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

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Newt Scamander, Politics, and the Value of Caring

In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling presents the familiar wizarding world she originated with Harry Potter, but turns it on its head.  Instead of Britain, the film takes place in the United States.  Different laws apply to the witches and wizards of America, a fact which becomes a source of both humor and tension.  Our main characters are not children, but adults.  Instead of spending multiple installments worldbuilding and introducing a magical system, the new series is able to jump us right into a fully fleshed out world where we all know the rules, allowing more focus on storytelling.

But more importantly, our new hero is very different.  Newt Scamander is nothing like the Boy Who Lived.  Where Harry knows from the day he enters Hogwarts that he is marked out as the savior of the wizarding world, Scamander is really nothing more than a dedicated animal lover who seeks only to rescue and preserve the world’s most misunderstood creatures.  He’s a conservationist, not a warrior.

This brilliant article explains it much better than I can.  While Harry was a swashbuckling Gryffindor, focused on courage and great deeds, Newt is a Hufflepuff – a member of the most underappreciated house at Hogwarts.  If the houses are elemental, Harry is a fire and Newt is an Earth.  Harry must focus on strength and justice and the will to fight.  Newt’s goal is to save the earth’s magical creatures, care for them, and educate others about their importance.  He’s much happier digging in the dirt to feed his beloved “beasts” than fighting wand-to-wand with dark wizards.  Hufflepuff’s key word is Loyalty, and Newt is unfailingly loyal to the animals that depend on him (and he’s happy to fight and dark wizards who might happen to threaten them).

Harry exemplifies the classic Hero’s Journey.  Newt’s largest concern is ensuring that his thunderbird gets fed.

Harry Potter. [Source:]

Harry Potter. [Source:]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

The two heroes couldn’t be more different from each other, but in truth they complement each other.  They represent two different ethical ideas from psychological research: The ethic of justice and the ethic of caring.

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg was studied the moral development in children.  His method was to give children a problem, known as the Heinz Dilemma, and ask them their reasoning.  In short the Heinz Dilemma is as follows:

In Europe, a woman was near death from cancer.  One drug might save her, a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered.  The druggist was charging $2000, ten times what the drug had cost him to make.  The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could get together only about half of what it should cost.  He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or to let him pay later.  But the druggist said no.  The husband got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.  Should the husband have done that?  Why?

Kohlberg would collect the children’s answers and categorize their reasoning.  In his research, he identified a three-level system of moral development with two sub-stages per level.  The first level focuses on following rules and avoiding punishment.  The second is more about social approval and maintaining order.  The final stage is when a person guides their reasoning based on higher, philosophical ethical principles.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons


It all sounded fine until Carol Gilligan, one of Kohlberg’s students, noticed a trend.  Young girls and women tended to score on the lower levels of the scale more often than boys and men.  Males were more likely to be scored in the upper categories of moral reasoning.  

This did not sit well with Gilligan.  What she realized was that Kohlberg was bringing a masculine bias – a concept referred to in the linked article as “Toxic Masculinity” – to rate his respondents.  Gilligan theorized that men tend to reason through an ethic of justice, while women tend to utilize an ethic of caring.  She developed the Dilemma of the Porcupine and the Moles to test this theory:

It was growing cold, and a porcupine was looking for a home. He found a most desirable cave but saw it was occupied by a family of moles.

“Would you mind if I shared your home for the winter?” the porcupine asked the moles.

The generous moles consented and the porcupine moved in. But the cave was small and every time the moles moved around they were scratched by the porcupine’s sharp quills. The moles endured this discomfort for as long as they could. Then at last they gathered courage to approach their visitor.

“Pray leave,” they said, “and let us have our cave to ourselves once again.”

“Oh no!” said the porcupine. “This place suits me very well.  If you’re not happy, then you should leave!”

As with the Heinz Dilemma, what is important is not the answer, but the reasoning.  Gilligan developed a model of morality that placed self preservation at the bottom, self-sacrifice in the middle, and the principle of nonviolence at the top.  She found that female participants scored higher overall than they did in Kohlberg’s model.


I don’t believe that the two ethical approaches are as clear cut across binary gender lines as it may seem.  Indeed, two men – Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi – famously exemplified Gilligan’s highest principle of nonviolence.  However, I do see both ethical models as valid.  And, rather than pitting them against each other, I think we should see them as partners.

The world needs its Harry Potters: the young (or young-at-heart) people willing to risk life and limb for justice. Especially now, we need our activists on the front line protesting DAPL, taking to the streets to advocate for equal rights, and taking to social media to light the fire under under everyone else’s collective asses.

We also need our Newt Scamanders.  We need those who stay calm, assess the situation, and select their battles out of concern for those they care for.  We need our Hufflepuffs who are willing to help those in physical and emotional pain, see to the physical needs of our more vocal activists, and to tame the wild spirit of rage that can sometimes get diffused. We need those who process calmly but get the job done.  As Newt Scamander placidly states while he approaches a dangerous capture: “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”  

We are entering into a dark time, both in the Wheel of the Year and in American politics.  Dark times are painful, but they can lead to growth.  Dr. King intentionally led his followers into painful situations to stimulate change.  The discomfort of dark times can stimulate growth and manifest will, but it takes the Hufflepuffs caring for the wounded and as much as the Gryffindors on the front line.

It was Albus Dumbledore, the wisest Harry Potter character of all, who said that Love was the most powerful force in the world.  Love inspires frontline activism as much as nurturing of those who fight and those who fall.  In dark times, each person needs to choose where to focus their love.  Justice is vital, but so is Caring. When the future looked bleak, all of Hogwarts, even the Hufflepuffs, had to come together to defeat Voldemort’s fascist coup.


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Deadpool, Witchraft, and the Meta-Hero

I just got back from seeing Deadpool. Although the character would bristle at being included in the genre, it was a good super hero movie. Our protagonist is the classic antihero: he’s flawed, potty-mouthed, and obsessed with revenge. Like many people in this world, he uses humor to cover up the burning anger within. But, in the spirit of the film, I’m going to break the fourth wall. I don’t want to talk about the merits of the film. I want to compare it to modern Paganism and magickal practice.

I’m getting a bit tired of super hero movies. There are some really great ones. I loved the first Iron Man, but that franchise hasn’t been the same since. Batman and Superman have been reinvented and regurgitated so many times over the decades that by now they just need to trot out a few recognizable icons then devolve into a CGI fueled orgy of fight sequences. Marvel has a plan to continue releasing its films at least through 2020, but I’m not sure the market can take it. As Deadpool might say, “the market is getting saturated and the audiences are getting tired. The genre is getting stale.”

That is what may make Deadpool the pivotal film in Marvel’s master plan. While Marvel’s promoters like to bill Deadpool as an antihero, this movie presents him more as a meta-hero. As the movie progresses, his voice jumps in to offer analysis and commentary on everything from the producer’s budget, to casting choices, to the cinematography of the final scene. His commentary is funny and completely true to his character, but it also betrays something about the genre: we’ve all gotten used to it, and you’re going to have to be pretty damn good/different/shocking to get noticed. The opening credits say it all. Top billing goes not to actors’ names, but to well-known tropes such as “A British Villain,” “A CGI Character,” and “A Gratuitous Cameo.” These movies are a formula, and audiences are catching on.


So Deadpool gets to be the meta-hero. He steps off the screen to dissect his own film, the genre, and the machinations that go on behind the scenes to make a movie happen. It’s understandable. Marvel is under pressure to keep their universe fresh and exciting. They have to innovate and change. In that way, they are much like each and every one of us.

One of the things I love about Paganism in general and Witchcraft in particular is the chance to step briefly away from your life – step into that “place beyond a place and time beyond a time” – to get perspective and advice on where your life is going. Are you making the right casting decisions in your life? Have your everyday routines become rote and dry? Are you challenging yourself to grow and evolve or are you mindlessly cranking out the same existence each day? What is your Will and how do you plan to get there?

If you are a practitioner of Wicca or another type of Witchcraft, you have the eight sabbats of the Wheel to step back and offer commentary on your life. You have the chance to ask yourself what you want, what you are doing to get it, and if you’re happy with how it turned out. You also have the moon cycles to go about the different methods of meditating, ritualizing, and manifesting the life you want. It’s a beautiful system that, if practiced with discipline, can lead you to a more successful and happier life. You can be your own meta-hero; your own Deadpool- always able to heal yourself.

Sometimes a genre gets stale, and it needs to be reinvented. Sometimes a life begins to grow moldy around the corners and needs to be changed. Either way, it’s necessary to step out of the situation to gain perspective. Whether it’s a character stepping out of the formula or a witch stepping into meditation, journey, or ritual, it’s vital for us to step back and gain perspective in order to ensure a happy, successful life (or film franchise). Innovate and change.  It takes hard work, a strong magickal practice, and – to quote our hero – “Maximum Effort.”







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Virtues of the Goddess: Beauty

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is Part 2: Beauty.

I’ve never seen a purple crocus shyly peeking its fragile bud through virgin snow.  Where I live, he have colorful roses into January and the citrus trees are heavily laden with fruit, coloring our land in shades of lemon yellow, lime green, and orange, well, orange.  Fresh snow will never make it onto my altar.  The winter, with its sabbat of Imbolc, is a hard season to attune to here in California.

Yet, as a native southern Californian and a Witch, I can feel it in the land.  It’s subtle, and most people from other parts of the country would never notice it, but there are little signs of winter even here in the LA Basin.  The deciduous trees have finally all lost their green.  They stand dry and impassive.  The darkness arrives early.  Not as early as it did last month, but without the beautiful light displays decorating the neighborhoods, it feels even darker than before the solstice.

There are signs, if you know where to look.  While this is the time when colder parts of the country long for a return to warmth, we long for the return of the trees, the roses, our famous swallows, and the bees.  Our drought-stricken land seems wasted and dead just as those in the east are digging themselves from under a mountain of blizzard-induced snow.  The beauty of life is hibernating all around, but is seems far away.  We all yearn for that crocus or tulip, that drop of rain, that something that tells us there will be beauty again.

It’s not just in the land.  It’s in our culture as well.  One look at anything in the news these days is enough to make the whole world seem pretty ugly and drought-stricken.  Our politics are ugly, to the point where xenophobia and mindless insults carry the day with large swaths of voters.  Every day we hear of another terrorist shooting or innocent black child murdered.   Violence and fear seem to surround us, closing in like a Death Star trash compactor.

But, just like this Imbolc season is subtle in California, there is beauty if you know where to look.  So many of us were left bereft at some point this month as wonderful artists seem to have passed from this earth in droves.  David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, the list goes on.  Their passing left the world poorer, but their work left it richer.  Beautiful reactions from fans expressed how each of these artists had touched their lives began to circulate around social media almost immediately after each passing.


I was never really a Bowie or Eagles fan.  Yet, the tributes posted by fans were incredibly touching.  They help us remember just how deeply the beauty one artist makes can touch the hearts of others and how each of us finds beauty in something different.  I don’t need to know an ounce of Bowie’s music or a single word to “Hotel California” to appreciate how much these musicians meant to the fans who loved them.

Rickman is a different story.  I had been watching his career since Die Hard.  I’m a huge Harry Potter fan.  I wrote my master’s thesis on Harry Potter.  With Rickman’s crossing, I felt what Bowie fans must have felt.  I felt the shock and pain of loss, but I also better appreciated the beauty he left in my life and in the lives of his many fans.


In the midst of anti-Muslim fervor last month, Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the evangelical Wheaton College, began wearing hijab in solidarity with those who follow Islam.  She stood up for them, stating on social media that both Christians and Muslims worship the same god.  This got her suspended.


Right in the middle of what has been a nadir of relations between Muslims and non-Muslim Americans, Hawkins took a stand on the side of love – and paid the price. There’s beauty there.  Many students and religious leaders came out to support her.  More beauty.  Sometimes it takes the worst to highlight the best.

There are other examples of Muslims protecting Christians from harm and vice-versa.  Groups of bikers ride out en masse to protect funerals from the venomous hatred of the Westboro Baptist Church.   I’m not saying we should ignore our very real problems an look only at the pretty and shiny things, just that beauty inspires us to go on in a world that seems full of its opposite.  These acts of courage are beautiful.  Art is beautiful.  Tribute to the fallen is beautiful.

The world really does seem horrendous sometimes.  Especially lately.  Yet, underneath the snow (from what I understand) there are beautiful flowers waiting to break through the ice.  Here in California, small green buds will appear on the trees within a month.  Light creates shadow, and beauty can stand out against the blanket of nastiness that seems to cover our world.   It can be hard to find, but it is still there if you know where to look.

Other posts in this series:




The Top 10 Pagan Quotes of 2015

2015 was a dynamic year in the world of Paganism.  Social justice dominated the year, and members of the Pagan community struck out against racism, religious favoritism, and environmental destruction.  At the same time, 2015 saw polytheist and anti-capitalist groups underneath the Pagan umbrella truly hit their strides and stand up for their own views, whether or not those views were popular anywhere else.  2015 was a year of owning our identity, fighting for that of others, and standing up for our beliefs.

With such a diverse community, there is inevitably disagreement over what justice looks like, the ideal political landscape, and how our individual identities fit into the picture of larger society.  So while we planted many flags of identity this year, we also engaged in profound internal dialogue about how we interact as Pagans within the larger world.  We challenged each other spiritually and politically.  There was friction, but friction leads to fire, and fire burns away the deadwood, giving us a new vitality.  Friction, as the sign of free thinking and free expression, is healthy.

Once again, here are my selections for the top 10 Pagan quotes of this year. As usual, they must be written or spoken by a Pagan.  I use a very large definition of “Pagan” here.  The “Pagan-ness” of some of these writers may be arguable, but I felt that they were all a part of a broad definition of our community.

These are based on my reading and my tastes.  I love a good turn of phrase, but I can’t read everything.  If I’ve missed something that you loved, please feel free to add it in the comments section.  The more the collection of our words grows, the better, so please add any words that inspired you.  With the rules our of the way, here are my choices for the top 10 Pagan quotes of 2015:

10. “Alex portrayed us as exotic beings who are equally eccentric as we are connected to something that makes us feel strong. And while everyone has a right to how they feel, this doesn’t make me feel exploited. It makes me feel like a witch.”

– David Salisbury, October 29

9. “If a teaching leads you to take action in accord with your soul’s will, take action. Find others to take action with you, but do not assume that the action you take is the action everyone should take, or must take, or you fall into the traps of more institutionalized religions.”

– Christopher Penczak, August 29

8. “There are plenty of areas in the United States crying out for a counter-balance to existing graven tributes to archaic Abrahamic barbarism. Arkansas is looking rather appealing.”

– Lucien Greaves, July 7

7. “[I]f who you need to be is a polytheist, if something deep inside whispers the Gods are many, if the call you feel is from one of those many Gods, then be a polytheist. Stop trying to square your beliefs with the mainstream – you can’t.”

– John Beckett, December 8

6. “If someone is seeing something that you’re not, then you should treat that moment as an opportunity, not a nuisance. There’s a whole other reality hidden from view! If you work at it, you might gain access to that hidden reality! You’d think that, as mystics and magic practitioners, we’d be chomping at the bit for such an opportunity.”

– Asa West, February 28

5. “We hold that living a fulfilling and meaningful life, and allowing the same for future generations, is only possible if the entire Earth is healthy. We will therefore strive as individuals, as groups, and as members of a global society to promote the current and future health of our entire Earth, including the water, air, land, and the web of life.”

– From “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,”April 22

4. “If you don’t hear the scream, you are choosing to be spiritually deaf. Stop. Listen. Act.”

– Courtney Weber, February 19

3. “So once again, I’m making friends with my discomfort, because until we live in an equitable, post-scarcity world, making friends with discomfort is the only way through to justice that I can see.”

– T. Thorn Coyle, December 2

2. “Patriarchy and Capitalism are cozy bedfellows. They are happy to convince women that their bodies are disgusting, so they can sell us one more product to make us more “productive”, to make my vagina smell like candy or flowers, anything that will stop these cunts from bleeding.”

– Niki Whiting, May 19

1. “We don’t care if you call our gods devils. That is just another power you give us. We would sooner kiss the ass of a thousand ‘devils’ than bow to your fears.”

– Jason Thomas Pitzl, February 17

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Popes and Snopes

These days, it’s embarrassingly easy to find just about any information you want.  It’s all right there at your fingertips.  You carry the world’s knowledge around with you in your pocket every day.  And yet, it seems that the more access we have to knowledge, the worse we get at figuring out how accurate it is.

Did you see the story about Pope Francis last week?   It popped up on my Facebook feed one evening, and before I knew it, the story was everywhere.  It was wonderful.  It told us all about the Third Vatican Council that has been going on this year.  It told us that the Pope declared that “All religions are true.”  It told us that he would “right away” begin ordaining women into all levels of the priesthood.  The style was journalistic, sensory details such as “His voice loudly echoing through St. Peter’s basilica” (sic) added credibility. Memes and sharing started blossoming almost immediately.  It was a beautifully written piece.


And it was completely false.  The Snopes article went up within a day after I first saw it.  There isn’t even such a thing as the “Third Vatican Council.”  The Pope never said this:


The popularity of this false piece of writing actually encourages me.  It tells me that our community is good and loving.  They want justice for all people, regardless of faith, gender, or sexuality.  They wanted so badly for this message to be true.  Unfortunately, it just wasn’t.

It was really nice to see people all over sharing what they thought was a groundbreaking message of love and inclusion, even if it was false.  Still, it made me think, “Damn, I know some really nice people!”  There was so much hope.

No one would have believed it from this Pope’s predecessor.  In a short time, Francis has demonstrated enough of a difference in message that his false comments had a tinge of believeability.  The Vatican works slowly; even that little tinge, that slight shift in message, offers a small tinge of hope.

With so much information out there, and with anyone able to say anything at any time reaching any number of people almost instantly, it is becoming more and more vital to check our sources.  Still, it was nice to see the hope flowing from this little piece of “too good to be true.”

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Quotes of the Year: Runners up

Every year as I work on the top quotes of the year for The Juggler, I sift through a wide variety of quotes from Pagan authors.  Sometimes they are beautiful; sometimes they are vicious.  I love looking at the words our community has expressed over the years, but every year I have to cut very good quotes from very good people. As I begin this blog, I’d like to add a few brief posts featuring some of the quotable Pagans who almost made the top 10 list this year.

There was this one from Crystal Blanton:


“What a beautiful thing to look back upon the faces of the brave, and know that I have been gifted this chance at life because of those who’ve been willing to lay their lives in front of the bullet for justice.”

– Crystal Blanton, December 5

Crystal is always at the forefront of challenging the Pagan community on race, social justice, and inclusion.  Here she opens up about the funeral of the great Nelson Mandela.  She also took December to problematize Megyn Kelly’s “Santa is White” comments.

Or this one from Sam Webster:


“Love, mercy, compassion, care, kindness give value and joy to all we do. But is not a solution to our problems. Our problems are from bad choices, from promoting the stupidity of selfishness over general wellbeing.”

– Sam WebsterNovember 27

Sam has gift for words.  He has the  uncanny ability to tear anything apart with his weapon of choice.  I have sat in many of his lectures and marveled at his ability to cut directly to the linguistic heart of the matter.  In this instance, he calls the Pagan community out for trusting in “love” as the magic that can solve any problem.

Finally, there was this from “Raise the Horns” author Jason Mankey:


“It often feels as if we Pagans are far more likely to share an article that undermines Christianity than we are to share something written by Pagans for Pagans. That bothers me as a Pagan writer of course, but it also bothers me as a Pagan because I feel as if it hurts Pagandom long term”

– Jason MankeyOctober 13

Goddess, that is true.  Jason is a young, dynamic force of the modern Pagan movement, and his words remind us that we need to stop convincing ourselves of the problem of other faiths and start discussing our worldviews with each other.  Only then can we unite as a strong and loving religious movement.

I may post some other quotes I had to cut from my Top 10 article over the next few days.  If you’d like to see this year’s list, go over to my newest annual post on The Juggler.