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Updated: 14 hours 27 min ago

Pagan merchants continue to wrestle with occult bans

Tue, 2017-08-22 10:48

TWH –It’s still not a good time to accept credit cards while Pagan. As was reported in March, terms of service forbidding fortune telling and other “occult” practices are enforced arbitrarily, and sometimes without warning. A new twist in the tale was discovered by Yeshe Rabbit, who was advised that not using a particular processor for the forbidden transactions is not enough. She was told to remove the offending services from her business web site.

The Sacred Well, her shop with two West Coast locations, now uses a different provider, but she’d like to work on clearing this climate of uncertainty once and for all.

[Carmel Sastre, CC/Flickr.]

The ban on occult products and services stems from a purely mercenary motivation: the fear that customers will be unhappy and demand their money back. It’s for that same reason that lottery tickets can’t be purchased with plastic.

The lottery comparison is only superficially similar, however. For one thing, it is a clearly-defined category of merchandise, as opposed to the board and mushy “occult” grouping.

For another, it’s unlikely that anyone has told the owners of shops selling lottery merchandise that they won’t be able to accept credit cards for any merchandise if they continue to sell those scratch-off tickets.

“TSW was designated ‘high risk’ because, according to CardConnect, we mentioned ‘reiki, herbal smoking blends, and psychic readings’ on our website,” Rabbit said.

“This was after 10 years of working in our industry without any significant chargebacks or complaints. It was not based on our existing record of sales, only on wording on our website.” That wording has not been changed in the recent past, she confirmed.

Like many store owners, Rabbit acknowledges that she didn’t study the fine print when she first signed her CardConnect agreement some ten years ago, but that changed when she heard about other Pagan vendors running into problems.

“We made sure that we were not using any single processor for any activities listed in the fine print of their policy. CardConnect had a policy against psychic readings. However, since we did not use CardConnect to process readings, but rather used it to process sales of merchandise and classes, we thought we were abiding by the policy,” Rabbit explained.

“However, when they notified us that they planned to terminate our service,” she continued, “they specifically cited that we offered readings and smoking blends on our website.”

Rabbit said that she wrote back, letting the agent know that they  used other processors for both readings and web sales, but they did not budge.” Card Connect told her that the store would “need to take those pages down to retain their services, even if [they] were using those services for a separate part of the business that did not violate their policy.”

“In the end, we chose to close our account,” Rabbit said.

A call to CardConnect asking for media relations was transferred to the voice mail of a Chelsea Cole, who did not respond to inquiries by press time. Cole was asked to confirm that CardConnect policy includes the restrictions that Rabbit described, and whether those limitations extend to CardConnect clients with lottery tickets for sale.

What’s clear is that at least one card processor is coming down harder still than earlier in the year, with attempts to dictate terms that extend well beyond what one might expect.

“They are not interested in any proof that our practices are linked to a legitimate religious path,” Rabbit said, “even though Paganism and Wicca are recognized by the government and armed forces for things like chaplaincy and headstones.”

Sacred Well Portland [Courtesy]

The fact that services such as divination are used by some individuals as part of their sincerely-held religious beliefs is a complicating factor which could well hold sway in a court of law, but getting there is an expensive and cumbersome process which the stereotypical Pagan merchant can ill afford to pursue.

If Rabbit had those resources handy, she said, she’d be more inclined to just start a processing company of her own. “It’s tempting to dream about creating the kind of infrastructure that supports the world I want to live in, where there is true religious freedom and respect for diversity of beliefs and practices,” she said.

Rabbit is confident she could write a report that demonstrates that there is no need to for any processor to consider the Sacred Well a business risk, but she’s not sure it would matter much. After all, a 115-page business plan backed by considerable research was ignored by a commercial realtor in one West Coast city that simply refused to rent any space to a Pagan shop.

“I fear that would happen if we tried to do that here,” she said. “Perhaps if several businesses did this and approached these companies en masse, it might be more effective.”

The number of Pagan merchants isn’t big enough to get changes through a boycott. That’s evident in the other demand made of Rabbit, concerning her business web page.

CardConnect representatives “did not provide any explanation about why they felt they could dictate the content of our website, even after we offered proof that the activities they find objectionable have nothing to do with their processing equipment or services,” Rabbit said.

That kind of demand makes little business sense if it would lead to a loss of revenue for the processor.

Rabbit believes that if changing this state of affairs were to be successful, it would be as a leaderless movement, with responsibilities shared among actors. “I can see myself instigating, contributing, and collaborating in a movement among Pagan business owners to address the religious intolerance directed toward our products and services,” she said, “but I don’t know that anyone needs me to lead in that field. We are all business owners and capable entrepreneurs.”

She added, “I would love to team up with people like Jane Hawkner, Susan Diamond, and Phoenix LaFey around this. And, truth be told, if we really want something like this to be successful, we would benefit greatly from the business wisdom of Cat Yronwode. She is brilliant.”

Unless and until these policies are clarified or modified, there is little a Pagan business owner can do other than read the fine print of every agreement carefully, and to have one more more backup plans in place.

As Rabbit discovered, even complying with the letter of the policy is no guarantee that someone at the other end of the phone won’t decide it’s too risky anyway, and close the account. Absent the deep pockets for a lawsuit or the community will for a movement, signing up for payment processing while Pagan is no more certain than the promises made by some world leaders to take in war refugees and give them permanent homes.

We will continue to update this story as new information is received.

*  *  * The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

Pagan Community Notes: EarthSpirit Community, Florida senate race, solar eclipse and more

Mon, 2017-08-21 10:04

BOSTON — The weekend’s scheduled “Free Speech Rally” was overshadowed by thousands of counter-protesters. According to reports, there were only a “few dozen” rally attendees, who were eventually escorted out of the area to the sound of the crowd cheering. The event’s organizers have claimed that the rally was not related to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, but protesters were unconvinced and showed up in force.

Among the crowds were a number of people from the Pagan community. Specifically, members of the EarthSpirit Community, which is based in Massachusetts, were on hand with their own signs. Posting live, one member wrote, “Lots of passionate people on the Boston Common today. We are glad to be among them.”

Moira Ashleigh documented the march in photos, which are all posted on EarthSpirit’s Facebook page. After the rally attendees left, EarthSpirit members reported that “the counter-protest has become a celebration and ‘love-fest’ of 30,000. Gratitude to those who represented our community in Boston today and those of you acting elsewhere to demand justice for All Beings of the Earth. ”

There are reportedly a number of white nationalist rallies planned throughout the country over the coming month, including New York, Berkeley, San Francisco and beyond. With that will come more counter-protests and similar actions.

 *    *    *

ORLANDO — In a not completely unrelated story coming out of Florida, Augustus Sol Invictus, who was one of the “Unite the Right” organizers, has announced that he will make another run for the U.S. Senate in that state. This time around, he is running as a Republican. In 2015, Invictus ran for Senate as a Libertarian and lost. However, in July, Invictus left the party, which he has reportedly claimed is an “organization devoted to losing.”

Invictus has since joined the Republican party and, in an August video announcement, said that he will be making another run for the U.S. Senate from Florida. In that speech, he says that “new leadership is needed,” and he promises to “restore the republic […] if God wills it.” Along with organizing rallies, Invictus is also the publisher and founder of the Revolutionary Conservative, a reported member of the Proud Boys, and does identify as a practicing Pagan. He is also currently on the SPLC watch list.

The next U.S. Senate election in Florida will be held in November 2018.

 *    *    *

A solar eclipse occurs in the U.S. today. Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists around the country are preparing to witness this rare and spectacular event. In some cases, people will be engaging in rituals, spell work, and meditations.

As astrologer Diotima Mantineia told The Wild Hunt, “We’ll have plenty of inspiration to work with, but some of us may get carried away with enthusiasm — or anger. Both are very much in the air.” Mantineia sees fire and transformation. She offered, “it will help to keep in mind that sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a transformative event, things can get pretty scary.”

For those that are not able to get outside to experience the astronomical event, NASA will be live broadcasting beginning at noon EDT with a “pre-game” show followed by a second program that “will cover the path of totality the eclipse will take across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina.”

In other news:

  • Many Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist organizations have published reactions and statements with regard to the violent events that occurred in Charlottesville. The Troth is no different. However, the organization also produced a video titled Inclusive Heathenry. After images and music demonstrating what happened in Virginia. a title card says that witnessing the weekend’s events “can leave anyone feeling helpless or alone. Especially those in the Heathen community. Seeing our symbols used for hate.” The video then goes on to showcase the Troth’s community, its people, its mission statements, and its work.
  • Solar Cross Temple is hosting an eclipse ritual event titled “A (Re)Statement of Faith” as presented by Jacki Chuculate. The ritual, as written, can be performed anywhere and is meant to be done in coordination with the eclipse, but can be done in the surrounding days. Chuculate writes as part of the ritual, “As the eclipse grows and peaks, we notice all the ways and means in which our essential work has been challenged. How we as people and people of the work have been challenged, depleted, struggled, and face a world and realms that are literally and figuratively, toxic.”
  • Sarah Kate Istra Winter, also known as Dver, has just released a new book. It is titled A City is a Labyrinth: a walking guide for urban animists. Winter writes in a blog post, “After many years of exploring my city on foot, visiting all the numinous places and finding spirits in every corner, performing rituals in urban environments, and using walking as a means of trance-induction, I decided to collect all my experience and ideas in a little (4×6 inches) pocket guide.”
  • CalderaFest Pagan music festival tickets will be subject to an eclipse sale. The announcement reads, “get your general admission tickets for $50 off Aug. 20-27.” CalderaFest, which was first held in May 2016, is a three-day camping event dedicated to Pagan music. Due to the weather, organizers moved the event to the fall. CalderaFest’s second year will be kicked off during October in the mountains of north Georgia.
  • Priestess Starr Ravenhawk has announced the lineup for 2018 WitchsFest USA. New for next summer’s event will be Queen Mother Imakhu, Elizabeth Ruth, Sharon Day, Austin Shippey, Gregg Sicarri, and Kenya Coviak. Returning presenters include Rev. Donald Lewis, Christopher Penczak, Lady Rhea, Rhonda Choudry, Lilith Dorsey and Krystal Madison. WitchsFest is held mid-July in New York City’s west village.

UN will focus on witchcraft-related violence for first time

Sun, 2017-08-20 10:47

TWH –  The Times of India reports that “Shanti Devi, a resident of Thethai Andag village, was [killed Tuesday night] on suspicion of practising witchcraft.” 11 assailants reportedly beat her to death and later set her body on fire “to wipe out all evidences connecting them with the crime.”

Kalinga TV offers a similar report. “In yet another superstition-related crime, a man hacked his aunt to death suspecting her to be practicing sorcery before dumping her body on the banks of a river in Thakursahi village.”

The Ghana Web reports that a 63-year-old man has recently come forward to claim that his blindness was caused by his own mother selling his soul so that she could possess witchcraft abilities.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. reports that a militia, made up of mostly children, executed at least 79 people. Survivors of the attacks reportedly told journalists that this militia, called Kamuina Nsapu, has magical powers that make them invincible.

[Courtesy Under the Same Sun]

These witchcraft-related reports are published daily. They demonstrate not only the extreme level of violence attached to witchcraft-related abuse, but also the deeply-embedded cultural beliefs and fears surrounding magic, “sorcery,” and witchcraft.

While horrifying in their number and in their presented detail, the readily-available articles only share the stories making news. Experts agree that many witchcraft-related incidents go completely unnoticed and unreported. As a result, the statistics on witchcraft-related violence are unreliable. Nobody knows just has bad it is.

Although the published reports do regularly populate the international news media, this human rights crisis has gotten very little attention on the international political scene. To date, most of the work has been done by private organizations, such as the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) and Under the Same Sun.

Or it is being handled by local governments, such as in the creation and enforcement of anti-witchcraft accusation laws. Over the past ten years, an increasing number of countries have, in fact, instituted such laws, including Papua New Guinea, India, South Africa, Tanzania, and others.

In 2018, Liberia will play host to a new U.N. human rights office that will reportedly help the country’s government better address, in part, the “accusations of witchcraft and ritualistic killings.”

While these organizations, individuals, and governments appear to making some headway in an effort to stem the tide of abuse, the crisis has yet to be touched on the collective international level.

Until now.

The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold, for the very first time, a special two day workshop on witchcraft-related human rights violations.

As stated on the U.N. site, “[The workshop] will bring together U.N. experts, academics and members of civil society to discuss the violence associated with such beliefs and practices and groups that are particularly vulnerable. It will highlight the various manifestations of witchcraft beliefs and practice, including accusations, stigma, and ritual killings, before looking to identify good practice in combating such practices.”

Human Rights Council, Geneva 2013 [U.S. Mission Geneva/Eric Bridiers].

The “experts workshop” is being held in Geneva, Switzerland Sept. 21-22 in conjunction with International Peace Day. It has been organized by Mr. Ikponwosa Ero, the independent expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Ms. Ikponwosa Ero; Gary Foxcroft, Director of the Witchcraft and Human Rights Network (WHRIN); and Dr Charlotte Baker, Lancaster University.

In a concept note about the upcoming landmark event, the organizing committee statement explains, “Beliefs and practices related to witchcraft vary considerably between different countries and even within ethnicities in the same country. There is overall limited understanding of beliefs in witchcraft, how it may be practised in some cultures, and why.”

The first day includes two morning panel discussions on the overall concept and definition of witchcraft within various cultural settings. It also includes two afternoon panels on the harmful nature and scope of accusations around the globe and how this violence impacts daily lives in “civil society.”

The second day has three panels that focus specifically on the regions that are most affected by the problem: Africa, Asia and Pacific, and Europe. A second panel is devoted to examining witchcraft-related killings, including the discussion of government involvement and legal processes.

In the final panel of the second day, “faith-based organizations” take the stage to address this situation from their perspective. As of now, the panel includes members of the Catholic and Lutheran churches, several academics, and a humanist. Other panelists have yet to be announced.

As written, the upcoming two-day workshop makes little reference to modern Witchcraft as would be commonly understood by much of the Wild Hunt readership. While that point is notable, the Pagan world, as it relates to Witchcraft, was not ignored.

Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, was invited personally by WHRIN’s Gary Foxcroft to be a civil society expert panel speaker. However, due to personal obligations, Leff was unable to accept.

“Although SAPRA regrets that it will not be able to accept an invitation” Leff told The Wild Hunt, “we trust that the discussions and collaborations between U.N. special rapporteurs, academics, and members of civil society organisations dealing with witchcraft accusations in various African countries, will produce not only a shared understanding of the belief systems and mechanisms that lead to violent witchcraft accusations in Africa and elsewhere, but also offer shared solutions to these.”

How the new two-day workshop will lead to global and local change or action with regard to the witchcraft-related human rights crisis is unknown, but both attendees and those watching are hopeful that with this new level of awareness will come stronger and lasting solutions.

Leff, who has been speaking out against such violence in his own country for years, said, “The Witchcraft and Human Rights Expert Workshop is indeed an historic event.”

“Well done to WHRIN for organising [it].”

 

Editorial Note: The term witchcraft is used with a lower-case in this article to refer to trending abuses and accusations that are typically and completely unrelated to any spiritual or Craft practice. It is capitalized only when referring to modern practice as a recognizable religion, spiritual path, identifier, and Craft.

Column: Seeking comfort and stress reduction in today’s times

Sat, 2017-08-19 00:49

The turbulent nature of the current times have been weighing heavily on many people’s minds. Throughout our interconnected communities we have heard many people talk about struggling with the chaos and uncertainty present in our socio-political climate, and with the challenges of maintaining emotional and physical well-being. Social media sites are full of revolving comments about needing a mental health break as well as expressions of being overwhelmed.

The most recent reports from Charlottesville and North Korea seem to have increased what appears to be a sense of hopelessness, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, and depressive symptoms associated with concern over the state of America and the world.

[Pixabay]

While frustration, anger, sadness, and fear are not new emotions experienced when there is a change in the socio-political climate, this now appears to be a trend associated with this distinct time in history and the increasing divisive nature of change happening in numerous arenas of our society.

Steven Stosney, PhD discusses the increase in stress experienced by people seeking mental health support in the Trump presidency era in his article “How to Cope With Trump Anxiety.” He states,”Our current environment, amplified by 24-hour news outlets and social media, has created a level of stress, nervousness, and resentment that has intruded into many people’s lives and intimate relationships, the likes of which I’ve not seen in nearly 30 years of clinical work.”

In his work, Stosney cites a Care Dash survey examining the anxiety in the age of Trump, which was first published in April 2017. Some of the key findings in the report, titled “Nervous Nation: An Inside Look at America’s Anxiety in the Age of Trump,” include:

  • Nearly three-fourths (71%) of people 18-44 are at least somewhat anxious because of the November election results.
  • Half (50%) of Americans are looking for ways to cope with the negative political environment.
  • Over one-third (39%) of Americans are avoiding social media to reduce their anxiety around the political comments.

I found some of the data to be very reflective of how many people are relating to the world today.

In analyzing my own experiences and insights around what I need this year, I have decided to take a step back from social media and community circles as a means of self preservation, and to seek asylum from the chaos of society. The intensity of everything has meant seeking solitude and trying to find some peace in my isolation.

I have found that others within the Pagan community have mentioned similar coping strategies to restore a sense of personal balance and serenity. Considering the discussions of burnout to expressions of being overwhelmed that result in a “social media” break, it is quite evident that the umbrella of Neo-Paganism and polytheists are individually and collectively feeling the stress of our current societal over-culture. And like with many spiritual or religious people, extreme stress can push people toward or away from routines, practices, and spiritual activities.

Best practices in mental health modalities reinforce the importance of protective factors to balance and maintain mental health wellness during times of increased stress. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) website define risk and protective factors in the following ways

Risk factors are characteristics at the biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural level that precede and are associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcomes. Protective factors are characteristics associated with a lower likelihood of negative outcomes or that reduce a risk factor’s impact. Protective factors may be seen as positive countering events.

While protective factors may vary in addressing different types and levels of stressors, we know that it is important to continue the discussions associated with supporting positive outcomes in our individual and collective approaches to managing our needs.

It is also important to note that protective factors for many people include professional, therapeutic support to address clinical needs surrounding mental health. No single discussion or introduction of protective factors negate the need for professional services.

Spirituality, community, and religious activity are some of the most used protective factors in society. We often hear people refer to the power of prayer in times of distress and using that as a means of divine connection toword hope, purpose, and support.

Within the modern Pagan and polytheist communities there are often shared sentiments that involve personal devotional work, ritual workings, ancestor reverence, and prayer-like activities. We have also seen many people inside and outside of the Pagan community engage in activism as a means to engage in solution focused actions, another common and useful protective factor.

The article”Spirituality and Stress Relief: Make the Connection,” found on the Mayo Clinic website, lists the following as potential benefits of spiritual connectivity as a means of “stress relief and overall mental health.”

  • Feel a sense of purpose. Cultivating your spirituality may help uncover what’s most meaningful in your life. By clarifying what’s most important, you can focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress.
  • Connect to the world. The more you feel you have a purpose in the world, the less solitary you may feel — even when you’re alone. This can lead to a valuable inner peace during difficult times.
  • Release control. When you feel part of a greater whole, you may realize that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life. You can share the burden of tough times as well as the joys of life’s blessings with those around you.
  • Expand your support network. Whether you find spirituality in a church, mosque or synagogue, in your family, or in nature walks with a friend, this sharing of spiritual expression can help build relationships.
  • Lead a healthier life. People who consider themselves spiritual may be better able to cope with stress and may experience health benefits.

The current climate and ongoing stress induced cycle of newsworthy events leads us to question what we are doing to increase our sense of well being. How are we engaging in activities that promote safe spaces and spiritual asylum from the continuous challenges of coping in today’s world?

Most of us are aware of some of the common techniques to support stress reduction and balance in one’s life. We commonly hear about mindfulness techniques, meditation, exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and prayer. I spoke about some of these coping strategies in a previous Wild Hunt article on Coping with Community.

[Courtesy of Pixabay]

While many of those same techniques continue to be useful, what are some of the unique ways that we look for spiritual comfort in these times?

Because we are such a diverse collection of communities and of individual practitioners following many different paths, this particular conversation could expand into a myriad of directions and methods. I reached out to a three different people within our interconnected communities to engage them in a discussion regarding their own methods of addressing the need for comfort, balance and spiritual connection during these times.

Yvonne Conway, High Priestess and co-founder of United Pagans of Color, shared with me some of her own personal practice in connecting to a sense of comfort in these stressful times.

I will begin a mediation that starts with visualizing my own heart beating and sending forth radiating energy of love. I feel it surround me completely. From there I begin to visualize people in my most inner circle of connection such as my husband and family. The cats too! One at a time I visualize surrounding them in the same love that radiates from my heart.

Then I will expand my circle of individuals to others I’m friends with. One by one I will picture them surrounded in love. I’ll move further out to those I’m acquainted with. Then those I’ve just barely met in passing. Eventually I expand out to those I’ve never actually met, but perhaps passed on my way somewhere. Then further still to those I’ve never crossed paths with… essentially ensconcing every human in love. I continue with every animal, plant, insect, any and all living creatures. I do my best to visualize as much and as many being surrounded in my love. Once I feel I’ve expanded that radiating love to everyone I sit with it for a bit, or a while, depends on how I’m feeling, until I feel a deep resounding joy. Once I reach that point I begin the process to awaken.

This meditation can take me about half an hour to an hour depending on how I’m feeling as I’m going through it.

Courtney Weber, Author and Priestess, shared with me some of her most present thoughts about how she is working toward comfort despite most recent events that invoke anger, sadness and fear.

Today I felt angry. My hands shook all day even though I smiled. I hugged a seasoned warrior activist woman, herself exhausted. We both were, but she more than me. I snapped at the wrong people, even though for the right reasons. I distracted myself with stupid memes. I found myself more in my thoughts than in my world and I realized it when I saw I’d scanned and emailed myself a blank sheet of paper—absolutely nothing written on it, but I thought it was important.

I stopped. I closed my eyes. I asked myself, “What can I do right now?” I can’t undo the pain that’s been done to all others by the people in charge. I can’t re-freeze the glaciers or bring dead lions back to life or stop bullets shot at raised hands or wave my hands and watch Nazi evaporate. But there must be something I can do. I asked myself, “What can I do, right now?”

I can be kind to others…even when it would be easier to ignore them. I can read to a child…or take the time to thoroughly, thoughtfully, and honestly answer their questions. I can do something nice for a loved one…and expect nothing in return but respect. I can refuse to despair…just for today.

Today, I can do. And tomorrow, I will do tomorrow. But today, I will do today.

Shauna Aura Knight, Author and Artist, described her process of personal support by engaging herself in her art.

I paint to keep my mind-squirrels at bay. It reduces my anxiety. But what really inspires me is when someone uses one of my paintings for devotional work and tell me about how it helped them. I have one guy who bought one of my phoenix paintings, and he has fibro and often has flares where he can’t leave the house, but he uses one of my paintings to keep himself inspired when things get bad. The painting piece itself is a spiritual act for me, but then the person actually working with the art then circles back and is what brings me hope.

Utilizing methods of engagement that directly connect with our spiritual or religious core can be a useful strategy as we move into the what feels like an uncertain future of change and challenge. I have noticed that my own ability to connect with certain aspects of my practice have been hampered by my sincere lack of connection, resulting in a dusty justice altar and abandoned spiritual routines.

[Pixabay]

With the continued looming social and political unrest, it is a perfect time to re-evaluate what activities increase a sense of grounding and awareness. It is also an opportunity for each of us to really invest in our own health and wellness by focusing on decreasing stress and increasing activities that reinforce spiritual, religious, or magical practices.

Here are a couple of ideas to consider in moving forward with increasing spiritually enhanced, stress reducing protective factors.

  • Mindfulness activities have proven to be useful in increasing positive relief to current stress from internal and external triggers. The ability to participate in mindful breathing, nature walks, meditation, coloring, or painting can have great physical benefits of connecting with your body. It also supports positive connections with our inner core and increases personal insightfulness.
  • Daily routine that supports connection with spiritual or religious practices. Mantas, daily prayers, ceremonial candle lighting to release stress from the day, ancestral honoring, focused energy work or protection workings can all be ways that this can be a productive means of connectivity. As with many protective factors, this isn’t just about big rituals that take a lot of energy or planning but more about the small routines we incorporate that create consistent and ongoing connection.
  • Spend some extra time in nature. Schedule time to take walks, go for a hike, put your feet in the sand, and smell the fresh air. Time in the sun releases much needed pent up energy and increases much needed Vitamin D in our bodies. It is also an opportunity to ground and connect with the Gods while in the elements.

If there was ever a time in my generation where individual and societal pressure is at it’s highest, this might be it. It is a specific act of honoring the Gods or engaging our individual beliefs, when we take care of ourselves and care for our needs. I personally find that to be one of the most religiously important magical rituals we could perform.

* * *

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.

Minneapolis teen goes missing; community search underway

Fri, 2017-08-18 11:20

MINNEAPOLIS —  Andres Guerrero, age 17, disappeared early Thursday morning in north Minneapolis. Guerrero was last seen on Broadway Ave. at 1 a.m. wearing a black shirt and black shorts. After news of his disappearance spread, the local Pagan community and beyond have quickly responded with support in an effort to find him.

Andres Guerrero [courtesy].

Guerrero was born Jan. 20, 2000 to Tanya Johnson, a local Minneapolis Pagan who is known well in this community, sometimes labeled “Paganistan,” and regularly attended Summerland Spirit Festival.

Johnson said that her son loved animals, designer clothes, music and comedy shows. He also attended several Pagan festivals with her.

The night of Aug. 16, Guerrero left his home alone, headed to reportedly his friend’s house. But he was last seen at 1 a.m Aug. 17.  Johnson said that she realized that he was missing around 7:30 a.m. the next morning.

The family is still unclear about other details regarding the time prior to his disappearance.  However, they did say that, without a doubt, this is “not a runaway case.”

What is being reported is that, at some point after 1 a.m., Guerrero’s debit card was stolen and possibly his phone as well. According to the family and local police, the debit card has been used twice by a person who is not Guerrero. ATM surveillance cameras have reportedly provided that information.

In the city of Minneapolis, missing child reports are handled by the special crimes division. The Wild Hunt did reach out to the department for any possible updates on the case, but officials did not respond in time for publication.

Along with the police investigation, the local community has been out canvassing the area where Guerrero was last seen. Led by Johnson’s close friends and members of the Pagan community, the searches began as early as 10 p.m. Aug. 17, less than two hours after Johnson made her public announcement.

The search parties have been passing out fliers to local businesses and talking with residents in order to gain information on his possible whereabouts. The searches have continued into Friday, but no information has been found.

For people who are unable help with the search, the family is asking for assistance with supplies to support that effort, including food items and water for search party members, and for money to help pay for gas and for printing flyers. Monetary donations can be sent to Johnson’s PayPal address. She has said that all “unused money will be returned.”

A new Facebook page, Find Andres, has been created to help the efforts, and the family is asking for users to share the page and the information widely in hopes of finding Andres.

When asked what else the collective Pagan community can do to help, Johnson said, “Say a prayer to your gods. Send light and love. Light a candle. Send Reiki. Talk to your ancestors. Every type of help is deeply appreciated. Raise up all the helpers and give them strength.”

We will continue to follow this story, and we will update you as news comes in.

[This article was updated from the original at 3:15 p.m with more details about the missing teen.]

Ontario gears up for Occulticon 2017

Thu, 2017-08-17 09:57

HOLSTEIN, Ont. – As the festival season starts to wind down for the year, organizers of the premiere edition of Occulticon are ramping up to deliver an event that is being billed as “a convention for all things curious, all things occult.”

This new addition to the festival and convention circuit will be held at the Pagan owned and operated Mythwood Campground and Private Retreat from September 8 – 10.

Mythwood Campground is located an hour north of Toronto in Southern Ontario, a region of Canada that already supports a multitude of Pagan, Heathen and Witchcraft related festivals and events. From May until September, the area sees at least one large public gathering and sometimes more each weekend.

Occulticon organizers are promising a unique event and are taking a distinctly different approach to how this new addition to the scene will be presented.

Adam Simpson, the Creative Director and webmaster for Occulticon, outlined the main difference.

“Occulticon isn’t a Pagan event. It will include Pagan elements, but we’re casting a much wider net. We’re hoping to attract visitors from many diverse belief systems, as well as those simply curious about experiences outside of the spectrum of the everyday. We’ve spread the word throughout Ontario, as well as New York and Michigan.”

A detailed schedule will be released closer to the date, but organizers are promising that visitors can expect presentations and lectures on a wide range of topics such as parapsychology, secret societies, ghosts, magick, Witchcraft, astrology, tarot, psychic training, a seance live music performances and more.

In addition to the programming, there will also be vending, a psychic expo and a chance to watch blacksmiths at work creating magical tools.

Rounding out the program will be opportunities to participate in ritual and ceremony.

Frater Archeus will host a High Magick Ceremony during which participants can experience the traditional rites of a practicing ceremonial lodge and initiatory society.

Witchdoctor Utu along with members of the Dragon Ritual Drummers and friends will be consecrating a new permanent altar on Mythwood land with a voodoo ceremony for Harriet “Mama Moses” Tubman and the spirits of the Underground Railroad.

A Sara Kali ceremony led by John Corvus, called “Taking the Cloth” will celebrate the continuation of one’s lifelong dedication to be the magical link of their community.

Addressing this diversity, Simpson said, “Although the convention is non-denominational, it will have an impact on the Ontario Pagan community. This is an opportunity for knowledgeable Pagans to share their thoughts and experiences with a much wider audience.”

“Occulticon will be a gateway for newcomers interested in Paganism, but not knowing where to start.”

The mandate of Occulticon is to support the pursuit of knowledge, history, and ancient religions, with an interest in exploring the mysteries of the universe in a way that supports diversity and respectful intellectual exchange. Courteous discussion of how differing philosophies can bring people together is encouraged.

Occulticon Executive Director Khaman Mythwood [Courtesy]

The original idea for Occulticon came from Khaman Mythwood, one of the owners of the campground. He now serves as the executive director of the event. His personal desire to share the mysteries and hidden aspects of occult practice motivated him to share his vision with the wider world:

“Our patrons at Occulticon can expect to experience something rare and usually unseen to the general public. Experts on the occult from around the world will be sharing their knowledge through lectures and presentations. They will take an academic approach to reveal secrets and hidden knowledge to those who truly seek to better understand the mysteries of life.”

The diverse lineup consists of more than two dozen guest speakers, not only from the local area, but from around the world as well.

Local talent such as Ecstatic Ritualist and the events Master of Ceremonies, Jim Findley, psychotherapist, storyteller and pagan chaplain, Brian Walsh, Romani Wayfairer and Divination practitioner, John Corvus and Witchdoctor Utu of the Dragon Ritual Drummers are but a few of the faces that have been long time contributors to the local communities and events in the area.

Master of Ceremonies and Ecstatic Ritualist, Jim Findley [Courtesy]

International guests include Ian Corrigan, former Archdruid of the ADF who will be traveling from the United States to speak about Archaic Goetia and the Grimoire Revival. Tata Manuel Congo, a well-known ethnologist, occultist and educator, will be making the long trip from Italy to speak about Italian Witchcraft.

The onsite talent coordinator Pamela Fletcher is a well-known and respected priestess and longtime organizer. She has been previously involved with Kaleidoscope Gathering and Gaia Gathering, as well as many other events.

Of this new endeavour, Fletcher remarked, “Occulticon, like some other larger Pagan events, is going to be extremely inclusionary and will have a very broad appeal across many spiritual paths and walks of life. The speakers will be presenting unique and diverse information that anyone, no matter how long they have been on their spiritual journey, will find interesting.”

In addition to the academic-style presentations, world-class entertainment is also being planned including traditional Celtic storyteller Brian Walsh, fiddler Ben Deschamps of the Heather Dale band, and and a special Scottish Bagpipe presentation. It will also include a psychic fair and vendors’ market.”

Mythwood added, “We are proud to host Witchdoctor Utu and the amazing Dragon Ritual Drummers, voted Canada’s number one Pagan hand drumming group.”

Occulticon 2018 is already being considered, and plans are in the works for the next edition.

“We are very excited for the future of Occulticon. It gives us the opportunity to learn and share our knowledge of the occult in a safe open environment with respected Elders and occult experts,” explained Mythwood.

“We already have some amazing things lined up for next year that we just couldn’t fit in the schedule for 2017.”

Simpson’s passion for showcasing his home community and public service is apparent. He said, “It’s time for the Ontario Pagan community to show the greater world what we have to offer. Occulticon is a step in that direction.”

“For newcomers who are interested in Paganism, we can help point them to any number of places where they may be able to find the answers they’re seeking. For veteran members of the Pagan community, Occulticon is an opportunity to learn outside of our traditional milieus. There will be new faces, and you’ll get to see a different side of those you already know and love.”

Letter from the Editor

Thu, 2017-08-17 06:08
Letter from the editor

There are times when journalists and editors have to tackle subjects that are difficult, complicated, and even deeply contrary to their own personal world view. We go in anyway, because that is our mission and our purpose. We go in anyway, because that is our personal and professional directive, similar to a doctor or nurse that cures the sick no matter who they might be.

It is what we do.

While The Wild Hunt was once a successful news blog, it has developed into a recognized news agency with a small team of dedicated and professional news writers who work by the ethical standards expected of objective journalism and who have a passion for their work as members of our collective communities.

We do our best within our resources to go the full distance, even if that means setting aside personal feelings or going into uncharted territory, in order to get as close to the center of a very difficult and even painful story.

Reporting on Charlottesville was one of these times. The process was not easy for both me as editor and for Cara Schulz as the writer.

Personally speaking as a woman of Jewish heritage, I found that the weekend events triggered my own family-based traumas, and I had a difficult time keeping my “ear to the ground,” so to speak, in order to support Cara in her work. Seeing the swastika and hearing the antisemitic rhetoric chanted over and over was terrifying, recalling the many warnings I had heard as a child.

To echo the words of Jonathan Korman, do I have time to let the bread rise?

But I am also a professional journalist and an editor. As such, it is my belief that in order to empower our readership, especially in times of crisis, and to serve a greater purpose in our collective communities and our world, I must set that aside my own fears to bring you the highest quality, ethically-based reporting as my news team can accomplish.

We will not waiver in this mission. For us, it is not only a job but a passion, a spiritual calling, a service, and a craft.

I want to personally thank every one of our readers for visiting us daily, for supporting our wholly independent efforts, and for sharing our articles.

May we find peace and unity in the beauty of our differences.

Heather Greene
Managing Editor
The Wild Hunt

Charlottesville: events, reactions, and aftermath

Wed, 2017-08-16 11:22

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Vir. – It began with online organizing among nationalist groups to protest the removal of a Confederate statue from a local park. It ended with street battles, three people dead, and an unknown number injured.

While most Pagans watched the events on the news or through live streams, there were Pagans and Heathens present at the weekend riots.They were protesters who lined the streets around the park, and they also participated in the Unite the Right rally as members of the self-described “alt-right.” And one well-known Pagan even helped organize the rally and was scheduled to speak.

Augustus Invictus, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2015, was scheduled to speak at the rally. Mr. Invictus has been criticized in the past for seeming to openly advocate violence, eugenics, and for participating in animal sacrifice.

Although the planned rally itself was shut down before anyone could speak, Invictus claimed the event was a success.

Invictus and the other rally organizers say the purpose of the event had less to do with protesting the removal of a statue from a park and more to do with uniting various nationalist groups.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says normally groups such as 14/88, Traditionalist Workers Party, the National Socialist Movement, the KKK, Aryan Nation, and the League of the South are more apt to fight each other than to work together.

That changed with Unite the Right. The groups came together for the rally, and Invictus says the violence that they claim to have experienced as being directed toward them has united these rivals against a common enemy.

History teacher and adjunct professor Ryan Denison agrees that the goal was to bring these groups together. In an interview, Denison told The Wild Hunt, “[The organizers] definitely wanted to unite far-right groups that usually don’t mix or, at worse, fight each other. That was their stated goal. It also seems to be to create conflict and chaos in order to recruit.”

Denison, who is a member of the Troth, Heathens of Atlanta, and Red Earth Grove ADF, believes they chose Charlottesville because the rally leaders believe that the South is an area more sympathetic to their message than other regions.

However, Lonnie Murray, a Pagan elected official who works in Charlottesville, told The Wild Hunt that Charlottesville is not a typical southern city.

Murray says, “We have a long history of progressive politics; however, like many Southern cities we still haven’t fully come to terms with the lingering consequences of slavery and segregation.”

Firsthand accounts

Pagan Jennifer Lewis heard about the rally through social media and local television coverage. Lewis works in Charlottesville caring for persons with mental illness.

She decided to attend the rally as a protester because she “wanted to show [her] opposition to everything [the rallying groups] stand for.”

Lewis says, “I am an activist for the protection of our environment, women’s reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. There was no way I was not going to go and stand up against them targeting my friends, neighbors and loved ones.”

She believes the “alt-right” are a tiny segment of the population and believes it is important to show how little influence they have.

Freda Wood, a Wiccan from Richmond, says that she has become more politically active recently. She heard about the rally through a YouTube channel, and decided to attend the protest in order to “stand up for what’s right.”

Wood says the gods don’t discriminate and people shouldn’t either.

On the other side, Kevin C is a Heathen from southern New England who attended the rally as security for an “alt-right video crew.” He is also a member of the Traditionalist Workers Party and says it’s “great that Pagans and Heathens are supporting their people and traditions” through involvement in Unite the Right.

Rachel Summers, a Teutonic Heathen, traveled from Atlanta to participate in Unite the Right as a medic. She believes white history and culture are “being erased due to false crimes and an implanted but unearned white guilt.”

While they had different reasons for attending and were on different sides, the four people interviewed all agreed on one aspect of the event. They were all critical of the how the police handled the escalating violence.

As was the ACLU of Virginia.

It is not clear who gave the stand down order to police, but Kevin C says police stood right next to people who were being beaten, and they did nothing to intervene.

Lewis says, “I was shocked that the police were behind two barricades and some a block or more away. It was much different from the KKK rally in July where the police had the two sides barricaded from one another. This time, they barricaded us, the two sides, in and [the police] on the outside.”

Police initially set up barricades around the park, where the rally was to take place, to keep the “alt-right” and the protesters separated. However, the rally participants had to walk through the protesters to get into the park.

“As we left the parking garage we could see the road in front of us was blocked by protesters. They were throwing bleach bombs as we walked by,” describes Kevin C.

“Once we got into the park, the police had the entire area around the statue blocked off, so we had to walk all the way around to get to the area where the speakers would talk. While we were walking we were being maced and had things thrown at us.”

Lewis says she witnessed extreme, unprovoked violence from both sides.”I heard unimaginable slurs from the Nazi side, I was chanting Black Lives Matter and a older man got so mad and started yelling at me, calling me a whore and how my dad should have taught me better.”

She also noted that it was hard to tell who was on what side, and it made her suspicious of everyone around her.

“It was like walking into an Orwellian hate minute that lasted several hours,” relates Rachel Summer. She said rocks and other objects were thrown at them by the crowd while they were attempting to walking to the park. She also treated some of her group after they were sprayed with pepper spray.

Freda Wood says she was with protesters marching down Market Street alongside anarchists. “As we got closer to Emancipation Park, we were greeted by a roar and surrounded by heavily armed self-proclaimed militia on both sides of the street. They were stoic, staring straight ahead, holding their rifles. I felt exposed and vulnerable.”

Ms. Wood says she traded insults with rally participants in the park, but felt trapped in by the press of the crowd, so she moved back toward an intersection where she and her group met more rally attendees.

“They barreled through the barricades. There were fist fights. Pepper spray, mace, colored smoke bombs and paint balloons were deployed. The street medics were treating the injured.”

Lewis says it was a sad day for the city of Charlottesville and for America. “It was really difficult to see the various Nazi and white supremacy groups just march down the street and into the park, like they were invading our city.”

It was at this point that police declared the rally an unlawful assembly and shut it down. Then, the police formed a line on one side of the park and pushed the rally participants into the streets.

The two sides, which up until that point had only traded minor blows, were now forced into direct contact with one another. Local police, state troopers, and National Guard stood behind the barricades. That’s when fighting increased and was strung out over several miles surrounding the park.

Kevin C says when the order to clear the park came, he grabbed the person he was assigned to protect and headed out of the park.

“The police blocked the only safe exit out of the park and pushed us into the protesters. We saw 100 to 150 Red Block marching up the street toward us. Luckily I got my person out before the commies arrived.”

Wood, thinking she was now outside of the main action, unexpectedly found herself right back in the middle of it. “Suddenly, someone said ‘look!’ Hundreds of guys in their white polo shirts and khaki pants started walking down the street toward us. They were being paraded between two lines of counter protesters down the street to get them far away from the park.”

Kevin C says he was part of the group that exited with alt-right speaker Richard Spencer. Neither Kevin or Wood knew it, but they were about to confront one another.

Wood remembers that group walking by. “We taunted them. We saw Richard Spencer be rushed through the crowd by his people. He looked disheveled and frightened.”

Summers was with a different group, exiting the park. “We were marched back through hostile protesters for two miles or more and again, no police protection despite our permit. I have the uneasy feeling that the city’s leadership wanted things to escalate.”

Wood describes the scene as a “war zone” and “complete chaos.”

As ProPublica reported, state police and National Guardsmen mostly stood aside and watched as the violence get worse.

Summers looks back at events and is unhappy with the media portrayal of the rally as racist. “Allegations of white supremacy are everywhere, but there were very few people there who explicitly supported that. Most were trying to stop the erasure of history and the infringement on our Constitution and Bill of Rights. This was not about racism.”

Reflecting back, Wood says that she’s profoundly changed by her experiences in Charlottesville, “I have a more determined fierceness now. My state was invaded by terrorists, and attacked one of our tribe, left us with mental scars.”

“I may be extra grouchy or sullen, and I will not apologize for it,” she adds. “You hurt my family. I’m pissed!” She also says she is dealing with survivor’s guilt.

Minority Pagans react

While the events of the day deeply impacted those Pagans who live in the city and who attended the rally and protest, many other Pagans across the country were also deeply affected as news spread of Saturday’s events.

Pagans of color and Jewish Pagans listened to “alt-right” rally participants chanting  phrases like “White Lives Matter” and “Jews won’t replace me,” while KKK and Nazi symbols were openly displayed and celebrated.

Dianne Daniels, a Connecticut-based Witch and Unitarian Universalist Pagan said, “The events of Charlottesville hurt me to my very soul. The thought that someone could intentionally drive their car into another car to force the vehicles to injure and in this case kill another human being…the unrepentant anger and vitriol being aimed at those who were marching in support of their principles is unconscionable and unnecessary.”

Along with being a seminary student and member of the Temple of Witchcraft, Daniels is also the president of the NAACP Norwich chapter. She attended a rally Sunday to support “those fighting against hate in Charlottesville.”

“One of my favorite tenets of my [UU] faith is that everyone has worth and dignity. Though I find it very hard to imagine the worth and dignity of people who scream hateful slogans and threaten other beloved human beings with injury and death because they disagree with them on philosophy, I still try.”

Daniels went on to say that she does not “deign to speak for all African-Americans, all women, or all Unitarian Universalist Pagans,” but she encourages everyone to “raise their voices and speak their truth, especially if it is not denigrating others.”

When asked what she is doing to cope with the news, Daniels said, “I have been spending more time in prayer and sending healing, positive energy to the communities that are faced with these incidents and the rise of hate groups coming into their communities. I believe that energy can be directed, and I would encourage all who believe that energy has an effect to direct positive energy toward those who have to respond to these incidents. Keep those first responders and law enforcement officers who are doing their jobs safe and whole.”

Jonathan Korman, a Jewish Pagan from the Bay Area, said the events reminded him of a Jewish ritual story. It’s about the act of eating matzoh as a way to remind them that when it’s time to run, you shouldn’t wait long enough for the bread to rise.

“I think all American Jews, whether consciously or not, read the news asking themselves if it means that they don’t have time for the bread to rise.”

“Despite this I am letting the bread that will nourish me and my community rise, because several years ago I swore an oath to another god, the Morrígan, that I would fight fascism in my nation,” Korman added. “As is so often true of the important oaths, I did not know the implications of what I swore.”

He closed is comment with “Hold fast. Love the gods and each other. And fuck fascism.” His full statement can be found here.

Rippling effect

Pagans and Heathens around the country have been taking part in protests and demonstrations since the violence ended. Well-known Pagans, such as Starhawk, are writing about the event and Pagan organizations are putting out official statements. Here are a few: ADFCherry Hill SeminarySolar Cross Temple, Circle Sanctuary, and The Troth.

Author and speaker Bryan Wilton says that, due to Saturday’s rally and protest, his speaking events are now being targeted as “alt-right” events.

Mr. Wilton believes that individual activists and Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) called the venue, demanding that his event be cancelled. Wilton says people are carelessly throwing around the label “alt-right.”

Wilton told The Wild Hunt that he doesn’t identify as “alt-right,” although he has friends who do and were at the rally.

“I’m not having an alt-right event, everyone is welcome at my event.” He says the event is not political and relates to material from his books.

When asked about Wilton’s claims, HUAR admin Ryan Smith says that the organization is responding in support of local activists who feel “the white nationalist group supporting, promoting, and attending the event are a clear and present danger to the safety of their communities.”

Smith adds, “Many, such as the Proud Boys, have a proven history of violence and local residents are fearful this will be used as a recruiting platform by such groups.” He noted that hate crimes can follow such events, as was the case in Charlottesville.

Wilton says that he does support the right of the “alt-right” to speak freely. However, he also spoke against the weekend’s violence, “We have three people dead and that is unacceptable.”

Going forward

The ripple effects stemming from the weekend’s violence in Charlottesville has not subsided. More rallies and demonstrations are planned on both sides, as the country comes to terms with what was just witnessed and where it will lead.

Looking forward, Dianne Daniels notes, “My NAACP members will be hearing from me specifically on this issue (beyond my postings on social media) on Thursday when we have our monthly meeting. I’m going to do a special statement before the meeting starts, and incorporate the situation into the prayer we normally do to open our meetings. I have a statement from our current national interim president/CEO regarding the events that I will read.

“I’m encouraging people to be careful of watching the news – so much triggering information,” she adds. “And I refuse to repost things (like the video of the car striking people) that could be triggering.”

Looking at Saturday’s event through a lens of history, Ryan Denison adds, “I always think that liberty and freedom are on a precipice and we must always be on guard. By being good citizens and good to each other. Hitler and the Nazis rose to power not in a night, but slowly over a number of years. Much like boiling live crabs, just turn the heat up slow.”

“My best advice is to stay vigilant and call out hate, call out lies, call it out to the light,” he says, “As I quoted Edmund Burke earlier today on social media, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ “

You call it sharing, but Pagan authors call it stealing

Tue, 2017-08-15 11:00

TWH –An recently discovered case of the sharing copyrighted Pagan books via a Facebook group highlights the seriousness of this problem in the digital age. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Pagan-themed books were discovered to be hosted through The Wiccan Circle.

While the group’s owner is now removing those copies, he is not only unapologetic, but has made it clear that he will find other means to share the books. He believes that it his right, because he purchased them in the first place. In response, many group members are expressing outrage, not over the sharing, but over it been stopped.

The Wiccan Circle group is owned by Lord Thrullas, who also has at least two other Facebook profiles found here and here. When confronted by Elysia Gallo, senior acquisitions editor for Llewellyn Worldwide, Thrullas defended the uploads by comparing it to lending physical books to friends.

The long list of files, which also included spells, were largely uploaded by him personally. He confirmed with The Wild Hunt that his intention was to help the group’s members, and that he did purchase the items himself.

“A complete stranger on Facebook sent me a message about this group, as she was very concerned,” Gallo said when reached for comment. “When I told our copyright infringement person about the group, she said it was on her radar, as other people have reported it as well.”

Gallo joined the group herself, and was quite transparent about her reason by posting: “I am looking for illegal copies of books posted without permission of the publisher so they can all be reported to Facebook.”

There are protocols for getting illegal copies removed from a web site which are laid out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but the process is cumbersome, particularly on Facebook and other content platforms.

According to Gallo, “You have to submit a report to their DCMA agent, and you have to list each title individually, which can take hours if not days for a group that has well over 2,000 PDFs to scroll through (especially as you can’t do a regular scroll, but a ‘facebook scroll’ – where it only loads, I don’t know, 20-40 titles, and when you get to the bottom you have to hit ‘more’ to continue).”

Thrullas replied to Gallo, “Then stop downloading Copyrighted[sic] information and pics from the internet.”

In something of a victory lap, he removed Gallo from the group and deleted her post, but posted an announcement of what he’d done, and why. The comment thread which ensued was largely supportive.

However, several Pagan authors who had joined for that purpose tried to explain their point of view. They were also removed and the thread deleted, but screen shots document the exchange.

“There are a lot more groups doing it then just mind[sic],” Thrullas said, “so make sure you look at all the groups.”

It is clear that this activity is a widespread problem. “Think of it as a hydra,” Gallo said. “You chop off one head, another one springs up to take its place.”

“Just like illegal downloads of music and movies, it can never be fully eradicated from the internet, although as a society we can hope to get better at it,” Gallo continued. “Some people have no respect for creative work, despite having other free outlets to legally obtain this content,” such as public libraries.

Exactly how much money is denied authors by such activities is less clear because much of it is simply unknown.

Moon Books publicist Nimue Brown used the same simile to explain the problem. “I’ve had plenty of occasions of getting illegal copies taken down,” she wrote, “but it often feels like cutting heads off a hydra, in no small part because the Pagans doing it have some very odd attitudes. I’ve been told we should be glad people are bothering to read us, that they’re doing us a favour – it’s exposure (exposure is something people die of).”

Brown continued on, saying: “I’ve been told they are entitled to share books – some people can’t grasp that there’s a world of difference between passing a book round a few friends, and giving it to thousands of people. It’s really frustrating. Authors who challenge over this can expect abuse, harassment, and a total failure of understanding from the people involved in it.”

In this particular case, the group owner likened it to a lending library or trading books. Gallo addressed that in a blog post from 2012, in which she wrote:

Um, except for the fact that the library bought a copy of the book, or your friend bought a copy of the book. (Even libraries that now do digital lending.) And that they have a finite number of copies (physical or digital) that they are able to lend out at any given time – not a file that can be downloaded over and over again in the blink of an eye by complete strangers all over the world.

Some group members were less than full-throated in their support of illegal copies being available for sharing. One wrote, “I like to hope that people can have their own opinions, and as [Thrullas] said, don’t download if you don’t agree.”

Just as these violations are common online, the mindset that simply not breaking the relevant laws and international treaties is the ethical alternative is regularly used as a defense, together with “it’s all over the internet anyway,” which Gallo also addressing in 2012, saying:

There are tons of free resources on the internet – ones that are given freely by their creators. (Perhaps because they have ad revenue they can rely on. Perhaps they just do it out of the goodness of their heart.) So why do people even feel the need to download whole books in the first place? By wanting to download a book more than you want to read a website or blog . . . you are admitting that it has a certain value that is greater than what you can browse for free. The sum is greater than its parts. So please, pay for it.

Another sentiment expressed by some members of The Wiccan Circle is that if it were illegal, it would not be happening on Facebook.

Gallo said that their DCMA agent requires a link to a valid copy of the book and the illegal one on Facebook, and each file must be reportedly separately, an extremely time-consuming process that can only be undertaken by someone who is already a group member.

Author Kerri Hope chimed in on that point, saying to other members, “Facebook doesn’t enforce copyright law for this kind of stuff. The courts do. I just found this group, but seriously? Isn’t this a Wiccan group? Harm none? I’m floored.”

Hope later said to this reporter, “I don’t know how anyone could do that and call themselves Wiccan. If Pagans are willing to treat other Pagans that badly, well it’s just baffling. Doesn’t give me much hope.”

Thrullas commented during the exchange, saying: “Im[sic] the founder of this group, people can take [it or] leave it as is. I have enough going on from my recent post then[sic] pety stuff.”

This is certainly true. A post he shared to the group indicated that his mother is in her final days of life, and less than a year ago he and his partner lost their home to fire, which killed six cats and injured two dogs.

Despite the impression he makes in these copyright exchanges, Thrullas, who identifies as a Norse Wiccan, is an active volunteer and teacher in his local and online Pagan communities, and did sign the Pagan community environmental statement. His store, the Sage Emporium, does not presently have any books listed for sale on its site.

One group member characterized Thrullas as a “really good person” who “perhaps . . . didn’t know the particulars of the publishers’ and authors’ copyright laws” and might have reacted differently had he been approached privately.

Thrullas stuck to his position that purchasing the books gives him right to distribute them for free.

After the group owner began deleting the illegal copies, he simultaneously made clear that he would find another way to distribute his digital library, to the cheers of many group members.

“I cant[sic] put them back up on FB but Ido have the vast library and more posted somewhere trust me on that.”

To the end, he laid blame on those reporting the files, rather than ignorance of the law. At least one group member appeared ready to lay a curse on those doing the reporting.

Author Lupa published a post titled “When You Steal a Book From an Author,” in response to this particular issue. However, she is also well aware that it’s not at all rare:

They’re saying they are above the law. Sorry, but there is no way to legally justify sharing the entire book without permission. Fair use applies to a few hundred words, that’s it. ‘Educational use’ is only within certain educational establishments, and again is piece and part, not the whole damned thing. Sharing a bunch of PDFs to random strangers on Facebook? Sorry, your educational defense doesn’t work.

Lupa additionally suggested that the copyright notice in all books might have provided a clue, as it reserves the right to reproduce to those who have obtained permission to do so.

In her own blog post on the issue, Brown wrote:

I realise that most people don’t know copyright law, and it is easy to be persuaded that it’s ok to have something you want. There are a lot of people out there spouting all kinds of crap about why giving away other people’s ebooks is ok. It isn’t ok to give other people’s ebooks away, simply. However, anyone can make a mistake. Anyone can pick up a book because it sounded legit. . . . If you’ve made a mistake and taken something you shouldn’t have had, you can fix this by rebalancing things. Buy another book from the same author. Buy a hard copy for yourself. Stick something in their donations pot or Patreon.

One group member, upon learning that the group as a whole had been reported and the files were being removed, suggested it might be the result of anti-Pagan conspiracy.

It was not. It was the result of Pagan publishers and authors such as Gallo and others who reported the group.

“If we want to deal with the issue of Pagan books being pirated,” said Brown, “I think we have to tackle it as a cultural issue, not a practical one. And really, if you believe in any kind of magic, or energy, or power, or underpinning logic to the universe, why would you feel safe and comfortable learning your magic from a stolen book? How can that not have consequences? Whatever path you follow, whatever you believe, there are consequences.”

Pagan Community Notes: Covenant of the Goddess, hex ritual, Pagan copyright issues, and more

Mon, 2017-08-14 11:39

ONTARIO, Calif. — Covenant of the Goddess members elected a new First Officer Saturday. Canu, who has been a member for 25 years, will be moving into the position Nov. 1, along with the newly-elected board. Canu said,”My goals include drawing on CoG’s deep combined experience to: support our local councils’ and solitary members’ needs and goals, such as intrafaith interaction with the broader Pagan community; review our membership processes and barriers to joining the Covenant; support our interfaith work and plan for the periodic costs of interfaith representation at the Parliament of the World’s Religions and North American Interfaith Network events; and engage all of our members to make CoG more focused on, and communicative about, what we have to give directly, like community events, philanthropy, and networking.”

He added that, generally speaking, he wants “our Wiccan and Witchcraft communities [to] know that CoG supports them, their work, and their exercise of religious rights.” He thanked the efforts of the past board, which has been headed up by First Officer Jack Prewett. Canu said, “I’ll step into some big shoes on November 1st, and I hope to build on the efforts of those that have been caretaking CoG for many years.”

The new board was elected at CoG’s annual business meeting, Grand Council, that is held during the Merry Meet event. Joining Canu will be Circe as National Second Officer, Morgana as Recorder, Janine as National Public Information Officer, Stachia Ravensdottir as Publications Officer, Thea as National Membership Officer, Amber K as National Communications Officer, Manny Tejeda-Moreno as National Pursewarden.

Next year’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Catland Books hosted a hexing event Friday evening, which was aimed at President Donald Trump and “his cohorts.” Catland reader Dakota Bracciale organized the event and was allowed to use store’s space. When explaining the ritual, Bracciale reportedly told the dozen attendees: “Moral questions come up. ‘Oh God, I’ve heard cursing is so bad.’ Well, hexing someone because they’ve wronged you is very simple. It’s what laws are based on. It’s punitive, that’s what it is.”

This was not the first hexing ritual of its kind held in the metaphysical store or beyond. The hexing trend continues on, as it has since Trump first announced his bid for the presidency. As for hex events held at Catland, Bracciale has a mason jar filled with tiny crumbled papers “holding curses” from past similar ceremonies. Friday’s attendees were invited to add to the jar.

Part of the proceeds raised by the event were donated to Planned Parenthood. Catland says that number totaled $78. In a Facebook post, Catland Books also advertises: “Join us for next month’s hex, and help us continue to make a difference!”

Although Caltand spokesperson did tell The Wild Hunt that the event was not run by the store owners, they are holding classes on magical activism to explore “the world of occult political resistance.”

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TWH — Concerns about Pagans violating copyright protections of Pagan books have resurfaced in a big way, with thousands of volumes being uploaded by the owner of one popular Facebook group. Authors and publisher’s agents who knew that no such permission had been granted have tried to get the files removed, and after several days those attempts appear to have been successful, to the disappointment of some group members.

Tomorrow we will have coverage of how copyright laws are used and ignored in the digital age, including interviews with author Lupa Greenwolf, Nimue Brown of Moon Books, and Llewellyn’s Elysia Gallo. Included will be common misconceptions about what’s acceptable to share over the internet, and what it takes to get an illegal copy of a book or other work of art removed from a site.

Coming up this week we will have reactions and reports concerning the weekend’s violent actions in Charlottesville.

In other news:

  • New Jersey-based priestess Deborah Lipp was featured on Beyond Reality Radio Aug. 7. The show is hosted by Jason Hawes, who is co-founder of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) and by JV Johnson, a paranormal investigator and publisher. They talk to Lipp about the practice of modern Witchcraft and “what it means to be a Witch.”
  • Catland Books, mentioned above, is hosting a lecture series by the New York City-based Satanic Temple. The next class, to be held Aug. 25, is called “Satanic Feminism, Rebellion, Identities.” Proceeds from this event will go to the Satanic Temple’s Religious Reproductive Rights campaign.
  • Feminist historian Max Dashu has published an essay that explores the “pornification of goddess figures.” She begins by saying, “For some time I’ve been thinking that something needs to be said about the the toxic femininity scripts creeping into ‘Goddess’ imagery, mass-media contamination, and all in the name of women’s empowerment. These posed, stilted, playmate-like ‘goddesses’ sticking their breasts out and pouting like lipstick models are all over the net.”
  • Pagan Pride season is upon us, and will run through November. Twin Cities Pagan Pride Day, which will be held in September, is celebrating its 20th year. This year’s event will include the sharing of memories from past years, and cake. Organizers also note that they will be hosting “Murphey’s Midnight Rounders farewell concert, as they prepare to embark on new musical projects.”
  • And, Mercury is once again retrograde.

Outback Steakhouse at center of latest occult conspiracy theory

Sun, 2017-08-13 10:02

TAMPA, Fla. — Outback Steakhouse became the focus of the latest social media meme craze when a Twitter user suggested that the Tampa-based restaurant chain was connected to the Illuminati and had occult leanings. The claim was backed up by a series of map images demonstrating how the chain’s locations around the country always form pentagrams.

[Twitter: @eastmyaesthetics.]

The initial tweet, dated July 27, resulted in a firestorm of speculation as can only manifest in a social media environment. Users began creating their own pentagram maps with responses such as ,”Hold the damn phone,” “I’m scared,” “What is going on here?,” and “Illuminati Confirmed.”

Most of those memes do appear to have been created tongue-in-cheek, some more obviously than others. In some of the more farcical ones, people used steakhouse locations to draw demons, crosses, the Eye of Providence, genitalia, Pac-Man, cats, turtles, and more.

Some people discovered messages spelled out by connecting the steakhouse dots. One user in São Paulo demonstrated that the city’s local Outback Steakhouse locations indeed spelled the word Satan.

Another user responded, “Who knew when they said ‘a taste from down under’, they meant hell.”

The Outback occult-based conspiracy theory spilled out into other social media venues, eventually making international headlines. Mashable writes, “Conspiracy theory suggests that Outback Steakhouse is the center of a satanic cult.” HuffPost wrote, “Outback Steakhouse At The Center Of Bizarre Conspiracy Theory.”

Users even began tweeting directly at the company, asking for an explanation.

While the entire episode is largely being brushed off as fun and games, any Pagan or occult practitioner who lived through the 1980s and ’90s might find it less than humorous. During those two decades, the nationwide Satanic Panic created a cultural environment that allowed for similar accusations and theories to fester and spread, even in the absence of social media.

California’s infamous McMartin preschool case, which is often cited as marking the beginning of the moral panic, began with local accusations of occult practice. The fear spread across the country and well beyond the school environments. Anyone or anything could become the center of an occult-based conspiracy theory. It is not insignificant to note that the first film version of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible (1996) was released during this time.

Satanic or occult influence was found everywhere, specifically in children’s fare. As we previously noted, Pokemon was the focus of one was such conspiracy theory. The Harry Potter book series, which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary, was also the focus of such claims at one point in time.

Organizations like Covenant of the Goddess, Lady Liberty League, the Witches League for Public Awareness and others were formed to combat the negative perceptions that came with such claims.

Although the famous McMartin trial ended in 1990 and the FBI denounced the idea of widespread Satanic abuse in 1994, the residual cultural effects of the panic lasted into the early 2000s.

While that is all now a part of history, many in the Pagan community have not forgotten the experience and how it touched them personally. To this day, modern occult-based practices are still looked on with fear and trepidation, as demonstrated in the rising reports of Witchcraft in Nottinghamshire, and the practices are also often used as examples of misbehavior, as is suggested by the reports on the 2017 Dyleski hearing.

Independent of any grandiose moral panic, conspiracy theories are not new to the internet age and are not going away any time soon. Occult-based theories abound in history, entertainment, and contemporary politics. Children and teenagers love the mystery and simultaneous fear rush that goes along with ghost stories and the legend trip experience.

Devil’s Tour in Alpine, N.J. [Scaramouch/Flickr].

People look for underlying meaning, connections, and narratives in places where there may or may not be. This is human nature. The unknown worlds, speculation, and the shadow side of living are sources of both fear and attraction.

For example, in the music industry, both backward masking, which is a recording technique, and backmasking, which is a technological coincidence, have both been labeled as being Satanic influences. The messages that come out of the reversal of the sound are considered spiritually dangerous. When playing the song Help by the Beatles, a hidden message can be heard: “Now he uses marijuana.”

Historical sites, graveyards, and old buildings are attractive locations for teenagers to engage with similar narratives. In Alpine, N.J., there is an old stone tower that is said to be an inverted cross built by the Satanist who owned the surrounding land. The blood of his sacrificed victims stained the floors of the locked tower gates. If you drove around the tower backwards, you could hear Satan’s spirit speak. It is the perfect place for a legend trip.

More recently, in 2016, Taylor Swift was accused of being a Satanic leader due to her striking resemblance to Zeena, the daughter of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. Social media users went wild with that suggestion, as they have done with the recent Outback frenzy.

Most Americans are aware of the large number of occult-based conspiracy theories that circle around the city Washington D.C. and the often-cited connections made between politics and Illuminati influence.

While much of these episodes and speculation is limited to fun and games, there is still a real possibility of that occult-based or Satanic-based conspiracy theories can lead to moral panics if the environment is right, as history has proven. Such panics, regardless of how large the can get, do have a direct and negative affect on Pagan communities and occult practitioners who get caught in the panic’s net.

The recent Outback Steakhouse Twitter craze ended a few days after it began and largely seen as a joke.

Since that social media meme outbreak, there have been secondary theories suggesting that Outback itself was behind the frenzy in the first place. Those theorists have suggested that it was a simply a backhanded advertising effort.

While the company has not responded to that particular claim, it did have something to say to the original Twitter user who started the entire episode:

An Outback spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the tweet, but would not comment further.

International Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities: an overview

Sat, 2017-08-12 10:04

TWH — Both the United Kingdom and United States are well known to have thriving Pagan, Heathen, and polytheists communities in one form or another. A few of the most commonly found Pagan religious practices, such as Druidry and Wicca, can locate their origins in one or both of those two cultures.

Furthermore, for those people living within those two countries, it is often fellow community members and co-religionists who are most commonly given voice in the mainstream press, at local events, and even within the Pagan media sphere.

This reality can make it difficult to see beyond one’s own national borders into other cultures where Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists may thrive.

[Pixabay.]

Over the years, The Wild Hunt has gone in search of such practices beyond the U.K. and the U.S., asking how ritual, belief, and community differ within those other societies.

While that effort continues on, the work to-date has proven informative and inspiring to many, as it demonstrates the expansive nature of the global Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities.

Today we look back on a few of those reports to see where we’ve gone (listed in no specific order):

Witchcraft in India: A Conversation with Ipsita Roy Chakraverti

The Philippines: looking beyond Haiyan

Finding Kindred Spirits in Costa Rica

Emerging Mexico Heathen community launches magazine

Paganism in Israel: where modern meets the ancient

Pagan Federation International helps flood victims in Serbia

Paganism in Poland

Modern Paganism in Thailand

A look at Paganism in South Africa

The twilight of secularism in Turkey?

New Italian Pagan organization begins work for legal recognition

What do the Kremlin’s new religious laws mean for Pagans?

Paganism in France: an emerging culture

A Brazil federal ruling states Candomblé and Umbanda are not religions

Outside of those articles and the many other similar reports, The Wild Hunt includes weekly news stories from our Canadian and U.K.-based journalists.

For example, Dodie Graham McKay recently reported that the Canadian witchcraft law was closer to being stricken from Canadian criminal code. In May, Liz Williams reported on the celebration honoring the life of British occultist Florence Farr.

We also currently have two international columnists, who are part of a newly relaunched “Around the World” monthly column. Lyonel Perabo explores the religious experience found in Norway from his home north of the Arctic Circle. The latest article for his column “Visions from Ice” is titled The Dance of the Arctic Fairy.

From the other side of the globe, Josephine Winter has recently joined the team to share stories from the Pagan experience in Australia. Her first Wild Hunt column explored the growing interest in Druidry within her country.

We have also worked with a number of guest writers to feature international voices. South African Pagan Damon Leff collaborated on an article concerning the practice of Witchcraft in his country. In 2016, Christina Engela gave readers a look into South Africa’s vampire community.

We will continue to build on the international monthly column, welcome guest writers, and find other ways to explore the Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist experience around the globe.

How do people integrate Pagan practice, Heathenry, or polytheism into their lived cultural experience? How do they blend their unique cultural experience with a religious practice that is sometimes feared or misunderstood at best? What can we learn from each other, and how can we grow as a global movement, if one exists? Do these connections across our expansive world make us stronger as a collective community and improve our religious experience as individuals?

It is through the voices we allow to be heard here that we hope to learn answers to these and other questions.

Column: the Nuclear Ankh

Fri, 2017-08-11 11:00

In June of 1981, Israel bombed a not-quite-active nuclear power plant in the suburbs of Baghdad, Iraq. This was the second time in a year that the power plant faced attack from the air: Iran struck at the end of Sept., 1980, in a mission the name of which dripped with warrior-poet self-mythologizing: “Operation Scorch Sword.” That mission damaged the reactor, but the technicians were able to repair the damage. The Israeli strike, on the other hand — this one code-named “Operation Opera” — managed to disable the facility for good, though perhaps Iraq might have resurrected the project again were it not enmeshed in the Iraq-Iran War that dominated the country’s attention throughout the 1980s.

Detail of the nose of Israeli Air Force F-16A 253, flown in Operation Opera, as indicated by the green triangle marking. [Photo by Oren Rozen, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 license.]

At the time, Operation Opera drew nearly universal condemnation from the international community. The Iraqi nuclear reactor would not have been powerful enough to make materials for nuclear weapons, and the deal to provide the reactors, the fuel to power them, and much of the technical knowledge and workforce to install and operate them, had been brokered not by some infamous rogue power, but by France. Even Margaret Thatcher called the Israeli attack unjustifiable, “a grave breach of international law.” The United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous resolution condemning Israel’s actions, though the United States prevented any concrete punishments, save for a two-month delay in delivery of a set of F-16s.

Today, a look through the academic writing on Operation Opera reveals mostly bloodless analysis of the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the attack on curtailing Iraq’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.[1] The question seems to have become less about the moral or legal question — was it defensible for Israel to launch a preemptive strike against Iraq, especially given the latter’s apparent compliance with international standards — and more about whether or not the strike “accomplished its mission” of deterring a nuclear weapons program. (On this, the findings are at best mixed: Iraq’s response to having its collaborative effort with France and the International Atomic Energy Commission bombed was to begin a secret program the following year.) Perhaps this should be unsurprising; any writing about Iraq in the 1980s must be read in the shadow of the Iraq War, in which the United States carried out a much more thorough preemptive attack than Operation Opera.

My interest in Operation Opera — or more precisely, in the reactor that was its target — is the result of a peculiar line of research I’ve been conducting into the history of my coven. As I have written about previously, my coven traces itself back to an English man named Deryck Alldrit and his American wife, Carrie, who lived in the St. Louis area during the late 1970s. I have been fascinated by Deryck for years, due in large part, I’m sure, to his absence: he and Carrie left the United States (and their coven) behind in 1978 for the Middle East, where Deryck, a civil engineer, worked on projects in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and, yes, the nuclear reactor in Baghdad.

Deryck and Carrie’s years in the Middle East remain one of the more ambiguous periods of their lives for me. I have, for example, never managed to find a definite record of Deryck’s employment during the time; my knowledge of his work on the reactor comes mostly from the tales his friends, now my elders in the tradition, tell from his old letters, mailed with United Nations postage stamps.

I have no idea what Deryck might have done on the project: it seems like a strange position for him to be in, given that the reactor was a joint Iraq-France venture and Deryck was a citizen of neither of those countries. Perhaps he consulted for the International Atomic Energy Commission in some capacity; I have not been able to verify that either way. The most my elders knew was that Deryck said he worked for a U.N. “development program,” but none of the U.N. subdivisions that would fit that name would seem to have had any interest in Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Still, I don’t doubt he was there: one of the tall tales my elders tell me is that in one of Deryck’s letters he said he had to “get the hell out” of Iraq on short notice when the Iraq-Iran War broke out in 1980. Operation Scorch Sword would take place within a week of the war’s declaration.

There is an eerie poetry to some of the details of the Iraqi reactor and Deryck’s work on it. The name of the reactor, for instance, was Tammuz to the Iraqis, named for the month Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party came to power, and thereby indirectly named for the Babylonian god. But the French name, and the name that most of the literature on Operation Opera has used since, is Osirak: a portmanteau of “Iraq” and the name of the reactor model, Osiris. The Baghdad nuclear plant held two reactors, the main Osirak model and a smaller companion reactor, its model name being Isis.

The goddess Isis holding an ankh from her temple at Philae, Aswan, Egypt [Anna Carotti, public domain].

That two witches should come to the Middle East to work on reactors named for Pagan gods strikes me as an odd enough synchronicity. What unsettles me more is one of the first stories I ever heard about Deryck and Carrie, years before I began researching them in earnest, was the story of Carrie’s grave: she died of a brain tumor while they lived in the Middle East, and was buried in a British cemetery in Baghdad. Inlaid in her tombstone on a basalt-black stone is a thin white ankh. The legend has always been that they got away with something — “You couldn’t put a cross or a Star of David on a grave in an Iraqi cemetery,” my elders said, “but nobody thought anything of an ankh” — but after reading more about Osiris and Isis, Osirak and Tammuz, I wonder. Carrie died only three months before Operation Scorch Sword, when Deryck had to leave Iraq, as far as I know, for good.

Carrie’s ankh, a symbol of life, life continuing even after life is gone, sits heavily on my mind today, when the news is awash in new rounds of nuclear terror. The United States president has threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against North Korea, which has in turn openly suggested the possibility of a strike against Guam. To read some analyses, these are the outcomes of a reasoned process, a nuclear logic being taken to its conclusions. Perhaps, as with Operation Opera, we will someday read academic papers that scrutinize these events in terms of their operational effectiveness without questioning their moral consequences, should we be lucky to live that long.

[1] See, for example, Braut-Hegghammer, Målfrid, “Revisiting Osirak,” International Security, 36.1, 2011, 101-132.

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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.

Nottinghamshire sees increase in Witchcraft complaints

Thu, 2017-08-10 08:41

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, Eng — An unusual upswing in the number of complaints made to the police in one area of Nottinghamshire is concerning both local and national Pagans.

Ashfield North saw 87 calls referring to Witches in 2016, and 38 in the previous year. These figures – released to the Nottingham Evening Post as part of police statistics under a freedom of information request – is extremely high compared to other parts of the country, and the reason for it remains unclear.

Local experts in the paranormal have suggested that some of these complaints relate to Witchcraft carried out in the past, but local Pagans are becoming concerned that the ordinary practices found in modern Pagan paths are also being reported as sinister.

Ashley Mortimer, director of the Nottingham Pagan Network, said, “Thirty eight reports out of 44 [paranormal incidents in Ashfield North] says more to me about the level of reporting than necessarily about the level of witchcraft activity.”

“I think people’s understanding of Witchcraft is misconstrued and has been for centuries,” Mortimer told a local reporter. “We’ve actually had a bad press for a long time.”

In that same interview, Mortimer explained to the mainstream press that “Witchcraft is a modern-day interpretation of ancient Pagan beliefs. […] It’s about believing in nature, and having the divine imminent in nature, personified and recognised as a lunar goddess and a solar god. But witchcraft is only one small part of modern-day Paganism. If you were to see someone don’t be alarmed – we’re quite happy to explain to people. But I don’t like them being seen as sinister, because it isn’t sinister.”

Mortimer also noted that Pagans are “the sixth biggest faith group in Nottinghamshire, as per the 2011 census.”

In a conversation with The Wild Hunt, Mortimer said that he thinks the complaints might be the work of one ‘serial reporter’ but that the released figures contain no specific information on what the substance of the calls to police might be.

One clue might lie in claims made by the Ashfield-based paranormal magazine Haunted. It states that its paranormal team has encountered “several potential incidents” of “Witchcraft” in the area, and at one point felt surrounded by “not very nice people.”

In an article for that magazine, James Pykett, part of the Haunted LIVE paranormal investigation team and owner of the Facebook page Haunted Nottinghamshire was quoted as saying, “It’s no surprise to be honest, we investigate all over Nottinghamshire and as most of the boys are from this area, locations are easily accessible in Ashfield and we have had lots of paranormal activity.

“As for Witchcraft, let’s just say that I can easily understand why there has been 87 reports of Witchcraft in Ashfield North.”

He did not elaborate any further. However, Jason Wall, also part of the paranormal team, added: “Recently we were on the Teversal Trail, and it felt like we were being watched, we picked up a lot of female names and it felt like we were being circled.”

However, it would seem that this was a matter of psychic impression rather than the presence of living people.

Nottingham has been in the news before in connection with complaints made against Paganism, notably an episode of ‘Satanic Panic’ in 1988, which saw a number of children taken into care from a city estate after multi-generational incest and abuse.

However, the police concluded that there was no evidence of Satanism or indeed Witchcraft being involved in that enquiry, but this was disputed by social services.The children concerned spoke of a number of structures, including underground rooms beneath churches, being the scene of Satanic ceremonies. None were found..

In 1989, the Nottingham Police/Social Services Joint Enquiry Team (JET) concluded in a report:

We had not found any physical corroborative evidence in the Broxtowe case and no longer believed the children’s diaries substantiated the claim of Satanic abuse. In our view they reflected other influences and were open to alternative interpretations. Our research indicated that nobody else [in other countries] had found corroborative physical evidence either.

All the evidence for its existence appears to be based upon disturbed children and adults claiming involvement during interviews by social workers, psychiatrists, and Church Ministers who already themselves believed in its existence. It seemed possible that Satanic abuse only existed in the minds of people who wanted or needed to believe in it.

There is no evidence that the complaints today and the episode in 1988 are connected, but local Pagans hope that the recent sharp rise in the complaints being made to the police are not a resurgence of the mindset that led to the 1988 allegations.

A spokesperson for the Nottinghamshire police recently noted: “We are very busy dealing with genuine calls for service and receiving calls about paranormal activity, UFOs and witches may delay our ability to pick up the phone to someone in real need of help.”

Pagan community mourns loss of Jaime Johnson (1979-2017)

Wed, 2017-08-09 11:55

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – One week ago, police performed a welfare check at the Towne Square condominiums in Windsor Oaks. Inside they found two people dead. One of the persons was Jaime Johnson, who had recently moved to Virginia, but was planning to move back to Minnesota.

Police say she was killed by her ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself. The murder suicide was estimated to have taken place three to five days prior to discovery.

Jaime Johnson [credit: Alexis Scheddel]

According to her cousin, Amanda Penman-Krohn, Ms. Johnson met her ex-boyfriend several years ago on a trip to Canada. The two stayed in touch, and Ms. Johnson eventually moved from Minnesota to Virginia in August 2016, where he lived. The two then moved in together.

In June the couple split up, but remained living together as roommates. By July, Johnson decided to move back to her long-time home of Minnesota. Her move date was scheduled for September 1.

Ms. Penman-Krohn says that, although the couple had problems, she wasn’t aware of any domestic abuse happening. “At no point did she ever express the relationship was abusive in anyway to me. In the beginning she had shared to a friend that he had started being mean to her, but she was pretty good about telling him to knock it off.”

“She had mentioned he was never very outgoing socially and could come off emotionally distant,” explains Penman-Krohn, “I don’t think she ever saw this coming though. The only person who has come forward stating that Jaime had stated [her ex-boyfriend] was unhappy with her moving was her Lender for the house she was buying.”

Penman-Krohn says Johnson was looking forward to moving back to Minnesota, “She was really struggling finding a sense of ‘home’ in Virginia.”

“It was eating away at her and she would message me constantly for the last 5 months about how she needed change.”

In her Facebook announcement that she would be moving, Jaime wrote, “I’m finally planting my feet right at home and it’s going to be amazing.”

The last time her cousin saw her in person was in March at Paganicon, a Pagan conference held annually in Minneapolis.

Amanda Penman-Krohn and Jaime Johnson [Courtesy]

Although Penman-Krohn says she is heartbroken by the death of her cousin, she adds Jaime’s ex-boyfriend wasn’t a monster, “So understand how hard this is for me to say, her ex was not an absolute monster. What he did was unforgivable and horrific, but it all boils down to the fact that he was too scared of his inner demons to ever seek help.”

“I truly believe that if he had sought help, both of them would be alive today.”

In public posts and in comments made in the Jaime Johnson Memorial Group, friends and family are sharing memories of Ms. Johnson:

“She was the first to arrive for my patrons only party at [Pantheacon]. Told me she was still so nervous hanging out with teachers and authors who had guided her. She was reffing me and Daimler specifically but it held for the whole [conference] I think. I gave her a hug and told her she was a friend there not a student. She settled a bit after that and we had such a lovely time, great to open the con with her that way.” – Lora O’Brien, mentor

“I know the bravest and sweetest, girl. She flew across the country to San Jose, CA to hang out with a bunch of people she knew online. She was nervous and didn’t know us in person but she did it anyway. I fell instantly in love with this girl in her awesome hats and she became part of our tribe right away. […] Rest is Power and Peace Jaime Johnson. Having you in my tribe, even for a short time was an honor and a gift.” – Vyviane Armstrong, friend.

“Jaime was my friend. We met online in a group dedicated to fairy folklore, and in person this year at Pantheacon. She was always an amazingly cheerful person and I loved her sense of humor and courage. We had bonded online over shared Brian Froud tattoos, a similar aesthetic, and our mutual love of fairylore, and in person we talked about more mundane things, like travel, anxiety, and moving. This past June she attended the Morrigan’s Call Retreat and we were cabinmates, after her original cabin assignment fell through. Sharing space and time with her was amazing and fun, because that’s who Jaime was. She was witty, and dry, and kind and the sort of person who anyone was lucky to know …” – Morgan Daimler, friend.

“I am heartbroken…Jaime was my friend and one of my students at one time. If anyone I know could be said to be full of life, it was Jaime.  Smart, funny, generous, sweet, creative…I was so looking forward to having her back in the Twin Cities area again.  Devastated.” – Veronica Cummer, mentor

“My best memory of Jaime was seeing The Crucible with her at the Guthrie. She wanted to go somewhere for dinner beforehand, but she ended up deciding otherwise at the last minute. Because of that, however, we both got there really early, so we had a great time conversing, […] Usually, it takes a lot of work getting together with friends. Both people are busy. There are all sorts of things. The other thing is, for me, a lot of the time, there are those moments of not being able to think of something to talk about or getting bored. I don’t remember that happening at all this time.” – Robin Rayfield, friend.

*  *  *

Penman-Krohn had her own story to share about her cousin, “Jaime has always been a person who wanted to help and understand others. There is a woman we both knew who was a drug addict. The girl brought destruction everywhere she went. One day that girl begged Jaime to take her away from her boyfriend who she felt was emotionally abusing her. Even though Jaime knew the girl spelled trouble she took her for a ride and brought her out this wooded park with trails and a creek.

“They walked around and Jaime had listened to the girl. I think she wasn’t used to being heard since everyone brushed her off as an addict. But Jaime gave her a chance to truly clear her mind and open her heart. I think it meant a lot to the girl who was struggling. I admired Jaime for that. I know I wouldn’t have given this woman a moment of my time, but Jaime gave her a whole day. She was practically a stranger to Jaime.”

Jaime Johnson is survived by her daughter, Mariah, and grandson, Zackary. Ms. Johnson’s cat, Orion, is being held by animal control. Penman-Krohn is making arrangements to foster the cat temporarily, until a permanent home can be found.

A memorial altar is being constructed at Eye of Horus in Minneapolis, and artist Shauna Aura Knight has donated one of her paintings, previously admired by Jaime, for that altar.

A traditional memorial will be held in Cannon Falls, Minnesota toward the end of August ,and a memorial that is more in line with Jaime’s own spiritual beliefs will be held October 14.

What is remembered, lives.

Pagans join others intrigued by “Great American Eclipse”

Tue, 2017-08-08 12:17

UNITED STATES –In less than two weeks, the shadow of the moon will cross the United States from coast to coast during the most significant total solar eclipse to touch the country in nearly a century. The 70-mile-wide path of totality will run from Oregon to South Carolina, touching 14 states and allowing the curious to witness an eclipse that will last about two minutes.

No one in any other country will be able to see the eclipse in totality, earning it the nickname of “Great American Eclipse.” Pagans, among the millions of people planning on traveling to see this astronomical event, may view it with a mix of mystical reverence and scientific admiration.

Map of eclipse path [Wikipedia]

Viewing of this uncommon event may be better in western states, as the chance for clear skies is higher, but it’s likely most of the curious will travel to the closest possible spot and hope for the best. According to data compiled at greatamericaneclipse.com, nearly 90 million Americans live within a day’s drive of the event, and as many as 7.4 million people will travel to view the eclipse.

It’s likely too late to find a hotel room or campground reservation nearby any longer, as this eclipse has a number of factors boosting interest: it transits much of the country, takes place before school opens in many locales (and some schools will be closed specially), and social-media hype is raising awareness of the event.

Holli Emore lives in South Carolina, which is where people from the East Coast mostly plan to view the eclipse. Her hometown of Columbia could have its population briefly triple.

“It’s a big deal,” Emore said. “Around here, all of the hotels are sold out.” That’s why she’s glad travel is not necessary for her, saying that it “really feels like it’s an honor that I get to be right here; [there are] people from all around the world here, but I get to go to my back deck and watch it.”

Driving three or four hours is what Kirk Thomas intends to do to see it in Oregon. “I have a friend who has a friend, and this friend has got land in the line” of the eclipse, he said.

While the chances of cloudy skies are lower in his state, Thomas has a plan in case the weather is uncooperative: “Laugh sorrowfully.”

Warnings not to look at the sun, even during an eclipse, are not hyperbole. During a 2005 partial eclipse, an English schoolboy was blinded in one eye because he looked directly at it, rather than using a pinhole camera or eclipse glasses.

Even eclipse selfies can be dangerous.

A safer, and more convenient, option might be to watch as the eclipse is streamed live on the NASA web site. While technically interesting, witnesses of past eclipses often say that the experience is indescribable; emotional outbursts are not uncommon.

Being there also affords the opportunity to observe animal behavior, as well as the stars.

Emore is fascinated by the notion that hiding one star can reveal others. It’s a rare moment when what is normally hidden and what’s in plain sight switch places.

“I’m reflecting on what it means when hidden things get revealed, once in a lifetime. I’m still pondering it.”

The question of the stars is looked at astrologically by Diotima Mantineia. In the chart, she sees fire and transformation. “We’ll have plenty of inspiration to work with, but some of us may get carried away with enthusiasm — or anger. Both are very much in the air,” Mantineia said, as “is transformation, and it will help to keep in mind that sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a transformative event, things can get pretty scary.”

That same fire can be a source of courage or fearlessness, she said.

“Politically, we can expect some major firestorms. The interactions of this eclipse chart with Donald Trump’s natal chart are stunning, and, when cast for the USA, the chart suggests tremendous legal and religious dramas on a national level,” Mantineia continued.

“The chart of this eclipse will be in effect for many months to come (think of it as a tide, not a single event). How it affects each of us personally will depend on our individual natal charts, but the fiery energy will be a bit part of the zeitgeist for awhile, so stay aware and keep the cauldron fired up, as a teacher of mine was fond of saying.”

Rev. Selena Fox also intends to watch the event. “Eclipses are great opportunities for deepening our understanding of science and the cycles of nature,” Fox said.

“[They] also can be powerful occasions for transformation rituals and for celebrating nature’s wonders with other humans.”

Ritually, some Pagans may choose to let the viewing stand alone as the awe-inspiring event it’s expected to be. Emore did not share that she intends any religious work, and Thomas explicitly said he is not. That doesn’t mean that the esoteric properties of the eclipse will be ignored, however.

Tara Nelson said in a Southern Illinoisan interview, “The male and female energies associated with the sun and moon are powerful symbols to experience. With the total solar eclipse it will be easy to connect [to] and witness how the balance of the sun and moon, male and female energies are around us every day.”

According to an eclipse magic essay posted on Pagan Path, this one being in the waning year might make it ideal for “to rid yourself of unwanted energies, bad habits, unhealthy patterns of thinking and acting, negativity, and other baneful things in your life. You can work with both the new moon energy, and the waning year energy, in addition to the energy of the eclipse.”

Path of the eclipse [Wikipedia]

Nelson appeared to be on the same page, saying in her interview that for viewers the eclipse will be “a powerful time to look at their lives and allow for the energy of lightness to darkness and the return to lightness again to be used as an opportunity to decide what aspects of their lives are no longer welcome.”

For those unwilling or unable to make the journey, the Pagan Path essay does include assurances that it’s possible to work with the eclipse magically at a distance. That might be all the easier since it will be possible to have the event stream live from any handy screen.

The eclipse will become total at 10:15 local time at the Oregon coast, and travel swiftly across the country to leave American soil at 2:39 Eastern time in South Carolina. Check local listings or this site for details.

Pagan Community Notes: Jaime Johnson, Coru Cathubodua, Llewellyn Worldwide, and more

Mon, 2017-08-07 09:01

VIRGINIA BEACH, Vir. — It is being reported that 37-year-old Jaime Johnson was killed Aug. 2 in her home on Sutter Street in Virginia Beach. There is currently a police investigation underway, but officials have not yet released any specific details about the case.

Originally from Minnesota, Jaime was well-known across the American Pagan community. She was a member of Morrigu’s Daughters, which is part of the larger Tuatha de Morrigan group, a tribe of Morrigan devotees who attend the Morrigan’s Call retreat each year.

Vyviane Armstrong was in the process of helping Johnson plan a retreat to Ireland for 2018. Armstrong said, “Jaime was a brave, kind and beautiful soul. Like so many others I fell in love instantly upon meeting her. I am heartbroken at our loss.”

According to official reports, the local police “responded to the [Sutter Street home] regarding a request to check on the welfare of the occupants. Upon arrival officers located an adult female and an adult male, deceased.” The murder is currently being “investigated as a homicide/suicide, domestic in nature.” Family and friends are reporting that the adult male was Johnson’s boyfriend, and that the couple lived in the home for only a few months.

We will have more on this story in the coming days.

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MINNEAPOLIS —  Lewellyn Worldwide has a new acquisitions editor. A former editor of Circle Magazine and Pagan Spirit Gathering organizer, Florence Edwards-Miller has joined the team at the Minnesota-based publishing house. Edwards-Miller said, “Pagans have often been described as a ‘people of the library,’ rather than a ‘people of the book.’ Llewellyn Worldwide has done really amazing things for our Pagan community, particularly in the past several years.”

Edwards-Miller will be joining current and longtime acquisitions editor Elysia Gallo. “I’m extremely excited that they’re interested in expanding their offerings for our community and truly honored to be asked to help,” said Edwards-Miller. “I think that Llewellyn recognizes that our spiritual community is growing and becoming more diverse, and I’m looking forward to being a part of producing books that will meet our needs.”

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CALIFORNIA — The Coru Cathubodua, a priesthood dedicated to the Morrigan, announced that the organization has become an incorporated church in the state of California. Communication chief Patrick Garretson wrote, “This Lughnasadh was a big stepping stone for our priesthood. In addition to bringing on a new Coru dedicant priest [Barbara Cormack] and establishing the Hearth with two new members [Addy Street and Leah Samhain], we are also happy to announce that as of August 1, we have taken the first step towards being a 501(c)(3).”

The organization  has been working toward becoming a church and eventually earning full tax-exempt status for quite sometime. Garretson told The Wild Hunt, “This will help us serve a broader membership base, receive tax-deductible donations, and have a legal structure and protections to help facilitate the growth of our order.”  The organizations leaders “foresee broadening [their] presence to communities outside the Bay Area in time and being able to offer more clergy services to the Morrigan devotees and other Celtic polytheists.”  They want to build a lasting tradition and community.

Garretson said, “Establishing our church status and broadening membership will enable us to do that.” While there are still many steps to take before earning tax-exempt status, he said that the “timing of this official change seems fitting. Hail Lugh!”

In other news

  • Many in the U.S. Pagan community continue to offer support to the Grimassis, who lost their home in a fire in July. The organizers of the Magickal Marketplace teamed up with A Sacred Place, both based in New Hampshire, and held a benefit concert Aug. 5 to help raise money for the couple. Performers included Jenna Greene Band and Myschyffe Managed, as well as the Mike OJ the Magician. Raven Grimassi has since offered thanks, saying “I feel very grateful for the support and blessings of this great community.” He also praised the organizers, adding: “There is something greater here. It’s the fact that in our community we have people who uplift others in times of hardship. We have people who step outside of their own lives to make a positive difference in the lives of others. We have selfless light-bearers.”
  • The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has just released a new film titled The Way of the Shaman: The Work of Michael and Sandra Harner. “The movie honors and celebrates the Harners’ pioneering work in the history and development of core shamanism. It is a […] look at the people behind the evolution of a groundbreaking spiritual healing methodology that honors and builds upon the ancient knowledge of the world’s shamans.” The movie is free to watch online.
  • Covenant of the Goddess kicks off its annual Merry Meet event Aug. 10 beginning with a full-day leadership institute. This year’s theme is With Visions of the Past and Memories of the Future. The organization invites “all Witches to participate.” CoG’s annual business meeting grand council begins the next day, Aug. 11, and continues through Aug 13. This year, Merry Meet is being held in Ontario, Calif.
  • Another Pagan organization, the Temple of Witchcraft, is getting ready to host its annual event TempleFest. The four-day festival, which is now in its eighth year, will be held at the “beautiful Sargent Center in Hancock, New Hampshire.” This year’s special guest is Ivo Dominguez, Jr. TempleFest will be held from Aug 17-21.
  • Aug. 21 is getting nearer, bringing with it a full solar eclipse. Pagan around the country are planning rituals and meditations on that day. Are you planning something religious or spiritual during this time? Let us know.

The esoteric journey of Twin Peaks with Zora Burden

Sun, 2017-08-06 10:18

TWHTwin Peaks was originally at surreal crime drama airing for two seasons in the early 1990s. Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, the show first received rave reviews for its unique blend of storytelling and visuals. In 1991, New York Times reviewer William Grimes wrote, “For an intoxicating few months, ‘Twin Peaks’ seemed to be crackling away on every synapse in the collective American brain. The massively promoted two-hour pilot that kicked off the series just over a year ago lured nearly 35 million viewers, a third of the nation’s television audience.”

Those numbers fell sharply over the season and into the second season, forcing the seemingly cultural tour de force to close up shop in June1991 after only 30 episodes. As quoted by Grimes, Frost speculated, “I don’t think [the show] changed television one iota. No trend developed from this show whatsoever. The networks are more entrenched than ever in the conglomerate, bottom-line mentality.”

His observation is partially true. However it was at this time that Matt Groening’s The Simpsons, with its subversive themes and cultural challengeshad become a nationwide hit. The difference lies in the presentation. Frost and Lynch moved through themes within a slow-building drama, whereas Groening captured his biting social commentary within animated comedy.

Despite its quick demise, Twin Peaks did develop a cult following. More specficially, Lynch fans were not so easily ready to abandon the show to the pages of history. In 1992, New Line Cinema released the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. However, mirroring the show’s final days, the film, which was directed by Lynch, was not well-received in the United States and only had limited success internationally.

Then in 2014, over 20 years later, Showtime announced that it would be resurrecting the long-dormant narrative for a new series created by both Frost and Lynch. That show is known as Twin Peaks: the Return and stars Kyle MacLachlan. It began airing in May, 2017. It scheduled to continue through September. According to Showtime, the show has to-date garnered the “most streaming viewers” for any of its original shows. The question still remains on whether or not the new iteration of Twin Peaks, which has been called “trippier” than the original, can retain a viewership outside of its dedicated fans.

In 2014, the Hollywood Reporter speculated why Twin Peaks, a daring and evocative drama, would not maintain its impact on American viewers.

The problem with Twin Peaks is not the show. The problem here is the viewer; and it’s unavoidable. For as classy, clever and well-spun as Twin Peaks is, it makes the mistake of presuming the viewer will watch and listen and perceive. Not so.

Lynch expects the viewer to suck the Tootsie pop slowly until the inner chewy nucleus is revealed. TV viewers chomp through their pops.

But concentration is such a rare event in television viewing that any hope of following the intricacy of Twin Peaks is a dream.

This comment hearkens back to Frost’s own 1991 statement speculating that television producers seek to appeal to a “bottom-line mentality.”

That Hollywood Reporter observation also points to the unique content and storytelling present in the original show, much of which contained beautiful visuals laced with esoteric themes and underlying surrealism. None of this is surprising, considering Lynch was involved.

Outside of his other cinematic works (e.g., Blue Velvet, 1986), Lynch has spoken openly about his own experience with transcendental meditation and the importance of such work. In 2016, Interfaith Radio broadcast an interview between Mitch Horowitz and David Lynch on that very subject.

The esoterica and surrealism embodied within Twin Peaks narrative text and visuals is a fascinating subject for both the student of pop culture as well as people engaging with the many forms of occult practices. Lynch and Frost’s show is certainly not the first to delve into this world. Outside of kitschy Halloween witchcraft, the occult has been infused into films and television, subtly or not, since the early silent era (e.g. Metropolis, 1927)

However, it is important to recognize that Lynch and Frost produced this show during a time when the occult expressions were being demonized. The Satanic Panic may be partly to blame for the show’s quick demise.

Either way, the show’s expressions of esoterica have captured many people’s imaginations, including journalist Zora Burden. In 2015, she began a project to examine the varied occult themes and spiritual concepts present within the original show. She likened watching the show to a journey.

The essay discusses the scope and breadth of symbolism and esoteric concepts that she found hidden with the show’s text. Burden writes, “Twin Peaks esoteric symbolism is derived from many sources but with a seemingly predominant message- the unification of dualities within, finding balance in nature and the constructs of alternate realities. The attainment of this non-duality can be achieved through Taoism and spiritual alchemy to which the film intentional or not makes many references.”

Burden shared this essay with us and we have included it here in its complete, unabridged form. She writes, “Twin Peaks has an underlying message of how humanity’s polarized thinking, detachment from nature and rigid social constructs results in destructive behavior.”

Column: Pagans Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter

Sat, 2017-08-05 11:01

On June 26, the wildly popular Harry Potter book series celebrated its 20th anniversary. Written by J.K. Rowling, who was a struggling single mother prior to skyrocketing to fame and fortune, the children’s fantasy series gained plenty of adult fans and has spawned a media empire. Eventually, Rowling published seven books, which led to eight high-grossing feature films with A-list actors in many of the roles. Even after the films ended, the series maintained a strong internet presence and has been given new life with the opening of two interactive Harry Potter themed “lands” at Universal Studios theme parks in Florida and California.

Hogwarts at Night, Universal Studios Hollywood [T. Titus].

Pagans, especially those who identify as Witches, are often drawn to any work of fiction that includes witches or pagans as characters. The 1973 film The Wicker Man has a strong following, despite ultimately revealing the pagans in a negative light. Both The Craft and Practical Magic are also quite popular, despite their fictional portrayal of modern Witchcraft. It seems inevitable, then, that Harry Potter, the boy wizard who straddles the magical and muggle worlds, would become quite popular in the Pagan community. Pagans of all kinds have devoured the series, sometimes incorporating it into their spiritual practice, other times simply folding the themes of the series into their spiritual and ethical lives.

The series took a little time to gain traction, especially with late teens and adults. While Trisha Ray-Saulis, a Native American practitioner and theosophist from Maine, encountered the books when she was 17 years old and noticed that “everyone else” in line “was smaller than me.” Witch and Voudisant Julian King took a few years to notice them. He was given the first installment by a roommate and was “hooked by page three.” While “nature-sensitive spiritual person” Heather Terry found them in a school book club at age 10, kitchen witch Katrina Ray-Saulis discovered Harry’s world them at “age 14 or 15,” and they fit perfectly into her teenaged self-discovery. “I was told Harry Potter was anti-Christian,” she says, “and I was already questioning my Baptist upbringing…the obsession never stopped.”

Pagans seem to have multiple levels of reasons for connecting with the Harry Potter stories. King, like Harry, “had a very difficult and abusive upbringing,” and he identified with being “on the outskirts of the crowd.” In an odd coincidence, he also mentions that he is the child of a Lily Potter and a father named James, and “due to an interesting night and a wine glass” he has a “fairly nice scar on [his] forehead.” Trisha Ray-Saulis echoes this identification with the outcast Harry Potter, bringing up her own experience of autism. “As a kid on the spectrum,” she explains, “I had a very narrow scope of interests, and fantasy books was one of them.”

“Pagan” bookshelf in Hogsmeade, Universal Studios Orlando [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Katrina Ray-Saulis grew up intrigued by “stories that could be happening behind the walls,” such as the Narnia tales. “Anytime a parallel world could exist alongside ours,” she says, “J.K. Rowling built that parallel magical world in such a seamless way.” Terry was initially intrigued by the idea of “a world where magic was possible” and “the way it tells us of the potential we all have for greatness.” Eventually, she came to appreciate “the art of Rowling’s storytelling,” including creative character names such as Remus Lupin, whose name brings up the mythology of wolf-raised Romulus and Remus, which parallels nicely with Lupin’s identity as a werewolf. She also cites Rowling’s use of Erik Erikson’s stages of child social development as an example of the author’s strong story-weaving skills.

Given the success of the franchise, it is clear that it appealed to a wider audience that just budding Pagans and Witches. Trisha Ray-Saulis believes this is because “J.K. Rowling did everything right.” She “held readers” and “incorporated unique ideas which could be easily manufactured and marketed” as well as introducing “complex abstract concepts to developing minds.” She gives the examples of thestrals, horse-like creatures that can only be seen by people who have experienced the death of a loved one. “It was a wonderful way,” says Trisha, “to let children know that once you experience a death of someone you know, you will not only see the world differently, but you will see things about the world that those who have not experienced that cannot see.”

Terry gives the credit to “the universality” of the series. She emphasizes the theme that “you can be different and still make a positive difference in the world.” King agrees, noting that the “series appeals to the inner reject in all of us.” Katrina Ray-Saulis lays the credit for the franchise’s success with the fact that “Harry Potter gives us magic in our everyday world.” She notes Arthur Weasley’s wonder and joy with the muggle world where all other wizards seem to deride their non-magical counterparts and parallels that wonder with how many readers would feel when looking at the magical world just beyond our reach.

Harry Potter is not universally loved in the Pagan community. In social media posts and other corners of the internet, some magical practitioners have complained that the use of fiction may dilute existing magickal practice. Paganism, however, has a long history of borrowing from fiction. From Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid to the novels of Dion Fortune to Heinlen’s Stranger in a Strange Land, fictional stories have often influenced spiritual development, offering themes to help the growth and practice of the practitioner.

King points to the themes of “ethics” and “unity.” For ethics, he notes the realization that “the world doesn’t work in black and white, but what is important is to learn to balance the highest good.” Indeed, there are many characters in the series that do not fit a good/evil mode, most particularly the morally elusive but much beloved Severus Snape. As far as unity, King mentions that Potter teaches readers that, “together we create a stronger and more enterprising and unstoppable force of nature,” and that “it is important that we accept and work with and feel compassion for all creatures.”

Terry focuses on Harry’s unwillingness to change who he is to fit in with either his abusive family or his bullies at school. She adds the words of Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, who said, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.”

“That statement,” says Terry, “is true of all humans.” Similarly, Trisha emphasizes the theme of “choosing your path.” She believes this is a part of spirituality. “Do we follow a path of expectation of family pressure or because we need to look a certain way to others,” she asks, “Do we become internally fraud for external acceptance?” As a child on the autism spectrum, accepting “that I did not fit in any box and choosing to be okay with that” was an important benefit for Trisha.

Katrina Ray-Saulis “passionately subscribes” to the “idea that pop culture can be a part of any spiritual practice. She notes the characters of Molly Weasley and Minerva McGonagall, who “love children, especially children who are not their own.” In her own work as a nanny, these characters become vital role models. “In a way, these two fictional characters are a part of my spirituality,” she mentions. “I think of them the way others might think of Aphrodite or Hestia.” She suggests the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts as an aid for anyone looking to incorporate the values of Harry Potter into their spiritual practice.

Harry and friends, Universal Studios Hollywood [T. Titus].

King feels strongly about the real world need to “understand the differences between fantasy and reality,” noting that “we must live first and foremost in reality and learn our way in it.” Trisha parallels this thought by bringing up the flighty, yet eerily prescient character Luna Lovegood, whom she sees as similar to Homer’s Kassandra. She does not appear to be living in reality, and as a consequence “she is ostracized and picked on. People do not believe her. Regardless, when she speaks, she is worth listening to and commonly right on point.”

Twenty years after its creation, Harry Potter is a work of seven books that changed modern culture. Its effects are far reaching enough to go beyond its niche as children’s fantasy and appeal to different subcultures for their own reasons. These seven books have had an enormous impact. Books are built from words, and words are powerful magic. Terry reminds us of Dumbledore’s belief that “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury or remedying it.”

“No matter what path you tread or where in your practice you are,” Terry states, “the power of your words and actions is undeniable.” For her and for millions of readers, these seven books of magic words have benefited their lives, their values, and their spiritual growth immensely.

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

Column: Kronia – Sweetness, Sacrifice, Healing

Fri, 2017-08-04 10:01

During the blissful heat of summer, we pause to celebrate the sabbat which falls during the lull that starts August. In my tradition, Kronia celebrates the first harvest, abundance, and the balancing sacrifice. Kronos: time, who cuts with a scythe the richness around us, reminds us what we give up for what we receive. The days are not always hot and steamy, and the nights grow slightly longer as we inch further away from the daylight zenith of the year.

[Pixabay.]

I bite into the sweetness of a strawberry and watch the juice run down my fingers.

What is sacrificed for that sweetness? How long did it take to prepare the soil, to grow the berries, and to pick them when they would gush with flavor? We don’t think necessarily of the sacrifice to grow the food as we consume it, but we do cherish the brevity of time when such fruits are in season. Even living in a warmer climate, there is a season for the peak ripeness of certain fruits and vegetables. Eat fresh, eat local is a good ethical principle to follow for those who want to  stay as natural as possible. The willingness to sacrifice convenience and year-round access for the highest quality local produce is one that many are eager to make. In August, we celebrate the beauty of midsummer by honoring the foods which surround us.

The celebration of Kronia at this time recalls the far-distant Golden Age marked by stability, sufficiency, and serenity; this is the opposite of what we see in the modern world. During festivals and holidays, we seek respite from the rushed pace of our daily lives. We appreciate abundance, even by the mouthful, when we can pause to savor and taste each tiny bit of the yellow cake with chocolate frosting, or a crisp green salad with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers adorned with a warm honey balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The sacrifice of time allows us to indulge in a healing experience; it is one with good food and good company.

Now, when we take the scythe and harvest our bounty at this time of the year, I am reminded of that fleeting sweetness. As human beings, we still have the energy to race around and finish the myriad of tasks we consider “summer” before we have to return to the routine of autumn: a return to the classroom for students, an end to the summer family vacation season, a need to catch up  at our jobs, and a desire to put things in order for the cooler temperatures and slower pace of an impending winter.

In August, for a moment, we don’t have to think of autumn’s chill despite massive sales for household items and bed sheets that  will warm us in luxury a few months from now. We just have to taste, to enjoy, and to appreciate. We suspend and surrender our worries in pool parties, backyard barbecues with friends or neighbors, lazy afternoons playing ball on the court, or just napping in the sun while reading a book. Sunlight is our strength, our refuge, and our abundance in spirit. In reality, it is because we have so much around us that is visually appealing that we sometimes miss  or forget the very sacrifice required at this time to keep things going.

We cherish the family vacation, even if it is just a “staycation,” and we briefly forget the 40 weeks we may have saved up to pay for the trip or the events at home. We hold the birthday party in the backyard until 11:30 p.m. on a weeknight, ignoring the price that our bodies might have to pay if we need to be at work by 7 a.m. the next morning. We feel so good in the abundance of summer that we tell ourselves that we’ll make up the sleep deficit later, even if we know that later may not come for awhile. It is a willing sacrifice for the  harvest of joy that we feel in celebrating with family and friends.

For the heat of August, it is Kronos who fits with the sphere of agriculture, harvest, and most important, a reminder of time itself. How do we use or misuse our time? For those who seek to know, understand, and have a relationship with their gods, what is your spiritual harvest? What have you planted that has blossomed this year and now surrounds you in abundance? What have we received from the gods in response to our spell-work, prayers, ritual, and overall practices? Do we remember? Have we forgotten?

When I look at various Facebook feeds or other social media postings, I see a lot of requests for spells, prayer, ritual, and just help in general. As we live, so we die. For all of these requests, what actually happened? For some, there are follow-up posts of thanks or sadness or joy. Perhaps pictures are placed to show the result of a sacrifice made, the healing received, and the abundance appreciated. Perhaps there is nothing but a simple “thank-you.”

Kronia, the midsummer celebration, reminds me that the harvest can be a difficult one. As a child, I used to grow sunflowers with my mother in our backyard. I forget the exact month when the large stems would grow heavy and lean over with their bounty of seeds, but I do know that as a child it was so easy to forget that the sunflowers were planted, watered, and if the harvest did not occur at the right time, they would die with their seeds rotting in the pods. From this I learned that harvest and the acceptance of abundance cannot be delayed. Not really. There is a moment when there is the peak of ripeness, when the juice is so sweet and tart that your eyes start to water. Then there is the moment just past that time, perhaps even a day or so later. The taste is still okay, but slightly bitter. The desire to consume the fruit lessens. If it’s the last bit of strawberry and you’ve got little in the house, you’ll eat it, but you really don’t want to do so.  You crave the original sweetness of the berry from a few days earlier.

The sweetness of Kronia is like that in a way: we celebrate with family, friends, and the gods our accomplishments; our worldly, emotional, and spiritual achievements. We need a reminder before we head into the cooler temperatures of autumn that there are reasons to keep going. Abundance brings healing. Sweetness reminds us of abundance. When we grasp the harvest, we accept the abundance and we heal to go forward.

Spiritual harvest and healing need not be large things or grand gestures. It can be as small as observing a woodpecker on a tree and remembering how long it has been since you had five or ten minutes just to observe a bird doing its job. It can be spending time catching up with a friend in person, by phone, or Skype. Modern technology allows the harvest to expand  to include those who are 12 or 18 hours away. It can be seeing the signs that the gods scatter throughout our lives on a regular basis. For those who have chosen a particular path, this is a wonderful time of the year for initiation. The very act of initiation calls for sacrifice, acknowledgement of gifts received, and a healing. The initiate steps through a border, a dividing line between the person of the past and the person of the future.

One of my own spiritual harvests this year is how to live with the dying. It is a hard journey because while procreation, birth, creativity, and the enjoyment of life are regularly discussed or presented as topics for discovery, endings and death are not. How many workshops at any given festival or convention discuss endings, death, stagnation, the darker aspects of sacrifice? Not many. We experience abundance due to death: we harvest and kill to pleasure our taste buds, to enjoy what we have planted, and to complete the cycle. Abundance cannot exist forever in current times without loss, harvest, or sacrifice. At Kronia, the bright skies and hot weather make it easy to forget this lesson.

The dying make the harvest on a regular basis. Do I stay or do I go? If I go, what will I miss? Whom will I hurt? What really happens on the other side? If I stay, is it the right thing to do? What if I am only staying for X person or Y situation? This is where the healing aspect of the holiday hits home: if it is easy to enjoy the abundance, and hard to accept the sacrifice, then the balance would be healing. Savor the victories, as they are healing.

[Pixabay.]

The healing for me at this time is the ability to see the rich abundance in silences, short conversations, and grunts that represent  full sentences’ worth of meaning. A victory can be getting down a few spoonfuls of  a rice pudding or finishing a cup of coffee. Simple pleasures matter when time is limited or when time just has no meaning at all.

In the past at Kronia, I would not have noticed much beyond checking how much time I had to finish an impossibly long list of things that would make my summer complete before preparing for Pagan Pride in September. I would grill hot dogs or chicken outdoors, have a cold drink, and spend time with friends. It would be a reminder, but just a reminder, to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather while I could for the next six or seven weeks. Now, Kronia is still very much a family holiday for me. I plan to serve rice pudding, cut up chicken nuggets, chopped spinach or broccoli, and some tart lemonade – indoors.

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