Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Mid-Michigan Interfaith Dialogue Symposium

            On Sunday, April 19th I attended the Mid-Michigan Interfaith organization’s first ever Dialogue Symposium, to which I was invited to present on Wicca. The event was preceded by a Saturday evening dinner for all the presenters and I had a wonderful first meeting with Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, Native Americans and several others. The event was held at the Apple Mountain Resort in Freeland, Michigan, which is rather central to the state’s Tri-cities of Saginaw, Midland and Bay City.  I had been made aware of this event through my new friend Peter, who I met at the NAIN Connect in Detroit last August. Peter represented Congregation T’chiyah, a Reconstructionist and highly inclusive synagogue serving Metro Detroit from its Oak Park location.

            Earlier, after checking into my room at a Sheraton, I had the pleasure of meeting the organizer, Will Westerfield, along with his friend and our Lunch Plenary presenter Lelanda Lee from Colorado, Rev. Mike Weirnick and his husband Joel, all serving in the Episcopal community. We had a thoughtful conversation that included topics of inclusiveness and quantum physics. Lelanda has a distinguished career in the Episcopal Church highlighting women’s issues internationally as well as poverty, social justice, racism, Public Education, criminal justice, immigration and more.
            While Will went ahead to the dinner to meet other arrivals, the four of us drove ourselves there and continued to enjoy conversations that covered various topics. I introduced them to a recently coined term; “ammosexuals”, sometimes used to describe Open Carry advocates by people favoring less of the NRA influence in the US.
            Dinner was splendid, at the conference site, the Apple Mountain Resort, about 12 minutes from the Sheraton. I sat at a table with Mike, as well as David Strand, who presented an Introduction to Bahia Faith the following day, ironically against my own presentation. Others who sat at my table were Dr. Karunakaran, a surgeon who helped found the Hindu Temple of Saginaw, Dr. B.J. Singh, representing Sikhism, as well as their wives and others. There was light talk and several Middle Eastern appetizers before we had seated. I enjoyed a Cobb Salad and rich Lobster Bisque but went light on dessert. David tried to tempt me with his Salted Caramel Ice Cream, to which I had a taste, but otherwise avoided the many incredible offerings available.
The Saturday night dinner with other speakers and presenters
Since we were all co presenters, we all introduced ourselves and talked throughout and after dinner, going nearly 3 hours. I chatted with UU minister Jeff Liebmann and his wife about Pagans and Wiccans who also attend UU services and events. I have also done programs or attended events at the Detroit UU, back in the early ‘90s and was an Ad-Hoc member of the Detroit CUUPs group there.
            Since we had a Noon checkout time and would be at the conference site down the road, my new friends and I decided we would check out and drive separately to the conference and then be able to leave afterwards. I arrived early to find only a small handful of folks, so I was able to relax, enjoy coffee and chat with a couple of attendees. One of the most remarkable things for me, working in Interfaith, is that I don’t have to over explain Wicca or Modern Witchcraft to most folks. Indeed, some were quite knowledgeable themselves and so conversations moved to intermediate points or aspects needing clarification.
            After the introduction to the seminar, I moved to my first workshop, Mysticism across the Traditions, by Dr. Ray Lacina, PHD, a converted Muslim since 1989, who also studies and teaches about mystical principles as they appear in literature across the world. Gentle, thoughtful and provoking, the class used many contemporary and classic works of literature to show the central ‘alikeness’ of the world’s mystic, spiritual and religious thought. Dr. Lacina has worked in local Interfaith, in the Midland, Michigan area since 2001.
            Next up was 5 religiously Diverse Friends Get together and Discuss Evolution, which was about as cool as that sounds. Facilitated by Dr. Jon Cleland Host who is somewhat controversial in the Pagan world (, along with his Catholic, conservative Christian and Humanist friends restage a several year monthly discussion about religious and humanist views of evolution. It was lively and funny and was one of the better examples of people being able to remain friends and colleagues under very different viewpoints and beliefs. In between workshops I did speak with Dr. Host about more Pagan matters including his panel appearances at the last several Pantheacons.
            Then it was time for lunch and the opportunity to attend one of several breakout sessions so I chose the Beijing Platform with Lelanda Lee who gave an excellent presentation with slides, covering her remarkable work with women around the world in various organizations. There was a lot of emphasis on and from Lee’s partners, from across the spectrum of humanity, mostly of color showing the progress that has been made in the last 20 to 25 years but also addressing the concerns of where the work needs to continue and be amplified. Still there was much to celebrate in Lee’s story both personal and vocational. She is truly a great worker for women and their concerns and I found her charming and gracious in our personal conversations. Hope I get to see her again!
            The final session of three breakouts included my own, The Discovery of Witchcraft: An Introduction to Wicca and Modern Witchcraft. Many folks attended one of the other two sessions, especially Native American Healing Practices and other Traditions, hosted by Beatrice Jackson, but I did have an attendance of 2 dozen-30 or so folks. Although I had some technical problems at first, setting up my PowerPoint display, Ray Lacina was very kind to get me through and off I went. Since this was my actual first ‘big’ presentation to a non-Pagan audience I think it went okay. The day in general suffered from some small delays, mostly due to some technical setup issues, but as a first time ever symposium I have to give my best to Will and his staff for an incredible and well down event. I learned a lot and felt truly a peer in the community of Interfaith. So, due to some of the delays I needed to wrap up my presentation a little quickly but still served well.  From my summation,   Most Wiccans, most Pagans do not believe that our ways are suited for many or most people. But we are increasingly more aware of where we do fit in to the modern Paradigm. As we continue to head into more and more uncertain times, working in Interfaith with our spiritual brothers and sisters is the most fitting accomplishment we make for our shared world and ourselves.
            In total, there were 12 breakout sessions including mine with a bit of diversity that included Sikhism, Hinduism, Bahia, and Native American topics and concepts. There was a workshop addressing Christian Exclusivity as well as the Intersection between politics and religion.
            After the final breakouts, which included my own, there was a panel discussion, which I attended. Most of the questions addressed to us were light, though thoughtful and allowed others and me a moment to quip about something fun or happy about our religion or path.
At the panel discussion I'm the third person on the left
A particular line of question drew forth the fact that many modern Pagans don’t have structures they can openly practice with others, actual temples or houses of worship and I felt I was slightly needled by the participant next to me, who, as an aside comment implied that lack of an actual church or whatever meant we weren’t a legitimate practice or belief. But overall the tone was warm and reverent.
            With the breakout sessions and panel concluded there was a prayer service with all presenters on stage. I read the Charge of the Goddess, Silver Ravenwolf’s version, as well as sung a couple of songs, which were accompanied by wonderful performers Benjamin, and Analisa Gauthier ( Then came a wonderful Buffet dinner and a cash bar and other refreshments, followed by a tableside Dessert tray. Over the meal Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf gave the Keynote speech, which comprised many of his experiences as a major proponent of Muslim-Western relations. His career has spanned many years with in Faith and Diplomacy issues, with many awards including Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award (2011) and he was also listed as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world (2011).
Imam FeisalAbdul Rauf delivering the Keynote speech at dinner
            Rather than stay for the final concert performances, which I’m sure were splendid, I did leave after dinner, finishing my good byes and hugs to new friends and beginning the 2-hour drive back home. I really enjoyed my first big presentation and hope I am able to come again for future symposiums.  It has been a great experience to attend this event. With respect, In Her Service, Oberon Osiris.



Friday, March 6, 2015

AAR Annual Meeting - V

November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Three:  Sunday

Passed on these alluring sessions:

   Religion and Roots of Climate Change Skepticism – not a problem amongst any Pagans I’m aware of.  This panel was comprised of “a Christian evangelical climate scientist; a professor of modern Jewish philosophy and rabbinical thought; an historian of science specializing in debates about climate change; and an evangelical leader in the ‘creation care’ movement.

   Religion and Politics Section: “Contraception, Corporations, and Conscience: Evolving Appeals to Religions Liberty in the Context of U.S. Health Care.”  Again, this session was, as one might expect, Abrahamic-centric.  One paper in particular seemed worth hearing: Shannon Dunn on “The End of Religious Liberty? Discriminatory Laws, Religious Rhetoric, and Efforts to Shape the Body Politic.” 

   Critical Approaches to Hip-Hop and Religion Group:  Keepin’ it Real’ to ‘Keepin’ it Right’: Hip-Hop, Representation, and Epistemology.”  Talks included:

o   “’This Dark Diction, Has Become America’s Addiction': Religion, Race, and Hip-Hop in a Neo-Liberal Age”;
o   “Black, White, or Blue? The Indigo Children, Hip Hop, and the Interrogating Assumptions about the Race and Aims of ‘New Agers.’”;
o   “More Than Human: Bataille, Kanye, Eminem, and the Monstrous Quality of the Sacred”;
o   “Appropriation and Appreciation: Hip Hop as a Critical Category in the Study of Indigenous Religious Traditions with Special Attention Paid to Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation.”

I’m always curious about how our Pagan religions intersect with, and are impacted and informed by, contemporary culture.  In addition, I’m currently engaged in a mentoring/initiatory relationship with a young poet who is also a hip-hop artist.

   Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, Gay Men and Religion Group, Lesbian-Feminist Issues in Religion Group, Men, Masculinities, and Religion Group, and Religious Conversation Group: “Evolving or Born This Way: Conversion and Identity.”

*     Hinduism Group and Law, Religion, and Culture Group: “The Politics of Religious Sentiment: Religion and the Indian Public in the Light of the Doniger/Penguin Affair.”  Surely a session for those engaged in religion, politics, and a free press. See comments about Jeffrey Kripal in the Wildcard Session comments here.

   Public Understanding of Religion Committee: “The Doniger Affair: Censorship, Self-Censorship, and the Role of the Academy in the Public Understanding of Religion.”  Because (i) I’m devoted to a Hindu goddess and find that Hindu practice has informed my personal Pagan practice; (ii) a friend was moderating what could have been a contentious debate; (iii) I have read some of Doniger’s work and heard her speak; (iv) I have friends and colleagues in the American Hindu community; (v) I have friends and colleagues on both sides of this issue; and (vi) this impinges on the interfaith movement and interfaith relations, I had thought this was the session I’d be attending in this time slot….  However, I went to:

Contemporary Pagan Studies Group: “New Paganism(s) around the Globe.”   Now we’re cookin’.

Daniela Cordovil: “The Cult of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Gods in Brazilian Wicca: Symbols and Practices.”  Since 2003 when I visited Brazil III Annual Witches Meeting (III EAB - Encontro Anual De Bruxos) in São Paulo, as a guest of Abrawicca (report here), I’ve taken a special interest in Brazilian expressions of Neo-Pagan spirituality, Wicca in particular.  I’d left my notebook in our hotel room when I picked up my companion’s tote, with her permission, I share some of Gwendolyn Reece’s notes. 

According to her notes, Wicca first arose in Brazil in the 1980s, with traditions beginning to manifest in the 1990s, followed by the formation of civil associations such as Abrawicca, the Brazilian Association of Witches (Associa"o Brasileira da Arte e Filosofia da Religi"o Wicca).  (This is where I come in.)  Daniela’s presentation primarily concerned Brazilian Dianic.

The Brazilian Dianic Tradition…organizes two annual meetings… In March…[they] honor the indigenous goddess Cy and in July they honor the Afro-Brazilian (Yorùbá Orisha) goddess Oshun (in Brazil, Ochún or Oxúm).

To me, it is remarkable that these Brazilian Witches are reclaiming their indigenous goddesses and worshipping them in a Wiccan format.  They held workshops discussing such goddesses as Cy (“Mother”), Anhanga, Ceucy, Matinta Pereira, Saci, Curupira, who evidently are no longer worshipped in Brazil except by Witches and possibly other Neo-Pagans.

They performed a ritual circle dance in honor of Coracy, and had an altar honoring Anangha, a god connected with waters, trees, and some animals.  “It was a Wiccan way to connect to Anhanga [and has] nothing that has to do with indigenous patterns.

“At an esbat (esbath) honoring Cy, the goddess’s body at the center of the circle dance is made of nuts, fruits, and legumes.”

They also fashion clay sculptures of Pachamama and leave them in the water.

“They invited a Tembe Indian to talk about Tembe culture, since ‘none of the participants other than the speaker had ever been in an indigenous culture.’”

They also created “an oracle inspired in indigenous symbols – made with indigenous signs.”

Gatherings of BBB (“Brazilian Witches in Brasilia,” the nation’s capitol) take place in July at a private communal farm owned by the high priestess of Brazilian Dianic Tradition, Mavesper Cy Ceridwen.  Almost ten members live there, with about 100 coming for the festivals.  They celebrate in Templo da Deusa (The Goddess Temple).

When Daniela showed her slides, I exclaimed sotto voce, “Oh, that’s Mavesper,” but she heard me, and I think she grew more relaxed and felt more welcome from that point.  It was exciting for me to see my Brazilian friends appear in this study.

Honoring Oshum, the gathering featured:

*     Workshops to earn how to consult the Ifá conch shells;
*     Workshop about myths and histories of Orishas, adapting to Wiccan language, such as linking to Wiccan element constructions;
   Workshop about traditional female societies in Africa – the Geledes Society

Interestingly, the people who were leading some of these workshops had actually been initiated into Candomblé, but left and became Wiccan and have brought some of the traditions and practices from Candomblé.  This is a point of conflict with practitioners of Candomblé since they are using and teaching rites from Candomblé to Wiccans.
They performed an esbath in Honor to Oshum featuring her main symbol of the mirror, and in which they included belly dance along with contemporary music and ritual.  They concluded with the sharing of Omolocum, traditional food prepared to Oshum, eaten with hands as in Afro-Carribean religion.

It would seem that Brazilian Wicca is about as syncretic as a religion can be, rich and diverse like the cultural milieu from which it arose.

Gwendolyn concludes by saying:

Brazilian Wiccan feels free to bring elements of traditional religions, but the indigenous don’t really practice them anymore.  However, the Afro-Brazilian religious tradition has tension – because of appropriation.

Here is an interesting article written by an American Pagan that I found on, but authorship is unattributed.  However, from the context, it would appear to have been written by someone from Reclaiming in Northern California.

* * *

Shai Feraro: “Is There a Future for Neopaganism in the Holy Land?: Past and Present in the Shaping of a Community-Building Discourse among Israeli Pagans, 1998-2013.”  Again, I rely upon Gwendolyn’s note-taking for this summary.  The speaker is a:

“Jewish born Pagan in Israel.  Paganism in Israel is relatively new phenomenon, … [since] the late 1990s.  The internet is largely responsible for the group.  Israeli Pagan Community – a few hundred.  There are probably a few hundred more that do not participate.  So, in this paper, looking at community-building and organizing.

Generally, at the moment, they are staying in the broom closet because …[Israel] is  a Jewish state, including the extreme Orthodox, and because… anti-witchcraft laws are in effect.  There is great concern that the community is too small and too fragile to be able to come out and be public and call themselves a religion and work for their rights.

There was a festival 2011 [mentioned in The Wild Hunt.  I note that Gwendolyn’s notes mention Rena Kessem; she was one of the organizers of this festival, and someone I’ve been in casual communication with Rena for several years.]

In Israeli society Jewish identity is a highly privileged one and if they claim the Pagan identity, they believe that they will probably lose the privilege of being Jewish and it will probably be replaced by negative connotations, including betraying the memory of those who died in the Holocaust.

Within Israel, you can be nonreligious, religious, or spiritual (which is considered to be non-serious – “Jew Age”).  Religious is considered to be Jewish; there is no place for Pagans.  It doesn’t map.

Part of the problem, also, is that the Ultraorthodox Jews tend to control certain aspects of the government.

There is a community leader who escaped from a Hasidic background and is out of the closet both as a witch and gay man and is encouraging others to come out.

Emphasis on the Burning Times tends to lead to secrecy; there is also the burning of the 300 prophets of Baal led by the Prophet Elijah. 

The question is whether there is any kind of fertile ground for rights in Israel.  Israeli Jews tend to hold onto the general theories that the Canaanites who were wiped out by the Israelites is the triumph of monotheism over idolatry.  So, Israeli Pagans are caught in a horrible bind.  If they follow Wicca or Druidism, they are seen as betraying their Jewishness.  If they reconstruct Canaanism, they are seen as bringing back the evil that the Israelites conquered.

* * *

Unfortunately, the final speaker, Dmitry Galtsin of the Library of Russian Academy of Science in St. Petersburg was unable to present his paper on “The Divine Feminine in the Silver Age of Russian Culture and Beyond,” so moderator Chas Clifton read it.  What follows is from Gwendolyn’s notes:

Sophia became an icon of the silver age.  … Sophia is emergent unity,… the world-soul that is being saved and is that essence.  This is totally Hellenistic Gnosticism.  [Gwendolyn’s interpretation, not specifically articulated in the paper] He hasn’t called it that yet, but his description of Sophia is exactly that.

Mystical contact with female – the Sophia.  ….  She speaks mostly of her love for the philosopher. 

So, there are two images – the philosophical and also, however, the erotic lover.  They tend to be the white lily and the red rose.  Trying to reconcile but they have both sides. 

Rosenov  - Diana and Aphrodite – tries to bring the erotic into the Pagan context.  Mostly looking at the near east.  [I find no reference to Rosenov online and don’t remember any more that was said.}

Praises the Mari,…an ethnic group of Russia that maintained Paganism. 

Metashosky blends Paganism and Christianity.  The quote I really like is basically: “What is the difference between father and mother?  Philosophers don’t know, but children do.  Father will punish; Mother will forgive.”

Check back for my next and final report on AAR 2014 that will include information on “Religious Communitarianism, Utopianism, and the ‘Race Problem’ in Nineteenth Century North America” and “The Hidden, Transgressive and Camouflaged in Popular Religion.”

Yours in service to Coventina,
Macha NightMare/Aline O'Brien


Please excuse wonky formatting.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

AAR Annual Meeting - IV

"The Nightmare" by John Henry Fuseli

  November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Two:  Saturday Late Afternoon and Evening

For the 4:00 p.m. session I passed on three others of interest.

Indigenous Religious Traditions focused on “Ritual Objects and Materiality in the Study of Native American Traditions.”  Anthropologists have considered the importance of social and historical context while neglecting physicality and materiality in such circumstances as indigenous rituals “tied to particular places and things in irreducible ways.  Panelists spoke on

·      “Maya Persons, Places, & Things: Relational Theory and Maya Blood Offerings to the Ceiba Tree”;
·      “Ayahuasca as ‘Teacher Plant’: An Ethno-Metaphysics of Santo Daime’s Botanical Sacrament”;
·      “Animacy and Agency in Puppets, Masks, and Other Ritual Objects”;
·      La Vara: Divining Bundle of the Highland May Ritual Specialist”; and
·      “The Way of the Mask: The Intersection of Ritual and Value in Highland Guatemalan Religious Dance Masks.” 

Blood offerings, entheogens/psychotropics, puppets (poppets?), masks – just some of the less conventional sacred technologies that we Pagans often employ.

Ritual Studies Group: “Ritual Assembly and the Dynamics of Democracy.”  This panel offered five different ways in which ritual acts and performances reveal and mobilize culture resources and initiate changes to establish new conditions for democratization processes. …[P]eople entering ritual activities establish new conditions and forms of social and political engagement, and … how they are continuously renegotiating social identities.  …[R]ituals significantly impact democratic processes, both in reshaping society and providing the grounds for responding to local and global crises.  Thus ritual is not just the outcome of social construction, but serves as a precondition for the construction and transformation of society.”

As a ritualist myself, I do see ritual as a vehicle of social change (not necessarily with respect to democracy).  The cultures from which these papers were drawn include, among others, Hong Kong, rural Uttar Pradesh, Norway, and Turkey.

Tantric Studies Group: “Out for Blood: Sacrifice, Tantra, and Normative Hinduism.”  “Taking animal sacrifice as the quintessential pubic marker of Shakta Tantra in much of South Asia, this panel examines how historical, regional, practical, and economic contexts have shaped the ways various traditions … relate the theory and practice of blood offerings to mainstream brahmanical Hinduism…case studies detail some of the social effects and rhetorical uses of … sacrifices within Tantra and Shaktism…while particularizing our understanding of how these categories relate to other comparatively peripheral formations including folk and tribal religions.  Taken together, these papers highlight the role of sacrifice as a flashpoint for divergent articulation and valuations of Hinduism’s center and its frontiers.”  [emphasis added]  Could you not change a few words and apply this statement to contemporary Paganism?  Given much discussion of animal sacrifice in the Neo-Pagan world, it would seem we might have something to learn from these traditions.

One paper in particular, “Blood in the Mainstream: Kali Puja and Tantric Orthodox in Early Modern Bengal,” intrigued me because I am a devotee of Ma Kali.  I perform Kali puja at the New Moon at a local store before altar in a temporary temple.  The pujaris (priest/esses) who conduct the ceremonies I attend are trained at Dakshineshwar, and the kirtan singers and musicians are mainly Indian rather than Euro-Americans, though I’ve seen no evidence of blood sacrifice, and suspect that most attendees are vegetarians.

When I ran into Steve Wehmeyer on Friday, he said he’d come to substitute for his wife, Kerry Noonan, to chair a wildcard session that he raved would be my best option among all these tempting sessions.  So that’s where I went.

* * * * *

Wildcard Session:  Contemporary Scholars, Contemporary People, and Belief in Spirits: Folklore, Religion and the Supernatural.”  

We met in a moderate-sized room, and there were folks sitting on the floor and hanging in the doorway.  This panel could easily have filled a larger meeting space.  This, to me, indicates a growing interest in exploring these phenomena, and comparing them with our own personal experiences.  Perhaps ‘religious scholarship meets UPGs (unverified personal gnosis).’

Robert Glenn Howard, from the University of Wisconsin spoke on “Hoarding the Spirit: Discourse Approach to Folklore of the Supernatural.”   He explained that discourse analysis accepts the experience of the spiritual being as real at the level of experience.  The vernacular authority, on the other hand, is “an appeal to trust in what is handed down outside of any formally instituted social formation.”  He cited Don Yoder’s definition of folk religion, that folk religion is separate from but not necessarily in opposition to or replacement of official religion.[1]

As I mentioned above, I am a Kali worshipper, so I was familiar with the next panelist, Jeffrey Kripal , from his controversial book Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna.  I also heard him speak on a panel on North American Hinduism at the AAR in San Francisco in 2011. 

At this session, Dr. Kripal gave something of a fan’s appreciation entitled “Comparativism Unbound: The life and Work of David Hufford.”  It seems that Dr. Hufford has been Dr. Kripal’s mentor for most of his professional life, and from what we saw and heard, this relationship proved beneficial to religious scholarship. 

He described what he calls ‘supernatural assault phenomena,’ also known as ‘sleep paralysis’ or ‘Old Hag Syndrome.’   These phenomena are called by many terms and found throughout the world.  Described as an experience that occurs when one is awake, lying supine, and experiences physical paralysis, fear, the sense that someone is in the room, someone is on one’s chest.  An ‘old hag attack may be accompanied by the sound of footsteps, very soft, wearing no shoes.  This is the source of such phrases as “hag-ridden” and “haggard.” 

Dr. Hufford’s research centered in Newfoundland, where the included his own experience plus cross-cultural subjects.  He “found that these assaults are not associated with any anthropological variable. … People are being perfectly rational when they are reporting them.”[2] 

“Sleep paralysis does not seem to be causal.  It is more like the metaphor: the sun must go down for us to see the stars.  Night is a condition for us to see the stars but they do not cause the stars.” [3] 

David J. Hufford, from Penn State-Hershey and currently working with the Samueli Institute exploring the science of health presented a talk entitled “The Experience-Centered Approach to Spiritual Belief: Understanding the Persistent Enchantment of Modernity” immediately after Dr. Kripal.

Wow, this talk was even more fascinating than the two previous talks!  Gwendolyn took lots of notes, not especially easy for this reader to interpret, because we all have our own shorthands in note-taking.  Rather than incorporating her notes here, I’ll simply note a couple of things that impressed me most. 
Francisco Goya "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters"

Dr. Hufford cited Francisco Goya’s 1799 etching called “The Sleep of Reason Produces
Monsters,” which I include here because, as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

He has also published what appears to be a fascinating study, The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions.   I recommended Hubbard’s book to my friend Megory Anderson, thinking it might prove germane to her work with the dying.  .  Further, Dr. Hufford's work at the Samueli Institute benefits veterans who return from the front with hidden injuries.

Our own Sabina Magglioco provided the response to the panelists, wearing her super-cool magical coat. 

* * * * *
Pagan Studies Dinner

Finally, on Saturday evening the Pagan scholars and other Pagans in attendance met for a dinner filled with lively chat and warm camaraderie.  This dinner is one of the few opportunities for all of us to see one another, since the Annual Meeting itself is vast and varied, and chances of our crossing paths are limited.

Yours in service to Coventina,
Macha NightMare/Aline O'Brien

[1]   Thanks to Gwendolyn Reece for sharing some of her notes on these sessions.

[2]    Gwendolyn Reece.

[3]    Gwendolyn Reece.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King in Detroit

            Dearborn Heights, Metro Detroit, Michigan. Members, associates and friends of the Dearborn Area Interfaith Network, DAIN,
DAIN - Dearborn Area Interfaith Network
presented their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Observance, “Building the Beloved Community”. The event was held at the Islamic House of Wisdom, IHW, who also filmed the event for YouTube ( The event gathered about 400 people, including a number of local officials. Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly was present and gave a brief welcome. Debbie Dingell, recently elected 12th District Congresswoman, succeeding her husband, John Dingell, the longest serving member of the US House of Representatives was also present and recited a passage from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as did other guests.
            This was the 10th annual event by DAIN, held for the first time ever at a mosque. DAIN committee member Imam Elahi, hosted the event at his mosque, the Islamic House of Wisdom. Although a new member of DAIN and new to Interfaith I was honored to be among the speakers, reading a prayer for Peace and Harmony from “Goddess Bless!” by Sirona Knight (about 38 minutes into the program, on the youtube above).  Later I also read, along with fellow committee member Regina, quotes from Dr. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”.
Oberon reading the alternative, Goddess prayer

Regina and Oberon reading from "A Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

            Regina also introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. James Perkinson, who spoke for about 25 minutes.  Dr. Perkinson, author of White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity and other books is a professor of Ethics and Systematic Theology at Ecumenical Theological Seminary. Dr. Perkinson’s speech tied a number of threads from Social Justice matters, such as Civil Rights, Ferguson, Police Violence, Inequality, and Global Warming to a solid message encouraging and demanding participation from everyone in the fight for justice.
Dr. Perkinson delivers the keynote speech`
            The observance featured a number of musical selections from the Henry Ford College Choir, including “We Shall Overcome” as their final selection, which most of the audience sang too. Other selections included “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “O For a World”. For the special offering, nearly $900 was raised for the Lebanese American Heritage Project, which provides services for low-income Lebanese American children and seniors.  Dr. Tallal Turfe, long-time activist and humanitarian, presented a “Muslim perspective on Dr. King’s Life and Legacy”.
DAIN committee members, Lila, Fran, Oberon and Regina, in front of the Remember Me Quilts
            Afterwards, for the reception, the friendly staff at the House of Wisdom served a pleasant, light meal that included a Mediterranean style lentil soup and salad, as well as breads and sweet pastries. During the reception, Sandy North, Coordinator of Remember Me Quilt Project, spoke near the display of quilts her group brings to many Interfaith events in Detroit and Michigan. The quilts display the innocent victims of gun violence, a cause very dear to the Project’s heart. She invites the audience to participate in the quilt project by submitting their own dead family or friends of gun violence. As long as the victim was not a felon, or a gang member, they are welcome to be remembered on one of their quilts. If the Remember Me Quilt Project has their way, they would like more cities, towns and states to adopt the message and display victims of gun violence on their own quilts. Although this project has been around several years, in the aftermath of Ferguson, it not only takes on greater meaning but also asks all of us to go deeper and question the value of life. Not just all lives, but especially those who are most at risk.
           The message of Interfaith In Detroit, on Martin Luther King Day is to honor his message and to continue to speak truth to power.  As Witches, we not only honor all life, as we are called to serve the Goddess, but to strive to protect those lives that are endangered. In the Detroit Interfaith community, it is a given that #Blacklivesmatter.

Alan Toubeaux, aka Oberon Osiris
In Service to the Covenant of the Goddess

Saturday, January 24, 2015

North American Interfaith Network meeting in Canada

As some of you may now be aware, I traveled to Canada for a board meeting of the North American Interfaith Network combined with a site visit for the next NAIN Connect to be held in Regina Canada at the Luther College, a part of the University of Regina, Saskatchewan. eh? (See picture)

Originally I had been told that I could expect the weather to be between 30 and 50 below zero for my trip and I planned accordingly, packing my battery operated heavy socks, and knitting myself a set of heavy fingerless mittens to go under heavier gloves. I had discovered in my youth that if I could keep my feet, head, and hands warm, the rest of me would follow so long as I dressed reasonably for the weather. I was actually looking forward to experiencing this type of cold as I had never before had the opportunity to do so having lived in California most of my life.

Early on the morning of my travel I therefore dressed in my thermals, heavy jeans, long sleeved shirt and over sweater and…of course, my battery operated socks sans batteries. I also wore my crocks as they are very easy to slip off and on, figuring that I could add batteries, and heavier boots once in Regina. BIG Mistake!

I was certain that I had packed everything that might even cause a hiccup in my check-in, carrying only my backpack/roller board. Once I walked through the detector however, I discovered what I had failed to take into consideration…my socks had wires. When I realized what was troubling them I told them what I was wearing and even pulled up my pants leg to show them. Nothing doing. Apparently no one in the airport had ever heard of electric socks. I was made to take them off and they (the socks), and I were tested for gun powder residue and other explosive chemicals and then they were run back through the machine; though to tell you the truth I have no idea what they thought to find as you can clearly see the sleeve for the wires and feel them anyway. They were so befuddled by the entire thing that they finally had to call the head of security over to once again test them. You know, I think that even a middle school student knows that you have to complete an electrical circuit for it to be in any way dangerous. THERE WERE NO BATTERIES IN THE SOCKS! Scheeze! Finally they determined that, as there were no batteries in the socks (duh…) and I had none with me it must be safe to let me through. Really? I could have bought batteries in three of the stores inside. I am so glad that I allowed an extra hour for check in.

Fortunately the rest of the trip went more smoothly and I reached Regina airport in the evening around seven only to discover that it was closer to thirty-two degrees and I didn’t even need to change out of my crocks (or put batteries in those deadly socks) to still be comfortable. I told our driver that she was great and that CoG should make her an honorary “Weather Witch” for doing such a fine job of calling in the Chinook that so drastically changed the weather, which she insisted that the committee had done just for us. After meeting up for dinner our tour guide and wonderful hostess took us to our hotel where we wasted no time in turning in.

Our same guide, Brenda Anderson, came by at 0830 hours the next morning and scooped us up for the board meeting and a site tour of the Campus. I am the internal communications chair and had made sure to bring my computer and external cameras and mics for connecting our distance board members as needed, to the meeting. I was delighted to discover that every room had 54” monitors along with full connections to a computer and that I was able simply to open Skype on their equipment, log in and call folks without ever having to set up my own equipment. As an interesting side note for the more conspiracy minded of you, the technician who helped set everything up happened to work for the Canadian equivalent of the CIA… He was such a nice young man, very helpful in making certain that all of my wires were properly connected…hum… We did have a bit of a problem with mic volume that our youngest board member handled with efficiency.
Drea adjusting the Mic.
We worked through with only a break for lunch (at a typical college dormitory cafeteria, boy have my tastes changed!) until after 1700 in the evening but felt that it was a very productive day. We then went to dinner at a great, if a bit slow, place where I was seated next to the dean of the college. Great conversation and food was had by all. This is the picture that Greg posted while I was gone.

The next day saw us hard at work finishing up the agenda and being shown the web page for the Connect which had just that afternoon been put up. I am sooo excited about this connect, and I cannot encourage you each enough to save pennies, and go go go. They are having academic workshops in the morning, experiential workshops in the afternoons and then listening groups during the last part of the day to allow small groups of folks to share with one another what they had gained from the day. These “listening groups” will remain the same throughout the conference. Check out the schedule which will populate as proposals come in. You’d never guess that this is being both sponsored and produced by academia would you?

We left the campus at 1230 hours for the return home which, for me, was without major difficulties (possibly because I left my socks in the check-in). The one problem that I had was that I figured that I would eat something at the airport as I had two long patches of waiting, (having experienced the student cafeteria once already) but there were no restaurants on my side of the security check in any of the airports I was at. I ended up ordering nachos at a bar and this is what I got. Who knew there was a kit for nachos? I took a pass. We in California take our Mexican food somewhat more seriously.

In Calgary I was told that I should pick up my bag on the other side of US customs, but once there discovered that I should have picked it up on the Canadian side and dropped it off on the US side. The Federal Customs agents thought that this was very funny and gave both me and the poor girl pushing the wheel chair all kinds of grief (in good fun) finally taking and holding my passport until we got back. I then had to sit and wait three hours to board a flight for the final leg of the trip home, staring at a full service restaurant on the other side of a very thick glass for the entire time.

The worst part of the trip home was that United did not meet me at the gate with a chair and I ended up having to walk almost half a mile around construction and other obstacles just to get to my bags. I then discovered that I had to walk to the Bay Area Rapid Transit that would take me home as none of the elevators went to the third floor to catch the “sky tram” in the part of the airport that I was in. I ended up walking a bit over a mile. Fortunately my suitcase has wheels but was none the less very hard to schlep by the time I was bent over from the pain in my back. My loving husband had dinner ready when I got home and between that and some really good drugs, I was feeling much better by bed time.

One interesting part of the trip is that there is a First Nations College on the University Campus, (which you can readily identify from the overhead picture of the campus, as it is the only building without corners) and that Brenda is very active, as a professor of Women’s studies, in the problems that Canada is having with First Nations women being murdered and disappearing right off of city streets in broad daylight. We chatted every chance we got about the issues of the Tar Sands, Indigenous rights and education, and the effects of Colonialism on the First Nations people. It is hard to imagine how much this colonialism still plays a part in the politics of civil rights for the First people of the land.

I was invited to represent the Wiccan voice in a panel on Women’s issues in the religious forum for one of the plenaries and also asked to do what they call an experiential work shop on the differences in types of communication in meeting with one another and decision making. Should be quite interesting. I did accept for both of them.

I am sorry that there are not more pictures but I was very busy at this meeting. As Greg will be with me at the Connect, I trust that we will be able to present a better photo essay next summer.

In Her Service and Yours,

R Watcher, National Interfaith Representative

Thursday, January 15, 2015

AAR Annual Meeting - III

Site of Riddu Riddu

November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Two:  Saturday Afternoon

After lunch I duly went to the joint session of “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”

No regrets, but to do this I had to pass on three other sections scheduled at the same time slot:
  • I    Tantric Studies Group on “Funerary Practices in Tantric Tradition,” Featuring “Saving the Unfortunate: A Tantric Rite to Rescue the Dead,” Necorliberation in Early Sakyapa Funerary Manuals,” and The Five-Element Pagoda, the Mantra of Light, and the Six Paths: Tantric Elements in Medieval Japanese Funerary Practice.”  As someone interested in both death and dying and rites of passage and other rituals, including the employment of bricolage within them,[1] I’m drawn to these types of presentation on the rare occasions they can be found. 
  • I    Religion and the Social Sciences Section, Religious Conversions Group, Secularism and Secularity Group, and Sociology of Religion Group, on “The Shifting Boundaries of the Secular, Spiritual, and Religious.” This is another area of culture that I as a Pagan feel worthy of exploration, since we seem to be expanding in numbers, and even in diversity, as well as our having a face in the interfaith/multifaith movement for social change and social justice.

The panel brought together “papers exploring the fluid, antagonistic, and overlapping boundaries of the secular, spiritual and religious…how various across draw these boundaries differently be relying on multiple understandings of the religious and the secular and by creating hybrid identities that cut across religions traditions or the secular/religious divide.”

Again, as a Pagan who has always considered her religion to call for efforts at social justice and political change, this panel called to me.

Such papers as “Switching, Mixing, and Matching: Towards an Understanding of Multireligiousness in Contemporary America” and “Qualitative Research on Spiritual but Not Religious ‘Nones’: Heterogeneous yet Conceptually Converging,” seemed that they would have addressed some of the attitudes I’ve encountered frequently in my interfaith activities. 
  • I    Body and Religion Group on “Fragmented and Digitized Bodies,” chaired by my friend Shaun Arthur, and including papers on ”The Fragmented Body: Alternative Cinematic Visions,” Discerning the Body in Cyberspace: Jaron Lanier, Merleau-Ponty, and Contested Personhood” – this seems very relevant to the presence and personalities of Paganisms online, as distinct from those in terraspace, a subject I touched in in my book Witchcraft and the Web: Creating Pagan Traditions Online   --
  • I    Native Traditions in the Americas Group on “Native Traditions, Food, and Environmental Change: Restoring Right Relationships”  “Plants and animals are an essential part of the complex relationships that are central to the religious frameworks of indigenous peoples…” From four different bioregions of North America, papers address the relationships between Native traditions, food and the environment “as expressed through sacred narratives, teachings about reciprocity, responsibility, and respect, traditional stories, ceremonies and rituals, and songs.  Climate change, human manipulation of the environment, and the loss of traditional knowledge through government intervention are some of the ways these relationships have been altered, yet found within traditional knowledge are ways to restore these relationships. …presentations explore… different yet complimentary examples of indigenous peoples turning to their religious traditions to restore right relationships with food in the face of colonial legacies and climate change.”  Here’s a list of the juicy-sounding papers in this session:  “Restoring Himdag: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Tohono O’odham,” “Of Coyotes and Culverts: Tribal Salmon Preservation in the Pacific Northwest,” “How Traditional Storytelling and Activities Help Make the Anishinaabeg Defenders of the Earth: A Case Study of Making Maple Syrup,” and “The Nature of Food: Dene Approaches to Caribou Hunting.”  Isn’t it obvious how appealing these talks would be to a contemporary American Pagan whose existence, like the existence of all life as we know it, depends upon right relationship with our environment and food sources?
  • I    New Religious Movements Group.  The five best paper proposals received in 2014; papers included: 
  • o   Massimo Introvigne on “Painting the Southern Border: New Religions, the Mexican Revolution, and the Visual Arts”;
  • o   Stephanie Yuhas on “The Relationship of Dark Green Religion to the Spiritual But Not Religious Movement”’ – definitely Pagan flavored.
  • o   Erin Prophet on “California Science Fiction, Atlantis, and New Age Apocalypticism: The Constructino and Influence of Frederick S. Oliver’s Dweller on Two Planets by Phylos the Thibetan”;
  • o   Shannon Trosper Schorey: “’The Internet Is Holy.  Code Is Law’: New Religions and Sacral Materiality at the Intersections of Technology and Policy”; and
  • o   Donald Westbrook on “’A People’s History’ of the Church of Scientology: Conclusions from Ethnographic Research in the United States.”
Here’s the session I went to:  “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”

Ronald Grimes
Arrived to greet several Pagan scholar pals, only to see someone who’s a rock star in my world, Ronald Grimes, now retired professor of Ritual Studies.  I’ve heard him speak at past Ritual Studies Sections of the AAR.  I’ve read several of his books, and require students to read them when I have the opportunity to teach ritual theory and liturgical design.  In particular, Rite out of Place: Ritual, Media, and the Arts, and Deeply into the Bone: Re-inventing Rites of Passage.  So, feeling emboldened, I went up to him and told him I’d been worshipping him from afar for years, I loved his work, and I used it in teaching.  I actually told him he was a rock star in my world.  After all, we’re both of an age (the same age) and I have nothing to prove one way or another, so appearing like a teeny-bopper fan girl didn’t concern me.  It needn’t have anyway, because I found him to be a lovely fellow.  He immediately invited me to sit next to him during the session, which I did.  Unfortunately, I seem never to remember to take photos, so I blew the opportunity to be in a shot with him.  Oh, well…

I was disappointed that Donna Seamone was unable to present her paper, “’The Path Has a Mind of Its Own’: Eco-Agri-Pilgrimage to the Corn Maze Performance – an Exercise of Cross-Species Sociality.”

Folklorist Sabina Magliocco spoke on “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Animal Spirits in Contemporary Pagan Religions.”

* * *

Samuel Etikpal, from the University of Oslo, spoke on “Transition Concepts in Ghanaian Festival Performance,” specifically the annual Kundum Festival, “during which diverse participants ritually express their conceptions of and wishes for a health environment, spiritual protection, and socio-economic prosperity, bringing into play those other-than-human agencies expected to uphold or oppose these goals.”

First recorded by a Dutch trader around 1704, the festival takes place in the Jomoro DistrictWith drumming, a canoe regatta, the pouring of libations, the eating of special foods, for eight days or longer the people seek to honor their ancestors and elders, and to ensure good health and abundant crops.  In rituals involving communication between humans and non-humans, they appeal for protection.  They honor a “God creator” and Mother Earth Yaba. 

Earth Mother Yaba
 Local river goddesses are also honored, for they are seen as good mothers, providing a place for swimming, an artery for traveling, and fish for eating.  Today these rivers are threatened by oil drilling -- all the more reason to employ any and all means of restoring balance and repairing damage caused by human activity.

Samuel also showed some photos of a Kundum Festival held annually in Atlanta, Georgia.  He has not attended the one in the U.S.; rather, a friend sent him these photos.  Since, he’d emphasized the rituals honoring the local river goddess in Jomoro, I asked him if the festival in Atlanta connected to the Chattahoochee River in any way, but he wasn’t certain it did and suspected it did not.

* * *

Sami Flag by Jeltz
I found fascinating Graham Harvey’s paper, “Indigenous Cultural Events, Sovereignty, and Inter-Species Relations,” about the Riddu Riđđu Festival he attended last Summer.  Held in ‘the land of the midnight sun’ at a time of year when the sun is visible round the clock, the festival, Sami in origin, is described as “an international indigenous festival, which annually takes place in Kåfjord in Norway.  The festival has programs for the whole family. The program includes worldwide indigenous music, art, theater and dance, youth camps with artistic and political workshops, children's festival, seminars, film and literature.” 

They begin with a traditional greeting:

From our rivers to your rivers,
From our mountains to your mountains,
Form our people to your people.

Riddu Riđđu does not encourage travelers from afar because it discourages anything that increases one’s carbon footprint, which air travel obviously does; they nevertheless do welcome other indigenous peoples.  This particular year Maori people from New Zealand were among the participants.

Ándy Somby yoiking
Singers perform traditional Sami joiking, a personal and evocative vocalization in which the singer “sings” or “becomes” persons, animals, and landscapes.

In semi-underground lodges and outdoors they perform rituals around speaking to the food (meat and plants) when dining.  They emphasize inter-species communication.  They ask not “What do you believe?”  Rather, they ask “What do you eat?” or “Whom do you eat?”

Just as the health of the rivers of Ghana (and elsewhere) is threatened by oil drilling, so too is the health of the rivers in the circumpolar regions.  As Earth’s atmosphere heats and glaciers melt, at temperatures of 30º F. and higher in the arctic summer, rivers flood, resulting in the inability of trout to swim upstream to reproduce because the rushing water is too strong and too cold.

More to come.

Yours in service to Coventina,
Macha (Aline O'Brien)

[Apologies for funky formatting.]

[1]   I realize this treads closely to cultural appropriation.  I live in a multicultural society.