Thursday, September 26, 2013

San Diego Pagan Pride Day 2013

Jo-Ann, our black Labrador retriever Anubis and I attended the eleventh annual San Diego Pagan Pride Day (PPD) on Saturday September 14, 2013.
Hope and Karen

The event was put on by basically the same management crew as last year’s – President Hope Macdonald, Vice President Nancy Adams-Campbell, Secretary Etheria (Dee) Celestin, Treasurer Karen Miller, and Board Liaison Aimee Dunham. The weather was nice and sunny, and so many locals took full advantage of it, enjoying the music, workshops and stalls.
There have been a couple of changes to the setup in the last couple of years. In 2012, the stage area for performers was moved from the South end, where it was exposed to the sun and required a canopy, to the North end, in cool shade provided by some of the many trees in the park. This change worked well, and I was pleased to see that the same stage location was used again. In previous years, the event had four workshop areas which were covered by canopies, located 30 or more feet away from the vendor stalls. In 2012, the four workshop areas were covered by canopies, but were interspersed between the vendor stalls. I felt that having people walking past the workshop areas and chatting as they moved between vendor stalls was a little distracting for those involved in the workshops. Fortunately this idea was scrapped and the workshop areas were again located away from the vendor stalls.
Jo-Ann and I were running late, and so unfortunately missed the Opening Ritual, which was a Druid ceremony presented by Coast Oak Grove, ADF, celebrating the unity of San Diego’s Pagan Community for PPD.
We also missed musician Eben Brooks who performs original and folk songs on a variety of topics, such as cyberpunk, magic, Buddhism, literature, gaming, comic books, eldritch horror, science fiction television shows, human existence, love, death, hostile workplaces, and the dangers of teleportation.
As is the case every year, the organizers of San Diego PPD organized an authors’ table with a canopy over it. It’s wonderful knowing that every year we can count on having a home base at which we can escape the heat to sit and display our books and CDs.

11 am time slot

Jo-Ann and Don
We arrived halfway through the 11am to 12 noon slot, which was just in time to find internationally renowned author Donald Michael Kraig presenting Real Tantra. Don explains that Tantra is an entire way of life with holidays, deities, celebrations and belief that the world is a wonderful place and full of joy. Tantra reveals why our world does not always seem joyous and what we can do to make the blissful world obvious. He equates Tantra in the East with Wicca in the West, as both are systems which see the world as a great place to be. Don has been initiated into four Tantric traditions and holds a parampara, the right to initiate, in one of them.
Liz and Birgit
In the area adjacent to Don, Liz Ashmead and Birgit Knorr of Kindred of the Northern Hammer presented Intro to Runes which was an introduction to the 24-rune Elder Futhark, its order and structure, the rune meanings, and how they can be used for divination and practical magic. Scheduled at the same time, but finishing early, Kindred of the Northern Hammer also presented Intro to Asatru which discussed its gods, philosophy and way of life.
Scynthia of the Rosewood Coven presented Bare Bone Ritual Writing 101 which covered the bare bones and formats for writing public rituals.
Rev Grace Reinhardt presented Pagan Prison Chaplaincy where she discussed the work done by Congressional Reformed Oracular Wicca (CROW) Chaplaincy ministers to communities in the penal system, hospice, and other ‘in need’ sections of society.
While these workshops were taking place, on the main stage we were treated to Inara, who started belly dancing when she was 8 and began dancing professionally when she was 19. She has performed extensively, and her dance styles include traditional belly dance, cabaret and tribal styles of belly dance.
As is evident, there was a lot going on at this timeslot, and it making a choice was difficult, given all the options available.

Noon time slot

Tagh, Beth, Griffin Ced, Mark
The Mid-Day Ritual, “Honoring of community,” was presented by Griffin Ced of The Green Man Store. It was well attended as always.

1 pm time slot

The 1pm slot was very busy, with a number of workshops to choose from.
Drea Taylor of Coast Oak Grove presented Women in Druidry: Past and Present where she explored the roles of women in Celtic cultures – as keepers of the hearth, training young warriors, spiritual leaders, and defending their clans. She then discussed contemporary roles for women in Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF).
Briana, John and Tony
Briana Taylor presented Essential Oil Safety in which she discussed safety and clinical usage information for common essential oils.
I presented Empowerment: Ideas from the Ancient Egyptians where I noted that the ancient Egyptians were renowned as being very powerful magickians, and I looked for clues within their society’s code of behavior which assured them of a successful afterlife. Their code involved aspiring to a state of balance through having a proper relationship with the divine and with humanity, as well as an awareness of their rights and responsibilities towards animals and the environment. I suggested that empowerment would come about from finding such a balance point.
David and Tommie
Tommie StarChild, a priest of the Anderson Feri Mystery Tradition and a Reiki master presented Building relationship with Ma Kali. Tommie discussed his personal experience of working with Kali, Mother of All. He talked about connecting with Ma, and developing a personal practice with Ma Kali. He discussed non-tradition based approaches to working with deities, and Kali Herself.
Rev Grace Reinhardt presented The Red Tent Movement where attendees meet to be women, to heal women, to love women, and to express themselves as women. She discussed the origins and future directions of the movement in San Diego.

2 pm time slot

Threshold: Jules and Edwin
The 2pm slot was also very busy, with a number of workshops and a performance to choose from.
Threshold, consisting of singer Jules and guitarist Edwin, performed original and cover songs ranging from styles of Blues, R&B, NeoSoul, Classic Rock, Celtic, Middle Eastern and Flamenco.
Covenant of the Goddess (COG) presented Intro to Aura Work. Through simple guided meditations, people can become sensitized to their own aura, their personal energy, and in working with it can develop stronger magical skills.
Sandra Urias presented Raising Magickal Energy Using Movement, where she discussed postures and movement that can be used to increase personal magickal energy for spellwork. In addition to dance, other techniques were presented that are just as powerful and can be used by those of limited mobility.
Peter and Jo-Ann
Peter Paddon, Magister of the Y Ffordd Wen Tradition of Witchcraft, owner of Pendraig Publishing, author and host of the popular Crooked Path Pagan Podcast, presented Visceral Magick. This was an in-depth workshop to explore the visceral experiences that lead to the union of magickal and mundane, and the techniques to trigger those experiences, resulting in magick that is physical, manifest, and potent. These experiences and techniques empower any tradition. Peter explored both ancient and modern techniques and experiences, using the framework of the Cauldrons of Poesy.
Sarah, Marcus and Lisa 
Lisa Nelson, The Crafty Maiden, presented Make your own dream catcher (Child Friendly) which was a workshop for children from 8 to 17. She taught kids the usefulness of dream catchers while they constructed their own to take home.
Grace Reinhardt presented Medicine Cabinet Makeover where she discussed the use of certified therapeutic grade doTERRA essential oils to to take control of your health.

3 pm time slot

The Closing Ritual was facilitated by The Crafty Maiden (Lisa Nelson). The closing ritual was based on what it means to have Pagan Pride, and the importance of having and maintaining a pagan community and that we are all brothers and sisters united under the Goddess and God, regardless of the chosen form of worship. It also stressed the importance of forgiving, forgetting and moving on so the community can grow and stay close knit.

4 pm time slot

The day ended with a raffle, at which Jo-Ann and I didn’t win anything, which was a shame given how nice some of the prizes were. As always we had a wonderful time and are already looking forward to next year’s San Diego Pagan Pride Day

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Inner Temple’s Into the Green 2013

Friday - May 3rd
My wife, Jo-Ann and I, accompanied by our black Labrador retriever Anubis, attended The Inner Temple’s Into the Green 2013 from Friday May 3rd to Sunday May 5th. This event was a Beltane celebration, which meant a springtime festival of fertility rituals. It was held at the same venue as last year’s Into the Green 2012, a private retreat in Simi Valley, California.
We were very fortunate to have the same room in the onsite cottage that we had last year. We shared the cottage with fellow presenters, Patrick McCollum and Orion Foxwood, which made for hilarity and mayhem. There was no shortage of visitors either, so the dynamic kept changing.
Peter Valentino
This event, however, was very different from previous ones, as it was incorporated into a documentary film that will truly represent Beltane and the Rites of Spring as they were observed in the British Isles and the reclaiming of those traditions by Neo-pagans. The film maker was Peter Valentino. Peter has many years of experience working in the entertainment industry as an actor, musician, voice coach, scene study instructor for actors, director and documentary maker.
Three presentations were planned, all to be in a panel format, one on each day of the event. British traditions are outside my area of expertise, but I was happy to spend a couple of weeks researching the topic in order to contribute.
And so it was that I found myself scheduled to share three panels with three guys who I respect and look up to, and love like brothers — Patrick McCollum, Orion Foxwood and Dr Joe Futerman. I felt honoured and privileged. As a bonus, the workshop area was an air-conditioned glass house which meant that we would be protected from the elements.
A bit of background information would seem to be in order.
Patrick McCollum is an internationally recognized spiritual leader in the Pagan/Earth-Based religions whose work toward human rights, social justice, and equality for all religions and spiritual traditions, transcends cultural, religious, and political barriers. Patrick is the 2010 recipient of the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Pluralism. His spiritual work focuses on seeing the sacred within each and every human being and bringing together people of all spiritual paths to work together toward global sustainability and world peace. He accomplishes this through his involvement with many different organizations including as International Interfaith Coordinator for Circle Sanctuary.
Orion Foxwood was born with “the veil” (an Appalachian term for second sight), and is a Conjurer in Southern Root Doctoring Practices, a Traditional Witch, an Alexandrian Wiccan High Priest, an Elder and Mantle Carrier for an Old Religionist Craft Line, and a Faery Seer. He is the co-founder of the House of Brigh, and co-organizer for the Folk Magic Festival in New Orleans. For more than twenty years, Orion has lectured extensively on magical practice and spiritual development throughout the United States and abroad.
Dr Joseph Futerman has a PhD in clinical psychology with an emphasis is Jungian depth psychology, a master’s degree in clinical psychology with an emphasis in Family Therapy and a bachelor’s Degree in Media Criticism and is licensed by the State of California as Marriage and Family Therapist. He is also a certified neuro-linguistic programming practitioner and hypnotherapist. He is the associate chair of the Marriage and Family Therapy Department at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. He is also an adept of the Golden Dawn Tradition, a founding member of the Fellowship of the Gods, and the Kaotic Order of Adventurers, Seekers and Sorcerers, as well as the leader of the Magus Project. Joseph is currently working on a book titled Descartes’ Depression and the Rise of Rationalism.

Orion, Patrick & Tony
The very first presentation of the event was to be a 7:00 pm panel with Patrick, Orion, Joe and myself on “Beltane Traditions and the Magick of Guising.” Joe unfortunately was sick and missed this panel. I discussed the history of Beltane fires going back to at least the 9th century, which is the only demonstrably ancient component of Beltane celebrations. I then moved on to Morris Dancing and Mummer's Plays, where the mummer, or guiser, dons an elaborate mask. Patrick and Orion provided copious illustrations from their own traditions. While we covered a lot of relevant material, it felt a little disjointed (maybe it was just me).
Chris, Karin & Hauk
Next up was a delicious potluck supper with Hauk, Southern California's favorite Heathen metal band, playing an acoustic set. There were also displays of fire dancing.
Orion and Lady Oxannamoon presented the “Opening Ceremony: The Lighting of the Ancestral Fire.” Lady Oxannamoon is a second generation witch, raised in an eclectic Shamanic tradition, a spiritual counselor and healer, a published author, an ordained minister, the founder and High Priestess of The Inner Temple, and has been teaching, lecturing and leading sacred ceremonies throughout the United States since 1999. The ancestral fire was kept burning for the duration of the event until Sunday.
Patrick & Orion lighting the bonfire
Jo-Ann and I called it a night at this point. Those who had more endurance than us attended “Body Wisdom” presented by Lady Oxannamoon and Devon Kouadio. Devon is a very talented dancer, who frequently contributes to Inner Temple events.
Saturday - May 4th
For those who were up to it, Saturday morning began with Jason Mahoney presenting a morning meditation.
Medicine Woman, Jeanne DeLaney presented a workshop “Crafting the Magickal Mask.” Otherwise known as "The Feather Lady," she fashions beautiful wearable artwork with feathers. Jeanne helped participants create beautiful masks to be worn during The Great Hunt, scheduled for the evening.
My second presentation of the event was to be a panel with Patrick, Orion, and Joe on “The Rites of Spring, Olde Horny and The Great Hunt.” Joe had recovered sufficiently to join us. This panel went much more smoothly than the first, as we decided to incorporate a bit of structure. I would cover some of my historical data, after which Patrick and Orion would provide illustrations from their traditions, and Joe would provide illustrations from Jungian psychology, ceremonial magick and Qabala. I would also join in the fun by sneaking in references to my own traditions. I started off discussing “mayings” in the 14th and 15th centuries, which led to Robin Hood's Day, and its tie-in with the Green Man and Jack-in-the-Green. We then moved on to Cernunnos, Gwynn ap Nudd and Herne. We finished off with the Wild Hunt where fairies leave their otherworld to take the souls of the newly dead to the afterlife. Not quite the Great Hunt, but similar in name, if not in meaning!
Joe, Orion, Patrick & Tony
Tanisha vs Jason, with referee Devon
Lunch was followed by “Nice-n-Naughty Beltane Games and Shower Auction” brought by Devon Gaines and Chai Benson. Jo-Ann and I arrived towards the end and only saw the mud wrestling which was strangely arousing. All I'll say, is if you've never watched mud wrestling before, do yourself a favour…
Dr Joe and Lady Angela aka Lady Oxannamoon presented a workshop “The Essence of Magick and Magickal Transformation.” Joe came back to the cottage looking very much under the weather. He knew that his only hope of recovering sufficiently to present the following day was to go home and get rest, which he did.

Christopher Caplan
We then had a potluck supper during which we were treated to an acoustic set by Christopher Caplan. I managed to persuade him to play Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” so I was very happy indeed.
Cyriaque & Devon
Talented dancing husband and wife team, Cyriaque and Devon Kouadio presented “Sacred Sexuality and the Art of the Dance.” My main lesson in this workshop from watching Cyriaque was that a seriously muscled male can dance beautifully and gracefully, shattering the usual stereotype.
Sacred marriage of God & Goddess

“The Great Hunt” ritual presented by Lady Oxannamoon and The Inner Temple was the theatrical high point of the event. It was essentially a fertility ritual representing the sacred marriage of the God and the Goddess, in order to bestow abundance and fecundity upon all of nature. The four elements were represented and the union of God and Goddess was portrayed very tastefully.
Anubis, Jo-Ann & Orion keeping warm
The last event of the day was “Music, Dance and Fire: The Inner Temple Tribe” with special guest, High Priestess Regan and her enchanted harp. Hps Regan’s music has been featured on National Geographic, The Discovery Channel and many other networks, she has been a contributing artist to The Labyrinth of Jareth, Faerie Worlds, and several Lucent Dossier productions, and she is a co-creator of the "Astra von Berlifizting" — a waltz ballet based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Hps Regan is the founder of The Society for the Preservation of Faerie Arts.
Sunday - May 5th
For those who were up to it, Sunday morning began with “Sound Healing” in the pool with Devon and Angela.
My third presentation of the event was to be a panel with Patrick, Orion, and Joe on “The Maypole: Healing the Earth and Summoning forth the Fertility of Life.” Joe’s strategy worked and he recovered sufficiently to join us. This panel went just as smoothly as the second, because we decided on the same structure – to use my historical data as a framework. We started off discussing the importance of trees, then moved to the maypole, and finished by discussing the connection of the king’s righteousness to the fertility of the land. Halfway though this panel the camera Peter was using ran out of memory, but the digital recorder kept working. Angela left to attend to pressing matters allowing us to go off on radical tangents. Angela returned to reign us in, ending our fun.
Joe, Orion, Patrick, Tony & Anubis
The closing event was “Dancing in the May—a traditional Maypole Rite” with Orion Foxwood and The Inner Temple. Proceeding similarly to last year’s ritual, a procession of women followed woodcutter Jason Mahoney, to the chosen tree. The women pleaded with the woodcutter to spare the tree, and then cried as it was cut. The felled tree landed on white strips of cloth held by the women as it was not to touch the ground. It was then carried by the weeping women, still on the cloth strips while anointing it with their tears, back to the hole where it would be erected as a Maypole. The hole was consecrated with prayers, libations of honey and milk, and a sprinkling of grain. [Well, to be honest, the honey had gone missing, so Jo-Ann and Devon had to improvise with a thick solution of raw organic sugar. We hope that the divine approved our forced substitution.] The Maypole was then erected with numerous ribbons hanging off it. While the men stood around the perimeter, the women wove in and out, wrapping the ribbons around the maypole, to the sound of traditional chants.
The maypole
While Anubis carefully watched proceedings, he wasn't as involved as he had been last year. Perhaps it was because his paws were hurting after walking on gravel? I normally walk him on grass or sand.
With the ritual finished, we realized how late it was, whereupon we had to pack quickly so as to make way for the group which was to follow us.
The event lived up to the high standards we have come to expect from the Inner Temple, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one anxiously awaiting the next one!

Friday, April 5, 2013

US Navy Harms Whales and Dolphins

Most of us are familiar with the long, slow and painful death inflicted on thousands of whales by whaling ships from Japan, Norway and Iceland. Also familiar is the plight of hundreds of small whales and dolphins hunted for their meat in the Faroe Islands, as well as the 'Drive Hunts' of dolphins in Japan. What is less well known is that the US Navy has permanently injured, or otherwise seriously harmed, numerous whales and dolphins, and plans to continue doing so.

Cetaceans are marine mammals which comprise approximately 78 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Many of these species are currently endangered or depleted.

Natural Resources Defense Council Summation

There is an excellent summation of the situation facing cetaceans on the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website written in 2008.
This summation has a list of dozens of whale strandings and deaths across the globe linked to military sonar use during naval exercises.
“Whales and other marine mammals rely on their hearing for life's most basic functions, such as orientation and communication. Sound is how they find food, find friends, find a mate, and find their way through the world every day.
So when a sound, thousands of times more powerful than a jet engine, fills their ears the results can be devastating — and even deadly.
This is the reality that whales and other marine mammals face because of human-caused noise in the ocean, whether it's the sound of airguns used in oil exploration or subs and ships emitting sonar. Manmade sound waves can drown out the noises that marine mammals rely on for their very survival, causing serious injury and even death.”
Regarding the strength of the sonic waves that marine mammals are subjected to,
“By the Navy's own estimates, even 300 miles from the source, these sonic waves can retain an intensity of 140 decibels -- a hundred times more intense than the level known to alter the behavior of large whales.”
Regarding those whales beached after military sonar use,
“Many of these beached whales have suffered physical trauma, including bleeding around the brain, ears and other tissues and large bubbles in their organs.
These symptoms are akin to a severe case of ‘the bends’ -- the illness that can kill scuba divers who surface quickly from deep water. Scientists believe that the mid-frequency sonar blasts may drive certain whales to change their dive patterns in ways their bodies cannot handle, causing debilitating and even fatal injuries.”
It’s not just whales and dolphins which are affected.
“Naval sonar has been shown to disrupt feeding and other vital behavior and to cause a wide range of species to panic and flee. Scientists are concerned about the cumulative effect of all of these impacts on marine animals.”
In 2008, the Navy estimated that increased sonar training would significantly harm marine mammals more than 10 million times during the five years until 2013 off the US coast alone.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so watch this informative video produced by the NRDC and narrated by Pierce Brosnan, and note carefully the dead beached cetaceans which show symptoms of bleeding around the ears and brain, with some bleeding internally, after having been panicked by military sonar testing:
VIDEO : Lethal Sound: Deadly Sonar Harms Whales
I have no relevant qualifications to comment, however, given how dependent whales and other marine mammals are on their hearing for life's most basic functions, an analogous situation would be to take a hunter-gatherer human and relentlessly expose him to constant flashes of bright light from which he could not avert his gaze, and then expect him to survive.

US Sued over Navy Sonar Tests in Whale Waters

Fortunately, cetaceans have their allies. In January 2012,
“Environmental groups sued the Obama administration on Thursday for granting the Navy permits to test underwater sonar along the West Coast -- and potentially harass up to 650,000 porpoises, seals, dolphins and whales over a five-year period. …
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claims that the Navy's sonar use might be strong enough to kill the animals outright. But even if it doesn't, it claims, the repeated use of sonar in certain critical habitats is unwarranted.”

New York Times Editorial

While there are a number of news reports about this issue, I will focus on an editorial in the influential New York Times, published on October 11, 2012, titled “Marine Mammals and the Navy’s 5-Year Plan.” The editorial makes one major blunder in stating that sound “travels much faster through water than it does through air, magnifying its impact.” This is inaccurate and unfortunate. The remainder of the editorial is a hard hitting, and points out regarding marine mammals that:
“More than five million of them may suffer ruptured eardrums and temporary hearing loss, in turn disrupting normal behavioral patterns. As many as 1,800 may be killed outright, either by testing or by ship strikes.
The Navy is proceeding on the basis of a 2008 Supreme Court decision, in which Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, argued that the public interest in our military defense tipped the scales ‘strongly in favor of the Navy.’”
Sonar and underwater detonations do not differentiate between species which are plentiful and those which are endangered, such as the North Atlantic right whale.

Navy Statement

Navy spokesperson, Rear Adm Kevin R Slates [Director, Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division] states:
“The Navy is renewing authorizations that will enable us to continue to train and test live sonar and explosives at sea for another five years (2019). …
Some of the information in those EISs [environmental impact statements] has been misrepresented and exaggerated. Lost in the discussion during a recent meeting of the California Coastal Commission is this fact: the best available science—and the Navy’s long track record of conducting similar training and testing—indicate our proposed activities will continue to have negligible effects on marine mammal populations. For a better understanding of these issues, read what several well-respected marine scientists have to say.”
It turns out that the “well-respected marine scientists” wanted to refute the New York Times Editorial article “Marine Mammals and the Navy’s 5-Year Plan” referred to above. Apart from pointing out a couple of factual errors, such as sound does not travel faster in water than air, they state categorically:
“There is NO known case of direct, lethal tissue injury and death to any marine mammal from any sound.”
The wording here is very deliberate. Note the use of the word DIRECT, as the devil is in the details.
The video above featured dead beached cetaceans showing symptoms of bleeding around the ears and brain, and some bleeding internally, having been panicked by military sonar testing. But, we know from the NRDC statement that “mid-frequency sonar blasts may drive certain whales to change their dive patterns in ways their bodies cannot handle, causing debilitating and even fatal injuries.” Thus, it is not the sonar blasts that cause the damage, but the rapid changes in depth as the panicked cetaceans try to flee. The sonar blasts INDIRECTLY cause “lethal tissue injury and death.”
The statement by the “well-respected marine scientists” is true in a strict legal sense, but it is not a statement I could make and sleep soundly at night.
Rear Adm Slates concludes by saying:
“The Navy cannot guarantee that our training and testing activities will have zero effects on marine mammals, but for that very reason, we justify our requirements to, and ultimately receive our permits from, the fisheries service. … I sincerely hope those interested in these issues will focus on the science and the facts, and choose to ignore emotional, non-factual statements.”
Thus, the Navy concedes there will be some effect on marine animals, but won’t commit to a prediction.
One thing I have learned is that whenever any scientist makes a statement, it’s important to find out what their biases are, and whose payroll they are on. Research grants are hard to come by. Statements from independent scientists are always the most reliable.

Dolphin Intelligence

John Cunningham Lilly (1915 – 2001) was “an American physician, neuroscientist, psychoanalyst, psychonaut, philosopher and writer. He was a researcher of the nature of consciousness using mainly isolation tanks, dolphin communication, and psychedelic drugs, sometimes in combination. …… during the late 1950s he established a facility devoted to fostering human-dolphin communication: the Communication Research Institute on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. During the early 1960s, Lilly and co-workers published several papers reporting that dolphins could mimic human speech patterns.”
In terms of intelligence, the species coming closest to humans are the great apes, elephants and cetaceans. All four have brains with spindle cells (neurons without extensive branching) - spindle neurons appear to play a central role in the development of intelligent behavior. Bottlenose dolphins, alongside elephants and great apes, possess self-awareness, which is a sign of highly-developed, abstract thinking.
Dolphins live with stable social groups called pods and display very sophisticated behavior and engage in play. They have been known to assist other species as well as humans in need, such as protecting swimmers from sharks. Dolphins are unsurpassed in imitative abilities among nonhuman animals. Bottlenose dolphins, when searching for food on the sea floor, will tear off pieces of sponge and wrap them around their "bottle nose" to prevent abrasions, thus demonstrating the use of basic tools. All cetaceans have a complex language which they use to communicate with each other.
Dolphins mourn and grieve for their dead, as was seen by tourists in China when an adult dolphin carrying its deceased calf out to sea.

Military Use of Dolphins

The US Navy became aware of the potential of dolphins in the early 1960's, as a result of the work of John C Lilly and other scientists investigating dolphin communication and intelligence.
“The US Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) is a program administered by the US Navy which studies the military use of marine mammals - principally Bottlenose Dolphins and California Sea Lions - and trains animals to perform tasks such as ship and harbor protection, mine detection and clearance, and equipment recovery. The program is based in San Diego, California, where animals are housed and trained on an ongoing basis. NMMP animal teams have been deployed for use in combat zones, such as during the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.”
Given the Navy’s great knowledge of dolphins and their practical applications, I would have expected a little more compassion towards their wild siblings.

Dolphins Deserve the Same Rights as Humans

“Experts in philosophy, conservation and animal behaviour want support for a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans.
They believe dolphins and whales are sufficiently intelligent to justify the same ethical considerations as humans.
Recognising their rights would mean an end to whaling and their captivity, or their use in entertainment.
Science has shown that individuality - consciousness, self-awareness - is no longer a unique human property. That poses all kinds of challenges.”
The move was made at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada, the world's biggest science conference [in February 2012].
It is based on years of research that has shown dolphins and whales have large, complex brains and a human-like level of self-awareness.
This has led the experts to conclude that although non-human, dolphins and whales are ‘people’ in a philosophical sense, which has far-reaching implications.”
Not surprisingly, “Japan, Norway and Iceland, the main whaling nations, oppose such arguments that would outlaw hunting or even keeping the mammals in marine parks. They have long said there is no real evidence that they are smarter, for instance, than cows or pigs.”
Many Pagans see the divine as immanent in the whole of life and the universe; in every plant, animal and human, and to this end, attune their lives attuned to the cycles of the seasons. Conferring "human rights" to life and liberty onto cetaceans is a wonderful first step to showing just how interconnected life is. .
There’s no shortage of petitions on the internet, and there’s one on this very issue aimed at the European Court of Human Rights.

Stay Informed

Great places for more information include:
It is appropriate to thank Peter Dybing, who on 28 February put out a call to bloggers through Facebook to bring more awareness to this issue and hopefully make a positive difference, in which it is my honour to participate.
Thank you

Monday, February 25, 2013

PantheaCon 2013

The 19th Annual PantheaCon was held February 15–18, 2013 (President’s Day Weekend) at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, CA. PantheaCon is the biggest event that Jo-Ann and I go to, with roughly 2400 attendees converging on the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose. With over 400 presentations spread out over the better part of four days, there really is something for everyone. As a Pagan networking opportunity, it has no rival in the US.
For the last few years, my wife Jo-Ann and I had gotten into the habit of arriving the day before PantheaCon starts so that we would be rested before it started. Catching up on sleep during PantheaCon is almost impossible, unless people are willing to knowingly miss out on part of the excitement. Given how full the parking lot next to the back entrance of the hotel is when we arrive, it seems that many others think the same way!

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism

Within days of the 9th Conference on Current Pagan Studies ending, an internet firestorm flared up over Professor Sabina Magliocco’s presentation “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism” in comments to a guest post on the Wild Hunt from Professor Patrick Wolff, “Pagans Studied: The 2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies,” which summarized both keynote presentations, of which Sabina’s was one.

Sabina clarified what she had actually stated:
“I think there may have been an unintentional misrepresentation of what I actually said. My argument was that constructing a shared identity around belief is problematic, because belief is based on experience. If the gods choose to reveal themselves differently to different people, and if belief is changeable and emergent, as belief scholarship shows it to be, then shared identity needs to be based on something other than belief.

Let me also clarify that belief in and of itself is not 'fundamentalist' ( a word I adopted polemically and with some reservations). It is the insistence that only one sort of belief is correct, and the demonization of those who disagree or whose experience is different, that can lead to a dogmatic rigidity that we might want to avoid.”

As per my summary, Sabina defined the 21st century emergence of fundamentalist trends within Paganism, as “an increasing emphasis on the acceptance of certain beliefs, including those about the history of modern Paganisms and the nature of the divine, and on a growing intransigence and hostility towards those who refuse to accept them or argue against them.”


Sabina’s reference to “history of modern Paganisms” was an allusion to the revisionist versus fundamentalist (or counter-revisionist) controversy. There is a wonderful summary of the current state of affairs by “Le patron” titled “The origins of neopaganism and Prof. Ronald Hutton.” The gist of the article is that some Pagans “claim that their religion is a direct, lineal survival of ancient paganism. This applies particularly to … Wicca.” Reconstructionists, on the other hand, are reviving, shall we say, lapsed, traditions.

It seems that all academics now believe that Wicca was created by Gerald Gardner and a small number of other middle-class occultists between the 1920s and the 1950s, rather than being the survival of an ancient fertility cult dating back to Palaeolithic times.

Further, “paganism as a formal system of religion vanishes from Mediterranean Europe after the 6th century CE, from the western and northern parts of the continent after the 11th century, and from the north-eastern portions after the 14th century. Among the Saami nomads of north-eastern Scandinavia it may have lingered into the 17th century.”

Professor Ronald Hutton has been championing the revisionist view of the Pagan revival being a modern phenomenon in many of his writings, but his magnum opus is his 1999 book The Triumph of the Moon. While academic scholars support him, he was critiqued by prominent American Pagan elder Don Frew and subsequently by New Zealand Wiccan priest Ben Whitmore in his book Trials of the Moon, who both believe that modern Wicca is a genuine survival of ancient Paganism.

Hutton responded to his critics in “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” in Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies Vol 13, No 2 (2011), but focused on Ben Whitmore. After stressing the importance of being a professional historian to research the validity or otherwise of the revisionist position, he refuted Whitmore’s points.

Hutton has polarized many Pagans. While many support him (especially in Britain), others oppose him bitterly. He states:
I read Internet postings from Pagans in other nations who accuse me of failing to understand the damage that I have done to their beliefs. The heart of the problem is that those beliefs were never actually “theirs,” in a double sense. The original history of Wicca was based firmly and explicitly on academic scholarship, and academics have changed their minds with further research; likewise, Wicca was taken from Britain to other nations, and the most prominent British Wiccans have altered their opinions.

Regarding folk magic, or perhaps more accurately, cunning men and wise women, revisionists do not see them as Pagan survivals, but point out that they generally seem to have considered themselves good Christians.

By way of illustration, one of the speakers at the Conference, Armando D. Marini a.k.a. Murtagh AnDoile shared a rather amusing anecdote of elderly Italian women living in the US practicing folk magic, but sitting in the front row in church every Sunday. Had anyone accused them of not being good Catholics, they would have given the malocchio [evil eye]!

So, from a revisionist standpoint, any sort of continuous family tradition, such as Serbian witchcraft [Radomir Ristic’s “Balkan Traditional Witchcraft”], Stregheria [Italian witchcraft], or any other potential Pagan survival, is considered to be part of a Christian framework and no longer Pagan.

Playing devil’s advocate, taking this argument to its logical conclusion, it would seem that European Pagan survivals could only be possible within a non-Christian environment. Two such environments spring immediately to mind.

Firstly, Europe had numerous Jewish ghettos to isolate them from the Christians. This meant that Qabala studies and various folk magick practices could continue untainted by Christianity. My wife, Jo-Ann, is part of one such matrilineal Jewish tradition – her grandmother and grandaunt would discuss what they had learned from their grandmother. These people, however, would have considered themselves Jewish rather than Pagan, despite engaging in Pagan-like activities.

Secondly, Europe had large numbers of Romani gypsies who were excluded from Christian society. Their religious belief system was based on Hinduism. As an aside, they also believed in vampires who would return from the dead and cause malicious acts as well as drink human blood. Their beliefs contributed to vampire lore. Gypsies frequently feature in vampire fiction and film, no doubt influenced by Bram Stoker's book "Dracula" in which the Szgany gypsies served Dracula, carrying his boxes of earth and guarding him. Much of the Romani folklore and magickal practices are Pagan-like, but would they consider themselves Pagan?

My personal opinion is that there was a direct transmission of Hellenistic magickal lore into European grimoires via the Arabic world, particularly the Sabians of Harran. Islamic expansion, particularly in Spain, brought this lore back to Europe. This is the view espoused by Don Frew, Jake Stratton-Kent in Geosophia: The Argo of Magic, as well as Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy in The Hermetica. The Sabians did not just translate writings, they developed them, indicating that they were actively working with them. Sadly there is insufficient documentary evidence to satisfy professional historians of the veracity of this, but perhaps one day this will change. In the meantime, the Pagan community which prides itself on its diversity should accommodate opposing viewpoints.

Hard and Soft Polytheism

Sabina’s reference to “nature of the divine” was an allusion to the controversy of how Pagans see their deities, a controversy which is being played out on numerous blogs and email groups. Here’s an article which distinguishes between hard and soft polytheism.


Regarding beliefs, Sabina stated that there was “a growing intransigence and hostility towards those who refuse to accept them or argue against them.” This, to my mind, was the most worrying aspect of fundamentalism, and the most important part of her talk. It was also raised by the other Keynote Speaker, Peter Dybing.

Sabina’s primary focus was online research, limited to the English speaking world. Paganism has a very strong internet presence, which fosters a sense of community, especially for those who are geographically isolated, but also allows extreme beliefs to flourish without being challenged by a more moderate majority.

Professor Patrick Wolff summarized the thoughts of Sabina and Peter on Pagan fundamentalism on the internet:
“Neither of the keynote presenters were critical of internet activity in general, but only the negative attacks that often occur in blog comments behind the veil of anonymity (incidentally, personally I agree that pseudonyms can be used responsibility, but it does take an extra effort of mindfulness, since they make it easy to say things that would not be said in a face to face encounter). It might have helped if I had noted that Peter Dybing's comments on the internet at one point were accompanied by a powerpoint image of a troll at a computer as a backdrop. …
Sabina Magliocco's point was that the internet can create a kind of alternate universe, where idiosyncratic views that would not receive much credence in face to face communities (and means of expression that would likely not be used in face to face discussion) can take on a life of their own with a veneer of credibility since they are in print. This a problem with internet discourse that goes beyond the realm of Paganism. This aspect of the internet relates to the rise of Pagan Fundamentalism, but is not the whole story (or even most of the story) when it comes to the place of the internet.”

One of the speakers at the Conference, Amber D Gray, followed on from Sabina’s presentation, in “On Racism, Homophobia, and Misogyny: In Hellenic / Pagan Reconstructionist Communities After the Election of President Obama.” Focusing on the online Hellenic Pagan community, Amber pointed out that while the internet allowed Pagans to feel connected to each other, it allowed unchecked behavior and allowed discrimination against creed, religion, sexual orientation, race and gender. Pagan Reconstructionism is a branch of Paganism that is 90% Caucasian, where mainstream exclusionary practices foster Pagan exclusionary practices. This creates an environment conducive to the inclusion of fringe elements (Neo-Nazis, Anti-Semitics, Misogynists, Racists, Nationalists, Homophobes, and other hate groups). Public division after the presidential election exacerbated the issue. She cited the example of K Pythia, whose blog and newsletters were widely utilized by Hellenic Reconstructionists, but who came under fire when she was revealed as being non-white. Some Reconstructionists insist that you must be of the same heritage and race to practice. Greco-Roman subjugation and degradation of women is being continued by some Reconstructionists, who push aside and dismiss the points of view of women. Some Reconstructionists consider LGBTs inferior. Those Pagans who are less knowledgeable than others are made to feel inferior on Reconstructionist forums. Amber recommended that intolerance must be made unacceptable on the internet by taking a universal stance, and ensuring that it is inclusive.

On a very similar note, at the 8th Conference on Current Pagan Studies in February, 2012, Dr Amy Hale of St Petersburg College presented “Locating Identity and Authenticity in Radical Traditionalism and the Pagan New Right.” Traditionalism emerged in the early 20th century and is frequently associated with a group of European occultists including René Guénon and Julius Evola. While Guénon’s writings were absorbed into Islam, Evola’s writings recommended that Europe return to a pre-Christian, caste based social system, which inspired the formulation of the European New Right in 1968 by French theorist Alain deBenoist. Since 2000, the ideas of the European New Right, with the help of the internet, music producers, and small committed publishing firms [in particular Arktos from India and Counter Currents from San Francisco], have taken a hold among both European and American Pagans, now branding themselves as “Radical Traditionalists,” and have developed ties with extreme green, separatist and identitarian movements. Radical Traditionalism attempts to export right wing politics from Heathen organizations to the remainder of the community, meaning a culturally separate emphasis that is white separatist and white supremacist. Amy stated that we need critical thinking about where our Pagan practices are heading, especially with people pitching new ideas. The paper on which this presentation was based on was published in the Pomegranate and is available for perusal here.

Clearly Pagan Fundamentalism is hot topic. I am hopeful that we as a community will be able to have sufficient maturity to transcend our differences and grow in tolerance and inclusiveness.