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  • (the last) Samhain in Paradise

    This year's Corn King had a Where the Wild Things Are look

    This year’s Corn King had a Where the Wild Things Are look

    In October of 1994, the first Corn King burned during a Samhain celebration at Nels Linde’s home in rural Wisconsin, a place he calls Paradise. Last Saturday, the final 30 foot high Corn King was set ablaze in front of over 92 area Pagans. Two decades of potlucks, camping, and Samhain rituals come to a close that night.

    Linde started helping a friend, Mike Olson, create Corn Kings at Olson’s home in 1991.  Starting in 1994 the practice moved to Linde’s property. Around 30 people attended Linde’s Samhain celebration that first year and it’s grown ever since.  “One year, maybe 1997,  in a bad winter storm there where as few as ten people to burn one a very simple one I built completely myself,” Linde said. “The last ten years it’s  been between 60 and 120 people each year.” In 1998 Linde’s future wife Judy Olson (no relation to Mike Olson) began attending and a few years later was key to the celebration.

    Linde says the celebration has evolved over the years, “When I worked with Mike it had more of an emphasis on acknowledging the changing of the seasons. Kind of a potluck with a fire theme. When I narrowed my definition of community to be defined as Pagan and local to be within several hundred miles, we parted ways.” He says that once Judy Olson became involved, the rituals became more integrated with the burn. They began focusing more on the needs of the people who were helping build it and who would be attending in its design.

    The celebration itself typically starts after dark when the circle is cast. After that guests go inside and enjoy a potluck feast. Attendee then process to the Corn King where the Samhain ritual is completed and the Corn King is set on fire.

    This year followed that pattern. Attendees gathered in a double circle in the chill night while the circle was cast and the quarters called as a youth ran around the outside of the the property with a torch raised high. Judy Olson then explained to the crowd that this year there was a veiled tent where attendees could commune with their ancestors and write down a blessing or message. The empty chair, placed in the tent to serve the ancestors, and the slips of paper would be burned in the fire later. With that, the veil was opened and attendees were invited to either spend time communing with their honored dead or to go inside the house and enjoy the feast.

    Judy Potluck altered

    Judy Olson talks with Tasha Rose during the potluck

    The warmth of the house was welcome after the cold evening. Kitchen Witches replaced empty pots and pans and dishes with full ones as the crowds piled food onto plates. Even with the large crowd, no one went hungry. I sat across from a young lady who came with a co-worker. She’s not Pagan but had heard so much about the celebration from her Pagan co-worker she wanted to experience it for herself. Most others had attended the celebration before and knew each other well. The chatter was lively as old friends caught up and newer people introduced themselves.

    DSCN1066After eating I bundled back up in my mittens and headed out to the ancestor tent. Samhain isn’t a celebration in Hellenismos, but we have something slightly similar each month, so I didn’t feel as much need to contact my ancestors. However, a friend of mine couldn’t attend due to the death of her husband’s grandmother and she asked me to honor her that night. So I said a prayer for Grandma Nell and wrote her name on a slip of paper and placed it into the basket.

    I regrouped with the people I came with who were hanging out at our tent in a small wooded area. Did I mention we were camping that night in 20 degree temperatures? We brought plenty of sleeping bags, blankets, and chemical pocket heaters to ward off the cold. There may have been some mead floating around but I’ll neither confirm or deny the honey wine.

    Carved pumpkins ring the Corn King

    Carved pumpkins ring the Corn King

    They were bundled up in blankets with only their faces poking out. I told them it was almost time for the culmination of the ritual and picked up out small carved pumpkins and lit the tea lights. The pumpkins were our price of admission. Each person was to carve a small pumpkin in honor of an ancestor to carry during the procession. I carved my grandmother’s name in mine. My husband left his blank, just a hold for the candle. Our friend carved a crown in hers, as she is related to royalty. We lit our tea lights and headed to the line forming for the procession.

    A feeling excitement and solemnity spread through the line as we wound our way through the woods. Flickering candlelight lit our way and voices raised in song.

    Mother of Darkness, won’t you guide us
    Through the labyrinth to the truth.
    Mother of Darkness, won’t you carry us
    Through the chaos to the truth

    DSCN1153

    Attendees dance around the fire as sparks float upwards

    We entered the clearing and there he was, the Corn King, raising 30 feet high with horns and a very proud penis. I’d seen him during the day, even helped build him the weekend before, but seeing him in the flickering light with the stars filling the sky made him into a stranger. We took our places in the circle and waited for everyone to file in. Once we were all there, we placed our pumpkins around the Corn King. Some called out the names of their honored dead, while others were silent. Nels and a few others carried the ancestor chair, the basket of messages, and a torch around the circle. The chair was placed between the feet of the Corn King, the message poured out, and the torch touched the Corn King as drums beat and attendees cheered and cried out.  The dancing began almost immediately, dim figures backlit by the fire. I was mesmerized by the sparks shooting from the top of the fire.  Although I’m not Wiccan I found the words Hear the words of the Star Goddess, the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, whose body encircles the universe surfacing in my mind as I watched the fire dance into the sky, blending with the stars.

    Nels Linde and a volunteer add corn stalks to the Corn King

    Nels Linde and a volunteer add corn stalks to the Corn King

    So much work goes into building the Corn King just to watch him burn down in one night. “We need between 8-15 a day, for maybe 6-7 hours work per day. We started at 4 days prep time and the last few years go by on three by being better prepared and more efficient. That equals 200-300 person hours in advance, plus many hands spending the day of the ritual in final preparation,” says Linde. He and Judy Olson spend additional time gathering materials, promoting and inviting, answering questions, and preparing our home and property to be inviting and hospitable.

    As Wiccans, both Linde and Olson feel Samhain is the most important day of the year which is why they spend so much time and effort to make it special. Linde says the celebration is a dramatic experience that demonstrates the transitory nature of life, “Like life, it is here, and we work so hard to make it exactly what we want, and then it is suddenly gone. These are things most Pagans think about this time of year. For a young person, this building of a thing for weeks, only to be destroyed, can lead to very profound revelations. Why a man?  In many magical traditions there exists a male figure to act as a sacrifice to ensure the survival of a people, to survive the coming winter. This is the ultimate visualization of that sacrifice and a reminder of all the sacrifices our ancestors made, those we have made, and those we may some day be asked to make for our people.”

    Olson says, “Remove the gender from this and the burning of an effigy represents an ending. This is the Witch’s new year, it is a time to finish our work and get your plate cleaned for the next year. For me this always works. Once the man burns I am ready for a whole new year and a new cycle.”

    I’m not a night owl so once the Corn King was mostly burned down I headed back to my tent to let the ritual soak in while I slept. The cold was a shock once I left the relative warmth of the fire. I snuggled down into my blankets and fell asleep to the beat of drums pondering how fleeting our time here on earth is. At forty-mumble these thoughts are beginning to carry more weight. Will everything I ever was burn away in a moment or will something last past my death? If I died tonight what is the state of my timé? Uncomfortable thoughts.

    .
    In the morning, those of us camping or staying in the house gathered for a large breakfast. We had time to sit around the table and talk. About the ritual, our night’s sleep, and future gatherings.  Linde says he started holding this celebration because he had the space and magic circle to do it in. He says, as a potter, it also appealed to his sense of artistry, I love a big fire and have always had a relationship with fire as a potter. Spiritually it connects with many seasonal aspects of rural living, and a Pagan life style.”

    But what makes it all worthwhile for both Linde and Olson is the people. “My favorite thing is spending a length of time working beside people that help build. I get to know them much better. There is always a few new people to get to know each year. It is great to watch them experience the whole process and become a part of the building family that develops,” says Linde.   He says its enlightening to see how people react to working a long time on something consumed so quickly built simply to inspire others. Olson agrees, “During the actual event weekend, the time spent with people from all over the Midwest just sitting in your jammies round the breakfast table, or playing a group game late at night after the burn, or drumming, or tending the fire,  these are all very bonding and I love the bonds this event has created that will last forever.”

    So why, after so many years, are they stopping? As noted earlier, building the Corn King is very physically taxing and takes up a considerable amount of time. They both hope someone else takes up the torch and hosts this type of celebration. But if it does die out, they wish for the community to find other things to build that inspires themselves and others. After all, death is part of the cycle, which leads to rebirth.

    Below is a short video of the burning of the Corn King at this year’s Samhain celebration and  a link to a write up about the 1996 celebration.

    Pagan Leader Passes – Obituary Editorial

    I received word at Pantheacon Sunday morning of a friend’s passing. He was not a famous author, or leader of a tradition, or a major contributor to the intellectual development of Pagan philosophy. For many in the Madison, WI area and the Midwest, Circle Sanctuary, Pagan Spirit Gathering ( PSG ), and hand drumming community, he was their rock.

    Dennis Presser1958-2013

    Dennis Presser
    1958-2013

    Dennis Presser passed peacefully and unexpectedly of natural causes Saturday, Feb 16th at the age of fifty-four. He is survived by his loving wife of 25 years, Laurie Blue Heron, and his two children; Hunter and Allegra all of Madison, WI.

    The details of his long history of service, as a veteran and through his dedication to environmental organizations are elaborated on his official obituary. As an activist conservationist he worked, often in leadership positions, to preserve and improve the outdoors he loved so much as a Pagan, hunter, and trout fisherman.

    The loss of Dennis is felt across the breadth of his influence as a force of dedicated service to others.  In the Pagan community, he was known as a man of great personal strength, generosity, commitment, and ethical responsibility. He was willing to speak out and act in support of the people, community, and the natural environment he so loved.

    Dennis was generous with his time and hands. He was an avid brewer and mead maker, and always a cheery and welcoming host. His easy-going and good-natured disposition made him a natural choice for anyone who needed help. If you were in need, he would do whatever he could to help. He was a man of his word, a commitment from Dennis was one you could count on. In a world of opportunistic ethics, Dennis was one who would stand for his beliefs, whatever the cost. Continue reading

    UMPA celebrates six years, debates a seventh

    As the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance,  a federal 501c4 service corporation, prepares to celebrate their sixth anniversary at their biennial meeting this Saturday, they’re also contemplating if UMPA should disband or if it can be revived through an influx of new members and new leadership.  That question will be discussed while attendees enjoy music, food, and dancing.
    .
    In late 2006 and early 2007, when Pagans across the nation were banding together in the VA Pentacle Rights Quest, the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance (UMPA) was born in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. It’s conception was sparked by an unlikely source – a local curmudgeonly radio personality named Joe Soucheray.   In December of 2006, Soucheray was reading a news article about the Pentacle Quest on his afternoon show, Garage Logic. While he said that soldiers who gave their life for their country should get whatever they want on their headstone, he did get some mileage out of poking fun at Wiccans. He noted, jokingly, that Wiccans have a PR problem and they need to do something about it.

    First, outrage swept the local Pagan community, followed shortly by thoughtful discussion.  “Soucheray was right, we should be doing more,” said Nels Linde, UMPA’s former chairman. “We have a PR problem in that we tend to be quiet people. We don’t get out there and say who we are or what we do. People think we’re out dancing in the woods in robes.”

    Nels Linde and Judy Olson (among others) used their years of experience in group leadership and UMPA was born. According to the group’s website, “Our immediate activities focused on this issue, culminating in the Pentacle Rights Ritual at the Minnesota State Capital, in a blizzard on Febuary 24th, 2007. In a short 40 days we organized, produced an informative color brochure, made press contacts, and secured the Capital grounds for the event.”

    The ritual, which included the formation of a human pentacle, was well (and favorably) covered by local andnon-local press.  After the VA settled the lawsuit and approved the Pentacle as Gravemarker for Wiccan Veterans, UMPA took up other projects.

    UMPA Officer Bress Nicneven says, “We’re still sending solider packages to the middle east, from donations by patrons from Magus Books.  We still clean a stretch of I-35 E twice a year. We do ‘Meals on Wheels’ to the elderly during the holidays – annually. And feed the homeless when we have enough volunteers available.” Nicnven says UMPA is a relevant organization and he’s “excited about the potential that is UMPA, in the months and years to come.”

    The organization notes that while over 300 people have been involved with UMPA over the past six years, membership has dwindled and that is prompting leadership to ask members and the community, “… does this mean UMPA is no longer needed? We don’t know. This is an opportunity gather for a great meal, entertainment, and to join in and discuss the future of UMPA; either find some new leadership and participation, or dissolve the organization and pass on any funds raised to another non-profit.”

    The festivities this Saturday kick off with a tribal dance performance by Kamala Chaand at 4:15 followed directly by traditional Norse musician Kari Tauring and then the Bourgeois Bohemians, a fusion dance troupe, performs.   The Biennial UMPA meeting starts at 5.30pm where members are encouraged to add their vision for UMPA’s future and elect a new council.  Attendees are invited to enter the Best Chili and Cornbread of Paganistan contest and everyone present gets to sample the entries for dinner.  While entry to the event is free, the meal is a $5 suggested donation for non-UMPA members or free for members.  Everyone is welcome to the event.

    Event information:

    Saturday Feb. 9th 4-7pm
    At the Living Table UCC
    4001 38th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55406 – lower level
    Handicapped Accessable, two blocks off Minnehaha bus line
    Meal $5 by donation or free with UMPA Membership.
    Choose the best Chili and Cornbread of Paganistan.
    Bring your favorite Corn Bread or Chili to join in the competition (enough to feed 50 people a sample portion)
    Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

    Sacred Harvest Festival – rebuilding, changing, and staying the same

    Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), a Pagan camping festival held in SE Minnesota, celebrated their 15th year last week.  While the festival experienced ups and downs over the years, most recently a split in Harmony Tribe in 2010 resulting in the board resigning en masse, it appears to be back on the upswing with higher attendance and new and returning merchants.

    In 2011 the festival faced several challenges.  A wounded community tired of drama, a new zoning restriction on the park which limited night time drumming, and lack of board continuity and experience.  These challenges showed in the attendance numbers.  Approximately 150 people attended SHF in 2011.

    To meet these challenges the board brought in Crystal Blanton, author, mental health counselor, and High Priestess in California to hold a Restorative Justice circle and begin the healing at the 2011 SHF.  The success of that move, which rippled out through the community after last year’s festival, can be seen in this year’s festival numbers.  Although final numbers won’t be out until Sunday, Harmony Tribe Council Officer Judy Olson says the numbers topped 200.  Ms. Blanton returned to SHF this year to continue the community healing that was started in 2011.

    Crystal Blanton, Cara Schulz, Judy Olson, and Heather Biedermann

    Continue reading

    Dawning of a New Day – Editorial

    My wife,  Judy Olson Linde,  and I  appeared as guests this year at the Heartland Pagan Festival near Kansas City, Mo. I wrote this article for their newsletter, which was also published in their festival guide. It is excerpted below;  The theme of the festival was  “Dawning of a New Day” and I was thinking about what it would take for us, as a Pagan Spiritual community, to achieve that dawn.

    Guests at Heartland Pagan Festival 2012 – Judy and Nels Linde at far right
    photo: Aaron Smith

    The Heartland Theme this year  really attracted us to contribute differently this year, as guests. In recent years most Pagan communities, organizations, festivals, and even small groups have experienced some kind of internal turmoil, and so have we. Our easiest reaction to this is to withdraw to personal isolation. We attribute conflict to, “Just politics, Pagans can’t agree on anything”. We may have just stuck our head up and tried to get involved in a community just in time to get it bit off, so back we go into the safety of isolation. If you persist and stay involved in community work you often see the same destructive processes repeated over and over. Working together to build a community of support, something beyond ourselves, can seem a hopeless task.

    Respectful disagreement is a sign of change, and can be a motivator toward moving in new directions. When change can be so beneficial, why does it so often end up being harmful to individuals and communities, instead of an opportunity for growth? Is it an essential truth that Pagans working together is like ‘herding cats’? It doesn’t have to be. Working together doesn’t have anything to do with ‘herding’, and, have you ever seen film of a pride of lions hunt? Differences don’t need to be a source of disruption. Diversity of views in decision-making can be a group’s greatest asset.

    Continue reading

    Largest Upper Midwest Pagan Festival opens in 10 days! – Interview

    Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), located in southern Minnesota near Albert Lea, opens Saturday, August 6th, The last day to register online  and before gate rates is Sunday, July 31st.  I had the chance to interview Bress Nicneven, festival site director and board member of Harmony Tribe , the event’s sponsor.

    Why do people continue to return to Sacred Harvest Festival?

    SHF has gained a national reputation for quality and timely speakers and musicians. Celia’s video for the song ‘ Symbol’ was filmed at SHF, before the Pentacle Quest  became a household Pagan word. It is known for having a defined theme each year, and presenting profound rituals and speakers that all build on that theme for a complete experience. One of the few festivals that does this each year. In stressful financial times, this festival offers the cheapest per day rates of any festival in the country for the quality of the programming and activities.

    It is a really reasonable family vacation for Pagans. It is an upper Midwest tradition, going on 14 years. SHF is really a place for everybody. There is a Kid’s cauldron, operated by parents and volunteers, that keeps kids happy all week. Families get the time and space to worship together as a family. They get time together and also adults have time for individual experiences. It is really strengthening for both families, individuals, and our community relationships. We have a great location in a shady oak grove with easy access from Des Moines, Madison, and the Twin Cities.

    What is this year’s theme about?

    Forest Family, Roots and Branches Intertwined  is our theme this year. It encompasses the roots of the Tribe itself, the thousands of people who have grown this festival over the years. We come each year to celebrate at this magical grove, and this year we specifically want to connect with the marvelous shady and protective trees there. Trees are an appropriate symbol of how we are also all connected, and essentially like the forest that we camp under. Like the burr oaks, we are still growing, and changing, and each season together we reach out within the festival and our home communities to integrate our spiritual experience back into our foundation, our roots. Continue reading

    UMPA Annual Meeting and Anniversary Celebration

    The Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance celebrated it’s fourth anniversary Saturday evening with a capacity crowd at the Sacred Paths Center.  Not only was the event packed with people, it was packed with activities.  Attendees were treated to entertainment by the ever popular Murphey’s Midnight Rounders and tribal dancing by Kamala Chaand.  UMPA held it’s annual meeting, where they ratified new by-laws and elected their officers for the next two years.  New officers are Bonnie Hanna-Powers, Gary Lingen, Bress Nicneven, Grace Morgan. and Joshua Adam Blesi.

    The community also settled a long simmering dispute – who makes the best red sauce, Don from the Coven of the Standing Stones or Mistress Judy Olson?  Don won the competition handily, but many at the event said if you mix the two, it was better than each sauce alone.

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    Hoodoo Pilgrimage to Lucky Mojo Curio Company

    Lucky Mojo Curio Company

    Pantheacon in San Jose, Ca was an intense and spectacular  event, and PNC-MN will have several pieces coming up about that experience.

    Most timely to publish is our pilgrimage, which took place after Pantheacon, to the Lucky Mojo Curio Company. The Proprietor, Cat Yronwode, is considered one of the foremost authorities on the one truly American folk magic, HooDoo. Timely because my wife, Mistress Judy (the motivating factor for our pilgrimage), and two upcoming national guests to the Twin Cities are all practitioners of the conjuring art of HooDoo.  Orion Foxwood,  offering his course in Faery Seership this weekend at Eye of Horus , John Michael Greer , honored guest at the upcoming Paganicon, and Judy are all also graduates of Cat’s  HooDoo Rootwork course!

    Hoodoo, also known as conjure or rootwork, is a form of predominantly African-American traditional folk magic that developed from the syncretism of a number of separate cultures and magical traditions.

    Continue reading

    UMPA Celebrates 4 Years of Social Activism

    The Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance (UMPA) reached its fourth anniversary and invites the community to help celebrate it.  The event takes place at Sacred Paths Center on Saturday starting at 4pm.   Organizers of the celebration say all community members are welcome for this free evening of fun activities.

    From the March 3rd issues of the Minneapolis Star Tribune

    UMPA is not only celebrating an anniversary milestone, the group is celebrating the accomplishments of the past four years.  Started during what has become known in the Pagan community as “The Quest,” the struggle to gain approval for a Wiccan symbol to be placed on fallen Wiccan military members headstones, UMPA hosted the Veteran’s Pentacle Rights Ritual. This ritual took place on the state capitol grounds and garnered national news coverage for the issue.

    (See Pagan+politics coverage of UMPA formation and project, the Pentacle quest, and links to national press coverage, here)

    Continue reading

    Give Christmas Back to Christians (and perform good deeds)

    In a recent essay Pagan author, T. Thorn Coyle, asks

    “anyone who is not a Christian and who celebrates Christmas: what exactly do you think you are doing? Why are you contributing to this beast, this monster, this creature that not only feeds on the sweat of poor people around the world but simultaneously takes more and more money to just maintain its caloric requirements? Why have you – atheist, Pagan, Christian, or Jew – been taken in?”

    That’s an interesting question to ponder and her entire essay is worth a read.

    If you are not celebrating Christmas on Saturday, what could you be doing instead?  You could be living out your religious ethics of service to the community by volunteering for Meals on Broomsticks this Saturday.  Spend a few hours helping others – and bring your family and older children along.

    UMPA, the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance has, for the fourth consecutive year, signed up with the Union Gospel Mission to serve meals to senior citizens and low income families residing in two high rises in the Twin Cities. This service commitment requires 8-15 people willing to share a part of their day serving meals, chatting, and maybe even singing a carol or two.

    When – This Saturday December 25, 2010 (our fourth year!!)
    Where – Meet at the Union Gospel Mission- located at 435 E University Ave.
    in St. Paul. It is just East of I35E and North of East Seventh.  MAP

    Time – Gather at 11.15am, we load up and drive away shortly after 11:30 am so be prompt.   Contact us if you plan to attend!

    UMPA says that dressing up for the occasion adds to the fun, so get out your elf, Santa, or Grinch costumes.  Nels Linde and Judy Olson say that the food is really secondary to the people they deliver meals to, it is the time and attention that the elders receive that is so greatly appreciated.    They also noted that the meal delivery is usually done by 1:30pm and the volunteers then go to Cecil’s Deli for a fun lunch.

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