
Stokes-Lampard said, “If patients are in a position that they can afford to buy over the counter medicines and products, then we would encourage them to do so rather than request a prescription – but imposing blanket policies on GPs, that don’t take into account demographic differences across the country, or that don’t allow for flexibility for a patient’s individual circumstances, risks alienating the most vulnerable in society.”
Michael Marshall is the President of the Good Thinking Society, which has threatened to put the Department of Health up for a judicial review if it failed to blacklist homeopathic and herbal preparations. Marshall states:
This is very welcome news…Every credible medical body certainly knows that homeopathic remedies are just not effective for any conditions at all and it is great to see this strong statement from NHS England officially acknowledging the fact.
However, Cristal Sumner, chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association and the creator of the recent petition, says the NHS plans were “bad for its already overstretched budget and for patients.”
She has criticized the report used to draw up the new guidelines, commenting that, “This recommendation is not cost effective as patients will be prescribed more expensive conventional drugs in place of homeopathy, which defeats the object of the exercise.”
Don Redding, policy director at National Voices, an umbrella organization which covers 140 health care charities, including the British Heart Foundation, suggests that this is bringing charges in through the back door.
He believes that that those who are unable to pay will now be unable to obtain treatment. This, he says, violates the ‘free at the point of use’ principle which underpins the foundation of the NHS.
Alternative medicine is a topic of considerable interest within the Pagan community. However, Pagans appear to be divided on the issue.
Those who practice alternative forms of medicine are skeptical about the ban and have been publicizing the petition, while others have reservations about the evidence-basis of some alternative practices.
Concerns have also been raised about making rash and unsupported equivalences between different types of practices.
Helen Compton says, “My initial reaction to the ban, as a herbalist, is that they are incorrectly lumping us in with homeopaths, nothing wrong with homeopathy but herbalism is a very different healing modality. ”
“The intent behind this incorrect conflation seems generally malign, to show herbal medicine as an ineffective waste of time,” Compton explains.
“Also, seems that it doesn’t make clear that herbal medicine largely isn’t available on the NHS, the ban concerns things like senna etc. It is limiting patient choice of generally safe and cheap medicines, not logical and I sense the hand of large pharmaceutical companies somewhere behind this.”
However, not all Pagans are critical of the ban, with some calling for tighter controls on alternative medicine and more extensive use of peer review.
Herbalist Helen Maria says, “unless they’ve been properly trained doctors are not qualified to prescribe herbs. It is not symptomatic prescribing like pharmaceutical drugs.”
Maria goes on to further explain, “[Herbalism] is individualistic and looking at the root cause. It is not really possible to go nettle = eczema because the cause of everyone’s eczema is different. Therefore I’m sort of happy they’re not doing it. On the other hand this smacks of further marginalising, and discrediting other healing modalities.”
There is a general consensus, however, that the ban is part of a move to induce patients to pay for a greater range of over-the-counter remedies, which is in turn an aspect of the funding crisis currently experienced by the British National Health Service.
The online petition, which has now reached over 16,000 signatures, will be open to signatures through March 13, 2018.Read more »
- Supreme Court declines to hear New Mexico Ten Commandments case
WASHINGTON DC — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case brought forth by two Pagans concerning the Ten Commandments monument previously erected in front of Bloomfield City Hall. Because SCOTUS declined to hear the case, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, stating that the monument should be removed, will stand.
Wiccan Priestess Janie Felix and Pagan Buford Coone, with the full support of the ACLU, challenged their home city of Bloomfield’s installation of a Ten Commandants monument on public property in 2014.
The ACLU argued that city officials “accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation.”
Ms. Felix said she is happy the justice system worked in this case and hopes it sets a solid legal precedent for future cases. She says that she is also thankful to the ACLU for their assistance.
“I am grateful for the help and driving force of the ACLU in supporting this important legal fight. I find it sad the the City of Bloomfield was so misguided in this case, money was squandered by the city to pursue the appeals, money that is owed the ACLU for court fees, which they will be hard pressed to pay. It has been hinted that I am to blame!”
History of the Monument
On April 3, 2007, Bloomfield’s Councilor Kevin Mauzy “made a presentation of a monument to display the Ten Commandments in front of Bloomfield City Hall serving as a historical and art display for the city.”
As noted in the official meeting minutes, the proposal was approved and the funds were to come from “private donations from the community.”
In 2014 testimony as reported by The Albuquerque Journal, Mauzy said, “[The monument] was not for religious purposes. It was for historical purposes and to beautify the city.”
After the approval, the Council adopted a resolution permitting private “citizens, groups and organizations” to sponsor displays on City Hall’s lawn. The official resolution outlined the scope and approval process for such an installation. For example one requirement states that all displays must reflect the “history and heritage of the City’s law and government.”
There was an almost immediate outcry from people of many religious backgrounds. At the 2007 meeting, the City Manager urged the Council to delay the monument’s approval until legal concerns were addressed. Opponents spoke at council meetings, sent letters-to-the-editor of local newspapers, and signed petitions. One Bloomfield citizen even launched a blog called “Bloomfield NM Ten Commandments Monument.”
Despite the myriad protests, the monument was erected in June 2011.
The group funding the Ten Commandments monument was the Four Corners Historical Monument Project, which was led by councilor Kevin Mauzy himself. Twenty-one days after the 2011 monument ceremony, the Council amended the 2007 resolution stressing the limits of usable lawn space.
Later that year, the group installed two other monuments, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, within that same space.
The Legal Case
Felix says she wanted to be part of the legal case because the principle of the suit was very important to her.
“The conservative Christian agenda of our community railroaded this monument through, ignoring our petitions, our voices and barreled through as if it was their Deity given right to push their faith and to ignore all others,” says Felix.
She says that she faced considerable negative responses from some in the local community for being part of the lawsuit. In addition to hostile stares when she was in local stores, Felix says there were also threatening comments in the newspaper and on call in radio programs. She says, for the most part, she was able to ignore it.
However, she notes that there was one thing she couldn’t ignore.
“I think the hardest thing to handle was the suggestion that only two Pagans were making everyone else bow to their needs,” says Felix.
She says this wasn’t at all true, “The reality was that the other person and myself had nothing to lose, like our jobs with the city, so we were willing to be the face of the suit. We were the face in front of many who could not come forward.”
The City Council for Bloomfield says that other groups could have funded their own monument to be placed at city hall.
However, opponents say that this isn’t true. They say there isn’t room for any other monuments.
The ACLU was watching the events surrounding the monument unfold since the beginning in 2007. After sending letters-of-concern and launching an investigation, the ACLU finally decided to file a lawsuit on Feb. 9, 2014. According to the filed complaint:
The City of Bloomfield accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation. Public records requests also reveal that Mauzy sought and received legal advice on the monument from the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that often advocates for the merging of government and religion.
In that complaint, Mr. Coone is recorded as saying the “display shows that the City favors the Christian religion and supports Christianity over other religions [and] … violates the U.S. Constitution and the New Mexico Constitution.” In the same document, Janie Felix says, “[the monument] sends a message of exclusion to those who do not adhere to that particular religion.”
In March 2014, the case went to trial before U.S. District Judge James A. Parker in Albuquerque. Judge Parker ruled in favor of Felix and Coone in August of that year.
The city appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado, and that case was heard in Sept. 2015.
In November of 2016, the court issued its decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling.
While it did note that the “cluster of other [historically-based] monuments surrounding the Ten Commandments can dampen the effect of endorsement,” the court said, “the city would have to do more than merely add a few secular monuments in order to signal to objective observers a ‘principal or primary’ message of neutrality. Thus the impermissible taint of endorsement remains, and as we have said, nothing sufficiently purposeful, public, and persuasive was done to cure it.”
The city then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, who refused to hear the case. A denial of a Petition of Certiorari doesn’t mean SCOTUS agrees or disagrees with the decision or that it will impact any other similar cases, but it does make the decision from the Court of Appeals the final decision in this case.
Felix says everything she went through over the years this case took winding through the legal process was worth it. “I was aware that it could take a long time to get through all the step,” she says. “And, yes, I would definitely do it again!”Read more »
- Pagan chaplain joins Red Cross team offering spiritual care
TWH –Whether it’s a shifting climate, rising intra-cultural tensions, or terrible luck, many natural and man-made disasters have been covered in the news of late. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and even mass shootings can have similar impacts on survivors, despite the differences in cause and physical damage resulting from each. Those impacts can include psychological and spiritual harm.Although better known in Pagan circles as the executive director at Cherry Hill Seminary, Holli Emore is also trained in providing disaster spiritual care through the Red Cross. She recently returned from a trip doing just that in Las Vegas, in the wake of the concert mass shooting which recently took place.
“I wasn’t there on vacation,” she told The Wild Hunt.
It also wasn’t her first trip in recent weeks: Emore’s worked with Caribbean evacuees, and before that survivors of Irma. “I’m hoping to stay home a bit now,” she admitted.
In order to provide the kind of spiritual care required under such circumstances — and Emore says that volunteers are needed for this work throughout the country — an individual must be a trained chaplain, which in part means being able to help people in the context of their own faith practices. Professional chaplains, as well as those who are board-certified through a recognized agency or endorsed faith leaders, all fit the bill.
“Chaplaincy is a specific skill used for dealing with people in crisis,” Emore explained, and Red Cross rules are intended to make sure that no one doing that work makes things worse.
“I’ve often meant well, a lot of us mean well, but it’s good to have training.”
With that training, a chaplain helps victims draw on their own “values or faith resources, with or without religion,” and never injects values from another religious path into that work.
“One thing they teach us never to say is: ‘God must have a purpose for this,’ ” Emore said. “It’s 95% listening, much of it reflective, helping people think through and sort their own thoughts. Sometimes — not often — I pray with people.”
Emore is aware that the Red Cross organization gets a fair amount of criticism around disaster response, but she believes that its scale does have value. With many groups involved in providing aid, she said, “It’s important we’re all playing by the same rule book.” The rules , in this case, are presumably created by, or at least standardized through, Red Cross personnel.
One standard rule promulgated at Red Cross-run shelters is the idea that “this is like walking into someone’s bedroom,” Emore said. That’s why only certain people are allowed entry, and even local ministers might be shut out.
Congregants will first be asked if they would like the company, and if there’s enough interest and space it’s possible services will be held, but no one without the training will be going from bed to bed providing comfort.
“You don’t want this experience,” she said of any disaster aftermath. “Who wants to sleep in a high school gym on a cot, surrounded by stranger? It’s tough. People are strained and stressed. I spoke to one man [after Irma] who was undergoing chemo, and now this on top of that.”
Right now, the disaster occupying the headlines is historically-large wildfires in California. Emore doesn’t plan on working with that population directly, but she did offer some advice. “It’s important for people to acknowledge that they are not going to get over this overnight. They may feel fine, but these events take time to process.”
She continued, “People may feel exhausted for awhile as they process the events on a soul level, and they may need professional help, even if only once or twice.”
“It’s important to be able to let go, and accept that help. That’s okay. I can’t imagine what it’s like losing everything, like some people in California have.”
In that or any disaster, Emore said that those close to the victims “can help just by being there. ” She said, “We can’t rescue everybody, but [we] can be a caring presence. When a friend finally knows what they want, they can call you and ask for it.”
Working in Las Vegas was important to Emore in part because it reminded her of the pain in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shootings. “We were burned out,” she said of people in her community, “and we felt there must be a way to come together as a community for something spiritual, but not necessarily religious.”
The result was a ceremony of healing and peace, which has been held in several locations and with participants from many faith groups in her local area in South Carolina.
Those kinds of ceremonies and that kind of loving care are needed far from the focus of hurricanes, or shootings, or wildfires. “We’re creating a diaspora of wounded people,” Emore observed, including some 22,000 who were at the Las Vegas concert and have since returned home.
A highly mobile society results in the trauma visited in one place migrating with its victims far and wide; Emore fears that they’re “becoming kind of invisible,” and infecting their communities with that pain if they aren’t getting the support they need.
“As Pagans, maybe we should consider this, since we understand how to energetically support our community,” she said. “At least acknowledging those who have crossed over this Samhain, their pain, and wishing them peace might be a good start.”
The back-to-back-to-back disasters have stretched Red Cross resources thin, Emore said, which is why she’s hoping some readers might opt to volunteer for this work. However, her description of what it looks like is frank: “It’s 12 to 14 hour days,” she said, “but they take care of us. We need more people.”
Emore has laid the groundwork for more than just asking for help: Cherry Hill Seminary offers a chaplaincy track which would satisfy Red Cross requirements. They include courses for those who wish to offer those skills as an adjunct, like herself, as well as those who wish to make a career of the work.Read more »
- Pagan Community Notes: California wildfires, Frith Forge 2017, Doreen Valiente and more
CALIF. – As is being reported throughout mainstream media, the California fires still burn. The death toll is at 40 and multiple fires continue to rage with the worst ones in the north. Despite the devastation, officials are now saying that firefighters are beginning to get control of many of the fires, and promise of cooler temperatures is helping.
The California Pagan community has not be left untouched by the destruction. As we reported last week, Tracy McClendon and her family evacuated their home quickly, and just in time as the blazes consumed the structure. “It is scary to think that ten minutes is the difference between us being alive and us not being alive,” she said. The family lost everything and has a GoFundMe campaign running to help them rebuild.
According to the Sonoma Valley Pagan Network, Annwfn and all of Greenfield Ranch is safe. Firefighters reportedly “were able to halt the fires at Reeves Canyon, northeast of the ranch.”
The Isis-Oasis sanctuary in Geyersville is untouched, and is offering a place of rest to first responders. “We have beds and food … free of charge.” Covenant of the Goddess Northern California Local Council has been posting information, news stories, and resources on its Facebook page.
We will be following the situation and bringing you more on the situation over the next week, including eyewitness reports from our California-based writers.
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GERMANY – Reports are now coming in from Frith Forge 2017, a new international event sponsored by the Troth. Frith Forge was designed to be conference for inclusive Ásatrú and Heathen organizations, and individuals. As is advertised on the website, the event offers a space “to build alliances, understanding, and friendships among us instead of compartmentalizing further in an industrialized world. Let’s learn from each other with respect and fellowship to forge frith among us.”
Frith Forge was held Oct. 5-8 in Werder/Petzow, Germany, and included workshops, talks, and a sacred sites tour Oct. 6.
There were reportedly over 30 attendees from around the world, including TWH columnist Karl E. H. Seigfried, who was attending as goði of Chicago-based Thor’s Oak Kindred and as a member of the Troth Clergy Program. On his personal website, the Norse Mythology Blog, Seigfried has published the talk that he gave at the conference itself, which is called “A Better Burden: Towards a New Ásatrú Theology.”
In that talk, Seigfried offered his services as “editor for the first international anthology of the public theology of Heathenry,” and he has reportedly already received interest. Seigfried will be providing a full account later this month of what happened at Frith Forge 2017, and what the event means for global Heathenry.
In addition, many of the talks were reportedly recorded and will be made available online over the next few weeks by the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry.
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TWH – The Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) will be publishing a new book titled A Witch Ball and other Short Stories. The book is a collection of previously unpublished material from Doreen Valiente, who died in Brighton in 1999. Valiente is considered by many the mother of modern Witchcraft, and her works have influenced Witches around the world.
When she died she left her legacy to John Pelham Payne, who created the Doreen Valiente Foundation. Its mission as stated is “to preserve, protect, research, and make accessible” Valiente’s work. Payne himself died in 2016, leaving the organization to a number of trustees who continue the efforts.
In that light, DVF has gathered these previously unpublished writings together in one book. According to the site: “This collection of short stories is not only of significance to fans of Doreen Valiente, but of import within the wider genre of gothic fiction and folk horror. . . . These enjoyable tales weave and layer magic and folklore into a notable contribution to the interesting genre of magical tales written by magical practitioners.”
Professor Ronald Hutton wrote, “The publication of these stories offers both real entertainment for readers and a valuable resource for those interested in the history of Paganism, witchcraft and magic. In them, Doreen reveals herself to be a proficient, engaging and immensely readable author of fiction, producing occult detective tales on the level of those by Dion Fortune.”
A Witch Ball and other Short Stories will be released in December 2017.
In other news
- The Gerald B. Gardner (GBG) Calendar 2018 is now available. Since 2011, Pagan and Gardnerian Witch Link publishes the calendar filled with quotes, photos, and historical data. The calendar includes many Pagan feast days, moon phases, and holiday information from around the world. This year the calendar also includes information on a lesser known member of the original Bricket Wood Coven, Monica English.
- Another popular annual publication is also now available. The Witches’ Almanac 2018 is on bookshelves. The Issue is #37, and is titled, “The Magic of Plants.” Its 194 pages include articles, poetry, art, and information, as well as astrological calendar that runs from spring 2018 to 2019. As we reported in 2016, the Witches’ Almanac has been a fixture in the Pagan community for 46 years.
- Circle Sanctuary joins the many other Pagan organizations that are offering online classes and workshops. Rev. Selena Fox will be offering instruction on the celebration of Samhain and Halloween. The online class, to be held Oct. 18, will teach students “ways to work with old and new customs, rites, and symbols in creating personal, household, and community celebrations of Samhain and Halloween.”
- Solar Cross Temple founder, activist, and author T. Thorn Coyle has published an October Manifesto on her website. In her typical tone that mixes gentle compassion with inspirational drive, Coyle begins, “Our societies don’t have to be this messed up. We can learn from past mistakes. We can stop operating out of sheer ego-protection and fear. We can choose to not preference the making of money over the well-being of community. We. Can. Do. This.” The Manifesto goes on to stir action and inspire hope toward a better future. This work, like much of her work, is reader funded through Patreon.
Tarot of the week with Star Bustamonte
Deck: Crow’s Magick Tarot by Londa Marks, U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Card: Five (5) of Swords
This card reflects circumstances that are destined to be frustrating. The key to moving forward is the ability to tweak one’s thinking. The week ahead is liable to be rife with aggravation, and the best way to address it is to step back and think outside of the box. A measured and thoughtful response is called for rather than knee-jerk reaction.
Read more »
- Trump tells values voters, “We worship God”
WASHINGTON DC — President Donald Trump addressed attendees of the Values Voter Summit Friday, saying: “In America, we don’t worship government — we worship God.”Since he began his run for the presidency and after the election, Trump has repeatedly pushed religious-freedom rhetoric, promising that the government would not discriminate against “people of faith.” As we reported last week, the Justice Department released a new set of guidelines to assist federal departments in wading through such issues.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith. The protections for this right, enshrined in our Constitution and laws, serve to declare and protect this important part of our heritage.”
However, as shown by Sessions’ comments, the administration is using the term “religious freedom” as a marker for something more specific than simply upholding a constitutional amendment. The new guidelines appear to be less concerned with creating space for diverse religious belief or no belief, and more concerned with opening doors for increased religious influence in the public sphere, in private business, and in politics.
While each of those sectors of society come with their own legalities and issues, Sessions marked the administration’s motives by saying, “[We] will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.” That statement clearly defines the objective.
As is often pointed out by Pagan groups and individuals, such religious freedom regulations and guidelines can potentially benefit Pagans and other religious minorities, because of the open-ended term “religion,” or in this case, “people of faith.”
The First Amendment guarantees that point.
In 2015, when Georgia was voting on a state RFRA act, Aquarian Tabernacle Church priest Dusty Dionne wrote to the governor, saying:
We thank the state of Georgia for its forward thinking and dedication to religious freedom. It has been a reality long-held by Wiccans that the laws did not extend far enough toward our own exercise of religion [50-15A-2. line 71] to be truly encompassing of our freedom to worship.
The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as passed by our illustrious president Bill Clinton, was a landmark move that opened the door for minority religions, and small local churches to have more safety to worship within their communities than ever before. This new bill will create sweeping changes that will open the doors for the Wiccans within Georgian communities to worship, work, and live their religion to its fullest.
The language within such legislation is open ended due to constitutional constraints. The government cannot make laws respecting any one religion.
Trump’s speech to the Values Voters, while not legislation, made the administration’s objective with regard to religious freedom even more clear than the Sessions statement. It explicitly narrowed the definition of “people of faith” from a broad understanding of belief to something very specific.
He leads into his talk on religion with the predictable feel-good rhetoric:
We love our families. We love our neighbors. We love our country. Everyone here today is brought together by the same shared and timeless values. We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life. We believe in strong families and safe communities. We honor the dignity of work. We defend our Constitution. We protect religious liberty. We treasure our freedom.
As he goes on, his words with regard to religion focus on what he terms ‘Judeo-Christian values.” He says, “And we all pledge allegiance to — very, very beautifully — ‘one nation under God.’ This is America’s heritage, a country that never forgets that we are all — all, every one of us — made by the same God in heaven.”
While he expressly mentions Judaism and even the freedom of rabbis to speak out on political matters, Trump eventually turns to the alleged “war on Christmas,” which uses language that further constricts his definition “people of faith.”
Just after mentioning America’s Judeo-Christian values, Trump says:
And something I’ve said so much during the last two years, but I’ll say it again as we approach the end of the year. You know, we’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word “Christmas” because it’s not politically correct.
You go to department stores, and they’ll say, “Happy New Year” and they’ll say other things. And it will be red, they’ll have it painted, but they don’t say it. Well, guess what? We’re saying “Merry Christmas” again.
He then speaks of giving the American people a Christmas gift of tax cuts.
The speech’s wording was molded to appeal to the Values Voters Summit audience, which was made up predominantly of conservative Christians. The event’s primary sponsor is FRC Action, the legislative affiliate of the Family Research Council, the mission of which is to “advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview.”
Not surprisingly, Trump was applauded for his statements.It is important to recognize that the front lines on this alleged war over religious freedom is not specifically being waged between two religious sectors, at least at this point. It is between a conservative portion of a particular faith practice and the concept of secularism or the operation of a neutral government.
The U.S. is in fact one of many countries that still remains neutral with regard to religion. In a recent study by Pew Forum, secular governments do marginally dominate global politics. The U.S. government is not an anomaly; at least 106 national governments are secular.
Although the U.S. has always been secular, Christianity in one form or another is the religion of the majority of the American population. As a result, many areas of the country, even to this day, have seen religion and politics existing as happy bedfellows, even where not constitutionally permissible.
However, in a growing society with expanding religious diversity, that unofficial partnership no longer works comfortably. That is where the issues begin and still rest.
None of this even takes into account the atheist, humanist, and secularist sectors of American society, which include members of the Pagan community.
Americans don’t worship government, that is correct. But not all Americans worship “God,” as defined in Trump’s speech, or worship any god or gods.
As Pew Forum reported in 2016, the number of unaffiliated is slowly growing. An extensive survey of “35,000 adults finds that the percentages who say they believe in god, pray daily and regularly go to church or other religious services all have declined modestly in recent years.”
At the same time, the report shows that the declining population of people who are religiously affiliate have in fact shown an increase in prayer and other worship activities. In other words, according to Pew Forum, the population of religious people is smaller but their conviction or faith-based activity is expanding.
That may explain, in part, some of the fervor behind the alleged “war.”
As an aside, it is important to note that Pew Forum does not specifically study Pagan or Heathen populations. These religious sectors are typically in an “other” category.
As the holiday season arrives, the annual “war on Christmas” will undoubtedly continue to heat up as it always does. How that modern seasonal “tradition” is handled by the Trump administration will be seen.
Will he continue to fuel it? Will private corporations be shamed over Twitter for expressions of seasonal diversity? Will Trump take Starbucks to task for its use of a red cup? Will people be ridiculed for happily chirping “seasons’ greetings” in Macy’s?
“We’re saying Merry Christmas again,” Trump said to the Values Voters Summit audience.
As is always the case, Trump fell back on his “Make American Great Again” marketing plan, using a sense of nostalgic Americana to rally support. He told the values voters Friday: “Inspired by that conviction [Americans’ belief in the Abrahamic god], we are returning moral clarity to our view of the world and the many grave challenges we face.”Read more »
- Column: Queer Paganism in Australia
Queer Paganism in Australia today is multifaceted and vibrant with a large number of publicly active traditions, groups, and meetups that are queer oriented or queer inclusive. The most notable of these is Queer Pagan Men Australia.But what many contemporary Australian Pagans don’t know is that the country’s history of Paganism within the LGBT community goes back more than three decades and includes a home-grown queer magical tradition.
Queer Pagan Men Australia
Queer Pagan Men Australia (QPMA) was founded by Ryan McLeod and Buck Agrios in 2012 with the mission of providing a safe space for men who love men to explore their spiritual beliefs, sacred sexuality, roles in community, and practice in the craft as queer men.
In Alexandrian witchcraft, McLeod finds that his position is primarily a fertility focused one, However he also sees the importance of LGBT people having opportunities to connect with one another in Australia, and to share their unique experience and perspectives of Paganism.
“The Australian Pagan community is spread across a huge distance,” says McLeod. “An online group was great starting point from which to organise face-to-face meetups. Facebook was becoming a constant tool for communication.”
Buck Agrios will soon become the first Australian initiate of the Unnamed Path, which was founded in America by Eddy Gutérrez (Hyperion) and consists of four main areas of skill and training: Magic and Prophecy, Energy Healing, Shamanic Journey Work and Death Walking.
“It took me over 6 years of research, questioning, listening, online discussions and soul-searching before I finally decided to begin formal study,” Agrios says. “I was keen to find a path that reflected my experience and also would help me build a deeper practice both spiritually and magically.”
Agrios, who also identifies as a Reclaiming witch and a Dionysian, agrees that the Australian Pagan community is very far-flung across great distance, and that this is a hindrance to face-to-face contact.
“It was back in March 2011 that a small group of gay male witches and I were looking at how we could hold an event specifically for queer Pagan Men in Australia similar to what we saw happening in the USA with events such as Between the Worlds,” said Agrios
“We were seeking a way to learn our unique stories, explore our witchcraft history and learn about gay and queer inclusive paths out there. We realised we needed to find the community first.”
This originally came in the form of a Yahoo group, which lasted around a year before QPMA was born. What started as an online discussion and networking group soon grew into real life meetups, which now take place regularly across three states.
The group is also hosting its first full day event, Roots and Bones, in Melbourne in January 2018. The day is intended to be interactive day, filled with workshops and ritual. Guest presenters from the USA and Australia will teach and present on a range of topics and queer-inclusive paths of Paganism.
Both McLeod and Agrios have noticed the impact that the marriage equality plebiscite [currently underway in Australia is having on its queer Pagan community.
“Right now in Australia the LGBT community is hurting,” Agrios says. “I do not want to get into the politics of what is happening here, but it is a reminder that we need to listen more to our ancestors of the heart as men who love men.”
McLeod agrees, saying: “The plebiscite is an obscure use of our constitution. We don’t require the Australian population to vote to redefine the laws around marriage. The law was changed as late as 2004 by the Prime Minister of the time John Howard.”
The general voting on same-sex marriage will be open until Nov. 7.
“This vote has much more to do with the current government and its attitudes than a genuine desire for Australians to have a say. It has been incredibly damaging to the mental health, safety, and well-being of the queer community,” McLeod adds.
“As a queer person, it is distressing to think that the entire country is going to have a say on your rights as a human being. The underlying message there is that queer people are somehow inherently ‘less than’ and are not deserving of rights afforded to all other Australians.”
“We must remember (early queer Pagans’) battles and learn to call on their strength,” Agrios urges. “Much of our queer history has been lost or forgotten and as a queer pagan man I feel it is important that we look back and find the truth of our past and that will help us shape our future.”
And what will that future look like? Both men hope it is one of acceptance and tolerance, and that organisations such as QPMA can help queer Pagans feel more accepted and valued by the wider LGBT community.
“The future is in acceptance and celebration of our differences while acknowledging our past,” Agrios continues.
“We have so much to still learn from our lost histories as Queer Pagans and I look forward to seeing more of it uncovered and shared with pride.”
David O’Connor and the Circle of the Dark Mother
A lesser known but arguably one of the most important figures in the formative days of Australia’s queer Pagan community is David O’Connor.In many ways, it all started with a taxi ride in the Midwinter of 1983. Linda Marold, her husband Michel, and their friend Mick O’Hearne were preparing for their usual seasonal celebrations, which involved over 100 friends and Pagans (or “magicohs”, as they called themselves, in those early days in Australia) from the city descending upon their secluded farm in the bush for a bonfire, ritual, camping, and merrymaking.
In the nearby town of Castlemaine, O’Connor, a gay witch from St Kilda, Melbourne, got off a train with a friend and into a cab.
“Take us to the witches!” were the only directions he gave, and the driver – being well versed in all things Castlemaine – knew exactly where to go.
“We’d all just gathered on the flat and, all of a sudden, a taxi turned up. It came driving down the middle [of our bush property],” remembers Linda. “And a couple of guys jumped out.”
One of them greeted Michel like a long lost friend. At the time he assumed that this was someone he had just forgotten meeting before.
“We ran up to each other, dancing around and hugging. When we parted, we looked at each other and said, ‘who are you? I don’t know you!’.”
That night was the beginning of a firm friendship between Mick and David, who around that time had started to set himself up as “the unofficial witch” of Melbourne’s LGBT community, providing spells and rituals to those who needed them.
Mick helped with music and chants for many of the rites, which often focused on health and fertility, and were informed and inspired by David’s work as a nurse and later as one of the state’s first male midwives.
Linda also became a very close friend of David’s. During the 1980s, he acted as Magister and Master of Ceremonies at many of the early Mount Franklin Pagan Gatherings, which Linda and Michel still organise today.
In the mid-1980s, David was among the founding members of Melbourne’s iconic Midsumma festival, after deciding he wanted to host an annual LGBT festival.
“He wanted an annual event and being a Pagan he felt it should have ties to a seasonal festival,” Michel remembers.
“So I said, ‘if you want colour and partying, why not Midsummer?’.”
The middle of the 1980s was also when David began to form his own Pagan tradition. After several years of working rituals with both male and female working partners, David came to the conclusion that he could not see himself becoming the High Priest of a coven or a working group in the more traditional sense.
“He agreed with fertility religions and worked within them for many years,” Mick explains. “But it was not the only framework he was drawn to.”
David formed the Circle of the Dark Mother, a working circle for gay Pagan men. According to Mick the tradition, created by David, was a magical one with traditional witchcraft leanings. Unlike many others from around the same time, the coven worked with a sterile goddess figure.
“These were men who could not have or did not want children.” Linda remembers. “But they supported society in their own way so that it was a society fit to raise children in. David loved children.
She adds, “He was an unofficial uncle to my children. He doted on his own nephews, too. He was very fond of his family.”
The group initially had eight members aside from David himself. In or around 1987, he tried opening the circle to straight men as well, but Mick claims this was not something that worked very well or for very long.
“Despite all his bluff and bluster, he really knew his stuff. He had all his mythology worked out.” Mick recalls.
“Yes, he was a really talented ritualist, too.” Linda agrees.
When asked to speculate on why this was so, the pair agree that O’Connor’s background in the Catholic church definitely played a part. “He used to say that altar boys ended up making the best High Priests,” Mick says.
“Because they’re trained in ritual … They’re disciplined in ritual.”
By 1990 the AIDS epidemic was approaching its worst point in Melbourne. David’s role now included acting as a “death chaplain” for Melbourne’s Pagan and LGBT communities. With Mick’s help, he performed rituals in and around the inner city area focused on death, healing and fertility. He also trained others in pathworking techniques, incense making, and more.
The epidemic reached its peak in the early 1990s, and, of the original group of eight members of the Circle of the Dark Mother, only two survived.
“The AIDS epidemic of the early nineties destroyed the gay Pagan community in Melbourne. Any working groups (that O’Connor was involved with) literally died because of it.” Mick states.
David continued to work and train within the Pagan community before passing away in 1995. His funeral was a mixed Christian and Pagan affair, at his request. A ritual was later held at Mount Franklin, where some of his ashes were scattered.
“We miss him so much,” Linda says, sadly. “Who knows what other amazing things were destroyed (by the AIDS epidemic) all over the world, in every human endeavour. Young geniuses and amazing people all left us too early and too quickly.”
“What was really lost was the sense of fun. The sense of style. He was mischievous. He was a laugh a minute, and yet he’d step into the circle and he was such an accomplished High Priest.”
While the Circle of the Dark Mother no longer exists as a working coven, David O’Connor’s legacy to the LGBT and Pagan communities lives on in the individuals and small groups still practicing Australia’s first queer witchcraft tradition today, as well in the colour and celebration of the Midsumma festival.
Recent years have seen more queer people reaching out to find traditions and practices that resonate with them. There are now many men, women, and others working hard to provide safe, inclusive and constructive environments and traditions in which queer Pagans can thrive in this country.
In many ways, they are continuing the important work started by O’Connor. And while we are fortunate enough to have more queer traditions coming to our shores and countless others have followed in his footsteps, David O’Connor was the first.
Author’s Note:Some names have been changed by request to protect privacy.
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