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
- Rowena Whaling, IPMA’s Best Female Artist, destined to be a singer
NASHVILLE – Rowena Whaling says her mother “was terrified I would become a nun, but I never really thought of that because I knew I was going to be a singer.”
Instead Whaling became a Wiccan high priestess and a singer, and an accomplished one at that. At the Second Annual Pagan Music Awards, held in Nashville in September and presented by the International Pagan Music Association, Whaling was honored as Best Female Artist for the second year in a row. Samples of her sometimes dark, sometimes mystical, sometimes erotic, rock-oriented music — from her CDs My Mother’s Song and Book of Shadows — can be heard on her website, rowenaoftheglen.com.
While Whaling’s spiritual path meandered until, she says, she “came out of the broom closet in 1995,” her musical destiny was set early.
“I was raised on the road 32 to 36 weeks a year because my parents were theatricals,” Whaling says. “So, I was in a show business environment all the time. I was around a lot of really famous singers and I loved music. There was always an orchestra where we were playing. I really started singing and writing poetry at 6 years old.”
Her parents also arranged for her to take operatic singing lessons.
While Whaling wasn’t a part of her parents’ act, she would “sneak on stage between shows when the audience was arriving and just, you know, sing,” she says with a hearty chuckle. Her laughter, like her gritty singing voice, sounds like a cross between Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin.
All the while, Whaling adds, “I was a very odd child. I was very deep spiritually. I always had dreams that came true exactly, and I’ve always been able to hear and see sometimes the presence of spirits around me. But I was afraid to tell anyone because I thought they’d think I was crazy, so I kept my mouth shut and I was very secretive about it.
“Looking back now, I probably could have shared that with my parents. They were spiritual but they weren’t part of any particular religion. In fact, they probably would have been proud of me. But I didn’t.”
Her mother kept some of the poetry Whaling wrote as a youngster. “It was dark,” she says with a laugh. Perhaps that poetry was a harbinger of some of her music to come – such songs as “Bella Morte,” “Death,” and “Poison Lover.”
With many adults and few children around, Whaling also became quite precocious.
“I was mentally mature growing up,” she says. “I was included in adult conversations.”
And so “it was not incongruous,” she says, when as a 6-year-old she informed her non-church-going parents that she wanted to attend a Catholic church near their home in the Northeast when the family wasn’t on the road.
Her mother’s fear that she would become a nun dissipated when the family settled in New Orleans, thus ending her Catholic stage in her early teens. In the Big Easy, “voodoo was everywhere and I met some nice practitioners,” Whaling says. She also “investigated” other branches of Christianity apart from Catholicism.During the early stage of her music career, Whaling worked as a staff songwriter for three different music publishing companies in Memphis and Nashville, where she got paid to write mainstream pop and rock sings for other artists. As she had always done, she wrote the music in her head, given that she plays no instrument.
Whaling also launched her own career as a singer-songwriter, recording an R&B/rock set as her first album, a jazz/blues/rock album as her second, and then two albums as the front woman of the popular Nashville gothic pop-rock band the Beat Poets. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist B. Willie Dryden, her partner in the Beat Poets, won Best Male Artist at this year’s Pagan Music Awards.
The Beat Poets’ breakup in 1995 coincided with Whaling’s emergence from that broom closet. Asked what led her to “the Craft,” as she calls it, Whaling enigmatically says only that she “probably found it when I was a child.”
She became high priestess of the Circle of Dragonstone, a traditional Wiccan coven in Nashville which her “handfast” has led as high priest since its founding in 2001.
For a time, Whaling also served as the high priestess of “a huge, more eclectic group, kind of like a Unitarian Universalist church with rituals,” she says. “I identify spiritually as a shamanic practitioner. I’m very deeply into that as well as a traditional Wicca. I choose to express my spirituality or to celebrate it in the Wiccan form, but I basically am a Universalist.”
Whaling’s latest two albums, My Mother’s Song and Book of Shadows – both released under the name of her band, Rowena of the Glen – include rocking songs that are overtly Pagan, and some that reveal nothing of their Wiccan creator beyond the human emotions that reside in everyone.
Her song “The Witching Hour” features tribal percussion, Pan-ish meandering flute and Whaling’s raspy voice chant-singing “Serpent coils at midnight, the witching hour. Drummers drum the fire light in the witching hour. Madness does abound with the May moon full and round. The energy whirls in the witching hour.”
“Trance Dance” is a rocker that pulses with a Middle Eastern-ish riff and big, hooky chorus. “The Creature,” with its flute weaving around searing guitar and Whaling’s lyrics invoking Glastonbury, Merlin, and the “gods of the old ones,” recalls the prog rock of Jethro Tull.
“Pagan Lover,” with its muscular guitar crunch and erotic lyrics delivered by Whaling’s Janis-like voice (Joplin, not Janus the Roman god), would bring a blush to the cheeks of Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s satyrish front man.
“Bella Morte,” with its lyric about the “vagina dentata” (vagina with teeth), “was a gift from the Dark Mother,” Whaling says. The song came to her in a dream “that was completely black – it didn’t have any visual element to it.”
The title track of My Mother’s Song “is about my mother and the Great Goddess,” she says.
Other songs — “Trust Me,” “Nothing Lasts Forever,” “His Fool” – would sound right at home in some grungy bar that caters to blues-rock bands.
“Some of the songs on my albums aren’t even Pagan at all, and yet every song is a Pagan song because it’s coming from a Pagan writer,” Whaling says. “We play for non-Pagan audiences too. When we play out in a mainstream club or festival, the people there don’t look at it as Pagan music. They just don’t (laughs). Either that or rock music has been enmeshed in Pagan concepts for decades.”
Regardless of the audience, Whaling is quick to add that for her creating music is “absolutely” a magical act: “My music is as much my spiritual work as my priestessing work.”
Whaling says she “felt so honored just to be nominated by the committee of the International Pagan Music Association. When I saw the list of other beloved and talented female nominees the first year, I frankly didn’t believe that I had much chance to win. When I did indeed win, I was shocked — and then a second time!”
Whaling urges not only musicians to join the organization, but also journalists, writers, songwriters, producers, engineers, and music fans through the IPMA’s associate membership program.
She and other Pagan musicians are blessed by the efforts of the International Pagan Music Association, Whaling says: “In my experience in the music industry, this kind of broad support is unheard of. I am so happy that an organization such as the IPMA has sprung up in our community — one that supports and esteems the artistic talents and dedication of Pagan musicians worldwide. Theirs is a multifaceted plan in the works to promote and aid Pagan musical artists in every way possible. It’s all about the artist to them.”
Whaling also is a writer whose works include the Arthurian fantasy novel Voices of the Stars. Her author website is rowenawhaling.com.Read more »
- Column: The Spiritual Legacy of Matthew Shepard
I had always been wary of strangers. Every gay child growing up in the 1970’s learned this important life skill. American culture was, and in many ways remains, openly antagonistic toward our kind; it made sure that we knew our place. I grew up hearing stories, often in hushed tones, about men who had been discovered to be limp-wristed fairies, and who were subsequently shunned, fired from their jobs, and forced to move away to start new lives as outcasts.
But living near San Francisco meant that I had a certain level of protection from the harsh realities of a homophobic world, as this was the place many of those outcasts would journey in their search for acceptance. Life in the Bay Area was not idyllic for a queer person, as many erroneously assume. I was bullied, threatened, taunted, ridiculed, denied jobs, passed over for promotions, and even physically attacked for being gay. In spite of this I could also see how acceptance of different types of people and lifestyles was gradually increasing, and that these incidents were not indicative of everyday life. I knew that I had it better in the Bay Area than many others did elsewhere. As I got older, I became cautious in public so as to not draw unwanted attention to myself from potentially violent straight males, but I never once felt threatened in those spaces that were queer-specific, such as our local gay bar, where friends would gather to be ourselves and hopefully make connections along the way.
In October of 1998 that all changed.I remember sitting in my apartment when the news hit: a 21-year-old gay man in Laramie, Wyoming had been lured out of a bar by two men, who then robbed him, pistol-whipped him, tied him to a fence-post in near-freezing temperatures, set him on fire, and left him to die. It was a horrific, violent murder, and one that was fueled by anti-gay hatred. One of the two attackers (whom I’m not naming here because they don’t deserve any more notoriety than they have already received) later went on record to say that Shepard “needed killing.” “The night I did it,” he said, “I did have hatred for homosexuals.”
Both men were quickly arrested and found guilty, and they are now serving two consecutive-life sentences without the possibility of parole.
This brutal attack shocked the nation. Matthew certainly wasn’t the first gay man to have been beaten to death for simply being who he was. Our history is soaked in the blood of queer people who died at the hands of bigoted and small-minded men, fed by a deadly culture of toxic masculinity and fear. But the time was right for a shift in the collective consciousness.
Matthew Shepard was young and beautiful. He had the face of an angel. To a great deal of white America, he looked like he could have been anybody’s son; his murder struck a chord in those who might have otherwise continued to turn a blind eye. It was a wake-up call for the nation, and proved to be a catalyst for much legislative change in our country.
This heinous crime deeply affected me, along with every other queer person I knew. Not only did it drive home the sheer violent hatred that many in this country (and around the world) had for us, it also reminded us that we need to come together to collectively fight for our equality, or else we would surely die together.
In the wake of that tragedy, a silver lining started to emerge: queer people began to see more support from others. People began speaking out. Legislation began to be enacted. A shift was definitely felt across the country.
In the years following Matthew’s death, his mother has done much to ensure that his legacy will be one of equality and freedom. Judy Shepard has been an outspoken advocate for queer rights, and along with her husband Dennis formed the Matthew Shepard Foundation, whose mission is to “empower individuals to embrace human dignity and diversity through outreach, advocacy and resource programs.”This month marks 20 years since Matthew Shepard died, and just this week it was announced that his remains will finally be laid to rest. On Oct. 26 they will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral. This is an important symbolic step in the continued fight for our equality.
Previously, the Shepards had been unable to find a suitable location for Matthew’s remains for fear that whatever site was chosen would be vandalized. At Matthew’s funeral, members of the Westboro Baptist Church arrived holding offensive signs and chanting derogatory names and slogans. Matthew’s death certainly inspired a lot of progressive activism, but it also emboldened those who, out of bigotry and hatred, would champion those who seek to destroy us. Matthew’s interment at the National Cathedral effectively protects his final resting place from desecration, and also symbolically elevates him in the national consciousness as he takes his place alongside other historical luminaries such as President Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, and Anne Sullivan, along with many diplomats, senators, and church architects. This gives the public a safe place in which to reflect on the spirit of Matthew and what he has meant for so many across the country and around the world.
In the emerging pantheon of queer spirit, Matthew Shepard takes his place as one of our sacred martyrs. In following the tradition of identifying those spirits who have reached out from the other side to affect change in this world, I can say that, from my personal experience, Matthew Shepard is a saint.Now, some might argue that Matthew’s story is not as cut-and-dried as it first appears. It has been alleged that Matthew was dealing in crystal meth and knew his attackers in this capacity. It has also been suggested that Matthew had an ongoing sexual relationship with one of his attackers, who knew that Matthew was about to receive a shipment of meth valued at $10,000, making greed the prime motivation instead of hate.
While there is evidence to suggest this may have been the case, in my mind, this does nothing to detract from Matthew’s sainthood, especially if we keep in mind that not all saints were perfect, flawless people in life. Some were downright bad people.
According to folklorist Judika Illes, a saint is a spirit that bestows blessings (life force) from the other side, often without regard to how they may have conducted themselves in life.
In the immediate aftermath of his death and the media frenzy that ensued, while feeling powerless and filled with grief, I felt compelled to place a memorial link for him on my website which pointed to his newly created foundation. I remember I would go and see the pictures of him – so young, but not that much younger than I had been at the time – and I was filled with a deep sadness that made little sense to me. It was a tragedy, yes, but it was not as though I knew him personally. I was surprised at the depth of my grief, only a portion of which could be explained as being derived from the sense of personal danger that his death represented for all queer people living in a society that would just as soon see us dead. I somehow felt a personal connection, but dismissed it as a flight of fancy, born of fear and grief. This, however, was only the tip of the iceberg.
As part of my work at the time training in the Faery tradition of Witchcraft, I was familiar with certain techniques that involved helping souls cross over. While it was not my conscious intention to involve Matthew in this work -because who the hell am I to presume anything about this person whom I had never met! – I had an extraordinary experience in which his spirit spontaneously came to me and expressed a sense of gratitude and blessing.
I was floored, not having intended to reach out to him, but I was also filled with a sense of tremendous peace, and also a feeling of being blessed with power. Though he had died in anguish, fear, and pain, I felt this his spirit was not only healed, but was offering healing to the whole world. He now stood as a shining beacon of hope and compassion for our many queer sisters, brothers, and sacred others. From that moment onward, Matthew Shepard has been part of my pantheon of queer spirits, and I consider him to be one of the queer Mighty Dead.
May he rise in power, and may we all be touched by his love, compassion, and blessings.
St. Matthew Shepard
Feast Day: Dec. 1 (his birthday)
Martyred shepherd to our flock
An angel born of fear and pain
The time you spent on earth was short
Though now through love you do remain.
Heaven sent you here to us
Every tear that’s shed shall now
Wash us clean and heal our hearts.
So, let this be our sacred vow.
Many tears have fallen in the writing of this column. May they be a spell to help heal what still needs healing.
* * *
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.
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- Column: Leaning Into the Lessons of Samhain
The shifting of the seasons and the feel of fall in the air brings about some of the most meaningful and symbolic times of the year. Whether it is the crispness in the air, the Halloween decor, or the increasing conversations about the ancestors in mainstream circles, October is a busy month for all things witchy. It is one of the times of the year where some aspects of the Pagan world collide with the mainstream over-culture.
While this time can be exciting for many of us, the depths of the coming celebration of Samhain is significant in many ways. We celebrate the turning wheel, the closing year, the power of the underworld, and the thinning of the veil between worlds. This is a time of divination and connection with those who have passed over. It is also a time to celebrate the process of death as we move into another cycle of the seasons.All the things we normally discuss during these times of year are still of the utmost importance. In my world, honoring the ancestors, celebrating my Mighty Dead, decorating the home, and divination are staples of my Samhain practice. But this piece isn’t about that; instead it is about exploring another angle of the work of Samhain.
For all the reasons that the death cycle is important, this time of year brings up all kinds of feelings, memories, connections, reflections, and opportunities for magical work. It is easy to get tied to the idea that this time is primarily about physical death and forget about all of the other endings that we endure throughout the course of a year. The loss of a friendships, the changing of a path, the transition beyond an older version of the self: all of these things are important endings that make way for the shifts that death can bring. The idea that the cycles of our everyday life are important to identify, explore, and seek closure with, can open up a whole new avenue of work to engage in during the Samhain season.
In the Psychology Today article “5 Ways to Find Closure From the Past,” Abigail Brenner M.D. discusses some of the concepts of closure and how we move forward into our future.
“Closure means finality; a letting go of what once was. Finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new. In other words, closure describes the ability to go beyond imposed limitations in order to find different possibilities.”
Brenner goes on to discuss some of the tips she suggests to find closure: taking full responsibility for oneself, grieving one’s losses, gathering one’s strengths, making a plan for the immediate future, and creating a ritual.
This made me reflect on the many ceremonies, rituals, spells, and workings that we incorporate into our daily lives, and how some of those rituals honoring death and marking closure can be best used during this time. Engaging this time of year as a transition point to seek much needed closure and movement into the future can be the start many of us need in setting the tone for the new year.
For many people this isn’t a new concept, but for others it might be. Taking the chance to explore the ways we can ritualize and signify our forward movement into new journeys, while honoring our passage through life, can be very powerful. We know this to be true in our mundane lives with celebrations like birthdays, weddings, and the overculture’s reflection of celebrating a New Year in January. We also know this to be true as many Pagan practitioners engage in ceremonies to identify significant moments of internal and external change, or of necessary changes to come.
Leaning into the lessons of those things that have died can be uncomfortable, scary, and counter-intuitive. While reliance on externalized processes of death or the theology of spiritual cycles or deities can be comforting, the power of the parallel process can be a powerful source of healing.
Dr. Brenner goes on to explore rituals as an aid in transitions and the power of passages in a different Psychology Today piece.
“Rituals that mark “rites of passage”— major transitional turning points— help you ‘connect the dots.’ The classic rite of passage is a universal structuring device existing within virtually every culture. Major life events that honor changes in status or identity within any given society are marked by the three-fold process of separation, transition, and incorporation. You separate from the familiar, transition through unknown territory, and return, transformed by the process.
While all rituals have the potential to transport you to that timeless place, rites of passage have the unique power to transform. So transformative are rites of passage that even a single one can divide one’s life into ‘before and after.’ And successive passage rites for life transitions can help organize and define one’s entire life.”
At every juncture of life, we have the opportunity to evaluate where we are, what we have learned, what we need, and where we are going. We can ask ourselves: what things have come to a end this year? What relationships need closure? How can we seek a path forward by honoring the closure of a previous path? What transitions do we need to honor in order to pave a way to what we are building for ourselves? What are we leaving behind in our elevation to our next versions of ourselves? What rites of passage would be important for us as individuals today?
In exploring these questions, I find that we give way for the opportunity to merge some of the mundane world’s experiences with the spiritual, magical, and emotional to support our own embodied wisdom and growth. What kinds of things could we add to our Samhain rituals to support the closure of those things that have died this year?There are so many ways that we can embrace our transitions and the lessons that come from them within our practices. While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, here are some ideas to hopefully ignite more ideas for others.
- Utilize mindfulness practices to increase our ability to hold space to acknowledge, release, and restore.
- Add a symbol, picture, or piece of writing to an altar that identifies and reflects on what is being honored or what closure is being sought from. A separate altar could also be built just for these transitions.
- Bury something, and have a burial service to go with it.
- Share the story of an experience, loss, transition, or grief with trusted others or in sacred space.
- Journal, then do what you will with that.
- Repurpose some grief rituals to use for other situations that also embody the feelings of grief.
- Write a goodbye letter, and mail it to yourself. Some say not to open it after it comes back, while others say reading it can bring closure; there is no one answer for everyone, though I would prefer to burn it when it came back to me as a form of release.
- Create a gratitude jar, putting memories, reflections and lessons learned from those things being released or honored. Write them on small pieces of paper and put them in a jar for future reflections. That jar can be kept in a sacred place or an altar to be used in future work.
- Create a transition piece to carry in a pocket or wear, to support positive release and restoration for a new journey. This can be done with amulets, stones, or sigils, or it could also be done with some type of craft project decorated by hand.
- Cut cords.
- Lean into community and share space that reinforces who individuals are today as a result of what they have learned.
- Have a ritual, ceremony or celebration to mark a new time. Use this as a distinguishing point between then and now. This can be for any situation – big, small, or symbolic.
My own reflections of this bring me to a place of considering the balance between honoring and saying goodbye to certain things that have held so much space in my heart and mind this past year. Political fears, release of relationships, and the death of some unhealthy habits are on my list of Samhain time reflections. I am also carving out a space in time to acknowledge and say goodbye to the creeping imposter syndrome that has followed me for years. Time to let that go, too, and then celebrate.
When contemplating our Samhain celebrations this year, let’s inspire one another to dig a little deeper into the many ways we can honor and release those things that we are ready to let go of, and invite in the change that we are seeking in the coming year.
May this Samhain be full of positive endings and beginnings, reflections, Witchy-ness, new memories, and community. And may the ancestors continue to support our journeys.
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- Brooklyn store schedules hex action against Brett Kavanaugh
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — As the Trump administration continues to create great divides within the country and within the Pagan community, many magical people continue to turn to ritual as part of their action and protest. The nomination, hearings, and eventual confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court has triggered a new hex event, one that has been making mainstream headlines.
Catland Books in Brooklyn, New York has invited people to participate in a public hexing of Kavanaugh Saturday, October 20, 2018. The ritual is being led by Dakota Bracciale, co-owner of Catland and founder of Black Hand Conjure.The event is described on Eventbrite as a “…publich(sic) hex on Brett Kavanaugh and upon all rapists and the patriarchy which emboldens, rewards and protects them.” Bracciale goes on to say, “We will be embracing witchcraft’s true roots as the magik of the poor, the downtrodden and disenfranchised and it’s(sic) history as often the only weapon, the only means of exacting justice available to those of us who have been wronged by men just like him.”
A second ritual is scheduled for immediately after the hexing that is titled “The Rites of the Scorned Ones” and is described in part as seeking “to validate, affirm, uphold and support those of us who have been wronged and who refuse to be silent any longer.“
The Wild Hunt reached out to Dakota Bracciale; however, we were unable to conduct a full interview in time for publication. Bracciale did refer us to several other interviews given to other publications.
In an article published by the Guardian about the upcoming rituals and in reference to occult practices and language, Bracciale is quoted as saying, “It strikes fear into the heart of Christian fundamentalists. That’s one of the reasons that we do it. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. We don’t subscribe to this bullshit, pacifist, love and light, everybody just get along thing. If you want to hijack the country, if you want to steal the election, if you want to overturn Roe v Wade, if you want to harm people who are queer, well guess what, we’re not doing civility. If you’re going to be these awful bullies, you have to understand someone is going to punch you back and it might as well be a bunch of witches from Brooklyn.”
Bracciale’s view point of Witchcraft and the use of magic can be summed up with this quote, “Witchcraft has a deeply rooted history as a tool of resistance and resilience, to survive oppression, disenfranchisement, and being an outcast of society.”
Using magical practices as a form of resistance is not new. However, the digital forms that these actions are taking is new.
One of the most recent books on the topic is Magic for the Resistance by Michael Hughes, and it was published by Llewellyn last month. We talked to Hughes about the Kavanaugh event, asking how effective such work may be. He said, “There are different definitions of “effective” when it comes to magic. Obviously, the attempts of many people (myself included) to utilize magic to prevent Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court did not work. However, he is still under investigation, so who knows if he ultimately will be removed.”
“If Democrats take back Congress in the midterms, that obviously increases the chances,” Hughes continued. “So we’ll just have to see—magic often works in unexpected ways. But in the sense of giving people a channel for their anger and frustration, and for reclaiming a sense of their power, these sorts of rituals are absolutely effective. And that is critically important during these dark times when it is easy to fall prey to despair and hopelessness. Rituals enable us to stay focused and charged for everyday activism.”
Hexing events bring with them controversy and conflict within magical communities. There are debates on whether its ethical, with some pointing out that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. We asked Hughes whether or not he felt that hexing the people who are implementing policies we feel endanger us is a good idea or a bad idea, and should those participating be concerned about backlash? If people engage in this type of work, public or privately, should they be concerned about backlash?
“Yes, I think these sorts of rituals are a good idea, provided they are thoughtfully conceived and executed,” he said. “I’m always one for poking a stick in the eye of hypocritical evangelicals, and nothing gets them riled up like activist witches!” This is very similar to what Bracciale had to say on the language and practice.
Hughes went on to say, “As long as the intentions are not malign, such as wishing physical harm on someone, I’m all for it. If you hex or bind someone to prevent them from doing harm, or to remove them from office, that’s no different than using mundane means for the same results.”
However, he said he draws the line at hexing and cursing for physical harm. “I believe nonviolence is the only way to effect positive change, and violence perpetuates itself in a bitter cycle and can generate unexpected blowback. As witches and magical people, it’s important that we embody the highest principles and ethics in our workings.”
On the question of backlash or consequences Hughes said that is was possible, and that even mundane actions can bring backlash.
“That’s why witches and magicians need to make it clear that we are on the side of justice, and compassion, and equality. We’re not hexing or cursing or binding because we don’t like Kavanaugh, but because we stand for the rights of women not to be sexually assaulted. We believe that men credibly accused of sexual assault should be thoroughly investigated and not be ramrodded through a sham hearing dominated by old, white Republican men. As long as we stay true to our principles we have nothing to fear,” he explained.
One of the reasons that we are seeing a more public approach to magical resistance is the increasing in public awareness and acceptance of Paganism as a legitimate practice.
“We’re lucky to live in an era when we can publicly organize and harness our collective spiritual power in the fight for the things we believe in,” Hughes said.
“The evangelical right has shown they worship power, spite, and bigotry, not Jesus. Pagans and witches and magicians have risen to the task of fighting for the bedrock principles that have guided our country through very dark times. We’ve always been underdogs. We’ve always been marginalized, so we feel the pain of those suffering under the current authoritarian regime—women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and people of color. History has given us this opportunity to come out of the broom closet to fight for justice and equality and to resist authoritarianism and hate. We are the spiritual face of the resistance, and we’re going to win.”
Just as the country is deeply divided, so are Pagans. While most of the public magical resistance has been attributed to those who oppose Trump and now Kavanaugh, there are others, such as those in the Facebook group Pagans for Trump, who are working magic for the other side.
The Kavanaugh hexing event is scheduled for Oct 20 through Catland Books.Read more »
- Recreational marijuana legal in Canada
CANADA – The use and sale of recreational marijuana became legal Wednesday, making Canada the second nation behind Uruguay to legalize cannabis. The Cannabis Act, as it is called, was passed by the Canadian House of Common in Nov 2017 and then by its Senate in June 2018, and approved that month. Recreational cannabis became legal midnight October 17 and, according to news reports, there were shops and buyers ready and waiting.Heathen Robert Rudachyk, who lives in Saskatchewan and has been involved in local government for years, told The Wild Hunt: “It is long past time. Whether you choose to smoke it or not is and has always been a matter of personal choice. It speaks well that the federal government has seen fit to move to regulate this industry and once people realize their fears were for naught, we can relax the current restrictions.”
According to a New York Times report, Rudachyk’s province has 51 private stores opening this week. and Alberta has 17. Quebec reportedly has 12 government-owned stores and British Columbia will also be opting to allow government run shops.
With legalization, which is being compared to the end of prohibition, are government regulations. Cannabis, for example, cannot be sold along with alcohol and tobacco products. The THC levels must be lower than of that found on the black market.
Buyers must be 18 years or older, and can hold or share up to 30 grams in public. People are also allowed to grow up to 4 plants in their home for personal use, but not sale.
Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “Profits out of the hands of criminals. Protection for our kids. Today
#cannabis is legalized and regulated across Canada.” The Cannabis Act was one of his campaign promises, and in June when it was approvied, he tweeted “Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate. #PromiseKept.”
There are now plans to develop legislation to pardon people who have been charged with simple possession or under 30 grams.
Not everyone is convinced that the legalization will be beneficial. Members of the medical communities are concerned about addiction and other negative health effects. Law enforcement officials have expressed concerns about a potential rise in intoxicated drivers. An October 14 article published in The Globe and Mail details the many ways that cannabis can cause, specifically focusing on preventing overdose and a trip to the hospital.
A survey done in August by researchers at Dalhousie University showed that, while 68% of Canadians do support the new law, 58.&% did express concerns about children and teens having easier access to cannabis once its legal.
Finally, other critics suggest that legalization is simply a route for the government to make more money. According to CNN, the sale of cannabis is expected to become a $4 billion dollar industry. And, Vice reports that the government is expected to take in over $675 million a year from the cannabis tax dollars.
We spoke with musician Witchdoctor Utu, who called the day “unique and historic,” but similarly expressed some reservations. Utu is the spokesperson for the popular Pagan band Dragon Ritual Drummers, and he lives in Ontario.
He told The Wild Hunt, “This brings with it new police powers of search and seizure that previously did not exist in this country, as well as drug testing for certain careers that were also nonexistent, and anyone on any registry from medical to online purchases, their information can be shared with the U.S. Department Of Homeland Security, who has officially stated it can either scrutinize or add said people to a watch list to outright refuse entry into the U.S.”
Travel across borders is one of the topics frequently being raised as Canada law went into effect. Officials are strongly warning people that, while cannabis is now legal in Canada, it is still illegal to carry it across international borders. This is an important point for the nation’s tourists, including the many people heading to upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions hosted in Toronto.
Cannabis, in any quantity, cannot be carried into or out of Canada, even if the traveler is going directly to a U.S. state in which recreational cannabis is legal, such as Washington, Colorado, or Maine.
Despite all the restrictions, warnings and concerns, the nation appears to mostly be celebrating with some calling Wednesday October 17 #weedday. It is being heralded as a marker of a progressive social shift and it is also being labeled a national experiment. Witchdoctor Utu said: “Time will tell how this all works out for a country that already had some of the most lax marijuana laws on the planet.”
As he noted, nobody knows at this point the full socio-economic ramifications of legalization. With Canada being a major playing in the global economy, the world is watching. In addition to the coming changes within Canada, many people are also watching to see if Canada’s cannabis law puts new pressure on the U.S. toward the national legalization of recreational cannabis.Read more »
- World Hindu Congress disrupted by political protesters
CHICAGO — Small protests disrupted th is year’s World Hindu Congress held in Chicago. Protesters charged that several speakers have links to fascists and have promoted violence against Muslims in India. According to the protesters, World Hindu Congress attendees choked, kicked, and spat on them. Several Indian-American elected officials dropped out of participation. Chicago police arrested two protesters and one counter-protester.
About 2,500 people from 60 countries attended the World Hindu Congress from September 7 to 9. Organizers of the event described it as a “global platform for Hindus to connect, share ideas, inspire one another, and impact the common good.” Protesters objected to speakers from Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The head of RSS, Mohan Bhagwat, was a speaker at the Congress.
VHPA, RSS, and the ruling party in India, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have promoted Hinduism as an ethno-national identity. They call this ethno-national identity, Hindutva.
The charges of fascism aimed at Hindutva echo the charges aimed at the white supremacist-based practice of Odinism.
Parallels and differences exist between Hindutva and this form of Odinism. The German and Italian senses of national identity arose from their campaigns for national unification in the 19th Century. Fascism emerged in both countries after the trauma of WWI.
In contrast, Hindutva emerged out of India’s independence struggle. Two competing tendencies arose in that movement. Those tendencies have since become the two dominant political parties in India. The Indian National Congress (INC) advocated for a center-left, secular state. Mahatma Gandhi was active in the INC, which eventually became The Congress party of Nehru and Indira Gandhi (no relation).By contrast, RSS promoted an ethno-national Hindu India, based on Hindutva. The BJP emerged out of that tendency.
A former member of RSS, Naturam Godse, assassinated Gandhi in 1948. Godse felt Gandhi had made too many concessions to Muslims. No evidence has linked RSS to Gandhi’s assassination.
The movement for independence ended with the carnage of the 1947 partition into the modern states of India and Pakistan. Hindus and Muslims committed atrocities in that ethnic cleansing. Estimates of those killed range from several hundred thousand to two million. Members of each group had to flee to “their side” of the partition line. An estimated 14 million had to flee their homes.
The violence of the partition blended into the 70 plus years of intermittent war between India and Pakistan. Besides the conflict between the two countries, significant inter-communal violence occurs within them as well.
During World War II, some RSS leaders admired Fascism and Nazism. Madhav Golwalkar, the second Supreme Leader of RSS, wanted to apply Nazi principles in India. He said “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.”
After WWII ended, proponents of Hindutva distanced themselves from fascism.RSS currently claims to have only an interest in nation building and providing social services. The party bases its sense of “nation building” on Hindu culture and India as a Hindu nation.
The spiritual and religious landscape of India, however, varies greatly. It contains the second largest Muslim population of any country in the world. In its federal system, India has one Sikh majority state, one Muslim majority state, two Buddhist majority states, and three Christian majority states.
Bhagwat, current head of RSS, has advocated for a Hindu centric India. Bhagwat has said “The RSS has always felt that the Indian polity should become Hindu-centric like the European or American polity is Christian-centric.” According to Bhagwat, Muslims have a place within the Hindu-centric nation. It is not clear, if that place is one of equality.
Hindutva differs from white supremacist Odinism in its rejection of “blood and soil” ideology. The website of a Hindutva group in the US states that they accept people of non-Indian origin under the concept of Dharma. “The parishad [council] welcomes and respects people of non-Indian origin who consider themselves Hindus ” under Dharma. In contrast, white supremacist Odinism bars people not of European descent from any participation in Odinism.
The current global wave of right wing populism emphasizes rights for the majority and ethno-national identities. Hindutva may be its form in India.Read more »
- Pagan Community Notes: Wendy Griffin, Allegations in Canada, Athens Pagan Pride, and more
LONG BEACH, Calif. — It was recently made public that author and teacher Wendy Griffin suffered a major stroke. After the announcement was made public, friends began lighting candles and offering prayers. While her condition is designated as critical, Cherry Hill Seminary administrators reported yesterday that she is showing signs of awareness. In a post, they said, “Wendy seems to have rallied slightly the last few hours … Her first smile since the stroke was when told about requests for healing going out to lists like this one.” Specific details on her condition are still not available to the public.
Griffin was the academic dean at Cherry Hill Seminary for seven years from 2011 to 2018. During her tenure at the seminary, a number of new programs were introduced and behind-the-scenes infrastructure changes were made, and important steps taken on the difficult path to accreditation. Griffin worked for over thirty years in higher education within the California State University system. She retired from both teaching and her work at Cherry Hill Seminary in 2018. She told The Wild Hunt that she was looking forward to returning to one of her other passions: being a novelist.
We will update this story as it information is made available.
* * *
CANADA – At the end of September, Pagan blogger and teacher Sarah Anne Lawless published a post that has since lit fire, so to speak, within the Pagan community. The post titled, “So Long and Thanks for All the Abuse: A History of Sexual Trauma in the Pagan Community,” begins with remarks about American politics, is followed by a section detailing what she labels as her “true stories” of abuse, and ends with analysis, recommendations, and resources. Lawless originally did not name anyone in the post; however, she did later edit the post to identify one name: Mr. Sam Wagar. According to the site, she did so because, he commented on the post itself, and that conversation is still published on her site. Mr. Wagar has since responded with a public statement denying allegations, and adding that he would be stepping away from Pagan public life.
Not long after her blog article went public, Lawless published on Facebook the names of other people who she labeled as predators or similar. The Wild Hunt did seek comment from some of those people. However, TWH has since learned that lawyers are now involved in the situation, and TWH itself has been threatened with a libel lawsuit. While there has been much discussion about the situation over social media, The Wiccan Church of Canada is the only known organization, to date, that has made any statement concerning Lawless’ allegations and the general subject of abuse.
Lawless told The Wild Hunt in part “After years of people from the pagan community telling me to be quiet and not rock the boat, I couldn’t be silent anymore. This whole mess has been like ripping open a wound …Truth does not bring harmony, it brings chaos. It doesn’t feel good to have spoken out. It feels gut-wrenchingly awful and though I feel shame and guilt and am overwhelmed with depression at this time, I do not feel remorse.”
TWH will monitor this story as it develops and report back.
* * *
ATHENS, Ga. — Every year, we report on Pagan Pride events being visited by street preachers or protesters. This year, Athens Pagan Pride Day had a visitor. According to organizers, this particular street preacher is a regular feature in Athens, and speaks to passers by. However, he did reportedly change his words to fit the Pagan event.
Athens is the home to the University of Georgia, one of the biggest campus’ in the state. The street preacher stands just off-campus on the the corner of College and Clayton streets. While he uses an voice amplifier which does bother some people, he reportedly does not do anything that could be considered illegal. The police leave him alone. Organizer Angela Warren told The Wild Hunt, “We generally try to ignore him. He wants a scene. There are plenty who gathered to yell back at him.” But most attendees reportedly just “observed the mayhem.” Warren said, “Many just found it funny. Those with drums drowned him out and sang for a bit. I don’t think he was there for more than a couple of hours.”
She added, “A couple of years ago there was a small band playing covers of pop songs on the other corner. They were a big hit. Too bad they weren’t there this time.”
In other news
- Catland in Brooklyn has announced a new Hex event to be held Saturday, Oct 20. They are planning to hex, now Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh. The event’s announcement has been made public, and generated some publicity across the mainstream media. We will have more on this event in the coming week.
- Heathens Against Hate will be presenting the “Striving to Save a Religious Identity from Extremists” panel at the 2018 Parliament of World Religions in Toronto. HAH leaders and the Heathen community will discuss the challenges that the community faces and what initiatives HAH is undertaking to combat bigotry and racism in Heathenry. Speakers will be Troth Steer Robert Schreiwer, Heathen Interfaith minister Brian Weiss, HAH Administrator Eric Thorpe-Moscon, and HAH Public Relations Officer Ethan Stark. Heathens Against Hate is a division of The Troth and was founded in 2008.
- The Pagan Federation of England and Wales will host an online Samhain festival Nov. 10. Organizers explain, “The Pagan Federation Online Festivals have been created by the Community Support Team to reach out to those within the Pagan community who struggle to make it to physical events. What began as a way to reach out to the lonely and isolated by the PF Disabilities Team has now become a … tradition.” They welcome people to wear their pajamas and join them for videos, rituals, discussions and more.
- The Christian Post speculates that Wiccans outnumber Presbyterians in the U.S.
Tarot of the week with Star Bustamonte
Deck: Zombie Tarot, instructions by Stacey Graham, illustrations by Paul Kepple & Ralph Geroni of Headcase Designs, published by Quirk Books
Card: The Lovers, major arcana six (6)
This week may require making some tough choices. Before trying to decide between leading with your heart or your head, you might first consider the duality involved and how they can work together. The intellect and the emotions can balance each other out, and where they intersect or agree will be the best choice.
Decks generously provided by Asheville Raven & Crone.Read more »
- “Charmed” reboot is set to debut Oct. 14
TWH — The Power of Three is meeting the power of the reboot as Charmed returns to small screens on the CW network at 9 p.m. eastern time on Sunday Oct. 14.
This time around the series about three sisters who discover they are hereditary witches will have the power of – gasp! — a real-life witch in the writing room.
The new drama has also spawned, well, some drama: A Witch war – OK, maybe a Witch tiff – broke out when cast member Holly Marie Combs of the original series, which was created by Constance M. Burge and aired from 1998-2006 on the WB network, became miffed that the originators were not asked to be a part of the reboot – or to do the reboot.
More drama ensued after the creators revealed the sisters would be Latina, but that only one of the actresses portraying the sisters actually identifies as Latina. Comments from one of the show’s creators indicated that the new series’ sisters were meant to be more multi-ethnic and multicultural, rather than strictly Latina, after all.
Like the original series, the Charmed reboot tells the tale of the these three sisters who, after the death of their mother, discover they are witches, also known as the Charmed Ones. Each sister learns she has a specific magical power, while together they possess the “Power of Three.” As the sisters learn to harness, use and focus their powers, they also find themselves thrust into battling all sorts of demons and supernatural nasties.
According to executive producers Jennie Snyder Urman, Jessica O’Toole, and Amy Rardin, the reboot also has the power of an actual witch. They spilled the magical beans in August at the Television Critics Association’s press tour, a semi-annual event in which TV writers for major media gather in Hollywood to interview stars and creators about upcoming shows.
“We actually have a Latino witch on our writing staff,” Rardin said, as reported by Jacob Oller and Tara Bennett on syfy.com. The “W” word ignited a buzz almost as huge as an “F” bomb, as numerous media went crazy reporting the news of a real Witch working on a show about fictional witches.
The Charmed writing staff “would meet once a week and do spells and put energy out there towards goals that they wanted to accomplish,” O’Toole said on the syfy.com post.
However, O’Toole sought to de-sensationalize the revelation and to dispel any notion that the writer, later identified as Marcos Luevanos, literally believes in all the supernatural elements portrayed in the series.
“Look, they’re witches, but humans, you know,” O’Toole said. “We have all kinds as far as belief systems in our room. We have people who really think, if you manifest something, it happens. We have more traditional religious people in the room. We have skeptics. It’s very much like what we have on the show. So I think it’s wonderful to hear everyone’s feelings. This is a room where we meditate at the beginning of the day . . . . Our writers have been amazing. They’re sending us spells they found, they’re watching exorcism and witchcraft movies.”
While syfy.com reported Luevanos is “a member of a coven” (as did numerous other media outlets), Luevanos’ website, marcosluevanos.com, and the public portion of his Facebook page make no mention of his being a Witch or pursuing Witchcraft. [Following an interview request from The Wild Hunt, one of Luevanos’ agents replied that he “unfortunately . . . won’t be able to participate.”]
Luevanos’ Facebook page lists his television credits as “Producer at Charmed on The CW, former Co-Producer at Life in Pieces, former Executive Story Editor at Telenovela, former staff writer/story editor at The Game on BET.”
The original Charmed starred Holly Marie Combs as Piper, Shannen Doherty as Prue, and Alyssa Milano as Phoebe — the three demon-fighting Halliwell sisters. Piper’s power was to stop time – to freeze everything in her surrounding environment. Prue possessed the power of telekinesis. Phobe had the ability of premonition.
Doherty’s character was killed off in the third-season finale, and Rose McGowan joined the cast as their long-lost half-sister Paige, who could teleport objects from one location to another.The reboot stars Madeleine Mantock as Macy, Melonie Diaz as Mel, and Sarah Jeffery as Maggie – the three demon-fighting Vera sisters. In the story arch of the new series, the Charmed Ones are half-sisters, born of a Latina mother but each having a different father. Macy discovers she possesses the power of telekinesis. Mel can stop time. Maggie can read minds.
The reboot features other changes from the original series: Instead of San Francisco, the new series is set in the fictional college town of Hilltowne, Mich. Mel is a lesbian in an on-and-off again relationship with Niko (Ellen Tamaki), a Hilltowne police detective.
The CW initially marketed the new show by saying, “This fierce, funny, feminist reboot of the original series centers on three sisters in a college town who discover they are witches. Between vanquishing supernatural demons, tearing down the patriarchy, and maintaining familial bonds, a witch’s work is never done.”
That description, as well as the fact that none of the principals of the original series were asked to be part of the reboot, set off Combs, who tweeted on Jan. 26: “Here’s the thing. Until you ask us to rewrite it like Brad Kern did weekly don’t even think of capitalizing on our hard work. Charmed belongs to the 4 of us, our vast amount of writers, crews and predominantly the fans. FYI you will not fool them by owning a title/stamp. So bye.”
When Entertainment Weekly tweeted “Charmed reboot gets CW pilot order, adds ‘feminist’ storyline,” Combs sarcastically replied on Twitter: “Guess we forgot to do that the first go around. Hmph.”
Heather Greene, in her book Bell, Book and Camera: A Critical History of Witches in American Film and Television, notes that the original Charmed “has attracted much academic discourse over the years, specifically concerning feminist themes and witchcraft conventions . . . . Charmed is one of the texts that demonstrates a change in the cinematic treatment of witchcraft and women’s agency. Like The Craft, the show provided options for its female characters . . . . witch narratives began to pose questions concerning the negotiation of female empowerment within contemporary society.” Charmed, Greene continued, is one of the witch-themed productions of the 1990s which “challenge boundaries and sometimes upend them.” [Note: Greene is the editor of The Wild Hunt.]
Combs later softened her stance somewhat, writing in another widely reported tweet on May 22: “Let me say first that I appreciate the jobs and opportunities the Charmed reboot has created. But I will never understand what is fierce, funny, or feminist in creating a show that basically says the original actresses are too old to do a job they did 12 years ago. I hope the new show is far better than the marketing so the true legacy does remain. Reboots fair better when they honor the original as opposed to taking shots at the original. Reboots also do better when they listen to a still passionate fan base which is what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s why we do reboots. The fans are why we all get to do what we do. So we wish them well and hope for success.”
The Charmed reboot has since garnered more controversy, as Entertainment Weekly writer Patrick Gomez posted in an opinion piece on ew.com on Oct. 12: “I was . . . thrilled when it was announced that they were considering actresses of all ethnicities when casting the three leads and ultimately landed on making the sisters Latina.
“Then came the backlash . . . from the fact that Melonie Diaz, who plays the middle half-sister, is the only Latina playing one of the Charmed Ones. Madeleine Mantock, who plays the eldest half-sister, identifies as Afro-Carribean and Sarah Jeffery, who plays the youngest half-sister, identifies as African-American.”
Gomez goes on to note: “While not clear in the pilot episode, it seems that each of the Charmed Ones share a Latina mother but three different fathers, so, ultimately, the actors may be infusing a bit of their own heritage into their roles, which is often what happens in episodic television.”
Reboot executive producer Jennie Snyder Urman, who previously created the telenovela-inspired Jane the Virgin, seemed to deflect such criticism, intentionally or not, when her comments at the Television Critics Association press tour in August tacitly implied the new Charmed was never intended to be a Latina reboot exclusively.
As writer Emma Dibdin reported on cosmopolitan.com, Urman said: “We’ve had the chance to see three white witches. And coming off Jane, I knew so much more about what it means to be on screen, to see yourself represented, to see yourself as the hero of the story.”
The sisters in the reboot are “multiracial, the family is, and the girls do have different fathers,” Urman continued. “We want to explore each of their unique heritages, and the interesting ways that different cultures intersect with witchcraft.”
Charmed begins October 14 at 9pm on The CW.Read more »
- Editorial: Skepticism and Seeking
An intimate pointed out to me recently that when it comes to literature, I have a distinct preference for a specific sort of narrative: that of an unbeliever coming face to face with the possibility of a religious awakening, and then, after staring long into that profundity, choosing to turn away from it. I protested this idea at first, but after she pointed out the kinds of writing I point to as my personal models for writing about religion, I had to concede that she had a point.
For example, take Next Year in Jersualem, one of my favorite essays, published in Rolling Stone in 1977. Ellen Willis writes about her powerful attraction to orthodox Judaism after seeing her brother embrace it; she goes so far as to move to Israel and take up studies under a Hasidic rabbi. Willis finds, however, that as much as the religion appeals to her, and more than that, makes sense to her, she cannot reconcile it with the feminism that is the foundation of her ethics. In the end she returns to America still questioning the logic of her decision, though secure in its rightness: “I was leaving Israel, with all the intellectual questions unresolved, because in the end I trusted my feelings and believed in acting on them,” she writes. “Though I might use logic as a weapon against uncertainty, I did not, finally, have [my brother]’s faith that it would lead me to the truth.”This pattern – an initial skepticism, an embrace of faith and its sublimity, a turning away from those things, an ambiguous return to a secular world – repeats in so many of the works I love best: I see it now in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Upon This Rock and Dennis Covington’s Salvation on Sand Mountain, other stories of people who come to the edge of belonging, but never quite do. “They were crazy, and they loved God—and I thought about the unimpeachable dignity of that love, which I never was capable of,” Sullivan writes about the camp of young men he befriended at a Christian rock festival held at the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. “Because knowing it isn’t true doesn’t mean you would be strong enough to believe if it were.”
Why do I love this pattern so much? My first instinct is to say that these are simply the works I find most compelling and beautiful, and that it’s all coincidence, but that would be too easy, and dishonest, besides. What makes these essays so rewarding lives in their structure of encounter and return. The narrator’s doubts about religion, and their desire to participate in religious belief anyway, is a key part of what makes this kind of essay work.
When the author of an investigation into religious life is a devotee of the religion, there is a tendency for the work to either be an entirely internal critique, addressed to co-religionists, or for it to be evangelical, devoted instead to persuading the convertible to be converted. There can be good work in those modes, but I find they lack something, that they keep the reader at a certain distance in order to achieve their aims.
By contrast, the skepticism of the narrator in these essays allows for a more honest evaluation of religious experience. Because these narrators neither begin nor end their stories as true believers, there isn’t the sense that they are trying to sell the reader on anything – not even on their own skepticism, which is usually laced with regret. The ambiguous state of these narrators, who feel an earnest desire for religion and yet find they cannot accept it, allows for an account of religion that is neither proselytization nor an account of a freak-show.
This stance is a dangerous one, requiring an author to expose herself to criticism from both believers and non-believers, but any honest account of religious experience must be rooted in vulnerability. This formula isn’t the only way to achieve that vulnerability, but that feeling has to be present somehow; otherwise what might have been vital instead reads like an advertisement.The best essay of this type is, coincidentally, also the best essay ever written – James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Although (rightfully) remembered today mainly as a visionary account of race relations in America, it stands just as much as a record of the experience of black religion as it stood in the middle of the 20th century. The first half of The Fire Next Time traces Baldwin’s youth as a rising star in a church in Harlem and his eventual disillusionment with Christianity. “Being in the pulpit was like being in the theatre,” Baldwin writes:
I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion was worked. I knew the other ministers and knew the quality of their lives. And I don’t mean to suggest by this the “Elmer Gantry” sort of hypocrisy concerning sensuality; it was a deeper, deadlier, and more subtle hypocrisy than that, and a little honest sensuality, or a lot, would have been like water in an extremely bitter desert. I knew how to work on a congregation until the last dime was surrendered – it was not very hard to do – and I knew where the money for “the Lord’s work” went. I knew, though I did not wish to know it, that I had no respect for the people with whom I worked. I could not have said it then, but I also knew that if I continued I would soon have no respect for myself.
Baldwin’s submersion within, and apostasy from, Christianity prefigures the main portion of his essay, an encounter with the head of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad. Baldwin portrays the Nation of Islam in a light that is, if not wholly favorable, at least fully aware of why the Nation’s message was spreading through parts of the black community at the time. The Nation of Islam provided a pro-black theology that countered the overwhelming narrative of white supremacy black Americans are faced with daily. “The white God has not delivered them,” he writes. “Perhaps the black God will.”
Baldwin’s meeting with Elijah Muhammad is a uniquely tense moment, not because of any outward sense of impending violence or discord, but because of how close Baldwin and Elijah were in many ways. Both had, as their prime motivations, the problem of racism in the United States; both believed that American society had to fundamentally change if there were to be any of hope of it surviving. But ultimately their visions for what that revolution would have to look like were so different that there could be no agreement. Where the Nation of Islam called for separatism, Baldwin instead proffered a belief in some kind of reconciliation between black and white America, something he describes in nearly mystical terms.
When Baldwin takes his leave from the house of Elijah Muhammad, his description makes plain his longing that their two visions of the future could coincide with one another.
It was very strange to stand with Elijah for those few moments, facing those vivid, violent, so problematical streets. I felt very close to him, and really wished to be able to love and honor him as a witness, an ally, and a father. I felt that I knew something of his pain and his fury, and, yes, even his beauty. Yet precisely because of the reality and nature of those streets – because of what he conceived as his responsibility and what I took to be mine – we would always be strangers, and possibly, one day, enemies.
I have read The Fire Next Time a dozen times since I first encountered it in a writing seminar, and that phrase – we would always be strangers, and possibly, one day, enemies – brings me to a pause every time I read it. While racism is the greater evil throughout The Fire Next Time, Elijah Muhammad and his theology is the most visible antagonist to Baldwin’s own philosophy, and yet Baldwin allows such tenderness in this moment, such yearning, and such resignation to the distance between the two of them. This admission of humanity is the foundation on which the rest of the book and its searing arguments rest; The Fire Next Time would crumble to dust without it.
I took over as the weekend editor of The Wild Hunt a bit under four months ago, and one of the things I am discovering comes along with the job is the need to recognize one’s own taste in writing, both as a guide for what to publish and as a reminder of one’s own biases when editing work that is strong but written in a mode outside one’s preferences. As someone who edits writing about religion, in particular the dazzling variety of idiosyncrasies we call modern Paganism, I find it instructive to look at what is appealing in religion writing in general, whether that writing touches on Paganism specifically at all. The sensibility that I find leads to some of the finest writing on religion is this voice that combines the skeptical and seeking, and I hope it is a sensibility that you will find present – among many others! – in our columnists’ work here.Read more »
- Column: Utiseta
Most places in Iceland pipe their hot water up from springs deep below the ground, the water still smelling strongly of sulfur.
It isn’t until almost a week into my trip that I realize sulfur interacts with the metal of my wedding ring.
I send my wife a picture. “What a souvenir,” she says.
“I don’t think it’ll last. It’s already wearing off,” I respond, climbing up toward the waterfall. “I don’t know how I feel about it.”
* * *
I don’t know how I feel about any of this. I am not, honestly, sure why am in Iceland at all. I woke up six months ago from a dream half remembered, knowing I needed to come. Three months ago, a friend I hadn’t spoken to in years sent me an unexpected package containing two Raidho runes – souvenirs of a trip that I did not know they were taking.
Now here I am, halfway through my own trip. It will take me the length of the Ring Road in just about nine nights. Enough time, I think, to do whatever it is that I need to do.
* * *
At the top of the ridge overlooking the falls the ground is surprisingly wet. Not just damp; there are standing puddles too deep for me to trust as I pick my way from rock to rock. I can’t figure it out – the waterfall is still yards away, and flowing in a different direction.
Then I look over the edge of a boulder and see the secondary fall, just under my feet.
Oh, I think. There is probably a lesson here.
I am standing on Goðafoss. Once I return to the states, my best friend will ask me what my favorite part of the trip was. I will say it was this moment, surrounded by tourists and flowing water, looking down into a plunge pool that seems unimaginably deep.
They will ask me why, and I will not know how to explain it to them.
Goðafoss will be my favorite part of this trip, but unlike so many other places I do not enjoy the experience of being here. I take pictures, and in each my expression falters, smile falling flat, twisting at the edges. I do not cry, but it is a similar feeling – that hollow ribcage belling of loss.Goðafoss is famous in its own right as a natural wonder. It should be. To someone who has never seen a waterfall before this week, it is unimaginably vast. From the bottom of the canyon the people above look like accidental embellishments on a nearly finished painting – splatters that will be cleaned off before the work is done.
Goðafoss is historical – or mythic, at the least – because it is supposedly the place where, in 1000 C.E., Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði Þorkelsson stood at the top of the falls and threw our gods into the water below.
Standing here, I try to imagine what a millennia of erosion has done, how much further out the falls would have come then, how much taller they might have stood. Paths take me along the edge of the canyon and up the other side, and I walk those paths as though I might find the exact point where he would have stood, the place where the wooden idols would have hit the water.
They have disintegrated long ago, have been carried downstream, become the dirt of the land itself. Still, I half expect to look into the water and see them – maybe a little mossy, but whole and waiting to be pulled back out.
I do not know if I would be up to the task. I do not think it is my task to undertake.
* * *
Days later, I will speak to a local, and she will point out that people in Iceland have a very practical understanding of the spirits around them. They exist, they are unquestioned, and they are immanent in the land, in the people. I get the impression that statues are nice, can be attractive, but are deeply unnecessary to her practice.
I have always pictured the statues Þorgeir sacrificed as massive things, carved out of trees – statues like those that led Ingólfr Arnarson to settle in Iceland. Maybe losing them was more symbolic than anything else. Maybe Þorgeir’s practice continued on without them.
Þorgeir changed the history of Iceland through something called útiseta (“sitting out”) – a divinatory practice in which the priest retreats, pulls his cloak over his head, and listens for the gods. When he came back from a night of this, Þorgeir said that keeping the old beliefs would still be legal, but only if done in secret and the privacy of one’s own home. He delivered this news to the Alþing of Iceland, changing the entire country’s religious practice, and then returned home.
In the Saga Museum in Reykjavik, there is a model of Þorgeir, just after he emerged from under the cloak. I stood with him a while, thinking about how tired, how sad, how prematurely old he looked, knowing what he must do.As I heard the story, he saved lives that day. The Christians were coming, as they always came to pagan lands, whether or not they were wanted. Because of the decision Þorgeir reached, Iceland avoided the bloody conversion process and political destabilization that often came to other lands. He must have seen that coming – either with his own political acumen or through the council of the gods – must have know that if he left space for it, the worship of old gods would continue on for centuries, behind closed doors.
But solitary practice is often lonely, and in a landscape where community is so vital to survival I can only imagine that isolation would be compounded. Eventually even the most devout need companionship.
He must have known what he was doing. Did he guess that, long after his priesthood faded and the religion fell away, a thousand years into the future, we would come back?
* * *
At home, my altar is a proper piece of furniture. When I travel it shrinks to a few items in a small bag that rides in my pocket, against my leg. Three rocks, two pieces of wood, a small brass ring with icons hanging from it – my reminders that the gods are with me, are the guidance on my path.
I climb down to the base of the river, downstream from the falls themselves. I am almost alone, here – a couple of photographers and me, and the easy slope that takes you to the water itself. It is the only place you can touch the river under Goðafoss, and I spotted it from the other bank, hiked down to the bridge and across and back up to reach it.
I sit on the edge of the water where my gods were sacrificed, and I take them out of my pocket. If I say any words they aren’t important. What is important is the action, the way I thrust my hand under the water, holding tight to make sure that nothing slips, nothing is lost in the current.
After a moment, I pull them back up and tuck them next to my heart.
* * *
“We have a lot of waterfalls,” I am told by a local. “So here, worshiping involves a lot of throwing things into water. I imagine it would be the same around the Great Lakes.”
I think back two years, to an Easter weekend when I was bed bound and feverish, desperate to be well enough to get to my new job. I remember pulling the sweat-sodden comforter over my head. “Anything. I’ll give you anything you want if you just make this pass.”
A week later I clambered down the rocks that separate Lake Michigan from the nearest road. Unsteady in the spray, with the remnants of a cough still giving me pause, I threw the head of a pig as far as I could. Payment asked and given.
“I’ve thrown things into water before,” I agree.
* * *
I leave when the rain tells me to leave.
It is this way throughout my trip. More often than not the rain is overwhelming, cutting the visibility in half as I take my car through mountain roads. Then, as I pull into the parking lot of some holy site, it will clear. Just long enough for me to pay my respects, mind, to climb down into the inevitable canyon and back up on steady ground. When the rain starts up again, I know it’s time to get back on the road.
I have walked both sides of Goðafoss and I do not want to be done. I am eyeing the head of the falls, the rocks that split the water. Maybe I could find a way up there, across the current. Dangerous, sure, and a long way to go for nothing if it doesn’t work – and then the gentle rain arrives to tell me off.
“Alright, cousin,” I mutter to myself. “I’ll leave.” Meaning, I realize, ‘I’ll come back.‘
* * *
“Why did you go?”
“Context,” I will tell them. “History. Lots of reasons.” As with so many conversations, I will consider how much I want to share, how far and how serious I want the topic to go.
“Call it religious reasons,” I will tell one friend and he, disinterested, will drift away.
“Was it as good as you thought it would be?”
“Better. Much better.” They will not have follow up questions, and I will be grateful for that. I would not know what to say if they did.
I spend almost a week in silence and solitude, driving through a foreign country in the shelter of my car, listening. When I return, I will still be seeking answers.
Why did I go? What did I bring back? What does it mean for me, now?
When I cross my threshold, I will be taken aback at my own altar. It will feel cluttered, crowded, imbalanced, and I will spend jet-lagged hours reorganizing and stripping it down, trying to articulate in practice something for which I do not yet have words.
* * *
I am home. My ring is silver again. Beneath my feet, there is rushing water.
* * *
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