Oberon Zell-Ravenheart at Paganicon – Interview

Oberon Zell Ravenheart

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

I talked by phone with Oberon Zell-Ravenheart about his upcoming appearance at Paganicon, and his new book  about to be released.

Paganicon
Where: Doubletree Park Place in St. Louis Park, MN
When: March 14-16, 2014
NOTE: Deadline for programming submissions is January 31st!

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is a multi-talented and active force of nature, pursuing many interests at any one time. I inquired about the health of  lifemate Morning Glory who has been undergoing treatment for cancer for some time. Oberon splits most days to spend time with her in this current hospitalization, and a funding site has been established for donations for her ongoing care. Don’t be fooled by the funding goal displayed, the need is real and ongoing!

Are you excited to come to Minnesota?
Yes, I have not been to Minneapolis for a long time. My father used to live up there and I visited him frequently before he died a few years ago. But my major connection to the area is the old Llewellyn Gnosticons  back in the early 70’s, which is where I met Morning Glory. We met at the fourth Gnosticon festival in 1973 at the fall equinox, and were handfasted there on April 14, 1974. We’re coming up on our 40th wedding anniversary! We have just completed and published our life story, and that period is an important part of it.  Llewellyn is publishing it and Carl Weschcke wrote the introduction to the book, so it is all coming around full circle. The book will be released in early February.

Tell me about your keynote address at Paganicon.

Deborah Lipp

Deborah Lipp

I am sharing the keynote with guest Deborah Lipp, and we are offering a talk on the legacy of the whole Neo-Pagan movement. The two of us will be bouncing back and forth about the emergence of the Neo-Pagan movement and what it has contributed that will be of lasting significance in the world. I think it is quite a lot. We will also talk about where we go from here as Paganism becomes more recognized as a mainstream religion. One of the puzzles we have all experienced is why don’t people don’t seem to know about us, because they ought to!

There have been more books published by and about the Pagan movement that just about any other religion you could find. Vast numbers of people are involved, interviews, television shows are aired about us. People seem to have a much greater awareness about a few truly obscure and off the wall spiritual groups than us.

You have always had a very public face as a Pagan, how has that experience been for you?
I always get a good reception. I have done lots of interviews and never had a bad one. I have done many public appearances, speaking, book signings, and festivals, and they have all been positively received. I can afford to be out there in the public in a way that many people can’t. I don’t have to worry about losing my job, or losing my kids in a child custody suit, or many of the things that have caused some of our people to feel the need to stay “in the broom closet.” Because of my freedom to move in the wider world without repercussions, I feel a responsibility to do so, because of all the people who cannot afford to.

What will you be offering at Paganicon?
The theme of the conference is about Embracing the Elements, and now that we have just stepped over the threshold of the age of Aquarius, there is interest in knowing what all this will mean. I want to talk about this, as Aquarius is an Air sign, signifying communication, wisdom, and travel through the air and sky. The internet and how that will continue evolving in the years to come, and space travel and colonization, these are totally Aquarian types of issues. Then there is the spiritual, and Aquarius also involves the mind and consciousness. The “New Age” is very Aquarian in its entire vision. This is truly a time of global awakening, of our planetary being, of Gaea herself. Her awakening to full consciousness and the implications of that for us. I have been thinking about these things for decades and I think it will make a great subject to talk about. We are here!

Where do you put most your effort now?
With each of the projects I have worked on I have tried to create what I want to see. If it is not out there, then I feel I have a mission to create it. I started off back in college with finding two major things lacking. I wanted to create a new religion because I was into religion but was not satisfied with what was out there and available. I took that as an assignment, and created the Church of All Worlds  in 1962.
Ultimately I had a lot to do with the creation of the whole modern Pagan movement. I feel good about that, I don’t feel the need to keep at that, it is sustaining and I just keep my finger in the pie with my ideas. The most recent involvement has been a campaign to get journalists and press style books to capitalize the name of our religions. Everything from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, to Christianity in all its forms are capitalized. Why not Paganism? There is no other religion that I can think of that is ordinarily and routinely not capitalized by journalists. It is really annoying and frustrating. We have been hammering at this trend for decades. It is insulting and demeaning .Lately I pulled together an international coalition of scholars in Pagan studies and we submitted a petition to the AP and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize the name of our religion. Your readers may view and sign the petition .
But the other thing I have always felt a need for was an entirely new approach to education—what I call “esoteric education.” That is, once upon a time getting an education was universally regarded as a very special privilege. But this view has been severely diluted by our laudable goal of universal education. But I was always inspired by more visionary models, such as Montessori, Waldorf schools, Summerhill, Walden Two—and perhaps most of all, “Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters” in “The X-Men.”
For decades I have written and lectured about the need I perceived in our Pagan community to create schools of magick and Wizardry that would be open to youths as well as adults. With the incredible popularity of the Harry Potter novels and movies, centering around a fictional school of “Witchcraft and Wizardry,” I felt that the time had finally come for me to actualize my long-standing vision, and create such a school in the real world. And so it is, with my Grey School of Wizardry , which is ten years old this year!

Have we not attained a capital P in Pagan by not having a commonly accepted definition?
That idea frustrates me, because we do have a commonly accepted definition, and we have had it for decades. I don’t understand why there are people who resist that. Some people just seem to be contrary-wise and don’t want to get with the program. This is not something that we haven’t done or talked about. We have had whole conferences of Pagan leaders, like the Pagan Leaders Summit in 2001, that I attended over ten years ago that addressed this question. These things have been settled and used worldwide for decades now. I don’t understand why new people coming into the Pagan movement can say we don’t really know who we are.

Yes we do; we have known for decades! It is who we are and have been very clear about our definitions. Simply put, Paganism is Nature Worship. That is pretty fundamental. On a broader scale it is the “Old Religion” the original religion of ancient peoples everywhere, indigenous traditions that existed before being taken over by prophet-based religions. It is about the Earth, the seasons, natural cycles and the ways of Nature; that is the core of it. I particularly like the definition of Paganism I overheard in the ‘90’s as “Green Religion.”

Are you actively involved in the School of Wizardry?
These days most of my activity with the School isn’t so much on the internal level. That is all being handled really well. We have a phenomenal faculty and staff, a couple dozen people, who are doing a great job with all that. What I do is just keeping the oversight of the long term vision. I tend to handle the outside public relations, and speaking about it. I try to bring the school to a wider public consciousness and help in shaping the whole thing. Writing the textbooks, trying to encapsulate the obsessive learning I have done all my life, consumes much of my time. To get that together coherently in a literary format so people can have it, and so it will remain, is important to me.

Oberon and Morning Glory with unicorn

Are you excited about your new book coming out?
I look forward a great deal to seeing how people react to it. The initial manuscript was twice as long as the edited book! A great deal had to be trimmed. What we have now should be tight and fun, and move right along and hopefully people will find it enjoyable. That is really what is comes down to when producing a book. There are two aspects. Most writers think of what they want to give to people. People who are buying the books are looking at what they are receiving. If they don’t like the book it doesn’t matter how well the author has articulated his or her thoughts, it falls flat. If people think it is a great story, and they like it a lot, well cool! If not, then, oh well. You drop a pebble in the pond and watch the ripples spread…

What was your experience of the Midwest?
I grew up out there, what I consider to be “Pleasantville”. I was in high school in the 50’s, the world of Archie and Jughead, Happy Days, Father Knows Best, all that was created after World War II to offer to returning GI’s. To emerge out of that into the sixties was a major cultural revolution. Every sixty years, like clockwork , there has been a major cultural renaissance, the last one being in the 1960’s.  Out of that came the Pagan movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the anti -war movement, and the sexual revolution; it was huge.
The next one of these will be in the 2020’s. I am excited to look forward to that. Each time the people who came of age in one revolutionary era then become the elders, teachers, and wise ones for the young people in the next generation. We have this cycle in our mythology, of wizards and young heroes. Wizards are the mentors for the heroes as they leave on their adventures. Connecting all this from the myths into the reality, the history of past, present, and future is a large part of what I am thinking about and working with these days.
This is the ultimate conspiracy of Pagans. By the time you know enough to know what we are really all about, it too late, you are already one of us.

Nels Linde

People of the Land – Editorial

South fork of Hay River

South fork of Hay River

Discussion of Paganism often centers around what a Pagan  is. Terms like “nature-centered” always come up, and occasionally reference to the spirituality of the countryside is spoken. I like to think of Pagans as people of the land. It is a vague term and many people can be considered people of the land without having any particular spiritual belief. I take some pride in the term Pagan. I am a Pagan connected to a piece of land.

I realized recently what a rare relationship I have with land. I have lived on and had an intimate relationship with the same piece of land for thirty eight years. It is not so rare in rural areas where people often reside in the same location for generations. For people who associate their spiritual beliefs with the land, and for  Pagans, the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours in total solitude on an individual piece land is uncommon. I am not referring to the casual acts of living, work, and recreation, but time spent in meditation and direct observation of the land, its plants, and creatures.

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I confess, much of this time was spent in the acts of fishing and hunting, and preparing for these activities. The time walking, looking, sitting, and directly observing the land is all a part of this. These activities have a directed purpose, which didn’t distract from developing an intimate relationship with the land.

Young Forest photo: UNH.edu

A long term relationship with land teaches you how temporary are the things  we think are permanent. My land embraces a river, and rivers are ever changing. I can’t count the number of times this little river has changed its course, each fallen tree or rock diverting the flow from its established path. Fragile stream banks erode away, cliffs collapse, and a spring log jam can start the deposit of a new stream bank. A severe flood can scour out a new deep fishing hole and a large influx of eroded dirt can silt in a beautiful rocky rapids. These changes occur without any relation to what we  as humans may want, or what we spiritually wish and pray for as best for the land.

Land changes in its type, spanning the whole range from agriculture, to grassland and meadow, to brushy pasture, and eventually to mixed forest. Human intervention often controls these changes. In my part of the world the land was once all a conifer forest, then it was cleared by humans for settlement. The natural progression is for grassland and meadow to move back to forest.  Fire can maintain a meadow, killing the woody plant starts,  but fires are often not enough. As soon as human intervention stops, the land rapidly returns to woods.

Most of us are not aware of how many of plant species which fill our world are foreign and invasive. I had a campaign of meadow fires to help bring back a stand of Blue Gentian here. It is a fairly rare and beautiful meadow flower easily overwhelmed with foreign grasses and plants. I have seen a meadow go from grassland to brush and on to a young wood of popple, birch, and pine. A meadow first gathers up prickly ash and stag horn sumac to begin shading the grass out. Then the denser and slower growing ironwood and hop hornbeam pop in wearing dark stockings at their trunk base. The now shady and brushy young woods supports the spread of taller growing birch and popple, and even these eventually give way to maple and ash. The land moves from easy to walk through, to nearly impenetrable with brush, and eventually to a “park like” mature wood, in the span of a lifetime.

These are relationships with change. People of the land receive deep lessons about change, and apply it to their own lives. The feeling of powerlessness in the face of nature and the attitude of “power over” nature come from a severe disconnect that is foreign to landed Pagans. Humans often confuse what is best for us as humans, with what is best for the land.

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Twin Cities Pagan Pride 2013

A good crowd attended Twin Cities Pagan Pride (TCPP,) at Minnehaha Park this year. Many stayed the majority of, or the whole day. You were in public, as a self declared Pagans, talking to anyone who found you interesting that walked by,  I know I talked to at least a few non-Pagan people who left knowing more and feeling better about a world where Pagans exist next to them. For those of us who like the idea of similar people getting one last chance to hug and appreciate each other despite our differences before winter sets in,, it was a perfect day.

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Why spend a day of your valuable life, heck, your Saturday, at Twin Cities Pagan Pride (TCPP) ?  If you believe Pagans need to be supported in their desire for public acceptance, you were there.  What if you are a Pagan, what did you get out of attending ?  There was a full schedule of many different types of ritual to experience, Music, dance, and many booths selling items, promoting ideas, or experiences were on hand to entertain you, If you are a Pagan you did get to see, talk to, and connect with many old friends and make some new ones.  Saturday at TCPP it was also hot.  I guess that was a bonus for Minnesotans, You got to spend one of the last days of hot weather you might get this year, outdoors with friends.

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.