The Makings of a Priestess – Editorial

Rainbow and Janet Farrar

Rainbow and Janet Farrar

I was able to connect back up with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone after twenty years or so at Heartland Spirit Gathering  last week. I am transcribing over two hours of recorded interviews into something manageable for publishing next week.  Our interview was interrupted by  a personal ceremonial commitment, and so I left them on their own to relax in our merchant booth.

A young lady of eleven, Rainbow, had been working all day for various merchants, doing service and selling what she found to raise money for a small drum for herself.  She started earning by helping me deliver ice as a community service task that morning. She came to the booth frequently to report her fund-raising progress and so returned with a report in my absence that she gave to Janet Farrar.  Just a few dollars short now, Janet took her by the hand and went visiting merchants and shoppers, explaining her young friends plight. Within a few minutes the balance needed for the purchase was secured, and when I returned the drum was purchased, and Rainbow ran off overjoyed. The interview then resumed.

The next day I tracked down Rainbow’s parents for permission for a photo, and I learned more about Rainbow than I knew from the experience the day before. She had announced to her family she was going to get a drum that day, and they had every confidence somehow she would make it happen.  We rounded up Rainbow and took her over to Janet for this photo.  She only knew Janet as that nice lady who helped her, and was delighted to discover she was also a guest of the event.

The interviews next week will include a lot of Pagan history, assessment of the present, and a view of the future. Janet and Gavin have strong views of what it means to be a priest or priestess, to speak with the gods, and where the leaders of the Craft of the future will come from. This selfless aid to help fulfill a young women’s goal illustrated to me a beautiful example of the daily work of a priestess, and the simple experiences that empower a determined priestess of the future.

Watch for the interview series with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone next week.

Nels Linde

New Pagan Emblem for Veterans Grave Markers

Thor’s Hammer or Mjolnir

With no announcement or fanfare the image of a Thor’s Hammer appeared May 2nd on the list of approved images for “Emblems of Belief’   for veteran’s grave markers.  After the approval of the Pentacle in April, 2007 , many Pagans expressed the desire for support to seek approval of other pagan images, including the Mjolner. The Department of Veterans Affairs consistently maintained their established process of application would accommodate new images. Applications for a new image must be from a relative of the deceased veteran, and contain all the required information, including a copyright free image.

The story of this symbol of belief’s approval was reported May 14th, on the The Wild Hunt . Personal details were withheld at the families request, but it was reported the deceased, Shane, was an Odinist and a Sargent in the United States Marines.  At the request of his mother and with the help of comrades this image was applied for, and for her husband, Mark’s grave marker.

I asked Bress Nicnevin, from Lodge Yggdrasill, what this meant to him:

Are there veterans in your group?

Yes, there are.

How do you feel now the Mjolnir is approves as an emblem of belief?

I think it is appropriate and long overdue. Everyone should have whatever symbol they request on their grave memorial. This approval is a very good thing for all Heathens and Pagans ! Veterans should have the choice for an emblem that represents their faith, it is not about what is an approved religion.

Is the Thor’s hammer a specifically Odinist symbol?

I believe they have a specific symbol of a cross within a circle. The Mjolner is associated more with Asatru and Heathenism in general. The Mjolnir speaks to a broader spectrum of Heathen and Norse faiths including Odinism.  Thor is the “working mans” god, and over the centuries has become the “free mans”  god.  The plight of Heathenism today is probably more on Thor’s shoulders than Odin’s in the modern age.

Since the approval of the pentacle as a symbol of belief area Pagans have gathered at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery to honor Sgt. Jason Schumann and Specialist Daniel Schrankler as part of a Memorial Day observance.  Sgt. Schumann was the first soldier whose marker included a pentacle after the approval.

With the approval of the Thor’s hammer we know how future Pagan symbols will be approved, at least under the current administration and Dept. of  Veterans Affairs leadership. The upcoming holiday is a reminder to honor our fallen soldiers for their sacrifices, and for relatives to know the desires for the marker image  for our aging and active duty veterans.

Nels Linde

Marriage Equality, Love is the Law – Interview

Marriage Equality has become the law in Minnesota, effective Aug 1st, 2013!  The Pagan community has long been inclusive of the couples and members of the LGBT communities. This law has an immediate effect regarding how many couples can lead their daily lives.  They can plan a legal commitment and create all the documentation for health care, end of life care, inheritance, and all the other financial benefits married couple have enjoyed.  They may feel empowered to disclose their minority faith as Pagans.

The day of statements from senators prior to their vote Monday indicates discrimination is still very much alive, and active in Minnesota. While many Senators offered vigorous support, a few indicated, as politely as they could, that their religious connection to the word and concept of marriage prevented them from supporting the law. This law however paves the way for an increase of awareness, and ultimately compassion and tolerance within our society for same sex couples, and for a broader range of spirituality that  historically already embraced same sex unions.

The I-35 bridge lit up to celebrate the passage of marriage equality legislation in Minnesota ( photo: City of Minneapolis/Facebook)

I asked a Pagan, Jay Linnell,  who has been a marriage equality activist within our community and at state government how he felt about the new law. It clearly is a powerful victory for Pagans:

Two years ago, I stood outside the doors of our state House of Representatives in a vigil of hope. Our legislators had gathered to proclaim the uniformity of Minnesota’s religious and social character and to put forth a Constitutional Amendment preventing any legal acceptance of family contracts beyond one man, and one woman. This was not new, as 30 states had done this before us; but I was hurt and saddened that my state, my community, might make such a statement to me as a bisexual man and as clergy.I am married to a woman I love quite dearly. While our marriage has had its moments of pain and sorrow, even at those moments I look back on the day we were married, when our priest and priestess looked us in the eyes and shared with us a commitment before the gods to honor our love and build a life upon trust, care, and hope shared as partners. Nothing in my life can parallel the joy of that moment – our religious community, our families, and the representatives of our state looked upon us and celebrated our choice to begin a walk as family.

Jay Linnell as the Minnesota House began debate last week.

Jay Linnell as the Minnesota House began debate last week.

Representatives of the state? Yes. That would be the priest who signed our wedding license. Any reader who, like me, holds a license as clergy, is specifically licensed by the state to endorse and license marriages. We attest to the validity and to our surety that each couple is properly prepared to support one another as partners in life. We are given license to look upon any couple and make the essential statement of who is or is not family.

For too long, that license has had an asterisk, reading “so long as the state has properly inspected their genitals (at birth or reassignment) and deemed them a match”. As a priest, that asterisk has been painful, it has told me my license is no honor to my service as a priest, but a badge to be a servant of a legislator’s faith.

That has been a struggle for me. When Dawn and I were married, she and my mom had to do some work to convince me to accept legal marriage. I looked at our list of invitees, and saw so many (including the priest mentioned above) whose marriages I never dreamed would be recognized in my lifetime. How could I accept that dignity if they could not? How could I as a pagan accept endorsement of a contract I knew was not available to those who would gather to celebrate my love?

It felt like theft. But mom and Dawn made quite clear what the joy of marriage meant to them and especially to my intended bride. To set up contracts and create an “almost-marriage” would not only be complicated, but would be indignity, it would tell her she was something less, that our family wasn’t real to me.

That spiritually and magically, my heart wasn’t really in it.

Of course, I happily married her, and gave her my heart in as full and true a ritual as I could, complete with the legal endorsement on behalf of our clergy. And I steeled myself that when the opportunity came, when the iron was hot, I would act to make that same moment a reality for those I love.

As a witch, love is essential to my faith. In my faith I work to build intimate relationships with fellow clergy, with my coven mates and tradition members, with the gods I worship, with the elemental spirits who make up this world. Every one of those relationships requires self-evaluation, an understanding of what I give those I love, what self I offer and how that serves their needs and fosters a world build on the sort of love I hope to share.

As relationships need attention to continue to grow, I take time to walk with particular spirits, and in the year this amendment was pending, was my year with fire. Naturally, in the light of this amendment, I was drawn to focus on fire as that nurturing and nourishing spirit of love, the heart of the gods, the lust of Pan and the solace of Hera, the spirit which drives our connection as lovers, mates and partners throughout out lives. And in service to that spirit, I put aside a night a week to make phone calls, to knock on doors, to talk to individual Minnesotans about what love means to us, about what marriage means to us… and about our many friends, sisters, teachers, grandfathers, students, and more, singled out by this amendment as unfit for the joy and dignity framed by that word.

Minnesota heard that conversation. They embraced the emotional spirit of nurturing and dignity that I see as the spirit of fire, the heart of the goddess. While Minnesota did not act in the goddess’s name (It’d be hubris and plain ignorance to assume they all share my faith), they recognized the values I draw from my faith are values they share.

And they honored my freedom of conscience, my freedom of faith. As a worshiper and as a priest, I have been told by Minnesota that the beliefs of my community will not be Constitutionally banned. That’s a beautiful thing to hear, and was a great first step. And Minnesotans joyfully continued that conversation – they told their legislators what marriage means, whom in their life it would affect for the better, and our laws were re-framed so that every couple would be treated with dignity. So that every priestess and priest in our community would be given the freedom of conscience to endorse the couples who present themselves to us honestly as committed families.

One week ago I stood before the doors of our House of Representatives and sang with joy as they voted to recognize our dignity as clergy and as families. I am overjoyed. Minnesota has been engulfed in that nourishing fire, has embraced what I see as the patient love of the goddess in each of our hearts, and has declared, in harmony with words which inspire our traditional roots: “Love is the Law!” And yes, my friends, that is love under will. Thank you all for the will you have committed to seeing this through. I know I was not alone in my prayers, magic, and commitment of time and attention. And I am grateful that Minnesota’s work has settled on joy, and dignity, and that our religious choices as followers of a minority faith, will in one way be shown greater respect in the state I lovingly call home.

Jay Linnell (Charles Wallace Murry) is a member of Spiral Tor Coven of Blue Star, and Membership Officer of COG Northern Dawn in Minneapolis.

Pagan Elder Interview by Estelle Daniels

John Stitely

John Stitely

Estelle Daniels is a native resident of Paganistan and is interviewing elders in the Pagan Community in the Midwest who attend Earth House Midsummer Gather to get their stories.

Earth House Midsummer Gather takes place from June 16-23 at beautiful Eagle Cave campground in Wisconsin, a short 4-5 hour drive from the Twin Cities. It’s a medium sized festival with a definite family feel. This is the 13th year it will take place, and there has grown up a community of Earth House attendees—several of whom are elders with many years festival experience. Estelle will be interviewing some of the elders who attend Earth House to show what a rich variety of people attend the Festival from all over the Midwest. For more information or to register for Earth House, go to

Rev John Stitely is the current Chair of Earth House. He is originally from Iowa, born and raised there—went to school there and worked as a lawyer there for many years. He has been attending Pagan Festivals for many years and I talked to him about his experiences. I interviewed him about his experiences at Pagan Festivals.

What was the first festival you attended? I can’t really remember—I graduated from Law School in 1987, and I guess summer of ’88 was my first Festival—PSG 88 then. I decided to take the suit off for a week.

  Continue reading

Editorial: Leading horses to water

Our main mission at the Pagan Newswire Collective is to provide primary source reporting for our local communities.  A secondary mission is to assist mainstream reporters and news organizations when they are covering news that touches on Paganism.  Most of the time you never know about the article because, after talking with us, they realize the story they thought they had doesn’t really exist.  That’s a good thing.  You wouldn’t believe what we are approached with from time to time.  Other times we give reporters information about Paganism, point them towards reputable persons to interview, and do basic research for them.  This is an invaluable service for reporters, who often know little to nothing about Paganism and have extremely tight deadlines.  We do this to promote better, more nuanced mainstream reporting on issues that affect us.

Thursday the Pagan Newswire Collective was contacted by Matt Nestel, a reporter for the New York Post, who needed help on an article about New York Councilman Dan Halloran.  Halloran, and five other elected officials, are accused of accepting bribes and attempting to rig an election.  What makes this germane to Pagans is that Halloran is Theodish, which is a tribal form of Heathenry.  The reporter was looking for assistance on several things – understanding the religion, seeing if Halloran’s alleged actions were influenced by his religion, and interviewing Heathens who know Halloran.

To his credit, Nestel spent the better part of two days researching Theodism.  That’s a considerable amount of time in the news industry.  He asked intelligent questions, asked for more information on areas he still didn’t understand, and requested multiple sources to interview.  We spent just over 4 hour son the phone with him during the course of two days answering his questions.  We connected him to some really fantastic, knowledgeable people to interview.   Sources to read to learn more about the religion of Theodism.  Then we stepped back and hoped our assistance wasn’t in vain.  We can help, but we can’t write the article for the reporter.

So how did Nestel’s article turn out?  The first sentence read, “The city councilman who bungled his way into federal bribery charges is also a total bonehead in his kooky heathen religion — whose members wear medieval garb, make sacrifices to multiple gods and compete in combat games.”

As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but can’t make ’em drink.