Resource Center for Pagans in Prison

Onje Keon Pierce Gullveig Press logo
Gullveig Press logo design by Onje Keon Pierce

Gullveig Press is the only national Resource Center for Pagans in Prison. We network with the few Pagan Prison Ministries in the U.S. and independently search for resources that may improve the quality of life for Pagans in prison. We work directly with prison Chaplains, volunteers, and incarcerated Pagans.

Gullveig Press is a non-profit organization dedicated to locating, creating and distributing high quality materials for spiritual and psychological growth to Pagan residents, Chaplains, volunteers and others involved with the prison system. Created and led by Heather Awen, author, editor and publisher of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners, Gullveig Press has a small volunteer staff of Pagans both in and out of prison as well as occasional paid assistants. Awen’s personal money and all profits from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters sold to the general public via Amazon or this website are used to send free copies to books-to-prisoners organizations and prison Chaplains or libraries. Over 100 copies are now in American prisons.

If you would like to purchase a copy for someone in prison or work with incarcerated Pagans, a copy costs $12. For those not involved with Pagan Prison Ministries, the cost is $24 if ordered directly from Gullveig Press. Chaplains and Pagan Prison Ministries may receive a free PDF copy by contacting us.

The creator of the ALL Religions Prison Chaplain Resource List, Awen maintains the largest collection of free resources available to prison Chaplains and residents. The Resource List includes Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Native American Traditional, Jewish, Christian, Islam, and General Spirituality. If you are a prison Chaplain, volunteer, librarian, or otherwise work with prisoners and would like a list of the ALL Religions Prison Chaplain Resource List, please contact Gullveig Press.

Awen has sent around 35 free written materials about Wicca, Heathenry, African Diaspora Religions, and other Pagan religions directly to the Chief Chaplain of Illinois DOC, Chief Chaplain of New Hampshire DOC, and all prisons in Vermont as email attachments. She also works with Chaplains in Idaho and California state prisons. These Chaplains and Volunteer Coordinators also receive Awen’s Prison Rites, as described below.

Most Pagans in state prisons cannot meet unless they have a volunteer present, which is sadly rare. Pagans generally do not volunteer and so a Buddhist volunteer may double as volunteer for the Pagan groups. For this reason, Awen was asked to write solitary rites for important Pagan holy days. These may be performed with only tap water, pencil, paper and the body. Eight times a year Awen emails three 2-page rituals: one for Wiccans about the Sabbat, one for those involved with Orisha Religions, and one for Heathens. They provide historical background information on the holy day and easy to do rites to celebrate them. To be included on the Gullveig Press Prison Rites mailing list, please contact us.

Gullveig Press produces the Pagans in Prison Resource List. Copies are made for residents in prison and mailed to Pagans in prison looking for pen pals. Via word of mouth, Gullveig Press receives requests for the Pagans in Prison Resource List. If you would like a copy, please contact us or give our mailing address to any incarcerated Pagan: P.O. Box 126, St Johnsbury, VT 05819 (A self addressed stamped envelope is appreciated.)

Awen coordinates the Pagans in Prison Marketplace. She also helps loved ones of Pagans in prison find resources on other topics about incarceration.

Gullveig Press gratefully accepts donations of postage stamps and money. To help, please contact us.

 

Gullveig Press does not endorse the advertisers chosen by WordPress.

The End

So we’re at the end.

No, Gullveig Press isn’t going anywhere. We’re still going in debt sending Pagan prisoners the Pagans in Prison Resources List. We’re searching prison pen pal ads and connecting with people who care about the people living in barbaric conditions – actually, violating human rights if you care about what the international laws say – to make sure that at least those who are Pagan can get affordable information on over a dozen Pagan religions. It’s not the least we can do; the next stage is a guide to evidence-based psychological skills.

Yep. PTSD breathing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mindfulness, radical acceptance, value based living, and some tools from DBT – The tools for managing the painful mental illnesses many prisoners learn they have, as they are given dangerous drugs erratically and receive absolutely no therapy in prison. No one else is doing it and that’s the spirit of Gullveig Press. What needs to be done and how can we have a direct impact? Most of the time we don’t need an authority figure to solve our problems, because as a species we are designed to work together. Just do something, one step, and then another. It’s how we change the world.

But we’re stopping the blog. Oh, the information on resources will stay updated. There’s the guide to provide advice for those of you who want to write an incarcerated Pagan. You probably interact online with people who have committed felonies in your online community. I personally know that many of our Pagan elders are felons – they just weren’t caught growing that weed.

The blog was merely to bring attention to the needs of Pagan prisoners. To give pen pals and loved ones of Pagan prisoners some ideas about how to help. To get you to buy a great book so others with no resources could read it. To lure you to the Solutions that are working to improve the functional literacy rate of prisoners and expand their minds with your donated used books. To teach you about the 1 in 100 Americans in prison – that’s the parents of 1 in 27 children. No other nation in the world imprisons more of its population – and 1 in 1000 Americans are now incarcerated Pagans, usually because they learned about the religions in prison. From really crappy overstock books.

(OK, the blog also met my passionate desire to share information about deities that most people would have never heard of, or heard of, but had misinformation. It’s been an honor and I especially hope that the recently recovered Celtic deities of the Iberian peninsula get some loving!)

But in 2 years, not one visitor to the blog ever even clicked the link to find out where to donate used books. A couple did go to Kroger website to choose Athens Books to Prisoners. Maybe some of you made Providence Books Behind Bars your Amazon Smile charity; there’s no way to know. And one miraculous Aussie sent $36, which turned into surprise copies of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners to prisoners writing Gullveig Press for Pagan resources.

Not one post about prisoners was been viewed. Not one.

Which means that the blog failed.

Instead of wasting precious spoons on trying to get the Pagan “community” to be inclusive and involved in service to the less fortunate, we’re going straight to the people who care about Gullveig Press: prisoners. You have the Internet, so you can research papers on academia.edu. You appreciate that privilege, right? Others don’t have it.

We’re staying committed to transformative justice that focuses on the actual needs of victims, demands accountability from those who harm, and heals a shattered society that breeds suffering, so one day it will be a society where everyone recovers. A society of support and accountability, that matches our values of truth, knowledge and nature.

It’s never too late to donate some books.

 

Suggested Reading:

Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Ejeris Dixon, AK Press, 2020

We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just, and Inclusive Communities by Zach Harris, Beacon Press, 2020

 

Jessica Caponigro
activist- artist- Witch Jessica Caponigro

Ancient Pagan Festivals in May

Please copy this for your Pagan pen pal in prison. Make sure that you already sent the weekly and monthly guide.

The Anglo-Saxon name for May is Thrimilci which translates into “three milkings a day.” Cows enjoyed fresh grass.

May is named for Roman Goddess Maia, who was similar to Terra Mater (Mother Earth). On May 1 Maia was worshipped with the sacrifice of a pregnant sow.

Beltain is the Gaelic festival beginning the light half of the year. Cattle were moved to the summer fields, protected by the tribe’s young men. Herbs that kill ticks and parasites were tossed in bonfires for both cattle and human purification. (In the cold winter farm animals often slept in the home.) A lot happens in Welsh mythology now: Rhiannon is sighted on horseback by Her future first husband. Scottish fairy queens are especially active, perhaps as fertility spirits, so it is bad luck to marry (especially wearing green, their favorite color). Ancient British Celtic tribes made large animal sacrifices around Beltain and Samhain. A transitional time, communication with the dead and divination are easier.

In Haitian Vodou, May 1 honors Azaka Medeh. Although kind, He is suspicious of city people and fears they will steal from him. He is a rural farmer associated with agriculture and loves to eat.

On May 1 the Romans honored Bona Dea (“Good Goddess”), She who cares for women. Bona Dea particularly cares for pregnant women, whether they choose to have a baby or an abortion. Her temple garden grew medicinal herbs that healed the sick who visited. Sitting on a throne, depicted as holding a cornucopia, Bona Dea is associated with the healing snake, with consecrated snakes even living in Her temple. Her father Faunus beat Her with a myrtle stick after getting Her drunk, so never say “wine” or “myrtle” in Her presence!

The Lares Praestites (“Standby Lares”) also had a ritual May 1. The Lares are the protective household spirits; the two Lares Praestites protected the Roman state as Their home.

Lemuria was a time in early May when the terrifying, hungry ghosts (lemures) of those who died too young could return home and harm the living. The head of the family spit out black beans for the ghosts to take instead of living kin. Crashing bronze items together loudly, he’d yell, “Ghosts of my ancestors be gone!” Lemuria was very old.

May 11 is sacred to the mother of the Lares, Mania (“Good One”), who is a death Goddess. Cakes shaped like ugly humans were offered to Mania. Dolls of Mania were hung on the front door to ward off threats.

On May 14 Romans purified their city of the past year’s evil by making 30 puppets from rushes called the Argei. Citizens gathered with Priests and Vestal Virgins on a bridge over the Tiber River and threw the Argei into the water. One Priestess, her hair uncombed, grieved the puppets’ deaths.

The 15th is sacred to the hunter Orisha Ochosi who helps with court cases, justice and balance.

The Mercuralia, in honor of Mercury, Roman God of commerce and travel, was honored by merchants on May 15 (or the full moon). Mercury was incredibly popular with the Celtic Gauls in modern France, Germany and the Alps.

In Rome the last week of May focused on an ancient Italian Goddess, Fortuna Primigenia (“Bringer of Increase”), a luck Goddess. At Her temple worshipers prayed for answers then randomly chose messages inscribed on oak from a chest. Without Priestly guidance, they deciphered what the meaning of the message was.

The end of May was also the time of the ancient rural festival Ambarvalia (“Beating of the Bounds”). Any evil in a Roman farmer’s fields was purified by a procession marking the farm’s boundaries to be protected by Mars. Ceres, grain Goddess, and Bacchus, vineyard God, also received sacrifices for the continued growth of crops. Everyone including animals did not work that day. Humans abstained from sex. Ritual hand washing began the ceremony and the oxen’s horns were decorated with garlands. A bull, sow and sheep were part of the procession that circled the farm’s boundaries three times as Ceres was invited to move into the fields. Then the three animals were sacrificed.

May 29 is the festival of ancient agricultural Goddess Dea Dia, whose worship was organized by the 12 Arval Brethren (“Field Brothers”), of whom the Roman Emperor was one. Her grove had Her temple, a dining hall and a bathing complex.

BRITISH PAGAN ALERT! Moon Books & other UK Pagan Publishers!

Haven Books to Prisoners

On top of buying British prisoners dictionaries to prisoners learning English, helping prisoners with dyslexia, and aiding prisoners in buying text books,

“Haven also provides prisoners a free catalogue of donated books from publishers, and books that are bought cheaply from remainder bookshops. These books range from Social Sciences such as Philosophy and Criminology, to Black Interest and political science, plus some fiction and graphic novels.”

So if you are a British publishing company, please contact Haven if you have copies to donate!

 SHOP ON AMAZON.UK?

 “(You can help by b)uying anything from Amazon through this affiliate link to www.amazon.co.uk. Haven receives a donation of 5% of everything you buy after following this link (excluding shipping and VAT).

“Haven provides essential tools for the creation of a resettled life after prison, without crime, providing a cost-effective service and an investment in the future of the growing number of applicants who seek our support.

“Thank you to those who donated for our Radio 4 Appeal; we managed to raise over £16,000. Listen to our appeal for support:

“My support for Haven books stems from my own prison experience. When I went to prison for life in 1984 I had no hope or any sense at all that I would or could ever again live any kind of a contributing life. If anything I was relieved that my destructive life was effectively over. Life outside had been painful for me, but more importantly painful for other people because of me. I entered prison an inarticulate, ill-educated brute – but luckily I was literate. Books provided a gateway into education and through education I learned a better way to live.

“Despite the best efforts of various prison libraries however, getting hold of the right books was always a struggle. Sometimes it took months to locate a particular textbook. It was three years before I owned my own dictionary. Significantly I think, the most popular requests to Haven even today are for dictionaries.

“Over the years I counted books among my best friends in prison. They gave me hope, for sure – but more than anything they were the practical means to achieving a life worth living. When the chance came for me to write for the Guardian newspaper from my prison cell fifteen years into my sentence I realised that unwittingly I had been preparing for the opportunity with books. Books inspired me to become a writer and for the first time in my life enabled me to become a contributor to my society.

“I have never considered myself to be a spokesman for prisoners, but I met hardly anyone during my twenty years inside who did not have the desire to change and a yearning to live a crime free life. Without books few of us would ever make it. For that reason I applaud the ideals of Haven books. Every book this tiny organisation sends into a prison represents a potential key to a better life for the individual recipient – and to a safer community for everyone.”

Erwin James is a Guardian columnist and author of two books: A Life Inside and The Home Stretch. He is a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust and a patron of the charity CREATE, which promotes the arts and creative activities among marginalized groups. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (FRSA) and an Honorary Master of the Open University (MUniv.)

Pagan Holy Days April

garnet_watermark Alexandra Rena
Garnet card (Babylonia) from the highly anticipated, well researched, in-process Stone Oracle by Alexandra Rena

About a week before the end of the month, I post the monthly calendar so you have time to copy and mail it to your pen pals in prison. Remember that they need the Guide to the Athens, Julian and other calendars, plus the new moon (not dark moon) and full moon dates found here and here, where the Yoruban, Anglo-Saxon and Athens weekly and monthly calender are. If you want a pen pal, I suggest looking at Black & Pink‘s list for Pagans. For pointers on writing someone in prison, check out here. It’s the new Guide to Writing Pagan Prisoners!

If you don’t have a penpal but want to help, we’ll happily send free copies of Steel Bars Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners to prisoners and books to prisoners organizations if you donate the money! Pagan books are in the Top Five Requested Books and hardest to fill. If you have used paperback books that you don’t need, please consider donating them. There’s a books to prisoners organizations within 200 miles of most people and they’d love those books! Check out your closest one! Literacy rates are low in prison and the average book is read by seven people! Prison, as one man told me, “can be college, if you treat the time that way. You just have to keep getting books, because there’s no classes or training in state prison.”

On with the show!

April Pagan Holy Days

The Anglo-Saxon name for April was Eostre, whose name links Her to the east and dawn. Her name became Easter. As Easter is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, it is believed that Eostre was worshiped on the full moon after the spring equinox.

Akitu, the Sumerian festival of barley and Babylonian celebration of Marduk‘s victory over Tiamat, started the new year. The new moon of the 1st Babylonian month Nisannu (April-May) began the 12 day holy time. Marduk and the other deities renew their covenant with Babylon now and promise another cycle of seasons.

Fortuna Virilis, Roman Goddess with power over women’s relationships with men, was honored April 1.

April 1 was also the Veneralia, Festival of Venus Verticordia (“Heart Turner”). Venus Verticordia turned the hearts of Roman women to be faithful wives and chaste maidens. Men and women, married or single, poor or wealthy – everyone prayed to Venus Verticordia for help involving love, sex and marriage. She maintained the gender roles and morality that Roman society expected from all women.

The Megalesia held April 4 to 6 celebrated the Goddess the Romans called Magna Mater, but originally was Cybele, the great mother from Phrygia in the Near East. The rituals began with an offering of herbs at Her temple. People held big parties, visited friends and went to the theater.

8 days before the new moon in April, Venus of Eryx was worshiped by courtesans and prostitutes. Her main temple was on the western point of Sicily in Eryx.

The 6th day of the April-May lunar cycle Athens held a purification ceremony. One woman and one man were picked to represent the adult population. Wearing garlands of figs, the couple was sacrificed on the seashore. Their burnt to ashes were scattered on the sea. In later times they were banished from Athens, symbolically taking away all evil in the city’s residents. They also were a sacrifice to Apollon, so He would not burn the crops.

The same day started the 2 day long harvest festival the Thargelia. The first day is for purification, such as fasting, bathing and abstaining from sex. The next day is Apollon‘s birthday feast of the first fruits. Artemis and the Horae (Greek Goddesses of the seasons) also received offerings from the first harvest.

During the Cerialia, April 12-19, Romans celebrated the reunion of grain Goddess Ceres (similar to Demeter) and Her daughter Proserpina. (Persephone is Her Greek name). Ovid instructs: “Ceres delights in peace; and you farmer, pray for perpetual peace and a peaceful leader. Good Ceres is content with little, if that little be but pure.” Women in white carried lit torches, like Ceres in search of Proserpina.

Fordicidia, April 15 or the full moon, is an ancient Roman fertility rite. A pregnant cow (“forda”) was sacrificed to Terra Mater, or Mother Earth. The Vestal Virgins sacrificed the unborn calf and used its ashes at the Parilia. The fields received the fertility of the cow.

On the 19th the New Orleans Saint Expedite who grants fast solutions especially in law and business and helps with overcoming obstacles to financial success is honored.

Held on April 21, the Parilia honors Pales who purifies the flocks. Ovid instructs: “Shepherd, do purify your well-fed sheep at twilight; first sprinkle the ground with water and sweep it with a broom. Deck the sheepfold with leaves and branches fastened to it; adorn the door and cover it with a long garland. Make blue smoke with pure sulphur ….when the (cakes of millet are) cut up, pray to rustic Pales, offering warm milk to her.”

On the 23rd Ogun is honored by those involved with Spiritualist Voodoo.

The ancient Roman Robigalia on April 25 honors Robiga, the spirit of mold, to protect the crops.

Walpurga’s night, April 30, is celebrated in Germany much like Halloween. Witches were said to meet on the tops of the moist remote mountains. Historically Walpurga was an Anglo-Saxon nun but She became synchronized with earlier Pagan practices. Some images of the Saint, especially in Sweden, show her holding shafts of wheat, because Walpurga is the fertility of the fields. For the last 9 days of April She runs through the forest hiding from a man who is chasing her. He may ask farmers if they have seen Walpurga. If a farmer replies no, he will be rewarded with gold by Walpurga. On May 1 Walpurga is free and brings summer to the land, much to the delight of the farmers.

On April 27, the Roman temple of Flora was dedicated, and her games and rituals lasted until May 3. “Perhaps you may think that I am queen only of dainty garlands; but my divinity has to do also with the tilled fields. Honey is my gift. ‘Tis I who call the winged creatures, which yield honey, to the violet, and the clover, and the grey thyme.” (Ovid) Flora was honored by the oldest college of Roman priests, the Arval Brethren, in their sacred grove. During a week of parties, hares and goats (animals who breed frequently) were released. Beans were scattered in the crowd as symbols of fertility. Everyone wore crowns of flowers. “When white robes are worn for Ceres’ festival, Why brightly colored clothes suitable for Flora? That is because the harvest whitens when the grain is ripe, But flowers come in a variety of colors.” (Ovid )

Belinos or Belenos? Pagans Respond to COVID-19

I’m happy with how fast word of mouth spreads. Now I send complete a Pagans in Prison Resource List along with ways to creatively practice in prison to folks who write “I found Gullveig Press scribbled on a paper, do you know of anything that or anyone who can help educate Pagans in prison?” As the only clearinghouse of Pagan prisoner information, I send letters with the list if they have specific Pagan questions. I’ll check what their facility is supposed to allow if they don’t know. Mostly I wish them good luck.

The COVID-19 virus is terrifying inmates. They can’t quarantine and buses are moving prisoners from facility to facility as if there’s no State of Emergency. Hand sanitizer has alcohol in it, so it’s not allowed, and for prisoners who have no income, the one bar of lye soap to wash body, hair and clothing doesn’t last long. I’m sure that you have all been very worried, especially because so many people in prison are HIV+ or live with Hep C, diabetes/heart disease and respiratory diseases. I’m sure that you are praying for them, writing letters to the editor of your paper, and donating money to help inmates with compromised immune systems have their medication, food, etc. (Black & Pink, the nation’s LGBTQIA 25+ prisoner advocacy group is currently requesting donations to help people living with HIV during this dangerous time.)

From the many copies of Steel Bars, Sacred Waters I’ve paid to donate to books-to-prisoners organizations, TWO have ended up in the same facility where there’s 130 Pagans! I know this from a letter from Jay Glenewinkel. He wrote to tell me that the Ostara ritual at Seogoville, Texas, on March 19th included a prayer I wrote in SBSW. It can actually be used as a Magickal chant to raise power, which never occurred to me. I’m sharing it here in case others are looking for a prayer or chant during this stressful time.

Seriously, I really would like to know that Pagans on the outside who have the luxury of hand sanitizer and quarantine are praying for those who don’t. Please. This is one out of one hundred Americans. It’s the parents of 27 American children. No other country even comes close to these numbers! In other nations many of these people would never even have been in prison or would have been released far sooner. Who is a prisoner is a political decision. It’s a reflection of the nation’s fear and hatred, not the people in prison.

If you were in the UK, Canada, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Finland, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Ireland, etc., they’d be probably be your neighbors and co-workers, not prisoners.

They’d be considered human beings.

Belinos

(from Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners)

Belinos was a widely popular God in Gaul, northern Italy, the Alps, and Slovakia. Belinos was possibly worshiped by more Celtic peoples than any other deity. Sometimes he is shown with a female figure thought to be the Goddess Belisama. In Slovakia there was still a cult to a God named Belin in the 19th century. An ancient stone carving depicted two human forms with lines radiating from their heads. The Slavic people called it Belin, “the rock,” or “triple faced,” showing that some version of the much-loved Celtic deity, probably merged with other influences, survived that long.

Belinos was especially popular in northeastern Gaul, Austria, and farther east. Worship of him has not been found in Britian, but “the King of the Britons” was Cynobellini, a name that contains beli and appears on coins. Belinos‘ name is also found in some place and personal names, like the second half of Llewellyn (probably “Lugus-Belinos“). Belinos appears to be a solar God, but Celtic Gods are usually wise, generous, brave defenders and healers, skilled in every art, and all-round perfect chieftains. They are whatever is needed to help their tribe/worshipers: warriors are poets; kings are shoe-makers.

It’s currently believed that Belinos became confused by scholars with a Celtic name for the Greek/Roman God Apollo, Belenos. We only know Belenos from the northestern Italian city of Aquileia. Belinos was also worshipped there, but like everywhere in the Celtic world, Belinos was never named with Apollo in any inscription or shrine. In modern times scholars began “correcting” Belinos to the wrong name Belenos. Reviews of the original evidence very recently found the mistake. We can expect more accurate information about deities as Celtic studies continue. If someone has a strong relationship with Belenos, they may be worshiping Apollo by his Celtic name. Apollo‘s cult began in southern Gaul during the 5th century BCE, making him a regional Celtic deity.

Prayer to Belinos to Stop Contagious Disease from Spreading in the Prison

by Heather Awen

Body to body, blood to blood,
No longer does the infection spread,
For Belinos is our protector and guards us from disease.
The fear is gone, the people relax,
No longer does the infection spread,
For Belinos is our protector and guards us from disease.
Blessed by the fire in the sky,
No longer does the infection spread,
For Belinos is our protector and guards us from disease.
Federal prisons often allow Pagans a lot more than state prisons because Native Americans have made great legal strides in being allowed to practice their religions outside. Most state prisons don’t offer the very expensive email available in many Federal prisons. Women’s prisons usually have more receptive Chaplains and fewer restrictions for Pagans, but they still need Pagans on the outside for guidance.

 

Gullveig Press does not support any advertisers to whom WordPress sold space. We probably have very different values than these companies.

The Problem with Wicca

A lot people go online to find things to hate, so I thought this title might grab some Wiccans’ attention for the wrong reason, and invite them to help us solve this problem. (I don’t mean that Wiccans in particular go online to hate; it’s just a reason many people do. I think they are called trolls and keyboard warriors who don’t improve anything but just want to fight pointlessly. But some can be honestly kind, thoughtful people who want to make sure that their religion is being portrayed accurately, and maybe this title brought some of those secure, mature Wiccans here. “Whatever gets to the table,” as my Mom says about activism. Once you are at the table, you are knowingly part of the situation.)

The main complaint incarcerated Wiccans write to me about is that they HAVE to have tools, HAVE to have candles, according to the books on Wicca. A lot of books ditched half of the original tools, like the scourge, like they dropped the Wiccan Rede aside from the first line, but still, there’s a lot of “must haves” in Wicca. How many and how elaborate depends on the book and most incarcerated Wiccans only have a couple books.

When polytheists write me, no matter what the culture, I can write that making offerings of water and the arts while praising the deities and ancestors is a great start. List 5 things you are grateful for. Then talk, probably silently, about your life, your questions, your problems, your desires, including to know Them better. Practice mindful meditation (several Buddhist and Hindu places send free guides) to learn more about how your brain operates, so you will have better “signal clarity” about what could be from the deities and what’s from your own mind. Build a relationship. Follow the main two virtues found in all tribal cultures: truth and hospitality in ways that are safe in prison, which usually means with the deities and ancestors.

(Being even a bit generous makes you look soft, a sucker who will be on the end of theft, beatings and even rape. And truth is another dangerous thing in prison – I’ve had pen pals write that it’s only in writing me that they be honest about themselves and understand what their crime(s) were really about and seek ways to deal with those issues.)

Wiccans, so obsessed with the tools, but not seeming to understand that the tools are also symbols of deeper energies, I’m not sure how to help. When I was trained as a teenager I made all my own tools because that was the rule then (and there was a lot of blood from my first time using a sawzall with no instruction!) But I also had to know how to cast a circle and lead a basic rite workout the aid of any tools beyond my body. Once I had to do it wordlessly!

I can explain that necessity is the mother of invention. “Use the thick paper of a book cover to make a blade shape and if possible wrap it with aluminum foil or the shiny insides of chip bags. Carve designs in a Styrofoam cup and pencil them into darker areas. Make “flame” with red, orange and good candy wrappers and Doritos bags crumpled up and fit into a paper cup “candle holder”. Take apart a toilet paper tube and twist it into a wand, held in place by wrapping a shoelace around it. Use any bowl for the cauldron. Trace a circle on paper and put 5 dots on its edge where you estimate the pentacle points should be. Use a flat surface like a book edge to draw the straight lines that connect the dots. Use color pencils to make it green (or whatever color you are supposed to have in your chosen tradition.) The Commissary bandana is an altar cloth. Have someone draw the Lady and the Lord or use images from magazines. You have a Wiccan altar.”

But it doesn’t help with all the Ceremonial Magick reasons behind the tools or respectfully feeling the Elementals. Any connection between nature-religion and environmentalism escapes them. The Crowley meaning of Will is unknown, so they do whatever they want. Somehow they also skipped all the studies in concentration, visualization, energy work.

Wiccans in prison really need a pen pal for the Circle. Someone who can supply the missing information, give “homework”, and explain the theology. If you have Starhawk’s the Spiral Dance for homework and group exercises, Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon for explaining the religion’s development, and Internet access for finding good answers, you’re far more ahead of the average Wiccan in prison. Plus I imagine that you have been practicing as a solitary Wiccan for a few years and attended several public rituals and/or workshops. You are basically the authority on Wicca people need.

Gullveig Press wrote a Guide to Writing Pagan Prisoners! And we have some names of Wiccans who are trying to be actively involved in the prison Pagan group, but need mentors! Storm is one.

You don’t have to discuss your personal life. Like anyone writing a prisoner, you must set specific boundaries of what you won’t tolerate (racism, requests for money, any sexual/ romantic overtures, etc). Make clear what you are offering. “I can write once a month in response to a list of 5 questions from the Circle about the religion of Wicca. I may copy useful information from the Internet, books and my own Book of Shadows to send you. My background is Alexandrian, which I will explain later in this letter, but I have incorporated things from other traditions. I don’t speak for all Wiccans. I won’t call the Chaplain for you. In 8 months my schedule is expected to become much more full and I probably cannot write after then. But I know that you don’t have any volunteers to help you learn and books are too expensive for most prisoners and you’re very limited in what titles you can buy, and I would like to help. Now I’ll tell you about my background in Wicca and some general information about the religion. If you are interested in my help, write back with 5 questions and tell me about your background with Wicca and what group you may have joined was doing….”

You can use j.mail so they don’t know your address.  If you will be sending a dozen pages of your writing and online info, it may be cheaper to just get a P.O.Box for the year. There’s a big rule “Don’t fuck with someone volunteering,” and it seems to apply to helpful pen pals, but you never know. You can choose someone who has 15+ more years in prison and is in far away state. The biggest problem is when someone writes and doesn’t set really clear boundaries and doesn’t follow through on the consequences if the boundaries are blatantly crossed. Most people are pretty desperate for a Pagan guide or any outside world interaction and don’t want to jeopardise their connection on the outside.

You could be communicating online with convicted felons right now on Facebook and never know.

The most important thing so far on our list is “set boundaries, state your expectations of yourself and them, and don’t get sucked into justifying either.” Women are usually groomed to please others, so this is a great opportunity to just say “No” to a request and not elaborate. (Men do it all the time.) If someone seems to think you’re playing and don’t really mean what you said you wouldn’t tolerate, give them one polite opportunity to explain their offensive behavior and tell them why it is offensive or crossed your boundary. Prison communication, especially between different genders, is really different because it’s a totally different culture. Of course, this “let’s clarify” discussion is for anything that could be a misunderstanding just because writing can be awkward across cultural lines. If they obviously ignored your boundary and was flat out offensive, say so in a brief “Don’t contact me again” reply. Stamps and paper are expensive for prisoners and won’t normally be wasted on someone who doesn’t write back. Find someone else to write instead of getting a bad opinion of all incarcerated Pagans. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who want to hear from you.

How do you find them? I’m a fan of the LGBTQ prisoner ally organization Black&Pink for pen pals. Not all prisons allow their free newsletter because after being “Born Again” as a Christian, former ’90s President Bush banned homosexuality, masturbation and Dungeons and Dragons in prison. If someone in prison places a pen pal request on Black&Pink’s website, they’re probably not a racist, homophobic creep. “Bisexual men” are often bisexual in prison but heteroromantic. There’s a drop down menu where you can choose things like gender and religion. If you feel more comfortable writing a woman or someone transgender, click the box, and then “Wiccan” or “Pagan” to see who is seeking a pen pal.

Usually, several will state that they run the prison’s Pagan group. But even someone just looking for a non-sexual pen pal that felt that stating their religion was important will probably respond well to an offer for a mentor. It probably will seem like 20 birthday presents – a real, live Wiccan! Again, stamps and paper are expensive, so prisoners don’t waste them to write “Fuck you, you arrogant bitch” or whatever you might worry about. I mean, maybe one would but it is more likely that they will use their best handwriting and awkwardly, formally write you back with a lot of gratitude.

It is easy to miss the theology of Wicca when someone is freaked out that they don’t have the tools, the candles, the incense, the herbs and stones, the bathtub, the robes, etc found in most Wiccan books. Or if the book says it has to be boy-girl-boy-girl polarity in the coven. Or the altar is a naked woman. Or you need a 2nd degree Priestess to initiate you just to have a Sabbat. There’s a lot more rules and regulations in Wiccan books, many of them contradictory. Your help with navigating Wicca and prison’s limitations will probably make it possible for them to pursue their path much more confidently. I’ve prison emailed with a Wiccan woman and could sense her “A-ha!” moments. She quickly became more creative and comfortable in leading the Wiccan group. It was a really cool experience!

Make a Tarot Deck for Someone in Prison! Fun fun!

Even though Odinists are usually allowed to have runes in their cells, Tarot cards are often forbidden in state prisons. The belief is that people will use them to gamble, um, like you can’t gamble with chess, the weather, sports scores, “which rune will I pick?” and any other number of things. Now, IF the Pagan group had an outside volunteer, that person could bring in Tarot cards for the class or ritual. But there’s .01% of the Pagan volunteers needed.

As luck would have it, it’s really easy to make a Tarot deck for about $8.

First, go online and search for images of each card. You want to choose from the sample cards of decks being advertised or no longer have copyright. If I can see something for free online, then so can my friend who can’t go online. That’s MY rule. I don’t know what the law is, but no one makes any money from this and it actually promotes those 50+ decks, not anything I do. Prison is incredibly understimulating visually with no access to visual arts. I send photos of shrines, deity art, and cool stuff on DeviantArt.

So make your deck very diverse. I worked my ass off to find cards that weren’t just Caucasians. Also, mix art styles. Digital collage amazed my bestie because he’s never once used a computer. And he found new things in the symbolism of other cards. I have Yoruba Orisha religion, steampunk, Celtic, psychedelic, Greek, Marvel superheroes, Buddhist, pop culture, you name it, there’s variety in the deck I made my friend.

Scan the card for female nipples and any genitalia. Artists love topless women and they can be difficult to notice with a brief glance.

Second, you’ll probably need to crop most cards because they are much longer than a photograph. When you cut off the name of the card, make sure that you add big, clear text stating which card it is. I always assume that the photo place will do more cropping to make it fit exactly and stay away from the borders.

Third, upload the images to a reliable, cheap photo website. I like York. The first 20 pix are free and there’s always sales. With something this large, the free shipping deal is best. The one day pop up sale of 3¢ prints is also helpful. I’d wait for one of those deals. York can usually send the photos straight to your friend or family member. There’s no receipt with any personal information about the buyer. (The receipt is emailed to you.) If you write using jmail, which keeps your address secret, you’ll be glad to know that your address won’t be included with the photos.

The mail room is looking for nipples and labia, maybe gang symbols, so a bunch of artsy pictures should be approved. The cards all look so different that it doesn’t look like a Tarot deck. As with anything involving prison, the rules fluctuate depending on the moods of staff. Predicting what gets to a prisoner is impossible as far as I know, even with Tarot cards.

There’s probably simple short guides to Tarot online. Just copy, paste, make narrow margins, use a space saving font, print and mail.

I wrote my friend my own Tarot guide. I wrote my first guide 25 years ago (feeling old!) and read professionally for a long time. The Lovers card always meant sex, pure and simple, while 2 of Cups was a loving romantic relationship. I wrote that, and explained that’s just how it worked for me. My friend has studied Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a lot of cards suggest that you need to “CBT it!”, such as the 4 of Cups and 9 of Swords. Because he’s studied Observer Mind in mindfulness meditation, I am lucky and can note which cards need that ability to notice that emotions, thoughts and physical urges aren’t who we are. And he’s studied value-based living, so cards that indicate “You’re reacting, not choosing” have advice to re-read his values. I know his religious beliefs and practices very well, so I can add prayers and rituals.

(You can play creative games together like “Pick 3 Cards, Write a Poem” now!)

This is all added to the usual meanings I’ve memorized or discovered while reading for clients or teaching apprentices. By including a lot of “what you can do” to the Tarot guide, I reinforce what I believe is the most important use of Tarot: empowerment. The present, right now, is where the future is created. Nine times out of ten, the future will be more of the past if you don’t change. By giving examples of ways to work with the cards, he has freedom in a place that is extremely controlled and erratic. It’s not enough to tell people that they can develop a new, adaptable freedom that will serve them for their entire lives – You have to teach how. And remember that in prison, there’s no therapy, nothing to provide skills for anger management or realizing that feelings are not facts. (I suggest sending the Happiness Trap by Russ Harris and the Dummies Guide to CBT. Of course, my awesome pen pal asked for psych skills help because he’s so freaking awesome!)

This fits nicely with our discussions about Wyrd. The momentum of similar behavior joins with the path of least resistance and you’ll get a future that isn’t very different than where you’ve been. But, change your behavior repeatedly and the path of least resistance changes; the present creates a past that is a foundation for the future. This is really important for everyone to understand but especially people in prison. The brain will actually “rewire” itself to think in a more helpful way. My pen pal and I love that Ireland’s Lora O’Brien teaches that before trying for “second sight” you learn CBT and get your “first sight” clear.

Wyrd also fights any New Age “You create your reality” victim blaming or Western ideas about karma as sin being tallied by God. There’s much bigger Wyrd at work than his. There’s the horrifying history of how the United States has always treated African Americans – It’s got so much momentum, he can’t choose to escape it. The U.S. has a massive prison industrial complex and incarcerates the largest percentage of its citizens of ANY nation. The U.S. is still working with the failed 1980s “War on Drugs” mentality and gives extremely long sentences. In the 1980s, anything that would teach prisoners ways to succeed without crime and addiction was cancelled. Punishment was all that mattered and rehabilitation is no longer the goal. Prisons rely on recidivism to keep the industry strong. Parole officers no longer need social work skills; a large number of them are “tough guys” who failed the police entrance exam. The Wyrd of fatherless children, the life long poverty usually experienced by single mothers, people historically afraid for good reason of social services, the punishment of poor people who have mental illnesses and self medicated, the Puritan nonsense that the individual can do anything if his morality is “good” and bad things happen to bad people so don’t interfere with “God’s plan” by helping anyone – That’s the Wyrd he was born into, just like the Wyrd of his family and community. The question of how much free will do we get is largely based on the randomness of invisible privilege.

Aside from self awareness, artistic inspiration and broadening occult knowledge, Tarot could be a legal way to make some money when released. I worked at everything from Lords of Acid concerts to Planned Parenthood fund raisers. It’s a chance to offer something as a volunteer and meet decent people. As long as prison is hoping for your pen pal to fail in life, any useful skill is greatly appreciated. In many ways, prisoners who were good hustlers have an edge in the “gig economy” – as long as we demand “Ban the Box”* on job applications.

* “Ban the Box” seeks to eliminate the box on job applications asking if you ever were convicted of a felony. If someone has (in some Sadistic way) “paid their debt to society” by eating hi-fructose corn syrup sandwiches trying not to be raped or beaten for 10 years because they were charged with possession of crack cocaine without intent to sell and kicked cold turkey, then why the constant penalties to prevent them from getting a job at Old Navy or Wendy’s?

O’Brien, Lora, A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality (Sli Aon Dhraoi). Wolfpack Publishers (2012)

Pagan Holy Days March

Onje Keon Pierce
Tarot Card Oshun’s World by Onje Keon Pierce

About a week before the end of the month, I post the monthly calendar so you have time to copy and mail it to your pen pals in prison. Remember that they need the Guide to the Athens, Julian and other calendars, plus the new moon (not dark moon) and full moon dates found here and here, where the Yoruban, Anglo-Saxon and Athens weekly and monthly calender are. If you want a pen pal, I suggest looking at Black & Pink‘s list for Pagans. For pointers on writing someone in prison, check out here.

If you don’t have a penpal but want to help, we’ll happily send free copies of Steel Bars Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners to prisoners and books to prisoners organizations if you donate the money! Pagan books are in the Top Five Requested Books and hardest to fill. If you have used paperback books that you don’t need, please consider donating them. There’s a books to prisoners organizations within 200 miles of most people and they’d love those books! Check out your closest one! Literacy rates are low in prison and the average book is read by seven people! Prison, as one man told me, “can be college, if you treat the time that way. You just have to keep getting books, because there’s no classes or training in state prison.”

On with the show!

March Pagan Holy Days

The Anglo-Saxon name for March is Hrethe, a Goddess about whom we know little. Her name may mean “glorious.”

Very ancient Roman rites began on March 1, the birthday of God of war Mars, and lasted the entire month. His priests, the Salii (“leapers”), had many noisy processions in the streets of Rome, beating on 8-sided shields. Performing elaborate dances, they sang a hymn. The few lines we know celebrate the fertilizing power of Mars Gradivus, pointing to a possible early agricultural function.

March 1 is also the Roman Matronalia, Festival to Women, honoring Juno Lucina (Juno “light”). The rites at Her temple were strictly for women. In Juno Lucina’s sacred grove, Vestal Virgins hung offerings of their hair on the eldest tree. In the temple, a sacrifice was made followed by a public banquet. Husbands prayed for their wives’ health and gave them gifts. Women wore their best clothing, later hosted banquets for loved ones. Female friends exchanged gifts, while everyone gave their mothers and daughters presents.

The Roman Festival of Anna Perenna is on March 15 (or the full moon). Depicted as an old woman, Anna Perenna is Goddess of the new year. Her festival was a fertility rite, with people building tents by Her sacred grove, drinking wine, flirting, dancing and singing lewd songs. Couples retired to their tents. Many experienced sex for the first time.

Also on that day was the Mamuralia, more horse races for Mars. Plus the day was also sacred to sky father Jupiter, head of the Roman pantheon.

On the day after the March-April full moon, Athens honored Artemis as protectress of the female bear. Round cakes with a lit candle in the center were offered as symbols of the moon.

The Liberalia on March 17 was the rural fertility festival of Liber who presided over male semen. Throughout Italian farmlands, a cart carried a phallus while a procession sang explicitly sexual songs. The phallus was placed on display for the rest of March.

The same day, Roman young men received the togas that signified that they were now adults. Loved ones cheered.

On the 19th the Orisha of herbalism and the forest Osanyin (Ossain) is celebrated in New Orleans Voodoo.

Held during March 19 to 23, the Roman Greater Quinquatrus was a festival dedicated to Goddess Minerva, who ruled over all the arts. Arts included all the important skills, like medicine, weaving and education. On the first day teachers, students and doctors made sacrifices to Minerva. Ovid instructs: “Cherish her, you who carve and sculpt in stone, or you who paint brightly colored pictures. Minerva is the Goddess of a thousand works. Surely, she is the Goddess of poetry as well.”

March 25 is Lady’s Day, which in parts of Scotland is the day that the Cailleach (“veiled one”), a giantess and hag of winter, renews Herself and becomes young again. In another story, She loses Her battle with Her son Aengus and His true love, spring Goddess Brid, and so winter ends.

On the 25th the Orisha Oshun is honored for Her gifts of love, charity, creativity and abundance.

On March 30 Salus Publica Populi Romani (“Goddess of the public welfare of the Roman people”) was honored. Sacrifices to healers Apollo and Aesculapius were also made. Like Greek Hygieia, Salus held a snake.