Latest News and Relevant information on Wicca,Witchcraft, Druidry, Paganism and more

Latest Witchcraft, Wicca and Pagan News

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

    The Wild Hunt

  • Column: Pop Cultural Trends in the Fight Toward Equality

    Pagan Perspectives


    Today’s column comes to us from Storm Faerywolf, whose column covers the intersection of Paganism and queer identities. Storm is a professional author, experienced teacher, visionary poet, and practicing warlock, and is author of “Betwixt & Between” and “Forbidden Mysteries of Faery Witchcraft.” He lives with his two loving partners in the San Francisco Bay area and travels internationally teaching the magical arts. For more, visit faerywolf.com.

    The Wild Hunt always welcomes submissions for the weekend section. Please send queries or completed pieces to eric@wildhunt.org.


    As a gay man, I am keenly aware of how much pop culture affects society’s perception (and treatment) of our people. When I was a child, the only references to LGBT+ people that I remember experiencing on television or at the movies were disparaging and hurtful attacks based on stereotypes. We were the brunt of the joke, figures to be pitied or despised, or we were twisted villains, a sadistic evil to be destroyed. Even when more liberal attitudes demanded an evolution of thought away from outright violence or abuse, the cultural fear and resentment was simply channeled in other, less overt directions: little actions or words that reminded us to stay in our place. Words like faggot, or dyke, or fairy. Words that we as queer culture have reclaimed, but not before having them used against us in the most despicable ways.

    In the 1980s and into the early 2000s the word gay became used in exactly that way. It was a silly, off-handed insult that could be used anywhere without arousing public ire, and it would effectively become a cultural weapon against us in ways both subtle and obvious. Using the word gay to mean something unpleasant, or boring, or ineffectual – “That’s so gay” – became a common part of speech, and was used by many otherwise well-meaning and even liberal-minded folks who simply did not see it as an attack on queer people. To them, there didn’t need to be a connection between the word gay and the concept of homosexuality, because they did not consciously intend it so, even as their speech reinforced the idea that gay equaled bad.

    Intentional or not, that usage, along with many other factors, fed into an environment that was actively hostile toward queer people. It started with words, but then it led to actions. A couple of disparaging jokes can turn into violence if left unchallenged. This is the insidious danger inherent with language. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but the wounds inflicted by well-chosen words can also be devastating and far-reaching.

    While to many straight people these may be seen simply as “harmless jokes,” the reality is that they are far from harmless when applied to an already vulnerable segment of society. It’s easy for a person to dismiss something as simply “a joke” when they are not the one whose head is on the chopping block. I can say from personal experience that the harm caused by such behavior is real; when casual disrespect is allowed (or even encouraged, as is the case here,) it creates an environment in which certain people begin to be perceived as being less than human, which leads to discrimination and violence.

    Growing up, I was often victimized by heterosexuals (or at least by those who claimed to be so,) and their hatred and ignorance was fueled (and encouraged) by a society that constantly fed them images of LGBT+ people as being legitimate targets of ridicule. I’m sure the gang of young men who threatened me on a public bus when I was 19 didn’t stop to think about how their actions were violating the sovereignty of another human being, and certainly not how their actions betrayed their own feelings of insecurity. They were products of a society that would reward them for such behavior and encourage them to never delve too deeply into the reasons behind such rewards. Under the patriarchy, masculinity is a revocable condition, which means that men must constantly be vigilant against perceived weaknesses or other signs that they might not be as much of a “Real Man®” as society demands. The upkeep and constant gatekeeping are exhausting, and they also deprive men from emotional tenderness and the comfort of non-sexual touch with other men, all for fear of being feminized and labeled as “queer.” The damage done to the collective male psyche is evident in the shape of our society.

    The causality is quite clear. Like the fable of the frog in the slowly-boiling water, the social degradation that historically leads to genocide begins with seemingly innocuous actions. Little by little, step by step, society walks a steady march toward stripping away a group’s humanity, a process of demonization with deadly results. This is why whenever a politician or celebrity speaks from a place of ignorance or hatred, we must always stand up and demand better. We must also praise those voices that do stand up to make a difference, even when those voices come from the least likely of places.

    There have been many cultural achievements to celebrate over the past couple of decades. In a recent episode of The Orville, “Primal Urges,” several important topics were broached with far more seriousness and care than one would expect from a show that markets itself as a comedy series. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

    For those not familiar with the show, The Orville is a creation of Seth MacFarlane (of Family Guy and American Dad! fame), a vision of a sort of “working-class” Star Trek with a comedic twist. The setting is 400 years in the future aboard the titular starship. MacFarlane stars as Captain Ed Mercer, a middlingly-competent starship captain on his first assignment, taking the crew each week through new alien territory but dealing with issues that are decidedly human – and painfully relevant.

    Seth MacFarlane as Captain Mercer on The Orville [Imgur].

    In “Primal Urges,” one of the bridge crew (Bortus, a member of the Moclan race, who are all male) unwittingly infects the ship with a computer virus after falling prey to porn addiction. We learn that Bortus has been pulling away from his mate, Klyden, and retreating into a fantasy world that is threatening his work, life, and relationships. After several failed attempts to talk about their problems in which Bortus is shown consistently deflecting and avoiding their issues, Klyden attempts to divorce Bortus according to the traditional Moclan custom of, well, stabbing him in the chest. (Ouch!) They are both ordered to attend couples counseling with the ship’s medical officer, Dr. Finn, and the viewer is treated to what feels like a genuine, if humorous, attempt to make the idea of counseling more accessible to the audience.

    Dr. Finn: Couples counseling helps married people, such as yourselves, discuss and resolve conflicts with the goal of improving your long-term relationship. I’m here to guide that process.

    Bortus: Will we select our own weapons?

    As the story continues, we begin to see how a sense of shame has been slowly overcoming Bortus as a result of his addiction. In a conversation with Isaac, the ship’s android (The Orville’s answer to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fan-favorite Data,) Bortus explains the emotional process that has been quietly destroying him, and in doing so exposes viewers to the emotional damage inflicted by such an addiction.

    Isaac: I am curious to know how [sex] feels.

    Bortus: It is a call from deep within like a baby seeking its mother’s teat. It feels as though nothing else in the world matters but satisfying the urge and achieving the goal my body has demanded of me. Then, as quickly as it began, it is complete, leaving a worn-out shell in its wake. And the only feeling I am left with, the only thing I know is that a death has occurred.

    Isaac: I see. It is prudent that you are in therapy.

    Even in the context of a comedy, the issue of pornography addiction is treated very seriously, and at no time do we fall into tired old tropes of overt sexual shaming that one might expect with this type of subject, even while keeping the overall feeling of the show mostly light.

    Dr. Finn: Porn addiction is a disease just like any other, so we need to treat his condition with compassion and understanding.

    Bortus: Is there an injection I can receive to cure this disease?

    Klyden: You have had enough injections.

    All of this occurs while a populated alien planet awaits imminent destruction; a dramatic setting certainly, but one that is ultimately just the background to the main narrative, which is rooted firmly in social concerns. As if these particular issues weren’t sufficient, when we finally get to the heart of Bortus’ relationship problem, we learn that it stems from a fear and hatred of gender non-conformity, sentiments of the majority of his race, sentiments that are shared by his partner. In an episode from the previous season, the couple celebrated the birth of their first child, but were shocked to learn that the child is female, a taboo in Moclus’s all-male society. They had fought with each other over their child’s right to bodily autonomy, a battle that was eventually decided by their planet’s tribunal, which ruled in favor of surgically reassigning the baby’s gender. Realizing that it was these events that drove him to withdraw emotionally from his partner, Bortus confesses that he feels Klyden did not fight hard enough against the mutilation of their child and does not know if he will ever be able to get over it.

    It is a powerful moment that effectively (and unexpectedly) poses issues of gender identity, bodily autonomy, and societal pressures to an audience that might otherwise never encounter such ideas on a steady diet of corporately-driven television.

    Peter Macon as Bortus and Chad Coleman as Klyden from The Orville [Fox].

    Movies and television programs that offer viewers a window into the lives of marginalized people go a long way toward cultural acceptance and, eventually, equality. Once cultural trends move toward acceptance, we are more likely to get legislation to follow, but rarely does it happen the other way around. Issues like marriage equality that were eventually won on the legislative and judicial levels were inspired and cultivated by the actions of many progressive writers and activists, and this movement was given momentum by the films and television shows that they created. These narratives allowed the viewer to be exposed to the idea of queer people outside of demeaning stereotypes, sometimes even seeing as empowered.

    Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and shows like Will & Grace might at first be seem like they are less important than the official actions of government, but they are able to convey ideas and messages in ways that might otherwise be perceived as threatening to the general public, and so are in a better position to change the minds and hearts of viewers in a way that politicians are far less likely to do. Perhaps The Orville was able to get away with bringing up these issues relevant to the transgender experience because the characters involved directly were not human and so didn’t pose the same threat that a direct representation might have. For that reason alone, the storyline was brilliant. We are now seeing more inclusion of sexual and gender minorities on the stage and screen, and this is a trend that will only continue to help normalize these identities so that we can have an intelligent, respectful, and informed conversation about them.


    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 »
  • Column: Pagan Practices for Healing from Trauma

    Pagan Perspectives


    Today’s column is a guest submission by Tahni Nikitins, a long-time Pagan and writer in multiple genres. Tahni’s work has appeared at Gods & Radicals, Eternal Haunted Summer, and Nomad.

    Our weekend section is always open for submissions. Please send queries to eric@wildhunt.org.

    Author’s note: Spiritual and magical practices should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional mental health support, but rather should be used as a supplement to professional support to create holistic psychological and spiritual healing process.


    Perspectives on Trauma, part two: Pagan Practices for Healing from Trauma

    In my previous article, I discussed what trauma looks like through a Pagan lens. Today I want to explore some options for practice which Paganism can offer survivors on their healing paths. Please note that this is far from an exhaustive list of practices —think of it rather as a starter pack of practices that can be adapted to fit whatever path a person may find themselves on, adaptable to whatever needs they may have. Every individual is fully within their rights to create their own healing practices to add to this list.

    Most importantly, remember that none of the following practices are substitutes for seeing a qualified mental health professional and they should not be treated as such. Some people shy away from doing the heavy lifting of psychological work, but healing is not easy and without doing that part of the work it will be incomplete. Besides, when healing from trauma, we need all the tools we can fit into our toolbox. Ideally, spiritual practice will help to supplement the healing work done in therapy and thereby offer a holistic healing experience, but spiritual work should by no means supplant therapy.
    With that said, let’s get into it!

    Mugwort [Pixabay].

    Lighting incense is perhaps the most recognizable form of clearing out or neutralizing bad energies, one closely tied to the element of air. The theory goes that the smoke gets into all the nooks and crannies to draw out those bad energies and push them out — think of old fox hunters smoking foxes out of their dens. Incense smoke can be fanned onto a person, onto items that carry negative associations, and on places which hold bad memories and negative energies; it’s a purifying and cleansing act. Burning incense is a practice that can be observed in cultures the world over, but most recognizable is likely the First Nations practice, often called “smudging,” which typically involves sage or sweet grass. I prefer to use to mugwort, both to minimize cultural appropriation and because it’s the herb that was used (in part) for this purpose by my own ancestors. I find burning mugwort to be an easy but effective way to get rid of lingering bad energies.

    Ritual baths are a wonderful starting place for creating an on-going but simple healing practice. Think of it as self-care, but with a little dose of magic thrown in. Ritual baths historically are used for cleansing, especially prior to or after a greater ritual working. In my own practice, however, I have found that they can be just as effective for cleansing the self of persistent negative energies. I find ritual baths to be most effective in healing as an ongoing practice — the bath is not a one-and-done event, and it is most effective when used with other practices. If, like me, a person suffers from depression, this practice can doubly serve in caring for hygiene that might sometimes fall to the wayside.

    My ritual baths utilize locally-sourced quartz crystals as well as lavender oil and sea salt. The hot water and soothing scents help to relax the muscles, loosen stiff joints, and can help to ease anxiety. Salt has long been considered to have purifying and protective qualities, and the heat opens the pores and causes sweating, clearing out the skin a bit. The crystals are believed to absorb the negative energy that is drawn out through all of these processes, and I like to either boil them in salt water or place them in direct sunlight to “clean” them afterwards.

    Burning things is also a favorite among many Pagans. Whereas ritual baths tap primarily into the cleansing properties of water, this one taps into the cleansing properties of fire. Fire has long been viewed as both a cleansing element (blades and needles historically have been passed through flame to sterilize them) and as a way to commune with the divine (offerings and sacrifices the world over have often been burnt). Most often I have observed, and personally utilized, fire for both cleansing and catharsis. Items that are associated in some way with trauma can be ritually burned, as a symbolic burning away of that energy. Alternatively, one can endow a neutral object such as a poppet or a bone with one’s negative feelings and associations and then toss this item into the fire. (Please be sure that whatever is burnt doesn’t contain rubber, plastic, or other things that can release poison into the air!) It can also provide a great feeling of catharsis to watch the flames consume that item and its associated negative energies, rendering the item to ash and neutralizing the energies within. A more earth-based version of this is burying items that carry associations of the trauma or negative energies, giving those negative things over to the earth in a symbolic funeral. One could additionally do a water-based version, involving expelling the negative energy into an object such as a stone and casting it into a natural body of water (again, just make sure the item is not damaging to the environment).

    Visualization is something that comes in handy in a wide variety of Pagan practices, and can be used as a tool for coping with trauma effects, depression, and anxiety. Many survivors may struggle with intrusive thoughts, negative self-talk or beliefs, and even flashbacks. Once the practitioner is able to identify these things happening, visualization could act as one tool to disrupt these thoughts and feelings. It can be difficult to get to the point where one is able to identify these negative intrusions, let alone name them (there really is something to the power of being able to call something by its true name.) With therapy, one can develop the tools to identify and name these things as they arise, and perhaps also the things which trigger them. Once that is done, it is much easier to implement a relatively quick and easy visualization to calm, soothe, ground, and bring peace.
    Many Pagan practitioners have reported a simple visualization of white light illuminating or engulfing them being quite powerful. Often the white light visualized is understood to carry peace, love, and healing. Some report visualizing the white light scrubbing away the “black spots” left by traumatic events, which represent intrusive thoughts and negative self-talk/beliefs.
    A practice which may be complementary, which I learned from a previous therapist of mine (also a Pagan), was called “the five by five by five.” This is a grounding meditation which roots the practitioner back into the present moment and back into their body. The idea is to work through all five senses, naming quietly five things that those senses are picking up, and to repeat that process five times, trying to name new things each time. It can be hard, but it very effectively disrupts negative thought forms, and I enjoy it as it becomes something of a game! This can be done anywhere, and I have had success with breaking out of some seriously bad thought spirals with it. One could feasibly utilize this strategy to disrupt the negative thoughts and follow it up with a visualization to replace those negative feelings with more positive ones.

    Being in nature can be an especially powerful healing practice for Pagans, as many Pagan paths are nature religions in one way or another. This can be a wonderful way to tap into the healing powers of the earth element, perhaps by hiking and meditating on the rhythmic pounding of one’s feet on the earth, or getting out in the garden and putting one’s hands in the soil. Many Pagans speak of the calming, soothing practice of getting away from the bustle and noise of urban areas and hiking, or simply sitting in the forest to ground to the earth and listen to the sounds of the woods — wind moving through the boughs, bird calls, animals rooting through the undergrowth. Gardening can be a wonderful way to refocus one’s energy toward something positive and productive, and can be incredibly grounding, given the physical interaction with the earth and the plants growing from it. It brings us back to our bodies, and can help us “get out” of our heads.

    Any of these activities provide an outlet for some of the physical manifestations of trauma as well, whether it’s hiking to work out the tension and soreness built up in muscles from anxiety or depression, or working off that built-up energy through a gardening session. (Don’t underestimate what a workout gardening can be!) Others have mentioned visiting the ocean and finding an isolated place to reconnect with that primal life source, sticking hands or feet into the waves and visualizing the water washing away negative energies.

    One follower of Cernnunos, Taran Destingr, described the effectiveness of this strategy for her, and said it better than I could: “Letting go of the trauma, even for a moment, is good for you. It’s like a massage. It helps you to relax so the work can begin. It doesn’t mean the work to heal completely will be painless, but it will be possible, where it might not be if you were still tense from dwelling on it non-stop.”

    Body modification is a surprisingly effective way to work out trauma built up in the body. This could be as simple as cutting one’s hair, a symbolic shedding of the old to make room for new growth, or it could be as intense as tattooing or body piercing. I enjoy blending ritual hair-cutting with ritual burning or burying — cutting the hair symbolically sheds the old, while burning or burying it symbolically puts it to rest.

    I have also used tattoos as a way of of marking a difficult time in my life and serving as a symbol of my survival. The first such tattoo was an ouroboros, which I associate with Jörmungandr, a reminder to myself that I survived, that I was not destroyed, but that I walked out of my trauma alive and strong. In this way, tattooing may be used to symbolically mark the end of a difficult journey. Piercings may be used in the same way. All of these forms of body modification serve to re-empower the survivor with control of their own body and control over how they project themselves to the world. In a way, that is its own form of magic.

    An additional bonus I have found with body modification is that it enables me to literally wear symbols of my story on my skin without giving into the urge to self-harm. Self-harm is something I struggle with a lot, and using controlled, sanitary forms of body modification has been an aid in that struggle. The release of endorphins caused by the pain of a tattoo or a piercing is an extra, if short lived, perk.

    Shadow work or shadow journeying and soul retrieval are the heaviest of Pagan healing practices. They’re both shamanic practices which entail directly facing trauma and its effects to metaphorically “overcome” the darkness of what has been done to the spirit. Shadow work often involves a lot of difficult reflection on what happened, how it came to be, and how to move forward. In polling the Pagan communities I frequent, I found that many, many Pagans identify therapy as a form of shadow work, and I have similarly heard Pagans speak about therapists as modern shamans specializing in the workings of the inner world.

    Because shadow work can be so psychologically trying, I do not recommend doing it on one’s own, and I don’t recommend undertaking it without also undertaking therapy. Shadow work may entail meditative practices, shamanic journeying, consulting with spirits/archetypes/gods (depending on one’s practice and beliefs) and it may even involve withdrawing from a normal sphere of existence for a while and going somewhere neutral and quiet. This may mean a camping trip or a visit to a loved one’s home.

    In the process of a shadow journey, the practitioner will likely need support in going into that darkness and seeking to understand it, and they will likely need someone to help them process it. This person can be another Pagan practitioner who can act as a guide, or simply an understanding loved one. Therapy is still highly recommended, as one can best process the darkness with the help of a trained professional.

    Soul retrieval similarly shouldn’t be undertaken alone. It may be helpful to have a shamanic guide to lead the process or a loved one nearby to help ground and process the experience once it’s done. Typically this involves a shamanic journey, so one should have some experience with journeying before attempting to undertake a soul retrieval. Many Pagans speak about needing to continue the work to reintegrate the retrieved soul fragment, and — I think you know where I’m going with this by now — one of the best ways of doing this is through a sustained therapeutic practice with a trained professional. Engaging in routine self-care is also incredibly important for following up a soul retrieval, to help with the on-going healing practice. Many of the items on this list would serve well for that purpose.

    [Pixabay.]

    This is just a short list of options at a survivor’s disposal in the context of Paganism. Many other tools for healing exist, in the form of ritualized chanting, a wide variety of meditative practices, dance, and many, many others. As I’m sure you gathered, I am a huge proponent of therapy. It feels worth acknowledging here that for some people therapy can be difficult to access, either due to financial barriers such as bad insurance, or due to societal pressures and stigmas (though I believe we Pagans have all of the strength in the world to overcome such stigmas.) Even just finding a good and accessible therapist can be a trial – some shopping around may be required.

    Another thing I truly believe can’t be stressed enough: every individual’s path to healing will look different. Not only will all paths look different, but all individuals have the power within them to create their own healing rituals and practices, or to adapt existing ones as needed. Perhaps the best thing Paganism has to offer survivors is the empowerment to take control of their own healing.

    Best of luck to everyone undergoing the hard process of healing in the wake of trauma, whatever that trauma may be. Your experiences and feelings surrounding them are valid, and though it may not always feel like it, you absolutely have the potential to heal from this. Be kind to yourself.


    Editor’s note: As Tahni mentions throughout this series, spiritual practice can provide great tools for healing from trauma, but it’s important, especially in urgent situations, to make use of other practices as well. There are many hotlines and services set up to help survivors of trauma, and we encourage any reader dealing with these issues to make use of those resources. In an emergency situation, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-273-8255 (US-English)/1-888-628-9454 (US-Spanish); 1-833-456-4566 (Canada); +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK).


    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 »
  • OBOD Members Travel to 2019 Southern Hemisphere Assembly

    [Seaward Kaikoura Range by Ulrich Lange, Bochum, Germany – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56522753]

    MANAKAU, NEW ZEALAND – Members of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids are travelling to New Zealand this week to take part in the eighteenth annual Southern Hemisphere OBOD Assembly.

    2018 marks the first time the Assembly has been held in New Zealand. Hosted by Grove of the Summer Stars, the Assembly will have many New Zealander and Australian OBOD members in attendance, along with OBOD Chief Philip Carr-Gomm, Scribe Stephanie Carr-Gomm and newly chosen Chief Eimear Burke.

    The Grove of the Summer Stars is based in Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington on New Zealand’s north island. The Assembly itself will run for six days in Manakau, a suburb of Auckland, but attendees will have the opportunity to visit the Grove during a “magical mystery tour” on the Saturday.

    [Pukerua Bay by Arapaoa Moffat – IMG_2641, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47104514]

    The physical space is a true grove of native trees (such as te kouka, kowhai, horoeka, kawakawa, ngaio, mahoe, horoeka, karaka, whauwhaupaku, and pohutukawa) set in a natural bowl in the land.

    “The physical location of our Grove is important.” The Grove of Summer Stars say on their website. “We cleared it of gorse and rubbish and clothed the Grove herself and the walk in with many varieties of native plants to provide a place out of space and time where we could hold our rituals.”

    Highlights of the Assembly programme include bardic, ovate and druid initiations; a forum with Philip Carr-Gomm and Eimear Burke; a full moon eisteddfod for peace; a workshop on pilgrimage and the Grail myths by Australian storyteller Michael Vlasto and writer Danuta Raine; a talk on herbal medicine with community pharmacist Linda Caddick; and relaxation sound sessions with Earthsounds NZ’s Rosemary Filleul.

    Julie Brett is an Australian author and founder of Druids Down Under. She has been a member of OBOD for ten years, and this will be her third Southern Hemisphere gathering.

    “I’m excited to go as the Grove of the Summer Stars is quite a large and long-standing Grove and I’m looking forward to learning from their experience and wisdom.” Brett told The Wild Hunt.

    Brett will be running a workshop discussion with New Zealander Richard Self. The session will focus on encouraging the group to share their experiences working with the Wheel of the Year within their own diverse landscapes.

    “I am very interested in the adaptation of Druidry practice to lands outside of the British Isles, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to see how this is done in New Zealand, which has a significantly different land, and native culture to both Britain and Australia.” She explained.  “I am curious as to how New Zealand’s close connection with Maori culture influences their practices, as well as the important local sacred sites, plants and animals, and seasonal changes. It will be a wonderful opportunity to see how others are adapting their practice to make it more relevant locally.”

    Australian musician Kacey Stephenson will be offering a workshop on the Cauldrons of Poesy. working with the concept of “the cauldrons within ourselves”, relating this to Nwyfre and the flow of Awen/Imbas and relating the cauldrons to the threefold cosmos – land, sea and sky, and the four elements.

    This will be his first time travelling outside Australia.

    “I joined the Order when I was 19, and it offered me a grounding and stability in my spiritual and magical life which I hadn’t found at that time.” He told TWH.  “I was yearning for something close to earth, close to nature, and for an approach to Paganism which was more philosophical, contemplative, and more mystical in its understanding.”

    “When I went to my first Assembly in 2014 and met [the OBOD community], I felt that I had found my path, a foundation of spiritual nourishment in Druidry.”

    [Panoramic View of Wellington NZ by Herman Darnel Ibrahi…, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57982304]

    Stephenson considers the trip to New Zealand a great adventure. “I look forward to many conversations, ceremonies and workshops at this year’s assembly,” he said.

    Julie Brett said she was excited to meet druids from other parts of the world. “Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm… have given so much to the Druidry community, and to Eimear Burke who will continue the position of Chosen Chief after Philip retires from the position. It will be wonderful to share this time with them all, as well as many wonderful friends from OBOD in the Southern Hemisphere.”

    The 18th annual Southern Hemisphere OBOD Assembly takes place from January 17-22 this year. At the closing ceremony, the responsibility will be passed on to OBOD’s Melbourne Grove, who are set to host the event in 2020.

    Read more »
  • Hoodoo Pharmacies in New Orleans

    NEW ORLEANS. Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. opened the first licensed pharmacy in the US in 1816 in New Orleans. In 1950, the site became The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Not only does that site have a place in the history of US pharmacies, but it also has a place in the history of New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo in the US.

    A recent news story reported on the link between that pharmacy and New Orleans Voudoo and Hoodoo in the US. It sold potions, powders, and gris-gris, magically charged objects.

    That pharmacy functioned as a “discrete” contact point between Catholics, presumably White, and New Orleans Voodoo clergy, presumably Black or Creole as Carolyn Morrow Long notes in her book “Spiritual Merchants: Religion Magic & Commerce”. The pharmacy also has a place in the tangled history of the New Orleans variant of the color line. In Anglo-America, the single-drop model of racial purity developed into a two-caste racial model. In contrast, Franco-America, like Spanish America, developed a mestizo/mulatto caste. In New Orleans, people called this mixed-race caste Creole.

    Dufiho’s pharmacy combined elements of a bodega, an occult shop, and a drug store. The contemporary pharmacy only recently evolved. Pharmacies were different then.

    Credit Flickr photographer octal / Ryan Lackey. [Wikimedia]

    Differences between 19th Century Pharmacies and those of today.

    Doctors argue whether George Washington died from some type of severe throat infection or the treatment for that infection. He died in December of 1799. As a rich and powerful man, Washington received the best of medical care for his time. His doctors bled him to restore his “humoral balance.” They removed between 76 and 126 ounces of his blood within a nine to ten hour period. They also gave him an enema. These treatments probably left Washington dehydrated. At the start of the 19th century, access to health care could be a health hazard.

    Major advances in prevention and treatment of disease occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides vaccinations and antibiotics, these advances included “controversial” new techniques such as surgeons washing their hands between surgeries. They also involved adequate sewage systems. This explosion of medical knowledge changed the pharmacy.

    In the early 19th Century, the categories of pharmaceuticals, botanicals, potions, and the proverbial “snake oil” blurred together. Differences became sharper during the Progressive Era from roughly 1897 to 1920. During this period, city, state, and federal authorities developed regulations to protect consumers from deceptive advertising. These new regulations also protected consumers from dangerous and unsanitary conditions in manufacturing.

    In the 19th Century, the pharmacist manufactured pharmaceuticals on the premises. These Progressive Era regulations facilitated the centralized manufacture of standardized pharmaceuticals in factories rather than decentralized production in local pharmacies. Today, the local pharmacy is more of distribution site than a manufacturing site.

    Voudou, Voodoo, and Hoodoo/Conjure

    Carolyn Morrow Long has written extensively about New Orleans. In her aforementioned text, Morrow Long discusses the intersection of Voudou, Santeria, and Hoodoo with commerce.

    Long prefers to label the Afro-Caribbean religion Voudou rather than Voodoo. She feels “Voodoo is so often used to mean senseless mumbo-jumbo, as in voodoo science or voodoo economics.”

    Long locates the origin of Voudou as a variant of the religious tradition practiced among the Fon people in Benin. She located the origins of Hoodoo among the Kongo people in Central Africa. In the Americas, Voudou emerged from its African origins in French Catholic colonial areas. Similarly, Hoodoo arose in Anglo-Protestant colonial areas. The African base acquired elements of folk Catholicism and European folk magic. Voudou and Hoodoo evolved on different, if parallel, paths.

    Long distinguished between Voudou and Hoodoo or Conjure. She described New Orleans Voudou as having “a complex theology, a pantheon of deities and spirits, a priesthood, and a congregation of believers.” In contrast, Hoodoo lacks priests and priestesses. It has “no community of believers; no ceremonies involving music, and drumming, sacrificial offerings, and spirit possession. Personal misfortune is thought to result from the ill-will of one’s fellow man, not from neglect of the deities, the saints, or the dead. Conjure is strictly pragmatic.” Voudou involves a community of practitioners with a similar belief system, but Conjure or Hoodoo is a technology.

    A Hoodoo Drugstore: The Cracker Jack

    Carolyn Morrow Long has written about The Cracker Jack, a 20th Century New Orleans pharmacy that sold Hoodoo supplies.

    The Cracker Jack functioned as a Hoodoo drugstore from about 1915 to the early 70s. It existed in the South Rampart neighborhood of New Orleans. People called this African-American neighborhood the “cradle of jazz.” According to Long, it sold “roots, herbs, powders, oils, washes, baths, incense, religious medals, holy cards, and candles.” People from the neighborhood would ask for personalized prescriptions.

    The South Rampart Street neighborhood formed an African-American commercial and entertainment district. An eleven-year old Black child, Louis Armstrong, shot off a gun in this neighborhood and was sent to the “Colored Waifs’ Home.” Later, Armstrong helped to create New Orleans jazz in its neighboring bars and clubs.

    Long asserts that Hoodoo pharmacies existed in urban African-American communities throughout the South. As people moved to the North during the Great Migration, Hoodoo pharmacies followed them. By the 1920, the Cracker Jack had a mail order business. It sold Hoodoo merchandise throughout the eastern US.

    The Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, told Zora Neale Hurston about The Cracker Jack. She thanked him in a letter. She probably used this pharmacy as part of her research into Hoodoo in New Orleans.

    A White man of Belgian Catholic descent, George A. Thomas owned The Cracker Jack. Thomas became increasingly unstable. In 1934, Thomas was committed to a local mental hospital where he died in 1940. His family continued to run The Cracker Jack.

    Post WWII urban blight took its toll. The neighborhood sank deeper into poverty and crime. Someone robbed The Cracker Jack. Urban renewal, or “Negro removal”, claimed the Cracker Jack. Its building was demolished in the early 70s and with it several pieces of history.

    *******

    Winter Holiday Survey

    The Wild Hunt news has launched an on-line opinion survey about how its readers spent the recent Solstice and the dominance of Christian imagery. It is open to people from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.  Many people, regardless of spiritual identity, report feeling highly alienated at this time of year. Few reports exist of how Pagan deal with this time of year. No identifying information is collected, but some demographic data will be asked. You can skip any questions that you would prefer not to answer. The results of this survey will be published later this month. Please consider sharing your thoughts. The survey will take about 5 minutes and is located at http://bit.ly/2ROGx8l. Thank you.

     

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  • Unleash the Hounds: Archaeology Edition

    There are lots of articles and essays about new archaeology finds that are of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens out there, more than our team can write about in depth in any given week. Therefore, the Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Here are our favorite picks this month.

    A small, Roman-era statue of the Goddess Venus estimated to be around 2000 years old is considered one of the Worthing Museum’s best finds. It was found sometime in the 1960s in a flower bed and turned over to the museum last month.

    The small figure, just about a finger’s length, was turned over to the museum by Albert Neal in December. His brother originally found the statue while digging in their mother’s flowerbed.

    *   *   *

    Researchers using the teeth of horses they were able to extract and analyze DNA from believe the majority of the horses were male. The teeth came from horses that were part of Viking burials from 17 different sites in Iceland. Trying to determine the sex of horses is often difficult without having complete, intact and very well-preserved skeletons. The ability to use DNA in this way may offer information more easily for researchers.

    *   *   *

    In other horsey news, a stable located just outside of the ancient city of Pompeii that had previously been excavated in Italy in the 1900s has been re-discovered. The remains of several horses were preserved in the same manner as the people who perished in the city). One complete horse still with saddle and harness has been unearthed as part of the find. The city of Pompeii was destroyed around 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius erupted releasing a pyroclastic flow that engulfed the Roman city and famously preserving the inhabitants in their poses by a “flash heating“.

    *   *   *

    News of a newly discovered circle of ancient standing stones in Scotland was released last week. The stone circle — thought to be between 3,500 and 4,500 years old — consists of 10 stones, each about 3 feet (1 meter) high, standing in a circle about 25 feet (7.7 m) across. The monument is located in a patch of farmland near the village of Alford, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Aberdeen.

    The circle is an excellent example of what is known as a “recumbent” stone circle, a style unique to the northeast of Scotland and the south-west of Ireland. One of reason it is so exceptional is due to all the stones being present. Usually when circles like this are found, only several stones remain. This style of stone monument has a large “recumbent” stone lying on its side between two upright stones, or “flankers,” in the southwest of the circle.

    *   *   *

    The BBC reports a temple dedicated to the God Xipe Tótec in central Mexico has been discovered. On the site, they also have uncovered a ceramic statue of the God and two large skulls carved from volcanic stone that may the earliest depictions of Xipe Tótec, dating somewhere between 900-1150 A.D. The name Xipe Tótec translates as “Flayed Lord” or “Flayed One” and is often depicted as wearing the skins of those he had skinned. He was also said to represent fertility and regeneration.

    *   *   *

    Although in the previous finding DNA was recovered from horses teeth and then used to determine the sex of the animal, The Boston Globe reports that the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) researcher have discovered a way to extract genetic samples by utilizing tooth enamel that contains relatively little DNA.  The technique has been described for several year in forensic science but has now been used on samples as old as 7,000 years.

    *   *   *

    In other archaeological DNA news, a new study in Australia shows that ancient DNA can be used to reliably link Aboriginal ancestors to their living descendants, and giving them a better opportunity of reclaiming the human remains that have been held by museums around the world. This new study offers up the possibility of making it much easier to use genetics to proactively return ancient remains to their communities.

    *   *   *

    An ancient tomb in China’s Shaanxi Province has been discovered. The cluster of a dozen tombs are dated 304-439 A.D. which is also known the Sixteen Kingdoms period. Archaeologists have identified new burial customs not seen before. Further the arrangement of the tombs suggest a familial connection, and once again DNA testing will be employed to confirm the theory.

     

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  • Pagan Community Notes: Reported “Wiccan” accused of human trafficking, COMISS Network, and more!

    FREESTONE COUNTY, Texas – Last week, charges of human trafficking were filed against a woman that centered around a minor in her care in Mexia, Texas. The initial bond being set at $25,000, and one day later was increased to $250,000. There are reports that Amber Michelle Parker, allegedly had ties to a Witchcraft or Wicca groups. A Facebook account under the name Zhoe Singer displays a picture of Parker as well a number of memes and photos that contain “Witch” and “pentacle.”

    A report from news station KWTX contained a statement that Parker’s husband had given to deputies investigating the case, “Mr. Parked explained that at some point during the year his wife had created an anonymous Facebook page to where she could secretly communicate with strange men associated with the Wicca organization,” the document reads. “During the year his wife had left to go to Louisiana to meet with her healer and again to Waco to meet with someone in her group.”

    The news story goes on to say that members of the Wicca religion have come forward to dispel any connection to their beliefs and practices and the actions Parker is accused of, sex trafficking. The KWTX story did not list who contacted the station or reporter as representing the Wiccan or Pagan community. This is a developing story, TWH will continue to follow and report on any updates.

      *   *   *

    ARLINGTON, Virginia – The 2019 COMISS Network Forum, a national chaplaincy and specialized ministries conference is being held January 13 and 14 in Arlington, Virginia. Several Pagan leaders participated in the conference: representing Sacred Well Congregation–Rev. Ryan Adams, Officer-at-Large from Louisiana, representing Circle Sanctuary–Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister and Endorser from Wisconsin and Rev. Tim (Cern) Staker, Board Certified Hospital Chaplain from Indiana.

    COMISS Network is a network of professional organizations, institutions, and faith communities engaged in theological and clinical education and competent practice of interfaith spiritual care through chaplaincy and spiritual counseling and research in specialized settings. Rev. Selena Fox also attended the Association of Religious Endorsing Bodies conference held January 11 and 12 at the same location.

    [Courtesy Circle Sanctuary – Rev. Ryan Adams (left) Rev. Selena Fox (center) and Rev. Tim (Cern) Staker, (right)

    *   *   *

    In other news:

    • Gregory Tillett, a native of Australia and a noted academic in Religious Studies, also holding a degree in Law in Australia, has died. He is best known for his research in Occult studies, particularly his work concerning C.W. Ledbetter and Theosophy. He was also a recognized authority on conflict resolution. He was ordained as a Priest in the Orthodox Church. When he retired from university work, and from an Australian federal appellate Tribunal, he became a hermit in the Orthodox tradition. What is remembered, lives.
    • The Pagan Heart of the West: Embodying Ancient Beliefs and Practices from Antiquity to the Present, Vol I. Deities and Kindred Beings by Randy P. Connor is the first of five volumes and due to be released next week by Mandrake of Oxford.
    • Waking the Witch exhibit to open on January 19 at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe in the UK. The display will highlight the British Isles’ strong relationship to magic and the occult. “…it looks to the importance of craft, ritual and land on the practice of the ever shifting figure of the witch.”
    • In the Heart of the Beast (HOBT) Puppet and Mask Theatre announced last week that this year would mark the final May Day parade in Minneapolis. This will be the 45th year for the event. Corrie Zoll, HOBT’s executive director said it was possible that the festival might continue beyond this year but that HOBT could no longer financially afford to be sole sponsor of the event. An online petition has been created in attempts to save the festival.
    • Circle Sanctuary announced that the 2019 Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) has officially opened registration for the Summer Solstice Festival, occurring June 16 – 23 at Hannon’s Camp America, near Oxford Ohio.

    Tarot of the week by Star Bustamonte

    Deck: Black Cat Tarot by Maria Kurara, published by Lo Scarabeo

    Card: Five (5) Wands

    Look for opportunities to gain greater understanding of one’s own skills and deeper nature this week. There is emphasis on fairness in competition with an eye towards building the future.

     

    Decks generously provided by Asheville Raven & Crone.

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  • Happy Winter Solstice

    Western constructions of reality are so strong that they often overwrite our understanding of important, seemingly independent celestial events. The solstice is no different. In one sense, it is an astronomical occurrence, leading us to believe it is independent of cultural intrusion, much like how we might like to think mathematics or physics exist – that is, that they are the same no matter who is observing them. But culture has always intruded into our understanding of the world, and, because western culture is so overwhelmingly dominant, we must take extra care to see how different cultures reflect on events that we might think are independent of human interference.

    A few weeks ago, the northern and southern hemispheres celebrated the solstice, a celestial event whose date of occurrence might seem fixed and uncontroversial. Still, there are different ways to mark the event. The solstice is perhaps better understood as an event of the northern and southern mid-latitudes and beyond; in the tropics, the “solstice”, per se, is thought of differently.From the “little latitudes,” the progression of the sun still occurs, of course. But as the ancients observed, the amount of daylight in the tropics varies little by season.

    Now recall that the zodiac is the apparent elliptical path of the sun across the celestial sphere and marked by constellations. On the northern edge of the Tropic of Cancer, cities like Havana see variations of about three hours between the longest day and the shortest day of the year, both corresponding to the solstices. But along the equator, the difference between shortest and longest days of the year is about 10 minutes, and every day is about 12 hours in length. The analemma, the sun’s bow-shaped path in the sky, reminiscent of an infinity symbol, is fully observed overhead from the equator.  Both highlight how differently the path of the sun impacts the various cycles of human life from the agricultural to the spiritual.

    The sun’s analemma observed from Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, NJ [Wikimedia Commons].

    These different views of the same event are manifested in the spiritual and celebratory significance of the zodiac as it is witnessed and understood from different places on Earth. The Hindu zodiac, derived in a near-tropical region, is offset from the western astrological system by about 23 degrees. It uses the sidereal, or star-based, definition of the year. The offset occurs because the sidereal-based Hindu system references the position of the sun relative to the stars in the distance against the horizon of the Earth. The western astrological system – confusingly called a tropical system, because it uses tropics of the sun – references the sun as moving through the various zodiac houses. What’s interesting is that the winter solstice, as viewed from the northern hemisphere, marks the southernmost journey of the sun, thus marking the beginning of the winter season. It is thus affected by the shifts in the Earth’s axis, now called axial precession – ayanamsa in Sanskrit.

    The Hindu zodiac sidereal system does not shift. It marks the vernal equinox sun’s position on the equator as the origin of latitude, and thus the prime meridian. It marks the seasons not by the position of the sun itself, but rather by the stars behind the sun. It partitions the elliptical journey of the sun using constellations. In a sense, the difference between the western and sidereal zodiacs boils down to frame of reference: the Earth relative to the sky with the sun passing through it, or the Earth relative to the sun with the skies rotating around it.

    On January 13, from a western viewpoint, the sun is 23 degrees into Capricorn. In the Hindu sidereal zodiac, on January 14, we subtract 23 degrees (the precessional difference) and the sun enters Capricorn. Happy Solstice!

    Well, maybe not quite, but today heralds the entry of the sun into the zodiac sign that underscores the change of season. January 13, in southern Asian cultures, is the last day of Dakshinayana. With its end, the gods awaken from their celestial slumber and we enter a time to realize potential and focus on growing positivity.

    Surya, the sun-god, seated on his chariot led by a horse with seven heads [public domain]

    Makara Sankranti is the Hindu festival that marks the sun’s entry into Capricorn (Makara) and the entry into the Uttarayan period. In Sanskrit, Makara Sankranti literally means “north movement,” as in the sun’s progression from Capricorn to Cancer (Karka). The festival is dedicated to the Surya, the sun god, and the celebrations including ritual bathing in holy sites so that past transgressions are forgiven, eating sweets to embark on prosperity, wearing brand-new clothes, and lighting bonfires. In some parts of southeast Asia, the festival coincides with the rice harvest. Sikhs also celebrate the festival under the name of Mela Maghi, with the added significance that the festival is held in memory of Sikh martyrs.

    Bhogi is the first day of the festival, when practitioners burn anything that is no longer useful, including furniture. Old and unused items are discarded so the focus can remain on the future. The destruction of old items is also seen as the elimination of bad habits and attachment to material things. The destruction of these items helps us recognize the importance of transformation, purification, and connectedness. The second day, meanwhile, is the main festival day.

    On the third day of Makara Sankranti, families remember their ancestors and make offerings to them. Animals are fed and honored, and prayers are offered to various divinities for the coming harvest. Finally, on the fourth day, the elements and, for lack of a better Western term, genius loci are propitiated. In some regions adherents refrain from eating animal products. The day’s celebrations also involve flying colorful kites, symbolizing renewed health and the removal of illness and infection.

    In some regional variations, Lohri, as it is celebrated by Sikhs and some denominations of Hindus, is the day before Makara Sankranti and focuses on gratitude to the sun god for the return of light. It marks the beginning of the financial year and also harkens the tale of Dulla Bhatti, a Robin Hood-figure in the Punjab region who freed girls from enslavement. Children also travel neighborhoods singing and requesting treats.

    Most importantly, Makara Sankranti is a time to look for opportunities that promote peace. Communities encourage their members to make peace by focusing on prosperity, dialogue and forgiveness.

    Thus we see that the spiritual meaning of the solstice echoes, or even harmonizes, across the cultural landscape, even if the same astronomical event is recorded differently.

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  • Column: Öskjuhlíð

    Pagan Perspectives


    Today’s offering is by columnist Luke Babb. Luke is a storyteller and eclectic polytheist who primarily works with the Norse and Hellenic pantheons. They live in Chicago with their wife and a small jungle of houseplants, where they are studying magic and community building – sometimes even on purpose.

    The Wild Hunt always welcomes submissions for its weekend section. Please send queries to eric@wildhunt.org.


    I don’t really work with my ancestors. Never felt particularly called to do so. When I tell other Pagans this, I get one of three responses.

    “It is important,” says Pagan One, whose name has been changed to protect the innocent, “for you to interact with your ancestors before trying to interact with any other spirits. Ancestors are way more invested in you, and less likely to be busy or uninterested when something awful happens to you than the gods. Some gods will even sacrifice you to achieve their own ends. Ancestors have your back.”

    “Oh,” says Pagan Two, whose name has been changed because I’m still kind of angry. “Well, it’s important to know that ancestors don’t have to be blood ancestors. It can be other kinds of ancestors too. I know some people have problems with their blood ancestors.” Then they clear their throat in a specific way that means, “I hear The Queers don’t have good family relationships, so here is your opportunity to talk about your trauma if you want.”

    “Me neither,” says Pagan Three, whose name has been changed because they already know who they are. “Never have felt particularly called to do so.” Then we each clear our throats simultaneously and proceed to never speak about it again.

    The thing is, that while Pagan Three is by far my favorite, the other two have quite a bit more to say. Regardless of my ambivalence about the dead in my personal practice, the actual status of relationship with my family, or my deep and considered lack of self-preservation with regards to deity, I have been told repeatedly that an ancestor altar is an important and missing staple in my magical and religious practice.

    Eventually, when enough voices say something, it starts to stick.

    I am not pleased with my own impulse to tell this story. It feels like trying to prove something, like trying to get Pagans One and Two to take me seriously as a practitioner, even if what I do doesn’t look quite the same. But it’s also a story I tell for myself, because I can’t make any sense out of it.

    * * *

    The first time I was allowed to take my bike out on my own, I went down to the local cemetery. It was a mile outside of my little town on a gravel road that, if I went just a little further, went downhill into a valley with wooden bridge that crossed a small creek, shaded by trees. That creek was a perfect place for a country kid to play, secluded and filled with all manner of natural wonders. I never made it that far.

    Instead, I biked up the main path of the cemetery. It was small; most of the inhabitants were from the times before the railroad had rerouted and taken all the industry to the next town on the line. The cemetery was just a big sunny patch of grass, bounded on all sides by soy fields connected to Mr. Coover’s house down the road. In my memory it doesn’t have much shade, or any interesting headstones besides the big, cracking, unmarked block that formed the only above-ground resting place. I didn’t go there for the view – I went there because it was quiet, and private, and somehow it felt safe. I went there a lot.

    I’ve spent time in many other cemeteries since. In college it was the old-fashioned boneyard that overlooked the cinema and the hospital, the one where I might have died. Now that I live in Chicago there are several – the quiet one that doesn’t like to be visited, the one by the water where I watched the eclipse, the fancy one that always feels too quiet. I do not go to these places to do magic, or to communicate with their inhabitants. I just go.

    [L. Babb.]

    For a while I went to one particular cemetery regularly, my favorite one, the one where I cut my wand, the one where the deer always come to greet me. I would bring food enough to share, and I would meditate, and I would try to figure out why I was there. Perhaps, I thought, it was a devotional act for Hermes. Perhaps it was a calling toward psychopomp work. Perhaps it was a connection to another sort of ancestor, an ancestor of place.

    No answer presented itself – and then I moved across town, and traveled even further away.

    * * *

    The day I meant to visit the Hof Ásatrúarfélagsins í Öskjuhlíð (“The Ásatrú Fellowship’s Temple at Öskjuhlíð”) was sunny and warmer than most of my time in Iceland. I started it by driving into the middle of an older neighborhood to park on a tight street next to a major construction site. Some high rise, I thought, locking the car behind me. I was there for the museum down the street.

    “You’re standing in the oldest cemetery in Reykjavik,” a voice said, and I spun quick enough that the nearest tourist gave me an odd look before turning back to their guide. “This square is the site of what we believe might be the first settlement of Iceland. When we started to dig the foundations for this building, we found more than just houses.” They moved on, and I, taking the hint, dug into my bag for the collection of polished stones I had brought from home in case I needed small, site-specific offerings. I left one at the edge of the construction site, pleased at the thought that I had connected, briefly, to the people whose religion had inspired my own.

    I was waiting, somewhat cinematically, for my contact – a friend of a friend who had offered to show me the temple being built by the Icelandic Heathen community. He was going to be busy until lunch, so I crossed a few things off my Reykjavík to-do list: the Settlement Center, the National Museum. Then I scanned the map. I was well outside of downtown, but there was a modern cemetery where I could spend time and pay my respects while I waited for the call.

    Hólavallagarður was beautiful, and, like most of Iceland, seemed to not mind me being there, which was a strange feeling in and of itself. This place was just – pleasant. I didn’t have any good reason to be there, but I felt I was being polite enough. It felt like walking through a stranger’s front lawn. I was not an imposition unless I stayed too long.

    I had just left when my contact called to cancel. We might be able to meet up another day, but he would not be able to show me the way to the temple, one of the things I was most determined to see. I couldn’t find any specific directions listed, but nonetheless, I decided to go there on my own. I had been overseas for three days at that point and had not encountered any problems so far with navigating Reykjavik. I knew that the temple would be somewhere on Öskjuhlíð, the big hill that featured on the edge of my city map. It didn’t look like too much was out there. How hard could it be to find a temple?

    This is the sort of decision making that my wife despairs of.

    Öskjuhlíð is very large. I did not realize how large until I had been walking for an hour. In my defense I was being very logical about it. After driving to the top, I found a hiking trail and began the descent through the remnants of the Second World War bunkers that cover the hill, looking for – well, I wasn’t sure, really. The temple had been scheduled to finish at about the time I was there, but all of the pictures online were of construction. I had seen the sketches of the design. I was sure I’d know it when I saw it.

    When I reached the bottom of the hill, I started to circumnavigate the base. When a path branched off, I followed it for a ways up the hill. If it didn’t seem to lead anywhere, I doubled back. I passed a preschool, a college, and what seemed like a mixed martial arts ring – and then I started to follow the paths into the forest.

    I don’t know if they were meant to be paths. Most of the roads were paved and well marked, and these were more like trails leading off the main road and into huge wooded clearings that I realize now were probably hiking trails. In the light of the afternoon they were cool and abandoned, with shafts of light coming through the trees. One of them, to my wonder, had a great woven house inside of it, taller than I am and to all appearances recently inhabited. No wonder, I thought, this was where the temple would be built. Surely people worshipped here already. It felt like the sort of place that was alive and amused and waiting to be recognized. I left a stone in each clearing and kept on, grateful for having seen them. Even if I didn’t find the temple, I thought, these places would have been worth it.

    I needn’t have worried. Eventually, I found the temple.

    Luke at the construction site for the Ásatrúarfélagið hof [L. Babb].

    I’m not the only person to travel a long way and find nothing waiting. I was aware before I set out that there had been delays in construction, albeit not to this degree. I knew that my footsore, hungry, tired self was entirely to blame for my own problems. Nothing I couldn’t have a sense of good humor about – but I had gone so far already. Surely it would be easier to finish circling the hill than go back?

    When I saw the sign that said Fossvogskirkjugarður I was relieved. Kirk I knew meant “church” and garður was “yard” – did the Icelandic Church have monks? Maybe it was a monastery. Not exactly how I wanted to spend my super special solo Pagan temple trip, but maybe they’d have a glass of water.

    This is how I came to spend the last leg of a very long walk hustling double-time through a truly huge cemetery, my third one of the day.

    * * *

    I do not have an easy end for this story. I don’t know what lesson to take from this series of circumstances, or the way I continued to find myself in cemeteries as I traveled, resting beside markers and on the stone walls that surrounded other “churchyards” in Þingvellir, Borg, and Hólmavík.

    Today I have a small ancestor altar, centered on three jars of dirt and otherwise nearly barren. I keep the water fresh, and I offer baked goods as often as I make them, and otherwise I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know if that answer will present itself. Schedules and weather have kept me from my local graveyard for a while, and I miss it.

    Right now, my theory is that cemeteries are the closest thing I have to holy places, places where my almost-country city-living self can feel safe in nature. I find them beautiful and peaceful – and what is worship but communing with those things we find solace in? I don’t know what that means, not for my practice or my theology, but when spring comes I’ll bake something and head out to pay my respects to the locals.


    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: The Temple of Mithras

    Pagan Perspectives


    Today’s column comes from your humble Weekend Editor, Eric O. Scott, who has written for The Wild Hunt since 2012. He has a PhD in English from the University of Missouri and his first novel, The Lives of the Apostates, was published by Moon Books in 2013.

    The Wild Hunt’s weekend section is always open for submissions. Please send queries to eric@wildhunt.org.


    I was in London on midwinter’s day in 2016, and at 4:30 PM it had already gone dark. I stepped off the #17 bus from Islington and found myself in the extravagance of the City of London, the section of the metropolis that had once been a medieval village and now stood astride the globe as one of its major hubs of world capitalism. The City of London carried a strange, alienating ambience, and I did not much like it – not compared to the rest of the city, anyway, where I spent the rest of that week sauntering from one curiosity to another. The City hummed with fluorescent lights from office suites housed in tall unlovely towers that rose into the night. There was energy there, to be sure, but a jittery, uncomfortable energy, like caffeine on an empty stomach. The country felt like that all over that winter, six months after the Brexit vote, and in the interregnum between Donald Trump’s election and his inauguration back home in America. Nobody really knew what was coming, and maybe we still don’t. Still, I had come with a purpose, and I aimed to see it through.

    City of London [E. Scott].

    I checked my map and frowned. I looked forward and saw a great green barricade ahead of me, a fence-and-tarpaulin wall surrounding the base of a skyscraper. According to my map, this was the corner of Cannon Street and Walbrook, which is where I wanted to be – that is, the London Mithraeum, a temple to the Roman god Mithras. But looking around I saw only more office blocks set at Pret a Mangers, and, at the end of a far alley, St. Stephen Walbrook’s Church, which dated back to the Great Fire of 1666. I saw no sign, however, of Mithras’s temple, whose stones were a thousand years older than St. Stephen’s.

    I walked around the block and came to a disheartening conclusion. I entered a Little Waitrose grocery store across the lane and bought a Coke. While standing in line, I saw a fire marshal open a door in the barricade and come over to the grocery. I caught his attention. “Pardon me,” I asked, aware as always of my American accent, of how easily my voice marked me as being out of place. “I was looking for the old Roman temple. Is it around here? Is it inside the construction area?”

    I went back outside and stared up at the office tower. It was a Bloomberg project. The green barricade went the whole way around, without so much as a porthole to look inside. The temple, I read later, was excavated at this spot back in 1954, and moved haphazardly to a different site so as to not interfere with the previous office building project. The reconstructed temple bore little resemblance to the historical one; the historical Mithraeum had been built partially underground, and featured a descent towards the altar representing the seven degrees of initiation into the mysteries of the Mithras cult. The reconstruction was all above-ground and on one level. Now that Bloomberg had taken over the site of the office block, he had begun arranging for the temple to relocate again, back to the original site. Today, two years after my visit, the reconstruction of the reconstruction sits as a tourist attraction at the base of Bloomberg London.

    Bloomberg Square, City of London [E. Scott].

    In some ways, I suppose this is a good thing. From what I gather now, the reconstruction is certainly better than the old one, if still not reflective of the whole history of the temple. It is good that the temple has been restored to being closer to what it was when it belonged to Mithras’s faithful. But as I stood there on that December evening in 2016, I felt disappointed, and not just because the Mithraeum was hidden from me behind a Kelly Green wall.

    No – I thought to myself that Mithras was a god of soldiers, which meant he was a god of the poor. Now his temple survives due to the largesse of a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg. So many things that we should value for what they are and of themselves, things that should belong to all of us, and instead are playthings of the rich. I read that the reconstituted temple is today a tourist attraction, complete with, as the website explains, “haze, light and the sound of footsteps, chanting and secret whispers.” They cannot imagine that there will be enough magic in the stones themselves; special effects are required instead.

    Mithras, in the latter days of the Roman Empire, held much of the Roman army in his sway. His was a mystery cult; our knowledge of it now depends entirely on archaeology, as the Mithraic adherents left behind no mythological texts to clarify its meaning. Like many of the other late-period cults – those of Isis, Jupiter Dolichenus, and even Christ – he seems to have come from the east, an offspring of Persia brought to Rome and remade in the Empire’s image. Several images dominate his excavated temples: Mithras being born from a stone, Mithras dining with Sol Invictus, and most famously, Mithras slaying a bull, whose blood consecrated the grounds of every Mithraic altar.

    As a deity, Mithras has never particularly spoken to me: I don’t like wars or armies, and the Mithraic mysteries lack any reference to women at all, quite alien to my upbringing as a Goddess worshiper. Nonetheless, I feel the obligation to pay my respects at any god’s shrine, even if the god is not one I’d usually honor at my own altar. Once, these gods inspired multitudes to worship, but that awe has been forgotten. I feel the duty to remember.

    Later that midwinter’s evening, in the Museum of London, I found myself standing in front of a glass case filled with items excavated from the Mithraeum. Many were carved heads of deities: Mithras, Minerva, Serapis, a river-god with no name – the plaque tells me he might be the spirit of the Walbrook or even of the Thames itself. Set into the bottom of the case is the bull-slaying scene at the crux of the Mithraic faith.

    Mithras and the Bull, Museum of London [E. Scott].

    Mithras had his birthday, I was always told, on December 25th, the same as Christ. (Perhaps this is not strictly true; the “birthday” element could have been drawn by analogy with Christianity. I suspect both took the date from the sun festival Natalis Invicti, and more generally from the winter solstice.) But while outside London buzzes with Christmas cheer, silence reigns in the atrium before Mithras. The pale stone heads of the gods look out from behind glass, eyes that have seen decades of worship and centuries of dirt before finding their way here to this museum.

    I had no bull to sacrifice to Mithras, nor the desire to do so if I had one; yet a god remains a god. Even if his empire has long faded and his armies are long gone, still: date obolum Belisario. I murmured a winter prayer to Mithras and waited for the museum to announce it was time to close.

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  • UK: The ‘newest old tradition in Wales.’

    [Photo courtesy of Andy Dingley – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30730300]

    CHEPSTOW, WALES – If you’re in the Welsh Border town of Chepstow on Saturday, January 19th, you’ll be able to meet some unusual visitors: the world’s biggest group of Mari Lwyds. To some of our Welsh ancestors, nothing says Christmas like the arrival of a man on your doorstep dressed in a sheet, wearing a horse’s skull, decked in ribbons and with clattering jaws! This old Welsh custom has become revived in recent years and is now a definite point in the Chepstow calendar and that of other Welsh towns, as well as being popular with British pagans.

    The Mari Lwyd celebrations have long been associated with the Wassailing customs popular throughout the South West and Herefordshire, a celebration of the apple harvest. Both these customs are old, so let’s take a look at their origins.

    The ‘Mari’ is a form of guising or mumming: the custom of groups of men travelling from house to house and collecting money. They would sing, and enter into a ‘call and response’ with the householder, who was traditionally supposed to deny them entry, finding a variety of excuses to keep them out (a process known as a ‘pwnco’).

    It might begin:

    Wel dyma ni’n dwad (Well here we come)
    Gy-feillion di-niwad (Innocent friends)
    I ofyn am gennad (To ask leave)
    I ofyn am gennad (To ask leave)
    I ofyn am gennad i ganu (To ask leave to sing)

    The householder was also, however, expected to relent eventually – or run out of excuses! – and let the Mari and her followers in, and give them food and drink. Once in the house, the Mari runs about, snapping her jaws and frightening the kids, whilst the rest of the team play music and sing.

    The custom was first recorded in 1800, in J Evans’ work ‘A Tour Through Part of North Wales’, but is generally considered to be older, and the etymology of the name is open to some debate: folklorist E Cawte suggested that it refers to the Welsh for ‘Grey Mare,’ but other origins have been proposed, too. Earlier folklorists posited it as a pre-Christian rite, but there is a lack of evidence for this, as with many rural folk customs.

    [Media courtesy of Andy Dingley [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons]

    The Mari Lwyd is mainly a south Welsh custom, and there’s no apparent correlation between Welsh language speaking areas and the practice (south Pembrokeshire has long been primarily English speaking, for instance). However, it does seem to have been more popular in mining districts. And it’s not just equine: some of the mummers dressed as bulls, and this custom, too, has been revived at Chepstow. Not all the Maris were made from an actual horse’s skull: in the Pembrokeshire village of Solva, in the mid 19th century, the Mari’s head was made out of a sheet stuffed with hay, with button eyes.

    [Photo courtesy of Andy Dingley – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30730191]

    The custom declined throughout the twentieth century, possibly as a result of Christian disapproval: the Baptist Rev William Roberts of Blaenau in Gwent called it “a mixture of old Pagan and Popish ceremonies… I wish of this folly, and all similar follies, that they find no place anywhere apart from the museum of the historian and antiquary.” Ronald Hutton reports that by the start of the 20th century the custom had died out, but it was revived in the mid-20th century and has become increasingly popular ever since – in this, it follows the increased popularity of Wassailing itself.

    So what does Wassailing involve? The word, as most pagans will be aware, comes from the Saxon: Wæs þu hæl, meaning “be thou hale (healthy)”. There are two kinds of Wassailing: house-wassailing and orchard-wassailing. The latter is not a universal British custom, being found predominantly in those areas where apple and pear orchards are a major agricultural feature: primarily, therefore, the South West of the UK. Originally, as the name indicates, it is supposed to have been a Saxon custom, to thank the spirits of the trees for their bounty, but it’s now regarded as a midwinter family evening out and a number of farms arrange Wassailing events in mid January, usually around Old Twelfth Night on the 17th. Mulled cider and wine are given out, sometimes in a ‘loving cup’ (which has two handles, so that two people can drink from it at the same time). A Wassail king and queen are elected, usually by means of a bean found in a piece of cake. A shotgun is fired into the trees and pans are banged, to frighten away evil spirits, and an offering of toast and cider is made, to propitiate the good spirits of the orchards. Then Wassail carols might be sung:

    Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
    That blooms well, bears well.
    Hats full, caps full,
    Three bushel bags full,
    An’ all under one tree.
    Hurrah! Hurrah!

    Carhampton, Dunster and Glastonbury all hold regular Wassail events in Somerset, and so do Whimple and Sandford in Devon. Clevedon, near Bristol, hosts one and this is combined with dancing from the local Morris side, who also feature a grumpy pantomime horse.

    Some communities still have their original 19th century Wassail cups. One of the folk stories of Somerset tells of the Apple Tree Man: the spirit of the oldest tree in the orchard, who is given the orchard owner’s last glass of mulled cider and in thanks, shows him the way to buried treasure.

    House-wassailing has mainly been replaced by carol singing, but there is a revival in the form of the Mari Lwyd. There was a darker side to house-Wassailing, involving groups of rowdy young men who might, if refused entry or food, not only curse the householder but vandalise the property, as well. In a more law-abiding society, this aspect of the practice is thankfully no more.

    At Chepstow, this year, the Mari celebrations, described as the ‘newest old tradition in Wales, or perhaps the oldest new tradition,’ will be hosted by the Greenman Backpackers, and you can find their web page here.

     

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    Raise the Horns

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