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Update on 2015 murder investigation of Texas Wiccan Marc Pourner

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Tex. — A Texas man, Daniel Kirksey, was arrested Thursday in the 2015 murder of his former boyfriend Marc Pourner, known as Axel in the Pagan community. As we reported previously, Pourner was a solitary Wiccan practitioner as well as the co-founder and facilitator of the popular Pagan Facebook forum “the Cauldron – a Mixing Place for Witches, Druids, and Pagans.” He went missing in November. 2015, and several days later he was found dead in his car.

[J. Pourner.]

On Nov. 12, 2015, Pourner reportedly received a late-night phone call. After a tense conversation, he abruptly left his apartment and never came back. That Friday, Pourner’s family contacted Randall’s, Pourner’s place of work, and found that he had never reported for his shift. Over the next day, through local outreach, family members received a tip on where Pourner’s truck might be located and called the sheriff’s department.

The tip proved accurate, And deep in some thick woods, officers found not only the vehicle, but also Pourner’s body.

Within 24 hours of finding the truck, the sheriff’s department had a suspect and, in coordination with Tippecanoe county sheriff’s office in Indiana, the suspect David Brown, Jr. was arrested.

In a February 2016 grand jury hearing, more was revealed about what actually happened that night. Brown and Kirksey called Pourner from Kirksey’s home to tell him that someone was “following Kirksey and wanted to kill him.” When Pourner arrived at the home, he and Brown had “a heated argument […] It was there that Brown punched Pourner several times and then bound and gagged [him].”

Using Pourner’s truck, Brown then took Pourner to a remote location, where he strangled him and torched the truck. The court records also indicate that Kirksey witnessed the entire act.

Brown remains in jail with a trial date set for Dec. 18. His indictment lists his charges as capital murder with a felony, which includes his alleged kidnapping of Pourner. Kirksey was not charged with anything at that point.

However, this changed last Thursday, when the the Montgomery county SWAT team arrested Kirksey at his home for assisting in the kidnapping. He is also reportedly being accused of “burning Pourner’s bag and cell phone in an effort to dupe detectives.

At the time of Brown’s indictment, Pourner’s mother Jolena Pourner told The Wild Hunt: “We knew from the beginning that Daniel was possibly involved because his explanations didn’t add up. We’d been concerned because we felt Daniel was using Marc.”

According to reports, Kirksey was witness to the entire series of events that took place Nov. 12, including the murder:

“Kirksey initially told investigators that [in the apartment was] the last time he saw Pourner alive but later told them he was in the truck with Brown and Pourner, according to court documents. He said he saw Brown take Pourner out of the truck once they arrived at Firetower Road before hitting him again and then strangling him to death, detectives said.”

Kirksey, who was originally set to testify against Brown at the upcoming trial, is now “facing first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping and third-degree felony tampering with physical evidence charges.”

In a Facebook post within a group titled “In Loving Memory Of Marc Pourner,” Jolena Pourner wrote that she was “doing the happy dance.”  She added, “The man who betrayed you by helping (or at least watching) David Brown murder you was arrested today. Daniel Kirksey was arrested this afternoon for felony kidnapping & tampering with evidence. He just thought he was going to walk away free by testifying against David Brown. I’m glad the state realized he wasn’t a credible witness & will proceed with the trial next month without Daniel.”

Jolena Pourner said that she will be at Brown’s first court appearance in December, along with friends. Members of the online Pagan community who knew Marc through his various forum administration roles have said that they will be sending their energy and support to the Pourner’s over the next month as the case continues to unfold.


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Pagan Community Notes: TDoR 2017, Interfaith Podcast, new Pagan survey, and more

TWH – Today marks Transgender Day of Remembrance. People around the world are honoring those people that have been lost in 2017 due to transgender-related violence.  There services and rituals that are being held specifically within Pagan communities.

Trans woman Brianne Ravenwolf of Circle Sanctuary will be co-facilitating a ritual, which will live stream on Facebook at 1 p.m. central. We spoke with Ravenwolf in 2016 for our annual TDoR article. She said, “For me [TDoR is a] very solemn day and has been. It reminds me of all the violence worldwide against our trans* community, more so in other countries. When I hear about the violent murders, beatings, and especially the suicides when a lot of us get so depressed especially when family and friends choose to not love us, or accept us a human beings. That’s where more education will help.”

Also on Facebook, author and activist T. Thorn Coyle offered a prayer for the day.  It reads in part, “Avalokitesvara, read the names of the dead. Faro, remember the names of the dead. Ymir, look at the names of the dead. Indra, read the names of the dead. Ometeotl, remember the names of the dead. Asushunamir, carry our tears.” The prayer was co-written by Coyle and Tristissima.  What is remembered, lives.

*   *   *

A podcast offered through Auburn Seminary, “Fortification,” is hosted by writer and activist Caitlin Breedlove. Breedlove is a member of the Pagan community, and is currently Auburn Seminary’s vice president of movement leadership. The podcast, which is now in its second season, features Breedlove interviewing a diversity of guests from faith leaders to filmmakers.

Through those discussions, Breedlove highlights the many various “perspectives and personal reflections from those on the front lines of movement-building and learn what drives their thinking and what role faith plays in their lives.”

This season now has two episodes completed. The first features community leader Robert Mckenzie and the second, speaker and activist Brian McClaren.  Her next guest will be Isa Noyola, a trans Latina activist and leader. All podcasts, including season one, are available for streaming.

Fortification is both a project of Auburn Seminary and Standing on the Side of Love, a campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

*   *   *

Holli Emore, who is a masters student at Cherry Hill Seminary as well as its executive director, has launched a Pagan-specific survey to assist her degree work. Emore writes, “The purpose of this study is to find out the reasons that people are in groups or are solitary practitioners, what are their personal needs for spiritual support, how they currently connect to such support, and how they would prefer to do so if they have no access at this time.”

She is hoping that the results of her study will assist “Pagan leaders, educators, and groups, and help social workers, mental health counselors, first responders and law enforcement provide more effective and sensitive services to Pagans they are assisting.”

The survey is completely anonymous and voluntary. It is the second survey recently launched to get a closer look at the workings and views of Pagan communities. The other is the study on views of death by Durham University student Jenny Uzzell.

In other news:

  • Rev. Don Frew has a new article out in the Interfaith Observer. The article is titled “A Pagan’s Adventures in Egypt.” It chronicles his experiences in Egypt over time from a Pagan religious perspective and student of history. He concludes, “We were pleased to find that in Egypt the old gods are still alive – not just in the vibrant wall paintings and in the spirituality of Pagan visitors from the West, but in the hearts of the local people as well.”
  • Staffers at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic maintain a biannual journal called The Enquiring Eye. It features articles on Witchcraft, folklore, magic, the landscape, Paganism, and “everything in between.” The next submission date, Dec. 31, is for its spring edition. All details are listed on the site.
  • Thanksgiving will be celebrated this week in the U.S., and with that comes the beginning of the holiday season, including preparation for Yuletide festivities. Everglades Moon Local Council in Florida is preparing for its annual Turning of the Tides event. The Grove of Gaia in Pittsburgh has invited the public to its Yule celebration.  Circle Sanctuary has started Operation Circle Care  to help active-duty military, and Philadelphia Pagan Pride will be hosting a sock drive beginning Dec. 17 during Krampaslauf.
  • Pagan band Spiral Dance has launched its newest album, called Land & Legend. On it are 11 new songs, including the one featured in this video:

Tarot card of the week with Star Bustamonte

Deck: Tarot, the Complete Kit
Illustrations by Julie Paschkis, Designed by Paul Kepple, published by Running Press Book Publishers

Card: major arcana #5, the Hierophant

This card speaks to inner knowing, the pursuit of wisdom, and not compromising your beliefs to attain status. Sometimes, the devil is in the details. For the week ahead you’ll need to pay attention to what is happening both inside and outside of your own sphere of existence. How others view you can have an impact and a more conventional and familiar may offer the best results.


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Honoring Transgender Day of Remembrance 2017 with Raven Kaldera

TWH – Tomorrow marks the 18th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Around the world, organizations and individuals will be hosting events, memorials, and vigils to remember those who have been lost due to transgender-related violence. It is a powerful day – one that is part of a larger month-long transgender awareness campaign.

Held every Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) marks the death of Rita Hester, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. The case remains unsolved to this day. A year after her death, writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil in San Francisco to honor Hester’s life and to bring awareness to the issues faced by transgender people. The 1999 vigil became the very first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Shortly after, other awareness campaigns and movements were launched, including a website for remembering those who have died.

18 years later, the movement has grown. Throughout November, activities are held, culminating in the day of remembrance. The TDoR campaign’s main site hosts a list of not only the worldwide activities, but also the names of people who have died as a result of transgender-related violence over the past year.

Each year around TDoR we invite a transgender member of the collective Pagan communities to join us to talk about personal experiences and about TDoR.

This year, we welcome author, activist, and educator Raven Kaldera from Massachusetts. Kaldera is an FTM transgendered intersexual shaman in the northern tradition,a minister in the Pagan church of Asphodel, and one of a growing number of speakers for the trans dead.

Kaldera has edited and authored 39 books, including Hermaphrodeities: the Transgender Spirituality Workbook. Kaldera says that he has been “a trans activist, a teacher of alternative relationships, a sex educator, a builder of bridges and a walker between worlds, and a troublemaker, for over two decades.”

He lives with his “large crazy polyamorous family on a little homestead.”  He adds, “They have voted [me] the Evil Overlord of the Transsexual Empire, and built him the website as a birthday gift.’Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.”


TWH: First, have you seen or felt any noticeable change in awareness in the mainstream public’s understanding of transgender issues? If there has been a change, has that change been positive? 

Raven Kaldera: We definitely have more press than we used to, and thus more public awareness. Ironically, I think more of that is because of celebrities like Chaz Bono and Caitlyn Jenner, and the occasional trans character in films and TV, than anything that the trans demographic is actually doing in and of themselves, but at least we’re not quite the mythical beasts that we used to be. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I think it’s a necessary thing, first and foremost. We aren’t going to get anywhere if we are a dirty secret that everyone is supposed to pretend doesn’t really exist except for occasional freaks on talk shows.

People need to know that we could be your neighbor, your mail carrier, your dentist, your coworker, anyone you run across in your life, and that’s not a big deal. Part of being more visible, however, is that by definition we are more visible to haters – the people whom it’s impossible to reach with reason or compassion, who need to hate something because of their own internal pain. . . . haters gonna hate, and sometimes they will turn that hate into violence, which puts us in danger. I know that some of the older transfolk I know, who transitioned decades ago when we were just all mythical beasts to most people, are not happy because they are more easily recognized and it’s harder to hide. I respect their fear, and I know the very real danger that it comes from, but at the same time that’s a necessary side effect of getting where we need to go with regard to the goal of social acceptance.

TWH: What do you believe is the biggest threat to the community’s safety? If you could wave a wand to change one thing that would make the biggest impact, what would that one thing be?

RK: It’s hard to nail down any one thing, but if you go to the core of what causes homophobia and transphobia — and those are different things, but the latter comes directly out of the former in the minds of the haters we’re talking about — it’s conservative, fear-based religion of all sorts. Even people who aren’t religious and don’t like transfolk, when pushed, come down to, “I can’t explain it but I just think it’s wrong,” and what they mean is, “I was taught it was wrong and I’m not interested in challenging that social programming,” and who built that social programming? Conservative, fear-based religions.

And the answer is that transfolk — and active allies of transfolk — who belong to those religions, or at least to more liberal versions of those religions, need to do religious activism within their faith communities to change that. Even if there will be super-conservative holdouts, if things change in the more mainstream faith demographics— if transphobia becomes clearly a fringe extremist position — that’s going to change things.

TWH: With that in mind, how can non-trans people can be the best allies? What should cisgender people do or not do to help raise awareness, support their friends and eliminate the barriers discussed above? 

RK: This follows right up on my last answer. Pagans who read this will say, “But I’m not in one of those religions! How can I help?” It is true that we can’t directly attack the core of the problem in that way, because our faith didn’t create that. We can do interfaith work, however, and be an example to members of those other faiths with whom we establish friendly and respectful relations, and in order to be a good example, we need to get our own houses in order. This means being positive about transfolk and their spiritual worth and value, and understanding that this is not only a biological reality but a sacred spiritual path of its own, even if it’s one that you don’t understand – because who understands all spiritual paths that aren’t your own? No one. Appreciating them as a good thing for others, that we can do. Learning about them, we can do that too. Educating one’s self leads to figuring out the most effective way to educate others.

Pagan groups that are built on the initiatory mysteries model need a small intimate group to work with, as opposed to large congregational-type groups such as the one I belong to. i think it’s OK to decide who gets into those groups by whatever personal criteria you want, whether it’s “only left-handed pink-haired piano players” or anything else. In bringing this up, of course, I’m referring to the various issues with gendered groups and the place of transfolk there. I think that the key to having an exclusive group without being trans-negative (or anything-else-negative) is to a) be very clear about the public language you use to describe your group members, and make sure that it is an inoffensive as possible, b) show an honest appreciation of the value and sacredness of people who don’t fit with your special-interest group, and c) bother to come up with a list of places to refer them to when they come knocking.

This includes small intimate initiatory groups supporting the concept of larger congregational-style Pagan groups, and possibly supporting those larger groups in more practical ways as well, because they’re doing the inclusivity thing that you’ve chosen not to. If you do claim to be an open and welcoming Pagan group, as opposed to a limited mystery tradition, act like it! Open your arms and your minds and find ways to make your group spiritually accessible to as many minority interests as possible. Be a welcoming congregation for real. Find out what the liberal-to-radical ends of other faiths are doing with that, and learn from them, and share ideas when you’ve nailed down some good ones.

Above all, make friends with transfolk. If you don’t have any in your circle of friends, why is that? Bother to ask the question and examine your life.


TWH: How can the Pagan community as a whole do better to support its transgender members? 

RK: We need more discussion and creative thought around spiritual resources for transfolk and the clergy who minister to them. When I published the first edition of Hermaphrodities, no one had ever published a gender transition ritual before. When modern Paganism was first starting out, we didn’t have a lot of rituals and prayers for coming-of-age ceremonies, for divorce ceremonies, for funerals and such. Now we have plenty of them. That came about because we accepted it as a need, and accepted that there should be many versions because Pagans have a multitude of traditions. We need to accept that transfolk will be around, and they also need a variety of resources, and apply ourselves to it.

I’d like to see rites for transition in many traditions. I’d like to see coming-of-age rites for a teen who feels they are a different gender from their early assignment, or feels they are both male or female. I’d like to see prayers that a non-trans friend or relative could say to protect a trans loved one, and I’d like to see thoughtful discussion as to what gods would be best invoked for such a prayer. I’d like to see resources for non-trans Pagan clergy who are faced with the issues of a trans group member who needs counseling or divination or a ritual or whatever, just as there would be resources for a group member who is trying to get pregnant or who is having trouble in school or whose loved one has just passed on. I’d like to see theological discussion about the gender-transgressive natures of some gods, and what that means for us, both trans and non-trans. As a faith demographic, we are incredibly creative – we just need to apply ourselves to it!

TWH: Often when talking about marginalized, oppressed, and silenced populations, we focus on the struggle, violence and pain. Take a moment to share something beautiful about the transgender community or about being transgender: a story or even a moment?

RK: I remember once seeing a Star Trek: the Next Generation episode where there was a planet-ful of people who were neither male nor female and it upset me, because they were portrayed as all dressing and looking alike, and there was an emphasis on the lack of their two clear genders as being the reason for this carbon-copy mentality. I don’t know what the writers were trying to do, but they’d obviously never been in an actual room with 50 people who were not traditionally gendered, because we are an amazing rainbow of human beings! Our experience with not being locked into one physical and/or mental gender can often allow us to loosen our mental bods not just between male and female, but between human and animal, human and spirit, and many other dualities as well. Once we get over our trauma, we have an open doorway to being a wider spiritual being, in a way that non-trans people have to use other channels to explore. It’s an automatic one for us, though; it is only our emotional baggage that prevents us from stepping — or falling — through it.

I’m a transgendered intersexual, meaning that I was born with an intersex disorder — congenital adrenal hyperplasia — and was reared female, and transitioned to male for reasons both personal and medical. I refer to my gender as “male of center.” I can hold energy that is almost-but-not-completely male, almost-but-not-completely female, and various shades of both. Learning to do that taught me how to hold many other shades of energy as well. For me, the pain of body dysphoria and the trauma of an unaccepting world eventually became the fire through which I was forged as a person with many fewer limits of self. I am less likely to say, “I could never become the sort of person who could do that,” and more likely to say, “Hey, look at how I did transform myself! How can I say what isn’t possible with me?” I think that might have taken me a couple more lifetimes to achieve this fully if I hadn’t been through this fire that forces us to transform ourselves even in the face of disapproval. Not that people can’t get there by other means, but I don’t know that I could have, at least as quickly and as thoroughly as it happened.

Also, we have the gift of perspective. There’s a zen saying: “Which fish discuss water? The drowning ones.” I think that any academic who is studying questions of gender should make a point of getting the opinions of at least a dozen transfolk, because we are the controls. Our perspective on how men and women interact, socially and hormonally and maybe even spiritually in some cases, is going to be very different from the fish who are only just beginning to question the quality of their water.

We are the cross-quarters between the elements – fire and air, water and earth, all the other combinations. We are the living reflections of gender-transgressive gods – Agdistis and Dionysos, Shiva and Baphomet, Athena and Lilith, Loki and his serpent son-daughter, and many others. Nature takes many forms and does not confine itself only to binary gender, and neither does human experience.

TWH: What does Transgender Day of Remembrance mean to you? Why is it important?

RK: It is many things. It is most literally a way to honor people who died by violence through no fault of their own, because of unjust and harmful social ideas. Murdered trans bodies are an obvious form of this memetic dysfunction. It’s harder (though, sadly, not impossible) for self-righteous people to justify that hatred in the face of a long list of wrongful dead. By speaking for the murdered trans dead — an angrier population of ghosts than any other I’ve had the privilege to work with — we let them know that they are not forgotten, not swept away so that the same problems will continue.

However, it is also a time of ancestor worship for me. In my personal shamanic tradition, we honor five types of ancestors: of the blood (genetic relations), of the heart (beloved non-related dead), of the mind (those whose words inspired you), of the spirit (those whose deeds inspired you), and of lineage (those with whom you share a bond of experience greater than wherever you came from). The trans dead are my ancestors of lineage. I claim them as ancestors, all of them – or, rather, they claimed me, and charged me with speaking and writing about them, as well as doing ritual and pouring out the pomegranate juice. (Pomegranate juice has become the traditional libation for them, in honor of the hermaphroditic god Agdistis, which was tricky back in the days when it wasn’t as popular and speakers for the trans dead had to search for tiny little bottles of it in the grocery store.) They are as much my ancestors as my blood kin and perhaps more, because they watch my back. If you are transgendered by whatever definition you care to use, you have the right to call on them as ancestors to help keep you safe. What they want most is to stop the senseless killings of those of their tribe, of our tribe. This holiday is the first official holiday of this tribe.

On the other hand, a transwoman sitting next to me at a TDoR once said to me, as the shaman of our tribe, “It pains me that the only holiday for this tribe is one of pain and mourning. Find me another one, to balance that.” I’m still working on that problem. When the time is right, it will blossom, as we are blossoming and coming into our own, with our own mysteries, our own sacred rites, and our own place at the table of humanity.

TWH: Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. 

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For those people who are attending organized vigils tomorrow or for those would like to participate in their own way privately or with their own groups, on the TDoR is posted the list of 2017 victims of anti-transgender violence. There are many others resources on the issues discussed for both trans people and allies. On the GLAAD site is a short list of legal resources and other types of support support. Now celebrating its third anniversary, the Trans Lifeline is available in the U.S. and Canada.


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Column: Psychogeography

Psychogeography is the effect of place upon the psyche and the importance of the psyche within the landscape. The term was first discussed in the early 1950s by Guy Debord of the Situationist International, who attributed its coining to “an illiterate Kabyle.” The concept itself is simple, ancient, and foundational to an animist view of the world.

In his essay “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” Debord defines the term rather dryly and pseudo-scientifically as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” The occultist and writer Alan Moore (who explores psychogeography in his graphic novel From Hell and in his novels Voice of the Fire and Jerusalem) adds another layer of nuance to Debord’s definition by emphasizing that consciousness also embeds itself into the landscape in turn: “in our experience of any place, it is the associations, the dreams, the imaginings, the history—it is all the information that is relevant to that place which is what we experience when we talk about a place.”

In adding Moore’s definition to Debord’s, we see that psychogeographical influence is not a one-way street in either direction. It is not just the effect of the material environment upon the individual, nor is it simply a figment of the human imagination (nor is that what Moore suggests). Rather, it is a reciprocal process, a relationship—or rather, an entire web of relationships.

Source of Discord

In a culture that has overwhelmingly lost its embodied sense of relationship to place, however, the landscape is choked and blighted by the demands of power and wealth. A recent article entitled “Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture” notes that since World War II, a dominant trend within architecture has been to produce monolithic buildings that are “intentionally chaotic and grating,” shunning all ornament, symmetry, and beauty—features of traditional architectures across the world. Traditional Chinese architecture, for example, incorporates features such as curved roofs, guardian statues, and “ghost walls” specifically to prevent the entry of unwanted spirits into the building. Modern architecture does the opposite.

[Public domain.]

In China, the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900 targeted churches and factories for their disruption of feng shui with intrusive steeples and smokestacks (and telegraph poles for the same reason), as well as railroads and mines for offending the ancestors and land spirits. For the polytheist Boxer rebels and most other Chinese people at the time, an understanding of “psychogeography” or feng shui was incorporated into everyday life. Therefore, the destructive transformation of public space by missionaries and modernization was fiercely contested.

The Boxers were defeated through Western intervention. In the West, the psychogeographical terrain has also largely been lost to the ruling class, who have not hesitated to consolidate their control. On a material level, Debord notes that during the second French empire (1852-1870), Paris was redesigned to include “open spaces allowing for the rapid circulation of troops and the use of artillery against insurrections” but inimical to use by ordinary people.

However, Debord argues, psychogeography cannot simply be reduced to the assumption that “elegant streets cause a feeling of satisfaction and that poor streets are depressing.” Indeed, the opposite is often the case, as is horrifyingly apparent when gentrifiers attempt to pave over neighborhood soccer fields and community gardens with parking lots, or to replace murals of gods, saints, and ancestors with cookie-cutter condos. Anyone who is paying attention knows that there is more to the world than the material.

Therefore, “the revolutionary transformation of the world, of all aspects of the world, will confirm all the dreams of abundance,” Debord writes. Similarly, Moore argues that a mythical understanding of one’s surroundings has the potential to change everything:

If they understood the richness under the paving stones that they walk every day, if they understood the astonishing mythologies that were connected to these places, the histories, then they might feel more that they were walking through the eternal, golden city. If they were to internalize that, they might start to feel like the empowered and mythical creatures that inside they want to be.

Comfort to the Restless

The situationists developed the practice of the dérive or “drift” as a way to both break out of prescribed social activity and to explore the psychogeographical landscape. In his article “Theory of the Dérive,” Debord quotes a study of a student’s movements over the course of a year, which depressingly found that “her itinerary forms a small triangle with no significant deviations, the three apexes of which are the school of political sciences, her residence and that of her piano teacher.”

Breaking out of psychically impoverished loops such as the political science student’s, however, does not mean abandoning oneself to complete chance. Rather, it entails a complex engagement with the existing landscape:

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.

Sarah Kate Istra Winter, in her book The City is a Labyrinth: A Walking Guide for Urban Animists, suggests that an “animist dérive” would “use similar methods but with a more overtly metaphysical approach” (7). Such an approach might include (but not be limited to) making offerings to local spirits and gods, incorporating divination and omen interpretation into one’s dérive, or praying to gods (such as Hermes, Mercury, or Odin) who are themselves known for being wanderers. Truly, “chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think.”

[Arthur Rackham, public domain.]

Toil of the Steed

In “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” Debord wonders about the religious implications of psychogeography:

It has long been said that the desert is monotheistic. Is it illogical or devoid of interest to observe that the district in Paris between Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue de l’Arbal? conduces rather to atheism, to oblivion and to the disorientation of habitual reflexes?

While the thought that certain modern architecture is atheistic in its tendency towards oblivion is certainly interesting, from an animist perspective, both the desert and the city are filled with spirits. However, Winter observes that “many polytheists and animists still think of the spiritual world as something only, or primarily, accessible in nature” (2). Her book is explicitly intended to broaden that perspective, especially for those of us who find ourselves spending time in cities (whether we wish to be there or not).

In Chinese polytheism, not only does each city have a tutelary deity who fills the office of Cheng Huang Sheng (“god of the moat and walls”), but local land deities who fill the role of Tu Di Gong (“lord of soil and ground”). In certain cities in Taiwan, the specific spirit filling the role of Tu Di Gong may vary from city block to city block. The town of Jinze outside Shanghai, famed for its canals and bridges, formerly had some sort of deity shrine at every single bridge. Though at least one of the shrines no longer exists in physical form, people still remember its location and worship there during festivals. This is psychogeography in practice.

[Heathen Chinese.]

Animism cannot be learned from a book or the internet. An animist relationship to the world can only be cultivated through direct engagement and experience. As the Anglo-Saxon rune poem reminds us:

Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors
and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads
on the back of a stout horse.

* * *

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


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Column: the Season of Gratitude

The changing seasons are filled with symbolism, meaning, and traditions. It is a time that many people inside of western secular society are preparing for a variety of celebrations, gatherings, and feastings. Many within our intersecting religious communities of Paganism and Polytheism are transitioning away from ceremonies focused on death, harvest, and the new year.

The wheel, as it turns from fall to winter, can also harness reflection on those who have passed through the veil, and various opportunities of working through the shadow self. To put it lightly, this time of year is complex for a multitude of reasons.


One aspect of this time of year — one that is also a staple of the changing fall season — is the concept and acknowledgement of gratitude. Whether these ideas show up in our personal lives or whether we are influenced within society by the Hallmark messaging of the Thanksgiving season, gratitude is a thing in November.

We see many people participating in various related activities, such as the 30 Days of Gratitude challenge on social media, and there is also a lot of “gratefulness talk” throughout families, workplaces, and even within spiritual communities.

The unwinding rabbit hole that is the definition of what gratitude is and what it means to be grateful differs depending on the medium being discussed. Disciplines like psychology use definitions of gratitude that vary from those definitions found religious frameworks such as Christianity. We have all heard of catch phrases like having an “attitude of gratitude” or the New Age idealism of the laws of attracting more things to be grateful for.

Despite differences, there are some intertwining concepts in the practices of embracing gratefulness in connection with spirituality.

There has been an increase in studies around the impact of gratitude on physical, emotional, and mental well being. Psychologists and others within the social sciences have shown a marked interest on how this very concept can create significant shifts in how people experience their lives on a emotional and physiological level. We often talk about the connection between how our “thoughts become things,” as a very cognitive behavioral therapy concept, and how our beliefs by acknowledging the ways that thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences and behavior are interconnected.

Studies of the influence of practicing gratitude have shown improvements in areas of the immune system, blood pressure, increased joy, more sleep, and decrease in feelings of isolation. Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychologist and researcher on gratitude, explores all of these correlations and the integration of positive psychology modalities in the idea of wellness.

Here are several interesting definitions of what gratitude is from different understandings:

Gratitude, along with love, compassion, empathy, joy, forgiveness, and self-knowledge, is a vital attribute of our wellbeing. While there are many definitions of gratitude, at its foundation, gratitude is a healing, life-affirming, and uplifting human experience that shifts us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. Gratitude provides us with a more intimate connection to ourselves and the world around us. In the feeling of gratitude, the spiritual is experienced. – Deepak Chopra

Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants. Gratitude is getting a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology: Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy. – from Psychology Today

Indeed, this cuts to very heart of my definition of gratitude, which has two components. First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.

The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives. – Robert Emmons


Much like the role spirituality plays for individuals, gratitude also has the effect of holding a space for hope and understanding within our lives as we are enmeshed daily with both good and bad experiences. Gratitude can be an antecedent for hope and a method of cognitive restructuring of the many ways we relate to our experiences.

There continues to be a focus in research on the correlation between how these tools -spirituality, beliefs, and gratitude – are utilized and how our ability to connect to our world with purpose and direction supports self efficacy. Gratitude has the ability to be a bridge our pasts, present, and future, acting as a mindfulness activity that brings us perspective.  It is also important to note that gratitude can have an element of challenge for many people, and has been used in some settings as a demand, tool of manipulation, or as a way to measure one’s humility.

While potentially harmful uses of gratitude within interpersonal relationships and within society imply that having gratitude is a measurement of integrity, it is important to note that this is not the truth for many people. Celebrations of our lives and the many aspects of gratefulness can connect people to a broader understanding of themselves. But, at the same time, but there are also very individual and layered interpretations of what it means in one’s life.

What types of things are our Pagan and polytheistic community members grateful for this season? How does gratitude resonate for them? Here are some of the various quotes that came from others about what they are grateful for today.

Grateful for the harvest and knowing how to preserve and share it. – Mari Powers

Grateful for all the support and love I receive from friends and family, including the fur-children. And for dark chocolate with salted caramel. And for Earl Grey tea. – Kimberly Kirner

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow…- Jonathan Blanton

I’m grateful to be able to work for justice while rooted in a spiritual community. It makes all the difference. – Cat Chapin-Bishop

Gratitude for me is a means to apply balance on an emotional scale. When I’m depressed, overwhelmed by the world news, or just having a pity party then practicing gratitude can shift my perspective. Maintaining that emotional balance enables me to continue to “fight the good fight.” Gratitude is also a gentle way to explore privilege. We all have some places where we have privilege and many of us have places where we don’t. Gratitude for what we have opens us to sharing that privilege with others. Gratitude practice provides a platform, we still have to do the work. – LisaSpiral Besnett

I‘m grateful for my life’s hardships because understanding and learning from experience brings an inner peace only found through suffering. – Tamara Szewczyk

I think of gratitude as a lens to help us refocus how to perceive the world. If life circumstances feel they couldn’t be more bleak, just reminding myself that there are good things in my life and that I can name at least three blessings on any given day…helps me get out of bed in the morning. – Ravensong

I am grateful for my hard past, without which, I would not be able to appreciate and love my beautiful present. It has also taught my to be hopeful for my future, which I know will be stepped in love and abundance.– Lotus Raven Song-Ames

Gratitude is the simplest prayer. – Miskwaa Waagoshnini

As a person with terminal illness, I’ve been asked about gratitude by folks convinced it is connected to freedom from suffering. I get it. I’ve had gratitude focus times in my life, but gratitude feels like a way of comforting and maintaining complacency. I’m not grateful for the annihilation of our planet, for the oppression of humans in so many ways that it’s nearly impossible to breathe in what liberation should be for all of us. I’m not grateful that (overwhelmingly white/privileged) folks focus on gratitude soothes some out of feeling the urgency to act. It’s been urgent for hundreds of years. I am a spiritually grounded and positive person. I’m not flailing without a foundation of gratitude. What makes my life meaningful is not gratitude. It is connection. Beauty and joy despite the rest of it. Sorry, as a person who feels poisoned by the poor choices of humans I’m a party-pooper about gratitude.– Colleen Cook

I am grateful for friends who are still friends and send hugs even if they don’t know what’s wrong. That’s perfect love and perfect trust. – Ashleen O’Gaea

Almost all of my gratitude “quotes” have tunes.

“I thank the earth for feeding my body.
I thank the sun for warming my bones.
I thank the trees for the air I breathe and
I thank the water for nourishing my soul.” (by Ana K.W. Moffett)  – Vicki Solomon

Like with many complex topics, exploring various aspects of gratitude can be illuminating and insightful even though they may not touch the surface of the depth of the subject. Exploring concepts, meanings, and connections to gratitude within various contexts falls into the category of being a big subject in a small space. The variety of ways by which individuals connect to concepts of gratitude, and celebration, and through which they connect to experiences will be as diverse as our communities.

There are no rights and wrongs in our various feelings of gratitude, only correlations, themes, and the significance of meaning.


Science continues to explore the vastness of positive correlations between active practices of gratitude and physical, emotional, mental well-being. And we know that our beliefs and spirituality float in and out of each of those areas of a person’s lives experience.

What does gratitude mean to you? How does it show up in your life or your spiritual practice? How does concepts of feeling grateful resonate with the way you mediate the world?

How about that for some new Thanksgiving dinner table conversations?

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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


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The London Temple of Mithras is now open to the public

LONDON — An ancient temple to Mithras in the heart of the city of London was re-opened this month after a significant amount of renovation.

The original temple was built in 240 A.D. by the Romans in order to honor the Middle Eastern god Mithras, who was popular among soldiers. It was not the only Mithraeum built in the UK; others include the Carrawburgh Mithraeum dated to the 3rd century Mithraeum,the Rudchester MIthraem on Hadrian’s Wall,  and the Caernarfon Mithraeum in Wales, which was featured in the Merlin series of novels written by Mary Stewart.

Temple of Mithras dig 1954 Robert Hitchman (c) MOLA

These temples, like the one in London, were all situated underground.

In 2010, the Bloomberg company opened its new European headquarters on the very site on which the original London Mithraeum had once been.

That building lies over one of London’s lost rivers, the Walbrook, which marked the limits of the Roman settlement nearly 2,000 years ago. As the town increased in size and importance, the banks of the Walbrook were reclaimed, and Roman London became not only a major port of trade but a successful economic center with a population of around 30,000 people.

Parts of these walls survived in an area which corresponds roughly to the ‘Square Mile’ of the City of London and it still exists as London’s center of commerce today.

The Mithraeum itself was discovered in 1954 after the Second World War had ended and the effects of the Blitz were still being felt. Although there was substantial interest in the temple, the site’s preservation did not take priority. It was moved to a new location in order to allow for new office construction at the Walbrook location.

When, in the last stages of the archeological investigation, the stone head of a beautiful young man was found, thousands queued to see it. However,  Britain was still recovering from the effects of the war, and there were comparatively little resources available to treat the temple properly.

However, Prime Minister Winston Churchill prevented the Legal and General insurance company from destroying the walls, which were kept in a builders’ yard until 1962.The god’s head and other artifacts were sent to the Museum of London. The wooden benches discovered at the site, which could have told future archaeologists more about the temple, were reportedly discarded.

London Temple of Mithras construction 2010 © Copyright Bill Boaden

In 2007, there was renewed interest in the temple and there was talk of relocating the temple back to its original location. However, that did not become a reality until the Bloomberg company purchased the Walbrook site, where the temple originally stood, and the project to reconstruct the temple.

Michael Bloomberg, the company founder, stated that the company regards itself as the steward of the site. “London has a long history as a crossroads for culture and business, and we are building on that tradition. As stewards of this ancient site and its artefacts, we have a responsibility to preserve and share its history.”

“And as a company that is centred on communication – of data and information, news and analysis – we are thrilled to be part of a project that has provided so much new information about Roman London,” he continued. “We hope London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE will be enjoyed by generations to come.”

Sophie Jackson, the lead archaeologist for the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), has been working on the site for years. Speaking about the site itself, she told The Guardian, “It was a mystery cult and its rites remain very well guarded mysteries. There is nothing written about what went on in the temples, no book of Mithras,”

“The one thing we do know is that no bulls were sacrificed there. It was a very confined space and I don’t think anyone would have got out alive.”

According to sources, one tenth of the Roman finds exhibited in the Museum of London come from the Bloomberg site. The very name of the Roman city, Londinium, was found here, in very early texts on wooden tablets, preserved by the boggy, waterlogged ground.

Further finds include the first financial document from Britain, which is also etched on a wooden tablet. There is a tiny amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator’s helmet and a hoard of pewter vessels, possibly used in rituals within the temple.

Finds from the Temple of Mithras, located in Museum of London [By Carole Raddato / Wikimedia]

A digital interactive resource giving further examples of the archaeological discoveries from the dig is accessible via mobile devices.

British pagans, regardless of specific religious affiliation, are excited by the rebuilding of the Mithraeum. TWH spoke with Payam Nabarz, a member of the organization Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD) that is, according to its site, “a British initiative that advocates respect for what are commonly called ‘human remains’ and their related funereal artefacts.”

The organization’s “focus is the physical evidence of ancestors who don’t fall into the protective cloak of the Church, these being for the most part those ancestors who lived and died before the seventh century when Christianity began to spread through Britain.”

Nabarz is not only a member of HAD, but he is also an expert in the Mithraic tradition. He said, “I was part of the HAD meeting with the museum and project when it started. HAD became involved in the consultation over the fate of the temple.”

“I gave a number of suggestions about how the temple could be recreated to capture the spirit of what occurred like light, sound, and interactive aspect,” Nabarz explained.

“I gave them a copy of my book. And also suggested they look at the Newcastle museum reconstruction, and [that the] temple should be a living temple that you can visit.”

The London Mithraeum project has taken nearly years to complete, and includes a contemporary art installation, featuring works by Dublin artist Isobel Nolan. While the modern additions are helping to attract crowds, it is the temple itself which is exciting UK Pagans.

As Sophie Jackson states: “London is a Roman city yet there are a few traces of its distant past that people can experience first-hand. London Mithraeum is not only a truthful presentation of the archaeological remains of the temple of Mithras; it is a powerful evocation of this enigmatic temple and a fantastic new heritage attraction for the capital.”


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Political cartoon about witch hunts raises concerns for local Pagan

HIGH POINT, N.C. – Former city council candidate Megan Longstreet isn’t laughing after the local paper published a political cartoon that appeared to advocate for witch hunts.

[Courtesy M. Longstreet]

The cartoon, which appeared in the High Point Enterprise (HPE) paper the day after the election, said, “Proving that there’s nothing wrong with a witch hunt if there’s a witch to hunt.”

Longstreet is a Pagan and has identified as being Wiccan. Through not all Wiccans indentify as Witches, they are often also called Witches. The newspaper says they did not have Longstreet in mind when they created this cartoon.

Longstreet, though, believes they did. She feels the cartoon was run to mock her religion and also felt the cartoon had a slightly threatening tone.

Longstreet says that shortly after the publication of The Wild Hunt article on her run for office and religious beliefs, HPE reporter Paul Johnson called her to discuss the article and its content. She says that Johnson asked if the TWH article was a joke.

“I said of course not. I’m openly a Pagan. I’ve been a Pagan and doing a worldwide Pagan radio show for quite some time,” continues Longstreet. She adds that Johnson then remarked that her opponent Monica Peters knew about Longstreet’s religion and may try to use it against her.

However, neither HPE nor Peters mentioned her religion during the election process.

Then, the day after the election HPE ran the cartoon about hunting witches. It was created by HPE staff and appeared in its Three Views section.

HPE Editor Megan Ward says the cartoon had nothing to do with Longstreet and was about the climate in Washington D.C. Ms. Ward says the idea that the paper would go after someone for their beliefs is “absurd.”

Ward told The Wild Hunt, “To me, her being Wiccan, we’re just not interested in that. This wasn’t against her or Witches.”

Longstreet says she knew that when she interviewed with The Wild Hunt she could be attacked. However, she did it anyway. “I wanted to be real and inspire other Pagans,” she explains.

While Longstreet says she finds this kind of prejudice unfortunate, she adds, “I refuse to present myself as something other than what I am and I encourage everyone I know to do the same.”

Ward said that she intended to call Longstreet to discuss the cartoon, and Longstreet did confirm that Ward had left a voicemail message for her, but they had not yet spoken as of press time.


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Georgia resident pressured not to pursue Pagan after-school club

DEMOREST, Ga. –One resident of this small town in Georgia says he has gotten resistance to the idea of starting an after-school religious club for children like his daughter, whom he is rearing Pagan. Elijah Gragg said that when he asked about the possibility, the only response he got was a local Boy Scout leader warning that all after-school activities would be cancelled before a Pagan club would be approved.

Gragg, who’s been a Pagan since he was 12 years old and now identifies as Kemetic, said he got curious when his kindergartner brought home a flyer promoting the local Good News Club chapter. This club is one of the missions of the Child Evangelical Fellowship, and it has chapters in thousands of schools around the country.

A 2001 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States made it legal for after-school religious programs, like the Good News Club, to operate on school grounds for enrichment purposes.

Since that ruling, the Good News Club has garnered plenty of criticism.There has even an effort in some areas to start an “After-School Satan” club in response with only marginal success.

Gragg said, “She’s only been in school about a month and a half.” When Gragg read the flyer, he started wondering about how to similarly support her religious education in the schools, and asked at the board of education about how he might start a Pagan club for students.

“I was told they don’t make those policies,” and he was referred to Fairview Elementary principal Jennifer Chitwood. He left a message, but never heard back.

What he did get, however, was a visit from a local volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, a man named Ian Nesbit. “I know the guy, but we are not friends,” Gragg said, and he was not expecting Nesbit, in his scouting uniform, to knock on his door on the afternoon of Sept. 28.

“He told me that [district officials] would shut down all after-school activities” rather than allow a Pagan club to be created, recalls Gragg. He believes that Nesbit was “there as a way to apply pressure” to stop Gragg from pursuing the idea.

A voice mail message was left for the principal, but no call in response was received by press time. If school officials do respond, TWH will follow-up will that information.

Gragg contacted local scouting officials about the incident. According to Scout Executive Trip Selman of the Boy Scouts’ Northeast Georgia Council, he promised Gragg that the situation would be “addressed.”

Selman explained to TWH that “if someone is representing scouting, as a volunteer or a staff member, we want to make sure they’re representing it properly.”

In his opinion, Gragg believes district officials “overplayed their hand” by sending Nesbit to warn him off Pagan after-school clubs.

“I just wanted to talk, and now I know that they’re going to have a fit.” Since then, he’s been identifying Pagans who might be interested in helping him push his case with school board members. “I’m just one person, and those are fights that never end well.”

He’s been making inquiries, finding Pagans in his corner of Georgia, and identifying allies. He’s starting to hear stories, too, like one about a metaphysical store in nearby Camelia that closed because locals “ran the owner out.”

He was not able to provide the name of that business, however, as he only met the owner in passing at a gas station. “It’s a bigger issue than I’d realized. I want to find Pagans who are willing to stand up for their rights to access.”

This isn’t the first time Gragg has felt forced to stand up for Pagan religions in this state. He remembers one of his high school teachers giving a “30-minute lecture on why witches were evil,” and how he stood up to give a different perspective. “I got the ‘strange treatment’ for the rest of the year,” he remembers.

Gragg said that he’s gotten support from as far away as Atlanta, some 90 minutes’ drive, including a former council member from that city.

“I want to make them defend being bigots in public,” he explained as his strategy.

“The only other option is the courts, and from what I understand they have the right to do that,” meaning shut down all after-school activities as a way to avoid having to provide equal access to Pagan club organizers.

Gragg said he will work on this issue and “make it right” as soon as he has the necessary resources to stand a fighting chance. In the meantime, his daughter brought home a flyer advertising a different Christian after-school club just yesterday.


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Pagan Community Notes: Ma’at Temple, Maetreum of Cybele, Ken Laukant and more

Note to our readers: Our fall generosity fundraiser is now at 42% with 13 days to go. Your can make that 100%. Donate today to support the only independent, daily news site dedicated to serving Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities worldwide. Thank you. 

WICHITA, Kan. — The Ma’at’s Temple of Kansas has officially closed its doors.  The temple was a public facility for use by the local Wiccan and Pagan community since its establishment in 2013. It held a library, ritual space, “permanent circle,” and meditation facility.

According to temple caretaker Bruce Blank, the temple was cited by the city’s zoning officials in 2016 for “not having separate utilities, restrooms, and lacking A.D.A. accommodations.” The cost to bring the temple up to code was “more than the lot owner and members could absorb, so the decision was made to sell the property.”

After the physical site closed down, community interaction reportedly waned, and Blank decided to shut down the organization’s corresponding online sites as well.

Blank has written a memoir for “detailing the birth, growth and demise of the temple.” The book is titled In H/er Many Names: the Ma’at’s Temple Archives 2013-2017 and reportedly “chronicles not just the [temple’s] successes but also [its] moments of struggle, conflict and … divisive issues.”

Blank notes that a new group, Circle of the Stag, has since formed to fulfill some of the spiritual needs of the local community.

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The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

PALENVILLE, N.Y. — It’s been several years since the Maetreum of Cybele was embroiled in a property-tax fight with local officials who maintained that the organization was not, in fact, a church. Tuning in to activities there is now as simple as turning the radio dial to 102.9 FM, but as this is a low-power station, that’s only possible in portions of Ulster, Greene, and Columbia counties of New York.

According to Viktoria Whittaker and Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele, the station started broadcasting over two years ago, in July of 2015, fulfilling a dream which had long been stalled due to the legal wrangling over property taxes. The site proclaims that the “Goddess’ voice of resistance” is “low power to the people,” and thanks to membership in the Pacifica network, they have been supplementing Pagan-focused news and music with programs such as Democracy Now!

Billed as the “first and only Pagan-owned, operated, and FCC-licensed radio station in America,” WLPP-LP is funded by Maetreum members and through donations from listeners. While streaming was originally an option, that’s currently not available as they need to get a new server to support that functionality. For now, driving to the picturesque Hudson Valley is the only option for listening.

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WONEWOC, Wis. — Circle Sanctuary has said goodbye to one of its members. Kenneth L. Laukant, age 47, died Nov. 9, 2017 in his hometown.

Laukant was born Dec. 17,1969 to George and Lucille in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. He was an active member of Circle Sanctuary since 2011. As is written in  a memorial post on that site: “[Laukant] will be remembered for his humor, congenial nature, and quiet, steady service … He was always ready to lend a hand to raise the village and keep it lit.”

According to the local news, a celebration of Laukant’s life will be held Nov. 14 at Zion Lutheran Stone Church in Rock Springs. The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, people contribute to a fund that is being established to help support his two children. What is remembered, lives.

In other news:

  • Solar Cross members continue their periodic “devotionals for the people.” This Sunday, Nov. 19, they are hosting one called Hecate Remembers led by Sarah Clark. “In the space between Samhain and solstice, time can feel out of joint,” Clark explains. “With all the anger and separation in our political cultures, we can feel marginalized and out of place. And within ourselves, in all our beautiful complexity, we can have pieces that feel stuck in time, forgotten, or out of place. Let us remember them, and re-member ourselves.” The devotionals are open to anyone, anywhere. Instructions are posted online.
  • Correllian Nativist tradition leaders have announced that they will be sending a delegation to the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions to be held in November of that year. Press secretery Lori Blackman said, “In preparation of this event, the Correllian tradition has begun creating dialog with the breakdown of the parliament theme for discussion and possible resolution.” Witch School, which is a division of  the organization, will host a “Global Wicca Summit” in September 2018 to discuss the question: “Is Wicca a global faith?”
  • University of Bristol published a video in which Professor Ronald Hutton answers questions about witches and witchcraft. “The history of witches and witchcraft is something that has fascinated and frightened people throughout history. But who were witches and why has society been so wary of them?” Published on Halloween, the video was created in the wake of the publication of Hutton’s new book The Witch, a comprehensive look at the same topic.
  • NILVX has opened up submissions for its summer 2018 edition. The theme is tarot. Editors offer this prompt: “Use one of these six windows as inspiration:  I Magician, II High Priestess, III Empress, X Wheel of Fortune, XVI Tower, and XIX Sun. Create your own image for these cards. Tell a story about the characters you see. Provide an in-depth interpretation from one of your favorite decks. These are basic suggestions to get you going, but take this theme and create what you will.” The submission deadline is Feb. 1, 2018, and details are available online. NILVX is “a quarterly anthology of magic(k), mysticism, and the occult.” It brings “together the work of writers and artists from around the world to amplify magical themes and symbols through poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, and art.”

Tarot of the week with Star Bustamonte

Deck: Crow’s Magic tarot by Londa Marks published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Card: major arcana, #18, the Moon

The Moon is a complex card, stacked full of meaning with a strong feminine impression. It can reflect a cyclic approach or influence that may seem like either genius or madness. The week ahead is liable to offer some of both, especially where women’s issues are concerned. A landscape illuminated in moonlight can appear much different than when lit by the sun. This is a caution to verify what is being presented. Sometimes, a more powerful light source is called for.


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Column: a Quest for Faith Over a Year, and Over the Years

From the point of view of many global onlookers, most of Western and Northern Europe might seem an oddly secular, even religion-less place. Despite a history of (ofttimes violent) religious upheaval during the Christian era and a relative growth of Islam in the present day, there is no denying that religion, and more specifically the expression of religious sentiment, has little to no place in the public sphere in many European nations.

As such, even simply discussing religion, and especially Pagan and magical ones, isn’t something nearly as self-evident as in other regions, like North America, where a similar degree of religious freedom is the law of the land. In such a context, the experiences of individuals who might want to experiment with various spiritual paths are rarely if ever publicized or talked about. Yet under this veneer of secularism lies a dynamic and ever-changing religious landscape that has much to offer to those willing to get real with religion.

In the Nordic nation of Finland where, as in many other countries of Europe, one’s faith and spiritual practices are rarely worn on the sleeve, journalist Fredrik Westblom has decided to go against the current: in the past year, between fall of 2016 and 2017, Westblom engaged with one different spiritual path every month, including a significant number of Pagan and magical ones. This journey of doubt, courage, and — more importantly — curiosity and open-mindedness, touches on some universal issues anyone who has engaged with religion has had to consider. Matters such as interfaith, community, syncretism, universalism, and personal growth are all tackled in this singular, no-holds-barred tale that might reminisce many about what once was their very own seeker’s journey.

Fredrik Westblom [courtesy].

The idea behind this 12-religion challenge, as it was nicknamed, was born at the crossroads of rather personal reflections about faith and definitely more global religious dynamics. Westblom, who was born and reared in the Lutheran National Church of Finland, began to research alternative religions and spiritual paths at a young age, during a period in which he first began to question aspects of the Christian religious dogma that in many ways shaped his early life. One key factor in this development was the national debate that was then (and to an extent still is) unfolding about LGBT rights and the place of women in the National Church of Finland:

I had, until this, held some form of “childhood faith,” but that was severely crushed when I found the ugly parts of religion and I quickly became disillusioned. If we were all created by God, and we were all valuable, as I had been taught, then why would it matter what your sexual orientation were, or your gender? Or, for that matter, what religion you were?

Over the years Westblom, who along the way obtained a graduate degree in political science and started working as a journalist, began to see himself more and more as a spiritual seeker all the while his immediate environment, together with the increasingly grim reality of the wider world ,continued to inform his worldview. This went on until around the turn of 2015 when local, and international, events led him to a profound realization:

This was around when gay marriage was finally made legal in Finland, and of the wars in the middle east. I saw the horrible things the Islamic State did, and other bits of news regarding all kinds of religious extremism. I became severely agitated and simply could not understand how people could be so caught up in their own mindset that they could kill for it. That is why I, there and then, decided that I should really study and experience other religions and talk to believers. If I did this, I reasoned, I would start a healthy debate regarding religion, one filled with willingness to learn rather than with a feeling of hate.

[The Raven. Fredrik Westblom.]

But besides the desire for interfaith dialogue and cross-religious understanding, the idea behind the 12-religion challenge was also informed, from its very inception, by Pagan and occult concepts. Building upon previous experiences with alternative faiths, this year of twelve religions would end up consisting of an even balance of Pagan-magical paths on one hand, and more established ones on the other. In addition, the very idea of switching between religions was in and of itself inspired by one such magical tradition:

It was around this time that I found out about Chaos magick. The philosophy about this dogma-free system really spoke to me. The system emphasizes creative spirituality and that people should challenge their deep-held beliefs and adopt new ones at will. This practice, called paradigm shift, was what finally made me decide to do this.

In the end, and after careful consideration, 12 spiritual paths were selected, namely Taoism, Satanism, Christianity, shamanism, Buddhism, Discordianism, Mormonism, Vodoun, Islam, atheism, Ásatrú, and finally Wicca. In order to make the most of these religions within the relatively limited time frame during which they would be experienced, some were allotted to specific symbolic and religious periods:

I did try to match some religions to specific holidays – Christmas for Christianity, Easter for Mormonism, Islam during Ramadan and my own birthday for Satanism – and I kind of went from there.

Ásatrú worship in the Finnish woods [Fredrik Westblom].

Choosing the religions and planning out the spiritual year ahead was but the beginning. Actually engaging with followers of the various faiths, reading about their traditions through holy texts, visiting their places of worship and the like would demand a more personal level of engagement and effort if it were to bear fruit. In practice, seeking out these local practitioners was not all that complicated, despite the relatively small size of the city of Vasa, which counts slightly less than 70,000 inhabitants. Only Satanism truly proved a problem, as no Satanist was to be found in the vicinity.

On the other side of the religious spectrum, getting in touch with Mormons was far easier, as a pair of missionaries took the initiative to directly reach out to Westblom and invited him to their service, which ended up being “a very lovely experience” as it turned out. Perhaps a bit surprising for a country that did not see any formal establishment of the religion before 2001, Wiccans were rather easy to get a hold of, largely thanks to the prior existence of a loosely-tied organization of Wiccans, Pagans and other affiliates among the Swedish-speaking population of Finland to which Westblom belongs to.

Another key element of the 12-religion challenge was to connect with both the sacred places of worship and the holy scriptures associated with various traditions, an experience that varied considerably among them. When engaging with Islam, for example, the go-to place would of course be the mosque (“a silent, beautiful, and so serene place”), yet reading the Quran was actually not advised for a newcomer/seeker such as Westblom, and he was instead offered religious tracts of a more general nature; the explanation offered being that one needed to be Muslim in order to truly understand the meaning of the stories contained in the book.

During the more Pagan-oriented months of the challenge, the whole process of establishing a connection to the sacred was very different from what it was in their Abrahamic counterparts. Due to the acute lack of established places of worship for most of these religions, some thinking had to be done to find, and create, in some way, places that would befit acts of devotion and spiritual work. During the Wiccan and Ásatrú months, a local pub was turned into a meeting place for weekly “Pagan moots,” in order to discuss and debate everything Pagan-related with like-minded people, friends, and anyone willing to join the conversation. It was in the Finnish nature and landscape that Westblom found the perfect place to engage with the sacred and magical forces he had set to experience at the beginning of his journey:

I spent a lot of time walking around in my surroundings, and I felt immediately drawn to the forest and the seaside in Vasa. That is where I found my retreat. Later, during my Wiccan month I enacted a ritual by the sea. I used landmarks as corners of the circle – chimney pipes in the south, the sea in the west and so forth – and I called the God and the Goddess. It was the first time I really felt a connection to the divine, and I wondered if that was just a one time experience.

If the appeal of the coastline, where the sea and the forest meet made up for a logical sacred place for a Finn, other traditions brought the act of worship both closer to home and in more unusual places. Soon after the beginning of the challenge, a home altar was constructed which would see use throughout the whole year. When switching to Taoism, ancestor worship formed, together with stone-balancing meditation, the core of that month’s spiritual practice. In the course of other cycles, however, more complex rituals took place, such as when shamanism was explored through a drumming ceremony or during Westblom’s foray into Vodoun which called for a more complex liturgy:

This one was an interesting experience for me, because that was also when I fully wrestled with the concept of cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation so I approached the Iwa respectfully. I went to a crossroads in an old factory quarter in Vaasa. It was the middle of the night, and I had prepared a veve and sacrifices to them (tobacco, rum, sweets) and sang their old songs, and I do believe that they answered.

If religious dedication and worship logically focused on different deities, spirits and forces over the course of the year, a certain number of rituals, ideas and practices remained a constant. Health, both mental and physical was one of the main point of focus during the journey. Mormonism, Taoism, and Islam gave the opportunity for dietary changes, such as excluding meat altogether (Taoism), or swearing off coffee and alcohol (Mormonism and Islam), something that most certainly had beneficial repercussions throughout.

How does one explain such a strong and unique appeal, if not spiritually? Despite perhaps not being quite as common as in Norway, mountaineering can be found today in every mountainous country and among every nation. What pushes some of us to invest large amounts of time, energy, and often money, to an activity that, in practice, gives very few rewards and can at times be dangerous and even deadly?

When switching from religious tradition to religious tradition over as short a period as a year, a certain degree of syncretism is to be expected, even between faiths that are not traditionally seen as sharing much in between them. A practical example in the present case was how the Liber Resh ritual ended up becoming another constant that remained a part of Westblom’s spiritual practice throughout most of his yearly cycle, taking on slightly different directions depending on which faith was explored at that time:

I somehow ended up finding out about the ritual Liber Resh, written by Aleister Crowley, during my Satanism month (even though Crowley never was a Satanist himself) and it sort of clicked so I adopted it. It was a way for me to stay grounded in my day, and to get in touch with my spirituality. The practice, in its simplest form, is to “greet” the sun and do a short meditation four times of the day, at sunrise, at noon, at sunset and at night. Of course, the poem, incantation or prayer written by Crowley was Pagan in its nature, so I changed it accordingly, to be Christian, Pagan or even Discordian in its nature.

In the shadows [Fredrik Westblom].

In more ways than one, engaging with so many religions, deities, sacred places, essentially being “religiously active” to a degree demanded when taking part in such an experience as the 12-religion challenge, can and does take its toll on a man. On several occasions, anxiety and self-doubt made their unwelcome appearance, jeopardizing the completion of the project before exchanging places with renewed experiences of spiritual serenity. This emotional roller coaster of faith became apparent early on, when researching atheism, Satanism, and Christianity one after the other:

These three paths are probably the ones that clashed the most, which is of course why I had them follow each other but atheism/agnosticism gave me the biggest wake-up call ever. I have always held a belief in the divine, but during this month I seriously questioned that fact and realized that yes, there is a possibility that the divine does not exist. It was a sobering experience. But then, during my Satanism month I felt great! I was so calm, and so secure in myself. That part faded during the later months, and I am working on achieving the same calm again. In the end of the year, I also realized that I was still battling depression from several years back. I am getting help for that now, in the form of therapy, and I truly believe that I could not have discovered the fact without this experiment. In a way, it was the beginning of my healing process.

At the closure of this spiritually-eventful year, Westblom had in actuality achieved much more than simply starting a conversation or fostering the idea of religious tolerance; he, quite literally, put his own soul in the balance and experienced firsthand, and straightforwardly, the countless religious dilemmas the millions of seekers, solitaries, universalists, and others who populate an increasingly-secular Europe and beyond often dread to face.

In the end, despite the numerous ups and downs that came along the way, the outcome of this experiment was mostly positive, both spiritually and mentally. As it turns out, experimenting with 12 spiritual paths over the course of a year did not result in an eureka moment where all of one’s apprehensions and doubts disappear in the face of a single, divine revelation. Rather, it lead to a general feeling of increased connection to the sacred in all of its diverse forms as well as a desire to go further in the search for the gods:

I think that my understanding of the divine has changed, I feel more connected to it now, but I am no more sure about what the divine is than I was before. However, now that I have felt and studied other people’s beliefs and lived their faiths, I feel more connected to them and to it. I truly believe that we are all looking for the same thing, only from different perspectives. As for myself, I actually do not think that I can ever settle down with just one religion. Rather, I will continue searching and exploring religions. I am now planning on doing the traditional “a year and a day” initiation into Wicca and witchcraft, and after that I will probably explore Christianity more thoroughly.

As for the more public side of his project, Westblom, besides being very active on social media throughout his journey (the posts in question can be accessed on Facebook and Instagram through the hashtag #tolvreligionerpåettår -in Swedish-), gathered enough attention that he ended up being interviewed by the national radio channel YLE on no less than three separate occasions. Both on social media and on the waves, the feedback that was received was overwhelmingly positive, something that might possibly indicate that the general public might be slowly warming to a broader and more public expression of religious sentiment. In the long term, a book is also planned (“I think that this very interview might be the start of that”), something that might end up turning into a spiritual journey of an even broader scale and reach, gods willing.

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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.


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