Posted by The Wild Hunt

The United Religions Initiative (URI) held its global summit leadership meeting in Sarajevo, beginning Sept 11. The weeklong meeting brought together URI representatives from around the world and from many different religious backgrounds. The organization’s goal is to “promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”

Rev. Donald Frew was at the Sarajevo meeting as a representative of Covenant of the Goddess. Frew has been working in interfaith circles for decades, sometimes even as the lone Pagan voice at the table. He wrote, “I truly believe that interfaith is our last, best hope for peace.” He called URI’s efforts one of “the largest grassroots interfaith effort on Earth, involving several million committed, engaged individuals all around the world.”

In terms of grass roots, URI has cooperation circles operating locally throughout the world, working toward a common goal of peace.  As such, Frew is not the only Pagan, Heathen or polytheist involved with URI both internationally or locally.

Photos and reports will be coming in from attendees at the leadership meeting and will appear on the organization’s Facebook page. Frew said, “No matter what is going on the world, it’s impossible not to have hope when [URI leaders] get together.” He added that the “presence of so many young people — a next generation eager to take what we have to give and go further than we can imagine — inspires us to work all the harder to live up to their expectations.”

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[courtesy]

Erin Lale, a Heathen writer and blogger at PaganSquare, has launched something called the Heathen Visibility Project. Lale explains, “When it comes to written material, Heathens are pretty loud. We have lots of books (like mine) and blogs (like mine) and articles and so on. We don’t have nearly the number of images of contemporary Heathens doing Heathen things, or people publicly identified as Heathens doing regular life things.” Searches for Heathen imagery, she explains, often turn up “Nazis waving the runic letter O” or stills from a Thor movie.

Lale wants to see more creative commons imagery of modern Heathens “doing Heathen things.”  In a second blog post, she explains how to make this happen and how anyone can participate in increasing the number of searchable photos on the internet. She encourages people to upload and make available modern Heathens doing everyday things and participating in community. However, she also notes, “Many people attending rituals and other Pagan events don’t want to be photographed, because they are worried about being identified as non-Christians. For that reason, if we want to increase Heathen visibility, instead of trying to photograph real rituals and events we will probably have to stage them.”

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Fans of Dirge online magazine have learned that the site is no longer in operation as of Sept 15.  Editor-in-Chief Jinx Strange wrote:

“The factors leading up to this decision are far more numerous than I want to get into in this space, but suffice it to say, it’s a confluence of conditions, many of which are far bigger than me. The bottom line is that after three years, I don’t believe this to be a financially viable outlet for the content we’ve been producing, and I simply have no interest in publishing click-bait here, or articles that aren’t of the highest possible quality simply for the sake of online publishing.”

The publishers of Dirge will continue the lifestyle site Dear Darkling, and Dirge will remain publicly available as an archive for readers into the foreseeable future. In the last post, Strange said, “Dirge has changed me, and changed my life and I am so grateful to everyone who participated in that in any capacity. I’m ready to move on. A dirge is just a transition, after all.”

In other news:

  • The Pagan Federation International hosts a global forum for its members to share political actions and other similar activities. PFI’s international coordinator Morgana Sythgove writes, “As an activist organisation (not a religious organisation as some people think) PF and PFI members are often seen at rallies, demonstrations, signing petitions etc for environmental issues, human and indigenous rights issues, and other issues concerning the Earth – our home. Please feel free to promote a cause here which you feel is in much need of support.” The forum is located on the PFI site and is publicly available to anyone interested in actions being taken by members of the global Pagan community.
  • If you are in Tennessee next week, Tuatha Dea will be holding its first local drum circle in three years.The band travels the country performing and holding workshops at various Pagan and non-Pagan events. It is not often they do so in their home town of Gatlinburg.
  • The latest issue of  Druid Magazine has been published. This edition includes an interview with TWH editor Heather Greene. It also includes an interview with Damh the Bard, a tribute to the newest American Druid camp MAGUS, and a number of articles that explore in detail the American Druid experience.
  • Thursday is the UN’s International Day of Peace. Will you be honoring this day? If so, how?
([syndicated profile] thewildhunt_feed Sep. 17th, 2017 02:53 pm)

Posted by The Wild Hunt

TWH – This year, the autumnal equinox falls on Sept. 22 at 20:02 UTC in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the moment that officially signals the start of fall. At this time, there will be an equal amount of light and dark, after which the nights are longer as than days as we head toward winter.

Outside of religious life, this season is very well celebrated. It is punctuated by harvest celebrations, craft shows and arts festivals, outdoors sports, pumpkin picking, scarecrow contests, corn mazes, and the aromas of spice and apple cider.

From ancient to modern cultures, the harvest period was a time of both work and celebration. Many of these celebrations are marked by thanksgiving, whether religious or secular in nature.  Thanks are given to deities, ancestors, family, friends, community, self, and nature.

It is also when the UN celebrates International Day of Peace (Sept. 21).

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

[Public domain.]

In some modern Pagan traditions, this is the second of three harvest festivals, with the first being Lughnasadh and the third being Samhain.

Autumn equinox holidays come in many names. For Wiccans and Witches, it is sometimes called “Harvest Home” or “Mabon.” In Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, it can be called “Mid-Harvest,” “Foghar,” or “Alban Elfed.” In modern Asatru, it is sometimes called “Winter Finding.”

The Greek term for it is “Phthinopohriní Isimæría.” In Old English it was called “efnniht.”

Then, there are those who just simply prefer to use “autumn equinox” or “fall.”

At the same time, our friends and family living in the Southern Hemisphere begin the journey to summer. Sept. 22 will mark their vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. The days will begin to lengthen and become warmer as light triumphs over dark and the Earth reawakens from its winter slumber.

Here are some thoughts on the harvest season and the equinox:

“No matter what you choose to call it, the autumn equinox has long been one of my favorite sabbats. It’s a time when I can almost hear the wheel of the year turning, and signs of change are everywhere. There’s so much to harvest in the garden, and the sunflowers that stood so tall and proud back in August are now heavy and tired, ready to share their seeds with the waiting earth. ” – Jason Mankey, “8 Ways to Celebrate the Autumn Equinox/Mabon

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“The young mother-maiden swings a picnic basket, and lays down a blanket, bread, and cheese. The old crone pulls a bottle of cyser mead from her carpetbag, and pours it into glasses. They clink and make a toast to Mabon, or the autumn equinox — the day when the light and darkness are most equal.

“I imagine the goddesses speak of the things that happened in the past six months.” – Astrea, “Mabon, Honor the Dark Goddess

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“The trees are turning golden, their leaves taking on the autumn hues. The smell of wood smoke is in the air, and another cycle is turning, ever turning, the endless wheel of existence. Spinning, like our galaxy, through time and space, always changing, always flowing; the awen of Druidry.” –  Joanna van der Hoeven, “Reaping and Sowing

 

Happy harvest to all of those celebrating, and a very merry spring to our friends in the south.

Posted by Heathen Chinese

In nomine Spartaci, Sibyllae, et Furoris Bacchici

The name of Spartacus has withstood over two millennia of slavery and empire, and become immortalized within the insurrectionary tradition. The personal name of his wife, “a prophetess (μαντική) subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy,” has been not been passed down by the written record, but her title—the prophetess—endures, as does her source of inspiration: the Dionysiac frenzy.

The revolt which began with the prophetess, Spartacus, and a handful of his fellow gladiators lasted two years (73-71 BCE) spread across Italy to include thousands of liberated slaves, as well freeborn “herdsmen and shepherds” who joined the uprising. The rebellion terrified the Roman elite, threatening the very center of the empire both geopolitically and socially.

In the United States, slavery was never abolished: it was codified as “punishment for crime.” Against the continuation of slavery within the prison-industrial complex, the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) has arisen, declaring that “our struggle today must begin from this starting point” and that “the abolitionist struggle must be extended to the state and capitalism.”

Prophecy

This fresco from Pompeii reads “Spartaks” in Oscan [Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato].

According to Plutarch’s Life of Crassus, “when Spartacus was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept.” The prophetess, who was with him in Rome as well as later during his rebellion, “declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a[n] … issue.” The elided word is given by some manuscripts as atyches, “unfortunate,” and in others as eutyches, “fortunate.”

Though this is an issue of textual transmission, it rather appropriately reflects the inherent ambiguity of prophecy, even in retrospect. Some would argue that the outcome of Spartacus’ revolt was unfortunate, in that he was eventually defeated; others would argue that it was in a sense fortunate, in that he died self-liberated with sword in hand, leaving the mark of the Dionysian prophetess and frenzy upon the centuries.

Aldo Schiavone writes that if Spartacus had only intended to escape back to his native Thrace, he could have done so with a small band of fellow Thracians immediately after escaping captivity. Instead, he organized a large multi-ethnic army and stayed in Italy, repeatedly fighting against and destroying Roman legions.

Spartacus acted at a crucial moment in Roman history: Rome was preoccupied with the war against Mithridates in the east, Sertorius had recently led a revolt in Spain, there was continued armed resistance against Rome in Thrace, the social war between Rome and its Italian subjects had occurred within living memory, tensions between the poor and the rich were at an all-time high, and the vast latifundia plantation system was ripe for slave revolt and utter destruction.

Schiavone argues, based on the evidence of Spartacus’ choices to recruit an army and continually wage war against Rome rather than merely seek to go home, that “Spartacus really did try to step into the political and social vacuum” of the moment (115), and furthermore, that he did so largely because of “the magnetic pull of a wholly accepted predestination, and of a binding prophecy to respect—the mystic core of his mystery-cult beliefs…he had a destiny to fulfill, chosen by his god” (56).

Similarly, RAM, in its new book Burn Down the American Plantation, calls for a heightened sense of historical purpose and perspective grounded in the ongoing black liberation struggle against slavery, and inspired by the Rojava Revolution currently happening in Kurdish Syria:

As anti-authoritarians, we are poised at the front of the pivotal struggle of humanity…our goal is to orient the struggle, to renew a widespread commitment towards revolutionary abolitionism and to reemerge from the sidelines of history. (83)

Weapons More Suitable for Warfare

Schivaone observes that “the [gladiatorial] camp Spartacus was in would not have differed much from the two buildings uncovered at Pompeii: a cross between a prison and a fortress” (8). In 73 BCE, Spartacus and around 70 other gladiators — mostly Thracians, Gauls, and Germans — escaped their conditions of captivity. According to Plutarch, the original conspiracy had included 200 gladiators, but when their plot was betrayed, the rebel slaves were forced to act at once. Spartacus and his co-conspirators first used kitchen knives and cooking skewers to escape, and then seized a shipment of gladiatorial weapons.

“In their first actions” after their initial escape, Plutarch writes, “the gladiators drove off those who were coming out of the city of Capua and seized from them many weapons that were more suitable for warfare. They happily made the exchange, throwing away their gladiatorial armaments, which they viewed as dishonorable and barbaric.” That the rebels’ first actions were to arm themselves through expropriation from the enemy is highly significant.

Kuwasi Balagoon Liberation School fight training flyer.

In their five-point political vision, RAM lists self-defense first, describing it as “the heart of revolutionary transformation” (27). Self-defense is the rejection of the state’s monopoly on violence and the recognition that “there is no such thing as protection that one does not provide oneself” (28). RAM argues for a model that is decentralized, explicitly feminist and anti-racist, and connected to self-governing neighborhood councils, in order to firmly place “the capacity for self-defense in the hands of those who need it” (34).

In Rojava, for example, while the mixed-gender YPG and women-only YPJ militias “have been formed to fight external enemies, the HPC (self-defense forces) are civilians that get arms training with the specific goal of maintaining autonomy against internal forces that might seek to consolidate power. They are volunteers who receive both political education and self-defense training” (31). Within the YPG and YPJ, in order “to maintain participation and egalitarian relationships, all fighters contribute to decision-making within units, particularly by selecting their own leaders for specific missions.”

The Capuan rebel gladiators also elected their military leaders: Spartacus, and the Gauls Crixus and Oenomaus. According to Schiavone, the rebels often divided up their forces, “both for logistical reasons and in order to secure better control of the territory and a greater chance of finding new recruits” (134). However, the columns would maintain close communication with one another. Thus, out of logistical and strategic concerns, a certain amount of decentralization was necessary.

Heavily Overgrown with Wild Vines

Dionysos and serpent on Mount Vesuvius, fresco at Pompeii [National Archaeological Museum of Naples].

After seizing weapons, Spartacus and his fellow rebels sought refuge on Mount Vesuvius, a mountain which Marcello Gigante has argued has significant Dionysian connections. With the Romans blocking the only road up the mountain, the rebels “cut off the useful parts of these climbing plants and wove ladders out of them,” thereby descending the mountain by means of a Bacchic miracle and catching the Romans by surprise, completely routing them.

Furthermore, according to Sallust, the source closest in time to the actual events, many of the rural slaves who joined Spartacus “were very knowledgeable about the region and were used to making woven baskets from branches for their farm work. Because of their lack of real shields, they used this same knowledge to make small circular shields for themselves like those used by cavalrymen.”

In the words of RAM, “the process of escape and defense is an immediate imperative” (75).

The cunning of the rebels’ Vesuvian escape and victory find parallel in the maroon communities of the antebellum South, which RAM describes as “communities of indigenous people, self-freed slaves, and poor whites” (28). Just as Spartacus and his fellow rebels utilized the wild gifts of Bacchus and Vesuvius to their advantage, the maroon communities often hid themselves in swamps where they could use the terrain to their advantage against slave-catchers and state militias.

RAM outlines both short-term and long-term goals: in the long term, creating a network of abolitionist councils; in the short term, establishing the Underground Railroad once again. RAM lists aiding fugitives and migrants, establishing safe houses, setting up bail funds, and resisting ICE raids among potential immediate actions, but also reminds its readers that “the tactics are secondary to the outcome and certainly vary depending on location and resources. Generally, the abolitionist movement must do what it can to protect people who are hiding from the State, and to make it as difficult as possible for the state to continue its onslaught” (77).

Expropriation and Revolutionary Justice

Appian relates that Spartacus “divided the profits of his raiding into equal shares,” and thereby “soon attracted a very large number of followers.” Furthermore, he “did not permit merchants to import gold and silver, and he forbade his own men to acquire any. For the most part, he purchased iron and copper and did not censure those who imported these metals. For this reason, the [rebels] had large quantities of basic materials and were well supplied and able to stage frequent raids.”

In their next battle, Spartacus and the other rebels captured the enemy commander’s horse and lictors. The lictors were men who carried the fasces, which were the symbols of the authority of a Roman magistrate, whence the modern term “fascism” is derived. According to Frontinus, quoting a lost text of Livy, when Spartacus was finally defeated, the Romans recovered five fasces, 26 battle standards, and five Roman eagles (the battle standard of an entire legion, which was an enormous disgrace to lose to the enemy).

In the final battle, Spartacus is said by Plutarch to have “shouted that if he won the battle, he would have many fine horses that belonged to the enemy, but if he lost, he would have no need of a horse. With that, he killed the animal.” Horses were important in Thracian culture, and Herodotus reports that the neighboring Scythians sacrificed horses at the funerals of kings. Speaking of funerary sacrifices, according to Appian, when Spartacus’s Gaulish co-commander Crixus was killed in battle, he sacrificed 300 Roman soldiers as an offering to Crixus’ shade. Florus reports that the soldiers were forced to fight as gladiators, thus avenging Crixus’ experiences in life.

The Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement, in its political vision, lists as important principles “conflict resolution and revolutionary justice” and “ownership through use, the cooperative economy and expropriation.” Concerning revolutionary justice, RAM writes: “the methods of this justice are a far cry from the methods we reserve for those within our revolutionary groups, and our own communities. This line is clearly demarcated by the division between the oppressed versus the oppressor. For the oppressor, we have nothing but antagonism and struggle; for the oppressed, we have nothing but understanding and compassion” (43). We can see a similar logic at work in Spartacus’ implacable hostility towards his enemies and his loyalty towards his allies.

Spartacus’ equal division of loot is an excellent example of the communalization of expropriated wealth, and his rules banning gold and silver and instead importing iron and copper show a clear tendency towards “ownership through use” rather than ownership for the sake of profit. The seizure of Roman eagles, fasces, and battle-standards also add a spiritual dimension to the concept of expropriation.

Abolition of Gender

Drawing inspiration from Harriet Tubman, Assata Shakur, Mujeres Libres in the Spanish Civil War, and the Kurdish YPJ and Yezidi Women’s Units, the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement argues that “the process of undoing gender roles can be viewed as similar to the process of dismantling the carceral state. Putting self-defense at the origin of this process has the potential of both building strength and uprooting stagnant roles” (62).

They note that “when people have the opportunity to autonomously defend themselves, and fight for others, the normativity of fixed identities are called into question, and the process of abolishing gender, and creating a fluid world of self-determination becomes possible” (62).

The ancient sources on the involvement of women in the revolt led by Spartacus are scarce, but Plutarch relates that the prophetess escaped together with Spartacus and the other gladiators, and Sallust reports that Gaulish women accompanied the rebel army as well. Given the prophetess’ relationship to Dionysos (and/or a Thracian deity syncretized to Dionysos), it is important to note that in 186 BCE, the Roman Senate had banned any Bacchic cult larger than “five men or women,” and decreeing that “no man or woman whosoever be a chief officer of the cult.” The decrees, surviving on a bronze plaque in Southern Italy, show that in the Bacchic cults, men and women worshiped together, and that women held leadership positions.

The decrees also forbid anyone “to swear an oath among themselves or to make a common vow or to form any pacts or make promises in common,” showing the senate’s fear of the conspiratorial and rebellious potential of the Bacchanalia. It seems likely that the prophetess and other women played important roles in the uprising of 73-71 BCE, though the details are not recorded.

Martyrs

Appian reports that Spartacus died in battle and that “his body was never found,” but that Crassus captured six thousand rebels and had them “crucified along the whole length of the highway that ran from Capua to Rome.” Brent D. Shaw notes in Spartacus and the Slave Wars: A Brief History with Documents that “the distance was about 125 miles, so there would have been one body of a crucified slave raised on a cross every 35 to 40 yards along the entire distance of the road” (144).

“The Cursed Field (Executed Slaves)” by Fedor Bronnikov, 1878 [public domain].

However, this was not the end of the story. Plutarch relates that when Crassus was slain by the Parthians eight years later at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE, his head was cut off and used as Pentheus’ head in a production of The Bacchae. Thus, Dionysos took his vengeance.

In the closing words of Burn Down the American Plantation, RAM swears an oath to the ancestors and the dead, and to those struggling today:

We promise to all those who have previously risked everything for liberation, who have lived and died under the oppressive yoke of this country, and all those still struggling for a better life, that we will put all our strength towards building communities so powerful that they will repel any attempt, from within or without, to reestablish the oppressive power of white supremacy, patriarchy, the state and capital. We will burn down the American plantation once and for all. (84)

Or, in the words of Walter Benjamin:

The final enslaved and avenging class…carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion. This consciousness, which for a short time made itself felt in the “Spartacus,” was objectionable to social democracy from the very beginning…[Social democracy] contented itself with assigning the working-class the role of the savior of future generations. It thereby severed the sinews of its greatest power. Through this schooling the class forgot its hate as much as its spirit of sacrifice. For both nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Posted by Crystal Blanton

This year the Pan-African Festival celebrated it’s 7th year of festivities September 3 in Oakland, California at historic Mosswood Park. The event was filled with people of all types enjoying the fresh air, shopping, and eating food from the many vendors.

This was my first year at the Pan-African festival, and I decided to go since I am always looking for ways to immerse my children in celebration of their African heritage. With camp chairs and drinks in hand, we met our other family members under the shaded trees where we set up camp.

[C. Blanton]

According to the website, the Pan-African Festival is described as a day full of activities and family fun:

“Oakland’s 7th annual Pan-African Festival is a free family event carefully curated to cultivate pride, joy, self-determination and sovereignty for diasporic Africans. Through participation in a full day of holistic health workshops, group games, arts, crafts and entertainment, the day intends to celebrate the rich cultures of Africa and it’s global influences.”

The festivities included a plethora of speakers, including performers and kid-related activities to engage the whole of the family.

The website goes on to talk about the mission of the organization and the purpose of events such as this.

“Our mission is to improve the holistic health of the Pan-African community in Oakland, California, which includes physical, mental and spiritual. We inform, educate, heal and inspire people of African descent to restore a sense of community, cultural unit.”

In today’s challenging times, it seems like opportunities to engage in community that feeds our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being is a much needed thing.

The wealth of knowledge and diversity of the attendees was clearly a centerpiece of the festival’s experience, including people of many different faiths and differing paths to the African diaspora. There were many practitioners of African Traditional Religions, followers of Orisha based practices, and an overall reverence of the godliness of the woman.

I was excited to be in a community space of celebration and acknowledgement, but I didn’t anticipate the incredible reverence of our ancestors and leaders. Nor did I anticipate the mini shrines throughout the festival space. From acknowledgements on the stage to those various shrines setup around the park grounds, there was a clear spirit of honoring our ancestors who were present at the festival.

I found it interesting to see people of the African diaspora navigating the vast grey area of African and American heritage and culture. Food trucks sold foods that were identified as African or African fusion, alongside many Black-owned vendors selling goods that appealed to the Black culture of the day and the African heritage of old.

[C. Blanton]

Circling around the festival space, there were poles with pictures of both leaders and ancestors with information about their lives and their contributions to community. Some of the many honorees included Maya Angelou, Fanny Lou Hamer, Huey P. Newton, Audre Lorde, Dick Gregory, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.  

It is an interesting and relevant study of culture to observe the many different ways that people incorporate the significance of ancestral reverence into their societal norms. The ongoing incorporation of honoring those who have made a significant impact on the plight of African-American people connects to the roots found in many different African spiritual cultures. In Orisha worship, the Egun refers to the ancestors, most often those connected to us by blood or religious lineage.

On the website The Yoruba Religious Concepts, writers reference the importance of connection to the ancestors in Yoruban practices:

“Egun is the collective representation of the Ancestors.We often call our Ancestors by the name, Egun, which in Yoruba language means bones. As we walk upon the Earth our feet press against the bones of the Ancestors on whose shoulders we stand. Like most indigenous cultures of the world, Africans believe that those who go before us make us what we are. When we walk on the Earth, we literally stand on the shoulders of those who bodies have been committed to the soil, the water, and the wind. Our Ancestors influence our lives through heredity and human culture. However, there is an even deeper connection to the Ancestors as active spirits who continue to influence our lives. We humans honor them with altars, music and prayer. They in turn offer us guidance, protection and prosperity. We treat our ancestors with loving reverence.”

As a participant at the Pan-African festival, it became increasingly clear that this was exactly what we were collectively doing in honoring the ancestors of our journey as people of the African diaspora. While that journey within this country has historically been a turbulent and traumatizing one, the importance of connection with the Mighty ones continues to be an important cultural thread throughout the generations.

Celebration or reverence of ancestors is not exclusive to African paths of spirituality and are incorporated by many indigenous traditions of belief and practice, as is the respect given to the elders of a community. This particular festival pointed out something culturally interesting: the ability to reach across a large community of people connected to the blood of a land far away, and yet so close, and to find a commonality that weaves through our interconnected stories as children of the diaspora.

Despite the continent of Africa being huge and encompassing many different traditions, languages, histories, and communities, there is still a way to connect through the struggle of the ancestors and the elders of our stories.

Significant to the the overall experience was also the acknowledgement that in the struggle of historical oppression; the honored elders and ancestors were often highlighted for their significant roles and sacrifices in the various movements of revolution and freedom. From warriors to scholars, from revolutionaries to the persecuted, there is a fine line in between the accomplishments of the ancestors and their direct connection to a fight for liberation.

In planting these mini shrines around the festival, the essence of the ancestors became tangible in a way that an average festival of like-minded people would not have been.

There was also a small shrine to those who were enslaved, and the history of chattel slavery immediately brought the significance of the struggle to the forefront. This small display served as a holder of space with a collection of items that served as clear reminders of a history that serves to bridge so much of our African and American lineages together. It also served as a talking piece for the generation of children asking what the items were, or why we were referred to as “colored” on the posters.

In remembrance and honor of the work of my ancestors, I took the time to talk about the shrines, walk around the grounds with my kids, tell stories of the pictures, and give thanks for the sacrifices that have enabled us to be closer to an idea of liberation and freedom.

I had the opportunity to connect with numerous people during the festival to discuss the festival and the impact of honoring the ancestors in this setting. While there were many ongoing conversations throughout my time there, here are a couple of the statements that impacted me greatly.

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“Too often communities forget to celebrate the women. The Black woman is God and when we honor her, we honor everyone.”

“How amazing it is to look around this space and see the children of our ancestors dancing among the pictures of our people. We need more of this.”

“We are so beautiful. We have always been a beautiful people.”

“Spending time in the sun with family and friends? What better way to connect to our purpose here on this earth.”

There are many people who do not know the names of their ancestors or individuals connected through lineage; there are many people who are not able to connect to their “people” through the macro lens of culture and history. This type of connection enables us to pass on the stories of our ancestors for generations to come, and find ourselves in the stories of those whose shoulders we stand on.

Celebration is one of the most powerful rituals of reverence within our arsenal of spiritual connectivity.

[C. Blanton]

Some cultures, like those of historically oppressed populations, have distinct challenges in tracing the the roots of their ancestors throughout time. As a Black woman I am familiar with the cultural challenge of tracing my own lineage beyond several generations back. The systemic damage of slavery means that we have been disconnected from our direct knowledge of our ancestors, birth names, tribal information, traditions, foods, customs, and language.

This challenge has impacted Black people since the middle passage, and it will continue to shape our view of ancestral connection into the future. Maybe the power of community ancestral reverence can be a part of the medicine used to support collective healing for groups like ours.

As the seasons change we often see more discussions regarding the honoring of elders, ancestors, and those who have now passed. For many of us the approaching time of year is a reminder that the ancestors are present and our work with them continues.

Whether we are doing the work of our ancestors of flesh and bone, or those of spirit, lineage, culture and history, their stories continue to be a living part of our foundation.

How do you celebrate your ancestors of culture? How can you hold space for those who have contributed to your story and ability to thrive despite your lack of physical connection to them? How do you honor the sacrifice of those who came before you?

What stories do you hold sacred and what do you do with them? All of these questions are valuable and we could all spend time accessing th answers in this year’s transition toward the darker half of the year.

* * *

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.

Posted by Terence P Ward

ALVARADO, Texas –Rebecca Konnight has a problem, but it’s not the one that many of the people who know or have read about her think it is.

To administrators in her high school, it seems her problem is a reluctance to comply with the dress code. For the readers of an article about Konnight’s blue hair and lip piercings, it might appear that she has a very weak grasp on Wicca, or is just using it as an excuse to avoid the aforementioned dress code.

After an interview with her and her mother, Linda Mundt, the problem comes into focus. It is adults trying to do their jobs without allowing their assumptions about the world to be challenged.

Rebecca Konnight [courtesy].

Konnight, 17, has a rare genetic condition called type 1 neurofibromatosis, in which individuals are born with, or develop, tumors in various parts of the body.

“She wasn’t supposed to live past nine,” said Mundt.  However, partly due to chemotherapy to tackle a mass in her brain and another behind an eye, Konnight continues to buck the odds.

“The illness is terminal, but she can live a full productive life with many side effects.”

This medically incurable disease may have been what drove Konnight’s interest in alternative healing modalities. It is not difficult to see how the theology of Wicca, with an emphasis on magic and personal responsibility, can dovetail with a desire for real and permanent healing.

Mundt was unfamiliar with Wicca until her son married a practitioner, who introduced Konnight to the concepts. “That is what she is, and there’s no cutting it,” she said of her daughter, who took to it right away.

It’s the religion’s focus on nature that appeals most to her daughter, Mundt said, and that’s why they “moved out to the country,” from Arlington to Alvarado: Konnight found the stress of the urban environment very taxing.

That brings this story to the point at which it appeared Konnight was claiming that body piercings are a requirement of Wicca. The language used in a Cleburne Times-Review article made it difficult for readers to draw any another conclusion.

The article reads: “Mundt said her daughter practices Wicca, a form of modern Paganism, and the religion sometimes calls for followers to wear body piercings for various reasons.”

Both mother and daughter insist neither of them nade that claim.

As Konnight explained it to TWH, she wanted to wear silver for its healing properties, particularly around stabilizing emotions; the tumor in her brain has influenced how she processes emotions. Necklaces irritate her skin, and she was concerned about losing other jewelry.

In her research she discovered the concept of piercings with sacred intent, and convinced her mother to allow her to get her lip pierced because its proximity to the throat chakra would help. The piercings were solderized, intended not to be removed.

“She’s not doing it for cosmetic reasons or to make statement,” Mundt said. “She feels it has healing power.”

Konnight apparently also likes the color silver, because that’s what color she wanted to dye her hair. The fact that it ended up blue instead should have been relegated to hair disasters on Instragram, but that was just one more fact contributing to a storm of controversy.

The dress code in Konnight’s former school may have been more relaxed about hair, but in both districts the facial piercings are a no-no.

Using information about both Wicca and sacred body piercings she found online, Konnight received special dispensation to retain the face adornments, which she also uses to focus her energy during spell work. Showing up on the first day in Alvarado with piercings and blue hair, though, did not result in a warm welcome.

“The policy is the policy,” said the district’s public information officer, Tommy Brown. “The handbook doesn’t address particular religions.”

“They wouldn’t listen,” recalled Konnight, and dismissed evidence she produced from online sources as insufficient to bolster her claims of a sincerely-held religious belief.

Mundt was less charitable. “They basically said she’s full of it, and it’s not a religion.”

Brown, the district official, told the Cleburne Times-Review reporter, “Please know that it is not Alvarado ISD’s practice to dismiss a student’s medical or religious claim that was accompanied by appropriate evidence.”

According to Mundt, her daughter was pressed to produce a “church” of Wicca, or a revealed text, as “appropriate evidence.” “She spent six hours researching” to try to find a Wiccan or Pagan congregation in the area, to no avail.

Both mother and daughter attempted to address inaccuracies in the original news report by posting comments. Part of their concern was that the reporter conflated questions of religion and health, such as when Konnight was described as having given school officials “a packet of information explaining her religion and why body piercings are important.”

The Associated Press style guide eliminates the serial comma, which would have clarified that wording. The Wild Hunt style guide largely mirrors AP, but does include serial, or Oxford, commas.

The result with school officials was that Konnight was told she was to be suspended from school if she showed up looking like that again.

Mundt asked for time to allow the hair color, which was already fading, to grow out. The request was declined.

Trying to bleach it out was disastrous. Clumps fell out, which Mundt attributes to Konnight’s body still recovering from chemotherapy. She originally asked for that extra time because she didn’t think her daughter’s hair could withstand another process. Now Konnight is now wearing a wig in school instead.

While was given the alternative to instead learn from home, Konnight wanted to attend school strongly enough that she used pliers to remove the piercings.

Mundt and Konnight agree that they live in an extremely Christian area, where assumptions about what constitutes religion are well set.

“I can’t count how many times people have asked me if I worship the devil,” said Konnight, and how explaining that this is a Christian concept doesn’t seem to help.

For now, she remains in school, and returns home to the two acres her mother calls “her own seventh heaven element,” seeking the peace of the Goddess that reinvigorates her Wiccan faith.

Posted by Cara Schulz

As some Pagans and Heathens attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Did the Ark of the Covenant contain Pagan Gods?

Archaeologists have long looked for the Ark of the Covenant, a large case the Bible says contains the broken pieces of the Ten Commandments. Yet some are now positing that if the ark is found it will more likely be found in Kiryath Jearim, not the city of David, and contain statues of Pagan gods.

Scholars say that the Bible was written by several authors over a long period of time and that the portions detailing the ark’s removal from Kiryath Jearim to David’s city were more recent additions. In fact, they now suspect that the ark may not have been moved at all.

These same scholars also note that persons living during the time period when the ark was thought to exist either worshiped Canaanite gods like Baal and El or the early Israelite gods Yahweh and Asherah.

So why do they think the ark could contain statues of Pagan gods rather than the Ten Commandments? Throughout the Levant, it was common practice for pre-Islamic Arabs to carry chests that contain two sacred stones or statues of Pagans gods. These items were later replaced with copies of the Koran. So the ark, mentioned in the Bible, may have likewise contained statues.

Baal was a god associated with war and fertility. The Ark of the Covenant was carried by Israelites into battle and thought to have supernatural powers to rally troops to victory. The Bible also tells the story of Hannah, the Prophet Samuel’s mother, whose sterility is cured by the Ark.

The Bible’s presentation of the Israelites as strict monotheists is also being corrected by archaeologists and scholars. They are now thought to have been a polytheist religious society slowly evolving and incorporating influences and ideas from surrounding cultures.

Perhaps if the ark is found, it may contain statues of Pagan gods and shards of the Ten Commandments.

Pagans were feasting in Israel

A 3200 year old Pagan feasting hall has been found in Israel. Archaeologists were initially hesitant to classify the hall as having religious significance, but the contents of the hall show it was used for Canaanite ritual feasting.

The hall was found in what was Libnah, a Canaanite city that would become Judahite after it was conquered by the Judahite Kingdom.

The hall was almost 52 feet in length and was well constructed. It contained a pillar of stone, usually associated with worship, Celtic vessels, figurines, zoomorphic vessels, and two ceramic masks. There were also three rare pithoi, small vessels containing oil for libations, ad charred bones of sheep, goats, and pigs.

Archaeologists have had a difficult time reconstructing Canaanite religious practices, but hope sites like this one can shed new light on the practice. For those Pagans attempting to reconstruct the Canaanite religion, keep your eye on this dig.

Oops! Viking dude is a lady

The pitfalls of assuming sex even happen to scientists. DNA analysis of one of the most famous Viking warriors proves the bones are those of a woman, not a man.

The Birka warrior, found in the late 1880’s, was assumed to be that of a man because of what the grave contained. It housed swords, arrowheads, a spear, and two sacrificed horses. This shows a flaw in the art of archaeological interpretation. Archaeologists interpret what they see through the lens of the culture they live in. In this case, assuming the gender of the warrior base on modern expectations of gender roles.

This mistake was made despite Viking lore spelling out that not all warriors were men. In addition to tales of shield maidens who fought along side male warriors, there is the story of Inghen Ruaidh, a female warrior who lead a fleet of ships to Ireland.

[Credit: Gambargin / CC lic.]

Earlier this year, bioarchaeologist Anna Kjellström closely examined the warrior’s pelvic bones and mandible and noted their dimensions were more typical of a woman.

After this finding was published, a team led by Uppsala University archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson tested the bone’s DNA. The tests were conclusive that the bones were that of a woman, not a man.

The change in sex identification of this warrior now changes the idea that tales of Viking women warriors were just fables. Not only that, but since the Birka warrior was found with gaming pieces on her lap, suggesting she was a respected tactician, this changes the view of women in leadership positions within Viking culture.

Roman Fake News – in Full Color

Archaeologists have reconstructed what the Arch of Titus looked like, and it was full of color and disinformation.

Professor Steven Fine of Yeshiva University has digitally reconstructed the arch using the bright colors that were probably used to paint the arch.

He discovered that the famed menorah, depicted on the panel showing Roman soldiers parading with treasures looted from the Second Temple in Jerusalem, was painted a bright yellow. It has just been in the last 30 years that archaeologists and museum curators have realized just how brightly colored Roman and Greek statues and buildings were. After noting the menorah was painted yellow, his access to the arch was cut off.

He then made educated guesses as to the other colors. The sky, of course, would be blue, the leaves green, and so on. He cautions that, although he feels confident about the color selections, without further testing he can’t be 100% sure.

As to why the arch was created in the first place? It was propaganda. The arch was built to commemorate Vespasian winning the Judean War. Which wasn’t really a war but a local rebellion in a far-flung province. The structure was built to glorify Vespasian and solidify the Flavian dynasty.

Fake news, it appears, is nothing new

[Credit: Sodabottle / Wikimedia]

Posted by Heather Greene

WASHINGTON  —  Leave the Johnson Amendment intact was the message sent to Congress by American religious leaders from around the country.

Jointly organized by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), a recent protest letter and petition garnered over 4,000 signatures in support of keeping the IRS nonprofit tax code provisions and restrictions. The joint action followed two other similar but separate letters sent in April – one by “99 national and state religious groups” and then another by “4,500 nonprofit organizations.”

[Public domain.]

As we reported in March, the Johnson Amendment is part of the IRS’ tax code that “prohibits political campaign activity” by nonprofit 501(c)(3) charities and churches. Since launching his bid for the presidency and well into his elected term, Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to “repeal that language” or “completely destroy” that code in order to “protect free speech for all Americans.”

Trump’s alleged quest is in fact backed by the GOP. As stated in its official 2016 campaign platform:

Republicans believe the federal government, specifically the IRS, is constitutionally prohibited from policing or censoring speech based on religious convictions or beliefs, and therefore we urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment.

Opponents to the code believe that it is unconstitutional because it limits freedom of speech by disallowing religious leaders and organizations from speaking out on political matters.

In February 2017, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) introduced to the house the Free Speech Fairness Act (H.R. 781). This act would not remove the Johnson Amendment, but it would offer “greater opportunity for nonprofit organizations to engage in political speech with regard to campaigns.”

Since its introduction, H.R.781 has been sitting in the House Ways and Means Committee with no forward movement.

However, a more recent bill is taking now taking an indirect shot at the Johnson Amendment by defunding the IRS’ ability to penalize nonprofit organizations that engage in the otherwise forbidden political speech. The house’s proposed government funding package, which originated in the Committee on Appropriations, is now up for consideration.

Within that bill, section 116 currently states that the provided funds cannot “be used by the Internal Revenue Service to make a determination that a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, or a convention or association of churches is not exempt from taxation for participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office unless.”

Section 116, as written, is a “finance rider” that is buried within the proposed funding bill, which will set the spending budget through Sept. 2018.

If the bill passes as is, the IRS will be unable to use government funds to stop nonprofits from engaging in political actions or speech, even if the tax code itself is not altered. While the bill does not kill the Johnson Amendment, it makes it ineffective.

Over the summer, AU and BJC wrote and published their protest letter and asked religious leaders to join their action. The letter, which can be viewed on the website Faith Voices, begins:

As a leader in my religious community, I am strongly opposed to any effort to repeal or weaken current law that protects houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics. Changing the law would threaten the integrity and independence of houses of worship. We must not allow our sacred spaces to be transformed into spaces used to endorse or oppose political candidates.

By late August, Faith Voices garnered over 4,000 signatures from religious leaders around the country and from many different backgrounds and beliefs, including Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists. Shortly after reaching their goal of 4,000 signatures, AU and BJC sent the letter to Congress.

However, the organization now reports that the letter will be sent again, and are asking more religious leaders to step up and sign on. The organizations’ call to action reads:

The Trump administration has vowed to “totally destroy” this law. We know that faith leaders support the current law and want to keep their sanctuaries sacred. That is why we need you to sign this letter to tell Congress that you oppose repealing or weakening the law.

According to sources, the house’s funding package is scheduled to be reviewed in the coming week, but it is not expected to pass through the senate as written. How the various pieces are negotiated, what remains, and what stays is yet to be seen.

*   *   *

To learn more about the Johnson Amendment, its history, and how it affects you, see our detailed report from March.

Posted by The Wild Hunt

UNITED STATES – Hurricane Irma, one of the biggest recorded Atlantic storms in recent history, is making its way up the Florida coast and into the Southeastern states. In its wake, Irma has left a trail of damage to homes and structures and flooding across the Caribbean and southern Florida. According to the latest reports, the death told now stands at 24.

When news of the storm broke, Florida Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists began preparations, as did the entire state. Some stayed, some boarded up and left. Covenant of the Goddess’ local Florida-based local council Everglades Moon, sent out a survey to gather information to help keep the members in touch. The board has been posting safety information and check-ins on their page.

Vör Forn Siðr, a Heathen-owned camping and sacred site in Atlanta, offered its facilities to anyone fleeing the storm. The owners wrote, “We have several acres of wooded area where people can camp, several large fields where people can camp or stay in RVs and also a very large building we’re renovating into our hall where people can sleep or it can be used as a temporary community center.” They added, “We can build a temporary town.”

The storm still rages into Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and North Carolina; the end is not yet at hand. In the meantime, Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists continue to offer prayers and other forms of assistance to those affected.

 *   *   *

PITTSBURGH — Eric G. Canali, known as Earrach of Pittsburgh, died Aug. 31 after he was unable to fight off an infection due to a depleted immune system. Born in 1953, Earrach was a beloved ADF Druid priest who was well-known in his local community. In a public Facebook post on Earrach’s page, friend and fellow Druid wrote, “Earrach was, simply put, one of the kindest and most intriguing people I have ever met. Different in a joyful way, his own person and true to himself and his friends.”

Outside of religious circles, Canali worked for 25 years in technical support, and was an avid backyard astronomer. According to a memorial post, he “worked as the Floor Operations Manager of Buhl Planetarium for 17 years,” and was a “member of Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP) and the founder of South Hills Backyard Astronomy (SHBA).”

Earrach had been fighting leukemia over the past five years, which took a toll on his immune system. In July he was admitted to the hospital due to a fungal infection. After treatments and surgery, he did recover for a period. However, the condition proved to much and he passed on Aug. 31. His wife, Diana Paar wrote, “Thank you all for your patience and understanding during this process. As the days since his passing go on, I feel him closer to me every day.”

There will be a public memorial service Sept. 22. His cremains “will be interred at Penn Forest Natural Cemetery, where an oak tree will be planted there in his name.”  What is remembered, lives.

*   *   *

SYDNEY, Australia – Filmmaker Sonia Bible has reported that she wrapped on her documentary exploring the life and times of Rosaleen Nortan, also known as “the Witch of Kings Cross.” In spring 2015, TWH interviewed Bible about her desire to make the film. At the time, she was in the research and funding phase. Bible said, “In 2010, I made a film called Recipe for Murder about women poisoning their husbands and family members with rat poison in Sydney in the early ’50s. During the research for that film, I came across Rosaleen Norton in various pulp publications. I started collecting articles about her and put them in the drawer.”

Seven years later, Bible began filming. On Sept. 11, she announced: “It’s a wrap,” and that the film would be moving into post-production. However, it is unknown at this point when the feature length documentary will be released and how. The project’s progress can be followed on Facebook or Bible’s website.

In other news

  • Today is the anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks. Monday, Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox wrote, “On this anniversary of [the] September 11th attacks on the United States in 2001, remembering those killed on that day and those who died of injuries later. Healing, strength, renewal, peace to their loved ones, to the living injured, to the USA & the world.” The Wild Hunt has published a number of articles reflecting on the event. Here are two: Fear of a Blue Sky and Visiting the Sacred Void

  • A new website has emerged featuring interviews with Pagan leaders from around the world. Pagan Portraits, as it is called, is an English language site based on a French site that was originally launched in 2015. “The goal of this project is to present interviews of modern and inspiring Pagans/Heathens/Polytheists from all over the world and from various Polytheistic religions (traditional as well as neo-pagan). We want to show, by this way, the incredible wealth of this Pagan way of life, giving inspiration to all the members of the worldwide Pagan community.”
  • In June TWH’s Australian columnist Josephine Winter reported on the growth of Druidry in her home country. This month, Moon Books is releasing a new book titled Australian Druidry written by Julia Brett. “Australian Druidry is a spiritual path of connecting with the Australian landscape as a sacred place. It is a method of listening to the messages the land has for us, and coming into communication with its unique voice.”
  • Mystic South organizers have announced that the event will return. Held in Atlanta, Mystic South held its inaugural conference this summer. Despite a loss of water and air conditioning for nearly one day, the event was reportedly a success. Mystic South 2018 has been scheduled for July 12 -15 at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia. No other details have been released.
  • Tickets for Reclaiming’s popular Samhain Spiral Dance are now on sale. According to reports, the event sold out last year. The annual spiral dance has been organized and performed for 38 consecutive years, with the first one being held in 1979.

Posted by Heather Greene

TWH – As autumn approaches, it is not surprising that the number of mainstream articles referring to Witches and Witchcraft are increasing. Many of the recently published articles are touting that Witchcraft is “trending,” to use a social media term, or in old-school language, Witchcraft popularity is on the rise or “all the rage.” And in textspeak: WitchcraftFTW.

[Pixabay.]

#witches

For the bulk of the American public, the brief and unexamined suggestion that the nation’s Witch population is significantly increasing might be enough of a “sound bite” to tantalize and, in some cases, even scare. However, for those people who have long identified as Witches or the like, the flippant mention of Witchcraft in a seasonal article is not enough to satisfy.

Such a conversation triggers a longstanding debate within these communities, evoking a range of emotions including frustration, anger, and curiosity. Are pop-culture Witchcraft trends detrimental to the deeply-held religious practice of Witchcraft?

Looking more closely at the situation, there are questions that need answers. What exactly is trendy witchcraft, what is now being termed by some “basic witchcraft?” Is it related to Wicca and other Pagan religions? Who is creating and adhering to it, and why?

Mashable writer Heather Dockray recently dove into this discussion, answering a few of these questions herself. She writes, “The term ‘basic witch,’ I know, reeks of a kind of glib internet-insular condescension. But screw it: this kind of witch does exist in nature, or at least progressive fashion circles in Los Angeles. And she’s mostly here to do good, not evil, even if her brand of witchcraft ends up being largely self-indulgent.”

The idea of “trendy” Witchcraft, or “trending” anything, suggests an upward swing in popularity, and is observable through parallel cues across pop culture, from movies and television to commercials services and products. For example, Christian Dior’s 2018 Resort fashion line includes images from the Motherpeace Tarot deck designed by Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble. Similarly, in the 2017 Autumn show held this summer in Paris, one of the Dior models sported a now-famous tarot coat.

“Monsieur Dior was very fascinated with tarot and astrology. Me too,” explains Maria Grazia Chiuri, current creative director for Dior, to Elle magazine. Chiruri reportedly is looking to define the Dior brand as a feminist one.

The following video shows the process of constructing the coat, which is made of embroidered tarot images from different decks:

The international fashion industry, which has regularly flirted with occult themes on and off for years, often employs language like a ‘Wiccan aesthetic’ or ‘Witchy-chic’ to describe hair styles and couture choices. These stylings typically rely on occult imagery, such as tarot decks, and on a Gothic or Renaissance aesthetic.

Outside of the fashion industry, there has been a rise in public hexings, or at least in reports on public hexings, due to the current sociopolitical climate. These actions have been organized or performed by more than just Pagan community members, and they continue to dot the media landscape.

In July 2017, American singer Lana del Rey confirmed once again that she had in fact participated in and encouraged the mass hexing of Donald Trump. In a July interview, she told NME, “I’m in line with Yoko [Ono] and John [Lennon] and the belief that there’s a power to the vibration of a thought. Your thoughts are very powerful things and they become words, and words become actions, and actions lead to physical charges.”

The singer’s visibility increased the media’s awareness of such occult-based political actions, some of which were directly related to Del Rey’s own working and some not. These mass hexings were being performed before the 2016 election and have continued into today.

Has hexing become trendy, a part of “basic” Witchcraft? This is an interesting question given the fact that hexing still remains a powerfully contentious topic within long-established Witchcraft communities, and it leads to another question. What parts of Witchcraft do become trendy and what parts stay out of the limelight?

Ye olde witch shoppe

Metaphysical stores have been around for ages. However, there has reportedly been a growth in the number of such venues, both brick and mortar, and digitally-based. New occult-oriented stores are, according to some news sites, popping up around the country, which points to an increased interest in the occult.

In one of Atlanta’s newest trendy districts, a store called ATL Craft has opened. The store is mostly unattached to the city’s long-established Pagan population, but is successfully feeding the downtown area with “alternative and holistic products and services.” It joins a number of other metaphysical stores in that metro region.

Similarly in south Minneapolis, a local reporter has labeled one area a Witch district, due to a reported rise in stores with occult leanings. This new “district” label confused the city’s famously-large Pagan population because the entire area already has a nickname: Paganistan. One of the article’s commenters writes:

While I appreciate the new shops and the potential they have to add to the larger Pagan community, let me add to the comments that this is nothing new. The Twin Cities area has been a hub for Pagans for many years.

From trendy new stores and Sabbat boxes to fashion-forward witchy hoodies and professional “sex sorcery services,” Witchcraft does appear to have permeated mainstream culture, for better or worse, in powerful way.

This is not new

It is often the case that people assume that any given modern trend, whether good or bad, is unique and fresh, and that it has never happened before. However, humans are not that creative. The occult’s popularity within mainstream American culture has ebbed and flowed across time, as a result so does the commercialization of the practice.

In the 1800s, spiritualism rose in popularity within society and, by 1840, the country entered into what historian Mitch Horowitz labels the spiritualism era.[i] Many famous writers followed related occult paths. In his book Occult America, Horowitz describes how the practice was “one of deep intimacy”[ii] and experimentation.

Regardless of the intention of devout followers, spiritualism did spread into mainstream culture, producing what Horowitz describes as “fashionable” classes and elite clubs around world.[iii]  It also birthed the commercialization of the ouija board. “It was only a matter of time before experimenters and entrepreneurs began to see the possibilities,” Horowitz writes.[iv]

Flash forward nearly a century, the commercialized ouija board found renewed popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, during a period of time when Witchcraft was once again gaining popularity. The cultural revolution and political upheaval created fertile ground for deep spiritual seeking as well as counter-culture experimentation.

This is the era in which many of the original Pagan organizations and institutions, such as the Church of All Worlds, Circle Sanctuary, and the Covenant of the Goddess, were born; and the city of Salem began to fully embrace its notoriety as the “Witch City.” It was in the 1970s that Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis proclaimed Laurie Cabot the first “official Witch of Salem.”

In addition, the feminist movement fueled the desire to define and nurture female power within society. The 1969 activist organization W.I.T.C.H., for example, captured this idea in their own work. Known as the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, the group embodied a more radical, socialist viewpoint than the mainstream feminist movement. Using the archetype of the witch, it engaged with its political agenda to speak out for gender equality. This correlation was trending well into the late 1970s, and captured in George Romero’s film Season of the Witch (1972) also known as Hungry Wives.

Moving forward twenty years, Witchcraft popularity rose again after being demonized in a moral panic. Andrew Fleming’s film The Craft (1996) is often cited as a marker of that trend. As Fleming has remarked in a number of interviews, the production crew was caught off guard to learn that the film caused an increase in inquiries to Pagan covens and organizations. But The Craft was not alone. The late 1990s saw other pop-culture witch-related products including the birth of the Harry Potter franchise.

At the same time, the internet was allowing for an increased awareness of modern Witchcraft practice as well as an more fluid and open connectivity between communities and individuals. This period saw the birth of Witchvox and other similar sites, for example.

The mainstreaming of Witchcraft in the 1990s is best demonstrated by the film Practical Magic (1998), a romantic comedy that struggles with this very topic. The narrative constructs the Witches as an oppressed community members, rather than as spooky monsters, oddities, or evildoers. It continually reinforces the idea that the Witches are “just like us” by mainstreaming the look and feel of the craft. For example, the herbal witch shop is more like a Bath and Bodyworks than the average occult shop. This is a type of declawing of Witchcraft for popular consumption.

More recently, a new “season of the witch” was declared in 2013, and it appears that it is not over yet, as per the current reported trends. Why the ebb and flow?

tumblr inline nqtckv7OfC1t40lb1 500

1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [WITCH].

Rise and fall of magic

It appears that trend is directly related to political and social unrest. Even the spiritualism movement of the 1800s has been linked to politics. As Horowitz reports:

Spiritualism was as much as an occult movement as a political one. It attracted utopians, suffragists, and radicals, because among other things it provided a setting in which women – for the first time in American history – could regularly serve as religious leaders, at least of a sort. [v]

The search for agency within an oppressive system, through spirituality and the occult, seems to be at least part of the recipe to produce #witchcraft. With that popularity comes a certain amount of commercialism as entrepreneurs, Pagan or not, find opportunities within the trends.

However, the dynamic of the trend has changed from the late 1800s to today due to the differences in society, or maybe it is just the concept of “mainstream” that has changed due to an increased awareness and availability of products and practice. The barriers to entry into Witchcraft practice, religious or not, are nearly gone due to blogs, social media, book publications, and community visibility. In addition, the internet has lowered similar barriers to the commodification of occult products and sales.

The Witchcraft trend gets fed at the level of visibility and apparent needs of that particular era.

A double-edged sword

With that in mind, the growth of so-called basic Witchcraft is not at all surprising. The current unstable political climate and the social unrest, which is no longer brewing beneath the surface, has provided fertile ground for a upswing in occult interest, or a search for power and control.

In addition, the internet provides an awareness of practice and community previously unknown, including access to teachers, covens, and also potential buyers. All of this allows for the buildup of a trendy aesthetic that is often a product of a mainstream sensibility, for better or worse.

Within the Pagan community, there are those that question whether or not the trend is damaging to their practice or offensive in some way. Is the practice of Witchcraft as a something “chic” rather than deeply spiritual a problem? That answer depends on who you ask. Some see it as indicative a greater socioeconomic problem, while others consider it a benefit to demystifying otherwise marginalized religious communities.

It is the proverbially double-edged sword, and one that is not going away any time soon.

Getting back to the original question, who are these basic Witches? Dockray writes, “What makes the ‘basic witch’ different from earlier breeds of witches is her spiritual commitment to consumerism. If early generations of witches turned to witchcraft as as a spiritual practice or political aesthetic, the basic witch identifies with witchcraft as a lifestyle brand, nothing more.”

Perhaps that is true to a degree. However, the question sends the conversation down the popular rabbit hole titled, “What is a Witch?”

A trend is a trend and will attract a variety of people, for awhile. At this point in time, the commodification or simply the mainstreaming of the occult or Witchcraft practice does appear to be a nearly accepted reality. As Dockray notes, this trendy or “basic” practice doesn’t necessarily evoke a religious sensibility or a similar deeply-felt spirituality. While it may be for some people, it is not for all.

At the same, it is possible that non-spiritual “basic practice” may eventually lead to a deeper inward path, but not always. The question to ask is: does it matter? Regardless of that answer, Witchcraft in one form or another continues to thrive in society, sparking depth of focus, igniting imagination, and inspiring action.

#witchcraftFTW

Notes:

[i] Mitch Horowitz, Occult America (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 54.
[ii] ibid, 67.
[iii] ibid, 64.
[iv] ibid, 68.
[v] ibid, 62.



([syndicated profile] thewildhunt_feed Sep. 9th, 2017 07:26 pm)

Posted by Jaime Gironés

[Please welcome our newest international columnist, Jaime Gironés. Joining us from Mexico City, Gironés’ column will appear every three months and will explore the practice and experience of Paganism, Heathenry, and polytheism within Mexico. His columns will be published first in Spanish and then English. To learn more about Gironés, go to his bio page.]

Spanish Translation

Nice to meet you. Mucho gusto.

Pagans of the east, Pagans of the west, Pagans of the south, Pagans of the north, whoever hears our call, I greet you.

Although we have not been properly introduced, we already know each other. We honor the same nature, and she blesses us all. We float with the same air; we jump over the same fire; we flow in the same water, and we walk on the same earth.

[Pixabay.]

Pagans practicing in Mexico know a lot about those outside our immediate community. We have read about your practices; we have learned from you; you have inspired us many times. And now I offer a little bit about our community and practices.

The Mexican Pagan community doesn’t know exactly how our existence developed. As you well understand, we are a diverse community where some consider themselves Wiccans, others prefer to call themselves Witches. Some call themselves Pagans, and many practice without naming their practices at all. We don’t know how many we are. I believe we are more than we think, because many practice in the shadows, in silence, secrecy, and anonymity.

Some say the boom of the internet brought Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism into our lands; others say it helped us to remember, to create structure, and to connect with each other. Some say they were taught by teachers who were taught by famous international witches, while others prefer to say they learned from books and websites. Still others say they inherited their family traditions.

Nevertheless, the Mexican Pagan community has a story to tell; words and experiences to share. Allow me to make introductions. Take a seat and gather around; I will start with my own story.

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, 90% of Mexican adults say they were raised Catholic; I’m no exception. But I am lucky to have open-minded parents who have always respected and encouraged me to investigate other practices and beliefs. During my childhood, I explored a few paths until I came across with Gerina Dunwich’s book Exploring Spellcraft: How To Create and Cast Effective Spells. That purchase was the start of my witchy path.

Later on, I discovered other wonderful books, such as Starhawk’s Spiral Dance, and amazing websites, like Witch School, that taught me more about the “Old Religion.”

When I was 14 years old I finally found a teacher and coven, and was initiated. .

That coven eventually dissolved. You might find this situation familiar: covens emerging and covens breaking up. No matter where in the world a seed is planted — the American seed, the English seed, the Australian seed or the Mexican seed — the tree grows tall but sooner or later ends dying.

After leaving the coven, sadness and heartbreak led me into a ten-year solitary phase until I was able to leave the Hermit card behind. Thirty-nine moons ago, I was able to open up and socialize again within the Pagan community.

Since coming out again, I met Tarwe Hrossdottir, the National Coordinator for Pagan Federation International – Mexico. Hrossdottir’s first formal encounter with Paganism was through the internet, she told me.

When she found the English-written websites with information about Paganism, she felt love at first sight, finally being able to name what she had felt all her life. Then she started practicing until she performed a self-initiation. A while later, she started giving Paganism and spiritual classes, and has done so for 16 years now.

I asked Hrossdottir if she sees any differences between the people who start classes with her today and the people who studied with her 16 years ago. She says that she has seen lots of change. “People arrive with more information now. They usually have already studied holistic therapy, or they practice a divination method. In general, the people who take interest are much more mature, with a more serious idea of what Paganism is and that means we are doing things right, that we are not passing on a Hollywoodish-magical idea of fantasy.”

Hrossdottir also thinks we have a very balanced situation: “On one hand, there are veteran groups who started many years ago, and we already have a more professional infrastructure, with better materials, with a more solid profile. There also groups that arose as a result of these veteran groups and are now in a maturity process, living what that entails.

“There are two types of recent groups: some without much maturity and others that have appeared in a more serious environment, doing a great job, and we surely will soon see them leading,” she explains.

“On the other hand, most practitioners already know the basics, that helps when they are looking for better information and more serious groups, and to be more committed and really see this as a spiritual tradition and not a style.”

Hrossdottir also believes Paganism in Mexico is on the right track: “Egos have been calming down and many of us are ready to pass into a next phase.”

She adds that we have done great work that deserves to be heard and published by the international Pagan community: “Most of the English-speaking media are closed to publish in Spanish or even in English about Latin-American Paganism. In Latin America, and specially in Mexico, we have a very peculiar vision of Paganism, because we have a living indigenous reference, which somehow lets us feel differently [about] the wheel of the year, herbology and traditional magick.

“Today, the Mexican Pagan community has a great variety of active traditions that cover an array of lines like the Hermetic, the Shamanic, the Nordic, the Celtic, and many others.”

Unlike myself and Hrossdottir, Mina To-Tai inherited Witchcraft. To-Tai is a 39-year-old tattoo artist and Witch from the state of Chihuahua. When she was a girl, she spent much time with her great-grandmother and remembers choosing and smelling oils and herbs while staring into a tall goddess statue.

To-Tai said that she used to be told, “Ask her everything you need, because if you really wish it, she will give it to you.” When she was older and her great-grandmother had already passed away, she wanted to know more about her ancestor’s practices. To-Tai searched for answers in books and online, and soon found out her grandma’s beliefs had a name: Witchcraft.

Many years later, To-Tai had two children and, with her partner, began raising her children observing both of their parents beliefs: Catholicism and Witchcraft. When she walked on the streets, people used to stare at her many tattoos and sometimes even crossed themselves when they saw the tattooed crescent moon on her forehead. However those reactions were nothing compared to what was coming.

In 2014, after years of physical and psychological abuse, To-Tai ended her relationship. After the breakup, To-Tai said that her family supported her partner and that they put her in a rehab center against her will, because she wasn’t the obedient, good wife they expected. They alleged that she consumed drugs and was a Witch, and was a poor example for her children.

As she recalls, she was there for 91 days, until the center’s personnel realized she was healthy and not crazy at all. Once out, she was without a home and without her belongings. Shortly after, she found out that she was being sued for the custody of her children. In one of the hearings, the judge asked her to prove she was a Witch. To-Tai answered she couldn’t give any proof. “Deny you are a Witch, and you could have your children with you today,” the judge insisted, but To-Tai refused to deny what she is.

Months later, To-Tai recanted that she met Cesar Ramsay, who had studied Wicca in the early 00s from a woman called Brida, who claimed to have studied with Sybil Leek. In 2003, Ramsay created the Sociedad Wicca Mexico organization with the goal to integrate, unite, link, and join forces between Wiccan and Pagan followers, solitary practitioners, study circles and covens in order to create an inclusive community.

The organization also gives legal advice and support, and that is how To-Tai was able to finally prove that she is a Witch. She gave the court a document signed by Ramsay explaining her beliefs and practices. The judge was surprised and said, “Oh! So you were telling the truth, you really are a Witch!”

Personally speaking, I’m not surprised by the judge’s reaction. Although we have the constitutional right to pursue the religious belief that best suits us, most of the people still don´t believe or don’t understand Witchcraft is a religion. Whenever there is mention of Wicca or Witchcraft in the media, which almost never happens, it is related to spells, divination or the Devil.

We live in a country where many people are scared of Witches. In some areas, specifically in the north, superstitions still exist such. Some believe that owls are Witches and, as a result, owls have been tortured, interrogated, and set into fire, in an attempt to get them to reveal their names and shift back into their human forms.

Of course, this doesn’t happen everywhere. In the central neighborhoods of Mexico City, for example, there is a different reaction to Witchcraft and Paganism. Isaura Avalos, aka Walkirya La Bruja, owns a Witchcraft-themed coffee shop in the La Roma neighborhood. She tells me that she has had little bad or unfriendly experiences: “Our neighbors are very kind people, and had been so since we arrived to La Roma to put our business.

“The only thing that has happened is that, in the beginning, the nuns that live nearby used to walk on the other side of the street, in order to avoid walking by the coffee shop. But now we even greet each other, and its been like this for a while.”

Avalos also says non-Pagan visitors are friendly too: “ [They] enter and want to know it all, they are thirsty of magic and answers about energy and about God. And we always take very seriously to welcome them into our world and letting them know we are normal people living extraordinary lives… With the passage of time what has changed is my perception, because little by little I’ve been losing the fear of being seen different or being pointed at. These five years of showing my face as a witch to the public have made me feel comfortable in society.”

We are not always feared or misunderstood, but we still have a lot of work to do fighting against ignorance and misunderstandings of our practices and beliefs with the light of wisdom and information. In addition to these challenges, we often don´t all get along with each other within our national Pagan community. I don’t expect us do so, but I do believe in a more united and friendly Mexican Pagan community, where people like Mina To-Tai do not feel alone and that their religious community supports them.

I also believe in a more united international Pagan community. During these hard times, when Mexicans have been called rapists and criminals, and with the unstable political climate full of racism and violence, it is a great time to open up and get to know each other better. Because we have more similarities than differences, because we share our struggles and worries, because we share our practices and beliefs.

Pagans of the east, Pagans of the west, Pagans of the south, Pagans of the north: whoever is reading or call, I greet you. Mexican Pagans may have a different history, but that story is related to yours.. Our books may be written in a different language, but the sounds read out loud from its words resonate the same frequencies. Just like you, we remember. Just like you, we believe. Just like you, we create.

* * *

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.
([syndicated profile] thewildhunt_feed Sep. 9th, 2017 07:26 pm)

Posted by Jaime Gironés

[Por favor, den la bienvenida a nuestro nuevo columnista internacional: Jaime Gironés. Uniéndose a nosotros desde la Ciudad de México, la columna de Gironés aparecerá cada tres meses y explorará la práctica y la experiencia del paganismo, del heathenry y del politeísmo en México. Sus columnas serán publicadas primero en español y posteriormente en inglés. Si quieres saber más de Gironés, ve a la página de su biografía.]

English Translation

Nice to meet you. Mucho gusto.

Paganos del este, Paganos del oeste, Paganos del sur, Paganos del norte -quienquiera que escuche nuestro llamado, los saludo.

Aunque no hemos sido presentados apropiadamente, ya nos conocemos los unos a los otros. Honramos a la misma naturaleza y Ella nos bendice a todos nosotros. Flotamos en el mismo Aire, brincamos sobre el mismo Fuego, fluimos en el mismo Agua y caminamos sobre la misma Tierra.

[Pixabay.]

Los paganos que practicamos en México sabemos mucho sobre los que están fuera de nuestra comunidad inmediata. Hemos leído acerca de sus prácticas; hemos aprendido de ustedes; nos han inspirado muchas veces. Y ahora les ofrezco un poco sobre nuestra comunidad y práctica.

La comunidad Pagana mexicana no sabe con exactitud cómo se desarrolló su existencia. Y, como podrán entender, somos una comunidad diversa donde algunos se consideran Wiccanos, otros prefieren llamarse Brujos, algunos se dicen Paganos y muchos otros no nombran sus prácticas. No sabemos cuántos somos. Creo que somos más de los que pensamos. Muchos practican desde las sombras, en silencio, secreto y anonimidad.

Algunos dicen que el auge del internet trajo la Wicca, la Brujería y el Paganismo a nuestras tierras; otros dicen nos ayudó a recordar, crear estructura y conectarnos unos con otros. Algunos dicen que fueron enseñados por maestros, que, a su vez, éstos habían sido enseñados por brujos internacionalmente famosos; otros prefieren decir que aprendieron de libros y de sitios web. Algunos dicen que heredaron sus tradiciones familiares.

Sin embargo, la comunidad Pagana mexicana tiene una historia que contar, palabras y experiencias que compartir. Entonces, permítanme hacer presentaciones. Tome asiento y acérquese. Empezaré con mi propia historia.

De acuerdo a un reporte del Pew Research Center del 2014, 90% de los mexicanos adultos dicen que fueron educados católicos, y yo no soy la excepción. Pero soy muy afortunado de tener padres con una mente abierta que siempre me han respetado y animaron a investigar otras prácticas y creencias. Durante mi adolescencia, exploré algunos caminos hasta que me crucé con el libro Hechicería para principiantes de Gerina Dunwich, esa compra fue el inicio de mi camino Brujil.

Más adelante, descubrí libros maravillosos como La Danza en Espiral de Starhawk, e increíbles sitios web como WitchSchool, los cuales me enseñaron más de la “Vieja Religión”. Cuando tenía 14 años encontré un maestro y un coven en el cual fui iniciado.

El coven finalmente se disolvió. Puede ser que esta situación les parezca familiar -covens emergiendo y covens separándose. No importa donde se plante una semilla – la semilla americana, la semilla inglesa, la semilla australiana o la semilla mexicana – crecerá a ser un gran árbol para, tarde o temprano, morir. Después de dejar el coven, la tristeza y el dolor me llevaron a una fase solitaria que duró 10 años hasta que fui capaz de dejar la carta de El Ermitaño atrás. Hace 39 lunas, pude abrirme y socializar de nuevo dentro de la comunidad Pagana.

Desde que volví a salir, conocí a Tarwe Hrossdottir, la coordinadora nacional de la Federación Pagana Internacional en Mexico. Me dijo Hrossdottir que su primer encuentro formal con el Paganismo fue a través del internet.

Allí comenzó a leer sitios web, escritos en inglés, y sintió amor a primera vista, finalmente pudiendo darle un nombre a lo que había sentido toda su vida. Después, empezó a practicar hasta que se auto-inició. Más adelante, empezó a dar clases de Paganismo y espiritualidad y lo ha hecho desde hace ya 16 años.

Le pregunte a Hrossdottir si ve diferencias entre la gente que hoy llega para iniciar clases y la gente que llegaba hace 16 años. Dice que ve muchos cambios:

“Ahora la gente que llega tiene ya mucha información. Por lo general, ya tiene estudiada alguna terapia holística o ya ha practicado alguna mancia. En general, las personas que se acercan llegan mucho más maduras, con una idea más seria de lo que es el Paganismo y eso significa que estamos haciendo las cosas bien. Que no estamos transmitiendo una idea mágica-holliwoodesca de fantasía.”

Hrossdottir  también piensa que nos encontramos en un muy buen balance: “Por una parte hay grupos veteranos que empezamos hace muchos años, que ya contamos con una infraestructura mucho más profesional, materiales más cuidados, con un perfil más firme. También hay grupos que a raíz de su formación en estos grupos veteranos, surgieron y ahora se encuentran en proceso de maduración, viviendo todo lo que eso conlleva.”

“Hay grupos recientes de dos tipos: algunos sin mucha madurez y otros que han surgido de un ambiente más serio y que están haciendo un buen trabajo y que seguramente veremos liderando más adelante,” ella explica. “Por otra parte, la mayoría de los practicantes ya saben las bases y eso ayuda a que busquen mejor información, grupos más serios, a que se comprometan más y vean realmente esto como una tradición espiritual y no como una moda.”

Hrossdottir también cree que el Paganismo en Mexico va por buen camino: “…Los egos se han calmado y siento que muchos de nosotros estamos listos para pasar a una nueva etapa.”

Añade que hemos hecho muy buen trabajo que merece ser ser escuchado y publicado por la comunidad Pagana internacional: “La mayoría de los medios anglosajones están cerrados a publicaciones en español o sobre Paganismo Latinoamericano, aunque sea en inglés. En Latinoamérica, y en especial en México, tenemos una visión muy particular del Paganismo, ya que además aquí tenemos una referencia indígena viva que de alguna forma nos permite sentir de otra forma la Rueda del Año, la herbolaria y la magia tradicional.”

“Hoy en día, la comunidad Pagana mexicana tiene una gran variedad de tradiciones activas que cubren gran variedad de corrientes como las Herméticas, las Chamánicas, Nórdicas, Celtas y muchas más.”

A diferencia de mí y Hrossdottir, Mina To-Tai, heredó la Brujería. To-Tai tiene 39 años. Es tatuadora y Bruja de Chihuahua. Cuando era una niña, paso mucho tiempo con su bisabuela y recuerda que con ella escogía y olía hierbas y aceites, y miraban una figura grande de una diosa.

To-Tai dijo que su bisabuela le decía, “Pídele a Ella cualquier cosa que necesites, porque si realmente lo deseas, Ella te lo dará”. Cuando To-Tai era más grande, y su bisabuela ya había fallecido, quería saber más de las prácticas de su bisabuela. Buscó respuestas en libros y en línea, hasta que pronto descubrió las creencias de su bisabuela tenían un nombre: Brujería.

Muchos años después, To-Tai tuvo dos hijos con su pareja, y los empezaron a educar respetando las creencias de ambos padres: el catolicismo y la Brujeria. Cuando Mina caminaba en las calles, la gente solía quedársele viendo sus tatuajes y algunas veces, incluso, se persignaban al ver su luna creciente tatuada en la frente; pero eso no era nada comparado a lo que venía.

En el 2014, después de años de abuso físico y psicológico, To-Tai puso fin a su relación. Después de la ruptura, To-Tai dijo que su familia apoyó a su ex-pareja, y la metieron en un centro de rehabilitación en contra de su voluntad porque no era la buena esposa obediente que ellos esperaban. Alegaron que consumía drogas, que era una Bruja, y mal ejemplo para sus hijos.

Recuerda que ahí estuvo durante 91 días, hasta que el personal del centro se dio cuenta estaba sana y no estaba loca. Al salir del centro, sin casa y sin sus cosas, descubrió estaba siendo demandada por la custodia de sus hijos. En una de las audiencias de la batalla legal, la juez le pidió que probara que era una Bruja. To-Tai respondió que no podía dar una prueba. “Niega que eres una Bruja, y hoy mismo tendrás a tus hijos contigo” insistió la juez, pero To-Tai se opuso a negar lo que es.

Meses después, To-Tai conto que conoció a Cesar Ramsay que estudió Wicca a principios de los dos-miles con una mujer llamada Brida, quien afirmó haber estudiado con Sybil Leek. En el 2003, Ramsay fundó la asociación civil Sociedad Wicca Mexico, con el objetivo de integrar, unir, vincular y unir fuerzas entre practicantes, solitarios, círculos de estudio y covens para generar una inclusiva comunidad Pagana y Wiccana.

La asociación también da consejo y apoyo legal, y así fue como To-Tai pudo comprobar era una Bruja. Le entrego al juzgado un documento firmado por Ramsay explicando sus creencias y prácticas. La juez, sorprendida, dijo: “¡Oh! Entonces decías la verdad. ¡Sí eres una Bruja!”

Hablando personalmente, no me sorprende la reacción de la juez. Aunque tenemos el derecho constitucional de profesar cualquier religión, la mayoría de la gente aun no cree o no entiende que la Brujería es una religión. Si llega a haber una mención de Wicca o Brujería en los medios, que casi nunca sucede, lo relacionan con hechizos, adivinación o el Diablo.

Vivimos en un país donde mucha gente le tiene miedo a la Brujas. En algunas áreas, especialmente en el norte, aún existen las supersticiones. Algunos creen que los búhos y lechuzas son Brujas y, como resultado, han llegado a ser torturados, interrogados y prendidos en fuego intentando que revelen sus nombres y regresen a su forma humana.

Por supuesto, esto no sucede en todos lados. En los barrios del centro de la Ciudad de México, por ejemplo, hay una reacción diferente a la Brujería o al Paganismo. Isaura Avalos, conocida también como Walkirya La Bruja, tiene una cafetería con temática de brujería en la colonia Roma. Me dice que casi no ha tenido malas o poco amigables experiencias: “Mis vecinos son gente muy amable y lo han sido desde que llegamos a la Roma a poner nuestro negocio.”

Lo único que ha pasado es que al principio las monjas que viven cerca se cruzaban la calle para no pasar frente al café pero ahora ya hasta nos saludamos y llevamos bastante tiempo así.”

Avalos también dice que sus visitantes no-Paganos también son amables: “Los visitantes no-Paganos entran y quieren saber todo. Tienen sed de magia y sed de respuestas sobre energía y sobre Dios. Y siempre nos tomamos muy en serio darles la bienvenida a nuestro mundo y hacerles saber que somos personas normales con vidas extraordinarias…Con el tiempo, lo que ha cambiado es mi propia percepción ya que poco a poco fui perdiendo el miedo a que me vean distinta o me señalen. Estos cinco años de dar la cara al público como Bruja me han hecho sentir cómoda en la sociedad.”

No siempre somos temidos o incomprendidos, pero aún tenemos mucho trabajo por hacer luchando la ignorancia y los malentendidos de nuestras prácticas y creencias, a través de la luz de la sabiduría y la información. Además de estos retos, no todos nos llevamos muy bien en la comunidad Pagana nacional. No espero que lo hagamos pero sí creo en una comunidad Pagana en México más amigable y unida, donde personas como Mina To-Tai no se sientan solas y su comunidad religiosa las apoye.

También creo en una comunidad Pagana internacional más unida. En estos tiempos difíciles, donde los mexicanos hemos sido llamados violadores y criminales y con el clima político inestable, lleno de racismo y violencia, me parece buen momento para abrirnos y conocernos mejor. Porque tenemos más similitudes que diferencias, porque compartimos nuestras luchas y preocupaciones, porque compartimos nuestras creencias y prácticas.

Paganos del este, Paganos del oeste, Paganos del sur, Paganos del norte: quienquiera que esté leyendo nuestro llamado, los saludo. Los paganos mexicanos tenemos una historia diferente, pero nuestra narración y la suya están relacionadas. Puede ser que nuestros libros estén escritos en distintos idiomas, pero los sonidos de sus palabras leídos en voz alta resuenan con las mismas frecuencias. Como ustedes, recordamos. Como ustedes, creemos. Como ustedes, creamos.

([syndicated profile] thewildhunt_feed Sep. 8th, 2017 05:36 pm)

Posted by Eric O. Scott

It’s the last night of Heartland, and the gods are dancing around the fire. Drums pound out a rhythm for their revel. Masks hide their eyes in wells of shadow as they ambulate, a counter-widdershins curve of bodies spinning, twirling, cycling in and out from the red glow of the flame and the blue dark of the field. Some of their bodies I recognize: friends caught up in the trance. They have answered the high priest’s challenge, donned masks inscribed with sigils that contain the breath of gods, and surrendered themselves to the whims of the powers beyond.

Terracotta figurine of a mask of Dionysos [public domain].

The word “ecstasy” has lost so much of its potency; when it is used, if it is used, it serves only as a shorthand for the glorious frustration of an orgasm, itself a much bereft state of being. Our secular society takes the idea of ecstasy arising from an encounter with the world beyond as something risible, fit only for the lowest of the Low Protestants, the snake-handlers and strychnine-drinkers we wrote off decades ago. My world, godless and liberal, accepts only stillness as acceptable spiritual practice: peaceful meditation, quiet communion. Respectable, controlled, safe. It has no room for religion that sometimes eschews safety and comfort, that might involve the voluntary surrender of one’s body and soul to the frenzy of the divine. To be ecstatic is to be, its Greek roots tell us, “ἔκστασις,” “out of place;” and we are terrified of anything being out of its place. So we laugh at the possibility in order to preclude it. We reduce ecstasy to a chemical reaction. We give its name to a ravers’ drug.

Yet here ecstasy is, its name burned into these masks, its power washing through the dancers, each caught up in the euphoria of a power beyond themselves.

I am not wearing a mask. Instead I am standing beyond the edge of the roped-off circle with an orange glow stick hanging from my neck, serving the same role as a lifeguard during open swim. I’m here to rescue anyone I see drowning. Although the priests said the masks required sobriety, anybody could have come over from the Tuatha Dea concert with half a bottle of mead in their blood and taken up one of the mantles – and anyway, even among this crowd, ecstasy comes so rarely that the divine psyche can lose control of the human frame. I watch the dancers, looking for any untoward staggers in their steps or unwise movements toward the bonfire. So far all has been well, except for the man wearing the mask of Hermes, who has sometimes been so overcome with his god’s youthful vigor that he has forgotten the old and very human knees being asked to run at Mercury’s pace.

A woman with raven-black hair takes Hermes’s hand and twirls under him, then breaks away to spin against the rest of the crowd. She wears a billowing turquoise gown; her mask shines as though it were made of gold. She sallies from person to person, alternately flirting, hectoring, spurning. Soon she catches my eye. The goddess translates herself to my post and reaches out to play with the glow stick on my chest.

“Come and play,” she says, her voice purring as I have never heard it before.

“I’d love to,” I reply, “but I have my duties.”

“‘Duties?’ Duties are meant to be abandoned.”

I look at her golden mask, her smile beneath it. I have known the woman wearing this mask for years. She and her husband run a jewelry shop over in the Heartland merchant’s circle; they make baubles in the shape of steampunk gears, Thor’s hammers, Celtic knots. I bought a set of earrings from her earlier that day for my wife, who has been on a research trip to Kazakhstan for the past nine months, who will be home in three days.

The goddess tilts her head knowingly. “Well?”

But I shake my head. “I made a promise.”

“You’re no fun at all,” she says, then spins away. I watch her encounter other gods, and other people not wearing masks. I can’t hear what she says to them, but she moves with a caprice as natural as a coyote stripping meat from a deer.

Soon the priest calls the circle to order and tells the congregation that the formal time for the rite has ended. The masks have been programmed, he says, to ‘switch off’ once they are removed; the gods will depart when the humans wear their own faces again. He speaks the language of technology to describe his magick: all magick is language, and all language is metaphor. But what a strange metaphor it seems to me, to make a machine of these painted masks and bonfires and cool midnight trees. If you’re having any trouble coming down, he says, we have water and cookies over by the merchant’s circle.

It takes my friend awhile to remove her mask. For a time following the ritual, she revels in the possession of her deity — Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, beloved of Discordians — and shoots bolts of chaos, like arrows, off into the night. (“Be careful,” she says. “You never know what will happen because of that little jolt.”) But after a time, my friend’s eyes begin to look out from the holes in the mask, and she says she’s ready to come back to earth. She takes a deep breath and I help her take the mask off. She lets out the air, exhaling the divine. Then for a moment she takes no breath at all. I take her by the shoulder and squeeze.

“You all right?”

She starts to breathe again. “That was intense,” she says, and starts laughing nervously. She had touched the world beyond. Not everyone comes back from there.

I sit with her at the water station for an hour or so, helping her ease back into the world. The Heartland Sacred Experience Committee, which I belong to, has set out cushions in the grass, far from the manic energy of the bonfire. We look up at the stars, thinking about the constellations and the stories they hold: the lore of an older age, the storybook of myth.

Our conversation meanders, as all things do while traveling through the dark. Every now and then, a meteor flashes across the sky, and we gasp together at the sight. We spend every moment of our lives surrounded by outrageous visions: we carry panes of glass in our pockets that can, at our whim, show us the Andromeda galaxy, or the face of an elementary school crush, or a battle between an imaginary Johnny Depp and an equally false kraken. We drive to work through causeways of image, vibrant entreaties of capital urging us to leave the highway and buy their flesh-tone and pastel dreams. The shooting star, by contrast, is almost nothing, a pinprick drawing itself across the night, and yet the meteor retains its wonder, for unlike our electronic world, it remains guileless and wild.

Afterwards, while talking about my friend’s difficulty coming down from the possession of the mask, the ritual’s high priest held mixture of concern and scientific questioning. The masks had been enchanted to deactivate upon removal, a sharp and seamless conclusion to the ritual, but Eris had still been laughing in my friend’s ears at the time she went to bed. The kill-switch had gone awry somehow; something must have been wrong with their masks.

I don’t contract his theory, but his approach to these things is much mechanistic than mine, I think. Where he makes metaphors of machines, I prefer to think of magick as something more primal. Think of the weather, the first and most important relationship between man and god, and how, after so many millennia of human progress, we still so often find ourselves caught off-guard by the rain. Magick is like that. We know that it usually snows in January — at least it does here, in the Midwest — but even with Doppler alert radar systems and 24-hour online coverage, we still can’t say for sure which day the flakes will start to fall. Or think of the meteor showers: we can know a certain night is primed for them, but can never know which moment will contain that minute flair of light streaking across the dark. Nor, indeed, can we control that gasp of wonder when we are blessed with seeing such a light. Our reaction to the marvel comes before our consciousness of it.

I’m not surprised that divine possession is hard to control: like wildfire or an affair, the beginning of ecstasy is much easier to predict than its ending. Like the falling star, it is a thing beyond us, free, wild.

* * *

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.

Posted by Liz Williams

ENGLAND — : An open letter was sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby by the UK-based Odinist Fellowship asking for the return of sacred sites now occupied by Christian churches. These ‘stolen’ buildings must be returned, writes The Odinist Fellowship leader Ralph Harrison.

Canterbury Cathedral [Photo Credit: Hans Musil]

The Fellowship, established by Harrison (“Ingvar”) in 1996, was formed after a split with the Odinic Rite, an Odinist group originally established by John Yeowell. As a result of the 2006 legal case Royal Mail PLC v Holden, the Odinic Rite reportedly became the first Odinist group to be granted charitable status in the UK in 1988.

On its website, the current Odin Fellowship states that it seeks to increase awareness of one of the original faiths present in the UK, as practiced by the Saxons, Angles and Jutes. Additionally, organizers ask for an apology for the persecution of Odinists.

According to the open letter, the Fellowship wants two churches: one located in Canterbury and the other in York’s provinces. This will, according to Harrison, compensate for the temple grounds which were stolen “by Christian missionaries like St. Augustine.”

Harrison states that the “snatching of pagan property equals ‘spiritual genocide,’ and He claims that huge swathes of stolen property are currently under control of the Church of England.”

In 2016, Harrison sent a separate letter to the Archbishops of York and Canterbury. According to reports, he said at the time, “If such satisfaction is not offered, albeit that your church possesses a superfluity of ecclesiastical properties, then we most respectfully assure you, that we will persist ever more vocally in our just demands until at last they are met.”

Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, “responded to the claims by writing back that he remains uncertain concerning evidence for the strength of the Odinist faith in modern day Britain.”

While the Church has reportedly responded politely, reaction in the general Pagan community has been mixed, with people expressing their views predominantly over social media.

Those Pagans involved in academic research, including archaeology, have been pointing out that the overall issue of sacred sites being ‘stolen’ is in itself contentious. They observe, for example, that many of the alleged historically pagan temples were not converted at all.

London, for example, has evidence of a temple of Isis, but it is not known whether it lies beneath one of the city’s churches, or elsewhere. The west country has the remnants of temples to unknown Romano-British deities.  And, the complex of Aquae Sulis in Bath and the temple complex at Lydney in Gloucestershire were subsequently occupied by the Church.

Looking specifically at the claims of the Fellowship, they seem to relate to two historical episodes: the conversion of King Aethelbert and the destruction of an Odinist temple in Goodmanham in Yorkshire.

The first of these episodes is found in the writings of the Venerable Bede:

It is told that the king, while he rejoiced at their conversion and their faith, yet compelled none to embrace Christianity, but only showed more affection to the believers, as to his fellow citizens in the kingdom of Heaven. For he had learned from those who had instructed him and guided him to salvation, that the service of Christ ought to be voluntary, not by compulsion.

Pope Gregory was pleased with the outcomes of missions to England and in 597 AD made Augustine ‘Archbishop of the English’. Augustine asked Gregory for guidance on ways of dealing with the pagans and Gregory told Augustine to gather whatever seemed best from the various churches and teach them in the way that seemed appropriate to him. ‘For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things.’

Pope Gregory, in the early 600s, wrote a letter to Mellitus, (the first Bishop of London in the Saxon period) proposing that pagan temples should be converted for Christian worship. He commented that since the pagans were in the habit of sacrificing cattle, perhaps they could be persuaded to sacrifice cattle to God instead.  Bede goes on:

So when almighty God has led you to the most reverend man our brother Bishop Augustine, tell him what I have long gone over in my mind concerning the matter of the English: that is, that the shrines of idols amongst that people should be destroyed as little as possible, but that the idols themselves that are inside them should be destroyed. Let blessed water be made and sprinkled in these shrines, let altars be constructed and relics placed there: since if the shrines are well built it is necessary that they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God, so that as long as that people do not see their very shrines being destroyed they may put out error from their hearts and in knowledge and adoration of the true God they may gather at their accustomed places more readily.”

Despite that writing, it is not clear how many pagan sites were actually converted to Christian worship. Some known examples are the temple of Claudius in Roman Colchester and two of its Romano-Celtic temples.

In an essay titled “Anglo-Saxon Pagan shrines and their prototypes,” John Blair wrote, “several hundred years of archaeological excavation have not produced a single example of an Anglo-Saxon church built over the foundations of any pre-Christian structure, let alone one recognised as a temple building.”

Building D2 at the archaeological site of Yeavering in Northumberland is held to be an Anglo-Saxon temple complex, but this was destroyed some years after its conversion to Christianity and no church was subsequently erected on the spot.

Despite the overall historical picture and whether or not temples were converted throughout the country, the Fellowship claims may still retain some merit. Goodmanham in Yorkshire used to be the site of a temple to a pagan deity, variously described as Delgovine or Wotan, and is mentioned by Bede, whose reliability as a historical commentator limited.  That pagan temple site was allegedly destroyed by the high priest Coifi on his conversion to Christianity in the time of King Edwin, 627 AD.

The temple appears to be on the site of the current All Hallows church in Yorkshire.

All Saints Church Goodmanham 1905 [Public Domain]

In Canterbury, King Aethelbert (552 – 616 AD) is said to have worshipped at a temple to Odin before his conversion, and apparently did give the temple precincts to Saint Augustine to build a church. This is perhaps the stoutest claim for the Odinist Fellowship to make, but it is notable that the area would previously have been the home to Celtic tribes, probably the Cantiaci.

If those tribes, who made accommodation with the invading Romans were subsequently displaced by the invasive Saxons, it raises the question of whether theeir descendants could similarly sue the Odinist Fellowship for the return of their lands.

Since the mainstream media picked up on the story, the entire episode has drawn British Pagan community’s attention to the Fellowship itself. Although the website references standard Norse/Heathen beliefs, Harrison is extensively interviewed on website Western Spring: Fighting For a White Revival. In 2012 he spoke at a London “thing,” about “the role of Odinism as a national religion and its increasing popularity as a result of the liberalisation and modernisation of the Church of England and the rise of Islam in the West.”

Due to such statements and Harrison’s far right political agenda, no other UK-based Pagan organisation has made any claims on behalf of or stepped in to support the Fellowship’s current quest.

Posted by Cara Schulz

UNITED STATES — Christian protesters targeted a Pagan Pride Day in Philadelphia and a Pagan shop in Greenville, North Carolina in two completely unrelated events Saturday. While the reaction by the Pagans present at both locations differed, they all agree that those protests have since united their respective communities.

Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day

Last Saturday afternoon, Robert Schreiwer, coordinator and president of Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day, was doing some shopping at one of the vendor stalls near the entrance of the park where the event was being held. That’s when he heard a commotion nearby.

Mr. Schreiwer says it was a group trying to enter the park while one man “began to spew an invective full of hate” over a megaphone.

Schreiwer, and other attendees, quickly moved to intervene. “The folks in the community blocked their path, and I demanded to see his permit,” says Schreiwer.

The group, members of the Keys of David church led by Pastor Aden Rusfeldt, then retreated to the corner at the entrance of the park. In a YouTube video uploaded by Pastor Rusfeldt, he says, “We only moved back to the sidewalk because they had a permit for the park. It was a good one hour preach. Pray these witches and warlocks hit rock bottom and get saved!”

Schreiwer says Rusfeldt used terms like rectum wreckers to describe gays and derided Witches and Muslims. Rusfeldt’s wife then spoke briefly, followed by another male that Schrewer believes to be their son.

“He was the one, I believe, who kept asking a young teen from our group about how many abortions she had,” said Schreiwer.

Larry Goble has been a vendor at Philly PPD for four years. He noted the purposeful involvement of children, both as part of the protest and as a target of the protest. “They started all of this right in front of our children’s activities tent. They also had young children with them carrying signs and shouting.”

Shortly after the protest started, an attendee came to his booth and asked for a smudging stick to use against the protesters. Goble said that the attendee told him the Christian group was complaining about the smell of incense so they wanted to burn a smudging stick to “really give them something to complain about.”

Goble gave them a cleansing and purifying stick to use.

Karen Bruhin, co-ritual coordinator for Philly PPD, received one of the sticks and began smudging the area while leading a chant. “Smudge is a great way to clear out the energy and the space,” says Ms. Bruhin.

Bruhin says that the protesters then increased the volume of the megaphone, “It’s hard to compete with that when you have no electronic enhancements.” But she kept up the chant until her voice gave out and then she returned to the welcome tent.

Schreiwer, meanwhile, had called police, who arrived and took up a position between the two groups.

“Despite the fact that the police had their faces to us, they were not hostile toward us at all. A couple of them even rolled their eyes at some of the things the extremists were saying,” says Schreiwer. He notes the police were very polite and he has no issues with how the situation was handled.

But Schreiwer did say that there were tense moments before the police arrived, as the two group exchanged heated conversations.

Bruhin says one of the positive things that she remembers from the encounter is how some of the attendees formed a human shield between the protestors and Philly PPD. “They stood with their backs to the protesters facing the rest of us. I think those individuals shielded many from the brunt of the vitriol that was being spewed,” she explained.

Schreiwer and other Philly PPD Board members began encouraging attendees to go back into the park and ignore the protesters. Shortly after, the pastor and his group left.

“I think the fact that we began to encourage our folks not to attend to their behavior also began to weaken their interest. Attending to an unwanted behavior reinforces that behavior,” says Schreiwer. He says the Philly PPD board is discussing how to deal with situations such as this if they occur again.

He found it ironic that Philly PPD was taking up collections for a food bank, a cat shelter, and victims of Harvey, yet was disrupted by people who claim to be full of love. “I have looked at their site and found nothing that leads me to believe they are doing anything to help the community around them.”

Between the protest and the increasing rain, a decision was made to hold closing ritual earlier than originally planned. Schreiwer says the ritual was very well attended and he believes attendees were seeking some type of resolution.

“At the opening ritual we had talked about the need for the wider Pagan community to stand together, and that sentiment was underscored by what had happened,” says Schreiwer.

He went on to describe the closing ritual, “We talked about how we as a community will not always agree and may not even like each other, but we drew a line in the ground with a Sickle of Holle that we will not allow ourselves to be defeated or torn apart by such hatred.”

Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions

On the same day, Greenville metaphysical shop Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions was protested by two Christian street evangelists.

At around 4pm store Apothecary Manager Courtney Varnadoe noticed a man, known as EC Street Preacher, in front of the store. He had a large sign which read ‘Who will Jesus Damn’ with a list of sinners, a video camera mounted to a hand truck, and orange caution cones.

Another street evangelist, Portable Evangelist, parked his truck at the end of the block and invited people to seek him out if they wanted someone to pray with.

Ms. Varnadoe went out to talk with EC Street Preacher.

After a short time, store owner Michelle Jenkins, more widely known in the Pagan community as Heron, joined the discussion. Heron says she enjoys talking about religion and often takes part in interfaith events.

“I chose to engage him as a fellow member of clergy with the hopes that I could help clarify those misconceptions for him and his viewers. This is how I accept my fellow man; listening and honoring their right to worship the gods of their choice, though I will also defend our rights to differ,” she explains.

Heron captured some of the exchange and posted it to Facebook.

While Heron chose dialogue to deal with the situation, Varnadoe’s husband, a Norse Heathen, chose humor.

Nate Varnadoe teaches Heathenry and Runes at the shop. After hearing about what was happening, he showed up with his own sign. It read, in response to the list of sinners that EC Street Preacher’s sign said Jesus will damn, ‘Odin is OK with ’em.”

Mr. Varnadoe, similar to his wife and Heron, talked with EC about Norse mythology and answered his questions for approximately an hour.

[Courtesy Heron Michelle]

Heron says, “Despite Nate not being seen much in the video, he can be heard, and I found it to be an awesome example of non combative, effective but pointed counter-protest; I was very impressed by his calm handling of what could have become a bad scene.”While these exchanges were taking place, Pagans, hearing about the action, started to arrive at the shop.”Because we were getting such an excited turn-out of customers in the shop, Courtney chose to remain open a whole hour after we normally close, giving EC and Nate plenty of extra time to talk,” says Heron.

Heron says in the over 8 years of business at this location they’v never had any protesters or drawn the attention of street preachers. They did find a prayer circle happening on morning in 2015 at the entrance area of their shop, but the group fled as they arrived, leaving behind crosses drawn in anointing oil on the window and doors.

Heron says since the incident, the shop has been flooded with supportive messages from all over the world, many of whom have made purchases to show their support.

“Their attention galvanized our community in brilliant ways,” says Heron. She’s been asked why she engaged EC in conversation instead of calling police to have him removed. Her response:

“I love to discuss religion, and found his attention to be a golden opportunity. Mostly, I was curious about him and his intentions. I found him to non-threatening, polite and sincere, and reasonably well-read on his religion, though his sources clearly show the bias of this form of ‘hellfire and damnation’ evangelism.”

“I recognized him to have a similar zealousness that my mother once possessed, and I consider to be cultish, and an aberration of the message of Jesus which is destructive to all involved,” Heron adds.

“I was raised in this evangelical Christianity, so I knew the drill. I know that evangelicals in our area are misinformed about who we are, and what we believe. So I took the chance to try and inform them.”

While the Pagans in these two situations used different tactics when confronted by protesters and both were considered successful by their respective communities, both chose the tactic based on the behavior and perceived threat the protesters presented.

The Philly Pagan Pride Day board felt the protesters were aggressive and were concerned the actions could cross a line from violent words to violent actions, so they called police. Heron said EC Street Preacher remained polite and calm so she not only engaged with him in a conversation that lasted several hours, but also invited him back for another discussion.

Neither EC Street preacher nor Keys of David church responded to requests for comment.

Correction 9/6 7:31pm: The original article read that Philadelphia Pagan Pride closed early. However, it was only the ritual that was held early. The event closed on schedule. The article has been corrected with this information.

Posted by Renu Aldrich

TWH – The dramatic shift of New Age mogul Doreen Virtue toward Christianity and away from many of her previous teachings on the use of tarot and channeling has some of her former followers crying foul. While some feel personally abandoned at losing their spiritual mother, others say it’s her responsibilities as a teacher that she has failed to uphold.

Goddess Deck by Virtue [Kelly Cookson / Flickr]

“There’s been a feeling of, I don’t even know, a feeling of sadness, of loss and grief, and…the word betrayal kind of came to my mind,” Andrew Barker says in a tearful video posted to YouTube.

Barkers says, “Doreen Virtue has played a really big part in my life and…she has been such a spiritual parent to me guiding me helping me and teaching me a lot of the things I need to know to help other people. There’s a certain fear that comes with everything she’s done because all of the classes I’ve taken from her, and I’ve given Hay House and Earth Angel a lot of money. It’s kind of diff for me in a way to think about the validity. I know that those classes really, really helped me…but in the back of my mind sometimes I wonder, was it even real?”

Virtue, the Hay House author of more than 50 books, angel oracle cards, and tarot decks, offers several types of spiritual counseling programs to become a Certified Angelologist, Angel Therapy Practitioner, Angel Intuitive, and Fairyologist through her Earth Angel brand. Her works have been translated widely offering information on channeling and mediumship, angels, fairies, and various faiths including Hindu, Celtic, and Native American deities.

Since February 25, 2017, when she was baptized in the Episcopal Church, her writings have focused on Jesus and scripture while she has openly repudiated the foundations of her former teachings and called for her followers to no longer go to other people to develop their relationships with God.

Critics say Virtue has made millions off people through her products and donations following her to learn how to be the conduits she is now denouncing. Though she talked about becoming a born-again Christian on her Hay House radio show in March, her transformation did not become widely known until she published a video publicly denouncing the use of tarot cards and other means of fortunetelling on the day of the solar eclipse.

While Virtue did not return requests for comment by The Wild Hunt, she defends her path in the video: “When people say I’ve given up my life work, it’s not true. I love the angels, they saved my life. I’m here today because of angels.”

She goes on to say that she was given a spiritual directive to stop using her prophetic abilities “like a trick pony” and to shift from doing readings to contemplations inspired by God.

“Instead of doing predictions, it’s more about contemplation, which is thinking about receiving messages,” she says.

“So, it’s a subtle shift. I just want you to see that because I know a lot of people have gone into fear and speculation about my changes. Anyway, so with regard to tarot, I was going to them for answers as opposed to going to God. And so, I saw that was not to do. I suppose someone could use tarot to go directly to God. I mean you’d have to pray to see if that was aligned with you.”

 

Virtue, who says she was born with second-sight, was raised as a Christian Scientist—although she says she didn’t read the Bible until recently. She has a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Protestant-affiliated Chapman University and a Ph.D in psychology from California Coast University’s distance learning program in 1996 before it became accredited, but says she gave up doing psychotherapy for giving tarot readings inspired by a carjacking in 1995 in which she attributes angelic intervention for saving her life.

She currently lives on a 47-acre estate in Hawaii, where she moved with her fifth husband Michael last year from their estate in Maui to better care for 100 rescue animals of all kinds. Some of the proceeds of her courses are earmarked for their care, but the ranch is not a registered charity and donations are not tax-deductible.

She has left it to Hay House to handle individual student questions and complaints.

“You have responsibility to the students who have built a business around your brand,” Lisa Frideborg, a Doreen Virtue certified angel card reader and tarotist who said she began following her since reading “The Lightworker’s Way” in 2003, in an interview with The Wild Hunt. “That brand is pretty much worthless now, so the students should all have a right to a refund.”

Virtue and others say while she had this experience, the roots of her conversion were longstanding. Her latest deck, Loving Words from Jesus, was published in March of last year. Some even speculate Virtue’s conversion may be an attempt to reinvigorate her brand within a new market.

She defended herself against the broader criticisms of greed in her video.

“People are always talk about how much money I make,” Virtue says in the video. “I want to just be honest with you that a lot of money has come through me but passed through me. I give so much to charity. I don’t talk about it because you’re not supposed to, but because people ‘gossip’ about it I’m just telling you that we rescue animals.”

“Most of our money goes to the animals we rescue or to the charities that we’re part of or feeding people. So, I know that brings up a lot of feelings, that spiritual teachers get paid, but it’s the way the money is used, right? It passes through me.”

Virtue also states in the video that she has directed her publisher since 1993, Hay House, to donate all royalties from her tarot decks to their foundation and to remove her name from them in a year. Her courses now sport the caveat that “This is not a New Age course, and it does not include the topics of divination or angelic communication.”

Accepting that she will only write scriptural works, Hay House readily agreed to take her book of deities from multiple faiths, Archangels and Ascended Masters: A Guide to Working and Healing with Divinities and Deities, and its companion cards out of print “in case people used them to worship idols and deities other than God,” Virtue says.

The video has sparked a firestorm in New Age and metaphysical circles mainly because of its impact on her students and followers who had not been aware of her conversion six months earlier and are left unclear how to proceed. Frideborg’s blog posts about Virtue’s conversion spiked more than 15,000 hits. She says her own business won’t be negatively impacted because she had a business prior to taking courses with Virtue.

Barker is among those who are processing this as a personal journey of evolving past Virtue as a teacher. He finds the situation “heartbreaking” and feels he is going through the stages of grief, but does not want to be hateful toward Virtue because he thinks she is courageous and making an authentic change in her life.

While he will no longer be following her, he appreciates what he has received from her, including the strength to come out to his mother.

But others are still trying to understand why their teacher has changed course. Students and followers of Virtue have flooded social media from twitter to Facebook to give their opinions and share their experiences, some even doing tarot readings to gain insight into Virtue’s conversion.

Trix Malone, a tarotist and Virtue student, posted in a public thread on the sectual.com discussion forum that while she felt Virtue was “totally coming from the heart,” she disagreed with the distinctions Virtue was trying to make.

“Why is Doreen trying to differentiate between intuitive understanding, and communications from God?” Malone asks in the post, which she gave permission to The Wild Hunt to reprint.

“Who’s to say they aren’t the same damn thing?? Does Doreen honestly not realize this?? Or is she saying that she thinks the tools aren’t needed and that we should just be using solid intuition? Is she now considering intuition to be communication from God?? What’s the big deal with the cards then if the messages are coming from the same place?? Why the differentiation?? It really seems like going from an open-minded, non-religious mentality to a closed-minded religious mentality is a massive downgrade.”

Virtue’s about-shift has been ill-received by the Pagan community because of the judgment against non-Christians and their beliefs. Some have banded together to create their own Pagan-themed oracle.

“I can see why Pagans are offended with her bashing of Pagan deities, faeries and such—but she was never Pagan,” says Mat Auryn, a witch, writer, professional psychic, and occult teacher from New England. He told The Wild Hunt, “She’s always identified as Christian with a New Age twist, it’s just that this New Age twist is now gone and she’s full-fledged Christian.”

But Auryn is among many who took to social media to say no one should judge another’s spiritual journey. In the interview, he said, “I think we should respect Doreen’s path. Her path is not our own. It’s important to not mistake her teachings with her as a human being.”

His view is that the certificates she offers are really more about personal achievement so cannot be invalidated, but that each path is shaped by many influences.

“It’s hard when a spiritual teacher of any sort renounces teachings that had a great impact on their life” Auryn said. “This provides a great opportunity for discernment, was she misled then or is she misled now? Were her followers misled or was she, or both? In the end, her practice or the practice of any other human being doesn’t really effect my own. As Witches, we tend not to be purists, but rather taking what works for us and what we resonate with and discarding what doesn’t. As Witches, we walk a solitary road at the end of the day regardless of who our teachers or role models were.”

But critics say it’s not her personal path that has them concerned, but her repudiation of mediumship—and the very people she fostered for more than 20 years.

Virtue allegedly posted another video earlier this year, as described by Frideborg and others, that was removed almost immediately.

Blogger Chanel Adams quotes the video in a story for The Inquisitr, saying Virtue “called her followers ‘demonic’ and ‘dark.’ She even told her followers to burn some of her books and the decks associated with them.”

This clashes with Virtue’s available statements, such as her latest newsletter in which she states, “Some people have incorrectly said that I’ve renounced all of my prior work, and that’s not true. See? That’s an example of how fear-energy likes to stir up drama. I respect your right to pray and believe as you choose! Some people have acted like I’m judging them since I became a Christian, and that’s probably because they’ve had painful experiences in the past with judgmental people. I have total compassion for those who’ve had painful experiences with organized religion, and I am praying that they keep God and Jesus in their hearts.”

Sheri Harshberger, the president of The American Tarot Association (ATA), told The Wild Hunt that her organization was “deeply disappointed in the actions taken by Doreen Virtue. People are drawn to the tarot and oracles for many reasons, and to step away from it in a way that undermines the beliefs and ways of others is unfortunate. When she took this action, she only succeeded in demeaning herself.”

While Hay House would not return requests for comment, they are still publishing other tarot decks and authors. Virtue’s longtime co-author Radleigh Valentine, who also did not return requests for comment, is scheduled to publish a new Fairy Tarot deck this fall.

For her part, Virtue does not seem to discern between her personal and professional paths. In the Aug. 21 video, she says her most major transformation came on January 17 of this year when Jesus appeared to her in church: “After seeing Jesus, I was completely changed. I started to read the Bible even more. I started to volunteer at the church even more. And I started to give up things that were against the Bible like mediumship and what they call fortunetelling, which is predicting. And so, I wanted to be completely aligned with God’s will.”

She says that the “really important turn in my compass is to always make sure that I am going straight to God for messages and for healing and health” and said the problem was that “people were going to deceased people instead of God” for prophecy. Since Virtue had never previously openly addressed Christianity’s view of metaphysics, her students are stumped by her comments.

“Doreen should be asking WHY ‘sorcery, fortune telling and divination’ are forbidden in the Bible,” posted Malone. “Sounds to me like it’s forbidden because they don’t want you getting answers from INTUITION, they want you getting answers from a proxy, a ‘higher being’ than yourself… as a CONTROL MECHANISM.”

While upset with Virtue, Harshberger does not see any negative ramifications for the tarot industry.

“There are millions of tarot readers worldwide,” she said. “They are business executives, doctors, lawyers, teachers, housewives, writers, engineers, students, and any other profession that can be named. They are neighbors, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers. Tarot reading empowers readers and others to think through their options and come to decisions on their own.”

“The cards are used to gain insight into personal growth opportunities, to aid in meditation or concentration practice, to explore options or alternative answers to questions, or to enhance creativity through brainstorming. Within the last few years, the cards are even beginning to appear in therapeutic settings. Such spiritual and internal seeking is a healthy part of the human condition.”

Sarah Fuhro, a Druid astrologer and tarotist, told The Wild Hunt that she is among many who use the tarot differently from Virtue’s current take on it.

“The images deepen our stories so they become archetypal,” Fuhro explains. “We understand when we ‘read’ tarot that we communicate with a reality not interested in the concerns of the ego, a source not interested in a particular outcome. There is humor in the cards. They turn it around and say: Haven’t you forgotten something? Tarot is a friendly guide taking us through dark tunnels into dappled light.”

For people like Frideborg though, there is greater and more troubling symbolism in this rejection because it could have far-ranging implications. Virtue’s embrace of Christianity to the point of denouncing what she once taught herself comes at a time when the United States is fraught with political unrest from Christian extremism on the far Right.

“This is all part of patriarchy kicking back against the return of the Divine Feminine. Patriarchy is in its death throes and doing all it can to cling to power,” she wrote in her blog.

Frideborg told The Wild Hunt that she knows “Tarot colleagues in certain parts of the U.S. who have to work pretty much under cover because they fear persecution. This will certainly NOT help them. [Virtue] has stoked the fire under the bellies of the hyper fundies…I see strong ties to the polarization that is happening with Christian far right in the U.S. and fear-based indoctrination. Duality breeds fear and fear strengthens duality. It’s a vicious downward spiral right now… However, I do believe that things will come right in the end. People are waking up from their zombie-like consumerist existences—and THAT can only be a good thing.”

Virtue was interviewed Friday by Steven Bancarz, a former New Age blogger who became born-again last year and now runs the Biblical justification website Reasons for Jesus. On the site, he calls Virtue “one of the most influential figures ever involved in the New Age” and writes that while she has “renounced the New Age movement,” he hopes Virtue evolves even further to denounce the tarot and angel cards completely as well as join a Church that is more restrictive of LGBTQ+ rights. “This is a big step in the right direction.”

In the interview, which was live-streamed on Bancarz’s YouTube Channel, Virtue addressed what she called “spiritual celebrity gossip” and said she has gotten hate and rudeness as well as support from New Agers and Christians alike. She said, “I’m not telling people to change their path. I’m not denouncing what you’re doing, I’m denouncing how it’s used. And I don’t use it anymore.”

However, she also went on to say that other New Age teachers advocate an “everything goes” attitude and wrongly tell students that “whatever feels good, do it” and “if it makes you happy, it’s the right path for you.”

When Bancarz said he takes a more rigid approach, she said she admired him for his bold approach and that while she was not there yet, she was learning quickly. She agreed when he said it takes time to re-write the brain’s pathways when coming from the New Age movement.

Not everyone believes Virtue’s conversion signals a cultural shift or that the New Age movement will falter because major aspects like tarot are is firmly embedded in the world.

“Most scholars agree the earliest known decks reflect a Medieval Christian mindset (though the illustrations also draw upon other sources, including mythology,” said the ATA’s Harshberger.

“More and more people use the tarot and other oracles as tools for self-examination, spirituality, and other worthy purposes,” Harshberger says. “The metaphysical disciplines have never been more popular. They don’t get the press the conservatives do, but tarot and readings are more visible in television and movies, while being portrayed in a favorable light. New decks and other reading tools are being produced every day.”

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