“I want to talk to you about children’s programming.”

Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill
Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill

I hear that a lot. I heard it last weekend when a small delegation from a grove in Indiana visited my grove for our Lughnassadh celebration. I sat down with a couple of earnest childless young people, to attempt to distill decades of knowledge into a twenty minute spiel.   They were both enthusiastic liturgists, knew more about the epithets of Brigid than I do, and sang a song in Gaelic together in beautiful harmony. Needless to say, I was impressed. But all the knowledge of lore in the world won’t teach you what to do with a stubborn three year old who wants attention.

I’ve taught a number of workshops on kids and paganism over the years. I’ve been asked questions about whether or not we will brainwash our children by raising them in our religion (we won’t), and how to integrate young children into deep trancework (you probably shouldn’t). I’ve been working with kids since I was a teenager. I’ve been a Senior Girl Scout, an Outdoor Aide, and Girl Scout Leader. I studied child development in college, volunteered as a tutor, and worked in a daycare, along with raising my own two precious children and helping to raise a passel of other. So I know a thing or two about kids.

Having said all that, here are a few of my thoughts on how to integrate children into ritual.

All Kids Are Not Created Equal

Or: Knowledge is Power

When you have kids coming to a ritual it’s really good to know a couple of things:

  • How old are they?
  • What grade are they in?
  • Do they have food allergies?
  • Are their parents responsible?
  • Do the kids want to be coming to ritual?

The first two will tell you how to focus your integration process. Teenagers are going to be a lot different than school age kids, of course, but there is also a huge difference between a second grader and fourth grader. Age and grade level will give you a general idea of what they are capable of and will aid you greatly with the magic of google-fu. Try googling “spring craft project” and you will get a lot of links to a lot of things. Try googling “spring craft project for fourth graders” and your search time will be greatly reduced. This will also help you pinpoint how the kids can interact with ritual, which I will talk about in a minute.

Food allergies are a thing these days. If you have issues with it, get over it.   Food allergies have skyrocketed and you don’t want to be the one who feeds little Timmy peanuts, you want to ask. Adults are capable of fending for themselves, but even the most responsible parent can lose a kid in the thronging crowds of an after ritual potluck. Ask and share that information, especially if the kid is young or has a particularly severe allergy.

The fourth question is not something that you can directly ask a parent. “Hey Bob, would you call yourself a responsible parent?” Yeah. That’s not productive. But you can clue in by asking around, gently. If you know someone who knows the parent, talk to them about their interactions. Explain that you are trying to prep for the upcoming ritual and maybe throw out some age appropriate ideas and see if the person thinks the kid would be up for it. Often you can get some good feedback, but remember the source. If Jim happens to be righteously childless and likes to talk about “Breeders” his feedback might just be tainted. Often you can tell a lot just by emailing or talking on the phone to a parent beforehand. An interested and involved parent is a responsible parent. If you don’t have kids, remember: parenting is hard. Even those who desperately wanted parenthood can have bad days.

The fifth question addresses motivation. I’ve seen three main scenarios. One: the kid is genuinely interested in spirituality and wants to participate. Two: the parent is genuinely interested in spirituality and the kid is along for the ride. Three: the kid wants to come because there is a friend/girlfriend/inexplicable-longing that is also attending. Door number one is the best case option, but the other two can work as well if you are able to be flexible. The answer to this question often varies from event to event. When my kids were little they stayed at home with Dad. As they got older they started to come to events and it was very exciting. They wanted to be involved and do everything I did. It was a lot of work, but it was also awesome. Now they have friends who come to grove and I have a tween. They tolerate a certain amount of structure and then they have to go off and do tween things. It’s actually kind of adorable, but don’t tell my eldest.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill
Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill

Rule number one of Kid Club is: Don’t Suck

Or: How to be Interesting to People with Different Developmental Needs

Now that you are armed with information from the aforementioned questions you can move forward with your integration of children into the ritual space. I’m going to give you a very quick rundown of the various developmental stages and how children in that group might be able to participate. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a very large topic. There are people who are experts in getting children to do amazing things. They are called Teachers and are greatly underpaid and underappreciated. If you are lucky enough to know one, you might ask them for help.


These tiny creatures are quite helpless and needy. No, they are not crying to get attention, they are helpless, have no words, and need lots of help, lest they die. So they cry. However, prolonged crying can really wreck a ritual. At this age, the main job of the ritual leader is to support the parent in their work and to make sure that everyone is clear on boundaries. Make sure to mention beforehand that you would appreciate it if the parent will take the baby out of circle if they are crying excessively. Support the parent’s choices. Do not tell them that they ought to be breastfeeding. If they are breastfeeding do not tell them that you think it’s weird and sexual. (Yes. I had that happen.) Have a space nearby where babies and parents can hang out, maybe a blanket or a comfy chair. Make sure they know where things like changing stations or hot water for formula can be found.


As they become mobile and verbal children are in a dangerous place. I like to call this the “Cliff-Flinging Stage” because this is the age when they just don’t know better, have endless energy, and like to stuff things in their mouths. Ritual with toddlers can be hard, but it can be done. Put away that fancy glass candleholder and your blackthorn athame. Think non-breakable. Wood is a good natural material, as is stone. Be careful with flames. Parent responsibility is at its height here.   Parents of a toddler who want to be able to experience ecstatic union with the divine during the rite are fooling themselves. They need to be focusing on little Lily and her need to stuff quartz points into her mouth like a psychic chipmunk. Make sure to communicate dangers and the need for vigilance beforehand. Simple crafts can work well here. Also, a play space to the side of the circle can be distracting and good. Using spray bottles for purification is a great way to get little ones involved. Anything tactile and full of movement is great. Bubbles, ribbons, bells, simple songs, and dances work well.

Preschoolers and Kindergardeners:

These are four and five year old kids. They are quite a different game than two and three year olds. They can express ideas, follow simple directions, most of them can focus on something dull like ritual for at least a little while. If you are lucky, they might even sit patiently through a whole boring talky ritual. That’s the thing. A lot of ritual is a lot of talk. Obscure talk about weird things they don’t have a lot of experience with. Make your rituals multisensory and movement oriented for these little folks. Remember that they have a much shorter attention span than an adult. That’s how they are built and expecting anything else is like expecting everyone to be an astrophysicist. Sure, you get someone like that every once in a while, but most of us just like looking at photos of Pluto. Coloring pages are still a little beyond these guys, blank paper is better. Crafts are great but messy. Snacks are vital to sanity. It’s good to think of them like cats. Let them wander where they want to go, steering them away from dangers. They’re usually capable of taking direction from trusted adults, so I have noticed that the village helping to raise the child really kicks in here. I remember my little one wandering off at one festival and I alerted my grove. Everyone stopped what they were doing to go help find my four year old. I was part of a family in that moment, and it was beautiful. The Rev. Kathleen Pezza has written a beautiful liturgy entirely in song that is perfectly suitable for kids this age and older on into elementary school.

Lower Elementary or First Through Third Grades:

Now is the time to glory in glue and scissors! Behold the beauty of Pinterest and the wisdom of pipe cleaners. When people without kids think about kids, this age group is what they usually think of. It’s all about adorable little kids making bird feeders out of pinecones, peanut butter, and bird seeds.   This is the time when you can really begin to explain what it is that you are trying to do with this whole “ritual” thing. Discussion about deities can be interesting and fun, especially if you relate it back to their lives. It’s actually really neat if you can find a craft project, a coloring page, and maybe a story for them that all relate to the seasonal theme. There are lots of options for working school age kids into ritual. Thinking about seasonal traditions and using them as the working can be fun. We’ve bobbed for apples at Mabon, done a tug of war of the powers of water and fire for purification in spring, and made milk jug skeleton masks for Samhain. Look at the folk traditions that surround the culture you are focusing on and use them as part of your ritual. Let kids take part in ritual with an adults help. Expect that they may still get bored and wander off. We are not brainwashing our children. That is okay. Setting up a station with coloring pages and stickers can help keep them occupied while parents finish up thanking the Gods.

Upper Elementary or Fourth through Sixth Grades:

Things begin to change in the Upper El. Seismic tremors of hormone cascades and logical reasoning are happening simultaneously. They are able to think about things rationally as concrete operations kick in from ages 7-11. Discussions can deepen, history becomes more interesting and their depth of wisdom can be remarkable. However you can’t forget those hormones. There will be times when they want nothing at all to do with ritual. I’m deep in this territory right now with my grove and it’s a delicate balance of offering options, respecting a negative response and occasionally bribing them to participate. (I’m a mom. It’s a time-honored tradition.) It works best when I involve them in the planning. Having a group of children that are doing activities together can work really well and be a big motivator. The tug-of-war between self-direction and adult led activities can be hard to navigate. It’s important to listen to the kids and help them develop activities geared toward what they are interested in.

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hill
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hill

Remember: children are little bundles of chaos and wonder. Appreciate where they can lead you, and don’t be afraid to dance and sing with them.

Peace out, and good luck, Dear Reader.

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We’ve been asked to write about why we belong to the religion we belong to belong to, why we are what we are. This is one of those simple questions that always trips me up because it means choosing a single label and sticking to it. Simple definitions are not my forte, although I can use them when I need to in conversations. A simple definition implies a straightforward answer.

I’m not good at that.

So instead I’m going to talk about some of the different labels I identify with, and why.

Assorted witchcraft supplies / Morgan Daimler
Assorted witchcraft supplies / Morgan Daimler

I’m an animist – everything has a spirit. Everything. Rocks. Trees. Swamps. Cars. Natural things, man-made things, physical things and non-physical things. It’s impossible to separate out the sacred from the profane for me when everything has an aspect of the sacred to it. This is worldview that I find uncommon among many (but not all) of my assorted co-religionists and so it has become its own category for me.

I’m a polytheist – I remember back when dinosaurs walked the earth and dirt was young* and there were no “shades” of polytheism. I suppose I’d say that’s the sort of polytheist I am, but these days I think the accurate term in conversation is “hard polytheist”. I see the Gods as individual Beings who are not controlled by or reliant upon human belief to exist. I am open to the idea that human belief influences the Gods, but that’s a topic for an entire blog of it’s own. The Gods have personalities, and preferences, and agendas.

I follow the Fairy Faith – this is probably the single most important thread that holds everything else into a cohesive whole. I believe in and respect the Good People, diverse Otherworldly spirits, and spirits of the land. Much like the Gods I see the People of Peace as existing separate from humanity and as unique individual beings with their own desires and purposes. Sometimes those purposes align with ours. Sometimes those purposes are in direct conflict with us. They can be helpful to us, or harmful. A significant amount of my personal practice, by any name or approach, is based on creating and maintaining good relationships with the Fair Folk and knowing how to handle any situation that might arise involving them.

Henbane and wormwood / Morgan Daimler
Henbane and wormwood / Morgan Daimler

I am a witch – I am the sort of witch who studies old folk charms and magics, who knows what fretrúnir are, and who has a box of thorns from a blackthorn just in case I need them. I know the local spirits and Good Neighbors, and the best ways to deal with them. I don’t follow the Wiccan Rede or Rule of Three and see witchcraft as a practice to do in conjunction with my polytheism, rather than a religion per se. I’ve been a witch for more than two thirds of my life at this point, since about 1991, and I can’t imagine not having that as an aspect of myself. 

I am a Reconstructionist – the second strongest influence, besides the Fairy Faith, on who I am is Reconstruction. It’s a methodology that I apply to everything I do magically or spiritually. I study the history, the archaeology, anthropology, folklore, myth, and anything else I can get my hands on, to piece together a viable modern practice. I found that I was using reconstruction long before I knew what reconstruction was, simply because it’s my personality, it’s how approach a subject. I would say I started applying the idea of historical accuracy as a benchmark in the mid-90’s. It is the lens through which everything else is viewed.

I am a Heathen – in the sense of a Germanic pagan I identify as a Heathen; since 2006, when I started actively honoring Germanic Gods in addition to the Irish ones, particularly Wodan (also by the name of Odin, so I suppose there’s some Norse influence in there too) to whom I am dedicated. It probably doesn’t help my liminal tendencies that He encourages me to wander widely. I am comfortable calling myself Heathen because when honoring these Gods I do so in a reconstructionist way, meaning I try to stay true to the culture itself. This is an example of where things get really muddy though because I practice seidhr, which some might call a kind of Norse witchcraft, study runes and use them magically, and honoring the elben and land spirits is the core of my practice, even in Heathenry.**

I am a Druid – I’ve been an Irish polytheist for as long as I’ve believed in the Gods. When I first began practicing witchcraft it was in tandem with honoring the Irish Gods and by the late ’90’s I’d started looking into Druidism. I initially started studying Druidism online with the Celtic Reconstruction Druid group the Order of the White Oak around 1997; I’ve been a member of Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF) since 2001. Much like witchcraft I see being a Druid as something I do in conjunction with my polytheism rather than a religion itself, but in a modern context Druidism has become something very different from what it was historically. It’s difficult – sometimes impossible – to separate being a Druid today with the religion of Celtic Paganism. Again this can be a very liminal place itself, because with Celtic Reconstruction communities I identify as a Druid as a practice/role within the community but with neopagan communities I identify as a Druid religiously because that is true as well.

Morgan's altar / Morgan Daimler
Morgan’s altar / Morgan Daimler

I am a Priestess of Macha – to be fair this might fall under the category of Druid, but I have found that being dedicated to Macha has made me even more liminal than I was before. I go where I can serve Her best, and that means being open to any and all communities that honor Her.  Part of my service to Her is a willingness serve Her followers in any necessary context, whether or not they follow the same path I do or self-identify as I do. There are some limits to this – I have restrictions that mean there are specific types of ritual I cannot participate in, in any way – but generally if someone honors Macha or any of  the Morrigan and they need a priestess, if I can help them I will. I also do what I can to write about Her and Them and to generally serve Her and Her community. Honoring Her and being in Her service is part of who I am.

So there you have it. I’m an animist, a polytheist, a follower of the Fairy Faith, a witch, a reconstructionist, a heathen, a Druid – I am liminal. I am all of these things, woven together into a cohesive worldview and system of belief and practice. I could go on and add more flourishes and details, but that’s the crux of it. In different contexts I might give one or more of these words as a descriptor to answer the question of what I am, but the truth is, I’m liminal. I’m all of these things, together, at once. They are all a part of who I am because they are the core of how I understand and relate to the world. For a long time I tried to be just That One Thing but it isn’t in my nature. And the more I studied mythology and came to realize that while some figures were That One Thing many others were like me, liminal and multifaceted; the Morrigan is a witch and a druidess, for example, a poet and sorceress, in the myths. Sometimes one single term just doesn’t cover it. And that’s okay.

Why am I still these things? Because they are truly part of who I am. I’m not an animist or polytheist because I believe in the Gods – just like I don’t believe in trees or birds – I don’t need to believe in something that I know exists, I simply know it. Being a witch and Druid are things I do, but I do them as expressions of my self; I don’t think I could stop being either of those things any more than I could decide to sprout wings and fly. I am what I am because I am who I am, and the labels are intrinsically woven into my sense of self, my worldview, and my personality.

* yes, this is a joke. I do not actually remember any dinosaurs. I just feel that old some days, even if I’m not.

** There was a running joke for awhile with some friends that I should call my Heathenry “Alfatru” but while apt it was a little too reminiscent of an ’80’s sitcom

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I think a lot about the meaning of fairytales and stories. Recently I began working with the fairytale Rumplestiltskin and the idea of “Straw into Gold” as the theme of a festival I’m presenting at in a couple of weeks. On first blush, I thought…that’s a fantastic theme. I’m all about personal transformation, alchemy. But then I thought about the source fairytale…and I realized, this is not at all an empowering story of transformation. It’s a story about a girl put in a horrible situation by her father, and then by the king, and she’s then exploited by Rumplestiltskin. The only agency the girl displays is when she discover’s the name of Rumplestiltskin so she can renege on her contract.


Since I have fairytales on the brain, both as stories as a vehicle for personal transformation in ritual, and as I’m also a fiction author and fairytale themes weave their way through my paranormal romance books, that got me thinking–as it usually does–about myths and stories and themes. And since it’s the height of summer harvest and Lughnassadh, I’m also often thinking about the magic of gold.

And I needed to figure out the nugget of gold in this story since I’d be working with it for the main ritual as well as other workshops.

I posted about my dilemma on Facebook, and had a great conversationon my wall with a bunch of folks who had similar thoughts about the disempowering aspects of this particular tale. Here are some of the various facets that came up, and then I’ll outline how I finally decided to approach the main ritual I’m facilitating in two weeks to be true to the fairytale, but to also make the ritual an empowering and transformative experience.


Much of this story revolves around the power of names, the power of contracts, the power of words, the power of oaths. The young woman is trapped by a boast her father makes: that she can spin straw into gold. Now–her father never suffers the consequences of this lie, because the young woman pays for it instead. She is the one who will be killed by the king if she doesn’t produce the gold. She, then, makes two contracts that she fulfills, and one she does not. She gives Rumplestiltskin two pieces of jewelry (usually it’s a ring, then a necklace) for the first and second night, and she promises her first-born child for the third.

Some potential lessons for this facet:

  • Don’t make boasts you can’t fulfill, don’t take oaths you can’t keep. Lies have consequences
  • Sometimes it’s time to break an oath, such as when you made a promise in an unfair situation.

The latter one is of especial interest to me because I often find–when I teach leadership and personal growth workshops–people get bound up in contracts signed in their own blood, their own naivete, and they are bad contracts. Yet, people feel bound by them, and they end up damaging their own lives by trying to stay in these contracts.

In the story, the young woman’s clearly taken advantage of by Rumplestiltskin, and the oath he takes from her is unfair, it’s under duress. Years ago I worked with the story of Psyche and Eros and one of the themes of the story was the unfair contract, the time when the oath must be broken. We explored lots of different types of oaths–such as a marriage oath–and sometimes it just isn’t realistic to stay in that contract.

We explored the kinds of “deals with the Devil” that we make all the time. Contracts such as, “I’m not good enough,” or, “I have to….” Name something you say over and over and that might be a contract you made that it’s time to re-evaluate.

Sometimes, taking our own power back is breaking out of the terrible crap we never consented to. Or, we were put in an impossible situation and we made a bad bargain. When you make a mistake, or were forced into a contract, you can take the opportunity to get out. This can include an abusive relationship, or just a friendship that has run its course.

Free Magic

This one has been more and more important for me–free magic. I see so many people coming into the Pagan community (or who’ve been involved for a long time) and they want free magic. What I mean is, they use magic to mean, “I squint really hard and  I light the right candle, and burn the right incense, and then stuff happens for me and I don’t have to do any real work.” That’s not how magic works.

The girl’s father promises she can spin straw into gold. He’s lying, but he wants something for free. Now, it’s possible if he’d have come clean, the King wouldn’t have taken his daughter away and locked her in the tower, he might have had mercy. Or if the girl had come clean, the king might have punished the father for lying, and not the girl. But instead, she weeps and wails and Rumplestiltskin comes to her. And–let’s face it, she wants the free magic too. The first two nights, the cost she can bear. And the third night, it seems that it’s no cost to her at all–not until she has her child in her arms does she understand the cost.

What was the cost of that free magic? Because, it’s not free.

Instead, this is the only real empowering aspect of the story, as-told. She is brave and daring and goes to do what could be a very scary thing for a sheltered girl. She goes into the wild to try and learn his name.

Myths and fairytales are full of stories of heroes and heroines who go through difficult things in order to gain their magic, their power. It’s the entire essence of the hero’s journey, the grail quest–the hero goes out into the wild and, in doing so, transforms and becomes more powerful. In the Ballad of Tam Lin, Jennet spends a year sewing her magical green mantle. Isis tricks Ra into gaining his power. Inanna does the same to gain the “me” from Enki. Psyche travels the world and Underworld fulfilling tasks for Aphrodite to regain her lover Eros. Magic is built, it’s developed, it’s grown.

What are the difficult things you’ve had to do, when have you pushed yourself to do the impossible? What was your motivation? When were you willing to do the hard work to gain the magic? What are you willing to give up, what are you willing to sacrifice, to gain the magic?

Secret Names

Secret names are an old trope of many fairytales and myths, but after examining a few, I realized that there’s a commonality; female heroines (and goddesses) are often the ones stealing the secret name of a male god to gain their power.

  • Lilith used the secret name of God to escape from Adam, YHVH being a secret name of power
  • Name of RA used by Isis to create the magic to bring Osiris back to life
  • Inanna gains the “meh” powers/arts from Enki by getting him drunk
  • Freyja has sex with four dwarves to gain the power of the Brisingamen necklace

The young woman in the story sneaks out into the woods to learn Rumplestiltskin’s secret name; if she can guess his name, he will not take her first-born child.

Feminism and Misogyny

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the complete powerlessness of the young woman in the original story. She doesn’t really have any agency, any power; she’s stuck. It’s not her magic that brings the gold, and she gets taken advantage of. So for me I look at this as an opportunity to acknowledge that disempowered place and reclaim our power.

She’s put into a horrible position by the men around her. Boasting (the father) Greed (the king) Extortion (Rumplestiltskin). This is a story about how weak women are, and how the only way out of a bad situation is to sneak around and maybe use their cleverness to find a way out of the contract. Similar to the above myths about female goddesses taking their power/magic from more powerful gods, this tells a story of how the dominant culture views women.

In many stories, women only get power from stealing it, or from trickery, or by being gifted it by men.  Then again, this story can drastically change with a different twist on the stories. I’ve told the story of Isis seeking to bring together the pieces of Osiris, and instead of tricking the sun god Ra for his magic name (and thus, his power) Ra challenges her to acknowledge her own power her own secret name. The cost? She can never see herself as powerless again. (And interestingly, the phallus she creates for Osiris is gold too!)

Worthless and Value

What’s worthless? What’s valuable? Alchemical lore focuses quite a bit on the idea of turning lead into gold–something worthless into something of value. Straw into gold is the same thing–taking something perceived of as worthless into something of value. But what value? Lead is valuable for certain things. It’s certainly not as pretty as gold. Straw, too, would be of more use to a simple villager than golden riches. For that matter, how many myths focus on the rags-to-riches, or something turning into gold?

So the core of the idea of this kind of transformation is that gold is “good” whereas other things are “bad.” That gold has worth, it has value, whereas other things do not.

Generally, I see this as just an easy exercise in metaphor and contrast. Gold is a really easy metaphor for beauty/valuable/special. But thinking about this story has drawn me to ask the question, when is a story about taking something perceived as worthless and transforming it into something of value, and what is that value? And is the “worthless” thing truly worthless, or is it just not valued by the dominant culture?

The risk of this particular cultural meme is that it’s a quick slide into dualism. Dualism is the philosophical belief in two basic binaries, good and evil. Paganism often supports these binaries by breaking things into God/Goddess, Masculine/Feminine, Solar/Lunar, Gold/Silver, White/Black, Transcendance/Embodiment, Heaven/Earth, Light/Dark, Positive/Negative. The problem is that binaries like these can lead to the easy dualism of Good/Bad.

Most “lead into gold” stories, and most stories patterned on the hero’s journey, are about that transformation, but on a personal/spiritual level. The gold is the metaphor. The Grail–often perceived/illustrated as a golden chalice–often serves as the visual representation of that transformation.

Gold, thus, is usually a shorthand for good/valuable/positive, but it’s always useful to take a look at any binaries offered and if it’s connected to a dualistic good/evil approach.

Beauty and Magic

One of my favorite quotes on my comment thread about this story is from Pagan musician Sharon Knight (no relation) who said that for her a theme of straw into gold is “Making beauty out of this fucked up world.”

I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment, and that’s a lot of the essence of my work as an activist, as a change agent, as someone who crafts rituals and workshops to make a fertile ground for personal transformation. So part of the essence of that transformation work is gaining the magic of transformation itself. Gaining the power to transform, to transmute. Gaining the power to transform is a form of magic in itself.

When we’ve done this, we can take challenging, painful, difficult situations and transform them, learn from them, gain power from them, and we can work to step into our authentic selves, our best selves. Most artists I know (painters, musicians, dancers, performers…any kind of artist) is pretty good at transforming the pain of our past, or the pain we see in the world, into something of beauty.

This is the essence of creativity.

Into Gold

A few times when I’ve tried to describe the sensation of connecting to the divine, I’ve described it as having “gold on my tongue.” While I’ve never been fully trance-possessed, the times when I’ve felt closest to drawing down or aspecting a facet of the divine are when words seemed to flow out of my mouth. There was still a conscious connection, but I felt like liquid gold, I felt that I was speaking the right, “correct” words for that moment.

Often it was in a moment of desperation–trying to get a group to sing or otherwise engage in participation when they’re just staring at me, unwilling to open up and be participatory in a ritual. Other times, it was more of a moment of transition, of cracking open, of facing our shadows or opening our hearts to the greater divine. Sometimes people in the ritual seemed to just need that extra…something, that extra push, that extra safety, the right words to open them up to that thing they were seeking, and then I’d have gold on my tongue and that would somehow bring them across to that place.

And this brought me right back to the magic of words, the magic of names, the magic of what activists often call “right speech.”

When I thought about the power of names, and words of power, I had the essence of the ritual: Claiming our gold. Claiming our own name of power. What if, instead of making a really bad contract with Rumplestiltskin to save our own hide and cover for our greedy father, what if we instead learn the power of our own magic? The power of our words?

The ritual would be about claiming our power through our own secret name. The name of God, the name of the divine, the word of power that unlocks creation and our own magic.

Straw Into Gold Ritual Arc

Thus, having gone through all that, here’s the arc of ritual descriptions I wrote up for the weekend’s rituals at the Six Crows festival, and I’ll also be doing a workshop specifically on “Finding Your Personal Magic.”

Opening Ritual: Opening to Gold
Turning straw into gold is about transformation. It’s about manifestation. It’s about unlocking the secrets of the universe, and your own personal magic, your personal power. If you unlock the inner mysteries, if you face your shadows, if you look into the deep within, there your power lies, and within you is the power to turn straw into gold. Let us open to that magic, let us open to that power, let us open that gate within and without, let us open to the gold.

Main Ritual: Claiming Radiance, Power, and Gold
Would you claim your magic? Many fairytales start with a challenge; can you remember when you were trapped in the tower with the straw and the spinning wheel? Then someone offers you help…but only for a price. Magic always has a price.

To claim your own magic is no easy task. What are you willing to sacrifice? Will look into the mirror…face your fears, your shadows…will you break the spells that bind you?  There’s a secret to power, to radiance…you can never say you are powerless again…and opening to magic will crack open your heart. What is your secret name of power? With a breath of enchanted gold, speak the incantation, the words of transformation. We spin radiance, beauty, and love…and into gold we sing.

Closing Ritual: Bringing Our Gold Into the World
We have sung the gold. We have breathed out the breath of life, the words of power. We have transformed ourselves, we have claimed the secret name. But what do we do with all of this magic? Is this magic just here to sit within us, untapped? Or is it to bring healing, beauty, and love out into the world? We begin the process of spiraling back out into the world. Let us bring that gold with. Let us breathe out, sing out our magic together to make this a better world around us.

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For the past several years, accusations of cultural appropriation have been flying thick and fast around the Pagan world. Any time someone draws upon an idea or cultural artifact they can’t prove belongs to their ethnic group, especially if it’s from a culture deemed oppressed or exploited, someone else is right there to scold them for underhandedly “appropriating” it.

But cultural appropriation isn’t always the misappropriation of myths and spiritual artifacts from low-technology indigenous populations by high-technology Western wannabes. Sometimes, it’s more peer-level than that, if no less damaging.

"Knossos fresco women" by cavorite - http://www.flickr.com/photos/cavorite/98591365/in/set-1011009/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Knossos fresco women” by cavoritehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/cavorite/98591365/in/set-1011009/
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
"Θεά των Όφεων 6393" by C messier - Own work Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Θεά των Όφεων 6393” by C messierOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the early days of Modern Witchcraft, many of us believed that one of the most important ancestral origin-points of Witchcraft was ancient Crete. Lots of us had Minoan snake-goddesses on our altars, or wore Her image or the sacred labrys (double axe) as a pendant. Both non-fiction and fiction books, such as The Dancer from Atlantis (Poul Anderson) or Sign of the Labrys (Margaret St. Claire), linked ancient Crete–the “Kheft” of the Egyptians–with modern Witchcraft, and the fledgling Pagan press, such as the Green Egg, often featured articles about it. While we cared a lot less back then about academic proof of Witchcraft’s origins, as we didn’t believe we needed to justify our beliefs to anyone, we read archeology avidly. We especially devoured anything supporting the theory that the eruption of the volcanic island of Thera, a prosperous colony of Crete, was the origin of the legends of Atlantis.

Atlantis, you see, was one of the main mythical origin-points for the magical heritage that would come to be called British Traditional Witchcraft. There had been legends in the British Isles of the island’s having been settled by refugees from Atlantis, as documented in Doreen Valiente’s Where Witchcraft Lives and other sources, for at least a hundred years — much longer if you interpret the Book of Invasions in light of anthropology and, more recently, DNA. It was all so consistent.

And then, the lesbian feminist Witches came along. They claimed that Witchcraft was “wimmins religion” and that Crete had been the last great matriarchy of the ancient world. Suddenly, it was Not-OK for Traditional Witches (what later came to be called Wicca) to hark back to Crete, to display the labrys or images of the snake goddess. It was only OK for lesbian separatist Witches. They reluctantly conceded that it might be possible for heterosexuals to be Witches but claimed the entire subject of Minoan Crete as theirs. They were quite aggressive about that. It became extremely uncomfortable for the rest of us to wear our Minoan talismans in public and if we talked about what had until then been the common mythology of our origins we were silenced with slogans like “Hands Off Wimmin’s Religion.” It was more than a slogan — it was a battle cry. And anyone who trod on what they considered ‘their turf’ got blasted.

"AMI - Goldene Doppelaxt" by Wolfgang Sauber - Own work Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0Via Wikimedia Commons.
AMI – Goldene Doppelaxt” by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 Via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s nothing wrong with lesbian separatism or the idea of a women-only culture. Truth be told, a lot of women need a space that’s free of men for at least part of their lives. I imagine many men need such a space, too — that used to be one of the reasons men joined the military. What’s wrong is the appropriation – no other word for it – of a large chunk of our mythology by what was as least as much a political movement as a spiritual one. And what’s wrong is what happened afterwards: instead of standing up for our right to hold on to our Minoan connection, we just let it go and replaced it with another myth.

The hijacking of Wicca’s mythology about roots in Crete happened to take place around the same time Irish folk music–real Irish folk music, not Irish-American pub ditties–hit the US music scene. Suddenly, Wicca became “Celtic.” Granted, Gardner had called it that, but he’d meant only that it appealed to what in his day was called the “Celtic temperament” — artistic, extroverted, and mystical. This new “Celtic” Wicca looked awfully Irish, despite the fact that the vast majority of its practitioners knew nothing about pre-Christian Ireland except that it was polytheistic and had cool art. Ritual accessories lost their astrological or classical décor and were slathered with Irish interlace (which, by the way, was originally Norse). New initiates began taking Celtic names in preference to almost any others.

Within ten years, few Wiccan practitioners had any idea there had ever been any connection between British Witchcraft–Wicca–and ancient Crete. In fact, among most British Traditional Wiccans (Gardnerians and their kin) in America, and despite Gardner’s frequent mentions of Pan and Diana as the patron Deities of Wicca, ancient Mediterranean Paganism became an unacceptable topic. It simply wasn’t done to invoke any but Celtic deities or to acknowledge that there might have been any influences into the formation of Traditional Wicca outside the British Isles, never mind the copious archeological evidence that the Roman army had brought their many religions with them to the Isles, where they’d taken root nicely. Except for a rare few of us Old Farts, this part of modern Wicca’s culture is gone forever.

Feminist Witchcraft, too, moved on, becoming much less a branch of Witchcraft and more a feminist Paganism. A large faction dropped the pseudo-archeology and most of the magic, opening up to a wider spectrum of women and incorporating New Age ideas to become the Goddess Movement. They don’t seem to wear the labrys much anymore, either.

Maybe I’ll dig mine out and see what happens.

(Postscript: I recently encountered a group of Minoan enthusiasts on Facebook, and it’s wonderful to finally have others to talk with about my life-long fascination. They have developed a Minoan-based seasonal cycle and liturgy, a Minoan Paganism that isn’t exactly Reconstructionist but isn’t far off, either. So far, though, not a word about Atlantis… or Wicca.)

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<Tap, tap> Hellooo? ….is this thing on?

Oh, HI! You can call me Heron. I’m new here at The Agora. In August, I’ll be back to tell tales, make confessions, and narrate the unfolding wyrdness in my magickal life on the second and fourth Tuesdays every month. But that’s not what brings us together today, my lovelies. Today, LAMMAS! The time is nigh.

Image 3
Black Eyed Susan, Photo Credit: Heron Michelle

“Summertime, an’ the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ an’ the cotton is high…” (1)

The Wheel of the Year clicks onward into the grand sign of Leo. I don’t know about y’all, but down here in North Carolina, I’m feeling the heat of this fire-y sign; feeling the juicy, high-tides of this greater sabbat deep in my solar plexis, deep in my Will. I am on fire to continue the magickal work I began back at my Imbolc dedications.

Lammas is a “pregnant” time, full of expectation, succulence, and satisfaction, and I’m beginning to taste the fruits of my labors within the Great Work, and my back yard garden, too!

Not long after The Sojo Circle celebrated our Litha, the first day of summer, under a scorching noonday sun, and the oak king fell in battle to the holly king (complete with light saber swishing noises, because we liberally sprinkle the mirth in with our reverence), I began to feel the shift, the deepening, the long shadows cast into the dark half of the year. The message was loud and clear: Vacation is over; it’s time to get crackin.’

Mind you, I’ve been “turning the wheel of the year,” as they say, pretty much continuously now since 2005. Like anything worth doing, practice makes perfect. (Heron’s fourth rule of Witchcraft: You must be present to win, more on that later…)

Long ago, at a distant Imbolc rite, when I was a new-baby witchling, I stood at the altar and with giddy expectation spoke these words:

“Spirit! Great Weaver of all things, I seek to know your nature! Ignite within me your fires; wash me clean of doubt; blow my mind. I dance to your rhythms with earthen shoes and the starry heavens tangled in my hair. Show me the way! As I will, it is so. Blessed be.”

Since that day, I have been a Witch on fire. I am washed free of doubt. My mind enjoys regular blowings. We are old dance partners now, so I sense the subtle twirls and dips. The magick is so intuitive, yet, so visceral to me.

So, here we are at high summer, and my “garden” is bursting, both literally and figuratively. Each evening I go out to fill my basket with vegetables I’ve been cultivating since Ostara. I sing my gratitude to the plants, Reiki flowing from my palms as the red and yellow cherry tomatoes fall into them. It is easy for me to feel the bounty of the first harvest approaching because that basket is getting heavier each night!

Image 4
Photo Credit: Heron Michelle

All the best books on the Sabbats, and even my own training course in Modern Witchcraft, speak of this being the first harvest of “corn” and grains. The word Lammas itself is said to derive from the Old English phrase hlaf-maesse, which translates to “loaf mass.” So we celebrate with bread rituals, and adorn the altar with stalks of wheat. Then there must be the ubiquitous singing of “John Barleycorn,” just because that’s what you do.

However, the other day one of my students asked me where the best place was to find dried wheat stalks for his altar, and I said, “the arts and crafts store.” We are city folk and I don’t know any local wheat farmers. Yellow Corn? Sure, but not wheat. The silk floral section of the local Michael’s is where I’ve found it in the past, but the deeper I get, the more I value the power of collecting my supplies first hand. Not to mention that I own the local metaphysical shop, so buying these things from a non-local, mega-corporation just feels…tainted.

That’s when my perception shifted, and I suggested that this harvest is about what is growing right here, right now, in our own back yards, thanks to our endeavors and partnerships with nature. For me? Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and flowers.

Lammas is also about sacrifice. The Sacrificial King voluntarily gives his life to feed his people. The vegetable life in my garden give of themselves to sustain my family, and for that I am eternally grateful. However, despite any delusion that I might be on the top of the food chain, when I go out to the garden in the liminal of dusk, not only have I given of my sweat and tears, I inevitably leave a blood sacrifice to the horde of vampirous mosquitoes. If they don’t get me, the rose bushes will. They will have their due, no matter what skeeter beater potions and lotions I douse myself with. There is no way around it; nature feeds on itself.

Image 1
Garden Messenger, Widow Dragonfly. This beauty is the predator of the mosquitoes for whom I am the prey. Reminder: Nature feeds on itself. Photo Credit: Heron Michelle

“One of these mornin’s
You’re goin’ to rise up singin’
Then you’ll spread yo’ wings
An’ you’ll take the sky.” (1)

As for the Great Work of my spiritual evolution, at this time of year I contemplate not only what harvest I am beginning to reap, but what sacrifices need to be made to create space for those bounties. How is my energy exchange with the Universe remaining balanced?

As it happens, my dedication this year to my patrons Aphrodite and Hermes were to offer my voice and my talents to bring Her thealogy of Divine Love to the wider world through my writing. My students keep badgering me to write a book, so, I asked Hermes for his help in mediumship, communication and travel to other communities.
Within days of the dedication, I left for Pantheacon, and His message was a resounding, and understandably tricky: “shut up; pay attention.” There was a LOT to hear. Suddenly, I was mute. I haven’t written anything in months; couldn’t even find my favorite journaling pen, which for me, is serious business.

Lammas nears, and the message shifts to, “Now it is time…what did you hear?” The obsessive fervor to write, to craft, to fully engage all my artistic skills, (Hail, Lugh!) and to prepare my upcoming workshops filled me. FIRE took over and I’ve been driven like a madwoman for three weeks. When my personal will feels like that, I just know it is in alignment with my highest Divine Will because it feeeeels goooood. Anyone truly meant to *be* a witch (as opposed to “dabbling in Witchcraft”) will tell you that witching isn’t really optional. The Work demands to be done, and there is no rest, no peace within your soul, until you’ve found your way to those inner crossroads, your own Axis Mundi, to commune with your Gods, and accepted your sacred mission.

Photo credit: Heron Michelle
Divination: Art XIV, Queen of Wands, Knight of Disks. Thoth Tarot, by Crowley and Harris. Photo credit: Heron Michelle

So, to the crossroads I go. “OK, what’s next?”  

That’s when I got the invitation to write this column on Agora. WITCHCRAFT, I tell you! I just love it when that happens. Talk about a harvest! Furthermore, my first out-of-state teaching gig is next week at TempleFest in New Hampshire. Huzzah for travel! This is the Lammas festival hosted by The Temple of Witchcraft, and I make my debut on the night of the blue moon, no less.

So, I posed these prayerful questions of myself, and send them out to the Universe.  Do I have the courage to do the work of Divine Will, accepting the sacred mission to be Their public voice, even when that terrifies me? To truly be Their priestess? I ask my squishy, empathic, Piscean self if I can take the heat…nay, *be* the fire that catalyzes the world I live in? Am I willing to make the sacrifice?

Then I drew the cards: Art XIV, Queen of Wands, Knight of Disks.

“Yes,” I answered. “I accept the sacred mission. What should I name the column?” I ask of my patrons.
“Witch on Fire,” They answered, over and over again.

Alrighty, then. So mote it be!

Blessed Lammastides, my lovelies,


Just for some fun Witchin’ in the kitchen, here are a few of my favorite Lammas recipes to thrill your coven-mates this Sabbat feast.

Lammas Confetti Salad: Vegan
1 can black beans,drained and rinsed
1 can corn niblets, drained
1 large tomato, diced, or 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced bell peppers in a variety of colors: green, red, orange, yellow
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup or agave nectar
3-4 diced green onions
1 tablespoon chili powder
1-2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
Mix it all up in a pretty bowl and serve room temperature or chill and serve later. Serve over tomato polenta or as an appetizer with tortilla chips.

Cheesy Tomato Polenta: Vegetarian
1 Cup milk
1 Cup water
1 Cup tomato juice or V8
1 Cup yellow polenta cornmeal
1 teaspoon sea salt, pink Himalayan sea salt is even better.
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
In sauce pan, bring liquids and salt to a boil. Slowly sprinkle cornmeal into liquids while stirring constantly to break up lumps. Lower to medium-low heat and continue stirring for 10 minutes or until mixture is thick and like “grits.”  Stir in cheese. Remove from heat and pour into a flat casserole dish or pie-plate. Set aside to cool and set-up or refrigerate and use later. After it is firm it can be reheated, baked or sliced and fried. Serve with Lammas Confetti Salad on top.

(1) “Summertime” is an aria composed in 1934 by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP.”  Link to source.

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South Carolina made news recently when they took down the Confederate Battle Flag which had been flying in front of the state capitol. The flag had flown since it first took up residence beside a large Confederate War Memorial in 1960 first established to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War.

"South Carolina State House" by HaloMasterMind - Own work Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
South Carolina State House” by HaloMasterMindOwn work
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Like all things Southern this was not the entire story. Southerners take a great deal of pride in saying one thing, doing another, and meaning something completely different. After all, “Bless your heart,” is most likely the nicest put down a Southern will ever give, and they can mean it in a variety of ways.

So, Southerners didn’t just raise the flag as a means to show pride in our Civil War past or to honor the men who died believing they were fighting for a just and right cause. We did it because we were pissed at the growing civil rights movement in the south at the time of the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War. The Civil Rights Movement was another reminder that the Confederate States of America had lost the Civil War, and the demand for an end to Jim Crow was additional salt in the wound.

If this writer sounds conflicted, it is because she is. You see, I am related to Robert E. Lee; my son is related to Robert E. Lee on both sides of his family tree. This isn’t some passing fantasy that southerners have, this was what I was born and raised knowing. The Family Book of Bridges showed the connection plainly as the connection my ancestors have to the Cherokee Nation. On my son’s side of the family, whose surname is “Lee,” the connection is more direct. His family line descends directly from Robert E. Lee’s brother, Sydney Smith Lee.

This family connection, however, doesn’t erase the sins of the past nor does it take away the right of all Southerners to say something, do something, or be something that has multiple meanings. What do I tell my son? Do I tell him that his ancestry is rife with a deep sense of hatred for the black race as nothing more than chattel? Do I tell him that Robert E Lee was such a great battle general they still study his wins and loss in military institutions?

How do I tell him that our family is on the wrong side of history?

I just tell him.

My family, our family, was wrong. Slavery was wrong. Chattel slavery was vile. We come from a history of keeping slaves and enjoying the benefits of an unpaid work force that we stole from another continent and forced to work in our fields without any benefit unto themselves except what our family would give. And, in all likelihood our ancestors did not see this issue as we do, with the benefit of time and enlightenment. They thought, truly, that the Confederate States of America was protecting a way of life — and they were, but it was way of life bought and paid for in black lives. They believed in this so deeply that they went to war and died to prove how just and right their way of life was. Their lives, their blood, does not, however, trump the blood and lives of black slaves.

We can admire things about Robert E Lee:  his skill as a general, a leader, and a warrior. However, in the end, we must admit, he was wrong. The Southern way of life was not one worth preserving if it came at the cost of chattel slavery – and it did, without flinching or shying away from the truth. It did.

The other thing that white southerners have to get over is the loss. It is as if for generations we have been mourning the loss of the Civil War and the integration of the South with the rest of the United States. We have continued to punish black Americans for the loss we had. In the end, the righteous prevailed and it wasn’t the Southern Confederate States of America. We were wrong and we need to let it go.

Ultimately we have to understand our own history, not through our own eyes, but through the eyes of the very race upon which we built our nation. We have to take a deep breath and admit that fellow Southerners raised that battle flag in South Carolina not to honor or commemorate our long dead Civil War heroes, but as a signal that a battle was still raging in the south. Only now it was over Jim Crow, the right to ride on any seat in the bus, the right to vote unimpeded or intimidated, the right to peacefully march and not to fear.

When that flag was raise in 1960, it was a signal that a battle was going to be fought and lives were going to be lost. And make no mistake about it, they were. The flag was a warning, the first shot across the bow that we Southerners would not go down without a fight.

"The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Church, Charleston, SC" by Spencer Means from New York City, USA - The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SCLicensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Church, Charleston, SC” by Spencer Means from New York City, USA – The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It has no place in our world today.

We southerners were defeated and now it is time to let those hopes and dreams shift and be filled with the unrelenting, unfiltered truth of our past and our present. It might cause the heart to twinge, but our hearts should burn with the loss of bloodied bodies that are still being spilled in this fight. Our hearts should recoil at the destruction of the sanctity of Mother Emmanuel.

If we take down this flag from state grounds across the south, we are saying – “We battle no more.”

We battle no more. We surrendered to the quiet and righteous truth that all men are created equal. We are willing to lay down the barbs of our tongue and the holding hatred in our hearts. We are willing to acknowledge that we do not want any more. No more bloodshed or unfair and unjust treatment of an entire race. We understand that years ago what we once thought was right, good and just was none of those things. It was wrong. Wrong on a level of wrongness that even now, hundreds of years later that injustice still rings, kills and decimates – not only the black race – but the southerner’s very soul.

We take down this flag because we know all of this and we only want to battle no more.

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You may have noticed that I’ve got some big news: The Busy Witch will no longer be a column here at the Agora, but has grown into its very own blog! Thank you for welcoming me here in this space for the past two years, and for giving me the room to grow when the time was right.

I’ve loved connecting with all the other writers here at the Agora, but I’m ready to take my writing (and my practice) to the next level. The regular blogging commitment of having my own space will (I hope) help me as I re-establish the magical habits that have been slightly on hold as my family expanded in the past year. I’ll still be sharing simple charms and spells, as well as my thoughts on a variety of magical and mundane things, and I’m also going to post more quick and easy rituals for solitaries and circles as the wheel turns. I hope you’ll join me on this new part of my journey!

The wheel of the year turns on, and as summer makes way for fall, I’m eager to begin tending my new hearth.


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[Author’s note: This is the third and final piece about my coven’s visit to  a “spirit-filled” Christian church. In the first part I wrote about what prompted us to visit the church and together with Autumn, who has no background in Christianity, we shared our initial reactions. In the second part Autumn and I compared notes on our experience, how we sensed and sawthe flow of energy and understood the sermon.]

A collage in the hallway of miracles. I recognized the faces of some Christian friends in it / Annika Mongan
A collage in the hallway of miracles. I recognized the faces of some Christian friends in it / Annika Mongan

“You’re here for the healing rooms? Ok, so I need you to fill out these forms.” It was Saturday morning at Bethel and we had just walked in the door, still in the process of waking up after a night in a stuffy hotel room. We were handed clipboards and ushered into a waiting area where we hurried to fill out the forms.

Born Again?            Yes – No – Not Sure

Baptized in the Holy Spirit?     Yes – No – Not Sure

The form asked if we were under the care of a doctor or counselor and then told us to read a “Legal Liability Release.” I was reminded of last year when my coven also sat in a waiting area with clipboards, signing pages and pages of disclaimers in preparation for our first Skydive.

Autumn:  Our clipboards in hand, we headed to the “hall of miracles, which was by all appearances just a double-row of chairs inside the hallway at Bethel.  All of us filled out our forms, which had us specify why we were there along with basic demographic and contact information.  I went ahead and wrote down my fatigue/adrenal issues as well as the headache I had from sleeping in a poorly ventilated hotel room the previous night.   No particular reason to refuse healing from any source, I figured.  While we were in this waiting area, there was a brief opening prayer and we all held hands.  The young woman who was holding space for the group suggested we didn’t need to wait to be healed, and we could be healed right now!  She asked if anyone was here for joint pain and suggested trying to move the joints and see if they felt better just from being here.  It seemed a little odd to me; I’m used to energetic healing practices not deliberately suggesting what is going to happen.  But maybe this could help some people if they really didn’t believe that healing was possible.

Annika: A man stood up and said that he did indeed suffer from joint pain. He started walking down the hallway accompanied by other murmuring “praise God”, and “yes, Jesus, yes”. When he had walked the length of the hallway once, the young woman asked him if he felt better, and he nodded. This was met with exclamations of “praise the Lord” and “oh, thank you Jesus, thank you!” Bethel staff called out a couple of other ailments, always resulting in someone standing up, walking the hall, and agreeing more or less enthusiastically that they were now better. While I have been to many charismatic and Pentecostal churches, this was a new experience for me. I am used to everyone having some time to shift into sacred space and establish a group connection before there was an expectation of healing and miracles. This felt forced and awkward and I didn’t want to stand out as the person who wasn’t joining in the excitement. Thankfully, I wasn’t finished with my form yet, so I buried myself in my clipboard. I was hoping we would soon move from the “hall of miracles” to the healing rooms, which I assumed would be a more contained space.

Autumn:  From the hallway we moved into what looked very much like a largish conference or meeting room, except with no center table and chairs around the perimeter.  As we entered we were given a handout, and I noticed a “now serving” sign in the corner with red digits — this was the group (assigned on our forms) in the healing room itself.  I don’t recall what this room was called or if it had a name, but I remember it primarily as a “briefing room”.  A woman introduced us to what we would be experiencing, including the upcoming healing rooms and the Encounter Room where we would commune with the Holy Spirit.  In addition to these logistical notes, she quoted from several Bible verses about how healing through Jesus is possible.  Annika mentioned many people come to Bethel when healing has seemed out of reach and these are people truly looking for miracles.

A waiting area for the healing rooms / Annika Mongan
A waiting area for the healing rooms / Annika Mongan

Annika: I thought we were going straight into the healing rooms, but I was mistaken and felt confused. A woman paced the middle of the oval room challenging more people to stand up and experience healing right now. She talked of how the Lord had brought her here from Sweden and ended every sentence with “yeah, thank you Jesus.” She spoke at length of how Bethel was a place of miracles and urged us to believe that Jesus wants to heal and that He will heal us, that today is theday of our healing, no matter how often we have prayed before. I had heard many similar sermons before and my stomach dropped as my mind wandered to a childhood memory.

My parents had taken me to experience a special healing service led by a preacher touring the country with promises of miracles in every city. I remember hearing the same message, God will heal you now because today is theday of your healing. People got up out of wheelchairs and the crowds clapped and cheered and I was amazed and caught up in the excitement, happy to have witnessed so many healings and to serve a God of miracles. I chattered about this happily in the car, but my parents didn’t join in. I sensed that something was wrong. My dad had tears in his eyes and was shaking with emotion. He told us that he had walked up to one of the side exits. There he saw several disabled individuals who had put all of their hope in this ministry and had believed with their whole hearts. They had been prayed for, they had believed, but now the left through the side doors not only with their disabilities, but also with a broken heart and spirit.

“What about them?” my dad wanted to know? “Why didn’t God heal them? How can this be their fault for not believing harder? How can a loving God do that do them?”

Autumn:  It was another paradox: we were being asked to will ourselves to not use our will and have God do all of the work, and it seemed like failure was not an option.  Not the usual way I participate in energy healing work.  Some of the first words my teacher in Reiki healing said about it was a caution in getting too attached to results.  This kind of results-focused approach was alien and a bit mechanistic to my eyes. How can someone let the Divine do their work if the state of mind everyone is in is that they must be healed immediately, right this very moment?

After this briefing session, we moved on to the Encounter Room.  This was the same gymnasium that we had been in the day before, but it was laid out with a center area where artists were painting and concentric circles of chairs facing both inward and outward.     Keeping my awareness of the “now serving” number displayed both on the screens and in the familiar red LEDs, I sat down and settled in to feel the energy and await our turn in the healing room.

Annika confused / Autumn
Annika confused / Autumn

Annika: I had been so caught up in my memory that was thoroughly confused when we were moved from the oval room back into the large gymnasium. The band was playing background music; there were people in the middle of the room painting on canvasses; women and children were dancing their the room waving flags and scarves. Where was I supposed to go and what was I expected to do to receive the healing prayers? I thought we would arrive at Bethel, go into a healing room, have people pray for us, and that would be that. To my surprise Autumn wasn’t confused at all and explained to me that the gymnasium was the Encounter Room and that we would be hanging out here “soaking in the Holy Spirit” until our group number came up on the “now serving” sign. I had never been to a church that functioned like this and couldn’t understand why all of this made sense to Autumn.

Autumn:  The Encounter Room was interesting, and I was starting to realize I was way more comfortable with what was going on than Annika was, which kind of blew my mind.  After all, she was the expert on how Christians typically do this!  As I wondered about that, I explored the room and felt into the energy, which was largely calm and peaceful — if a bit rehearsed.  Given that this happens every week, though, I suppose that’s to be expected.  There’s a routine, and those holding the space here are moving to it.  A pattern…  Yes.  There was something there oddly familiar but I hadn’t quite grasped why yet.

After circling around the room a couple times, passing the simple altar to Jesus in the corner of the room and examining the really quite good artwork by the artists in the center, I sat down to reground and center myself.  After I did so, a group of children led by a couple of young women asked if they could “prophesy” over me through dance.  Sounded neat, so I centered myself and watched as they danced around me, with silk scarves of blue and green and gold.  Most of them seemed to have that sort of not-quite-random movement style I saw before — except for the youngest one.  She was maybe 4 or 5, and waving her little scarf up and down very very intently — without the artful, practiced movements of the others.  I could tell that she really was feeling into it.

Afterwards, the adults asked the children if they had any Words for me (which is their way of doing divination, as I understand it).   The older ones seemed as though they were in their heads, eventually coming up with generic words that they knew would not get them looked at strangely.  But when it came to the youngest, she blushed, and whispered into the ear of one of the adults.  “She felt peace, she said.”  I smiled at the young one and thanked her, which for some reason threw everyone off.

Annika: When the children waved their scarves in front of us, I thought about how I was just  like them when I was their age, completely involved in whatever ministry was happening at our church, dancing, performing pantomime, praying, worshipping. Suddently the woman sat next to me, placed her hand on my knee, and said she “had a Word” for me. I was excited to hear it. Just a few months ago I had met a couple of women from Bethel and they gave me an amazing prophecy, astonishingly accurate and full of things they couldn’t have known about me.

“I feel the Lord saying to you that He is very pleased with you. You have been so faithful to Him. You have been faithful to His Word, even when though there are many people telling you that you are now going the wrong way. But God knows it isn’t true. He wants you to know that He is proud of you. God knows that you are walking with Him and He is so proud of your faithfulness.”

I smiled and nodded, and said “I know”. Then she looked into my eyes, repeated how important it was for me to know that God approved of how I lived, and implored me to keep doing what I was doing. When she stood up and the girls wrapped up their scarves, I sat there speechless. This was essentially the same prophecy I had received from the two women several few months back.

Autumn: The counter on the wall clicked upwards gradually, and at last it was time for our group to go in.  We were among the last of the day, and so as our number came up, they announced that if anyone in the encounter room still would like to receive healing, now was the time.  Our coven moved to the healing rooms, clipboards and forms in hand.  Now this was totally familiar, but from nothing in my spiritual experience.

The room had a modern industrial design, with exposed beams and ductwork, and energetic music playing.  A few tables on the right had church members with laptops ready to take down our healing testimonies, and we were ushered into the front of the row seating to wait for our prayer team to come and pick us up.   Church members with clipboards were moving papers around, and suddenly I realized why I found this familiar.  I’ve worked a large part of my life in the tech industry, and this resembled an in-house product demo with bloggers and members of the press.  The upbeat music, the decor of the room, and the efficiency in which we were moved from stage to stage reminded me strongly of a tech demo session.

Annika: Once we entered the healing room, it was my turn to look perplexed, not unlike the way Autumn responded on our first day upon seeing the “Sacred Starbucks”. This was the part I had been looking forward to the most, because I expected the healing rooms to be intimate spaces where we could really open up to the flow of energy without the corporate style big gymnasium and being herded from room to room. I thought there would be people praying in little groups, some sitting on the floor, some standing, laying on of hands, a comfortable warm place without interruptions.

Instead there was crowd control tape, people with laptops and clipboards everywhere, a big screen, neat rows of chairs for those waiting, and a prayer area that people were brought into, prayed over, and then taken to the line of volunteers with their open laptops, like some kind of prayer assembly line. Organizers with earpieces were rushing around and official looking Bethel staff constantly entered and exited the room. I was completely taken aback and slumped into one of the waiting rows, watching those all around me get picked up for prayer until there was almost no one left.

Autumn: Unfortunately for us, our coven must not have looked desperate enough for healing.  The chairs were emptying gradually around us and I realized if we weren’t careful, we might get overlooked entirely.  I shifted my energy from “I’m sitting here in my power observing and relaxed” to “I’m worried, is anyone going to pick me?”   Seconds later, before I could explain to my coven mates that this was what was needed to get picked, a prayer team came to lead me into the center part of the room and begin the healing.

Annika: “If you’re still praying for someone, now is the time to start wrapping it up.” A man with a microphone made the announcement and motioned for others to take down the crowd control tape. A few volunteers were stacking chairs and closing up laptops. I saw Autumn and my other two friends being prayed over and realized that there was no one else left in the waiting rows. Even those who had come in after me were already done with their prayer teams and leaving the room. I had a sinking feeling that this would be just like PE in middle school where I was always the last one picked and the team that ended up with me would complain that they didn’t want the “Mongan-Mango”. No matter how much I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t in middle school anymore, I started to feel sad and sorry for myself.

But just as I felt myself slipping into depression, a man walked past me, then doubled back, and said: “you have been prayed for, haven’t you?” I shook my head. He looked surprised and then promised he would find me a prayer team. By the time an older man and a young woman came to pick me up, the person with the microphone was thanking all of the prayer ministers for their service and giving final breakdown instructions. The prayer area was no longer an option, so my two prayer ministers took me to the back of the waiting rows while clean up crews were milling all around us.

Autumn:  The three people on my prayer team, to their credit, did not let the shifting energy around us affect either their focus or the time they would spend with me.  I was encouraged to share more details of the problems I listed on the form, and I even felt heard in how I had suffered.  It was a little strange being in the center of all three of them, making it hard for me to see all of them at once.  For the most part, they were good with consent in terms of touching, which I was surprised by:  Annika had warned me that Christians don’t practice the sort of consent culture to which I’m accustomed.

Annika: The man on my prayer team took my clipboard and read through the form, asking for details about the health concerns I had listed. He was specifically interested in current symptoms, but I told him I didn’t have any, most of my problems are more or less chronic in nature, and I wasn’t currently in any pain or discomfort. Both he and the young woman seemed very tired but they made an effort to stay present for me, even in spite of all the commotion around us.

The woman asked if she could lay hands on me, and I nodded. Then the man asked if it was OK to touch my back while praying for it, and if I wanted prayer for some of the other issues. I was positively surprised by how carefully and respectfully they asked for consent every step of the way. As they began praying for me, I got the sense that I was confusing to them, but I had no idea why. I was leaving myself wide open to the experience, not shielding or trying to manipulate the energy in any way. I just felt peaceful and grateful to sink into this experience, waiting to see what would happen.

Autumn: I think I was also a bit confusing to my prayer team; they didn’t recognize my pentacle necklace nor my energy in the moment.  I guess the environment made it a bit hard for me to open up completely energetically, but I did set an intention for my shields:  let the healing in, keep the expectations that were layered on me out.  I was asked if I wanted to be born again, and my response, “no,” seemed to disappoint the one with the clipboard.  I got a quick glance of it, and it became clear why there were so many people running around with clipboards.  It was just like market research!  They were literally measuring their miracles with 1 to 10 scales, presumably entering them into spreadsheets later to plot their miracle effectiveness.  Any corporate marketing team would have been proud.

At the same time, I felt a little bad making that observation.  Once Roman pagans were as integrated into Roman society as Christians are in American culture.  Back then pagans had the fancy temples, the official recognition by heads of state. The line between government and religious thought was blurred for their benefit. It was Christians who were huddled in individual houses, practicing in secret, with few churches and little officially recognized legitimacy.  As the prayer team laid hands on me, I thought about what Greer and Spengler call the Second Religiosity which emerges from the decline of our civilization. If a Pagan tradition comes to dominate, I hope we don’t turn the tables and wind up recreating the persecution of the past.

Annika: My prayer team didn’t know what to pray for. I realized that they were looking for something measurable but because none of my health concerns were, I wasn’t giving them any starting points. Since their hands were laid on me, I decided to use that bond to feel into their energy. I wished there was a way to communicate that it’s OK to finish early, that I wouldn’t be upset. I looked at the young woman, hoping she would read it in my face. We made eye contact, and she nodded and asked if she could share a Word with me and then both she and her prayer partner prophesied, saying that “God is so proud of you. The path you are on is so awesome and God really wants to affirm you in that. God is so proud of you. You are beautiful and a strong person. He wants to affirm you in your strength.”

When they were finished, the man looked at my form on his clipboard, clearly at a loss for what to write down, asked me if I still felt any pain. I reminded him that I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms when I came in but that I was grateful for the prophecy, as this was the third time I was given this message of God’s approval for my path. He nodded, scribbled something on the form, and I was dismissed, noticing that my friends were the only people left in the room who were not part of the clean up crew.

Autumn:  As my prayer team wrapped up the laying on of hands, the woman offered a prophecy:  “Expect breakthroughs.  God wants you to know that, expect breakthroughs in your health, in your life in general, all of that.  Expect breakthroughs.”  I thanked them all and they again seemed shaken by the praise, immediately saying “Thank you, Jesus.”  I found out later that the reason they were uncomfortable was because I was acknowledging their role in facilitating the healing — something that isn’t supposed to happen since it is Jesus doing all of the work.

The road to Bethel church / Annika Mongan
The road to Bethel church / Annika Mongan

Annika: We were among the last leaving Bethel that day and talked about it during the long hours of our drive home. We compared our views on Christianity and empowerment, the concept that all of the energy work is done by Jesus, how Christians don’t actively study the “how to” or energy work, the origins of Pentecostal theology and practice, and the influence of “overculture”  and American capitalism on Evangelicalism. Even today, several months later, we keep revisiting our experiences at Bethel.

Autumn:  This was a fascinating experience for me.  And I transformed as a result — but not in the way Christians might expect or hope.  I no longer fear that energy.  I began to recognize the system of thought Christians engage in and why many Christians engage in oppressive behavior without recognizing it.  And I’m amazed that despite all these alien and seemingly disconnected structures, they can reach to deeper truths.  I have no doubt now that at least some of the miracles they claim are true, even if I don’t agree on how they came about.  But perhaps most importantly, I see them as the imperfect, striving human beings they are rather than just as the scary Christian evangelicals who oppress me.  That gives me hope for the future.

Driving home from BethelAnnika: Our trip was not at all what I expected it to be. I was shocked and taken aback by how much more corporate the culture has become since I left. I feel so much more at home with the lack of expensive and corporate infrastructure at our Pagan rituals, the power of circling in a meadow, the simplicity of a dance around a fire, the intimacy of a ritual in someone’s living room.

I was saddened by seeing the worship experience I once loved in a different light. I really wanted to lose myself in this ecstatic experience again. But while I didn’t, I received a precious gift. I felt a quiet but lingering joy in knowing myself to be more whole and fulfilled than I ever thought possible.

To my disappointment, the healing rooms didn’t live up to my expectations. I thought there would be less hype and more actual healing and “miracles”. I have experienced faith healing in my own body and have seen other miraculous recoveries through the laying on of hands, usually in much more intimate settings. I had been looking forward to witnessing at least some of these at Bethel, but nothing I saw personally seemed to be authentic beyond the hype. The prophecies, however, were amazing.

Being back in an environment where everyone attributes everything to Jesus and Jesus alone reminded me of how hard I used to try the same. But willing yourself to let go of all agency and personal power simply doesn’t work. While the leaders at Bethel were preaching the message of letting go, it was clear that they were holding on to enough personal power to be in leadership. I, however, had always tried so hard to follow the teaching that I ended up dis-empowered and confused. Having the tools I learned in Witchcraft to feel the flow of energy and make sense out of the experience was redemptive and empowering.

And finally being sent off with a prophecy telling this Born Again Witch – for the second and third time! –  that God knows she is on the right path? That made our adventure at Bethel worth every single minute.


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The wheel of the year turns and though the sun still burns bright and strong, the sunlit hours wane with every passing day. The pagan sabbat of Lammas, the early harvest, is upon us. Lugh, the Celtic God of light, reaches out a warm, golden-skinned hand to guide us in the mysteries of life and rebirth held within the living land and our living flesh.

As the sun begins its downward arc toward the horizon, Lugh waits for you on the summit of a hill, backlit by soft, descending rays. A panoramic view of golden fields spreads before you, an overflowing abundance ripe for the harvest.

Courtesy of SheBard Media, Inc.
Courtesy of SheBard Media, Inc.

“Below us is the great exchange of life,” He says, “the miracle of sunlight transformed into sustenance to feed the children of this hungry world. But there is a price to this miracle; the seed of the new resides within the body of the living, and something must die, must fall, for something new to be born.”

A sword appears in His hands, its hilt toward you and the tip pressed against His breast.

“Everything has its season,” He says, His clear-seeing eyes never leaving yours, “The grain must be cut down for the seed to find new soil. One cycle ends so another can begin.”

With a wave of His hand, your awareness shifts and you can see into the weaving of life that underlies the golden fields: the parched, barren soil, the particles of contaminants in the air, and the murky sludge in the nearby stream.

“Like the green-growing realm, humanity has also come to the end of a cycle,” Lugh says, “For millennia, your species has lost sight of the natural ways and rhythms of the Mother Earth. You have taken more than She can bear, and despoiled the air, water and land that sustain you. This imbalance has come to a breaking point, threatening the very ecosystems that support human life; you are reaping what you have sown. Yet all is not despair and gloom. Within everything is the seed of a new season and a new harvest.”

The sword appears in His hands once more, with its sharpened point now pressing against your tender skin.

“This outer imbalance and the seeds of a better world reside within you,” Lugh says, “and along with them, the hope of a positive, new beginning. You must ask yourself: what is ready to be harvested and cut away in your life in service of a more sustainable, life-serving exchange between yourself and the Mother Earth? What lessons must you ingest to aid you in your transformation? What are you willing to sacrifice for these new seeds to take root in yourself and your human society?”

The sun now kisses the horizon and you feel the chill of the impending darkness. Lugh’s light is dimming and you reach out to touch Him, and to take inside of yourself the magic of His sunlight embrace of the green-growing world.

He speaks to you one last time, “Remember that the seeds of the new are held within the body of the living. Everything you need to heal, grow and transform yourself and your world is present in this now moment, in the golden field that is your life. Be bold, be brave, be wise. One cycle ends so another can begin.”

With a sudden gust of wind, Lugh is gone, transformed into a descending spiral of golden chaff. And in your cupped hands are the seeds, the miracle, of the new world and the new harvest to come.

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[Author’s Note: Throughout this column I use the terms “Heathen” and “Asatru/ar” interchangeably for those people who follow a modern version of the Viking Age religions. Not everyone who follows a Norse path consider themselves to be Heathens.]

Welcome to Happily Heathen, a new biweekly column here at the Agora in which I get to wax poetic about all of the reasons that I love Heathenry and am Happily Heathen. Unfortunately, I’ll have to start my run here by discussing the one big reason that makes me unhappy (and frankly ashamed) to be Heathen: the prejudiced fringe element.

Heathenry has so many cool and interesting things to talk about. Rune stones! Seidh! Old Norse texts! The deities! Ancestor worship! Polytheism! These crazy myths! Cross-dressing Thor! Icelandic zombies! As a long-time Heathen, I wish that the second thing out of my mouth after I introduce myself as a Heathen to someone new does not have to be “…but I’m not a racist!”

Thor fighted Jormungandr at Mariatorget Torget park in Stockholm
Thor fights the Midgard serpent (Stockholm, Sweden; Cara Freyasdaughter)

Last week, Iceland Magazine interviewed the high priest of the Icelandic Asatru movement in Iceland, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. He stated in the interview that ever since word got out that his organization was building the first official Heathen temple (hof) in Iceland, his group has started to receive hate mail from conservative Asatruar. Hate mail, from other Heathens, aimed at a group that not only got Heathenry accepted as an official religion in Iceland, but is also now finally building the world’s first modern-day hof where Heathens from all over the world can come worship. Why the hate mail? Icelandic Heathens, like Heathens all over Scandinavia, are very liberal and perform same-sex marriages. This group has a long history of tolerance and acceptance towards all people, both Heathen and non-Heathen, and have always accepted people from any background to be Asatru.

The hate mail Hilmar Örn has received specifically threatens that these Heathens will attend the temple’s opening ceremony, “to ‘correct’ what those groups see as the incorrect tolerance of Icelanders.”

As soon as word of this got out, the international heathen community responded in outrage, shock, anger, and disappointment. Esteban Sevilla, leader of the Irminsul Kindred in Costa Rica, responded with an open letter to Hilmar Örn and his group called “We Stand With You Iceland” and started the hashtag #WeStandWithIceland. Haimo Grebenstein started a Facebook event called “Ásatrúarfélagið – we are at your side!” which as of this writing has almost 2400 “attendees” and over 2600 people who have signed their full names in support of the event. If you check those who have signed the event, many of those who signed are signing on behalf of a family, kindred, or organization; and those who signed come from all corners of the world. Many of those who signed are not even Heathen, but are pagans from different paths who are offering their support to both Heathenry and Iceland’s Heathens.

Hilmar Örn has handled the hate email well and has calmly, yet pointedly, struck back at his detractors.

[He] adds that he and other members of the congregation are not interested in using the ancient religion of Ásatrú as a vehicle for romanticized machismo, as well as rejecting any tendencies to inject the practice of Ásatrú with conservative Christian morality:

“We know these texts; we have lived with these texts for a thousand years. We are not coating them in some Viking or warrior romanticism. And we are not obsessing over some books on morality, dating back to the year 70AD, as many of these foreign practitioners of Ásatrú do, considering that book a source on how the ancient religion should be practiced.”

Rainbow Freya
I can guarantee Freya does NOT discriminate. Her Hall Sessrumnir is many-seated; there is always room for one more.(from Archaeology & Celtic Myth, by John Waddell.)

Let me say this loud and clear, so that no one may mistake what I am saying: NOT ALL HEATHENS ARE INTOLERANT RACISTS. In fact, most Heathens are friendly, generous, community-oriented, spiritual people. Most Heathens will open up their hearth to you should you attend one of their rites.  How do I know? I’ve been a Heathen for over 15 years. I’ve been active in online communities and in-person communities.  I’ve attended large events and I’m a member of large organizations, such as the Troth and ADF, where there are people who are following the Heathen path in a respectful, friendly, and open-minded way. And very often, when a new person attends a Heathen event, they say that what strikes them the most is the sense of community and of coming home. Community and hospitality: two of the biggest tenets in Heathenry. Exactly what that unwanted fringe element is missing. (Coco the Spooky Librarian gives a stellar breakdown of why “racist” Heathens should not even be allowed to call themselves Heathen. Her well-worded rant starts around minute 8:30).

Interested in learning more about Heathenry, but worried that you run into one of these fringe groups? Here are some good places to get started:

  • The Troth, the largest international Heathen organization. (The Troth has a database with of all of their kindreds throughout the world and regional Stewards who field inquires from newcomers.)
  • ADF, not a Heathen organization, but home to many allies who also walk a Norse path
  • Hrafnar kindred, in Berkeley, CA
  • Golden Gate Kindred, in the Bay Area, CA
  • North Star Kindred, Lansing, MI
  • The International Asatru Summer Camp (IASC), based in Sweden. They produce a great companion publication for this event, available for free here.
  • Asatru-EU, a completely informal network of Asatruar/Germanic-oriented Heathens throughout many countries in Europe who helped start the IASC
  • Huginn’s Heathen Hof, a great online community and resource run by Wyrd Wyrds Patheos author Alyxander Folmer

And many others that are not listed here. If you are one of the many liberal Heathen kindreds or hofs and are not on this list, please share your information in the comments section below! We need to let the world know that Heathenry is for everyone. This visibility makes a huge difference. As Hilmar Orm said in response to the worldwide support: “You always take most note of the loudmouths and yappers. But we know we have many friends around the world. But we usually hear less from them, they keep to themselves. So, it has been really pleasant to see the overwhelming support we have received since the article ran on Tuesday.”

Stockholm travel agency
From a travel agency in Stockholm, Sweden. Heathenry is everywhere! (personal photo)

Hail to Hilmar Orm and the Iceland Ásatrúarfélagið! May your strength, courage, and tolerance guide the rest of us into growing and creating an more hospitable Heathen community.

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