Column: Conjuring the Magic of Pagan Study Groups

A few words from Steven Posch has stood out in my mind since the summer that I heard him utter them at a large Pagan festival many years ago: “Pagans are the People of the Library.”

Those words resonated with me because our communities hunger for knowledge and the wisdom to use that knowledge well. Many Pagans descend upon their local bookstore or favorite online purveyor of word-wares enthusiastically and often. Most are striving to better understand the philosophies, cultures, histories, signs, symbols, religious practices, and magical procedures, past and present, that constitute our chosen path.


Some of us pursue our studies solo, while others join groups. Of course, a significant number of us have a mixture of individual and collective pursuits. Our groups have a variety of foci that we explore within various organizational structures guided by a range of principles. Covens, groves, kindreds, and similar types of groups are usually focused on a particular religious tradition and/or magical system.

Over the years, I have participated in several tradition-based and magical groups.

There are a number of resources available to facilitate creation of those types of groups, but we have fewer resources aimed at helping Pagans to create specialized groups focused on particular Pagan topics of interest. I have stretched myself a bit in order to create and facilitate study groups that cultivate knowledge and deepen understanding in a specific area.

Specifically, during my time in central Illinois, I started an Elder Futhark rune study group. Here in Missouri I have started another rune study group, an experiential astral travel study group, and a devotional study group dedicated to the pre-Olympian Titan, Hekate.

There is value in taking a closer look at what study groups have to offer us. To my thinking, the greatest differences are in the what and the why. Pagan study groups are collaborative learning environments born from mutual passionate interest that we co-create from start to finish.

Pagan study groups are focused engagements with a clear and particular subject that allow us to cover various aspects of that subject in depth while harnessing the knowledge and insight of multiple diverse individuals within the supportive container of the collective. Thus far my experiences with 4 to 6 person monthly study groups have been fun, interesting, and informative. Generally speaking, Pagan study groups offer many gifts to their participants.

As “people of the library”, there are a wealth of topic areas that interest most of us at any given time. When forming a study group, I recommend choosing a particular topic that is broad enough to engage for an extended period but narrow enough to bring purpose and order to the group’s time together. For example, the Elder Futhark runes are a great focus for a study group because group members hone in on the clear subject and work diligently together to cultivate deep understanding.

A more general topic like magical alphabets, for example, might quickly become unwieldy and draw group members in different directions with some seeking the ogham, others pursuing the Anglo-Saxon runes, and still others lamenting that no one will join them in studying the Malachim alphabet.

The focus keeps group members motivated to attend regular meetings and to engage with the material outside of the meetings. The study group forms around the focus and the focus provides a beacon of light to guide the way back to center when the group (inevitably) wanders off in other (related but not quite salient) directions.

Breadth and Depth
Study groups also afford us the opportunity approach one topic from multiple angles and to give greater time and attention to the topic so that we can go deeper. In other kinds of groups a particular topic is usually a small part of what members are learning and practicing but in a Pagan study group, that topic is everything.

For example, there are myriad books on the Elder Futhark runes, each centering different aspects of the runes such as history, linguistics, culture, magic, divinatory uses, esoteric applications, etc. Due to the complexity of the material, members of a study group focused on the Elder Futhark group could spend months surveying the literature, discussing personal experiences with the runes, and sharing notes about how they have integrated the runes into their spiritual lives.

In other types of groups, the Elder Futhark or another meaty Pagan topic may be incorporated into the larger work of the group but there may be little time to give special attention to the Elder Futhark collectively, much less each individual rune and the complex system of cultural and spiritual meanings that hold them together as a system.

A study group allows members to hone in and dig deep. Perhaps the greatest benefit of having breadth and depth of knowledge is that it allows study group members to develop a critical eye for what constitutes a well-researched, thoroughly sound source and what does not.

Overall, I have found that allowing for breadth and depth of engagement with the focus opens up new knowledge and understanding for study group participants and the insight gained carries some participants’ spiritual work to the next level!

Deep and focused learning is rewarding when pursued individually or as part of a group; however, learning in a group is a real plus because it affords us the benefit of other people’s thoughts, ideas, and experiences. In addition, other people can be instrumental in bringing about new insights that shape our practice and propel us forward. Our peers in a Pagan study group challenge us to stretch our thinking, feeling, and working with the material in new and dynamic ways.

Diversity is an important part of how group members bless one another so richly. When we join a study group we bring our current knowledge and understanding of the subject matter but we also bring our social and cultural identities, our political convictions, and our worldviews. In an open and egalitarian study group that is well-moderated, everyone has an opportunity to be authentically present in the full glory of who they are. Most groups founded on principles of equality and social justice, no matter the type, provide quality space for everyone.

Pagan study groups offer a unique opportunity to cultivate these principles because they allow our differences and unique socio-cultural and political positions to flow into and through a particular subject matter and provide ample opportunity for meaningful exchange among group participants in a way that enhances everyone’s understanding of one another and the subject matter at hand.

Balancing Individual and Collective
When we know that all of who we are is welcome and has a spot at the table, not only do we learn better but we teach better as well. In my experience, Pagan study groups are magical because a handful of diverse people come together and commit to share themselves and their knowledge with one another with focused intent for the purpose of growing their minds and their respective practices. Because each of us has a passion for the subject, we read, think, journal, and practice outside of our regularly scheduled meetings.

When we come together at the appointed time, we have a great deal to share with one another. We are quite autonomous in our studies but we choose to come together as a group to exchange notes, quotes and passages from books, and knowledge hard won from experience. The study groups that I have facilitated have been discussion based in order to facilitate this principle of equal exchange and full engagement.

Don’t get me wrong. We are human and we do leave the topic in the rearview at times, but usually, we all remember why we’ve gathered. We honor the time by sharing what we currently know and then growing that through engagement with the knowledge of others in the group in the form of lively discussion.

On occasion, if one person knows more about a particular facet of a topic than the others gathered, we may have that person give a presentation followed by discussion. Discussion is always a part of the process because that is how the drop of knowledge held by one individual joins the ocean of the collective and how the knowledge held within the collective ocean is dispersed into each individual drop.


Additional Considerations
Thus far I have focused heavily on the what and the why of Pagan study groups. Often when those pieces are established, the who, when, where, and how fall into place. But here are a few other considerations and recommendations that may help to guide you, whether you are joining an existing Pagan study group or starting one yourself.

Who do you wish to study with? You may decide to identify a topic that you’re passionate about first which will attract others who are passionate about the same topic area. In that scenario you start as fellow learners, and you may become friends over time.

The alternative is to begin with a group of friends who show interest but may not be as invested in the topic as you are. Of course when you start as friends, it can be comforting and energizing, but it also increases the temptation to engage in tangential conversation.

With regard to other aspects of group composition, are you committed to seeking out interested individuals who are different from one another in terms of socio-cultural identity and of Pagan path? If so, where you advertise your group and how you spread the word will be especially important.

Where will you gather? This may sound like a minor consideration but it can matter a great deal. Is a private residence appropriate? It may be if members know and trust one another. It may not be if the only available private residence belongs to a person who has pets or lives with tobacco users.

These lifestyle choices can have implications for study group members who have allergies. If a private residence is not an option for whatever reason, a public place like a coffee shop may be the best choice.

How regularly will your study group meet? Depending on the topic, you could easily make a case for once or twice per month. That pacing allows for members to have lives and a personal practice outside of the group. It also allows plenty of time for study group participants to read, experiment where applicable, take notes, and journal between meetings.

How long will your study group last? Having an open timeline can increase the potential for breadth and depth in the group. At the same time, it may be a threat to group engagement and participant retention. My first rune group remained active for about one year which allowed us to cover two runes per monthly meeting.

By contrast, the Hekate-focused devotional study group that I coordinate will remain active for as long as participants are interested in studying, learning, and practicing together.

How will your regular meetings proceed? Will there be an agenda established for each meting? Agendas can be set in advance through social media and email or they can be established organically at the start of each meeting. Regardless of method, it helps if group members are on board with the plan for the day.

Democratic, collaborative processes facilitate participant engagement and empower participants as well, but of course those processes do not guarantee empowered engagement. The group facilitator or another socially conscious, engaged, and empathic participant should be aware of voices that are being minimized or silenced in the process and amplify those voices.

Pagan study groups are focused engagements with a clear and particular subject that allow us to cover various aspects of that subject in depth while harnessing the knowledge and insight of multiple diverse individuals within the supportive container of the collective. Simply put, they are magic. What study group magic will you conjure in your Pagan community?

* * *

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.


Heathen hopeful joins leadership race in Saskatchewan

SASKATOON, SK — On May 5, members of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party will elect a new leader. This new leader will represent the party in the 2020 provincial election and, if elected, become the premier of this prairie province.

Throwing his hat into the ring for the upcoming contest is Robert Rudachyk, an outspoken member of Canada’s Heathen community.

Rudachyk is no stranger to politics. He ran as a Liberal candidate for the Saskatoon Riverside constituency, hoping to be elected a member of the legislative assembly in the 2016 provincial election. This bid was unsuccessful, but it did not discourage him from trying again, and making this bid for party leadership.

Robert Rudachyk [courtesy].

Announcing his campaign for party leadership to the Wild Hunt, Rudachyk explained, “I have also become dismayed at the extremely polarized politics of Saskatchewan, with the governing Sask. Party veering far to the right, and the front runner in the NDP leadership race preparing to take his party far to the left if he wins.

“That means that there is no one speaking for the majority of us in the centre unless you are willing to compromise your ideals. For that reason I felt the need to answer the call to try and lead my party and win some seats in the provincial legislature to bring reason back into politics here. In this way I can serve the needs of all peoples in this province.”

In order to get his name on the ballot, Rudachyk has some work ahead of him.

“The first thing I need to do is to collect the signatures of 150 party members and raise $1,500 to buy into the race. After that, I will be vetted to determine if I am suitable to be a candidate. As I have already been a candidate for the party that should not be difficult,” he said.

Rudychyk is running on a platform that includes a number of issues that he considers very important, and that he feels are informed by his Heathen beliefs. There is a focus on education, energy and the environment, health care, infrastructure and expansion into the north, and also relations with First Nations.

In a recent letter to the Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Rudachyk affirmed his strong anti-racist position, and commitment to developing improved relations with First Nations.

His letter was a response to the racist threats being made toward First Nations persons in the wake of a recent trial that has divided the province of Saskatchewan.

In a Battleford, Saskatchewan courthouse, a white farmer named Gerald Stanley was charged with the second-degree murder of a young Indigenous man named Colten Boushie. Boushie was shot in the back of the head, and killed with a single shot. Stanley was acquitted by an all-white jury and released, sparking outrage across the country.

In his letter, Rudachyk suggests to the Minister that Stanley should at very least lose his license to purchase or possess a firearm. He also suggests that this should be extended to anyone making racist threats on social media, in order to prevent vigilante violence and cause more deaths. Rudachyk wrote:

To that effect, I would like to ask you what is going to be done with regards to all those people posting very racist posts on social media threatening to “shoot any Indian” that comes on their property, or the increasing numbers of people threatening violence on openly racist forums?

In addition to his published platform, Rudachyk is also an outspoken supporter of having non-cosmetic dentistry and optometry added to public healthcare coverage.

Canada is poised to legalize cannabis this summer, and Rudachyk supports the addition of medical cannabis to the provincial prescription drug plan, as well.

Saskatchewan Legislature [Sask. Tourism].

Once his nomination is confirmed, Rudachyk will need help to ensure he can win the vote to become party leader, and he is reaching out to Pagans and Heathens in Saskatchewan and across Canada for support.

“I am in need of help to succeed, I need any Pagans and Heathens in Saskatchewan to join the party and help me get on the ballot, I need people across Canada who are willing to donate any money they can to please do so,” he said.

“These campaigns do not come cheap, but every little bit helps, and I need volunteers who can help me with my web design, my phone calls and to sign up more members to vote for me in May. Any help that can be given is deeply appreciated.”

Born in Saskatoon, raised in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Rudachyk has also worked and lived in Vancouver and Kelowna, BC. His professional life has seen him working as a lab technician, first aid attendant and as an English teacher for two years in Japan.

He calls beekeeping one of his true passions, and also is involved with historical re-enactment, wood and amber carving, brewing, cooking, hunting and fishing. These interests reflect his interest in environmental and scientific issues as well as world affairs.

If he is successful, this father of two who now works as Regional Manager for a transport company expects some drastic changes to his life.

“My life will change a lot. I will need to start actively recruiting candidates to try and get seats in the Legislature in 2020, I will need to aggressively fund raise so that we can compete against the two parties with current MLAs, and I will have to raise our party’s profile so that we can be seen as a viable alternative to both. “

Rudachyk is the first openly practicing Heathen to run for office in Saskatchewan, and also the first to be green lit for a nomination for a major federal party in Canada.

The Wild Hunt will report on this story as it unfolds.


Multiple reports of ritualistic torture in New England leave Voodoo practitioners cringing

MASSACHUSETTS –Two apparently unrelated cases of child torture and murder in this state have been attributed to Voodoo by the perpetrators, which has led to precisely the sort of negative attention in the media that practitioners of African traditional religions seek to avoid.

The word “voodoo” is often used in the mainstream to refer to spiritual practices of the African diaspora that emerged in the Caribbean, and have strong elements of animism and magic use. The practices are also sometimes syncretized with Christianity. That six-letter spelling is mostly associated with Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo, while practitioners of the Haitian variant prefer to spell it “Vodou” instead.

Haitian Vodou clergy at Swearing in Ceremony Feb 2017 [Aliceba / wikimedia]

Regardless of the spelling, it is a tradition that has been sensationalized in film and on television for close to a century, which leads many adherents to avoid interviews about their practices even if it’s for a positive reason.

However, the two recent Massachusetts-based cases were anything but positive.

In East Bridgewater, a woman who feared her daughter was possessed by an evil spirit brought the girl and her brother to two women to perform a cleansing; the girl’s face was burned so badly by chemicals used that she may never heal. Not far away in Brockton, a woman stabbed her two young sons to death, apparently because a ritual she was attempting had failed.

“There is nothing inherent in Voodoo or Vodou that requires harm to children or adults,” confirmed Lilith Dorsey, who practices New Orleans Voodoo and blogs about it at Patheos Pagan.

“There are negative and insane people in every religion and I fear this is another unfortunate example of this. Because of the necessity for secrecy in the religions, it is often victim to stereotype and misinformation.”

It’s entirely possibly that the adults involved used that word because of associations it has gained in popular culture, rather than any teaching received from a houngan or mambo of the religion. A story in the Brockton Enterprise which summarizes these and some other cases from recent years offers no evidence as to where the subjects received their knowledge.

As is the case with many Pagan religions, there is no central text or source of knowledge that lays out the ethics and practices here; this is a tradition of oral instruction.

Dorsey said that it’s critical to understand quite a bit about whoever is going to be giving that instruction, the “godparent” of the student. In one post about choosing godparents she recommends asking about lineage, learning about expectations, and meeting other godchildren before deciding on a godparent.

A Vodou altar [Photo Credit: Calvin Hennick / Wikimedia]

As reported in one story, Latarsha Letrice Sanders murdered her sons “because of the voodoo stuff,” she told police.

In the other story, Peggy LaBossiere and Rachel Hilaire told police they had many years’ experience performing “cleansing baths,” which included rubbing oils and salt, as well as resins, on clients’ bodies as they prayed. The women had been entrusted with the two children of LaBossiere’s hairdresser and asked to use their knowledge to expunge a spirit from the young girl.

In this case, whatever they rubbed on the child caused disfigurement; they also cut the girl, blew fire on both the children, and threatened to decapitate the boy if he disobeyed, according to reports.

As Fox News has reported, “It is not clear whether [Sanders] is a follower of Haitian Vodou.”

That Fox article brings forth the voices of several Massachusetts practitioners who echo Dorsey’s own words: the harming of children is never acceptable and these instances do not represent what happens during the course of legitimate practice.

The story in the Enterprise similarly lists a woman whose estranged husband “used Voodoo as a scare tactic” before murdering her, a teen boy who attempted to kill a neighbor he suspected of using a “Voodoo spell on him,” and woman who “waved a metal skull and swung a machete at police while yelling, ‘I do Voodoo. I am from Haiti.’”

Lou Florez considers himself an outsider, as he is not initiated into any of these traditions, but noted that “after fifteen years in community with mambos and houngans that I have never heard nor seen of this practice, as well as, that there are huge spiritual taboos against child abuse and mistreatment with all of the houses that I have interacted with or visited.”

While this is not what the religion is about, Dorsey said that “most people believe it is better not to publicize these atrocities. People wish to drag Voodoo down to the lowest common denominator. I never get asked to comment or report on the good that Voodoo, Vodou, and Santeria communities do.”


Circle Sanctuary gains equality in chaplaincy

BARNEVELD, Wis. — In January 2018, Paganism reached another milestone in equality for Pagan religious bodies. A Pagan institution has gained equal status in endorsing chaplains with that of the institutions of other more dominant religions. The Association of Professional Chaplains accepted Circle Sanctuary as an endorser January 4, 2018. The COMISS Network on Ministry in Specialized Settings accepted Circle Sanctuary January 7, 2018, joining The Sacred Well Congregation.

This step makes it possible for Pagans to expect culturally competent chaplaincy services.

Rev. Tim “Cern” Staker, Rev. Selena Fox, and Rev. Tiffany “Denora “ Andes

Circle Sanctuary as an organization can now endorse prospective chaplains and have that recognized. In an interview, Rev. Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary Senior Minister and Chaplain Endorser, explained this concept. Someone seeking to become a chaplain has to obtain the endorsement of a religious institution. This endorsement forms a critical part of certifying that an applicant has demonstrated sufficient knowledge, character, and experience to serve as a chaplain. In including Circle Sanctuary, the two above associations have acknowledged that a Pagan perspective now has equal validity to theirs.

What do Chaplains do?

The Wild Hunt spoke about what chaplains do, with two chaplains:  Rev. Tim “Cern” Staker, ordained by Circle Sanctuary, and Rev. Tiffany “Denora“ Andes, Chaplain Fellow, Second Year. Both work in secular hospitals. For the sake of brevity, this article will focus on chaplaincy work in secular hospitals.Chaplains also work in other institutions may face more complex and different issues, such as the military and prisons. They also work for organizations such as the Red Cross to assist victims of natural disasters and mass shootings.

Staker described a chaplain’s work as giving “spiritual and emotional support to people, often dislocated from their homes.” This dislocation may coincide with the most difficult time in their lives. Andes described chaplaincy as “the crossroad between social work, psychology, theology, and liturgy.”

Staker noted, “Chaplaincy is one area where women have traditionally had more opportunities to be clergy and to practice their ministry.” He noted that this did not show a female “preference” for chaplaincy. Instead, it resulted from a bias against linking women with congregations.

Chaplains typically work on interdisciplinary teams. Each member of the team educates the others about the customs and rules of specific traditions and religious beliefs, which can be critical in hospital care. For example, the rules for the Jehovah’s Witness prohibit blood transfusions.


Chaplains frequently work as clergy in government-funded medical institutions.This often raises issues concerning the separation of church and state. Professional chaplaincy has resolved these issues through promoting a pluralistic and interfaith perspective.

In a diverse society, patients could reflect an almost infinite number of spiritual traditions.The hospital budget requires a finite number of paid professional chaplains. Andes emphasized that chaplains need to have an “interfaith perspective.”

She emphasized, “Chaplaincy is not pastorship. To be a chaplain, you have to be able to appreciate that the Spirit works, wherever it will.”

Demographics force chaplains from minority religious traditions to uphold this view. By definition, chaplains from minority spiritual traditions will see patients from other traditions. They have no choice. However, chaplains from dominant spiritual traditions are now finding themselves increasingly serving people from different traditions.

At the same time, there are some activities that do require chaplains to share spiritual traditions with their patients. For example, administration of Catholic sacraments requires an ordained Catholic priest. Emotional and spiritual support does not.


Still, discrimination happens. Staker reported that he had left prayer books in a chapel. Some of these prayer books reflected an earth-based spirituality. “A nurse said that she couldn’t pray in that chapel because those books were there.”

But Staker added, “It’s not just Pagans. I know Muslims have a difficult time too.“

Andes has worked as an “out” Pagan chaplain in the Bible Belt states of Kentucky and Tennessee. She has experienced subtle and nasty expressions of hostility from patients and colleagues. She has had patients kick her out of their room when they find out that she is a Pagan.

Staker described an incident at a children’s hospital. A nurse refused to work with a Buddhist chaplain, because he was not a Christian. Management had a talk with that nurse, explaining that chaplains are not all Christians. They also reminded the nurse that the hospital served patients other than Christians and that fact would have to be accepted.

How to Request a Pagan Chaplain

Those above accounts describe discrimination and harassment against the non-Abrahamic chaplains. But Pagan patients can also experience forms of discrimination, harassment, and neglect. That is where the presence of Pagan chaplains can help.

Usually during Intake, a worker will ask the patient about their spiritual tradition. At this point, the patient can self-identify as Pagan and request a Pagan chaplain. If the hospital lacks a Pagan chaplain, the facility can connect with local Pagan clergy.

If this patient is first “out” Pagan to enter the hospital and request a Pagan chaplain, the hospital administrators may not know any local Pagan clergy. Some individuals have used resources like Witchvox to find local Pagan chaplains.

What do if Discrimination Occurs

If a hospital discriminates, Staker identified two levels of recourse. First, the patient can contact the hospital’s Patient Advocate, who is paid by the facility to represent the patient.

If that fails, the patient can then move on the next level. They can contact Lady Liberty League, a Pagan civil rights group. This league, a project of Circle Sanctuary, has a history of religious freedom and advocacy work.

Circle Sanctuary already a great deal of “clout” among national chaplaincy organizations prior to receiving their recent recognition. Now that they are earned official status with

Having the additional notoriety can only help Circle Sanctuary The Association of Professional Chaplains  and the COMISS Network, the organization will have an easier time supporting both Pagans needing a chaplain, under any circumstance, and those people, like Andes and Staker, making the work a career.


Pagan Community Notes: Andy Conn, PantheaCon, partial solar eclipse and more

SACREMENTO, Calif. — Activist and witch Andy Conn died unexpectedly Feb. 2. Conn was an active member of the Bay Area Pagan community, involved with the Church of All Worlds and activist movements such as Occupy Sacramento and Earth First!. His son Nick wrote in a memorial, “My father was a complicated, dynamic man that shone so bright in his short life. He was a witch, a trickster and  a warrior. He was a champion of the underdog and a mentor to many . . . . He traveled seamlessly through many circles, whether they be Pagans, poets or activists.”

The circumstances around Conn’s sudden death have not been released by the family. However, they have established a memorial campaign to raise funds to pay for his services., which has raised more than double the goal amount of $2,000. His son announced that Conn’s body would be cremated, and they would have memorial service for “all of Andy’s friends.” That date is not yet set.  What is remembered, lives.  

We will have more on this story in the future.

*   *   *

SAN JOSE, Calif. — PantheaCon, the largest indoor Pagan and polytheist conference, will have its doors opened this weekend. The event officially begins Friday, Feb. 16 at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California. The event attracts nearly 3,000 people from around the world, and offers a full weekend of workshops, lectures, entertainment, and rituals. This year’s theme is “Sustainable, Caring Community: We are tribes of choice. Justice, kindness and resilience shape our many forms and many spiritual paths. We celebrate it all. In caring comes strength.”

Sponsored by Ancient Ways, PantheaCon began as a small, local event, but quickly expanded under skilled, experienced management and teamwork. Today, the conference fills nearly the entire hotel, including 48,000 square feet of “function space,” guest rooms and hospitality suites. There are only a few people roaming around the hotel, outside of the staff and personnel, who are not with the conference. The event wraps up Monday, Feb. 19.

*   *   *

TWH – There will be a partial solar eclipse Feb. 15. It will be mostly visible from “southern South America, including parts of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and in Antarctica.” According to sources, “the eclipse will also be visible from some areas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.”

Diotima Mantineia of Urania’s Well offered her insight into the astrological influence of the upcoming phenomenon. She writes, “It’s a raucous and rebellious new moon chart, with Mercury the trickster ruling as lord of the eclipse. Don’t get too comfortable—life is demanding change, and it could be a wild ride.” Mantineia gives a detailed assessment on her blog.

If you aren’t able to see this week’s eclipse, the next one will occur in July 2018, but it will reportedly be mostly over open waters. Then, in August, another partial eclipse will occur and will be visible from “many countries in the Northern Hemisphere.”

In other news

  • As reported yesterday, Arthur Hinds will be holding a memorial event in his home state of Georgia to honor his wife Kathryn. As he said, it will be “a pie party to end all pie parties.” Since that announcement, people outside the region have decided to host their own pie parties in honor of Kathryn Hinds at the same time. Writer Cara Schulz is hosting one in Minneapolis Mar, 18; it will be held at the Doubltetree Hotel in Park Place during the Paganicon conference.
  • A new merchant site dedicated to Pagan and other magical crafts has opened for business. Pagan Markets, as it is called, caters to artisans of magical products, who might be experiencing difficultly on mainstream merchant sites. Currently the site has 74 sellers listed.
  • Ardantane founders and authors Amber K and Azrael Arynn K have published a new book, Healing with Healing with the Gods and Goddesses: Divine Allies on Your Journey to Health“When faced with illness or injury, people throughout the ages and all over the world have asked goddesses and gods of medicine, health, and healing for their help. You can do the same,” reads the book’s Amazon blurb.The two have penned more than a dozen books on magical practice and Witchcraft between them over the past three decades.
  • The Centre for Pagan Studies blog offers interviews with well-known Pagans. This month they posted an interview with witch Julia Phillips. “I grew up in a haunted house with family members who were both aware of, and interested in, the supernatural. It was therefore no stretch of the imagination for me to accept that there are many things in this universe that are not currently explicable,” Phillips told interviewer Richard Levy. The interview goes on to talk about her practice and work.

Tarot of the week with Star Bustamonte

Deck: Cat’s Eye Tarot by Debra M. Givin, DVM, published by U.S. Games Sysyems, Inc.
Card: king of wands

This week calls for bold and decisive action. If you have been putting off following what your intuition and aspirations are calling you to do, now is the time to listen. Be prepared to be in the spotlight, and try to enjoy it!

Decks provided by Asheville Raven and Crone


Writer, Welsh Bardic Tradition Priestess Kathryn Hinds Passes

DAHLONEGA, Ga. — Pagan musician Arthur Hinds remembers the time four years ago when he and his late wife, Kathryn, were “honored-slash-condemned” – he said with a soft laugh — to lead the main ritual at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

“That is a huge thing,” Hinds said from the couple’s home in Dahlonega, Ga., where they led a circle in the Welsh Bardic Tradition they founded. “We prepared, we rehearsed, we got everybody together. There are hundreds of people in the circle, and you look back and there are hundreds more in a line still coming in. We just looked at each other and swallowed and asked for the help of the Gods and said, ‘OK, we either go or we don’t.’

“That was a really, really good time. We didn’t even talk to each other. We didn’t have to talk to each other. We were connected and responded. Even when things didn’t go as planned, they happened the way they were supposed to be, and we both knew it and we rolled with it. She was such an awesome partner of mine.”

Arthur and Kathryn Hinds at the 2014 Green Spirit Festival at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve. [Photo: Selena Fox]

Kathryn Fernquist Hinds, who died Jan. 30 at age 55 from complications after a series of heart surgeries, was an academic, college English professor, Middle Eastern dancer and teacher, novelist, poet, and writer of more than 50 nonfiction books on world history and mythology for children and young adults.

She also was a Pagan since at least the late 1980s, when she and Arthur met while taking classes in the Pagan Way tradition in Manhattan. Along with being a priestess in the Welsh Bardic Tradition, she was a regular attendee of large Pagan events, such as PSG and Paganicon, as well as Atlanta Pagan Pride and similar festivals.

On her website, she wrote: “Growing up outside Rochester, N.Y., as a proverbially ‘sickly child,’ I learned early on to revel in the experiences and adventures offered to me by the combined forces of books and my imagination. As soon as I learned to write, I started writing stories of my own, and I’ve never stopped.”

While attending college at Barnard in New York City, she “explored” becoming an archaeologist, concert cellist, composer, conductor, and an actor-singer-dancer before becoming “serious about writing fiction and poetry,” she wrote on her website. She ended up with an interdisciplinary arts major with a double concentration in music and writing, while also studying Latin, literature, and religion.

She worked as an administrative assistant, an early-childhood educator, and an executive secretary before attending City University of New York, where she earned a doctoral degree in comparative literature with a concentration in medieval studies. She also studied Old Norse, Old Irish, and courtly lyrics in Old Occitan, Old French, and Middle English.

A job in the publishing industry led to an opportunity to write middle-grade history and mythology books for the school and library market. Her series Cultures of the Past included books on the ancient Celts, Romans, Vikings, Incas, medieval England, and the Venetian empire. Other series included Life in the Middle Ages, Life in the Renaissance, Life in the Roman Empire, Life in Ancient Egypt, Life in Elizabethan England, and Life in the Medieval Muslim World.

She also wrote two six-book series: Barbarians! (featuring the volumes Ancient Celts, Early Germans, Scythians and Sarmatians, Huns, Goths, and Vikings) and Creatures of Fantasy (featuring the volumes Unicorns, Dragons, Mermaids, Sphinxes and Centaurs, Griffins and Phoenixes, and Water Monsters).

A review in School Library Journal of the Creatures of Fantasy series, which noted the books were intended for grades 5-8, said: “This is a well-referenced and ambitious collection that delivers. The books breathe new life into mythology while offering historical perspective for the fantastical stories kids know and love, such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle.”

While Kathryn was making her way in the writing world, she also was finding her way along her Pagan path, hand in hand and heart to heart with Arthur.

“We met in Pagan Way and we have been working partners since the very beginning,” Arthur said. “We started our training together, in the back garden of a store near Alphabet City in Manhattan called Enchantments. I had been there for three classes, something like that, and then she showed up on Beltane.”

Their meeting was “not quite” love at first sight, he said, but added: “We were paired to worked together in the class and then it became very clear that there was a deep, profound, multi-life connection.”

Soon the couple were training in the Welsh Tradition, which Raven Grimassi notes in his Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft had its U.S. origin in New York during the Wiccan revival of the early 1970s.

“Then we expanded it to become more Welsh,” said Arthur, whose family tree has roots in Wales. He and Kathryn “stirred in what we called the Welsh Bardic Tradition, really embracing the Welsh aspects and really digging deeper and expanding that.” This direction eventually inspired Kathryn to co-write with Carl McColman the book Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses: A Guide to Their Spiritual Power, Healing Energies, and Mystical Joy, which was published in 2005.

Kathryn and Arthur moved from New York City to Georgia in 1995, first to Atlanta and then to the small town of Dahlonega in the North Georgia mountains. Kathryn worked for a time in the local library, and in 2011 she began teaching in the English department at the University of North Georgia – a post she held until her death.

Kathryn’s writing took another turn from the youth market to adults in 2013, when she released her poetry book Candle, Thread, and Flute, which collected poems she had published in SageWoman, Circle Network News, Hole in the Stone and other magazines both Pagan and muggle. In 2015 she released her self-described “feminist fantasy novel” titled The Healer’s Choice.

That novel led to a collaboration with her husband.

“In The Healer’s Choice and the unfinished sequel, Kathryn wrote lyrics that were songs in the tale,” Arthur wrote in a Facebook post. “Over the years I set some of them to music and recorded them, pretty much one per CD. I collected them, remastered them, added several other cuts not available anywhere else, and released them as an EP, The Beech Tree and the Ravens.” It and Arthur’s other CDs are available online at

Bolstered by Arthur’s role as singer, guitarist, and bodhran player in the now-defunct Celtic folk band Emerald Rose, he and Kathryn became a fixture on the Pagan festival circuit.

Arthur Hinds, Selena Fox and Kathryn Hinds connecting with Welsh traditions at Unity Chapel near Spring Green, Wisconsin at Lughnasadh 2014. [Photo: Dennis Carpenter]

“I’m a Pagan musician, so I’ve played a bunch of different festivals,” Arthur said. “But really I would have to say our hearts were at PSG. Not to slight anyplace else that I’ve played. I’ve ritualized with a whole bunch of great folks and played for a bunch of great folks, but that was what we considered to be our home and our tribe.”

Rev. Selena Fox, High Priestess of Circle Sanctuary and founder of Pagan Spirit Gathering, recalled Kathryn as “a beloved friend and a wonderful writer. I consider her a bard as well as a teacher in academia and the larger world.

“Kathryn and Arthur have been a part of our Pagan Spirit Gathering community for a number of years. They’ve done ritual work and many types of workshops. They’ve performed. They’ve also presented at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve. They’ve both been just wonderful community people, working with people from many different backgrounds. They had particular specialized knowledge in Welsh traditions.”

Fox recalled Circle Sanctuary’s efforts to have the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs add the awen, a Druid symbol, to its list of emblems of belief that can be included on grave markers for deceased veterans. She, Kathryn, and Arthur visited a cemetery near Spring Green, Wisconsin, that is home to graves of people who came to America from Wales.

“And lo and behold, what did we find in that old cemetery but a form of the awen on some of the grave stones,” Fox said. “Part of our inspiration for the form of the awen that ended up on the VA list came from a Welsh American family cemetery dating back to the 1800s. Arthur and Kathryn were part of that journey with me. That’s part of what I call the magic of them.”

Arthur is, understandably, uncertain whether the Welsh Bardic Tradition circles that he and Kathryn led in North Georgia will continue.

“I am really wrestling with it,” Arthur said. “I am so wrestling with it. I (breathes deep sigh) don’t know if I can. You’re hearing my despair at the moment. I just don’t know.”

A memorial for Kathryn will be held the afternoon of Sunday March 18 near the couple’s home in Dahlonega. In keeping with a Hinds tradition, the occasion will be a pie party.

“In 2009 she had her last big surgery, and our community really came together and kept us whole,” Arthur said. “To give thanks to them and for just being alive, we threw a one-time covered dish party where everyone brought pies. Because who does not love pie? We were only an hour into it when everyone starting talking about what they were bringing next year. So, it became an annual thing.”

The memorial, Arthur said in a Facebook post, “is going to be a pie party to end all pie parties. Imagine a covered dish supper where everybody brings all kinds of pies, sweet as well as savory, and you get the idea.”

In another Facebook post, he apologized for not getting invitations to everyone and added that all friends are invited.

“I remember and celebrate Kathryn’s grace, brilliance, creativity, and strong spirit,” Selena Fox said. “I am thankful for her service as priestess, bard, author, poet, and teacher, and cherish memories of our magical adventures together over the years. Support to her loving partner and husband Arthur, to all her family, friends, and fans as we mourn her passing and celebrate her life and legacy. May we all take comfort in knowing that she lives on in our hearts, in her writings, in her teachings, and in the many lives she touched and enriched. Blessed be.”

“I’m OK and then I cry,” Arthur said with a wistful sigh. “She was just an awesome woman in so many different ways and facets. She was an awesome woman.”

What is remembered, lives.


Voices From Ice and Snow: Nordic Pagans Speak Out

There is no denying that the north has always played an important role in the worldview of Europe and the Western world in general. From the Romantics that sung the praise of the wild, Nordic nature at the turn of the 19th century to the current popular entertainment craze spawned by media franchises such as Frozen, Vikings and the like, the north is as relevant as it has ever been. This influence is even more noticeable in regards to the world of contemporary Paganism. Not only has Heathenism experienced a noticeable revival and growth in the past couple decades, but Nordic deities, practices and iconography are routinely found within more eclectic movements as well.

The Icelandic waterfall of Gullfoss [Lyonel Perabo].

However, all things considered, the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland and the Faroe Islands) are all relatively small and somewhat isolated. With a total population just north of 26 millions (a few millions less than that of Texas) and a territory of 1,2 million square kilometers (close to twice that of the Lone Star state), the Nordic region is characterized by a a closely interconnected history and a strong sense of cultural proximity. In this context, it is not surprising that the religious landscape of the Nordics significantly differs from that of other countries or regions such as North America.

As for contemporary Nordic Paganism, one has to keep in mind this long history of interrelatedness all the while acknowledging the differences and diversity at play. And if Nordic countries are often commented and talked about when it comes to Pagan and alternative religions, the voices of the people who make up this scene are rarely heard in the wider world. To remedy to this, the Wild Hunt has gotten in touch with followers of Pagan and alternative faiths from each Nordic country and questioned them about their outlook on their religion: Jens Peder Magnussen (32), from Norway; Mykines Dánjalsson (35), from the Faroe Islands; Linn Alice Nova Wilhelmsson (29), from Finland; Zara Waldebäck (50) from Sweden; Freja Joy Blinn (21), from Denmark; and Teresa Dröfn Freysdóttir Njarðvík (26), from Iceland. Each of them has a different story to tell when it comes to their journey in faith, starting from the time they were exposed to it.

If the Nordics essentially remained Pagan until about the 11th century, as with the rest of Europe, the old ways ultimately became outlawed. Nevertheless, elements of pre-Christian heritage survived, both in the folklore and in some cases, the literature, and were later subject to much scrutiny and enthusiasm. As a result, there is a general degree of awareness among the general population when it comes to their nations’ Pagan past. According to Dánjalsson, in the Faroe Islands, “people are very proud of their heritage. The time period the Faroese are the most proud of I would say is from 800 to 1100 where strong and fierce people ruled the lands.”

This feeling of “Viking pride” indeed appears to be relatively widespread in the Nordic lands, almost as a semi-nostalgic reminiscence of a time when their nations had a more meaningful place in the concert of nations. As Blinn puts it: “with Denmark being so tiny and seemingly insignificant now, it helps a little to know that we used to be able to intimidate people.”

Freja Joy Blinn [courtesy].

Building on this, one could ask whether this general familiarity with the past necessarily translates to knowledge about the Pagan past, but also the Pagan present. Overall, the answer appears to be negative. According to Waldebäck, while to an extent Paganism and nature-based practices might have “become more popular and visible” in the past couple of years, “a greater awareness does not mean there is any knowledge and understanding of it.”

Njarðvík concurs, saying that “people don‘t think about it much, don‘t understand what it is about and think it‘s comparable to viking re-enactment groups or something along these lines.”

According to Magnussen, the general level of knowledge about historical Paganism is very limited as well: “people don’t know that the Pagan heritage of the viking society they are proud of go back maybe 1,000 years before the time of the Vikings.”

This apparent ignorance and lack of interest for the Pagan past and present should, however, not be understood as outright hostility to Pagan, nature-based or alternative faiths especially but rather as a more general social phenomena. According to Waldebäck, “in the last few decades, many Scandinavian people have come to be very removed from any spiritual practice. The church is not that popular and the way I experience it, the main religion in Sweden is rational thought. Anything spiritual or religious is often viewed with some degree of suspicion.”

As studies have shown, the influence of the mainstream national Lutheran Nordic churches has been on the wane for several decades while non-Christian faiths have been experiencing an increasingly dynamic growth. As the religious landscape of the Nordics is shifting, so is the faith and practices of is peoples: how the respondents ended up discovering their faiths should be understood in this context. The story of how Dánjalsson discovered his religion, Ásatrú, is quite emblematic in this respect.

As with every Nordic nation, the majority of the population of the Faroe Islands is member of the local national Lutheran church and most, as was the case with Dánjalsson, are registered into the church at birth. While the majority of people generally chose to remain within their respective national churches despite the lack of a strong faith and because of convenience, Dánjalsson had different feelings: “I didn’t find a spiritual path when I followed the Lutheran church, I have always been a very nature based guy and have always been looking towards nature, forests, mountains, highlands, skies, that is where is found the gods. When I finally left to find my new path I didn’t feel sadness, but I was happy. The only way I can explain it is, say you have two people in a relationship, they are not in love anymore and haven’t been for a long time. They are just together because that is what they are used to. And when they finally decide to go separate ways there isn’t much sadness because the feelings don’t exist anymore.”

Zara Waldebäck [courtesy].

As opposed to a place like the United States, which is home to countless religious congregations of note but where church and state are constitutionally separate, the Nordic religious landscape has been dominated by powerful state-backed Lutheran churches since the early 16th century. Up to this day, Nordic children are exposed to Christian theology through religious education courses that disproportionally Christian-centric. Describing the situation in Finland, Wilhelmsson states that “we have a class called ‘religion’ for the first six years of school, where Christianity and the Bible is taught as fact. I don’t mind at all knowing about those things now, but I think it’s scary that it is never pointed out that it is mythology, not fact.”

As for non-Christian religions, these tend to be given very little attention. In Norway, according to Magnussen, “when I went too school we got Christianity class and one class a year was given to the five other major religions.” For children and teens who do not associate themselves with the Christian scripture, the experience of such religious classes can leave a sour taste in their mouths.

However, not all Nordic Pagans feel resentful towards the Christian establishment. Blinn, who is half-Canadian and never was a member of the Church of Denmark, mentions her grandfather’s career as a pastor within the Wesleyan Baptist Church (“a laid-back evangelical movement”) as factor that “has given me a big respect for certain aspects of Christianity.” Nevertheless, she does acknowledge that coming to Paganism probably was, in part, “some kind of rebellion against all the Sunday schooling and Bible summer camps from the Canadian side.”

Overall, it would seem that a number of Nordic Pagans simply found themselves little by little, by being exposed to tales of their nation’s Pagan past, by communing with nature, by not fitting in with the church, by researching on their own, or by reacting to some specific, life-changing events, as told by Waldebäck: “When I was a child, I felt very much that the world was alive and I would spend a lot of time talking to it. The most influential factor that lead me to engage with my path was a deep longing in my soul, that also showed me so clearly that I was “home” when I began to work with the spirits. On a more practical level, it was several illnesses and the time following my father’s death which opened the door to an active engagement with spirit matters and helped me find the right people to teach me.”

Soul-searching in a time of need was also what lead Magnussen to the old ways: “There was a time in my life that I did not see a way out. When I was sure that this would be the day, the hour of my death, I thought of the gods and there old stories, those stories made me carry on and I’m still here to this day.”

Jens Peder Magnussen [courtesy].

Another key factor that appears to inform the beliefs and practices of Nordic Pagans is the land itself. When asked whether the land and the nature play an important role in their religion, every single one of the interviewees answered positively. According to Dánjalsson, “the nature is everything, it is there you will find all the puzzles of the cosmos.”

A similar feeling is also expressed by Waldebäck, who states that “nature is my teacher, my source of inspiration, my life source. Nature is the world I live in and depend upon, whether I know it or not.”

This shared reverence for nature is not without caveats, however. Concepts of belonging, identity, and personal and spiritual connection with the land play a significant role in the religious life of Nordic followers of Pagan and alternative paths. Wilhelmsson, who identifies as a Wiccan and belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland, believes that her ancestry and language played no small part in her spiritual journey: “I’d say that my spiritual path is mostly tied to these ideas, the theology. I don’t identify very strongly with the Finnish mythos, so I searched westwards when I was growing up.”

The idea of engaging in nature-based religious worship in a land that could understood, to a degree, as foreign is conundrum that many people, in and out of the Nordic countries have had to face. For Waldebäck, who has lived in several countries and regions, this situation does have an importance: “I was not born here, so I do not have the strong root connection to a particular place which is so common in many other shamanic or animistic traditions around the world.”

Similarly Blinn, who now lives in Arctic Norway, has seen her spiritual practice being strongly affected since she left Denmark: “I don’t identify with this region spiritually. I try to pay my respects to this spiritual atmosphere, although I couldn’t imagine actively worshipping these gods.”

To come back to the question of spiritual practice, every single respondent, with one exception, described themselves as solitaries. While there indeed exist officially-recognized Pagan and other alternative networks in the Nordic countries, they generally tend to be centered around big, especially capital, cities, leaving districts mostly lacking in organization. In the Faroe Islands, a nation of just 50,000 people, the situation is even worse, as there is no such organizations of any kind. In the Nordics, many people try to cope with the lack of real-life structures by participating in online (chiefly Facebook) communities.

Sometimes, real-life and online communities do overlap to an extent as with Wilhelmsson’s Svenskfinlands wiccavänner (Wiccan friends of Swedish-Finland), a growing online community that was born from a now-disbanded coven. The only interviewee who declared being part of an organized group was Njarðvík, who is a member of the Ásatrúarfélagið, a well-known Ásatrú religious organization that boasts one percent of the whole population of Iceland as members. The Ásatrúarfélagið regularly organizes ceremonies (blót), meetings, and have an otherwise quite strong public presence within the country. (In regard to her position within the organization, Njarðvík states that her answers published in this article are solely hers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Ásatrúarfélagið as a whole).

Teresa Dröfn Freysdóttir Njarðvík [courtesy].

While Njarðvík has the opportunity to performs both private and public rituals and ceremonies, most Nordic Pagans are left to their own devices when it comes to communicating with the divine and living a spiritual life. For Magnussen, Ásatrú is “a set of rules to live life, how to behave and treat others. I also believe that the gods will judge you in all you do and you will not get away from your actions. My practices is giving sacrifices of food and drink too the gods and thanking them and speaking to them.”

Waldebäck, whose religious worldview is animistic and nature-based engages with different forces in her own ways: “I see the world around me as alive and as having spirit, which I am then able to connect with and communicate with, shift[ing] my consciousness through drums, song, rattle, dance and the power of intention and connection and I do not use plant medicine/hallucinogenics.”

Another way to engage with the gods, or, at the very least, with the idea of the divine is of course the written word. In particular the Eddas, which were mostly collected in Iceland in the 13th century are often regarded (especially by neophytes) as the sacred scripture of the north. However, none of the respondents gave the famed compilation quite that much credit. For Magnussen, “the Håvamál holds the concepts of how to live life, and works as a guidelines for my beliefs, but I would not say that they are sacred texts.”

When questioned about the Eddas, Njarðvík explains that she understands them as part of a wider Icelandic literary corpus which influences her religious views as a whole: “The Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, the skaldic poems, the rímur, and saga traditions are full of references, associations and ideas that comprise a sacred text to me, in their own sense. They make up a big part of how I see the world and understand it.”

For Wilhelmsson, who identifies with a different tradition altogether, the situation is different as well: “The core of my beliefs are Wiccan, and I believe in a dual divinity that goes beyond gender. I believe that any action we do comes back to us even stronger, and I believe in personal responsibility and personal freedom. I do hold strongly to the Wiccan rede (An it harm none, do what ye will) and the rule of three (what ever you put out will come back to you times three), but in a more ideological sense, and I don’t consider the writ holy.”

Linn Alice Nova Wilhelmsson [courtesy].

Finally, when asked about their personal opinion about the state of the Pagan, Heathen, and alternative religious landscape in their country and the what might lie ahead, the participants gave answers that truly reflect the diversity of ideas, the diversity of traditions, and the diversity of belief that can be found in the Nordics. While most expressed the idea that Paganism and other related alternative faiths might very well continue to grow and develop, some expressed doubts, and even fear about their faith’s future. According to Magnussen, the growth of Heathenism has been, and will continue to be, limited by the still-privileged position of the church: “Religious freedom in Norway is still in parts restricted by law, so many religions cannot practice freely or have ceremonies and rites done the way it should. Until those get changed, the Christian faith will have a monopoly on certain aspects of life and death that will force the minor religions and competing major religions on a separate position, on a lower step in society. Until that is fixed we, Heathens in Norway, will always be seen as a curiosity.”

When it comes to Heathenism in Iceland, Njarðvík sees other dangers ahead, dangers linked to political and foreign religious influences that could pose a threat to the nature of Icelandic Ásatrú: “I am worried about the future. The religion is becoming very politicized, with tendencies towards right-wing and or left-wing movements. There is a certain international push for the religion to become universal, which will only lead to groups becoming more and more isolated. In my opinion Heathenism is not a universal religion, never was and never will be. There will, and need to be, local and geographical variations. I think the next few years will be an important turning-point, but in what direction it will grow I do not know.”

Dánjalsson, wondering on the future of Ásatrú and Paganism in his native Faroe Islands, is much more optimistic and describes a subtle and growing cultural shift regarding the religious landscape of the islands: “Overall, people are slowly losing interest in Christianity and turning to Ásatrú or Paganism. I am 35 years old and in that short amount of time, the Faroe Islands have gone from being a very Christian country to a state where people are now leaving the faith and accepting and joining Ásatrú. When I was about 10 I didn’t know one single Ásatrú. At the age of 15 I was the only Ásatrú I knew. At the age of 25 I knew of several others but never met them, and now, at the age of 35, I know of several and have actually randomly met some.”

Will Dánjalsson’s observations prove true in the future? Will the influence of Nordic state churches keep on waning as it has been doing for decades? Will the various organizations be brought closer together or diverge even more from each other, on national or theological grounds? Nothing is certain. Nevertheless, whatever the future may bring for the Pagan and alternative religions in the Nordic countries, there is no doubt that, just as today, those who crave for the old ways will simply find a way back, one way or another.

Mykines Dánjalsson and his grandfather [courtesy].

* * *
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: Retreats and Advances

I find the Pagan nature sanctuary to be an odd entity, when I stop to think about it. In the past few months I have considered how these physical places that we have given names like Gaea Retreat and Oak Spirit Sanctuary interact with the metaphysical and political beliefs in which we clothe them. We have shaped these places, built structures atop them, sculpted their landscapes — to what end? What draws us to the idea of having “Pagan land” in the first place?

The sign outside of the Elysium area at Gaea Retreat [E. Scott].

Margot Adler wrote of the early days of these Pagan nature sanctuaries in Drawing Down the Moon. She describes the movement to create Pagan nature sanctuaries as the result of several desires on the part of the Pagan community: to have land where rituals can take place in privacy, to have access to wilderness settings, and to protect wild areas.

The desire for a landscape conducive to magick, the desire to be in nature, the desire to protect it: these are the reasons, past and present, for Pagans to create their own holy spaces, building them into landscapes suffused with history and purpose. They seem to me the purest expression of Pagan pilgrimage; unlike Stonehenge or Þingvellir, which gain their significance to modern Pagans through a fraught connection to ancient Pagan forebears, these sanctuaries were created by modern Pagans to directly meet their modern needs. They do not exist in the awkward state of mediation common to the ancient European sites, held primarily as historical monuments and tourist attractions by the state and only sometimes opened to religious use. Instead, the sanctuaries are held directly by the Pagans who use them, and the state intervention in their operation falls into the same kind of relationship held by other kinds of churches and nonprofit entities.

These desires clash with one another. Take the first item of Adler’s list, the desire for a place to perform rituals in private: although technically one can perform a ritual anywhere, in practice, rituals require a landscape shaped to their purpose by human agents. This can seem to be a simple requirement, such as an expanse of level ground large enough for people to stand together in a circle. But even that requires a substantial amount of upkeep: grass must be mowed, sand must be trucked in, trees must be cut for the bonfire.

Many rituals do not conform to the simplicity of the big circle. A ritual we perform every year at Heartland — our so-called “vision quest” — uses an entire backwoods trail as its stage, which requires annual maintenance to keep the trail safe for the pilgrims who walk it. Mowing, hacking down saplings with machetes, digging trenches for the rain, pouring concrete to make a staircase in a steep hill, building bridges over creeks, hanging glow-sticks from low branches to guide travelers in the dark.

In every Pagan camp I’ve visited, and especially at Gaea, these specialized ritual areas have been carved out throughout the land, some right off the gravel roads that cars traverse and others tucked away in the back country in hollows that do not show up on maps of the property. And of course, these sites specifically designated for ceremony and magick are abetted by many spaces that are not: the mess halls and shower houses, the sleeper cabins, the vast and mud-plagued fields of straw that serve as parking lots in the festival season. The way we use the land demands this infrastructure and upkeep, no doubt. If we want to hold mass rituals that can involve dozens or hundreds of people, we have to shape the land to accommodate their numbers, and if the way we are to pay taxes on this Pagan land is through inviting those hundreds to pay to camp there for the better part of a week at a Pagan festival, then we have to make provisions for their transportation and hygiene.

All of this is at odds with a desire to protect the wilderness, Adler’s third item. Whatever the landscape once looked like, it now bears the mark of our blades; it reflects our image. That’s to say nothing of the vast amounts of gasoline, motor oil, and plastic required to let us visit these places and to maintain them in the manner to which we have become accustomed. To have access to nature (item two), we must build roads and cordon off fields to hold our masses of cars and RVs. In order to have this place to revel in nature, we must do violence to nature.

I might add a fourth item to the list, something Adler brings up a little later in Drawing Down the Moon when discussing the early days of the Pagan festivals that often take place at these sanctuaries: the desire to live an unapologetically and openly Pagan life, if only for a holiday weekend or even a hike of two hours on a back trail. This desire — to escape the world of patriarchal, self-denying oppression to which we subject ourselves to on a daily basis — is perhaps the strongest urge we have to make our way to these sanctuaries, where we might be able to connect to a more authentic way of being.

“To go out walking and not have the fear of ravenous glances, cat-calls, come-ons, and other unasked-for responses,” one of the Witches Adler interviewed writes, to feel the sun, wind, fire, and water on my naked body without feeling vulnerable to physical or psychological attack….To feel that I can be whoever I am with total acceptance and unselfconsciousness — and to have that feel as natural as breathing.

These words are beautiful, an image of the better world that we might hope to create through our Paganism, a sliver of a world that has grown past the oppressive bonds of power that surround us in our daily lives in a patriarchal capitalist society. There is the idea that in these retreats, we might built that better world in miniature. For me, it’s a powerful image, intoxicating, the reason I love places like the Gaea Retreat so much.

I am all too painfully aware that such a vision remains a mirage. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, oppression does not magickally disperse once we walk through the gates of a sacred space; we bring it in with us, embedded in our flesh and our spirits. We manifest our sexism, racism, our thoughtless capitalistic exploitation just as readily under the trees and sky as we do under concrete and glass, and worse, the freedom implicit in the communities we have created around these sacred places draws some of us to act out deadlier games of manipulation, oppression, and abuse than we would dare to attempt in the policed locales outside of it. The promise of freedom, to some, reads only as an invitation to further power over their fellow pilgrims.

One response to these contradictions would be to simply throw our hands in the air, declare that a Pagan land is as contaminated as everything else, and abandon the concept altogether, bhat seems too fatalistic to me, and it condemns those true moments of magick that can be found only in places like this. I don’t think any our of Pagan retreats will ever be the utopias we dream of, but it does us no good to deny any part of what lies before us: the freedom is there, the magick is there, the oppression is there, the pain is there. None of that is to say that they are coequals, that we should accept one as the price of the other.

We owe it to ourselves and to everyone around us to do our part in improving what we have, building the good and casting out the bad. Despite all the muddle our retreats present to us, I think they remain somewhere to start. I still believe in Paganism and the things we can create with it. When the moon rises and the fire warms and the chanting of disparate pilgrims fills the night, I can still see this land as it reflects a better world. The magick comes to me then, just as natural as breathing.

* * *

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.


Children of Artemis to hold Witchfest Market and Hallowe’en Ball

UNITED KINGDOM — The organizers of Britain’s biggest Pagan event, Witchfest, announced last year that it would not be hosting the festival in 2018. The announcement was made in October during the 2017 event, and it was stated that the cancellation was due to financial constraints.

Merlyn said an “unexpected and sharp decrease in attendance was to blame for a lack of funds to finance the conference for 2018.”

He told TWH: “Final numbers aren’t in yet, but we think our losses are in the thousands [of pounds].”

Witchfest itself is run by its parent organization the UK-based nonprofit organization Children of Artemis (CoA). The festival, which has been a staple of the British Pagan scene for a number of years, was originally held in the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, just south of London.

CoA also has held other events around the country – Wales and Scotland being just two of the outlying sites. In May, there will be a day long Witchfest Midlands, for example, held in Rugeley. The late spring event, which was once the Staffordshire Pagan Conference, has reportedly already sold out of tickets.

Part of the remit from the CoA has been to appeal to young people and to allow them to explore Paganism within a safe and informative space. Many of the younger generations of British Pagans came to the path via Witchfest.

The CoA, which describes itself as primarily Wiccan, is run entirely by volunteers. It began as a ritual group in the 1990s, becoming a public membership organization in 1995. The CoA assisted the UK-based Pagan Federation in organizing its conferences in 1997 and 1998 and, then, held the first Witchfest in 2002.

The organization’s official remit includes the promotion of an understanding of Wicca in accordance with the Wiccan rede. And, in addition to Witchfest and other events, the COA publishes the magazine Witchcraft and Wicca.

Since its early days, Witchfest has grown significantly from an event numbering hundreds of people to thousands. Most recently, after a break lasting several years, the festival found a new location in the seaside city of Brighton, which was originally home to well-known witches such as Doreen Valiente and Ralph Harvey as well as a number of Druid groves and covens.

Over the years, Witchfest speakers have included Ronald Hutton, Damh the Bard, Kate West, Ashley Mortimer, and international speakers such as Phyllis Curott.

Whilst Witchfest in 2016 had around 3000 attendees, attendance at the event dropped dramatically in 2017, due apparently to a number of factors, including transportation issues, weather problems, and the change to a bigger and perhaps more impersonal venue. Whatever the reason, the conference had become financially unviable, as Merlyn explained last fall.

The cancellation caused a degree of consternation among the Pagan community. Damh the Bard stated that such events are a ‘service’ to the community, and it runs the risk of losing them.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is that the cancellation of Witchfest International 2018 might be a wake up call,” Damh said. “It’s a reminder that we can’t take these events for granted. That if we wait for the next one, there might not be a next one.”

However, organizer Merlyn commented that: “the event will bounce back twice as strong.”

CoA’s main event has, to some extent, reinvented itself already by announcing a fundraiser for a 2019 conference. This upcoming fundraiser is taking the form of a new event: the Witchfest Market and Hallowe’en Ball. It will be held at the Rivermead Centre in Reading, just outside London, November 3, 2018.

In a recent email response, a spokesperson for CoA told TWH, “This is a market organised on a true Witchfest scale, the intention is to have everything the Witchfest visitor could possibly want to buy all in one place.”

Markets have always been a big part of past Witchfests and, for this event, the focus will be on the market itself, but will include a series of talks. Ronald Hutton is scheduled to speak, along with Damh, Kate West, Barbara Meiklejohn-Free, and Gemma Gary. There will be music by the Dolmen, Damh, and Perkelt. The event is also offering spaces for readers and healers.

Organizers added, “A major departure from all previous Witchfests is that entry to the market is completely free, making this the most affordable Witchfest ever held.”

In addition to the new fundraiser, the CoA is also organizing a series of local moots, currently at 17 locations around the country. It will also be hosting the Artemis Gathering in Oxfordshire in August, which takes the form of a Pagan camp and it will continue to support Pagan Pride.

CoA organizers added “Our expectations for this [new] event are two fold, first and most importantly,  as a non-profit pagan organisation our objective is to offer the pagan community the best events and services at the lowest possible price, we hope this event will raise funds to allow us to continue to do that. We have promised our members and visitors that Witchfest International will be back in 2019 and we intend to not only deliver on that promise and make it the best ever.

“Secondly Witchfest International has been a constant in the pagan calendar for a decade and a half, with 2018 cancelled it left a void and we had considerable demand to do something to help fill that gap at that time of the year. So while it is not Witchfest International, Witchfest Market does have some of its features and will satisfy the many who would miss their annual Witchfest International excursion until it returns in 2019.”

The British Pagan community hopes that the CoA will run a successful fundraiser and be back up to full strength for its planned event in 2019.


Pagan shop owners fight for right to read tarot

RICHLANDS, Va. –There are places when practicing openly as Pagan is not at all difficult, but there remain communities in which engaging in anything with a whiff of the esoteric or the unusual is met with stiff resistance. Richlands, Virginia appears to be one of the latter. 

Richlands, Vir. [Courtesy Virginia’s official tourism site]

Richlands is a town of less than 5,000 people in the southwestern part of the state and, at a glance, it seems to be the sort of place where Christian values are held in high regard at least when anything perceived as threatening their supremacy is proposed.

What’s causing the recent ripples through this small community is the presence of Mountain Magic and Tarot Shop. which has become a gathering place for Pagans who previously practiced in solitude and in hiding.

Proprietors Jerome VanDyke and Mark Mullins are open about being Witches as well as being happily married to each other. With religion being protected under the U.S. Constitution and their marriage being legal per the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, VanDyke and Mullins believe they’ve tweaked some noses simply by living their lives and opening a business that reflects their values.

In response to their presence, locals have challenged their right to provide tarot readings on the grounds that it’s not an allowed use in their shop under the local zoning code. There have been several feints and parries over this issue in recent months, but on Feb. 13 the pair will be formally asking that “fortune teller/palmist” be added to the use table for the B-2 zone in Richlands.

Fortune-telling — divination — is frequently seen as a suspicious activity, one that is prone to fraud. For this reason some Pagans refuse to accept payment for readings, although others consider it a necessary exchange of energy. The practice is banned under the terms of many merchant agreements and on some online shopping platforms, and there are laws outright forbidding the practices in many locales.

As many Pagans and polytheists regard divination a part of their religious practices, those laws run afoul of first-amendment protections in the United States, as the leaders of Front Royal were advised by their attorney in 2014. Many such laws are also viewed as discriminatory, having been passed to target particular ethnic groups.

VanDyke and Mullins are dealing with such a general ban. In Richlands, fortune-teller are restricted under the zoning code, a set of rules which are used to determine the types of activities which may be conducted on a given parcel of land.

That’s different than the situation faced by Maya White Sparks in 2014, when she discovered that reading cards in Front Royal, Virginia was out-and-out illegal according to an old statute that most residents didn’t even know was on the books.

Despite Front Royale’s town attorney advising that similar laws had been found unconstitutional, the fight to repeal that law was “hard-won,” said Sparks. At that hearing, residents testified that reading tarot is a gateway to prostitution, devil worship, and “all kinds of criminal activity.” Town officials “grudgingly” voted to repeal, with four votes for and two against.

Mullins and VanDyke explained the odd situation that they’re facing in Richlands. Their business license lists tarot reading as an example of what’s acceptable. However, town officials have advised that it is not legal at their particular location because it is not listed in the use table, the guide that building inspectors and planning officials use to determine what’s allowed.

In fact, nowhere in Richlands is tarot reading in the zoning. They thought at first that doing the readings for free would be acceptable, but two visits by police officers disabused them of that notion.

Town manager Tim Taylor — who was out of the office due to a medical condition when contacted this week — told a reporter for SWVA Today in October, “We’re not in the business of what you charge people; it’s the activity of what you’re doing.”

In a curious twist, Mullins and VanDyke determined that while they can’t give readings inside the shop, doing so on the sidewalk out front is perfectly legal. Doing so made the activities more visible and, in their opinions, more upsetting to opponents, some of whom will shout obscenities while driving by or leave literature about the Christian devil taped to store windows. While that behavior has since tapered off, rumors of sacrifices being performed at the shop have also circulated.

Town council members “asked if we would stop reading on the sidewalk if we change the zoning,” said Mullins, who believes that the outdoor divination is “more embarrassing” to local officials. While both proprietors read the cards, Mullins gives most readings at the shop, and has likened the ban on telling a Christian not to use the Bible.

Mark Mullins reads tarot on sidewalk in front of Mountain Magic [courtesy].

What’s quite clear is that there is organized opposition to tarot reading in Richlands right now, despite there being a history of fortune-tellers practicing in the town. A meeting called for Jan. 9 had the subject on the agenda, and the shop owners were unable to get any information about its purpose.

They asked the cards, and were advised not to attend. They understand members of some local churches showed up in droves to speak about the evils of divination.

“This is a town where they ask everyone to stand for a Christian prayer at the beginning of meetings,” said VanDyke. “We don’t.”

Not all Christians in Richlands take that position, and the pair are happy to point out that some of their monotheistic neighbors are friendly and welcoming. They also note that “everyone can remember” other fortune-tellers who have practiced in town, although none of them were known to be Pagan.

On Feb. 13, VanDyke and Mullins have to attend because it’s their request being considered. Again, leaders of some local churches are organizing for a packed house, but this time the Pagans might also be coming out in force. The pair said that they were “blown away” when they realized just how many Pagans there are in rural West Virginia, some of whom have to travel 100 miles to visit Mountain Magic.

It’s an important issue to the shop owners, because even when they were offering readings for free it got people into the shop, and as they waited their turn they often bought merchandise. They believe they have lost business due to being unable to read. Legalizing the readings would bring additional expense, and when Mullins asked on the shop’s Facebook page if customers would pay $25, the response was positive. However, a crowdfunding campaign to cover legal fees has languished.

“It’s going to be like Jerry Springer,” Mullins said of the upcoming public hearing.

We will have an update on this story after the hearing.