Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Jesus tomb found, says film-maker

Jesus had a son named Judah and was buried alongside Mary Magdalene, according to a new documentary by Hollywood film director James Cameron.

The film examines a tomb found near Jerusalem in 1980 which producers say belonged to Jesus and his family.

Speaking in New York, the Oscar-winning Titanic director said statistical tests and DNA analysis backed this view.

But Mr Cameron's claim has been attacked by archaeologists and theologians as unfounded.

Archaeologists said that the burial cave was probably that of a Jewish family with similar names to that of Jesus.

But Mr Cameron said the combination of names found on the tombs convinced him of their heritage.

Samples tested

Israeli construction workers building an apartment complex in Jerusalem's East Talpiot district first uncovered 10 of the 2,000-year-old ossuaries - or limestone coffins - in a tomb in March 1980.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, six of those coffins were marked with the names Mary; Matthew; Jesua son of Joseph; Mary; Jofa (Joseph, Jesus' brother); and Judah son of Jesua.

Another grave said by producers to be of Mary Magdalene convinced researchers of the truth of their find, Mr Cameron said at a New York news conference.

Unveiling his documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Mr Cameron said the chances of finding that combination of names together was like finding a grave marked Ringo next to others marked John, Paul and George.

"Mariamene is Mary Magdalene - that's the Ringo, that's what sets this whole film in motion," he said.

Christian contradiction?

The documentary asserts that tests on samples from two of the coffins show Jesus and Mary Magdalene were likely to have been buried in them and were a couple.

The film-makers used this finding to claim that the coffin marked "Judah son of Jesua" contains the son of Jesus and Mary.

But they said the discovery of the tomb does not undermine the key Christian belief that Jesus was resurrected three days after his death.

Academic Stephen Pfann, a scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said he did not expect Christians to accept the film's findings.

"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," said Mr Pfann, who was interviewed by the film-makers.

"But sceptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear."

Findings refuted

Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner, who was among the first to examine the tomb when it was first discovered, said the names marked on the coffins were very common at the time.
"I don't accept the news that it was used by Jesus or his family," he told the BBC News website.

"The documentary filmmakers are using it to sell their film."

Mr Cameron showed two of the coffins at the news conference.

"It doesn't get bigger than this," he said in an earlier press release.

"We've done our homework; we've made the case; and now it's time for the debate to begin."

Local residents told the BBC News website they were pleased with the attention the tomb has drawn.

"It will mean our house prices will go up because Christians will want to live here," one woman said.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Veterans rally for right to show their faith

Wiccans and pagans gathered in St. Paul to get the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to use the pentacle on military gravestones.

Hensel, 53, of Minneapolis, who served in the Marine Corps from 1971 to 1973, was among about 150 pagans and Wiccans who rallied Saturday to urge the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to add the Wiccan pentacle to the list of 38 religious symbols approved for use on military-cemetery gravestones and other markers. Participants -- women and men, old and young -- came from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

"We have served our country, too, and everyone should have the right to have their religious symbol on their gravestone," said Hensel, who follows the Wiccan faith, a set of traditions that is in turn part of the diverse and eclectic Earth-based spiritual tradition called paganism. "This is my church, and I love it."

The armed services do recognize the Wiccan religion and permit its listing on soldiers' dog tags, participants pointed out.

Hensel and fellow veterans Don Ament, Jim Mosser and Corinne Ravenwald were prominent in a ritual that ended with formation of a human pentacle.

The pentacle, a five-sided star set in a circle, is "as important to us as the cross is to Christians and the Star of David to Jews," Mosser said. It symbolizes the integration of body and spirit and the five elements -- earth, air, fire, water and spirit -- and must be pictured with one point up, two down, participants said.

An upside-down pentacle is sometimes associated with Satan-worshipers, a group that Wiccans and pagans want no part of, several Wiccans said.

In 2001, the American Religious Identification Survey identified 274,000 Americans who call themselves Wiccan or pagan. Minnesota has several thousand, observers say.

Courtney Morton, 28, of South St. Paul, came with friends from the Circle of Phoenix, which she described as a Twin Cities "Wiccan teaching circle." Morton said "it's only fair" that the pentacle should be on the department's list. "It's a matter of religious freedom," she said.

The nationwide effort to have the pentacle approved began a decade ago, said Penny Tupy, spokeswoman for the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance. Most recently, Wiccan widows of veterans sued the agency to force it to address applications for approval of the pentacle. A U.S. District Court judge in Madison, Wis., recently denied the agency's request for a delay and set a trial date for June.

The issue gained national prominence when Sgt. Patrick Stewart, a Wiccan from Nevada, died in combat in Afghanistan in September 2005.

Jill Medicine Heart Combs told the crowd that her Wiccan husband, Gerwin Dee Combs, who served in the Army from 1979 to 1986, lies gravely ill in an irreversible coma in an Ohio hospital. Combs wept as she spoke, saying that her husband would want an emblem of his faith on his gravestone. "We must speak out against religious prejudice," she said. "I know Gary would want me to be here."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Which Super Hero Are You?

Your results:
You are Mystique

Dark Phoenix
Poison Ivy
Dr. Doom
Lex Luthor
The Joker
Mr. Freeze
Green Goblin
Sometimes motherly, sometimes a beautiful companion, but most of the time a deceiving vixen.

Click here to take the "Which Super Villain are you?" quiz...

Pentacle Quest Continues

VA Proposed Rules and Regulations: The Top Ten Reasons Why They Should NOT Be Accepted

Author: Paula Johnson
Posted: February 18th. 2007

The Soldiers’ Standards Book issued in January 2006 is 21 pages long and it details the mission, standards and policies of the Third Army, U.S. Army Forces Central Command, and Coalition Forces Land Component Command. This manual addresses Army Values, Military Customs and Courtesies, Soldier Conduct, Wear and Appearance of the Uniform and Safety and Force Protection.

The letter on page one of the manual signed by Franklin G. Ashe, CSM, USA, Third Army Command Sergeant Major and R. Steven Whitcomb, Lieutenant General, USA, Commanding “serves as a basis for challenging and demanding performance that meets the standard and establishes a basis for challenging and demanding performance that meets the standard and establishes a basis for on-the-spot corrections and performance counseling.”

The standard of performance for military personnel who have voluntarily enlisted dictates they must follow the command to “respond at a moment’s notice when needed.” All soldiers are required to follow the list of seven core Army values;

•Selfless Service
•Personal Courage

This manual, published just over one year ago requires that soldiers “Bear true faith and allegiance to the United States Constitution.” And cites an obligation to support and defend the Constitution by adhering to the “spirit as well as the letter of the law.” Soldiers must fulfill their obligations because concept of duty is a moral obligation. Soldiers are REQUIRED to “treat people as they should be treated.” Respect is defined by the Army as showing regard for someone or something and the willingness to show consideration and appreciation for others and extends specifically to the area of religious beliefs. In living up to this code, soldiers are expected to serve selflessly with honor and integrity. Personal integrity should be maintained without legal or other obligations and honor is further defined by doing what is right both legally and morally. Soldiers are expected to be the embodiment of personal courage. “It takes moral courage to stand up for one’s belief in what is right, particularly when it is contrary to what others believe. It is courage to preserve in what we know to be right and not tolerate wrong behavior by friends, peers, subordinates, or superiors.”

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs would do well to read and observe the values required of our soldiers and outlined in the above referenced manual. The agency charged with caring for the widows and orphans of war, has consistently failed to display courage, morality and respect for the spirit as well as the letter of the law in doing right by Wiccan and Pagan soldiers who served their country honorably in life and want only to be memorialized with the same rights and privileges as the adherents of other religions when they die.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs posted its new and revised "Proposed Rules and Regulations for the Headstone and Marker Process" on January 19, 2007 for review and public comment. The VA would like to update their “ordering procedures for headstones and markers and to clarify its policy for addition of new emblems of belief to the VA’s existing list of approved emblems. The proposed new rules and regulations do not provide even a glimmer of hope that the VA has seen the light and plans to live up to the standards set by the United States Army as outlined in their list of the seven “Army Values” our brave soldiers are expected to embody. It is clear by the way that these proposed rules and regulations are written that the VA is looking for ways to continue the selective exclusion of religious groups who do not meet a very narrow definition of the Judeo-Christian model of religious belief and practice.

According to the VA, “Congress has authorized the VA to promulgate all necessary rules and regulations to ensure that these cemeteries are maintained as ‘national shrines as a tribute to our gallant dead and that the graves are appropriately marked.” The VA cites their own rules as a basis for the perpetuation of their rulemaking procedures. The VA states, “When ordering a government-furnished headstone or marker, an applicant may request that the VA also inscribe an emblem of belief that represents the belief system of the decedent.”

My “Top Ten List for why the VA’s Proposed Rules and Regulations Should NOT Be Implemented" is as follows:

1. The proposed rules do not permit the enlisted soldier or veteran to apply for the religious emblem that most represents their belief system before their death. The VA wants to establish a rule that simply does not meet the requirements of their own mandates. All enlisted military personnel and veterans are given the opportunity to declare their religion at the time of enlistment and this declaration is evident on their military ID, also known as “dog tags.” Those who serve their country should be able to trust that their government will honor and protect their Constitutional right to freedom of religion. There is no need to leave this matter to an “applicant” of the deceased. Clearly the matter of reflecting a soldier or veterans belief systems in the event of death on their memorial should be easy to implement prior to the event of the death either in the military records of the deceased, through a notarized statement or valid ‘Last Will and Testament.’

2. The VA proposes to update ordering procedures, and intends to do so by clarifying their policy for requesting new emblems. If the VA policy permits the selection of a religious emblem that represents the belief system of the deceased, it would appear any attempt to establish a criteria for regarding the legitimacy of a religious belief system should occur at the time of enlistment and not at the time of death when it is most important that a soldiers sacrifice be appropriately marked as a national shrine and the soldier is the least able to explain his or her belief system. Leaving this issue to the grieving selectively exacts a cruel and unusual punishment on all of the families of deceased war dead and veterans who adhere to any belief system that is represented by a symbol not on the list of the 38 religious emblems already approved by the VA.

3. The VA states in its proposed rules that recognition as a church in the award of 501 (c) (3) status is generally sufficient for purposes of appointing military chaplains. It states that 501 (c) (3) status is determined by court decisions and existing criteria already established by the Internal Revenue Service. The VA states that IRS 501 (c) (3) recognition is sufficient for some of the policies administered by the Department of Defense but wants to add additional obstacles or criteria to their approval process making IRS 501 (c) (3) status only one of the factors considered.

4. The VA claims it would make no attempt to distinguish among the doctrines of various churches or other groups holding a system of belief provided the beliefs are genuine and not frivolous…or contrary to public policy. It points out that the IRS makes no attempt to "evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious, provided the particular beliefs of the organization are sincerely held by those professing them." The VA would like "a concise written description of the main tenets of the affiliated organization's belief system."

The VA's request for a written description of a religions tenets does nothing more than provide a basis for the VA to determine whether or not a religious belief is in fact actually religious. The burden of proving the legitimacy or sincerity of religious belief should not fall on the shoulders of those who serve their country fighting for the integrity of the Constitution. The burden of proof should not fall on the shoulders of the families that grieve their loss. It is immoral and blatantly unconstitutional and this process appears to have been invested in finding non-mainstream religion guilty of not being legitimate until proven legitimate.

5. The VA would like to preclude "the addition of any emblem that would have an adverse affect on the dignity and solemnity of cemeteries honoring those who served the Nation." If the United States government was not embarrassed to accept the life’s blood of those who later desire to be memorialized in death with a religious emblem not on the VA list, then the VA should not be embarrassed or concerned about the evidence of their beliefs undermining the cemeteries dignity or solemnity.

6. In considering an application for the addition of a religious emblem, the VA would like to give its representatives the power to evaluate the religion of a deceased soldier or veteran and in doing so would like to "consider information from any source." Denying the legitimacy of the Wiccan religion based on information from any source could have far reaching implications. Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive federal funding for the community work they participate in. The VA should not have the right to consider information from any other source in its process of determination for adding a new religious emblem to its list of approved emblems. This rule is so broad that virtually any religious organization in existence with a vested interest in receiving federal funding could undermine the legitimacy of any application and thus the religion it represents. This rule could set a dangerous precedent for further discrimination against adherents of the Wiccan religion.

7. The provision of a government issued headstone, plaque or marker is an employee benefit afforded to military personnel and thus it is subject the 1964 Civil Rights Act compelling employers to accommodate the religious practices of their employees. Wiccan and Pagan soldiers are not creating an undue hardship on the military in asking for what they were promised upon enlistment. Numerous VA requisitions for headstones show that the VA has negotiated a pay-one-price arrangement with the contractors who supply them with headstones, markers and plaques. All requisitions include provisions that permit the addition of new symbols at no additional cost to the VA. In other words, it does not cost the VA one penny more to inscribe a Pentacle as opposed to one of the existing 38 symbols. The VA states in the rules and regulations that it is Department of Defense policy to accommodate the free exercise of religion provided it does not interfere with the military mission. The inclusion of the Pentacle on the list of VA approved religious emblems will not interfere with the military mission and the VA can show no compelling interest and has offered no explanation why they have not approved the Wiccan emblem of religious belief. The new rules and regulations are just one more attempt by VA officials to continue their pattern of discrimination against Wiccan soldiers and veterans.

8. The VA's "Proposed Rules and Regulations" do not indicate the length of time it can hold an application for a religious emblem in limbo simply by choosing to not make a decision at all. In fact, the new rules and regulations do not even require that the VA ever make a decision in response to an application for a new religious emblem, thus potentially placing Wiccans and Pagans in a position to spend another decade waiting for an answer that will never arrive.

9. The proposed rules and regulations state that in order to add a new emblem there must be an immediate need and good cause must be shown in order for an application to be considered. This could mean that Wiccan families who have been waiting for years would be denied the opportunity to at last receive a headstone with the emblem of the Wiccan religion on it.

10. The new rules and regulations indicate that once the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs makes a decision, it is final. There is no appeals process built into the rules and regulations. The publication of the newest list of proposed rules and regulations by the US Department of Veterans Affairs is a legal maneuver and not a genuine attempt to rectify a long standing injustice with respect to adding the Pentacle to the list of approved symbols eligible to be included on government issued headstones, markers and plaques.

Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary, one of the Plaintiffs in two lawsuits filed against the VA shared her opinion regarding the new proposed rules and regulations, "These proposed rules do nothing to correct the flaws in the VA's emblem of belief addition process that has prevented the Pentacle from being approved for nearly a decade! There is no timeline for VA decision-making and no requirement that the VA decide at all on an emblem request! Furthermore, the wording of the criteria is such that it can be used to authorize the VA to continue its discriminatory pattern of picking and choosing what religions to accommodate and what symbols to permit on the grave markers it issues -- and decisions made are final, with no appeal except through the courts.

If a religion is accommodated for the troops through the US Department of Defense (DOD) , as is the Wiccan religion, then the VA should follow DOD's lead and put that religion's emblem on the grave markers it issues to honor veterans after death. To do otherwise not only causes incongruity within the executive branch of the federal government, but it is an insult to veterans and their families as well as is against the US Constitution troops are sworn to uphold."

The VA has posted their proposed new rules and regulations online. Please follow the link to the instructions on how to review and comment on the rules before March 20, 2007.


Help us to reach our goal of 1, 800 comments by March 20, 2007. This represents one comment for each Wiccan and Pagan soldier estimated to be serving in the military at this time. Information on how to review and comment can be found at: http://www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty/veteranpentacle/VARuleComment.htm

Veteran Pentacle Quest Call to Action

VA Proposes Emblems of Belief Procedures that Violate First Amendment Religious Freedom Rights

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been discriminating against the Wiccan religion and related forms of Paganism for nearly ten years. Despite repeated requests to do so, the VA has not added the Wiccan symbol, the Pentacle, to its list of emblems of belief that the VA permits to be included on the memorial markers, headstones, and plaques it issues to honor deceased veterans. The VA has 38 symbols on its list, and of those, sixteen are variants of the Christian cross.

There are no Pentacles on VA-issued headstones of Wiccan veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery and elsewhere. Some graves of Wiccans and Pagans in public and private cemeteries are unmarked because of this discrimination by the VA.

More information about this issue has been published elsewhere on Witchvox and is detailed at the Veteran Pentacle Quest website: http://www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty/veteranpentacle

On January 19, 2007, the VA proposed new procedures for adding new emblems of belief to its list. These proposed procedures were published in the Federal Register and the public has until March 20, 2007 to review and critique them. The VA will consider comments, possibly make revisions, and then publish the final version of the procedures in the Federal Register. Thirty days later, they will go into effect.

These proposed procedures are a violation of our fundamental First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. These new procedures will allow the VA to continue its discriminatory practices that have kept the Pentacle from being added to the list and from being included on the grave markers of deceased Wiccan and Pagan veterans.

Some of the problems with the procedures include:
  • They do not require that the VA ever make a decision on a request.

  • Even when making a decision, there is no time limit for decision-making, and therefore, the VA can put off decision-making forever.

  • The vague wording in the procedures can be used to permit the VA to select without objective criteria what symbols it wants to authorize and which it wants to reject.

  • And, according to these new procedures, once the VA makes a decision, it is final, with no provision for appeal.

Take Action Now!

Here's How:

(1) Learn More - get a copy of the proposed rules on-line, as noted below, or contact Lady Liberty League (liberty@circlesanctuary.org) and request a

For instructions on how to get a copy of the proposed procedures and make a comment, see http://www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty/veteranpentacle/VARuleComment.htm

(2) Identify Problems - make notes as you review the proposed procedures. Feel free to incorporate any or part of the objections we've listed hereand/or detailed in Paula Johnson's article.

(3) Speak Out - submit your complaints to the VA in writing on-line, by fax, or by postal mail before MARCH 20. Be sure to send a copy to the Lady Liberty League for use in its work on this issue with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

For detailed instructions on submitting your comments, see

(4) Spread the Word - tell others and urge them to speak out.

(5) Support the Veteran Pentacle Quest - Join in local and nationwide actions on Pentacle Quest Day, Saturday, February 24. If you can, join others in a public ceremony forming a living Pentacle on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul in the afternoon as described: http://www.UMPaganAlliance.com

Veteran Pentacle Quest Team
Lady Liberty League
PO Box 9, Barneveld, WI 53507
Phone: (608) 924-2216
Fax: (608) 924-5961

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Were You Born On a Cusp?

Today (February 19th)is my birthday, so here's a little bit about me:

February 19 to February 23

Aquarius is the 11th sign of the Zodiac. Aquarians are humanitarians and philanthropists, the visionaries of the zodiac. Aquarians value friendship and often have many acquaintances in addition to their close friends. Pisces is the 12th and final sign of the Zodiac. All that is learned by the first 11 signs comes together to help Pisces reach the pinnacle of their potential. Aquarius/Pisces are selfless and spiritual, often strongly intuitive and receptive to the collective unconscious.

The astrological symbol of Aquarius is the Water Bearer. The astrological symbol of Pisces is the Pair of Fish. Those born on the Aquarius/Pisces cusp reflect the dual nature of life, reality and nonreality, consciousness and the unconscious. They represent consciousness through the flowing of ideas. They work hard to bring their ideas to fruition, stubbornly refusing to give up their causes. In this way, the Fixed Quality of Aquarius is the Fixed exemplified. However, the Mutable Quality of Pisces shows itself equally by deeming these individuals as people without a strong agenda; they tend to go with the flow and move where life takes them. They are peace loving and friendly, and are the chameleons of the Zodiac, receptive to the needs of others but sometimes getting lost themselves.

Aquarius is ruled by the planets Uranus and Saturn. In ancient Roman mythology, Saturn (and his Greek equivalent, Cronus) was the father of many gods, including Zeus. Uranus, the oldest god, was associated with Earth. When the planet Uranus was discovered, astrologers assigned it as the modern ruler of Aquarius. It is from this planet that Aquarians receive their visionary nature. Uranus is associated with progress and technology -- anything that is radical -- and it rules electricity and astrology.

Pisces is ruled by the planets Jupiter and Neptune. In ancient Roman mythology, Jupiter (and his Greek equivalent, Zeus) was the king of the gods. Neptune (and his Greek equivalent, Poseidon) was the god of the sea. When the planet Neptune was discovered, modern astrologers assigned it to be the ruler of Pisces. Neptune is about everything that isn't quite real: illusion and disillusionment, fantasy, drama and art, and spirituality. All of these are important to those born under Pisces. Aquarius/Pisces tend to be strongly spiritual (not necessarily religious) and artistic. They are idealistic, but sometimes their dreams are vague and impractical. When reality intrudes, they can become pessimistic or lethargic, but they are very adaptive and broad-minded, so they can rework their ideals when necessary.

The element associated with Aquarius is Air. Air Signs are intellectual, and they tend to respond to the world through intellect, rather than physical action or practicality. The element associated with Pisces is Water. Because Water Signs are emotional, they tend to respond to the world through emotion. Aquarius/Pisces are tolerant and open-minded, but tend to stick to their beliefs. They are compassionate, sensitive, imaginative and sympathetic to the feelings of others. They tend to be romantic and sentimental, but they may give in to escapism. They are devoted to their goals, but they can be disorganized or procrastinate when faced with difficulties. Their intellect makes them logical and self-confident, but it may also makes them aloof from people around them. They are original, offbeat and even eccentric, but they are also rather bored by detail. Reformist and experimental, Aquarius/Pisces may seem cold toward people who don't share their intellectual orientation to life. Those born on the Aquarius/Pisces cusp may become timid if their emotions are abused too often.

Aquarius/Pisces are often multi-talented, both in scientific and creative endeavors. They are unique and rebellious people who are driven to change the world. However, they can be shy, quiet and sometimes elusive, refusing to show their true selves. They are modest and thoughtful, sometimes displaying remarkable musical talent. Their freedom is important to them, and they are often driven to help others become free, as well.

In their leisure time, Aquarius/Pisces are social animals. They may work to alleviate their emotional stress through contact with others and exercise. They greatly prefer team sports to solitary athletics, and they often have a fondness for swimming or water polo. In love relationships, Aquarius/Pisces is flirtatious, caring and romantic. Aquarius rules the ankles. People born under Aquarius may be more susceptible to sprains than those of other signs. Aquarius's colors are the colors of the water they carry: turquoise, aqua and silver.

The great strength of the Aquarius/Pisces is in their visionary nature and their compassion. They are the people who take the world to the next level; they make others see things in a new light. Their ability to break the rules and help others reach their fullest potential makes them one of the most understanding characters of the zodiac.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Supporters Gather at the State Capitol for Wiccan Veterans Religious Rights

Veteran's Pentacle Rights Initiative

Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance
1595 Selby Avenue o Suite 204
St. Paul, MN 55104

MINNEAPOLIS, MN, February 13, 2007 - The Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance, a Twin-Cities-based religious tolerance organization, will be sponsoring a community ceremony at the State Capitol mall in St. Paul on February 24, 2007 at noon to raise awareness about religious discrimination at the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The Department of Veteran's Affairs has been actively pursuing policies that are discriminatory and harmful to veterans and infringe on the religious freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution. The VA has been denying religious designation to adherents of the Wiccan faith by not allowing the emblem of their faith to be placed on the headstones and memorial markers of deceased veterans. Although the VA has approved the emblems of 38 other religions and belief systems to be included on the headstones of deceased veterans, including symbols for the Tenrikyo Church, Eckankar, Izumo, Taishakyo, Sufism Reoriented, and even Atheism, it refuses to approve the use of the Wiccan symbol, the pentacle, an interlaced five pointed star within a circle.During the public ceremony at the Capitol, participants will add cloth ties to a pentacle sculpture, which will be later displayed in regional businesses. Afterward, those present will form a large, pentacle design, as a symbol of the importance of this issue to Veterans, and dedication to the issues resolution, and in support of religious freedom.Participants representing many different faith groups and organizations from around Minnesota and other states will be present to help support the religious freedoms for all our veterans. The Pentacle Rights Ritual is open to the public. All who honor our veterans and the rights they have guarded with their lives are invited to attend.
The Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting religious tolerance and accommodation through public education and grassroots community activities.For more information, contact:Dr. Todd Berntson o (952) 220-2633 todd@UMPaganAlliance.com http://umpaganalliance.com/

Here's a list of approved symbols:

This is the story of the pentacle quest:

Monday, February 12, 2007

Astarte Moonsilver: MIA

I finally made it to an IOWAN meeting, after not being around since a wedding back in October. It's not that it's far, far away; it's just that schedules between what goes on in my kids' lives and starting a new job since then, I haven't made the time to go and participate. But this year, I resolved to be a good attendee, and actually contribute something to the group. They even chose to allow me to make a presentation later in the year on Gnosticism, a subject I find very interesting, and I hope to make it at least SOUND interesting.

The weirdness of being gone for so long soon vanished as I was welcomed back, (although more than an hour late), it was as though I had never gone missing. I took the teasing pretty good naturedly when I was told back in October, "see ya next spring". It seems like a lot of the folks we see in the warmer months never quite make it to the indoor activities during the dark half of the year. I was really glad to be back. I have missed all of them, and I didn't even realize it.

So strange to consider myself a solitary practitioner, and yet crave the connection of a group. I am grateful for the opportunity to gather together with folks who "get me". But it is so NOT like church. Everyone is much more careful to validate others views, participate in other traditions, ritual themes and be tolerant of those members who have a little more 'flair'. I enjoy taking it all in and belonging, not because I conform to a formula, but because I chose to find what works for me, and really learn to be accepting of those who have different paths to follow.

In the old days, I would have been compelled to try to convince others why my way is superior, and why their way makes no sense. But I find myself actually considering other's views and trying out new ideas. Any time we can hold a ritual, it's very loose and free, but still has a structure and reverence about it. I hope to be brave enough in the coming year to volunteer for leading a ritual, maybe by Lammas or Mabon I can muster up enough within me to voice it.

I would really like to hold a ritual at my home, have the group come here in my backyard and maybe have my family observe, or participate if they wish. I feel the need sometimes to share my experience, even if only to dispel the fear and let them know my intentions. Everyone says they enjoyed my Wiccan-Celtic wedding, and I had a circle cast, quarter-calls, and two officiators, male and female. I incorporated elementals, blessings of earth, air, fire and water, and some incense and candle use. It was thinly veiled, but still enough to speak to me and my husband, without being outwardly in-your-face to our Christian relatives. I have never received a hate-mail yet.

Right now, I am studying Christopher Penczak's Temple of Witchcraft series. His next book is due out in fall of this year, and I can't wait to get it. I also have been reading Deborah Lipp's Elements of Ritual, and trying to finish my personal Book of Shadows, which is about 3/4 done. Scott Cunningham, of course is one of the great ones, and something all newbies should read. And Edain McCoy is a good place to start as well.

I am also heavily into Elaine Pagels, her books on Gnosticism really answered lots of open-ended questions I had in my Christian life.

So, let's see, I've talked about myself for once, and let some readers know what I'm about. And I am still interested in getting SCIPA off the ground, even if it takes years for others to find me. Oh well, I'm here now anyway, and since I don't really have all kinds of free time on my hands, it's probably better if it does take a while to find some local pagans to connect with. Until then, and even after, I will still be glad about the day I walked into the Atlantean and met Barb for the very first time.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

What Mythological Creature Are You?

You Are a Mermaid

You are a total daydreamer, and people tend to think you're flakier than you actually are.
While your head is often in the clouds, you'll always come back to earth to help someone in need.
Beyond being a caring person, you are also very intelligent and rational.
You understand the connections of the universe better than almost anyone else.

What Kind of Soul Are You

You Are a Dreaming Soul

Your vivid emotions and imagination takes you away from this world
So much so that you tend to live in your head most of the time
You have great dreams and ambitions that could be the envy of all...
But for you, following through with your dreams is a bit difficult

You are charming, endearing, and people tend to love you.
Forgiving and tolerant, you see the world through rose colored glasses.
Underneath it all, you have a ton of passion that you hide from others.
Always hopeful, you tend to expect positive outcomes in your life.

Souls you are most compatible with: Newborn Soul, Prophet Soul, and Traveler Soul

What's Your Element?

Your Element Is Water

A bit of a contradiction, you can seem both lighthearted and serious.
That's because you're good at going with the flow - but you also are deep.

Highly intuitive, you tune in to people's emotions and moods easily.
You are able to tap into deep emotional connections and connect with others.

You prefer a smooth, harmonious life - but you can navigate your way around waves.
You have a knack for getting people to get along and making life a little more peaceful.

Monday, February 5, 2007

So, what do I know?

I've been pondering this question for months now. So many times I've been asked why I have spent so much time and energy refuting a religious belief that I was raised in. If I'm so glad that I found my way out of it, why am I not happy yet?

I think that part of this journey is becoming comfortable with NOT KNOWING. I spent so much time (20 years) saying, "I know this church is true" over and over, I guess now I want to refrain from saying that I know anything to be certain. This has been a time of great exploration for me, and I haven't been willing to share it with anyone, because I don't want to defend my beliefs. I don't want to become a Pagan Apologist. I don't want to belong to a coven where I have to subscribe to a list of views and opinions in order to belong. Most of all, I don't want to create an exclusive club for people who must believe everything that I believe in. I don't think I'll ever subscribe to a tradition.

One thing that has happened is I have definitely been reading books. And websites. And email newsletters. And web bulletin boards. I love the job I have now, because I only have to work on Saturday, and I still get paid as much as I did working my former 40 work week. So, I have a lot of time to read. And write. I've been doing plenty of that at my other site, and I've managed to garner a little negative attention from my immediate family. Which can only lead to two things, either acceptance or denial. But, I feel it's worth that initial estrangement to get my final point across. It's the only thing that has worked in trying to convince them that I am never coming back into that world again. And the consequence of that has been limited or no contact between us. Of course, there were other reasons, but I won't go into that.

So, where am I going? Most people assume that when you go away from something, you're running towards something else instead. In my case, I have just been dealing with the void that is left after you realize you can't trust in "all knowing powers" to run your life for you. And I've learned A LOT about what makes people believe in weird things. I even spent some time away from the group I attend from time to time. (not on purpose, just $$ and time constraints, + bad weather :-) All of this space gives me a chance for renewal purposes, and some hibernation time, and to rediscover what it is that I choose to believe in.

I started out full-fledged Wicca. I purchased all the books, did lots of research on the traditions, tried to make my life into a copy of Mormonism complete with all the handbooks and lists of beliefs. And the more I learned about each tradition, the more complex it became and the harder it was to subscribe to any one system and stick with it. So, I took a break. Which is NOT a bad thing. It is perfectly sensible to step back when you feel overwhelmed, not duck your head down and 'put problems on the shelf'. I learned from others what ideas move them, what motivates them to pursue a path and explore it to the fullest. The big mistake I made was in thinking that you HAVE to pick one. And now I know that validating all paths is the key.

I became an ordained minister through the Universal Life Church on July 15, 2006. I thought it might come in handy if I have to step in as an officiator someday. I have the credentials and I'm even toying with taking a couple on-line study courses. I did this because of an upbringing that only men could be ordained as ministers, so I bucked the system by becoming a legally recognized minister. I think I will ask for a Spiritual Priestess designation on my certificate.

I guess what I know is: I don't have the answers. And I also think that the mere belief that you have to have a set of answers is in itself the great lie. People can't let themselves just exist, they have to control every event in their lives and know the outcome before the game starts. I'm okay with discovering along the way, what it all means. And I'm also okay with changing my mind. I have probably changed my beliefs and views about religion 6-8 times since leaving Mormonism. I am currently studying Gnosticism, not because I am inclined to take up Christianity again, but more so I can understand the founding ideas behind it. It's fascinating really, just discovering how much things can be altered and erased to fit the molds you force them into. I've learned a lot about fanaticism this way, and I am resolved to keep from that as much as possible.

Do I consider myself Pagan? You bet. I've always felt connected with elementals, the moon cycles, the water and the earth, wind and flame. I get much more out of meditations than I ever did singing in a choir. My intuition guides me better than scripture. This is my way to receive knowledge and understanding. This is what being pagan is to me. Recognizing the divine spark in myself has given me the strength to turn away from those that would manipulate me and who continue to manipulate those I love.

Do I think I can lead others? That's a tough one. I'm a mom first of all, and sometimes I wonder if I can even lead them. But I know that I have a voice and I can use it. I know that I have an understanding of how power can corrupt people, and those in a leadership position are susceptible to that. I haven't set out to organize my own religion or anything, I guess I would just like to find some folks who get me, and create a place where everyone can be validated on the paths they choose. And I'd like it to be a little closer to home. Maybe there will be a time when people won't have to keep their views a secret, and can meet together freely to share their thoughts with others who won't condemn or judge. I'd like that very much.

I'm not attempting to break away ties from those that I've met so far by any means. On the contrary, I'd like to be able to attend more gatherings and become more connected. It's tough sometimes, because you have to be a mundane person too, work-raise kids-attend sports and band activities, etc.

I'm really excited about this year because I finally got the nerve up to volunteer to share my small education about Gnosticism with the Iowan group. I will be gearing up for that for the next 7 months, to be sure. I hope not to sound like a complete retard but also not like a complete know-it-all jackass. Wow, that's tough to find the middle ground.

Well, that's a lot about me personally. I will probably post some more stuff I find interesting from The Witches' Voice, or elsewhere on the web, especially the Sabbats and Full moon stuff. I am also working on a short book of quarter-calls and ritual practices so I can carry it around with me and share at meetings.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

CANDLEMAS, The Light Returns

[Link is embedded in the title above]

by Mike Nichols

Candlemas is the Christianized name for the holiday, of course. The older Pagan names were Imbolc and Oimelc. Imbolc means, literally, "in the belly" (of the Mother). For in the womb of Mother Earth, hidden from our mundane sight but sensed by a keener vision, there are stirrings. The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows. Oimelc means "milk of ewes", for it is also lambing season.

The holiday is also called "Brigit's Day", in honor of the great Irish Goddess Brigit. At her shrine, the ancient Irish capitol of Kildare, a group of nineteen priestesses (no men allowed) kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor. She was considered a Goddess of fire, patroness of smithcraft, poetry, and healing (especially the healing touch of midwifery). This tripartite symbolism was occasionally expressed by saying that Brigit had two sisters, also named Brigit. (Incidentally, another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is thus she bestows her special patronage on any woman about to be married or handfasted, the woman being called 'bride' in her honor.)

The Roman Catholic Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon, so they canonized her instead. Henceforth, she would be "Saint" Brigit, patron saint of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. They explained this by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was really an early Christian missionary sent to the Emerald Isle, and that the miracles she performed there misled the common people into believing that she was a Goddess. For some reason, the Irish swallowed this. (There is no limit to what the Irish imagination can convince itself of. For example, they also came to believe that Brigit was the foster mother of Jesus, giving no thought to the implausibility of Jesus having spent his boyhood in Ireland!)

Brigit's holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration. Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Roman Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism as well, using Candlemas as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year. (Catholics will be reminded that the following day, St. Blaise's Day, is remembered for using the newly blessed candles to bless the throats of parishioners, keeping them from colds, flu, sore throats, etc.)

The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon holiday, also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It is surprising how many of the old Pagan holidays were converted to Maryan feasts.) The symbol of the purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but it has to do with the old custom of 'churching women'. It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth. And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn't be purified until February 2. In Pagan symbolism, this might be retranslated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the young Maiden Goddess.

Today, this holiday is chiefly connected to weather lore. Even our American folk calendar keeps the tradition of Groundhog Day, a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of bad weather (i.e., until the next Old Holiday, Lady Day). This custom is ancient. An old British rhyme tells us that 'if Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year'. Actually, all of the cross-quarter days can be used as inverse weather predictors, whereas the quarter days are used as direct weather predictors.

Like the other High Holidays or Great Sabbats of the Witches' year, Candlemas is sometimes celebrated on its alternate date, astrologically determined by the sun reaching fifteen degrees Aquarius, or Candlemas Old Style. Incidentally, some modern Pagan groups have recently begun calling the holiday itself Brigit, presumably as shorthand for "Brigit's Day". This lexical laziness is lamentable since it confuses a Deity name for the proper name of the holiday. The same disconcerting trend can be seen in the recent practice of referring to the autumnal equinox as "Mabon", which is more properly the name of a Welsh God-form.