Quick Notes: Congregational Paganism, Pagan Metal, and a Pagan Millionaire

Quick Notes: Congregational Paganism, Pagan Metal, and a Pagan Millionaire March 14, 2012

A few quick Pagan news notes for you on this Wednesday.

Congregational Paganism in Arizona: The East Valley Tribune spotlights the Sacred Spiral Pagan Church of Arizona, who recently received their 501(c)3 status, and explores why they abandoned the small-group coven model for a congregational model.

Sacred Spiral Pagan Church of Arizona - Beltane 2010

High Priestess Rosemary Szymanski disbanded her coven in favor of the Sacred Spiral Pagan Church of Arizona in 2007, having gained 501(c)3 status, which means that the federal government recognizes the group as a tax-exempt church. The whole process of becoming a church took about two years, but the wait was mostly because of paperwork, Szymanski said. In the years since abandoning the title of coven, Szymanski, founder and president, has worked with her fellow witches to organize openly and spread knowledge about Paganism. “Covens are much more secretive,” Szymanski, a witch for 17 years, said. “So in 2007, I banned the coven and created the church.”

Sacred Spiral doesn’t have a physical space at this point, but they do say they are hoping to open a community center. While Sacred Spiral Pagan Church is hardly the only Pagan group to adopt a congregational model (just look at CUUPs), I think this article is interesting in that it showcases, albeit indirectly, a criticism of the small-group “coven” model (they are “much more secretive”). It also seems to reinforce the idea that Pagans are, broadly speaking, dedicated to building “community centers” instead of “churches.” So even a congregational Paganism is going to seem much different than congregational Christianity.

Bend Before the Ways of (Pagan) Heavy Metal: The Loyola University student newspaper, The Greyhound, interviews Jill Janus, lead singer of the band Huntress. In the interview, Janus makes clear that Paganism is a primary motivator for her musical career.


“I draw most my influence from witchcraft, I’m inspired by the beauty of Paganism. I’ve been compared to King Diamond and Rob Halford (Judas Priest) due to my vocal range and theatrics. […] We wanted to write an album that would transport the listener to another realm, we create our own reality and want you to experience that. Spell Eater is drenched in occult imagery. There are many secrets woven into our songs. I want our fans to seek the secrets.”

The debut album by Huntress, “Spell Eater,” is due out on May 8th. You can download or listen to their debut single, “Eight Of Swords,” now. Let it not be said that I don’t throw a bone to fans of Pagan metal now and then!

ADDENDUM: Juggler contributor Trevor Curtis adds:

You forgot to mention that Huntress is the opening act on the Paganfest 2012 tour, along with the amazing Arkona (Russian Pagan Metal) and headlined by Turisas, fine Finnish pagan metal band. I’m seeing the tour here in Charlotte on Easter, think I’ll have to post a review to The Juggler.

You can find the FB page for Paganfest 2012, here.

The Return of Bunky: Way back in 2007 Ellwood “Bunky” Bartlett, a Wiccan, won over 40 million dollars in the Maryland state lottery. Since then he’s kept a pretty low profile.  There was talk of him opening a Pagan seminary, he threw one big party, and helped out a couple who wanted to get married. But for the most part, he’s stayed under the Pagan media radar, even the store he once bailed out and taught at has gone out of business. So I was somewhat surprised to see him emerge again on video-game news site Kotaku, trying to raise one million dollars on Kickstarter to build a fan-funded massive multiplayer gaming environment.

Described as “all of the good things in Second Life, World of Warcraft, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic and the like all rolled up into one game,” Bartlett’s Kickstarter project has been the object of much derision on Twitter today, where some have mocked its lofty goals and error-riddled language. There’s no concept art or even much explanation as to how the game will run. It only promises to be “nothing like what is out there.” But if Bartlett is a millionaire, why does he need Kickstarter? I tracked him down to find out. “A smart investor has partners,” Bartlett told me in an e-mail. “I will be investing as well. This also helps me to see if there is actual interest in the type of game I am proposing.”  I asked if he’s ever worked in game development before. “I have not, but I never owned an investment company or a pizza shop before, but I do now,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett has only raised around $300 dollars towards this dream project, with a 50-day window to raise the money. So it seems likely this project won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, at least not with this funding model. It should be noted that successful million+ Kickstarter campaigns are rare, and depend on a huge amount of goodwill and a good reputation. Still, I wish him luck in his endeavors (not that a lottery winner is having a luck problem).

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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29 responses to “Quick Notes: Congregational Paganism, Pagan Metal, and a Pagan Millionaire”

  1. You forgot to mention that Huntress is the opening act on the Paganfest 2012 tour, along with the amazing Arkona(Russian Pagan Metal) and headlined by Turisas, fine Finnish pagan metal band. I’m seeing the tour here in Charlotte on Easter, think I’ll have to post a review to The Juggler.

  2. Well, I applaud Sacred Spiral Pagan Church and wish all of them well. With second-generation and third-generation Pagans, we are going to have a lot of people who want spiritual services without necessarily becoming devotees of “inner mysteries.” 

    But I think there is a place for everything. I am priestess of a coven myself, childless, and I loved our secret mysteries. I think our movement can and should offer a range of options. In ancient Pagan societies, such as Greece, there were exoteric spiritual options for those who just wanted to make an offering to a Deity or pray, and then there things like the mysteries of Eleusis. It’s not an either/or.

  3. Did I miss something?  I’ve been in ADF groves with 501(c)3 status – you don’t have to incorporate as a ‘church’ per se, just as a not for profit.  You can name your group whatever you want.  You want to call yourself a church, fine. A grove, fine.   Friends of the Library (I was with the local FOL when THEY got their 501(c)3, too). Friends of the Gods.  

    IOW, from MY POV they incorporated as a non-profit and used the name church in their title. 

    “Congregational” doesn’t explain why the use the term church rather than, say, Temple, given that Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists all use ‘Temple’ for sacred buildings more than ‘community centers’ and aren’t at all secretive.

    Or, as I say … whatever.

  4. I agree. Our organization also started as a private Coven, and has expanded to include the congregational model. But we have not “banned” or abandoned the Coven model. Our Coven is the “priesthood” which serves the “Congregation.” We have been very successful with this combined model; it allows our “private” (not secret) group to perpetuate our tradition, while providing Pagan *interfaith* religious services, which encourage individual Pagans to engage their community in a mutually supportive relationship. That’s Magic!

  5. I imagine “Congregational” denotes their internal organization. It’s a recognized form common to Congregational, UU and Baptist churches.

  6.  While most t’tians would say that all rock music is pagan, there is certainly a lyrical demarcation between bands like the Rolling Stones who sometimes use pagan symbolism (RE: Babylon tour) and others like Nile who literally use pieces of text from the “Egyptian Book of the Dead” in their songs.

    Here’s the wiki on this, but it’s way…way short (and eurocentric):

    In the Death Metal sub-genre, however, one is much more likely to find the lyrics rife with pagan references as well as a profession of belief by the band members.


    Have fun. 🙂


  7. I think you are more likely to find “occult references” in Death Metal (it’s also common in some of the other metal subgenres, like Gothic/Orchestral Metal), than “pagan” ones.  Many of those references also tend to be under-developed, and I’m often left scratching my head wondering if those references represent a real religious belief, or are being used simply because the occult is a popular lyrical standby in contemporary Metal.   

    Though I’m down with any band that uses the Egyptian Book of the Dead in one of their songs.  Not trying to be nit-picky either, because I do believe there’s lots of good pagany stuff in today’s Metal, you just have to be careful about the context.  

  8. I wonder whether religious buildings/sites/groups could be classified like this:
    1. Congregation: Public, open to non-members, welcoming, like a community centre.
    2. Group (“cult” in a non-negative sense): Private, members only, initiatory, sometimes secretive.
    3. Shrine: Important whether anyone is there or not. One goes there to please (etc.) the gods, not to meet people.

    “Temple” seems to me to cover 1 and 3, but not 2.

    It seems odd to me, though, to use the word “church” for anything that isn’t Christian. No-one would do that with “mosque” or “synagogue”.

  9. The Jewish Community Center was invented (before WWII, I believe) by leaders of the Reconstructionist movement/denomination of American Judaism. The aim, as I understand it, was to create a meeting place and activities that would attract the entire range of Jews, including secular Jews and Jews affiliated with all denominations of Judaism, and would also be open to participation by non-Jews.

    JCCs are membership organizations that give discounts to members, but the general public can also attend everything that goes on there. Typical JCCs have athletic facilities, adult classes and guest speakers, holiday celebrations, and children’s activities.

    Jewish Community Centers have not replaced Jewish synagogues and temples.
    No more would Pagan Community Centers replace covens. I think the relationship of most Pagans to Paganism and the Pagan community is non-doctrinal and only loosely affiliated with organized worship groups, and that resembles the relationship of most American Jews to Judaism more than the relationship of most Christians to Christianity. This is a model worth taking up in places where there are sufficient self-identified Pagans to support it.

  10. There are two primary reasons, I think, for using the word church. First, it’s the most commonly used word for a house of worship in a country that is predominantly Protestant Christian.  And second, it’s friendlier sounding to non-Pagans.

  11. why is Jill the only one in that poster wearing leather (revealing leather?). can this be seen as pro or anti feminist, using sex to sell?

  12. Thanks for the heads up on the tour and Arkona! Thanks to you (and Jason) I will be rocking out at Paganfest next month. The Pagan metal genre is really growing with some great bands out there.

  13. I must admit, the first thing I thought when I saw that album cover was “Ugh. Nearly naked, fetish-bikini-attired woman** and four rednecks about to make unpleasant remarks. Yes, that really makes me want to pick up that album (not.)”

    The next thought was “In 15 years, that photo is going to wind up being used as a prop for a stand-up routine.” It’s pretty cheesy.

  14. Whoops – reply cut off part of my comment! (**No adverse judgment on fetish-inspired-bikinis, thigh-high boots or capes. Fashion is personal. But in the middle of a bunch of denim-clad metalheads? It’s clear the message isn’t ‘you go, girlfriend!’)

  15. Using church may also reflect what is available on legal paperwork. At one point, MD only had church, temple, or synagogue, but I’d wager in some states, church or synagogue (and maybe even just church) would be the only option on paper for a “house of worship”.

  16. Well, cool to hear something about Pagan Metal in the Wild Hunt….it is just a  bit sad to see that this article is only focusing on an Ultra-Mainstream band (signed on napalm rec) using the Ultra Mainstream marketing tactic of stripping down their female frontman in order to attract the attention of brainless teens. (just look at that: http://www.metal-archives.com/artists/Tuesdae/99650 it says it all)

    I read that the author of this otherwise very interesting blog doesn’t give a flying monkey about most of heavy metal music but this is a pitty considering the thousands of pagan bands that creep in the shadows of this scene.

    One should be able to make a distinction between the Mainstream bands that only surfing on the Folk metal wave (Arkona, Eluveitie) and those who are really motivated by a peculiar, Heathen view of the world (Primordial, Moonsorrow), And I’m not even starting with the Underground scene considering how rich and diverse it is, but yeah, there are real treasures out there for anyone curious enough to seek them out…

  17. In defense of metalheads, the denim and hair are only coincidentally related to the sterotypical ‘redneck’ look. They’re actually pretty nice folks, usually.

    And yeah, the RenFest LeatherBabe look is a bit much, but inyerface is typical for the genre, and listening to the track I’m much more interested in what appears to be an excellent woman’s metal voice.

  18. In Jason’s defense, he’s mentioned other Pagan metal bands before. 

    That whole “ultra-mainstream vs. underground” metal reminds me of the old “poser vs. true metal” arguments that used to go on back in the 80s.  What comes around, goes around… (and I’m not quoting Ratt).

    Having said that, the album cover really is cheesy and dated looking,  sort of like the old British and German metal from the early 80s.  I still have my old metal collection (on vinyl!) of obscure bands from back in the day.  🙂

    I’ll check the band anyways…it’s piqued my interest.  I’ve so lost touch with the music scene since I retired from the music biz many years ago, I don’t know what’s out there anymore and am always interested in any bands people refer me to.


  19. Using “church” also says: We’re normal. The name of our house of worship isn’t spooky or non-English.

  20. I find it interesting how you skipped over the fact that the business Bunky “helped” didn’t just go out of business, but was FORCED out of business by a law suit. A law suit brought on by Bunky himself, I might add. That’s right, Bunky went bankrupt and needed money to pay his bills, so he took back all of the money that he had given to the shop owners, who were his friends. The shop and its owners were dearly loved by the Pagan community, but Bunky didn’t care; he only ever thinks of himself. This is no different. Bunky is broke and is looking for a way to make cash. Why would I ever give him money or fund a project of his in any way? He doesn’t care about anyone but himself.

  21.  Some states require the word when establishing ecclesiastical corporations as opposed to educational corporations.

  22. He’s trying to make an MMO? The first thing I thought was: “He’s going to need a lot more than a million.” The Old Republic alone cost $150 million to make.

  23. I am sorry Bunky went broke, apparently that happens to alot of lottery winners. While its fine for a rich man to invest as he sees fit, there are so many causes that could have benefited from his good fortune. We have no Pagan cemetary in the Eastern US, nor do we have an old age home. In a time of great economic hardship for many I think our community efforts should go towards projects like that, rather than to second life video games.

  24.  Thank you for stating this! You are absolutely correct. The “shop” was a home to so many of us, a truly wonderful place. Where you found safety, security, acceptance, mentors, love, teaching and camaraderie. I was there, a part of a community I only dreamed could exist and  it was a heartbreaking experience for all of us who came to love it and the family we found there.

  25. Come on guys.  I’m sad Mystickal Voyage went away too, but until there’s solid proof and not a rumor mill about Bunky’s financial status, which he himself denies being broke, could we not spread unverified accusations?