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.

Gifts and Thank You’s – Editorial


Gifts, they are on most of our minds this time of year.  We anguish over giving them and receiving them, who needs one, who might give us one, why we give them.  It is residue from that dominant holiday in our culture, at least the anguish is.  Most of the gifts we really appreciate are the ones given from the heart, and specific to ourselves and the receiver.  There is a strong alternative movement against all the commercialism.  Give some cookies, or a hand-made necklace, a poem, hand-made card, or a special artifact of nature.  Give something really personal, these things often have more meaning.

Thank you.  Our thank you conversations are the flip side of gifts.  We always say thank you, but we can’t help but betray what we feel most often.  The enlightened honor that old saying, “It’s the thought that counts.” and really endeavor to feel it.  It doesn’t matter if we already have two, or don’t need want or like it.  It may even feel like an obligation or burden.  Why did we not think of them and have a gift?  Whatever we feel, as we accept it, we also know most times the giver instinctively senses our reaction, and it falls into a couple of categories.  We loved it and appreciate it, we are ambivalent and it is a little awkward, or they sense our subtle dread at the responsibility of accepting it.  However it takes place, we complete the gift-thank you ritual and keep moving, it is that busy time of year.

Twin Cities Pagans

How can we avoid the stress of this time of gifts and thank you’s?   What got me thinking about this was the ending of the Paganistan weekly. What a gift.  JRob took the task of building a network of people, and a place to share personal and community events, applied his love and vision of a better community, and just ran with it.  The list, Twin Cities Pagans had been around since year 2000.  I found the post when JRob got involved , message # 649, Aug 18th, 2008:

Blessings All,
I couldn’t find a place which listed the area Pagan events in one calendar, so I asked Robin and he said I could use the calendar from this group to keep track of events.  So if you want to keep up on local Pagan events, check this group’s calendar.  I’m on a bunch of local groups and I continually add things as I find them.
Oh, and I also updated the links section. But I’m not calling dibs.  I hope that other people also feel free to add things.

Many Blessings, Jrob

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Community Notes; April 9-15

The Future of Northern Dawn Local Council (CoG) will be discussed at a Town Hall meeting at Walker Community United Methodist Church this Saturday at 6pm. The Northern Dawn Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess has served the Twin Cities Pagan community for over 30 years.

There was an article in the PNC last week about local Pagan podcasts. That’s yet another way in which our community is excelling:

There will be a CD release party at the Sacred Paths Center this Friday, for three CDs produced by Rhythmpriest. Two CDs from Murphey’s Midnight Rounders, and one from Ailinn. There will be live music.

Local Tarot professional extraordinaire, Barbara Moore recently published another new Tarot Deck, the Steam Punk Tarot. If you’ve talked with Barbara in the last two years, then you know what a passion this deck has been to create. She will be having a book signing this Saturday at Magus Books & Herbs, and a launch party extravaganza May 5th at the Eye of Horus.

Highway cleanup went very well yesterday. Many hands made light work and mother Earth is a little less littered. Thank you to the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance for allowing our community the opportunity to perform such a fulfilling service.

The Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance adopted a stretch of highway in 2008. Twice a year, local Pagans (like you) gather to pick up litter and beautify a piece of the Earth. Our stretch of highway is about 2 miles of I-35E a few miles before it rejoins I-35W in the north

It’s difficult to describe the highway cleanup and convey how enjoyable it was. There was a playfulness to the outing. The sense of discovery at the bizarre things to be found. The challenge of getting that half buried tire to the side of the road. The joy of time spent with wonderful people.

Saturday was not the warmest day we’ve had lately. The clouds threatened rain and provided a mist. This turned out to be the perfect weather for cleaning up the highway. We weren’t too warm. We didn’t get sunburns. The bugs weren’t biting.

Our stretch of highway is being redone, so right now there’s only one side open, which means we only had to clean one side of the interstate. The side we were cleaning had been recently landscaped, so there wasn’t a lot of litter.

We split into two teams to start at either end and meet in the middle. One team walked down the off-ramp to start their clean-up. The other was dropped off down the road where we had to climb over a fence capped with barbed wire to get to the highway. Although this sounds unpleasant, it turned into a playful team-build as the obstacle was overcome.

After about an hour and a half, it began to rain. It wasn’t cold, and the rain was somewhat refreshing. If it hadn’t been for regulations requiring that we not cleanup in the rain, we would have continued. The two teams were close enough to be able to see each other at that point, with not a lot of litter in between.

This spring’s highway cleanup project was very enjoyable. I hope to see many of you this fall as we clean-up our stretch of highway again.

Pagans find warm welcome at ‘Gateways to the Air Force’

When potential Military Members join the United States Air Force they usually enter through one of two Gateways To The Air Force.  Future officers attend college at Colorado Springs Air Force Academy and enlisted trainees go through Basic Military Training (BMT) at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas.  Both places not only educate and train service members in warfare techniques they also help assimilate individuals into the Air Force culture.  In the past, that culture has not always been kind to airmen of minority faiths like Paganism, but what is it like now?  PNC-Minnesota spoke with Air Force officials, airmen, and civilian Pagan ministers involved at both gateways. On Tuesday we’ll take a look at the Air Force Academy.  Today, on Veterans Day, we’ll head to basic training at Lackland.

“We each walk our own path to the divine.  Be it in a God/dess faith or not.  Our airmen coming out of Lackland have been armed in so many ways with their military training.  More importantly, they should know that the Air Force has gone to great lengths to ensure their spirit was nurtured while in basic training,” says Rev. Tamie Rieth of Sacred Well Congregation.  She should know.  She’s been the Wicca Distinctive Faith Group Leader (DFGL) at Lackland for just over 6 years.  Rev. Rieth is one of 5 instructors who lead the weekly Wiccan services for BMT trainees.

Approximately 150 to 300 trainees attend the two hour Wiccan services held in the Receiving Center each Sunday.  Rev. Rieth and the other instructors spend the first hour answering any questions the trainees may have and the second hour is spent in meditation and chanting.

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Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance Cleans Up! – Editorial

The highway cleanup on Interstate 35E, sponsored by the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance (UMPA),  took place Saturday June 4th. The cleanup had been delayed by the storms that swept through the Twin Cities the weekend of May 21st. A cheerful group of seven met,  and after going over safety and procedure concerns, hit the road by 11am.  It was a beautiful summer day!

UMPA sign view headed South on 35E

We split into two teams and also had vehicle support with water, bars, and sandwiches nearby. With no adjacent fast food, the pickings were light with the exception of a few with a taste for “Ice House’ beer making frequent deposits!  By about 2pm the ending overpass was in sight, and it had heated up a bit.  On cue a generous breeze made the remaining cleanup feel much easier. This was the first spring cleanup of this site near Hugo, MN., after the move from Coon Rapids. With three on a side, we had just enough volunteers to cover it in one pass. The site could easily accommodate seventeen volunteers (8 per side,  4 teams working to the middle, and support people) and make the service a less demanding two-hour task. The site feels very rural and we always find something naturally beautiful or interesting along the way.

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