The United Religions Initiative (URI) held its global summit leadership meeting in Sarajevo, beginning Sept 11. The weeklong meeting brought together URI representatives from around the world and from many different religious backgrounds. The organization’s goal is to “promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”
Rev. Donald Frew was at the Sarajevo meeting as a representative of Covenant of the Goddess. Frew has been working in interfaith circles for decades, sometimes even as the lone Pagan voice at the table. He wrote, “I truly believe that interfaith is our last, best hope for peace.” He called URI’s efforts one of “the largest grassroots interfaith effort on Earth, involving several million committed, engaged individuals all around the world.”
In terms of grass roots, URI has cooperation circles operating locally throughout the world, working toward a common goal of peace. As such, Frew is not the only Pagan, Heathen or polytheist involved with URI both internationally or locally.
Photos and reports will be coming in from attendees at the leadership meeting and will appear on the organization’s Facebook page. Frew said, “No matter what is going on the world, it’s impossible not to have hope when [URI leaders] get together.” He added that the “presence of so many young people — a next generation eager to take what we have to give and go further than we can imagine — inspires us to work all the harder to live up to their expectations.”
* * *Erin Lale, a Heathen writer and blogger at PaganSquare, has launched something called the Heathen Visibility Project. Lale explains, “When it comes to written material, Heathens are pretty loud. We have lots of books (like mine) and blogs (like mine) and articles and so on. We don’t have nearly the number of images of contemporary Heathens doing Heathen things, or people publicly identified as Heathens doing regular life things.” Searches for Heathen imagery, she explains, often turn up “Nazis waving the runic letter O” or stills from a Thor movie.
Lale wants to see more creative commons imagery of modern Heathens “doing Heathen things.” In a second blog post, she explains how to make this happen and how anyone can participate in increasing the number of searchable photos on the internet. She encourages people to upload and make available modern Heathens doing everyday things and participating in community. However, she also notes, “Many people attending rituals and other Pagan events don’t want to be photographed, because they are worried about being identified as non-Christians. For that reason, if we want to increase Heathen visibility, instead of trying to photograph real rituals and events we will probably have to stage them.”
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Fans of Dirge online magazine have learned that the site is no longer in operation as of Sept 15. Editor-in-Chief Jinx Strange wrote:
“The factors leading up to this decision are far more numerous than I want to get into in this space, but suffice it to say, it’s a confluence of conditions, many of which are far bigger than me. The bottom line is that after three years, I don’t believe this to be a financially viable outlet for the content we’ve been producing, and I simply have no interest in publishing click-bait here, or articles that aren’t of the highest possible quality simply for the sake of online publishing.”
The publishers of Dirge will continue the lifestyle site Dear Darkling, and Dirge will remain publicly available as an archive for readers into the foreseeable future. In the last post, Strange said, “Dirge has changed me, and changed my life and I am so grateful to everyone who participated in that in any capacity. I’m ready to move on. A dirge is just a transition, after all.”
In other news:
- The Pagan Federation International hosts a global forum for its members to share political actions and other similar activities. PFI’s international coordinator Morgana Sythgove writes, “As an activist organisation (not a religious organisation as some people think) PF and PFI members are often seen at rallies, demonstrations, signing petitions etc for environmental issues, human and indigenous rights issues, and other issues concerning the Earth – our home. Please feel free to promote a cause here which you feel is in much need of support.” The forum is located on the PFI site and is publicly available to anyone interested in actions being taken by members of the global Pagan community.
- If you are in Tennessee next week, Tuatha Dea will be holding its first local drum circle in three years.The band travels the country performing and holding workshops at various Pagan and non-Pagan events. It is not often they do so in their home town of Gatlinburg.
- The latest issue of Druid Magazine has been published. This edition includes an interview with TWH editor Heather Greene. It also includes an interview with Damh the Bard, a tribute to the newest American Druid camp MAGUS, and a number of articles that explore in detail the American Druid experience.
- Thursday is the UN’s International Day of Peace. Will you be honoring this day? If so, how?
TWH – This year, the autumnal equinox falls on Sept. 22 at 20:02 UTC in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the moment that officially signals the start of fall. At this time, there will be an equal amount of light and dark, after which the nights are longer as than days as we head toward winter.
Outside of religious life, this season is very well celebrated. It is punctuated by harvest celebrations, craft shows and arts festivals, outdoors sports, pumpkin picking, scarecrow contests, corn mazes, and the aromas of spice and apple cider.
From ancient to modern cultures, the harvest period was a time of both work and celebration. Many of these celebrations are marked by thanksgiving, whether religious or secular in nature. Thanks are given to deities, ancestors, family, friends, community, self, and nature.
It is also when the UN celebrates International Day of Peace (Sept. 21).
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert CamusIn some modern Pagan traditions, this is the second of three harvest festivals, with the first being Lughnasadh and the third being Samhain.
Autumn equinox holidays come in many names. For Wiccans and Witches, it is sometimes called “Harvest Home” or “Mabon.” In Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, it can be called “Mid-Harvest,” “Foghar,” or “Alban Elfed.” In modern Asatru, it is sometimes called “Winter Finding.”
The Greek term for it is “Phthinopohriní Isimæría.” In Old English it was called “efnniht.”
Then, there are those who just simply prefer to use “autumn equinox” or “fall.”
At the same time, our friends and family living in the Southern Hemisphere begin the journey to summer. Sept. 22 will mark their vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. The days will begin to lengthen and become warmer as light triumphs over dark and the Earth reawakens from its winter slumber.
Here are some thoughts on the harvest season and the equinox:
“No matter what you choose to call it, the autumn equinox has long been one of my favorite sabbats. It’s a time when I can almost hear the wheel of the year turning, and signs of change are everywhere. There’s so much to harvest in the garden, and the sunflowers that stood so tall and proud back in August are now heavy and tired, ready to share their seeds with the waiting earth. ” – Jason Mankey, “8 Ways to Celebrate the Autumn Equinox/Mabon”
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“The young mother-maiden swings a picnic basket, and lays down a blanket, bread, and cheese. The old crone pulls a bottle of cyser mead from her carpetbag, and pours it into glasses. They clink and make a toast to Mabon, or the autumn equinox — the day when the light and darkness are most equal.
“I imagine the goddesses speak of the things that happened in the past six months.” – Astrea, “Mabon, Honor the Dark Goddess”
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“The trees are turning golden, their leaves taking on the autumn hues. The smell of wood smoke is in the air, and another cycle is turning, ever turning, the endless wheel of existence. Spinning, like our galaxy, through time and space, always changing, always flowing; the awen of Druidry.” –
Happy harvest to all of those celebrating, and a very merry spring to our friends in the south.
In nomine Spartaci, Sibyllae, et Furoris Bacchici
The name of Spartacus has withstood over two millennia of slavery and empire, and become immortalized within the insurrectionary tradition. The personal name of his wife, “a prophetess (μαντική) subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy,” has been not been passed down by the written record, but her title—the prophetess—endures, as does her source of inspiration: the Dionysiac frenzy.
The revolt which began with the prophetess, Spartacus, and a handful of his fellow gladiators lasted two years (73-71 BCE) spread across Italy to include thousands of liberated slaves, as well freeborn “herdsmen and shepherds” who joined the uprising. The rebellion terrified the Roman elite, threatening the very center of the empire both geopolitically and socially.
In the United States, slavery was never abolished: it was codified as “punishment for crime.” Against the continuation of slavery within the prison-industrial complex, the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) has arisen, declaring that “our struggle today must begin from this starting point” and that “the abolitionist struggle must be extended to the state and capitalism.”
ProphecyAccording to Plutarch’s Life of Crassus, “when Spartacus was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept.” The prophetess, who was with him in Rome as well as later during his rebellion, “declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a[n] … issue.” The elided word is given by some manuscripts as atyches, “unfortunate,” and in others as eutyches, “fortunate.”
Though this is an issue of textual transmission, it rather appropriately reflects the inherent ambiguity of prophecy, even in retrospect. Some would argue that the outcome of Spartacus’ revolt was unfortunate, in that he was eventually defeated; others would argue that it was in a sense fortunate, in that he died self-liberated with sword in hand, leaving the mark of the Dionysian prophetess and frenzy upon the centuries.
Aldo Schiavone writes that if Spartacus had only intended to escape back to his native Thrace, he could have done so with a small band of fellow Thracians immediately after escaping captivity. Instead, he organized a large multi-ethnic army and stayed in Italy, repeatedly fighting against and destroying Roman legions.
Spartacus acted at a crucial moment in Roman history: Rome was preoccupied with the war against Mithridates in the east, Sertorius had recently led a revolt in Spain, there was continued armed resistance against Rome in Thrace, the social war between Rome and its Italian subjects had occurred within living memory, tensions between the poor and the rich were at an all-time high, and the vast latifundia plantation system was ripe for slave revolt and utter destruction.
Schiavone argues, based on the evidence of Spartacus’ choices to recruit an army and continually wage war against Rome rather than merely seek to go home, that “Spartacus really did try to step into the political and social vacuum” of the moment (115), and furthermore, that he did so largely because of “the magnetic pull of a wholly accepted predestination, and of a binding prophecy to respect—the mystic core of his mystery-cult beliefs…he had a destiny to fulfill, chosen by his god” (56).
Similarly, RAM, in its new book Burn Down the American Plantation, calls for a heightened sense of historical purpose and perspective grounded in the ongoing black liberation struggle against slavery, and inspired by the Rojava Revolution currently happening in Kurdish Syria:
As anti-authoritarians, we are poised at the front of the pivotal struggle of humanity…our goal is to orient the struggle, to renew a widespread commitment towards revolutionary abolitionism and to reemerge from the sidelines of history. (83)
Weapons More Suitable for Warfare
Schivaone observes that “the [gladiatorial] camp Spartacus was in would not have differed much from the two buildings uncovered at Pompeii: a cross between a prison and a fortress” (8). In 73 BCE, Spartacus and around 70 other gladiators — mostly Thracians, Gauls, and Germans — escaped their conditions of captivity. According to Plutarch, the original conspiracy had included 200 gladiators, but when their plot was betrayed, the rebel slaves were forced to act at once. Spartacus and his co-conspirators first used kitchen knives and cooking skewers to escape, and then seized a shipment of gladiatorial weapons.
“In their first actions” after their initial escape, Plutarch writes, “the gladiators drove off those who were coming out of the city of Capua and seized from them many weapons that were more suitable for warfare. They happily made the exchange, throwing away their gladiatorial armaments, which they viewed as dishonorable and barbaric.” That the rebels’ first actions were to arm themselves through expropriation from the enemy is highly significant.
In their five-point political vision, RAM lists self-defense first, describing it as “the heart of revolutionary transformation” (27). Self-defense is the rejection of the state’s monopoly on violence and the recognition that “there is no such thing as protection that one does not provide oneself” (28). RAM argues for a model that is decentralized, explicitly feminist and anti-racist, and connected to self-governing neighborhood councils, in order to firmly place “the capacity for self-defense in the hands of those who need it” (34).
In Rojava, for example, while the mixed-gender YPG and women-only YPJ militias “have been formed to fight external enemies, the HPC (self-defense forces) are civilians that get arms training with the specific goal of maintaining autonomy against internal forces that might seek to consolidate power. They are volunteers who receive both political education and self-defense training” (31). Within the YPG and YPJ, in order “to maintain participation and egalitarian relationships, all fighters contribute to decision-making within units, particularly by selecting their own leaders for specific missions.”
The Capuan rebel gladiators also elected their military leaders: Spartacus, and the Gauls Crixus and Oenomaus. According to Schiavone, the rebels often divided up their forces, “both for logistical reasons and in order to secure better control of the territory and a greater chance of finding new recruits” (134). However, the columns would maintain close communication with one another. Thus, out of logistical and strategic concerns, a certain amount of decentralization was necessary.
Heavily Overgrown with Wild VinesAfter seizing weapons, Spartacus and his fellow rebels sought refuge on Mount Vesuvius, a mountain which Marcello Gigante has argued has significant Dionysian connections. With the Romans blocking the only road up the mountain, the rebels “cut off the useful parts of these climbing plants and wove ladders out of them,” thereby descending the mountain by means of a Bacchic miracle and catching the Romans by surprise, completely routing them.
Furthermore, according to Sallust, the source closest in time to the actual events, many of the rural slaves who joined Spartacus “were very knowledgeable about the region and were used to making woven baskets from branches for their farm work. Because of their lack of real shields, they used this same knowledge to make small circular shields for themselves like those used by cavalrymen.”
In the words of RAM, “the process of escape and defense is an immediate imperative” (75).
The cunning of the rebels’ Vesuvian escape and victory find parallel in the maroon communities of the antebellum South, which RAM describes as “communities of indigenous people, self-freed slaves, and poor whites” (28). Just as Spartacus and his fellow rebels utilized the wild gifts of Bacchus and Vesuvius to their advantage, the maroon communities often hid themselves in swamps where they could use the terrain to their advantage against slave-catchers and state militias.
RAM outlines both short-term and long-term goals: in the long term, creating a network of abolitionist councils; in the short term, establishing the Underground Railroad once again. RAM lists aiding fugitives and migrants, establishing safe houses, setting up bail funds, and resisting ICE raids among potential immediate actions, but also reminds its readers that “the tactics are secondary to the outcome and certainly vary depending on location and resources. Generally, the abolitionist movement must do what it can to protect people who are hiding from the State, and to make it as difficult as possible for the state to continue its onslaught” (77).
Expropriation and Revolutionary Justice
Appian relates that Spartacus “divided the profits of his raiding into equal shares,” and thereby “soon attracted a very large number of followers.” Furthermore, he “did not permit merchants to import gold and silver, and he forbade his own men to acquire any. For the most part, he purchased iron and copper and did not censure those who imported these metals. For this reason, the [rebels] had large quantities of basic materials and were well supplied and able to stage frequent raids.”
In their next battle, Spartacus and the other rebels captured the enemy commander’s horse and lictors. The lictors were men who carried the fasces, which were the symbols of the authority of a Roman magistrate, whence the modern term “fascism” is derived. According to Frontinus, quoting a lost text of Livy, when Spartacus was finally defeated, the Romans recovered five fasces, 26 battle standards, and five Roman eagles (the battle standard of an entire legion, which was an enormous disgrace to lose to the enemy).
In the final battle, Spartacus is said by Plutarch to have “shouted that if he won the battle, he would have many fine horses that belonged to the enemy, but if he lost, he would have no need of a horse. With that, he killed the animal.” Horses were important in Thracian culture, and Herodotus reports that the neighboring Scythians sacrificed horses at the funerals of kings. Speaking of funerary sacrifices, according to Appian, when Spartacus’s Gaulish co-commander Crixus was killed in battle, he sacrificed 300 Roman soldiers as an offering to Crixus’ shade. Florus reports that the soldiers were forced to fight as gladiators, thus avenging Crixus’ experiences in life.
The Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement, in its political vision, lists as important principles “conflict resolution and revolutionary justice” and “ownership through use, the cooperative economy and expropriation.” Concerning revolutionary justice, RAM writes: “the methods of this justice are a far cry from the methods we reserve for those within our revolutionary groups, and our own communities. This line is clearly demarcated by the division between the oppressed versus the oppressor. For the oppressor, we have nothing but antagonism and struggle; for the oppressed, we have nothing but understanding and compassion” (43). We can see a similar logic at work in Spartacus’ implacable hostility towards his enemies and his loyalty towards his allies.
Spartacus’ equal division of loot is an excellent example of the communalization of expropriated wealth, and his rules banning gold and silver and instead importing iron and copper show a clear tendency towards “ownership through use” rather than ownership for the sake of profit. The seizure of Roman eagles, fasces, and battle-standards also add a spiritual dimension to the concept of expropriation.
Abolition of Gender
Drawing inspiration from Harriet Tubman, Assata Shakur, Mujeres Libres in the Spanish Civil War, and the Kurdish YPJ and Yezidi Women’s Units, the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement argues that “the process of undoing gender roles can be viewed as similar to the process of dismantling the carceral state. Putting self-defense at the origin of this process has the potential of both building strength and uprooting stagnant roles” (62).
They note that “when people have the opportunity to autonomously defend themselves, and fight for others, the normativity of fixed identities are called into question, and the process of abolishing gender, and creating a fluid world of self-determination becomes possible” (62).
The ancient sources on the involvement of women in the revolt led by Spartacus are scarce, but Plutarch relates that the prophetess escaped together with Spartacus and the other gladiators, and Sallust reports that Gaulish women accompanied the rebel army as well. Given the prophetess’ relationship to Dionysos (and/or a Thracian deity syncretized to Dionysos), it is important to note that in 186 BCE, the Roman Senate had banned any Bacchic cult larger than “five men or women,” and decreeing that “no man or woman whosoever be a chief officer of the cult.” The decrees, surviving on a bronze plaque in Southern Italy, show that in the Bacchic cults, men and women worshiped together, and that women held leadership positions.
The decrees also forbid anyone “to swear an oath among themselves or to make a common vow or to form any pacts or make promises in common,” showing the senate’s fear of the conspiratorial and rebellious potential of the Bacchanalia. It seems likely that the prophetess and other women played important roles in the uprising of 73-71 BCE, though the details are not recorded.
Appian reports that Spartacus died in battle and that “his body was never found,” but that Crassus captured six thousand rebels and had them “crucified along the whole length of the highway that ran from Capua to Rome.” Brent D. Shaw notes in Spartacus and the Slave Wars: A Brief History with Documents that “the distance was about 125 miles, so there would have been one body of a crucified slave raised on a cross every 35 to 40 yards along the entire distance of the road” (144).However, this was not the end of the story. Plutarch relates that when Crassus was slain by the Parthians eight years later at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE, his head was cut off and used as Pentheus’ head in a production of The Bacchae. Thus, Dionysos took his vengeance.
In the closing words of Burn Down the American Plantation, RAM swears an oath to the ancestors and the dead, and to those struggling today:
We promise to all those who have previously risked everything for liberation, who have lived and died under the oppressive yoke of this country, and all those still struggling for a better life, that we will put all our strength towards building communities so powerful that they will repel any attempt, from within or without, to reestablish the oppressive power of white supremacy, patriarchy, the state and capital. We will burn down the American plantation once and for all. (84)
Or, in the words of Walter Benjamin:
The final enslaved and avenging class…carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion. This consciousness, which for a short time made itself felt in the “Spartacus,” was objectionable to social democracy from the very beginning…[Social democracy] contented itself with assigning the working-class the role of the savior of future generations. It thereby severed the sinews of its greatest power. Through this schooling the class forgot its hate as much as its spirit of sacrifice. For both nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.
This year the Pan-African Festival celebrated it’s 7th year of festivities September 3 in Oakland, California at historic Mosswood Park. The event was filled with people of all types enjoying the fresh air, shopping, and eating food from the many vendors.
This was my first year at the Pan-African festival, and I decided to go since I am always looking for ways to immerse my children in celebration of their African heritage. With camp chairs and drinks in hand, we met our other family members under the shaded trees where we set up camp.According to the website, the Pan-African Festival is described as a day full of activities and family fun:
“Oakland’s 7th annual Pan-African Festival is a free family event carefully curated to cultivate pride, joy, self-determination and sovereignty for diasporic Africans. Through participation in a full day of holistic health workshops, group games, arts, crafts and entertainment, the day intends to celebrate the rich cultures of Africa and it’s global influences.”
The festivities included a plethora of speakers, including performers and kid-related activities to engage the whole of the family.
The website goes on to talk about the mission of the organization and the purpose of events such as this.
“Our mission is to improve the holistic health of the Pan-African community in Oakland, California, which includes physical, mental and spiritual. We inform, educate, heal and inspire people of African descent to restore a sense of community, cultural unit.”
In today’s challenging times, it seems like opportunities to engage in community that feeds our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being is a much needed thing.
The wealth of knowledge and diversity of the attendees was clearly a centerpiece of the festival’s experience, including people of many different faiths and differing paths to the African diaspora. There were many practitioners of African Traditional Religions, followers of Orisha based practices, and an overall reverence of the godliness of the woman.
I was excited to be in a community space of celebration and acknowledgement, but I didn’t anticipate the incredible reverence of our ancestors and leaders. Nor did I anticipate the mini shrines throughout the festival space. From acknowledgements on the stage to those various shrines setup around the park grounds, there was a clear spirit of honoring our ancestors who were present at the festival.
I found it interesting to see people of the African diaspora navigating the vast grey area of African and American heritage and culture. Food trucks sold foods that were identified as African or African fusion, alongside many Black-owned vendors selling goods that appealed to the Black culture of the day and the African heritage of old.Circling around the festival space, there were poles with pictures of both leaders and ancestors with information about their lives and their contributions to community. Some of the many honorees included Maya Angelou, Fanny Lou Hamer, Huey P. Newton, Audre Lorde, Dick Gregory, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
It is an interesting and relevant study of culture to observe the many different ways that people incorporate the significance of ancestral reverence into their societal norms. The ongoing incorporation of honoring those who have made a significant impact on the plight of African-American people connects to the roots found in many different African spiritual cultures. In Orisha worship, the Egun refers to the ancestors, most often those connected to us by blood or religious lineage.
On the website The Yoruba Religious Concepts, writers reference the importance of connection to the ancestors in Yoruban practices:
“Egun is the collective representation of the Ancestors.We often call our Ancestors by the name, Egun, which in Yoruba language means bones. As we walk upon the Earth our feet press against the bones of the Ancestors on whose shoulders we stand. Like most indigenous cultures of the world, Africans believe that those who go before us make us what we are. When we walk on the Earth, we literally stand on the shoulders of those who bodies have been committed to the soil, the water, and the wind. Our Ancestors influence our lives through heredity and human culture. However, there is an even deeper connection to the Ancestors as active spirits who continue to influence our lives. We humans honor them with altars, music and prayer. They in turn offer us guidance, protection and prosperity. We treat our ancestors with loving reverence.”
As a participant at the Pan-African festival, it became increasingly clear that this was exactly what we were collectively doing in honoring the ancestors of our journey as people of the African diaspora. While that journey within this country has historically been a turbulent and traumatizing one, the importance of connection with the Mighty ones continues to be an important cultural thread throughout the generations.
Celebration or reverence of ancestors is not exclusive to African paths of spirituality and are incorporated by many indigenous traditions of belief and practice, as is the respect given to the elders of a community. This particular festival pointed out something culturally interesting: the ability to reach across a large community of people connected to the blood of a land far away, and yet so close, and to find a commonality that weaves through our interconnected stories as children of the diaspora.
Despite the continent of Africa being huge and encompassing many different traditions, languages, histories, and communities, there is still a way to connect through the struggle of the ancestors and the elders of our stories.
Significant to the the overall experience was also the acknowledgement that in the struggle of historical oppression; the honored elders and ancestors were often highlighted for their significant roles and sacrifices in the various movements of revolution and freedom. From warriors to scholars, from revolutionaries to the persecuted, there is a fine line in between the accomplishments of the ancestors and their direct connection to a fight for liberation.
In planting these mini shrines around the festival, the essence of the ancestors became tangible in a way that an average festival of like-minded people would not have been.
There was also a small shrine to those who were enslaved, and the history of chattel slavery immediately brought the significance of the struggle to the forefront. This small display served as a holder of space with a collection of items that served as clear reminders of a history that serves to bridge so much of our African and American lineages together. It also served as a talking piece for the generation of children asking what the items were, or why we were referred to as “colored” on the posters.
In remembrance and honor of the work of my ancestors, I took the time to talk about the shrines, walk around the grounds with my kids, tell stories of the pictures, and give thanks for the sacrifices that have enabled us to be closer to an idea of liberation and freedom.
I had the opportunity to connect with numerous people during the festival to discuss the festival and the impact of honoring the ancestors in this setting. While there were many ongoing conversations throughout my time there, here are a couple of the statements that impacted me greatly.
“Too often communities forget to celebrate the women. The Black woman is God and when we honor her, we honor everyone.”
“How amazing it is to look around this space and see the children of our ancestors dancing among the pictures of our people. We need more of this.”
“We are so beautiful. We have always been a beautiful people.”
“Spending time in the sun with family and friends? What better way to connect to our purpose here on this earth.”
There are many people who do not know the names of their ancestors or individuals connected through lineage; there are many people who are not able to connect to their “people” through the macro lens of culture and history. This type of connection enables us to pass on the stories of our ancestors for generations to come, and find ourselves in the stories of those whose shoulders we stand on.
Celebration is one of the most powerful rituals of reverence within our arsenal of spiritual connectivity.Some cultures, like those of historically oppressed populations, have distinct challenges in tracing the the roots of their ancestors throughout time. As a Black woman I am familiar with the cultural challenge of tracing my own lineage beyond several generations back. The systemic damage of slavery means that we have been disconnected from our direct knowledge of our ancestors, birth names, tribal information, traditions, foods, customs, and language.
This challenge has impacted Black people since the middle passage, and it will continue to shape our view of ancestral connection into the future. Maybe the power of community ancestral reverence can be a part of the medicine used to support collective healing for groups like ours.
As the seasons change we often see more discussions regarding the honoring of elders, ancestors, and those who have now passed. For many of us the approaching time of year is a reminder that the ancestors are present and our work with them continues.
Whether we are doing the work of our ancestors of flesh and bone, or those of spirit, lineage, culture and history, their stories continue to be a living part of our foundation.
How do you celebrate your ancestors of culture? How can you hold space for those who have contributed to your story and ability to thrive despite your lack of physical connection to them? How do you honor the sacrifice of those who came before you?
What stories do you hold sacred and what do you do with them? All of these questions are valuable and we could all spend time accessing th answers in this year’s transition toward the darker half of the year.
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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.
ALVARADO, Texas –Rebecca Konnight has a problem, but it’s not the one that many of the people who know or have read about her think it is.
To administrators in her high school, it seems her problem is a reluctance to comply with the dress code. For the readers of an article about Konnight’s blue hair and lip piercings, it might appear that she has a very weak grasp on Wicca, or is just using it as an excuse to avoid the aforementioned dress code.
After an interview with her and her mother, Linda Mundt, the problem comes into focus. It is adults trying to do their jobs without allowing their assumptions about the world to be challenged.Konnight, 17, has a rare genetic condition called type 1 neurofibromatosis, in which individuals are born with, or develop, tumors in various parts of the body.
“She wasn’t supposed to live past nine,” said Mundt. However, partly due to chemotherapy to tackle a mass in her brain and another behind an eye, Konnight continues to buck the odds.
“The illness is terminal, but she can live a full productive life with many side effects.”
This medically incurable disease may have been what drove Konnight’s interest in alternative healing modalities. It is not difficult to see how the theology of Wicca, with an emphasis on magic and personal responsibility, can dovetail with a desire for real and permanent healing.
Mundt was unfamiliar with Wicca until her son married a practitioner, who introduced Konnight to the concepts. “That is what she is, and there’s no cutting it,” she said of her daughter, who took to it right away.
It’s the religion’s focus on nature that appeals most to her daughter, Mundt said, and that’s why they “moved out to the country,” from Arlington to Alvarado: Konnight found the stress of the urban environment very taxing.
That brings this story to the point at which it appeared Konnight was claiming that body piercings are a requirement of Wicca. The language used in a Cleburne Times-Review article made it difficult for readers to draw any another conclusion.
The article reads: “Mundt said her daughter practices Wicca, a form of modern Paganism, and the religion sometimes calls for followers to wear body piercings for various reasons.”
Both mother and daughter insist neither of them nade that claim.
As Konnight explained it to TWH, she wanted to wear silver for its healing properties, particularly around stabilizing emotions; the tumor in her brain has influenced how she processes emotions. Necklaces irritate her skin, and she was concerned about losing other jewelry.
In her research she discovered the concept of piercings with sacred intent, and convinced her mother to allow her to get her lip pierced because its proximity to the throat chakra would help. The piercings were solderized, intended not to be removed.
“She’s not doing it for cosmetic reasons or to make statement,” Mundt said. “She feels it has healing power.”
Konnight apparently also likes the color silver, because that’s what color she wanted to dye her hair. The fact that it ended up blue instead should have been relegated to hair disasters on Instragram, but that was just one more fact contributing to a storm of controversy.
The dress code in Konnight’s former school may have been more relaxed about hair, but in both districts the facial piercings are a no-no.
Using information about both Wicca and sacred body piercings she found online, Konnight received special dispensation to retain the face adornments, which she also uses to focus her energy during spell work. Showing up on the first day in Alvarado with piercings and blue hair, though, did not result in a warm welcome.
“The policy is the policy,” said the district’s public information officer, Tommy Brown. “The handbook doesn’t address particular religions.”
“They wouldn’t listen,” recalled Konnight, and dismissed evidence she produced from online sources as insufficient to bolster her claims of a sincerely-held religious belief.
Mundt was less charitable. “They basically said she’s full of it, and it’s not a religion.”
Brown, the district official, told the Cleburne Times-Review reporter, “Please know that it is not Alvarado ISD’s practice to dismiss a student’s medical or religious claim that was accompanied by appropriate evidence.”
According to Mundt, her daughter was pressed to produce a “church” of Wicca, or a revealed text, as “appropriate evidence.” “She spent six hours researching” to try to find a Wiccan or Pagan congregation in the area, to no avail.
Both mother and daughter attempted to address inaccuracies in the original news report by posting comments. Part of their concern was that the reporter conflated questions of religion and health, such as when Konnight was described as having given school officials “a packet of information explaining her religion and why body piercings are important.”
The Associated Press style guide eliminates the serial comma, which would have clarified that wording. The Wild Hunt style guide largely mirrors AP, but does include serial, or Oxford, commas.
The result with school officials was that Konnight was told she was to be suspended from school if she showed up looking like that again.
Mundt asked for time to allow the hair color, which was already fading, to grow out. The request was declined.
Trying to bleach it out was disastrous. Clumps fell out, which Mundt attributes to Konnight’s body still recovering from chemotherapy. She originally asked for that extra time because she didn’t think her daughter’s hair could withstand another process. Now Konnight is now wearing a wig in school instead.
While was given the alternative to instead learn from home, Konnight wanted to attend school strongly enough that she used pliers to remove the piercings.
Mundt and Konnight agree that they live in an extremely Christian area, where assumptions about what constitutes religion are well set.
“I can’t count how many times people have asked me if I worship the devil,” said Konnight, and how explaining that this is a Christian concept doesn’t seem to help.
For now, she remains in school, and returns home to the two acres her mother calls “her own seventh heaven element,” seeking the peace of the Goddess that reinvigorates her Wiccan faith.
As some Pagans and Heathens attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.
Did the Ark of the Covenant contain Pagan Gods?
Archaeologists have long looked for the Ark of the Covenant, a large case the Bible says contains the broken pieces of the Ten Commandments. Yet some are now positing that if the ark is found it will more likely be found in Kiryath Jearim, not the city of David, and contain statues of Pagan gods.
Scholars say that the Bible was written by several authors over a long period of time and that the portions detailing the ark’s removal from Kiryath Jearim to David’s city were more recent additions. In fact, they now suspect that the ark may not have been moved at all.
These same scholars also note that persons living during the time period when the ark was thought to exist either worshiped Canaanite gods like Baal and El or the early Israelite gods Yahweh and Asherah.
So why do they think the ark could contain statues of Pagan gods rather than the Ten Commandments? Throughout the Levant, it was common practice for pre-Islamic Arabs to carry chests that contain two sacred stones or statues of Pagans gods. These items were later replaced with copies of the Koran. So the ark, mentioned in the Bible, may have likewise contained statues.
Baal was a god associated with war and fertility. The Ark of the Covenant was carried by Israelites into battle and thought to have supernatural powers to rally troops to victory. The Bible also tells the story of Hannah, the Prophet Samuel’s mother, whose sterility is cured by the Ark.
The Bible’s presentation of the Israelites as strict monotheists is also being corrected by archaeologists and scholars. They are now thought to have been a polytheist religious society slowly evolving and incorporating influences and ideas from surrounding cultures.
Perhaps if the ark is found, it may contain statues of Pagan gods and shards of the Ten Commandments.
Pagans were feasting in Israel
A 3200 year old Pagan feasting hall has been found in Israel. Archaeologists were initially hesitant to classify the hall as having religious significance, but the contents of the hall show it was used for Canaanite ritual feasting.
The hall was found in what was Libnah, a Canaanite city that would become Judahite after it was conquered by the Judahite Kingdom.
The hall was almost 52 feet in length and was well constructed. It contained a pillar of stone, usually associated with worship, Celtic vessels, figurines, zoomorphic vessels, and two ceramic masks. There were also three rare pithoi, small vessels containing oil for libations, ad charred bones of sheep, goats, and pigs.
Archaeologists have had a difficult time reconstructing Canaanite religious practices, but hope sites like this one can shed new light on the practice. For those Pagans attempting to reconstruct the Canaanite religion, keep your eye on this dig.
Oops! Viking dude is a lady
The pitfalls of assuming sex even happen to scientists. DNA analysis of one of the most famous Viking warriors proves the bones are those of a woman, not a man.
The Birka warrior, found in the late 1880’s, was assumed to be that of a man because of what the grave contained. It housed swords, arrowheads, a spear, and two sacrificed horses. This shows a flaw in the art of archaeological interpretation. Archaeologists interpret what they see through the lens of the culture they live in. In this case, assuming the gender of the warrior base on modern expectations of gender roles.
This mistake was made despite Viking lore spelling out that not all warriors were men. In addition to tales of shield maidens who fought along side male warriors, there is the story of Inghen Ruaidh, a female warrior who lead a fleet of ships to Ireland.Earlier this year, bioarchaeologist Anna Kjellström closely examined the warrior’s pelvic bones and mandible and noted their dimensions were more typical of a woman.
After this finding was published, a team led by Uppsala University archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson tested the bone’s DNA. The tests were conclusive that the bones were that of a woman, not a man.
The change in sex identification of this warrior now changes the idea that tales of Viking women warriors were just fables. Not only that, but since the Birka warrior was found with gaming pieces on her lap, suggesting she was a respected tactician, this changes the view of women in leadership positions within Viking culture.
Roman Fake News – in Full Color
Archaeologists have reconstructed what the Arch of Titus looked like, and it was full of color and disinformation.
Professor Steven Fine of Yeshiva University has digitally reconstructed the arch using the bright colors that were probably used to paint the arch.
He discovered that the famed menorah, depicted on the panel showing Roman soldiers parading with treasures looted from the Second Temple in Jerusalem, was painted a bright yellow. It has just been in the last 30 years that archaeologists and museum curators have realized just how brightly colored Roman and Greek statues and buildings were. After noting the menorah was painted yellow, his access to the arch was cut off.
He then made educated guesses as to the other colors. The sky, of course, would be blue, the leaves green, and so on. He cautions that, although he feels confident about the color selections, without further testing he can’t be 100% sure.
As to why the arch was created in the first place? It was propaganda. The arch was built to commemorate Vespasian winning the Judean War. Which wasn’t really a war but a local rebellion in a far-flung province. The structure was built to glorify Vespasian and solidify the Flavian dynasty.
Fake news, it appears, is nothing new
WASHINGTON — Leave the Johnson Amendment intact was the message sent to Congress by American religious leaders from around the country.
Jointly organized by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), a recent protest letter and petition garnered over 4,000 signatures in support of keeping the IRS nonprofit tax code provisions and restrictions. The joint action followed two other similar but separate letters sent in April – one by “99 national and state religious groups” and then another by “4,500 nonprofit organizations.”As we reported in March, the Johnson Amendment is part of the IRS’ tax code that “prohibits political campaign activity” by nonprofit 501(c)(3) charities and churches. Since launching his bid for the presidency and well into his elected term, Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to “repeal that language” or “completely destroy” that code in order to “protect free speech for all Americans.”
Trump’s alleged quest is in fact backed by the GOP. As stated in its official 2016 campaign platform:
Republicans believe the federal government, specifically the IRS, is constitutionally prohibited from policing or censoring speech based on religious convictions or beliefs, and therefore we urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment.
Opponents to the code believe that it is unconstitutional because it limits freedom of speech by disallowing religious leaders and organizations from speaking out on political matters.
In February 2017, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) introduced to the house the Free Speech Fairness Act (H.R. 781). This act would not remove the Johnson Amendment, but it would offer “greater opportunity for nonprofit organizations to engage in political speech with regard to campaigns.”
Since its introduction, H.R.781 has been sitting in the House Ways and Means Committee with no forward movement.
However, a more recent bill is taking now taking an indirect shot at the Johnson Amendment by defunding the IRS’ ability to penalize nonprofit organizations that engage in the otherwise forbidden political speech. The house’s proposed government funding package, which originated in the Committee on Appropriations, is now up for consideration.
Within that bill, section 116 currently states that the provided funds cannot “be used by the Internal Revenue Service to make a determination that a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, or a convention or association of churches is not exempt from taxation for participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office unless.”
Section 116, as written, is a “finance rider” that is buried within the proposed funding bill, which will set the spending budget through Sept. 2018.
If the bill passes as is, the IRS will be unable to use government funds to stop nonprofits from engaging in political actions or speech, even if the tax code itself is not altered. While the bill does not kill the Johnson Amendment, it makes it ineffective.
Over the summer, AU and BJC wrote and published their protest letter and asked religious leaders to join their action. The letter, which can be viewed on the website Faith Voices, begins:
As a leader in my religious community, I am strongly opposed to any effort to repeal or weaken current law that protects houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics. Changing the law would threaten the integrity and independence of houses of worship. We must not allow our sacred spaces to be transformed into spaces used to endorse or oppose political candidates.
By late August, Faith Voices garnered over 4,000 signatures from religious leaders around the country and from many different backgrounds and beliefs, including Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists. Shortly after reaching their goal of 4,000 signatures, AU and BJC sent the letter to Congress.
However, the organization now reports that the letter will be sent again, and are asking more religious leaders to step up and sign on. The organizations’ call to action reads:
The Trump administration has vowed to “totally destroy” this law. We know that faith leaders support the current law and want to keep their sanctuaries sacred. That is why we need you to sign this letter to tell Congress that you oppose repealing or weakening the law.
According to sources, the house’s funding package is scheduled to be reviewed in the coming week, but it is not expected to pass through the senate as written. How the various pieces are negotiated, what remains, and what stays is yet to be seen.
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To learn more about the Johnson Amendment, its history, and how it affects you, see our detailed report from March.
UNITED STATES – Hurricane Irma, one of the biggest recorded Atlantic storms in recent history, is making its way up the Florida coast and into the Southeastern states. In its wake, Irma has left a trail of damage to homes and structures and flooding across the Caribbean and southern Florida. According to the latest reports, the death told now stands at 24.
When news of the storm broke, Florida Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists began preparations, as did the entire state. Some stayed, some boarded up and left. Covenant of the Goddess’ local Florida-based local council Everglades Moon, sent out a survey to gather information to help keep the members in touch. The board has been posting safety information and check-ins on their page.
Vör Forn Siðr, a Heathen-owned camping and sacred site in Atlanta, offered its facilities to anyone fleeing the storm. The owners wrote, “We have several acres of wooded area where people can camp, several large fields where people can camp or stay in RVs and also a very large building we’re renovating into our hall where people can sleep or it can be used as a temporary community center.” They added, “We can build a temporary town.”
The storm still rages into Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and North Carolina; the end is not yet at hand. In the meantime, Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists continue to offer prayers and other forms of assistance to those affected.
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PITTSBURGH — Eric G. Canali, known as Earrach of Pittsburgh, died Aug. 31 after he was unable to fight off an infection due to a depleted immune system. Born in 1953, Earrach was a beloved ADF Druid priest who was well-known in his local community. In a public Facebook post on Earrach’s page, friend and fellow Druid wrote, “Earrach was, simply put, one of the kindest and most intriguing people I have ever met. Different in a joyful way, his own person and true to himself and his friends.”
Outside of religious circles, Canali worked for 25 years in technical support, and was an avid backyard astronomer. According to a memorial post, he “worked as the Floor Operations Manager of Buhl Planetarium for 17 years,” and was a “member of Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP) and the founder of South Hills Backyard Astronomy (SHBA).”
Earrach had been fighting leukemia over the past five years, which took a toll on his immune system. In July he was admitted to the hospital due to a fungal infection. After treatments and surgery, he did recover for a period. However, the condition proved to much and he passed on Aug. 31. His wife, Diana Paar wrote, “Thank you all for your patience and understanding during this process. As the days since his passing go on, I feel him closer to me every day.”
There will be a public memorial service Sept. 22. His cremains “will be interred at Penn Forest Natural Cemetery, where an oak tree will be planted there in his name.” What is remembered, lives.
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SYDNEY, Australia – Filmmaker Sonia Bible has reported that she wrapped on her documentary exploring the life and times of Rosaleen Nortan, also known as “the Witch of Kings Cross.” In spring 2015, TWH interviewed Bible about her desire to make the film. At the time, she was in the research and funding phase. Bible said, “In 2010, I made a film called Recipe for Murder about women poisoning their husbands and family members with rat poison in Sydney in the early ’50s. During the research for that film, I came across Rosaleen Norton in various pulp publications. I started collecting articles about her and put them in the drawer.”
Seven years later, Bible began filming. On Sept. 11, she announced: “It’s a wrap,” and that the film would be moving into post-production. However, it is unknown at this point when the feature length documentary will be released and how. The project’s progress can be followed on Facebook or Bible’s website.
In other news
- Today is the anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks. Monday, Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox wrote, “On this anniversary of [the] September 11th attacks on the United States in 2001, remembering those killed on that day and those who died of injuries later. Healing, strength, renewal, peace to their loved ones, to the living injured, to the USA & the world.” The Wild Hunt has published a number of articles reflecting on the event. Here are two: Fear of a Blue Sky and Visiting the Sacred Void
- A new website has emerged featuring interviews with Pagan leaders from around the world. Pagan Portraits, as it is called, is an English language site based on a French site that was originally launched in 2015. “The goal of this project is to present interviews of modern and inspiring Pagans/Heathens/Polytheists from all over the world and from various Polytheistic religions (traditional as well as neo-pagan). We want to show, by this way, the incredible wealth of this Pagan way of life, giving inspiration to all the members of the worldwide Pagan community.”
- In June TWH’s Australian columnist Josephine Winter reported on the growth of Druidry in her home country. This month, Moon Books is releasing a new book titled Australian Druidry written by Julia Brett. “Australian Druidry is a spiritual path of connecting with the Australian landscape as a sacred place. It is a method of listening to the messages the land has for us, and coming into communication with its unique voice.”
- Mystic South organizers have announced that the event will return. Held in Atlanta, Mystic South held its inaugural conference this summer. Despite a loss of water and air conditioning for nearly one day, the event was reportedly a success. Mystic South 2018 has been scheduled for July 12 -15 at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia. No other details have been released.
- Tickets for Reclaiming’s popular Samhain Spiral Dance are now on sale. According to reports, the event sold out last year. The annual spiral dance has been organized and performed for 38 consecutive years, with the first one being held in 1979.
TWH – As autumn approaches, it is not surprising that the number of mainstream articles referring to Witches and Witchcraft are increasing. Many of the recently published articles are touting that Witchcraft is “trending,” to use a social media term, or in old-school language, Witchcraft popularity is on the rise or “all the rage.” And in textspeak: WitchcraftFTW.
For the bulk of the American public, the brief and unexamined suggestion that the nation’s Witch population is significantly increasing might be enough of a “sound bite” to tantalize and, in some cases, even scare. However, for those people who have long identified as Witches or the like, the flippant mention of Witchcraft in a seasonal article is not enough to satisfy.
Such a conversation triggers a longstanding debate within these communities, evoking a range of emotions including frustration, anger, and curiosity. Are pop-culture Witchcraft trends detrimental to the deeply-held religious practice of Witchcraft?
Looking more closely at the situation, there are questions that need answers. What exactly is trendy witchcraft, what is now being termed by some “basic witchcraft?” Is it related to Wicca and other Pagan religions? Who is creating and adhering to it, and why?
Mashable writer Heather Dockray recently dove into this discussion, answering a few of these questions herself. She writes, “The term ‘basic witch,’ I know, reeks of a kind of glib internet-insular condescension. But screw it: this kind of witch does exist in nature, or at least progressive fashion circles in Los Angeles. And she’s mostly here to do good, not evil, even if her brand of witchcraft ends up being largely self-indulgent.”
The idea of “trendy” Witchcraft, or “trending” anything, suggests an upward swing in popularity, and is observable through parallel cues across pop culture, from movies and television to commercials services and products. For example, Christian Dior’s 2018 Resort fashion line includes images from the Motherpeace Tarot deck designed by Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble. Similarly, in the 2017 Autumn show held this summer in Paris, one of the Dior models sported a now-famous tarot coat.
“Monsieur Dior was very fascinated with tarot and astrology. Me too,” explains Maria Grazia Chiuri, current creative director for Dior, to Elle magazine. Chiruri reportedly is looking to define the Dior brand as a feminist one.
The following video shows the process of constructing the coat, which is made of embroidered tarot images from different decks:
The international fashion industry, which has regularly flirted with occult themes on and off for years, often employs language like a ‘Wiccan aesthetic’ or ‘Witchy-chic’ to describe hair styles and couture choices. These stylings typically rely on occult imagery, such as tarot decks, and on a Gothic or Renaissance aesthetic.
Outside of the fashion industry, there has been a rise in public hexings, or at least in reports on public hexings, due to the current sociopolitical climate. These actions have been organized or performed by more than just Pagan community members, and they continue to dot the media landscape.
In July 2017, American singer Lana del Rey confirmed once again that she had in fact participated in and encouraged the mass hexing of Donald Trump. In a July interview, she told NME, “I’m in line with Yoko [Ono] and John [Lennon] and the belief that there’s a power to the vibration of a thought. Your thoughts are very powerful things and they become words, and words become actions, and actions lead to physical charges.”
The singer’s visibility increased the media’s awareness of such occult-based political actions, some of which were directly related to Del Rey’s own working and some not. These mass hexings were being performed before the 2016 election and have continued into today.
Has hexing become trendy, a part of “basic” Witchcraft? This is an interesting question given the fact that hexing still remains a powerfully contentious topic within long-established Witchcraft communities, and it leads to another question. What parts of Witchcraft do become trendy and what parts stay out of the limelight?
Ye olde witch shoppe
Metaphysical stores have been around for ages. However, there has reportedly been a growth in the number of such venues, both brick and mortar, and digitally-based. New occult-oriented stores are, according to some news sites, popping up around the country, which points to an increased interest in the occult.
In one of Atlanta’s newest trendy districts, a store called ATL Craft has opened. The store is mostly unattached to the city’s long-established Pagan population, but is successfully feeding the downtown area with “alternative and holistic products and services.” It joins a number of other metaphysical stores in that metro region.
Similarly in south Minneapolis, a local reporter has labeled one area a Witch district, due to a reported rise in stores with occult leanings. This new “district” label confused the city’s famously-large Pagan population because the entire area already has a nickname: Paganistan. One of the article’s commenters writes:
While I appreciate the new shops and the potential they have to add to the larger Pagan community, let me add to the comments that this is nothing new. The Twin Cities area has been a hub for Pagans for many years.
From trendy new stores and Sabbat boxes to fashion-forward witchy hoodies and professional “sex sorcery services,” Witchcraft does appear to have permeated mainstream culture, for better or worse, in powerful way.
This is not new
It is often the case that people assume that any given modern trend, whether good or bad, is unique and fresh, and that it has never happened before. However, humans are not that creative. The occult’s popularity within mainstream American culture has ebbed and flowed across time, as a result so does the commercialization of the practice.
In the 1800s, spiritualism rose in popularity within society and, by 1840, the country entered into what historian Mitch Horowitz labels the spiritualism era.[i] Many famous writers followed related occult paths. In his book Occult America, Horowitz describes how the practice was “one of deep intimacy”[ii] and experimentation.
Regardless of the intention of devout followers, spiritualism did spread into mainstream culture, producing what Horowitz describes as “fashionable” classes and elite clubs around world.[iii] It also birthed the commercialization of the ouija board. “It was only a matter of time before experimenters and entrepreneurs began to see the possibilities,” Horowitz writes.[iv]
Flash forward nearly a century, the commercialized ouija board found renewed popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, during a period of time when Witchcraft was once again gaining popularity. The cultural revolution and political upheaval created fertile ground for deep spiritual seeking as well as counter-culture experimentation.
This is the era in which many of the original Pagan organizations and institutions, such as the Church of All Worlds, Circle Sanctuary, and the Covenant of the Goddess, were born; and the city of Salem began to fully embrace its notoriety as the “Witch City.” It was in the 1970s that Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis proclaimed Laurie Cabot the first “official Witch of Salem.”
In addition, the feminist movement fueled the desire to define and nurture female power within society. The 1969 activist organization W.I.T.C.H., for example, captured this idea in their own work. Known as the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, the group embodied a more radical, socialist viewpoint than the mainstream feminist movement. Using the archetype of the witch, it engaged with its political agenda to speak out for gender equality. This correlation was trending well into the late 1970s, and captured in George Romero’s film Season of the Witch (1972) also known as Hungry Wives.
Moving forward twenty years, Witchcraft popularity rose again after being demonized in a moral panic. Andrew Fleming’s film The Craft (1996) is often cited as a marker of that trend. As Fleming has remarked in a number of interviews, the production crew was caught off guard to learn that the film caused an increase in inquiries to Pagan covens and organizations. But The Craft was not alone. The late 1990s saw other pop-culture witch-related products including the birth of the Harry Potter franchise.
At the same time, the internet was allowing for an increased awareness of modern Witchcraft practice as well as an more fluid and open connectivity between communities and individuals. This period saw the birth of Witchvox and other similar sites, for example.
The mainstreaming of Witchcraft in the 1990s is best demonstrated by the film Practical Magic (1998), a romantic comedy that struggles with this very topic. The narrative constructs the Witches as an oppressed community members, rather than as spooky monsters, oddities, or evildoers. It continually reinforces the idea that the Witches are “just like us” by mainstreaming the look and feel of the craft. For example, the herbal witch shop is more like a Bath and Bodyworks than the average occult shop. This is a type of declawing of Witchcraft for popular consumption.
More recently, a new “season of the witch” was declared in 2013, and it appears that it is not over yet, as per the current reported trends. Why the ebb and flow?
Rise and fall of magic
It appears that trend is directly related to political and social unrest. Even the spiritualism movement of the 1800s has been linked to politics. As Horowitz reports:
Spiritualism was as much as an occult movement as a political one. It attracted utopians, suffragists, and radicals, because among other things it provided a setting in which women – for the first time in American history – could regularly serve as religious leaders, at least of a sort. [v]
The search for agency within an oppressive system, through spirituality and the occult, seems to be at least part of the recipe to produce #witchcraft. With that popularity comes a certain amount of commercialism as entrepreneurs, Pagan or not, find opportunities within the trends.
However, the dynamic of the trend has changed from the late 1800s to today due to the differences in society, or maybe it is just the concept of “mainstream” that has changed due to an increased awareness and availability of products and practice. The barriers to entry into Witchcraft practice, religious or not, are nearly gone due to blogs, social media, book publications, and community visibility. In addition, the internet has lowered similar barriers to the commodification of occult products and sales.
The Witchcraft trend gets fed at the level of visibility and apparent needs of that particular era.
A double-edged sword
With that in mind, the growth of so-called basic Witchcraft is not at all surprising. The current unstable political climate and the social unrest, which is no longer brewing beneath the surface, has provided fertile ground for a upswing in occult interest, or a search for power and control.
In addition, the internet provides an awareness of practice and community previously unknown, including access to teachers, covens, and also potential buyers. All of this allows for the buildup of a trendy aesthetic that is often a product of a mainstream sensibility, for better or worse.
Within the Pagan community, there are those that question whether or not the trend is damaging to their practice or offensive in some way. Is the practice of Witchcraft as a something “chic” rather than deeply spiritual a problem? That answer depends on who you ask. Some see it as indicative a greater socioeconomic problem, while others consider it a benefit to demystifying otherwise marginalized religious communities.
It is the proverbially double-edged sword, and one that is not going away any time soon.
Getting back to the original question, who are these basic Witches? Dockray writes, “What makes the ‘basic witch’ different from earlier breeds of witches is her spiritual commitment to consumerism. If early generations of witches turned to witchcraft as as a spiritual practice or political aesthetic, the basic witch identifies with witchcraft as a lifestyle brand, nothing more.”
Perhaps that is true to a degree. However, the question sends the conversation down the popular rabbit hole titled, “What is a Witch?”
A trend is a trend and will attract a variety of people, for awhile. At this point in time, the commodification or simply the mainstreaming of the occult or Witchcraft practice does appear to be a nearly accepted reality. As Dockray notes, this trendy or “basic” practice doesn’t necessarily evoke a religious sensibility or a similar deeply-felt spirituality. While it may be for some people, it is not for all.
At the same, it is possible that non-spiritual “basic practice” may eventually lead to a deeper inward path, but not always. The question to ask is: does it matter? Regardless of that answer, Witchcraft in one form or another continues to thrive in society, sparking depth of focus, igniting imagination, and inspiring action.