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

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

  • Prayer in public schools takes center stage in Louisiana

    LOUISIANA – The state of Louisiana is known for its political conservatism, particularly in terms of religious freedom. According to Pew Forum, the state is 84% Christian, which is 14 percentage above the U.S. total percentage. The majority of those people are reportedly Evangelical Christians (27%), “Historically” Black Protestant (22%), and Catholics (26%). All of those figures are also larger than U.S. totals. Therefore, it is not surprising to find Louisiana is one of the major battle grounds for religious freedom, not only at a local level but at a state level. This has been true for cases involving public school prayer in recent months.

    Today we look at two current and connected cases evolving in the state. While neither specifically involves Pagans, Heathens, or polytheists, the outcomes of such cases can and do affect everyone in the region or state, and can also have broader affects on the future of policy making elsewhere in the country.

    Child prays over school lunch [public domain]

    Webster Parish

    One school system in Louisiana, Webster Parish, has settled a lawsuit with the ACLU over the daily use of Christian prayer during morning announcements. ACLU attorney Bruce Hamilton said in a statement: “The school districts created an environment so suffused with religious messages and proselytizing that students who didn’t want to participate, didn’t feel free to do so.”

    According to reports, Christy Cole and her daughter, Kaylee prompted the lawsuit after complaining not only about the morning prayers but also about religious messages found in other sanctioned school activities. “Virtually all school events — such as sports games, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies — include school-sponsored Christian prayer, religious messages and/or proselytizing,” reads the legal document.

    After the lawsuit was filed in January, the school system moved from morning prayers to a moment of silence. Then in May, the school board settled the lawsuit, acknowledging that it had violated the Constitution on some accounts but not all. In its response document, the board admitted, for example, that a morning prayer was routinely held and that students were permitted to offer voluntary prayers with teacher support. Both activities, as it writes, have stopped. However, the board denied a number of complaints, including preferential treatment for members of the Future Christian Athletes Club and other acts that might be considered coercion.

    The board’s response document concludes that, with the recent changes to policy regarding prayer as outlined in the response, there is no longer a need for court involvement. An agreement was reached and approved by a federal judge.

    According to the ACLU, “under the consent decree, Webster Parish School District is prohibited from promoting prayers during school events, organizing religious services for students, unnecessarily holding school events at religious venues, and allowing school officials to promote their personal religious beliefs to students. Webster Parish will also provide faculty training and education on the school’s obligations.”

    The ACLU, the Coles, and many locals see this case as a win for Webster Parish and for religious freedom as a whole, but not everyone. The town is predominantly Christian and that belief structure is reportedly deeply woven into local culture. One resident told CNN that he will fight for the souls of the local children, saying “If you begin to tell me that my children do not have the right to pray in school, then that’s an attack upon the relationship I have with my God and the relationship that they have with our God.”

    A similar lawsuit, filed in February by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, is still pending in the Bossier Parish school district. That school board has since adopted similar prayer policies to Webster in advance of settlement.

    Senate Bill 512

    In April, State Senator Ryan Gatti (R) introduced Senate Bill 512, which permits for student-led prayers on school property before, during, and after school. It also permits for employee participation in student-led prayers, should a student ask or the employee volunteer. The final bill, which was revised from the original to remove the need for parent consent, reads:

    Upon the request of any public school student or students, the proper school authorities may permit students to gather for prayer in a classroom, auditorium, or other space that is not in use, at any time before the school day begins when the school is open and students are allowed on campus, at any time after the school day ends provided that at least one student club or organization is meeting at  that time, or at any noninstructional time during the school day. A school employee may be assigned to supervise the gathering if such supervision is also requested by the student or students and the school employee volunteers to supervise the gathering.

    The original bill was amended in the Senate’s committee and then passed 29-0, sending it to the House. The House then amended the bill again, removing much of the bulk of the text, including the need for parental consent and adding a teacher’s right to prayer as well. On May 16, the House passed this final bill 99-0, moving the bill to the Senate where it went back to committee.

    The bill was first rejected due to the House amendments. However, as it is now being reported, a new committee was formed and a new vote was taken. The bill was approved with the House amendments and is now in the hands of the governor for signing.

    In a May 7 letter to the Louisiana legislature, Nikolas Nartowicz, counsel for American United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), wrote, ” These bills encourage school employees to violate settled constitutional law that prohibits school employees from participating in prayer during the school day. If either bill were enacted, they would make students feel pressured to join their teacher’s religious practices in order to feel welcome. Passage would certainly result in litigation, the costs of which local school boards will be forced to bear.”

    Nartowicz is referring to both SB 512 and SB 253. The latter bill, which uses the same language as 512, was introduced in March and is still currently in the House waiting on a vote.

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an Atheist nonprofit watchdog organization, reacted: “Many Louisiana teachers will see this new law [SB 512] as an excuse to participate in student prayers, which FFRF fears is the intent of lawmakers and, because it is illegal, exposes the school districts to serious legal and financial liability. Remaining quiet and respectful during student prayers has, of course, always been legally permissible. But this bill sends teachers and coaches a message that they can quietly participate, which violates legal precedent.”

    As FFRF notes, the final bill not only gives permission to the administration to allow teachers to supervise student-led prayers on school grounds before, after, or during school, but it also gives teachers permission to participate or bow their heads “during a student-led, student-initiated prayer so that the employee may treat the students’ religious beliefs and practices with deference and respect.”

    FFRF is fearful that this language will give teachers, employees, and administrators the legally ability to engage in the coercive activities that led to the lawsuits against the Webster Parish and Bossier school boards.

    That fear is well-grounded in the fact that Senator Gatti, who wrote and introduced SB 512, represents Bossier Parish, and has reportedly said that he introduced SB 512 specifically in reaction to the AU lawsuit against his local school board.

    Read more »
  • Pagan John Bennett stabbed by neighbor over ‘noise row.’

    ALDERHOLT, Eng. —  John Bennett, a practicing witch, was assaulted by two of his neighbours in Hillbury Park, the residential semi-retirement community in which all three reside, on November 4th 2017. Anne Denyer, 52, attacked him with an umbrella and Mark Denyer, 56, stabbed him with a kitchen knife. The case just went to court, and the Denyers were charged with suspended sentences and community service. The Wild Hunt spoke to Bennett, aka ‘Bearheart,’ and his partner Samantha Hathaway about the ordeal.

    John Bennett [Facebook profile.]

    Bennett said that the assault happened on the night before Bonfire Night (5th November) about 8 p.m. There was a full moon and, normally Bennett and Hathaway go out to the forest in Hampshire or Dorset to join celebrations with other groups or do things on their own. However, on this occasion they were unable to leave their dog because it reacts poorly to fireworks, Bennett said.  They made the decision to stay and sit in their garden.

    The couple states that they had never undertaken drumming in the garden before and were watching the fireworks while the dog remained indoors. They are reportedly about 60 yards away from the neighbours to the back and can see the fence and backdoor from their own back garden.

    Bennett said that they had a shamanic drum each and were reciting a full moon poem. They had just started drumming, but quietly as they were seated next to each other, they said, adding that the fireworks were louder than the drumming. They had been drumming for 2-3 minutes, they recalled, when the Denyers appeared from the back of their property and started shouting: ‘I don’t want to listen to that bloody racket all night,’ plus some swearing.

    Hathaway said ‘We didn’t want any confrontation’, so they packed up and went indoors as ‘it was not worth the hassle.’ They had not reached the kitchen door when the Denyers approached the house and continued to swear, she said. The man next door is 94 and in a wheelchair and a woman in her 80s lives opposite, so Bennett went out to ask the Denyers to be quiet.

    “As soon as I opened the gate she whacked me over the head with a golfing umbrella and he rushed me and stuck a 10 inch kitchen knife in my belly. There was blood pumping out of my stomach,” Bennett said.

    After being stabbed, Bennett recalled going into :fight or flight mode, and wrestled Denyer to the ground to get the knife off him,” while Denyer’s wife kept hitting him on the head with the umbrella. John was bleeding heavily from the stab wound and a head wound caused by the umbrella, so by this time was unable to see.

    Mr. Denyer fled from the scene and the police helicopter was called out. He was later apprehended. He hid the knife, which the police subsequently found.

    As for Bennett, he was taken to hospital in Salisbury, where he was operated on and remained for two nights. He said that the surgeons told him that it was his weight that had saved his life as the knife grazed the internal muscles but did not touch his liver, which the surgeon said it would have done had Bennett been of a lighter build. He has since lost three stone.

    Hathaway said of her neighbours: “We’d never spoken to them before.”

    The Denyers had complained to the park management about “funny smells and sounds,” the dog barking, and the couple’s use of their own hot tub. Bennett stated that they do not have big parties in the back garden as they are solitary practitioners. This is contrary to what was being wrongly reported by British mainstream media, which stated that Bennett and Hathaway were members of the Druid group Clan of the Pheryllt. Members of the group and the couple both confirm that they are known to the community but not members.

    Bennett told The Wild Hunt “we keep ourselves to ourselves.”

    He said hey had never had any complaints and no-one had directly approached them about anything via the committee on the residential park before the assault. Hathaway commented that prior to this incident, “it was a little haven for us, a peaceful place.”

    According to case, Mr. Denyer had reportedly not been in trouble with the police before, and he claimed that the episode was “an accident.”

    Judge Jonathan Fuller, speaking at the trial at Bournemouth Crown Court, said:

    You, Mrs Denyer complained to your husband about the noise coming from Mr Bennett’s garden. He was performing a full moon ceremony, which Pagans are inclined to do once a month and involves incantations and rhythmic beating of drums.
    You Mrs Denyer set about him with your umbrella, striking him to his head.
    This resulted in two lacerations that caused immediate bleeding. He did no more than push you to one side – it would be understandable if it was with some degree of force.
    Within moments you Mr Denyer were also involved. You punched out towards him in the stomach area thereby causing the wound to the abdomen.

    However, Judge Fuller did accept the defendants’ claim that neither of the Denyers had intended to do serious harm to their neighbour. He sentenced Mr Denyer to 10 months in prison, suspended for a year, and 130 hours of unpaid work and sentenced Mrs Denyer to a six month suspended sentence with 100 hours of unpaid work.

    Hathaway told The Wild Hunt that the Denyers had, before the incident, had fights in which they threatened one another, but neither she nor Bennett complained or reported what they heard. They believe in keeping themselves to themselves, she explained.

    Hathaway added, “We believe in karma and we think that they will get back what they have given out.”

    “I personally feel completely let down by the judicial system and discriminated against for my beliefs,” said Bennett. “I do not feel safe in my own home any more and I do not feel protected by the police.”

    However, according to the Police Pagan Association, the episode does not count as a hate crime because their religion was not brought up directly.

    Bennett and Hathaway are receiving support and legal advice via the Pagan Federation, and are planning to move from Hillbury Park, and so are the Denyers.

    Read more »
  • People make offerings to Tutu Pelé as the lava flows

    HAWAII — While a Hawaiian volcano continues to spew forth destruction on one Hawaiian island, many forget that it was this same activity that created all the Hawaiian Islands. Destruction transforms into creation.

    The Hawaiian goddess, Tutu Pelé (Madame Pele) lives in, or is, the Kilauea Volcano. She has become one of the most well-known goddesses in the modern world. Native Hawaiians know Tutu Pelé by many names. According to Patricia Iolana in Sacred History, Native Hawaiians call Tutu Pelé, “Pele-honua-mea, Pele of the sacred land.” They also call her “Pele-‘ai-honua, Pele the eater of the land,” when her flames devour the land. She is not necessarily nice, but she is a fierce protector of her children and her lands.

    Tutu Pelé lives among all Hawaiians and not just among people with Native Hawaiian ancestry. Hawaiians report that have seen her in the form of a young maiden or that of an old crone. Then she suddenly vanishes. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has made it illegal to pick her sacred plant, the Ohelo plant. People leave offerings for Pele at Kilauea’s crater. These offerings consist of fruit, flowers, forest plants, berries, and vegetables. Since the recent increase in activity, residents have been leaving flowers and other offerings around their homes and in cracks to ask the goddess for forgiveness and protection.

    [wikimedia]

    Secularity and science

    Volcanoes do not constitute a single event. An eruption expels rock, ash, and poison gases outward. Earthquakes co-occur. Heat-liquefied rock or lava oozes out of vents, or explodes out of lava fountains. When lava flows into the sea, it creates more poison gases. If the hot lava encounters burnable material, that material will burst into flame. Volcanoes violently birthed the Hawaiian Islands this way.

    Kilauea has been actively spewing lava since 1983. On May 3, 2018, new lava vents opened on its slopes. An earthquake occurred at the same time as these vents appeared. Authorities ordered the evacuation of around 2,000 residents. On May 17, the volcano belched out ash 30,000 feet (9.1 kilometers) into the air.

    Another major eruption occurred around the midnight between May 20 and 21, 2018. The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency is coordinating the emergency response. They reported that volcanic ash formed its major danger of this eruption. For some of us, the words “Civil Defense” will bring back memories of crouching under school desks and thinking about mushroom clouds.

    Lava flow has cut off water supplies in some areas. Residents in those areas now are relying on water tankers. These lava flows have downed power lines either by force or by causing fires.

    As of May 21, this eruption/lava flow event has destroyed 44 structures. Tutu Pelé / Kilauea has injured one person. A lava bomb hit them in the leg. A lava bomb involves lava spatter. Some vents ooze out lava. Others create lava fountains that spew out these “lava bombs.” These “bombs” of hot melted rock can weigh as much as a refrigerator.

    [wikimedia]

    English speakers had to develop a special vocabulary to describe life with a volcano. When hot molten lava flows into the cold sea, it produces a haze. Poisonous gases and glass particles make up this haze. English speakers call that haze, “laze.” They call the air pollution that volcanic eruptions create “vog.” This pollution can contain poisonous gases. Winds can spread laze and vog away from the volcanic activity.

    Elevated levels of sulphur dioxide in the air form the greatest volcanic danger. This colorless, odorless gas acts like an acid when it reaches the lungs. As a gas, the wind can disperse it far from the eruptions and lava flows.   Infants, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems have the greatest risk.

    The latest reports are now showing the lava flow hitting the ocean, creating a toxic stream cloud caused by a chemical reaction between the lava and sea water. Authorities are warning residents to stay away.

    Tutu Pelé/Kilauea

    According to story, Tutu Pelé traveled from Tahiti to an already settled Hawaii. She moved from island to island before settling in Kilauea. She replaced the prior god at Kilauea. Her movement from island to island follows modern scientific chronologies of how the islands formed.

    Daniel Swanson in “The Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research” examined the sacred chants of Hawaiian oral traditions about Tutu Pelé/ Kilauea. He wanted to see how well they matched the geological record. He found evidence that elements in the chants were consistent with geological evidence.

    The Hula Preservation Society describes a “mele hula” as a specific hula linked with a specific chant, such as those Swanson examined. Rather than a dance, a mele hula is more like a ritual. This ritual involves chanted words and choreographed movements. Native Hawaiians recorded and enacted their histories and cosmologies in these mele hula rituals. Those mele hula rituals about Tutu Pelé involve her different aspects. They reflect her journey to Hawaii, her fights with her sister, and her destructive or constructive lava flows.

    Alia Wong wrote in The Atlantic about how, despite everything, many Hawaiians found Pele’s visitations to be “an invigorating spiritual awakening.” Wong reported that some blame Tutu Pelé’s current visit on attempts to extract geo-thermal energy from her volcano. The current eruption activity has forced authorities to pump cold water into some of these geothermal pools to “kill” them. Others blame the many tourists who visit the island and make “souvenirs” out of pieces of the land – rock, soil, sand, flower.

    This latest visitation of Tutu Pelé/Kilauea is providing witnesses around the globe with a vivid understanding of the intertwining of nature’s destruction and creation. At the same time, It is also also providing witness to the island’s still living indigenous spiritual tradition and how it thrives in the island’s modern culture.

    *  *  *

    For more information on Tutu Pelé/Kilauea, the website for the main Hawaiian newspaper is http://www.staradvertiser.com

    The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency has a Facebook page with the latest advisory, and information. https://www.facebook.com/pg/hawaiicountycivildefense/posts/

    For videos of lava flowing into the ocean and its laze, a tour boat operator has posted videos on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/lavanews/videos/206387286818243/

     

    Read more »
  • Pagan Community Notes: Rev. Selena Fox impersonated again, Dr. Candace Kant, The Pagans and more.

    The real Rev. Selena Fox

    TWH – It is currently being reported that the Facebook-based phishing scam involving Rev. Selena Fox’ name has not stopped.  Over the weekend, people began receiving Facebook messages from the someone pretending to be Rev. Fox and asking for personal information. We confirmed with Fox that she is once again being impersonated over the popular social media site. She said, “I am not sending out messages connected with Trust Community Foundation … this is a scam.” She changed her own photo to the one at the left.

    As we reported in April, the scammer first appeared April 23. Fox immediately changed her profile photo then, so others would know it was her, and she announced publicly what was going on. Facebook did remove the first fake Selena Fox account April 24. However, the account or one like it is back, and its user is following a pattern of behavior found in other similar impersonation scams. The would-be victim assumes that the scammer is a friend and engages in cordial conversation via messenger. Then the “friend” asks if they received money from the Trust Community Foundation, or asks for a donation to support the foundation. One Facebook user, whose phone is connected to messenger, received a similar text from the fake Selena Fox account.

    Rev. Fox is concerned that people will mistake the fake account for hers, and fall for the phishing scam. She urges people who are contacted through that fake account to take screen shots and to record the URLs, and report all the activity to Facebook. She hopes that this new scam will be shut down as quickly like the first one. As of publication, the fake account has not been removed.

    *   *   *

    Cherry Hill SeminaryCOLUMBIA, S.C. — Candace Kant, Ph.D., was named Academic Dean by Cherry Hill Seminary. Kant holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in History from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Ph.D. in History from Northern Arizona University. She has taught history, women’s studies, and religious studies courses at the College of Southern Nevada since 1976, including such classes as the History of Witchcraft, Goddess Traditions, Introduction to Modern Paganism, and Modern Pagan Thought.

    A devotee of Sekhmet, Kant was ordained at the Temple of Goddess Spirituality in 2003 and has “served as one of the temple priestesses since 2006. She developed and taught courses in practical Pagan and Goddess Spirituality at the Temple of Goddess Spirituality dedicated to Sekhmet in Cactus Springs, Nevada and through the College of Southern Nevada Continuing Education.” She has served as Cherry Hill Seminary Dean of Students since 2012.

    In moving to this new position, Kant said, “I am honored to be able to serve the Pagan community in this capacity. I have enjoyed serving as Dean of Students, and now am looking forward to this new challenge. Cherry Hill Seminary is a unique institution, providing quality education and training for the Pagan community and it is a pleasure to be a part of it.”

    *   *   *

    GRATTON, Vir. — The Washington Post recently published a report about a man being arrested after lying about his disappearance. The title read, “A Pagan biker gang kidnapped him, a businessman claimed. The FBI didn’t buy it.”  After reading the headline, some modern Pagans became concerned and curious about this “Pagan biker gang.” However, this gang is not a Pagan religiously-affiliated group, despite its logo depicting the Norse god Surtr.

    The article is referring to a well-known motorcycle club called “The Pagans.” They are based in Maryland, but have groups throughout the East Coast. Since its inception in the 1950s, the club has reportedly been long associated to violence and criminal activities, and has also reportedly been connected Nazi and White Supremacist groups to some degree. They are considered the rival gang of the famous motorcycle club Hell’s Angels.  As for the business man in the article, he allegedly made up the entire story to cover up an attempt to escape extreme debt. He has since been arrested.

    In other news:

    • The Satanic Temple will offering a lecture presented by Stu de Haan and Lucien Greaves. The topic is “A Christian Nation: Exploring the Myth of America’s Christian Foundation.” This lecture will explore “the American mythology of its origins and contemporary Judeo-Christian culture that has infiltrated into the lives of it’s citizens. Discussion topics will include the Pledge of Allegiance, life beginning at conception, our national motto “In God We Trust”, and the other theocratic arguments that have permeated common knowledge against reason, the Constitution, and religious freedom.” The event will take place June 4 from 7-9 p.m. in Salem, Massachusetts at TST headquarters.
    • Australian ritualist and author Jane Meredith will be releasing a new book titled Aspecting the Goddess. Published by Moon Books, Meredith’s new book is described as “a memoir, a workbook and an exploration of twelve different Goddess myths.” It will be available May 25 through Amazon and other outlets.
    • For those in the U.K., there will be a “Midsummer Celebration on Carn Brea celebrated in the traditional Cornish way” including live music, and dancing. The hosts add: “Magical beings may appear on the night.” The event is officiated by the Cornubian Branch of the Oddfellows Society, Kernow Matters To Us and the Cornish Cultural Association. They ask attendees to gather “at the summit on Carn Brea June 22 at 9pm. There will be a procession from the car park up to the top by the Basset Memorial and the ceremony at around 9.30pm.” This is an annual private celebration but members of the public are invited.
    • A May guest post on Felicity’s Blog explores the history behind nudity in Wicca and Witchcraft. The article is the first part two part series written by Caroline Tully and Liam Cyfrin. They begin, “There are countless quirks about humans, but one of the real doozies is that most are confused, divided and downright ditsy when it comes to their own physical nature.” The first post explores the history of nudity in practice and the second explores why people continue to do disrobe in modern day.
    • Mystic South Conference, the Atlanta-based indoor event, has just published a list of the workshops, lectures, and entertainment that will be available over its three days.The headliners include John Beckett, Sangoma, Yaya Nsasi Vence Guerra, and Ivo Dominguez, Jr, and musical guests Mama Gina and The Night Travelers. Along with its workshops and its academic tract titled PAPERS, the Mystic South Conference will play host to Cherry Hill Seminary’s annual retreat. The lectures offered by CHS will be open to all attendees at the conference. The list of workshops is now available, and the board said that the schedule will be available within the next few weeks.

    Tarot of the week with Star Bustamonte:

    Deck: The Archeon Tarot by Timothy Lantz, published by US Games Systems, Inc
    Card: Eight (8) of Pentacles

    This week the emphasis is on labor, skills, craftsmanship, and doing work that fills our soul. Sometimes the fulfillment we seek is born and revealed in the process of performing what is necessary, possibly even from work with which we have no great affection. It can also signal to beware of the false expert; those who might cheat or misuse their skills for their own advancement.

    The decks generously provided by Asheville Raven & Crone.

    Read more »
  • Review: ‘Gods of the Vikings’ invade Disney World

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Odin, Freya and Loki must be jealous.

    In the new “Gods of the Vikings” exhibit in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot in Disney World, it was the slightly larger-than-life bust of Thor – especially the Norse god’s hammer, Mjolnir – that was getting the most photo-opp attention during a visit by The Wild Hunt.

    People young and old, and speaking numerous foreign languages, clutched the imposing, 18-inch Mjolnir as friends or family took photos – perhaps an indication of how the Marvel Comics movie franchise has made Thor a rock star beyond the community of practicing Heathens and followers of Ásatrú.

    Five feet from the Thor bust, however, was another Mjolnir, one less than an inch and a half long: an authentic Thor’s hammer pendant, made circa 800-1000 A.D. The artifact is on loan to the exhibit from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.

    “It is believed Vikings wore silver hammer amulets, resembling Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir, for spiritual protection,” reads the text beside the encased amulet. “The circular decorations on this particular pendant may be a reference to Thor’s eyes.”

    Bust of Thor with his hammer Mjolnir at the “Gods of the Vikings” exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. [Wild Hunt]

    While “Gods of the Vikings” exhibit may be Asgard 101 to Heathens, it is such genuine, millennium-old artifacts – a sword, a spear, a drinking horn and more — that make the exhibit a respectful, scholarly-based, educational and enlightening display for the uninitiated or the curious.

    The exhibit is housed in an Old World-looking building known as the Stave Church Gallery, in a space about 10,000 times smaller than Valhalla — that is, in a space only slightly larger than the living room of an average American home. It’s not exactly an imposing venue to house tributes to three gods and a goddess, but the exhibit makes judicious use of its space.

    At the center is a faux wooden tree – a visual reference to Yggdrasil, the world tree which in Viking cosmology supports the nine worlds that make up the universe. Busts of Odin the “Ruler of the Gods, Thor the “Protector God,” Loki the “God of Mischief” and Freya the “Greatest Goddess” are carved into each quadrant of the tree’s trunk. Curiously, it’s Loki and Thor who face the two entrances to the gallery and are thus the first gods to greet visitors.

    Though Loki’s grin or Thor’s Mjolnir will be a visitor’s first encounter with these Norse deities, a text panel near the Thor entrance sets the exhibit’s tone:

    The myths and depictions of the gods and goddesses in this exhibit are inspired by two ancient Norse texts, the Poetic Edda and the Snorra Edda.

    The Poetic Edda contains over a dozen poems that feature the gods and dwarves. Scholars believe these poems were chanted and performed virtually unchanged for hundreds of years before being written down. The Poetic Edda is our only original source of information about the beliefs of the Vikings.

    The Snorra Edda was written by an Icelandic scholar in the 13th century named Snorri Sturluson who wanted to revive Viking Age poetry. [Editor’s note: both “Snorra” and “Snorri” are correct historical usage.] It was frowned upon by medieval monks and clerics, but managed to survive in Iceland. Snorri explains many of the mythical references in the poetry, greatly expanding our understanding of Viking mythology.

    That mythology is explored via display cases devoted to each deity and Yggdrasil, with each case including some of those artifacts plus modern illustrations, explanatory texts and a short retelling of a myth written in fanciful script. Recordings of those myths – recited in a raspy female “hag” voice straight out of central casting – play intermittently in the hall.

    The Odin case reads: “The wise and mysterious Odin, ruler of Asgard, traveled the nine worlds seeking knowledge and truth – and would sacrifice nearly anything to attain it. According to mythology, Odin gave one of his eyes to a giant in exchange for one sip from the Well of Knowledge. What wisdom Odin couldn’t find himself, he discovered with the help of his two loyal ravens, Huginn (Thought) and Munnin (Memory), who traveled the worlds as his messengers.”

    An iron sword dating to 800-1,000 A.D. is on display in the Odin case at the “Gods of the Vikings” exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. Wild Hunt photo

    A horse rattle on display, dating to 800-1000 A.D. and on loan from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, is explained thus: “Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse, could gallop harder, jump faster, and create twice as much noise as any regular horse. Before Vikings rode into battle they would attach metal rings to the bridles of their horse to create a similar, menacing sound.”

    Likewise, a drinking horn from 1400 A.D. accompanies a short retelling of “Odin and the Mead of Poetry.” A related text says that “the Vikings believed poetry was a gift from the high god Odin, and that feasting was an honorable activity. In fact, Viking warriors were emboldened during battle, in hopes that they would die and be welcomed into Odin’s own feasting hall in the afterlife.”

    The Loki case says he “was a masterful trickster who delighted in creating chaos all around him. As the son of a giantess, Loki had mixed family loyalties. For this reason the gods, giants, and other creatures were never quite sure if they could trust him.”

    Bust of Loki at the “Gods of the Vikings” exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. Wild Hunt photo

    The text then brings the Loki myth into the real world of Viking daily life: “In the Viking Age, there were no governments, no businesses and no schools, and very little central authority or organized religion. The main institution that kept the social order was family, and the sense of honor that came from being a part of a respected household. The mischievous Loki gave the Vikings a way to talk and think about loyalty to family and the danger of cross-loyalties. Friends, foes, and even blood relatives could not be fully trusted in the complex game of fame and honor.”

    The Freya case notes that she “was the most powerful and highest ranking of all goddesses,” and that she “ruled over a magnificent hall, Folkvang, where she welcomed half of all Viking warriors and shieldmaidens slain in battle.”

    Freya also “rode a chariot pulled by two cats and possessed a famous golden necklace, Brisingamen, which was made for her by the dwarfs.”

    That tantalizing, passing mention of shieldmaidens brings up one the downsides of such a necessarily sketchy, survey-style exhibit as this: shieldmaidens? Warrior women? Tell me more! Alas, though the brevity of the exhibit’s texts can be frustrating, at least they point the way to further research on one’s own.

    Other artifacts in various cases include arrowheads, wooden and clay game pieces, keys, a trifoil brooch, an iron axe head, an iron sword that was excavated from “what was likely a cremation burial,” and other pieces.

    This Broa picture stone, which dates to 700-800 A.D., is on display at the “Gods of the Vikings” exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. Wild Hunt photo

    One entire side of the gallery features a life-size “Seeress” figure seated against a painted backdrop of craggy, snow-covered mountains overlooking a fjord. The exhibit’s creators likely want visitors to imagine it is she who is reciting those recorded myths.

    A text panel notes that in the very first poem of the Poetic Edda, Odin seeks knowledge from a wise woman who carries a staff and who is “often called ‘The Seeress’ because she can see into the future. In the Viking Age, the seeress was a well-attested female figure.”

    The Seeress is accompanied by an authentic Broa picture stone dating to 700-800 A.D. and on loan from the Gotland Museum of Visby, Sweden. (Broa is a site on the Swedish island of Gotland.)

    The two-foot-high stone depicts a female figure holding a cup of mead and welcoming a man on a horse. “Some Viking scholars believe this figure represents the goddess Freya, while others interpret the figure as a Valkyrie, one of the female deities who flew over battlefields and selected which soldiers would live or die,” reads the accompanying text.

    A “Thank You” posted in the exhibit cites “Viking Age Specialist” Dr. Elisabeth I. Ward, as well as the above-mentioned museums and others in Norway, Iceland and Sweden.

    Given that a mere 50 yards from the “Gods of the Vikings” exhibit, a sombrero-wearing Donald Duck cavorted with kids in a photo-opp spot at the Mexico Pavilion, one might imagine that Odin, Freya, Thor, and Loki are thankful that their stories have been told so respectfully and engagingly in the land of Mickey Mouse.

    A warrior guards the entrance to the “Gods of the Vikings” exhibit at Epcot in Disney World. Wild Hunt photo

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  • UK festival overview: Beltane to Lammas

    U.K. —Beltane is the start of a busy early-summer season for British Pagans, with a range of events taking place between now and Lammas.

    Right now, British Pagans are still in the middle of their Beltane celebrations, coinciding with the May bank holiday, with a red and white dragon parade having taken place in Glastonbury on Sunday May 6 and Beltane celebrations across the country on May Day itself. The national press have not been slow to realize that traditional celebrations are once more becoming popular, after a period of decline in the 1980s and 1990s. This year, Morris dancers met across the country to dance in the dawn (there are estimated to be around 13,000 Morris dancers in the U.K.). There are also plans to erect a modern maypole in London’s Strand; it will be similar to the 130-foot-high pole that was put up by Charles II to celebrate the restoration of the monarchy in 1661.

    Members of the various Pagan communities have been meeting over the last week to undertake private and public Beltane rituals at sacred sites, like stone circles such as Stanton Drew near Bristol.

    Ronald Hutton, at the University of Bristol, states that May Day used to be “more like Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, one of the great turning points of the year….It was the English version of the feast which opened the summer season, across northern Europe: when the grass was growing again and so livestock could be put into the outfields or summer pastures, which often involved a lot of movement. In agrarian societies, the crops had all been sown and were sprouting, and a break could be taken before the weeding really began.”

    May Day celebrations have changed over the years, with maypole dancing as we know it today (with colored ribbons) being a relatively recent phenomenon, introduced by John Ruskin at Whitelands College in 1881. It became a tradition in British schools throughout the 20th century (this reporter remembers maypole dancing at infant school in Gloucester in the 1970s). However, the maypole itself is a much older phenomenon, dating from the 16th century if not before, with a hiatus during the Puritan period.

    Beyond Beltane, a number of Pagan events have been publicized for the coming weeks in the U.K. Following are some highlights.

    [Wikimedia Commons.]

    • Witchfest Midlands will be taking place in Rugeley, as reported on the Wild Hunt some weeks ago, but that the event is now being advertised as ‘sold out.’ This is obviously good news for the Witchfest organisers, and perhaps bodes well for the future of the national Witchfest gathering.
    • On 19-20 will be the Shamanic Lands, a two-day ceremony in mid Wales dedicated to working with the ancient spirits of the land. It’s described as a healing journey through wisdom teachings, story telling, practical exercises, art, live music and performances, featuring Anglesey Druid and Llewellyn author Kristoffer Hughes and writer/musician Carolyn Hillyer among others.
    • Tarot author and expert Mary K Greer, along with Linda Marson and Jamie George, will be leading a U.K. tour of southwest sacred sites.
    • While May Day is a festival celebrated by many people in the British Isles, not just Pagans, a more exclusively Pagan festival will take place in six weeks’ time, at the summer solstice. This is perhaps the celebration with which non-Pagans are most familiar, due to the interest taken in it by the media, and focusing on the festivities at Stonehenge. However, many Pagans prefer not to engage with the crowds and the often challenging energy of the Stonehenge gathering and will be seeing in the dawn privately from places such as Castlerigg, Callanish, and Chanctonbury Ring. The Pagan Federation will be running an open ritual at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square in London (7.30 p.m. start) on June 21 .
    • The solstice is not the only Pagan event taking place in June – a busy month for Pagans across the country.
    • The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids will be holding their bi-annual gathering in Glastonbury on June 2 and 3.
    • Chaos magician Julian Vayne will be the ‘magician in residence’ at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle from June 4 to 8, undertaking one-to-one consultations and tarot readings. Also at the museum, from July 3 to 5, will be an AI-based version of the spirit familiar of 18th century Yorkshire cunning woman Anne Latch. This is a digital installation presented by author and computational artist Rob Sherman.
    • From the seventh to the 10th of June is the Oak Spirit Gathering in Unstone Grange, Derbyshire. With an elemental theme, this year’s gathering will focus on the element of air.
    • The Pagan Tribal Gathering will take place in Nuneaton from eighth to the 10th of June, and there will be a Green Man Walk on June 17 in Arunde, in which visitors can search for various pieces of Green Man artwork hidden in the woodland.
    • On second to the sixth of July, the Wild Women’s summer retreat will be held in Dorset (details are on the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids website.
    • The Eastbourne Lammas Festival will be held in Sussex the 28th to the 29th of July; it includesa Lammas ritual and a John Barleycorn dance.
    • The annual Goddess Conference will be held in Glastonbury from 31 July to 5 August this year. This international event is now in its 22nd year, and is a highlight for the goddess-worshipping community.

    Looking ahead, there are a number of Lammas festivities planned throughout August, and the late summer period is likely to be as busy for the nation’s Pagan community.

    Read more »
  • Column: Dealing with Grief

    Grief is one of the emotions and experiences that everyone will go through at some point in life. The impact of grief can be all-encompassing and elicit a range of emotions that evoke sadness and confusion. The individual and collective impact of grief is often shaped by the context of the loss and this makes dealing with it much more complicated.

    The range of situations that can provoke feelings of grief are plentiful. Physical death, loss or change of any kind can ignite this process. While change is the one constant in life, we cannot always predict how we will react when change occurs.

    [Pixabay]

    Dictionary.com gives a simple definition of grief as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret, a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow.”

    The Mayo Clinic gives a more in depth definition of grief.

    “Grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received.
    They might find themselves feeling numb and removed from daily life, unable to carry on with regular duties while saddled with their sense of loss.
    Grief is the natural reaction to loss. Grief is both a universal and a personal experience. Individual experiences of grief vary and are influenced by the nature of the loss. Some examples of loss include the death of a loved one, the ending of an important relationship, job loss, loss through theft or the loss of independence through disability.
    Experts advise those grieving to realize they can’t control the process and to prepare for varying stages of grief. Understanding why they’re suffering can help, as can talking to others and trying to resolve issues that cause significant emotional pain, such as feeling guilty for a loved one’s death.
    Mourning can last for months or years. Generally, pain is tempered as time passes and as the bereaved adapts to life without a loved one, to the news of a terminal diagnosis or to the realization that someone they love may die.”

    Some of the most common symptoms of grief include anger, rage, disbelief, depression, guilt, confusion, fear, disconnection, loneliness, panic and anxiety. All symptoms of grief are not psychological and there are a host of physical experiences one might have as well since grief changes the body’s response to its environment. Fatigue, restlessness, body aches, loss of appetite, headaches, inability to focus, short of breath, and lowered immune system are some of the physical effects of mourning on the body. It is important to remember that grief is a stress response that triggers a higher level of cortisol in the body and shifts the body into survival mode.

    One of the most well known theories on grief include the “5 Stages of Grief” by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. The five stages as identified in this theory include 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. While people cycle through these stages at different speeds and sometimes in a different order, it is often believed that these stages are the common experience of mourning.

    The disbelief, loneliness, depression, desire to bargain and finally the slow and painful process of acceptance are often described as the spiral into grief and the eventual outward spiral to healing. Mourning loss of any kind is a painful experience compounded by regret, loss of control and rebuilding. Much like with the Tower card of the Major Arcana… as our loss tears apart the existing structures of what once was, rebuilding is an essential part of the restabilization process.

    While grief is an undercurrent of life’s experiences, the current political climate around the world has brought about a multitude of experiences of loss. Processing the grief of change in political landscape, sense of freedom, and hope can amount to individual and collective feelings of despair and sadness. These events and the tone of society have impacted people in all intersecting communities, including Paganism. Loss of a sense of safety or even social capital also brings about feelings of grief.

    It can be a normal response for people to look to their spirituality or the mythology of their faith when looking to make sense of the pain they are experiencing. Most cultures and spiritual paths have their myths about the natural process of death and the experience of grief, some of these are more overculture reflections while others are specific scriptures or folk stories. Since modern Paganism is more like a community of communities, the folk stories and myths will vary greatly among our own factions.

    Even within the Pagan and Polytheist communities we have experienced events that have equated to great loss of friendships, leaders, groups, and even life. We experience loss in our own distinct ways as a community, as well as experiencing it within society. All groups have their own distinct, cultural experiences that represent the microcosm of greater society. Paganism is no different.

    In a recent conversation with a fellow Pagan practitioner they mentioned to me the impact of “losing” leaders in our community due to death or scandal. The potentially devastating impact of losing a leader or elder in our craft due to misconduct can have the same impact on a community as a death. Just as individuals will grieve the loss of a physical body, the loss of relationship symbolizes a death as well.

    So with the vastness of this experience, why are we not talking about it more within our Pagan and Polytheistic communities? Of course these conversations are complex, sensitive and triggering, making for a challenging conversation to facilitate at times.

    In my own experience of grief, it was very hard for me to reconnect to a sense of spiritual knowing. The things that I believed, the practices that I incorporated into my life, and the connection that I had with my ancestors and deities became foggy and distant. My sense of anger extended to the deities and guides that I served, making a huge part of my grief process about questioning and bargaining for something to make sense.

    As grief does not always make sense, those answers we hold now may or may not be what we are able to hear while in the throws of such devastating disconnection. I found myself very detached and confused in the process of all of it.

    [Pexels]

    There are some within the Pagan and Polytheist world that have written and spoken more about experiences of grief, and the connection of death and dying with our belief systems. Starhawk and M. Macha Nightmare published “The Pagan Book of Living and Dying” in 1997, adding some valuable information to the discussion of death in the Pagan culture and giving ideas for prayers to utilize during the death process.

    In Starhawk’s introduction to the book she states,

    At one time, every Pagan tradition had a similar body of custom and tradition. Now much of this has been lost. We do not know what words were on the lips of the Witches who burned. We do not know what whispered prayers were said under the breath of those who watched.

    But we do know how Pagans viewed death – from our oral traditions, from the evidence of burials and artifacts, from folktales and myths, and from our own experiences. The core teaching in the Pagan tradition is that birth and death are one. We pass through the same gateway coming into life and going out again, and on the other side is a realm of change and renewal. Death will bring us to rebirth. And our encounters with the gates and the passages, the choices we make and the dilemmas we face, are our most profound encounters with what we call “Goddess”.

    In looking to the internet to explore what others have shared about grief and the process, I found some writing around the experiences and beliefs that people had shared.

    I’m having a crisis of faith. My partner of 18 years died last year, and in addition to grieving the loss of his tender presence and our precious time together, I’ve watched helplessly as my spiritual foundations have crumbled around me. I wasn’t prepared for that.

    When he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, my faith — an idiosyncratic blend of Neo-Pagan traditions that include modern druidry and shamanic practice — gave me an abiding sense of peace and purpose throughout his illness. But once he died, those same practices ceased to sustain and comfort me. And despite having what I thought was a strong spiritual support network, I have found myself adrift without a community and unable to find any Pagan-centered resources to help me manage my grief. I wasn’t afraid to lose my partner, but I never expected that his death would take with it the one thing I thought I could never lose. – Wes Isley

    “Suffering brings women to god.”
    So says Igraine in the Mists of Avalon movie (I can’t remember if she says this in the book as well, it’s been so long since I last read them.) This is something I’ve contemplated a lot lately, and without a satisfactory conclusion. The only solid thing I’ve deduced is that suffering either brings people directly to their source of faith, or sends them running the other direction. And that changes, sometimes minute to minute. – Ayslyn

    Our understanding, however, is a bit more complex than my childhood certainty. In The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, I wrote: “The heart of the Pagan understanding of death is the insight that birth, growth, death and rebirth are a cycle that forms the underlying order of the universe. We can see that cycle manifest around us in every aspect of the natural world, from the decay of falling leaves that feed the roots of growing plants, to the moon’s waning and waxing. Hard as it is for us to die, or to accept the death of someone we love, we know that death is a part of the natural process of life.
    “Therefore we can trust that death, like every other phase of life, offers us opportunities for growth in wisdom and love.” (1)
    Our metaphor for death is of a journey . When we die, the soul voyages across a dark sea to the Shining Isle, the Isle of Apples. There, we walk beneath the apple trees of the Goddess, trees which are in bud, blossom, fruit, and decay all at the same time, reviewing our life and its lessons, and growing ever younger, until we are at last young enough to be reborn. – Starhawk

    Pagans and Witches experience the same emotional process around grief that everyone does. We deny. We rage. We think of bargains. Eventually, we accept. Our anger blasts at the “death is only transformation” belief. Yet, after a profound and personal confrontation, most of us return to that belief with a deeper sense of commitment to it. One friend said that, at first, he was so enraged that he hated it when people tried to comfort him with notions that his mother would be “around, but in another form,” or would return “but in another shape”. In our grief, we just don’t care. We want our physical friend — the one we laughed with, yelled at, hugged. Nothing, no energy, no life form, will provide us with our friend again. We cannot imagine how life will feel with this person gone. We turn inward with a personal, private agony, wondering how anyone can assimilate this much intensity. And we surprise ourselves. Slowly, over days, over years, we change our shape, not only accepting our loss, but using the catalyst of our own grief to transform while living, reaffirmed in the idea of transformation by death. And so in dancing with death, we grow deep. – Sue Curewitz Arthen

    There is no right or wrong way to experience grief. The process of acclimating to loss has its own context and flavor depending on numerous factors. As well, there is no way to anticipate that impact on an individual or community; our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual bodies have to go through their own process in order to heal from a loss. We cannot convince ourselves to “move on” and we are not in control of the way that we grieve. It is perfectly normal to be in this process and to feel helpless as it works its way through.

    Proper rest, nutrition, and support are some of the fundamental things one can do while going through this process. And when a person is able, connecting to spiritual practice, communing with the gods and aligning to our ancestors can give us relief from the mundaneness of such a process.

    It is also important to note that professional help with feelings of grief, depression or prolonged sadness can be useful and necessary. Seeking therapeutic support is an important part of caring for the self when needed.

    I hope to explore grief more in follow up pieces. There is much to explore in the way of community grief and ongoing restoration after change.

    *   *   *

    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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  • Patron saint of the Romani honoured in Hamilton

    HAMILTON, On. – A celebration in honour of Sara e Kali, patron saint of the Romani people, will be held at the Willow Cove Pavillion, in Confederation Park, located in Hamilton, Ontario.

    This event is the vision of organizer John “Corvus” Huculiak. He instigated this celebration of the saint, after attending a retreat at Brushwood: “She came to me during a ritual. The feelings of security and passion were overwhelming, and [I] made an oath to fashion her effigy, align her current to where I lived, and have a one-time celebration to welcome her to the sacred geography of Hamilton.”

    That “one-time celebration” was in 2014, and this year marks the fifth annual public celebration hosted by Huculiak and the Kali Sara Hamilton committee.

    Hamilton has a vibrant Pagan community, with many traditions and paths present. Huculiak is an active participant, and this event enjoys the support of people from many backgrounds. “The Hamilton Pagan community is very open to most traditions, Pagan or not,” he explained, with particular support coming from the Wiccan Church of Canada. “Hamilton has been supportive of the Kali Sara Hamilton events. I am supportive of their endeavours. All of the Hamilton community, and many outside the Hamilton Pagan community, come to Hamilton Pagan Pride Day every year. It is one of the largest PPDs in Canada.”

    For Huculiak, the celebration is also very important to his own journey, and family history: “Kali Sara is the saint of my blood. She heals the collective shame some of my relatives had being Romani in Canada, reconnecting me to the richness of my Romani ancestry. When I see her, I smile and know my father’s ancestors are smiling with us. She is celebrated communally, so I am able to share her mystery with others, apart from their faith, but together in music, song, dance, and joy!”

    Event organizer John “Corvus” Huculiak, and Sara e Kali [Alen W Greene].

    Celebrations of this saint occur worldwide, across Europe, India, and the Americas. Brazil has a notable celebration for her, but the most famous and most historic is the one in France, at the village of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. Every May, on or around the 25th, thousands of Romani from Europe and around the world gather in the town to carry the black statue of Sara e Kali from her resting place in the cellar of the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer to the sea.

    The statue is placed on a pedestal, bedecked in beautiful fabric, and offerings of flowers are placed at her feet. She is carried on the shoulders of her worshippers to the Mediterranean Sea, where she is submerged, before being returned to the church. The whole procession is accompanied by the sounds of Romani music and dance.

    The exact connection between Romani people and Sara e Kali, like her origin, is shrouded in mystery. There are legends that she was Sara, the Egyptian servant of Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome who fled Palestine after the crucifixion of Christ. Sara supported the Marys, by traveling around, begging for alms. There is another myth that she saved them from drowning, by spreading her cloak on the water, when their boat was sinking.

    Sara became the patron saint of sailors, wanderers, the disenfranchised, and the Romani. She is known by many names, in many regions. The Black Madonna, Sara-la-Kali, Sara Black, Sara Brown and Santa Sara Cigana are a few.

    The festivities in Hamilton will reflect the customs of the celebrations in France. The day will begin at 10:00 am with the arrival of the statue of Sara e Kali. This effigy was created in 2012, and has been a part of the Hamilton community’s reverence for her ever since. The day will include music and dance performances by Troupe Obskurah, Paromita Kar, Leanna Mendolia, Jozsef & Daniel Botos, and many more.

    Ritual offerings to the saint are also part of the proceedings, as Huculiak explains: “With Santa Sara e Kali Cigana mysteries, we also offer her cloaks and fabric to dress her, but also [to] remind us of her act of casting the cloak upon the violent waters to allow calm and safe harbour.

    “To layer this further, one must think of what works for all people, whether celebrating in India, France, Brazil or Canada — what each can freely offer her — the symbols of life and vibrancy, which both fabric and flowers, and the music and dance, offer. Though coins and jewelry are also fair offerings to her, the price of devotion should not be one paid in gold, but with hard currencies of spirit, passion, talent, and hard work.”

    The statue of Sara e Kali at Lake Ontario, 2017 [Alen W Greene].

    The ritual parts of the day start at noon with a water purification and cleansing of hands. Ritual elements will be interspersed with entertainment until the climax of the day at 4:30, when the effigy of Sara e Kali is carried on a litter to the shores of Lake Ontario. The procession will be accompanied by dancers and drummers, including Witchdoctor Utu of the Dragon Ritual Drummers.

    Says Huculiak: “The event itself is a collaborative affair with dancers, musicians, speakers, and ritualists all coming together to celebrate the unique blending of culture, history, and faith through Sara e Kali. I was blessed that Dr. Lee. . .  Canada’s leading authority on the Romani culture and history, lives in Hamilton, and he and his wife are also familiar with Kali Sara and the Neopagan scene. I met with him a few times regarding the celebration, and he became a strong supporter to the endeavour. . . .

    “Dr. Paromita Kar [is an] amazingly talented and skilled dancer. . . .  The artist who was not in attendance but is a part of the event each year, is Émilie Boisvert, who we have to thank for the custom-designed Kali Sara Hamilton picture we use each year, and on the devotional cards. We are gifted to have them, and all the performers each year.”

    The sharing of this celebration will continue into the future, and Huculiak is already looking ahead to expanding and growing next year:” What truly started as a one-off event, paid with the change I found wandering from here to there, has become a yearly event. Now it’s year five, I finally have others helping me plan this labour of love! We can now apply for funding and grants offered by various organizations, as we have passed the five year mark as an independent initiative.”

    The openness and inclusivity of the event, and Huculiak’s attitude, is a fitting tribute to Sara e Kali. Huculiak’s tangible enthusiasm for his saint and his community is contagious as he describes Sara e Kali’s effect on those who meet her: “There is truly something with Sara e Kali that is unifying. We can trace her history, see how she adapted to new lands and new cultures, and yet she maintained her mysteries.

    “Even [for] those who are undecided about their own path, she . . . non-judgmental, a champion of the disenfranchised, approachable, and loves what most of us love: community, celebration, and experiencing life! Come join us on May 26th if you can, check us out on social media, and may Kali Sara hear your prayers!”

     

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  • In wake of witchcraft accusations, concerns rise over religious regulation in South Africa

    PRETORIA, South Africa –A self-styled prophet and leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering is being sued because he accused a businessperson of being a witch on live television, and some South African Pagans fear the case may bolster a push to regulate religion. If that were to come to pass, members of minority traditional and Pagan groups may be disproportionately affected in this country.

    Witchcraft is a complicated topic throughout Africa. Witch accusations can lead to violence, arising out of negative associations made to traditional practices. The emergence of Neopagan movements such as Wicca make the use of the word “witch” all the more confusing. In South Africa, while practicing one’s religion is protected by a constitution, it is also illegal to accuse another of practicing witchcraft.

    Flag of South Africa [public domain.]

    Shepherd Bushiri reportedly made such as accusation against one Lebohang Mpane during a church service which was broadcast live on television in 2016. In essence, he accused Mpani of using witchcraft to steal her husband and his children away from another woman.

    Mpani has filed charges of crimen injuria against Bushiri. According to Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, “Crimen injuria is a common law criminal offence, defined as the act of unlawfully and intentionally impairing the dignity or privacy of another person. If found guilty, Bushiri could receive a jail sentence.” She is also seeking monetary damages, which suggests a civil defamation lawsuit as well. “A crimen injuria case does not automatically initiate a civil action for defamation, but both matters can be pursued separately,” Leff explained.

    Controversy swirls around Bushiri like flies around a picnic. He is being investigated for laundering money and for rape, in addition to the present situation, during which his bodyguards prevented police from questioning the preacher at his compound. Leff is worried that controlling people like this preacher will be the excuse used to push for more regulation of religion generally.

    “The Bushiri matter will no doubt be used by those seeking to motivate for the regulation of religious leaders and organisations,” Leff said. There is already a proposal, brought forth by members of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural‚ Religious and Linguistic Communities, “to license and regulate religion, religious organisations and leaders.” Leaders of another group, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, have rejected this idea.

    “There is currently no legal requirement for religious practitioners to register with any peer review mechanism,” Leff said, and the SAPC position supports keeping it that way. The only requirements are for religious leaders to either register their organizations as nonprofits, or comply with pay-as-you-earn tax rules. The Enlightened Christian Gathering is a taxable entity under South African law.

    According to Leff, “Religious leaders have objected to regulation and certification by the state primarily because they do not believe the state has any constitutional right to interfere in or with their beliefs and religious practices.” There is no requirement for regulation of religion in the constitution.

    The reason Leff believes the specter of regulation will be raised is because, in addition to the allegations of money laundering and rape against Bushiri, he denounced Mpane as a sangoma. These are diviners in traditional African practices, and painted as witches. “Within African traditional religions in southern Africa, ‘witchcraft’ is regarded as a taboo practice and the terms ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’ are never used to identify either practitioners or practices of these religious specialists,” Leff said.

    Sangomas are “respected practitioners, and consulted widely as diviners and traditional healers,” at least within their communities, Leff said. “An accusation of witchcraft against a traditional healer usually results in a public lynching, and most often ends in arson and murder of the accused.”

    A push to crack down on leaders like Bushiri would not go well for sangomas, Leff believes, nor would it for contemporary Pagans in the country.

    He and other SAPRA leaders “remain convinced that should minority faiths be legally required to register their religions with the state . . . . Pagans would be discriminated against. Our concerns were partly confirmed in August, 2017,” when a commissioner refused their comments “on the grounds that ‘Only religions which were broadly represented at a percentage above three percent were [permitted to be] part of the hearings.'”

    An additional aspect of the rights commission plan also brings pause to Leff and his colleagues. This is the “recommendation that all places of worship also be registered. Pagans in South Africa almost exclusively practice our faiths in our own homes, gardens, or public spaces. Pagans, especially Witches, do not want the state to know where they live (given the high incidence of witchcraft accusations), as this would be inconsistent with the constitutional right to privacy.”

    Regardless of how the case against Bushiri unfolds, its thread will likely be a prominent one in the rich religious tapestry of South Africa.

    Read more »
  • Circle Sanctuary’s Beltane threatened by washed out road

    BARNEVELD, Wis. — A heavy rainstorm on May 3, 2018, made the gravel driveway to Circle Sanctuary impassable. That impassable road threatened to block access to Circle’s Beltane festival, which was to begin the next day. Heavy rains had damaged Circle’s roads before, but never before had they threatened a festival.

    Damage to gravel driveway [courtesy].

    On-site festival volunteers rapidly became a road crew. Still, festival organizers had to call in a local contractor, who lived nearby. That contractor brought in his heavy equipment and enough gravel to repair the road. Together, the volunteers and the local contractor made the gravel driveway passable enough for the festival to occur.

    The repaired driveway allowed cars to pass and even became the site for a Morris dance, but parts of the ground remained soaked. Organizers had to move some activities to dry ground. While organizers had to move some activities, children turned water-soaked fields into “mud amusement parks.” Florence Edwards-Miller, one of the organizers of the event, described it as “a marvelous festival.”

    That gravel driveway still has serious water problems. Without improved drainage, rainwater will continue to flow down the hillside and onto that gravel driveway. Nature has no concern for something as non-natural as a gravel driveway for cars. Circle Sanctuary has to work with nature to direct that water flow away from the road and into a nearby stream. Unfortunately, this work has to occur on the material plane, and like most things on the material plane, it will cost money.

    Edwards-Miller volunteered to lead the fundraising efforts to generate that money. On May 5, she addressed festival attendees to discuss the problem. Children lined up to donate. One donor offered $2,000 in a matching fund challenge. Another offered $1,000. In a matching fund challenge, the donor offers to match any donation for a limited time up to a set amount.

    Circle Sanctuary has developed one innovative fundraising technique that mixes cairn work with fundraising. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a cairn as “a heap of stones piled up as a memorial or as a landmark.” The stone circle forms the oldest sacred site on Circle Sanctuary land. Circle Sanctuary has their Earth Day festivals at this site. Edwards-Miller said that people have brought “a single rock at a time, over the decades” to this circle. While this stone circle is more of a low wall than a traditional pile of stone, it “rhymes” with a traditional cairn. Individual actions can build something over time without direction from a central authority.

    If people send a $10 donation, Edwards-Miller will write the donor’s name on a new stone, and add that stone to the circle. She said the donor might use that stone or its image in some future magical working. Edwards Miller described the stone circle as “a perfect place for magic that focuses on restoration and balance.”

    Edwards-Miller contrasted emergency fundraising with sustainable fundraising. She likened this campaign to crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe or Kickstarter. Crowdfunding techniques work well for emergencies like the damage to the gravel driveway, but fail to create long-term sustainability. She compared Circle’s land management with other natural systems. Both need steady growth and emergency responses.

    As of May 11, Edwards-Miller reported that Circle Sanctuary has received almost $8,000. Most of the donations were for $10. Edwards-Miller said Circle Sanctuary can now cover the initial cost of road repair. They may even be able to “implement long-term solutions for road improvement and improving the water flow on the land.”

    Edwards-Miller described this as an “example of what our Pagan community can do, when we work together.” She included both the Circle Sanctuary community and the “network of Pagans near and far, many of whom will never physically set foot on the road they helped repair. That compassion, and that willingness to take action together, give me so much hope for our future.”

    To donate to Circle Sanctuary, visit the organization’s donations page. Edwards-Miller said donations in any amount are gratefully accepted.

    Read more »

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