Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens

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Top 10 Pagan Quotes of 2017

2017 felt like being dropped into the bubbling cauldron of a new reality.  After what seemed like many years of progress on important human rights issues women’s rights to LGBTQ+ rights, this year began with women marching for inclusion, a theme that carried throughout the year.  It found the LGBTQ+ community fighting to retain marriage rights, the right to serve in the military, even the right to purchase a wedding cake.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Always fighting for justice, people of color stood up and knelt, bringing greater attention to their constant struggle against the backdrop of white nationalists angrily carrying tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville as chants of “blood and soil” rang out.


In what felt like a regression to the days of the Scopes Monkey Trial, scientists, of all people, were forced to take to the streets to protect evidence-based truth from attacks against national parks, climate science, even disease control.  With banned words telling researchers what they cannot include in funding requests and renegade national park Twitter accounts opening in droves, the U.S. witnessed the strange dichotomy of modern technology being used as a weapon against a dangerously medieval way of thinking.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Pagan community, which has long been involved in most of these issues, found itself alongside many in the mainstream culture as we joined the struggle against repression and for the future of the planet.  That battle occupied much Pagan discourse over the year, so it heavily affected this year’s Quotes of the Year.


As usual, these Top 10 quotes are my opinion only based on my what I have read.  If I missed something you loved, please feel free to say so in the comments.  The comments must be made by a self-identified Pagan of any tradition to be considered.  Alright, with the disclaimers and rules out of the way, here are my Top 10 Quotes of 2017…


  1. “In whatever form it takes, fake news is a serious concern, and it is one that all of us must manage; writers, readers, editors, artists, and leaders. That is a tall order, especially in a digital world where emotions drive content and where the immediacy of response, absent all discretionary controls, supersedes reasoned research and composed reaction. The speed of digital sharing, the ease of creation, and the ever presence of digital devices is what has made a very age-old problem a supersized monster.”

            – Heather Greene, January 14

  1. “Religions that are based on belief always fracture into different factions…but in religions like Paganism and Judaism, no one cares what you believe. If you show up at the temple and make the offerings, that’s fine. In tribal societies, you wouldn’t have been burned at a stake for what you believed.”

             – Oberon Zell, October 24

  1. What concerns me is that some Pagans in the UK seem to believe that all Muslims are responsible for these acts of terror. It concerns me particularly because we know what it is to have a very small number of people make claims to perform terrible acts in the name of our beliefs. We know there are some who claim their Paganism gives them justification to abuse others, and we know that we reject and denounce their actions in the same way that Muslims around the world reject and denounce the terrorists and their claims that the actions are in any way justified by Islam. We should know better. But it seems some within our Pagan community do not.”

              – Mike Stygal, June 7

  1.  “‘But I don’t want to get my hands dirty! I don’t want to risk something bad happening to me! Can’t I just light some candles and celebrate Imbolc and Brigid and creativity with my circle in peace?’ 

Um, no.”

             – Hecate Demeter, February 3

  1. “Working magic against a figure as powerful as the President of the United States is extremely difficult. He’s supported by the attention of millions of fans and voters, and he’s as charismatic as they come. Attracting the attention of his supporters makes our work that much harder.

          Remember the Witches Pyramid: to know, to will, to dare, and to keep silence.”

              – John Beckett, February 26

  1. “[W]hat the hell did I wake up to this morning where I had to justify not having any effs to give about the delicate sensibilities of Nazis, one of which just killed a chick?  Oh hey!  You know who else is a useless childless sl*t?  Me and many of you!  But I’m supposed to be like, oh no I don’t hate Nazis, I hate what they believe in which is the total destruction of 85% of the people I associate with.  Dude.  I hate Nazis.  I’m not going to run my car into a bunch of them unlike some people but I’m not required to be nice about Nazis.”

              – Deborah Castellano, August 15

  1. “To me, #WeAreAradia says we don’t need a savior, or one voice to save us.  We need to save ourselves, we need to be the teachers.  We need to be the learners and the guides. We need to be the Witches.  It’s a call to stand up for your beliefs.  A message, a call to action to build and use your practices to protect and to empower everyone who needs it.”

              – Laura Tempest Zakroff, January 24


Photo credit: Laura Tempest Zakroff


  1. “If this had been a pagan event, of course, we would have had a community-wide Potluck and Torch-Making a few days before.

But for the organizers of the Charlottesville alt-Reich event, apparently buying bulk at the nearest minimum-wage Big Box store was good enough.

If this is the Great White Hope of the “white race” (whatever that means), I’m afraid the prognosis isn’t very good.”

             – Steven Posch, September 13

  1. “If intention were everything, there would be little point to studying and learning to properly employ magick. We could simply buy a copy of The Secret and have a life full of everything we dreamed of.”

             – Mat Auryn, April 29

  1.  “I’m going to put my energy and my work out there to try and protect those who need protection. This is not being a “social justice warrior” this is being a damned human being who cares about the people around them.”

             – Jason Mankey, January 20



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No John Trumbull: Hamilton’s Stories and the Lives we Manifest

We all live in our own stories, and it is central to magickal practice that where we put our energy helps manifest out lives.  How we see ourselves and our actions becomes a script, a thought pattern that influences our lives.  Sometimes these stories are beneficial.  They give us inspiration and a goals to achieve.  Other times, thought patterns of failure or helplessness can hold us back.  

Often, the source of these thought patterns comes from literature, film, and pop culture.  Characters from story provide something to compare our lives to.  Witness the multiple quizzes that circulate social media promising to tell us which Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Game of Thrones character we “really are.”  Users eat these quizzes up, perhaps showing some internal need to identify with someone else’s story.

Any good story can provide characters to inspire us.  They help us reflect on our lives and bring some context to our own ways of living.  New stories keep coming to bring us new insights and context.  One of the most popular stories to enthrall people recently is the hip-hop inspired Broadway musical Hamilton.  Based on the seemingly uninteresting story of the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, Hamilton delivers a beautiful panoply of fascinating characters with competing motivations, offering a large arsenal of stories for viewers and listeners to identify with.

Perhaps part of the musical’s popularity, and certainly part of what provides an extra layer of interest in its characters is that these people truly lived.  They are not fictional characters. They navigated their own lives, struggled and fought with each other, made gigantic mistakes, and yet they did something extraordinary by creating a brand new nation from scratch.  Each one has a story; each one has a motivation; each one has real, not fictional struggles, which makes their lives more real to us and can give us both inspiration for a well-lived life and warnings against the obstacles to that life.  

This may be best stated by lyrics that were removed from the final show, but sung by The Roots in the opening of the Hamilton Mixtape.  In the song “No John Trumbull,” we are confronted with the fact that our founding fathers were not the patient and virtuous Greek god types we see in Trumbull’s famous painting depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

You ever see a painting by John Trumbull?

Founding fathers in a line, looking all humble

Patiently waiting to sign a declaration and start a nation

No sign of disagreement, not one grumble

The reality is messier and richer, kids

The reality is not a pretty picture, kids

Every cabinet meeting is like a full on rumble

What you’re about to witness is no John Trumbull

John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence: Not how it went down Source: Wikimedia Commons

Not depicted in Trumbull’s serene painting are the painful conflicts among the founders, nor each person’s internal struggles.  Hamilton provides both of these in spades, and they can be inspirational for any modern viewer.  Whether or not you are familiar, you are probably familiar with some of these thought patterns.  They may be within you, or they may be in someone you know.  They may help a life, and therefore be something to be encouraged, or they may provide a hindrance to living our best lives.  So here are some thoughts about these real people, and their prevailing thought patterns according to this immensely popular musical.


Alexander Hamilton: “In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet.”  Hamilton shoots from obscure poverty to fame and prestige because of the hurricane that almost killed him.  His essay describing his experience inspires charity, which gets him to New York and begins his improbable journey to power.  From there, he lives his life in constant chaos, seeking conflict and goading his enemies. From age 17, his life is a hurricane destroying every obstacle.  His only peace is found in chaos, and he seems to seek it out “nonstop.”  In our social media fueled world, it seems that so many of us seek discord and drama and their lives manifest exactly that.

Aaron Burr: “Talk less, smile more.” Hamilton’s executioner is also his foil.  He seeks peace and compromise at all times, sometimes at his own expense.  Misunderstood by the more opinionated characters, Burr seems to always be on the outside of every group.  Some of us are peace-seekers and adverse to confrontation, a fact that angers our more opinionated friends.  Of course, when peace fails and confrontation finds these folks, they struggle and make mistakes, as Burr does before he finally acknowledges, “now I’m the villain in your history.”

George Washington: “History has its eyes on you.”  The great leader is always conscious that his actions have lasting consequences, even when he is attacked for considering them. This is the thought pattern of those who, like a military general, see the larger picture and contemplate the consequences of everything they do.

Marquis de Lafayette: “I’m taking this horse by the reins, making these redcoats redder with bloodstains.”  Lafayette is fearless and brilliant.  He faces danger and always comes out on top.  This pattern can be seen in people who almost seem to have a golden touch and act with courage in whatever they take on.

Hercules Mulligan: “We in the shit now, somebody’s gotta shovel it.”  The larger than life Mulligan isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.  As a spy, he knee deep in his enemies.  Especially in the world of social media, it is common for people to get stuck in the misdeeds of those they disagree with instead of living their own lives.  

John Laurence: “I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight.”  Laurence is a brave and idealistic soldier, yet he dies needlessly attacking the British after the war is basically over.  Some of us are unable to pick and choose our battles effectively and run directly even to the most futile and fruitless of fights.

Eliza Hamilton: “That would be enough.”  Eliza is her husband’s anchor and opposite.  Not ambitious, she yearns for a quiet life.  While this thought pattern can weigh us down, it can also provide a strong foundation for our ambitious loved ones.

Angelica Schuyler: “You want a revolution, I want a revelation.”  Brilliant and self-sacrificing, Eliza’s sister seeks mental stimulation to the point where intelligence in others is sexually attractive to her.  Unfortunately for her, her quest has to be balanced against her own line, “Nice going, Angelica, he was right.  You will never be satisfied.”  Many among us seek the next big thing, but find it always outside our grasp instead of being satisfied with what we have.

Charles Lee: “I’m a general, whee!”  We’re not all great leaders, and some of us are more interested in power and glory than doing the difficult work.

King George III: “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”  This thought pattern is shown by those with an exaggerated image of their own importance who are unable to see their own faults in any situation, leading them to just make that situation worse.

Thomas Jefferson: “The emperor has no clothes.”  Hamilton’s enemy portrays him as a “vacuous mass,” an unrealistic dandy,  but Jefferson is the actual overdressed and under-accomplished aristocrat in this story.  His character echoes those of us who suffer from what is commonly known as “impostor syndrome” or those who project their own faults onto others.


Cabinet Battle: Jefferson v. Hamilton Source:

James Madison: “Get in the weeds, look for the seeds of Hamilton’s misdeeds.”  Madison doesn’t do direct confrontation.  He’s more like that negative guy in your office who spreads harmful gossip about the co-workers he doesn’t like. Some people enjoy acting as poison pill, but don’t have the courage to confront those they dislike.

Philip Hamilton: “Even before we got to ten, I was aiming for the sky.”  Philip’s innocence and desire to live up to his father’s example give him too much bravado and trust in others, with tragic consequences.  In our lives, there are those whose trust in the world allow them to be walked over by those who are willing to break the rules.

Maria Reynolds: “Just give him what he wants and you can have me.”  It’s unclear if Hamilton’s mistress was a conscious part of the sex scandal that plagued him. She debases herself for either Hamilton’s attention or her husband’s financial gain.  Some of us yield our own wills to others for purposes that do not serve us.

James Reynolds: “Uh oh, you made the wrong sucker a cuckold, so time to pay the piper for the pants you unbuckled.”  Manipulative and dishonest, Reynolds is willing to sell his wife for profit.  Some of us are more interested in results than methods.


All of these thought patterns can live within us and cause us to live our lives in ways that manifest them.  Like us, none of these characters are truly evil nor truly good.  They simply live with their own stories that fuel the way they live their lives.  And, of course, it is as simplistic to boil each of them down to one line as it is to boil ourselves down to one line.

But our stories motivate our lives.  What is your story?  Who tells your story?  How is it fueling what manifests in your life?  None of us is perfect like a John Trumbull painting, but neither were the subjects of his artwork, yet many of them lived good, meaningful, accomplished lives.  Choosing our own stories can help us manifest excellence, even if we are no John Trumbull.


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Lost in Translation?

Hamilton, the Broadway musical that has become a force in itself, has also become a force for me lately. The hip-hop inspired musical about the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore” who became America’s “10 dollar founding father” has broken fertile ground on Broadway and opened it to new directions and a new future inspired by a fresh genre of music that easily translates itself into storytelling.


While the lyrics pay homage to musicals past, invoking both South Pacific and The Pirates of Penzance early on, the show clearly sets its own course from the beginning, with people of color portraying the stark white founding fathers of the United States.  Perhaps by design, it also confronts some difficulties in translation.  How do black actors portray slave owners?  How can rap music be sold to an upper class, mostly white population?  Can Americans accept the son of a Puerto Rican immigrant playing the first Secretary of the Treasury, even though the man himself was an immigrant from the Caribbean?

Source: New York Times

One section in particular has recently caught my eye (and ear).  Early on, the group of patriots who will ultimately help overthrow the British introduce themselves over shots at a New York City pub.  One of them, the Marquis de Lafayette (himself both an immigrant and instrumental in the patriot victory) declares in broken English:


“Oui oui, mon ami, je m’apelle Lafayette

The Lancelot of the revolutionary set

I came from afar just to say ‘bonsoir,’

Tell the King ‘casse toi’

Who’s the best? C’est moi


Which roughly translates to:


“Yes yes, my friend, my name is Lafayette,

The Lancelot of the revolutionary set

I came from afar just to say ‘good evening,’

Tell the King ‘fuck you.’

Who’s the best? It’s me.”


It’s not the same when translated, is it?


At the same time, one of my favorite podcasts, “Stuff you Missed in History Class,” recently reported about a pair of human figures who were found embracing just before they died.  Originally, they were assumed to be women.  Recent evidence has proven them to be men, which inspired speculation that they must of been gay.  Oddly, when they were thought to be women, no one assumed homosexuality, but once they were shown to be males, modern sexuality expectations have been thrust upon them.  The modern story says: Why would men hug each other unless they were gay?


The truth is we don’t know.  We translate the things we see through our modern eyes and filter past evidence through our current understanding.  And just like the translation of Hamilton’s French lyrics conveys their literal meaning devoid of heart, attempting to explain why these two men were embracing at the end of their lives can never quite complete a fully contextualized understanding of who they were or why they were so close.


As Pagans, we see other difficulties in translation.  Unless you are immersed in Pagan practice, it can be challenging to explain your spiritual beliefs to others.  Especially in these days of social media, that can lead us to existing within our self-made bubbles.  If we only talk to people who understand us, then it will be easier to discuss our practice.


And yet, if we stay within our bubbles, we erect a barrier between ourselves and the outside world, making us more isolated and more difficult to understand.  We move more toward being the misunderstood men embracing each other than any kind of useful movement or world religion.  We become only vaguely translated through the eyes of others, our true hearts obscured, like trying to translate Lafayette’s rhymes directly into English.


Through his interactions with the American revolutionaries in Act 1, Lafayette’s English steadily improves.  By the end of the war, he raps in a fast and furious style because he has learned to understand his host culture and it has accepted him. With exposure, we can grow and change.  Isolated, we become marginalized.  Listen to each other.  Form bonds.  Try to see from others’ points of view.  Notice your own filters and attack them.  The truth lies beneath, often lost in translation.

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Reflections on Beauty and the Beast

I don’t remember a Disney movie launching with as much controversy as this year’s live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.  First it was Emma Watson, a well known advocate for women’s causes, taking fire for playing the role of Belle, one of a long line of Disney Princesses who fall for the charms of a man (the term “man” used loosely in this case).  Then there were Christian groups advocating boycott of the film because of a brief moment hinting that the character of Lefou (Josh Gadd) was gay.


In the midst of the blowback resulting from that “gay moment” (which, for the record, was quick and innocent), social media blew up with a meme shaming the film’s detractors with a message to the effect of “Keep your gay characters out of my movie about bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome.”  A first, I thought the meme was funny, but then I finally saw the film.  The truth is, this Beauty and the Beast is about much more than the 1991 animated film leads us to believe.  This version is bigger, smarter, more emotional, and- dare I say it- more human.


Much like mythology, Pagans often look to fairy tales for lore and wisdom.  Like the ancient myths, fairy tales are often thought to express deeper truths that shine through the fantasy for those with eyes to see.  Larger in scope than the original Disney movie, this Beauty takes more time to explore a number of these deeper truths.


  1. True Beauty is on the Inside. This is the obvious theme from Beauty and the Beast.  The film stresses this not only through the medium of the plot, but also in its casting and costuming.  Characters who are terrible people, like the Prince before he is transformed and our villain, Gaston, are good looking.  The Prince, in particular, dolls himself up with excessive makeup, almost as if he is intentionally overcompensating for his inner ugliness, much in the same way Gaston does with his constant bragging.


  1. Feminism and anti-rape culture. Gaston’s efforts to gain Belle’s affection are steeped in misogyny and male privilege.  “The only kids you should worry about are your own,” has mansplains to Belle after climbing onto her porch against her will, crowding her space, and making a baby bump gesture over his own belly.  It even seems like Gaston’s entire character arc is essentially a large date rape scheme as he singlemindedly attempts to “work a yes out” and assumes his good looks entitle him to the woman of his choosing.  Instead, Belle falls in love with the Beast, who eventually reveals himself to be intelligent and sensitive, exactly the type of man she was looking for. True, he kept her prisoner, but he does eventually free her and she voluntarily returns to save his life.


  1. A Call to be Authentic. Beyond the obvious “Beauty is only skin deep” theme, there is Pagan-friendly call to know thyself in all your parts.  Prior to his transformation, the Prince heavily made up and lathered in wealth and privilege, an outward showing meant to cover his inner insecurity.  We later get glimpse into a childhood in which his beloved mother died young and his father twisted him into a monster – a monster he eventually became.  Belle, on the other hand, knows who she is and what she wants, and she pursues it.  We learn that there is more to each of the Beast’s servants than the objects they turn into, but their human lives were clearly overshadowed by their employer.  After all, “Life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving.” Sometimes seeing yourself for all that you are and integrating your various parts is the key living a fully human life.


  1. The Rose in the Wasteland.  This may be a bit of a stretch, but bare with me.  In Arthurian legend, the King’s wounded relationship with Guinevere is often seen as a wounded relationship between the King and the Land.  This wounded relationship transforms the lush kingdom into a barren wasteland, which only the Grail can heal.  In Beauty and the Beast, the Prince is similarly out of relationship with his people and in love with his wealth and power.  The curse of the enchantress, which comes as a consequence of mistreating a woman, creates a similar wasteland.  The castle descends into darkness and disuse as its inhabitants slowly lose their humanity while the nearby village forgets their lives and their sovereign.  Yet hope, in the form of a rose, exists and reuniting with a representative of the sacred feminine restores order to the land.


They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.  The live version questions what would happen if what was “gone” was humanity itself, and it explores that question more effectively, in my opinion, than the original animated movie. Through that loss, the cursed in the castle learn a new respect and love for their very existence. What they become literally, perhaps we could all become metaphorically – in the words of a song from the Broadway musical that was cut from thus film – human again.

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Finding the Hook in your Heart and Soul

I am an unabashed lover of all things Peter Pan.  Aside from the sheer brilliance of the story itself, a tale that speaks to both children and adults, I have always been fascinated by the many permutations and iterations the J.M. Barrie’s convention-breaking stage play about a flying child.  It is a mark of great literature that many readers over multiple generations can find new and interesting angles from which to approach an old story, and Peter Pan may have more retellings and alternate approaches than just about any other story.  Through these retellings, a story stands the test of time.  And time, in the form of threatening adulthood and the deadly Tic-Toc Croc, is the principal antagonist in the story of the Boy Who Never Grew Up.

Finding Neverland is one of the most interesting incarnations of the beloved story.  Based on a play by Allan Knee, the 2004 film presents the story of how the Scottish playwright Barrie dramatically altered his life, challenged London’s strict social norms, befriended a family of young boys who inspired him, and ultimately penned this enduring classic in the face of deep resistance.  It’s a lovely, touching movie.  

In 2015, the story hit Broadway as a stage musical.  Music is a powerful way to touch at your heart, and the show pounds its way into your senses near the end of the first act and never lets go.   

If you know the movie, then you know that the London theater establishment resisted Barrie’s fantastical idea of a children’s play not necessarily for children.  A nanny dog, flying children, and non-verbal fairies seemed like a terrible stretch to the minds of straight laced Edwardian England.  They were right, to an extent.  In the show, Barrie gets called out on his over-exuberant fantasy at the cost of anything interesting:

“You don’t even have a villain,” Barrie is told.  From there, he suffers the loss of all that is important to him.  He is alone.  In his outcast mind, struggling with how to achieve this play that will eventually make history, he is confronted by the darkest part of himself.  James Barrie comes face to face with his shadow self and his iconic villain: James Hook.  Barrie’s alter ego tells him:


“No need to be afraid

Every little shackle deserves it’s praise

Time to unshackle all your chains

Don’t be so cowardly I’ll change”


In a dark and scary moment for both Barrie and the audience, Captain Hook tells his creator

“You have to look in your heart in your soul

You must find a hook in your heart in your soul

ANd search every nook in your heart in your soul

Don’t live by the book in your heart in your soul

We live by the hook!”

finding neverland

“Stronger.” Source:

It was the conflict that was necessary to make a classic.  With the darkness, the conflict, Peter Pan blossomed from a limp fairy tale into a robust and enduring classic.  Peter Pan is made what it has become not by its fun and frolic, but by the creeping crocodile threat that contrasts with Peter’s playful denial:

  • Peter Pan almost dies to end the first act.  We go to intermission with our hero proclaiming, “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”
  • Tinkerbell sacrifices herself for Pan and her light fades toward death.
  • The Darling children are captured by pirates and threatened with their lives.
  • The Darling parents spend the entire story sick to death at the loss of their children.

Tic Toc.  Tic Toc.  

Our lives and our magical practice are the same.  We may prefer the easy moments, the fun and frolic of living in a state of Neverland-ish denial, but on its own that has no meaning.  We must face the Hooks in our own heart and soul, for it is our struggles and painful moments – and perhaps ultimately our victory over them – that give our lives greater meaning.  They create the awfully big adventure.  Barrie needed his hook.  Peter needed his shadow reattached.  We need our pains to know how we’ve triumphed.  They help us define ourselves and learn how to be, in the words of the first act finale, Stronger:


“I can run now so much faster

Now defeat won’t be my master

I will conquer the demons

I won’t have to wait any longer

I’ve got to be stronger”

There will always be difficult times ahead, but if classics can be written under adversity, we can also become stronger from that which does not kill us.  Our Hooks give our lives meaning if we can find them.


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The Saga of Beer in Iceland

Today is “Beer Day” in Iceland.  On this day in 1989 – yes, 1989- beer became legal in Iceland after a long and arduous struggle with prohibition.  This is the story of beer’s long journey through the Land of Fire and Ice.

The country of Iceland is known for its sagas, epic myths and legends that tell the history of the island nation from its founding and through its often bloody battles with the new religion of Christianity.  But there is another saga, another epic journey that remains unknown to most people outside of the country: the journey of beer.  This intrepid beverage, enjoyed around the world for, took almost the entire 20th century to claw its way out of rabid disfavor to become the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country. So pull a seat up to the fire as recount the history of beer in Iceland…


In early times, Icelanders drank their share of both beer and mead, but much like the United States, the temperance movement began to rise in the early 1900’s.  Beyond the normal religious arguments against alcohol at the time, imbibing had also come to be viewed as unpatriotic.  The grains necessary to make beer could not be grown in Iceland’s climate and had to be imported. Iceland was struggling for independence from Denmark at the time, and Icelanders began to associate consumption of it with their unpopular rulers.  The Danes apparently enjoyed lots of alcohol, especially beer, and so doing the opposite of what they did came to be seen as patriotic.


In 1908, shortly after gaining home rule, a little over 60% of Icelanders voted for full prohibition.  The law didn’t take effect until 1915, but for a short time all alcohol was banned on the island.  It didn’t last long.  Spain, a major producer of wine, stepped in and made a threat.  They threatened to embargo all imports of cod, Iceland’s top export, if the Iceland didn’t re-legalize spirits.  So for economic reasons, a deal was made and the island legalized wine – but only red and rosé wine, and only from Spain and Portugal.  Beer was still disparaged and discouraged.


It remained that way for 12 years.  Then, in 1933 the country allowed a vote on legalization of hard spirits.  57% of the citizens voted to bring back booze, but resistance against beer remained strong.  The pro-temperance and anti-beer forces argued that beer’s cheaper price would lead to increased rates of alcoholism.  They were successful. That means that from 1933 to 1989, Icelanders could drink all the wine and hard spirits they wanted, but they could not legally drink any beer containing more than 2.25% alcohol.


It gets stranger.  As World War II gripped the region, Great Britain and the U.S. saw Iceland’s position halfway between Europe and North America as a strategic necessity.  Likewise, Iceland had no interest in being invaded by the Nazis. So, with government permission, British forces took over a strategic area on a western peninsula (now the international airport) to upgrade it into a military base.  The British soldiers liked their beer, but were dismayed to find that the pints they so commonly found in London pubs were outlawed in Iceland.


Once again, Iceland changed its laws to appease another country, but only slightly.  With special dispensation from the King of Denmark, they opened exactly one legal brewery and allowed it to brew beer, but only to be “exported” to the British at the military base.  Suffice it to say that jobs on the base were in high demand with the locals.


The Egill Skallagrimsson Brewery in Reykjavik was theonly legal brewery in the country for decades. [Source: Wikipedia]

Beer remained illegal to all those outside the base, but contact with other nations had awakened Iceland’s taste for a good brew.  For decades, only airline workers, boat captains, and others whose job took them overseas had access to beer.  An exception to the law allowed some of these people as well as foreign tourists to bring beer into the country. They did this, but often sold it on the black market to taxi drivers, who would keep cases in their trunks.  If anyone called a cab company and asked for a “good taxi,” cab drivers knew what that meant: a little chance to profit from selling brews on the down low.


Locals did other strange thing to satisfy their growing taste for this elusive beverage.  Since 2.25% beer was prohibited, but the hard stuff was perfectly legal, they got creative.  And not in a good way.  They developed a sort of beer cocktail.  It started with a pitcher of the legal, low-alcohol beer.  The bartender would then dump copious amounts of vodka and Brennivin, Iceland’s national schnapps, into the pitcher to create a cocktail that was both strong and patriotic.  The thing is, Brennivin (AKA “Burning Wine” or “Black Death”) is flavored with caraway seeds, so it has the distinct flavor of rye bread. Use your imagination.  I tried this concoction in Reykjavik.  It was terrible.  Yet, this was what passed for Icelandic beer through most of the last century.

Our Icelandic bartender creates the Beer/Brennivin cocktail. [Photo: Tim Titus]

Our Icelandic bartender creates the Beer/Brennivin cocktail. [Photo: Tim Titus]

Pressure built through the 70’s and 80’s.  Beer was available out of taxis for anyone who wanted it.  The import law was challenged in 1979, and suddenly any Icelander could import beer duty free.  They did so with abandon.  Beer was being consumed around the island, but the government was getting no benefit from taxation.  As so often happens, it was the money issue that finally swayed the people to legalize the drink.  On March 1, 1989 Icelanders bought their first legal beers in almost a century.  They celebrated in ways you can probably imagine.  Today, it is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the country.  Beer had achieved victory!


Icelanders celebrated Beer Liberation on March 1, 1989. [Source: Europeenses]

So today, raise a pint to Icelandic Beer Day and remember all who fought and drank for the right of others to do so.  Cheers- or as they say in Iceland- Skoal!

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Hidden Figures and Pussyhats

The new film Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women (among many) who helped to save the American Space Program.  In segregated Virginia, these women battled both racism and misogyny, deftly fended off micro- and macro-aggressions against both race and sex, and figured out the very mathematics necessary to launch Americans into orbit and bring them back safely.  Ultimately, their work helped to win the Cold War.


Their stories have been largely untold until now.  Their lives were mostly unknown by the general population.  Sadly, despite their incalculable service to their country, despite the fact that they fought against all odds and proved their value and their capabilities, the same fights are still being waged.  Racism is alive and well; misogyny is on its way to taking power in the White House.

After the movie, I happened to overhear two people discussing what they had just seen.  “They didn’t complain,” said one person.  “They just accepted things for the way they were and worked harder.”  These two moviegoers went on to praise the three main characters in the film, not for their genius or their bravery, but for being quiet and meek about the injustices they were forced to overcome.  It was, in their minds, good for these three black female heroes to remain hidden.

Someone clearly missed the point.

As a Pagan, I’m proud to be part of a religious community that is on the forefront of the fight for equality.  We aren’t perfect.  Racism and sexism and other injustices still crop up, but large numbers of our community believe in and actively fight for the equality of all people.  To the general public, we are often hidden.  They want us, and others who believe in equality, to remain that way.


With an administration that has openly insulted women and advocated racist and xenophobic policies, those who believe in equality can’t afford to remain hidden.  What is hidden needs to be revealed, and it needs to claim its power.

One way women are doing that is through the Pussyhat Project.  Inspired by President-Elect Trump’s now infamous claim that he can “grab” women “by the pussy,” knitters have created a hat design to bring their support for equality out of the shadows.  They are taking a term usually used pejoratively and taking back its power.  Many plan to wear the knit hats as they protest the inauguration in Washington D.C. and across the country.  It’s a simple, but visible sign of protest.  It’s a method of claiming power and refusing to stay hidden.


Contrary to the views of the ladies I overheard, remaining hidden does not help.  The three women who sent America into space may well have succeeded in changing the culture of NASA, but it took a larger and more visible fight to make progress against legal segregation.  There’s a larger, cultural reason that Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were unknown before this movie.  The contributions of both women and African-Americans is largely absent from standard history books.  That leads to ignorance about their contributions.  Ignorance leads to hatred and fear.

The only remedy for ignorance is exposure and education.  I’ll be wearing a pussyhat proudly and I look forward to helping my black and female friends shine a light on their contributions to society.