PSG Report: Serendipity

Something that brings people back to Pagan festivals over and over, yet is hard to convey to those who haven’t attended a festival are the conversations that organically happen throughout the festival. You may be sitting at your campsite and a stranger will stop by and the next thing you know, you’ve spent an hour chatting with one another and a friendship is formed. Or a BNP (Big Name Pagan) may hear the sound of your martini shaker going and you learn more during that conversation than you have from a bookshelf of Pagan books.

I’m shameless about luring people to my campsite with booze and food. I consider it an even trade – you give some of your limited time during a festival and I will feed you. I enjoy being a host and I love guests.

One guest who wandered into my campsite was Patrick McCollum. He was tired, very hungry, and extremely friendly. The conversation ranged from early Pagan history to a very special instrument he was carrying. The instrument, a violin, had a story behind it.  And like the really good stories that stick with you, this one had a lesson behind it.

Patrick McCollum at PSG 2011

Patrick was moved to make a violin.  no, he told us, he had no experience in making instruments.  He just felt he wanted to do this.  He made it over a period of years.  A bit of gifted wood from this trip, inlaying some carved willow from a sacred site, more ethically harvested wood from another place.  Finally, it was ready for the lacquer.   He mixed it himself, let it dry.  Put the strings on, raised his bow….and it sounded like shit.

What went wrong?  He sanded the lacquer off, remixed a new batch, and then let it dry.  It still sounded like shit.  but not as bad as before.  So he put it away for about 6 months.  The violin sat in the dark, away but not forgotten, until Patrick took it out once more and played it.

Detail of the inlaid willow on the violin

It sounded pretty good!  What had changed?  He hadn’t done anything different to it.  The temperature was the same, humidity was the same.  The difference was the violin had time to sit.  To incubate.  Time and darkness to Become.  Patrick told us sometimes that’s what we need to do with our ideas – allow them to sit and develop and become.

I’m a person who jumps in and wants to DO.  Plan and execute.  This story from Patrick wasn’t just a neat story, but is a new modern, Pagan fable that can enter our storytelling.  It  shows our ethics in how he gathered the materials and didn’t just take and cause harm to the environment.  Our curiosity and desire to create is shown in his drive to make an instrument himself, even though he had no experience in instrument making.  When he didn’t get it perfect, he didn’t take it personally.  He accepted it as a learning experience and utilized it.  And finally…it is a very Pagan concept to see darkness not as an enemy, but as a positive place of possibility and incubation and magic.

Breaking: Patrick McCollum speaks about court case, seeks direction from community

McCollum calls press conference to clear up misconceptions in Pagan prisoner rights case. Alleges state admitted to perjury, destroyed key documents. Systemic discrimination. Says states are moving to end chaplain programs and replace with privately funded Evangelical chaplains. McCollum must decide next step in legal battle withing the day, asks community for input.

Monday night, Pagan minister and civil rights activist Patrick McCollum called a press conference at the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering.  McCollum discussed the recent 9th Circuit Court ruling in the Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; et al. case.  McCollum called the presser to clear up what he saw as misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the case in the mainstream media and in the Pagan community.  He also said that the Pagan community needs to know how this case affects Pagans across the country, both inside and outside the prison system.

McCollum stated since this is a federal case, it affects how the government interacts with minority faiths far beyond the borders of California.  Likewise, the nature of the case doesn’t limit it to only the prison system.  It is applicable to all federal agencies.  McCollum said if the Pagan community understood how the ruling could be applied and that it does affect them, they would mobilize similar to the VA Pentacle Quest.

McCollum said this action by the correctional department was part of a larger movement by fundamentalist Christians to  use governmental institutions to pressure persons to convert to aggressively proselytize, such as was seen in the Air Force Academy in the USA.  Aggressive, and sometimes violent, proselytizing is also being carried on by some Evangelical groups in places like Haiti, India, and in Africa.  He outlined how the California correctional system officials heavily discriminated against McCollum and Pagan inmates over a period of years while pressing him to file a lawsuit.  Prison systems in three other states have since cited court costs associated with minority religion discrimination cases, such as the one McCollum filed, as a reason to end the state run chaplain program.  The prison systems then allow private religious 501c3s to bid on administering a private chaplain program and the groups selected pay all costs.  McCollum says that Pagans shouldn’t be surprised that the winners of these bids are mainly Evangelical Christian groups.

McCollum listed how prison officials had admitted to perjury, shredded thousands of inmate grievance filings, and how the court had continued to use the perjured testimony as a basis for its ruling.  He also noted that the headlines stating he lost a ruling based on standing is incorrect.  The case was started as a class action lawsuit involving prison inmates, but that portion of the case was thrown out.

Towards the end of the press conference McCollum said that he had a decision to make regarding the case.  If McCollum decided to continue fighting this in court, it could be 8 or more years before there is a final resolution.  He has already been involved in this case for over seven years.  He said it is very emotionally and financially draining to fight a legal battle of this magnitude, but he has done so because it’s the right thing to do.  He laid out his options as he sees them.  He could push this fight through and seek to eventually end up in the Supreme Court.  He noted that SCOTUS hears very few cases each year and the likelihood of the court taking this case is small.  He could seek a settlement with the state of California.  Or he could drop the case and fight it in the public arena similar to the pentacle Quest.  For any of these options he would need the support of the entire Pagan community.  It is for this reason that McCollum is seeking to hear from the community on what they feel he should do – continue in the courts or drop the case and use social pressure to affect change.  He asks that Pagans comment quickly as he was given a shortened time frame to decide.  He has less than 24 hours from the time of this publication.

A longer report of the presser is to follow along with links to the audio of the full press conference.

Pagans in Prison – Interview with Patrick McCollum

This begins a series about Pagans in Prison, and those who ‘minister’ to them.  Religious volunteers report most Pagan prisoners find their Pagan path once they are incarcerated. The loss of freedom that prison represents is a strong motivator to find some meaning in life, and Pagan spirituality often offers the most relevant choice.  Prisoners are invisible to us, unless they get publicity.  I hope this series increases our  awareness of this part of our community for, sooner or later, many will return to our general society, and look for spiritual support.

Patrick McCollum

What is critical to understand within this topic, is the difference between loss of freedom, and loss of civil rights. Prisoners retain some civil rights even while in prison. Our Constitution’s First Amendment is about religious freedom, and within bounds, remains in force for those incarcerated.  I had the opportunity to interview one of the foremost authorities regarding religious civil rights and prison, and Patrick McCollum also happens to be a Pagan.  Read his qualifications at the end of this interview!

 There are prisoners convicted of state and federal crimes, often mixed together in state institutions, does it matter?

The principles are exactly the same in the law. In federal prisons there are some additional provisions that grant additional rights, more than state prison systems, but what I’ll talk about is applicable to both systems.

What are a prisoners civil rights regarding religion in prison?

There was a law upheld by the Supreme Court (unanimous) in 2005, called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, (RLUIPA)  which laid out the basics of what religious accommodation prisoner of all faiths have right to. What the act says is that the state is required to accommodate each and every inmates religious need.

Continue reading

Pagan Chaplain Receives International Award

via PNC-DC

Patrick being presented the award by Suhag Shukla. Photo courtesy of the Lady Liberty League.

On Tuesday, September 14, 2010, Wiccan minister Rev Patrick McCollum received the Mahatma Ghandi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism from the Hindu American Foundation (HAF).  The award was presented during the seventh annual Capitol Hill reception sponsored by HAF.  This year’s reception was held in the Gold Room of the US Congress Rayburn Building.  Patrick was one of four award recipients.  Neal Katyal, Acting Solicitor General of the United States received the Pride of Community Award.  Community activist Vishal Agarwal received the Dharma Seva Award.  US Congressman Edward R. Royce (Republican, Orange, California) received the Friend of the Community Award.

“Patrick is not only the first Pagan to receive this award, but the first Pagan to receive an international interfaith advancement award.  This is an important milestone in Pagan interfaith relations,” said Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister, Circle Sanctuary.  “I am glad that Patrick and his work to build bridges of understanding and collaboration among those of many faiths was honored.”

In his remarks upon receiving the award, Patrick expressed appreciation for this recognition, and also spoke about the importance of respecting diversity and sacredness of human beings.  “We are all part of the human family and we must learn to respect each other and live in harmony.”

David Salisbury from the Pagan Newswire Collective’s Washington DC bureau will be at tonight’s Lady Liberty League 25th Anniversary Reception, where Mr. McCollum is also to be honored,  so please check out their site for full coverage. Additionally, The Wild Hunt is providing more information on this event throughout today and tomorrow.