Posted by Nathan Hall

This month I chatted with a couple of musicians about the lyrical side, rather than the instrumental side of their music. It felt appropriate, as April in the United States is National Poetry Month.

It’s a curious thing setting words and music together, it’s just so inherently human, something that feels like it came about at the dawn of our species. Doing it well is a different challenge altogether, though. Some songwriters start out with a poem, some start with a tune and let the words flow in, some pull from musical traditions, and others from stories and myths of old. Celtic mythology has certainly had a strong influence on many Pagan musicians.


“I was utterly enamored with the notion of Bards, and their gift of speaking in a twilight language,” said Sharon Knight. Essentially a bard herself, she has been active in the Pagan music scene for the better part of three decades.

Knight mentioned the connection between the language of poetry and the language of magick. Using that “twilight language” that she describes, one can imagine that poetry attaches to the power of spellcraft, in a way, as metaphor and helps to convey the idea without exposing the fragile parts to the air for open scrutiny and, thereby, dis-empowering the whole.

To use it, “is to create a temple that invites a spiritual force to dwell within. If your poem is satisfactory, not only in lyric but in cadence and resonance, then the spirit may grace you with its presence. This is always the hope, with every musician I have known, that the delivery of our craft is sufficient to awaken the indwelling spirit of the song,” Knight said.

Singer and songwriter Mama Gina Lamont said she takes care when crafting the lyrics to her songs in order to engage her listeners emotionally, allowing the rhythms of a song idea to seep into her heart and mind.

“If I listen closely to the voices in my head – or out of my head – the music and lyrics or poetry usually wrap themselves around that cadence,” Lamont said, noting that for her, the lyrics generally come last.

Lyricist Joanna Swan, of the Norwich, England-based acid/spooky folk band the Familiars, shared that she’d, “like to think that most if not all my lyrics could stand as poetry if they were not set to music.”

Some of Swan’s influences include Dickinson, Bronte, Rilke, and Goethe. She also mentioned that Robert Graves’ “White Goddess” inspired a poem she wrote for a folk horror anthology called Corpse Roads.

“It contained an extract from the 14th century Charm against the Night Mare and an explanation of how this aspect of the White Goddess supposedly builds nests in hollow yew trees and lines them with the bones of poets she has killed,” she said, “I put the book down and immediately wrote ‘Mare’s Nest’.”

The lyrics of a song are the message, the animating principle, the poetry which is, “the framework within which music is wrapped,” as Knight put it to me.

She mentioned Wendy Rule’s “Butterfly’s Wing” from the Green Album as a great example of the power of lyrics in song.

“I have always found her lyrical phrasing interesting, and this one in particular has a lovely lilt to it.” she said, “of course it doesn’t hurt to hear it delivered via her spectacular voice!”

We are both creatures of the sky, and animals
A cord connecting to Mother Earth
A mind reflecting the Universe
We’re told a thousand different lies of separation
That Nature is outside, but not within
That somehow we’re immune to the changes we bring
But Nature is both Spirit and skin
A balance fine as a butterfly’s wing
Break through the labyrinth of lies and realize
That we’re not the pinnacle of Life, the Grand Design
That we’re not the winners of the prize of dominion over
Time now to open up our eyes and reawaken
A storm is on the rise, it’s time to see
We must listen to the cries of the Earth, our Mother.
For Nature is both Spirit and skin
A balance fine as a butterfly’s wing
Nature is both Spirit and skin
A balance fine as a butterfly’s wing

This was the first song that I heard off of that album, a fundraiser created in partnership with the Rainforest Trust to help protect endangered rainforests in Africa. Like much of what Wendy Rule writes, it has so much depth — the enspirited universe that she sings about, well, to an animist it rings so very true.

Rule also has a quality of constructing a song that is so unique as to be almost otherworldly. The verse that captures my attention the most is the one that holds the song’s title, “Nature is both Spirit and skin/ a balance fine as a butterfly’s wing.” There are novels that could be written out of that line alone. You can almost feel the tissue-thin veil beneath your fingertips, the Spirit that she speaks of is everywhere, imbued in everything around us.

The theme of nature’s living presence comes up in Knight’s own work, as well. Among her enduring favorites (and mine as well) from her catalog is, “Fire in the Head.”

It’s based on a Welsh legend about a mountain that aspiring poets must sleep before in order to be judged by a giant. The risk those poets take? Death or madness, but if they’re deemed worthy, they awaken with “fire in the head,” the gift of poetry.

“I love the legend because it speaks of nature as a living force, and of what great lengths the artistically-minded will go to receive the gifts of poesy,” Knight said, “as though the gift of vision into the unseen worlds, and access to those worlds through words, is of utmost importance. Which, to me, it is.”

Every line of this song is dipped in magick, enjoy.

One of Joanna Swan’s favorite songs is the traditional, “The Cruel Sister,” a murder ballad which she said comes from the Northumbrian tradition. Collected by Francis Child, a 19th century American folklorist and scholar, it has been performed and recorded by countless since.
Here’s a version by British folk band, Pentangle.

As Swan explains, the lyrics are reminiscent of a fairy tale, “with two princesses, one dark and one fair at the centre of it. The dark one drowns the fair one in the sea in a fit of jealousy. When the fair sister’s body washes ashore, minstrels make a harp from her bones and hair and bring it back to the castle, where, when played, it announces the dark sisters’ guilt to the grieving parents.”

The creep-factor is seriously alive in this song, unlike the poor sister who had her bones and hair made into a harp, wow. There’s a longstanding tradition of using the remains of animals and humans to create magickal objects, to great effect for the listener, and also the wronged sister in this piece.

“The songwriting process has always started with the lyrics and then we’ve composed the music around the story those lyrics are telling,” Swan said.

Among her own she chose to share, “The Shaming of Agnes Leman.”

“It’s one of what I call my ‘new songs that sound old,’ taking a story from local history or folklore and using a fairly traditional ballad pattern to construct the verses,” she said.

The story comes from her hometown, Norwich, and recounts how a woman named Agnes Leman was ducked — that is, dunked in the river on a trebuchet-like device — as punishment for engaging in “lewd” behavior with a married man.

Mama Gina has been touring a lot lately and I connected with her between performances along the Gulf Coast where she said that the music of S.J. Tucker has been accompanying her on her journey.

“I dearly love, ‘Ravens in the Library.’ Those lyrics are gold – so much to mine in each word and phrase,” Lamont said.

Lamont’s favorite verse is, “my friend bids me come and see/ the ravens in the library/ setting quiet pages free.”

“It refers to a real moment in time when a friend asked her to go see a picture of ravens in a library. And it sparks the creative, imaginative moment where she envisions ravens learning from books in a post-apocalyptic world. That is what I love about true poets. The words always lead to so much more… and the more you delve, the more possibilities arise,” she said.

This song was also the basis for a fundraising anthology of stories, poetry, and illustrations from contributors like Neil Gaiman, Laurell K. Hamilton and Charles de Lint, among others. It’s no longer in print, so if you find a used copy at a reasonable price, snatch it up!

Lamont has lately been experimenting with a new musical persona, Nine Toes the Bard. It’s a changeup not only in personality, but in style in some ways, inspired by a surgery that left her with one digit less on her left foot. A favorite off of her new album is “Battle for the Moon,” an antiwar ballad with a twist— a bard attempts to stop a war over the moon from happening, but in the end, she ultimately fails. The sides of the red king and blue king battle, leaving nothing but dead behind.

From that song:

Eight and twenty days she sang – the Bard could do no more
And with heavy heart and gods’ release – she left them to their war
She watched each slay the other – ‘til no one stood, not even kings
Her tears ran freely like their blood, “I’ve changed not one damned thing.”

At that point, a former warrior steps forward and tells her it wasn’t all for nought, that her words inspired him not to fight again.

Thanks for indulging me in my love of a little poetry this month, to me it’s among the most magickal art forms, so closely linked to spellwork. Setting them to song only enhances their power, which is why having musicians who are magickal practitioners is such a gift to our community.

Make sure to check out each of the musicians, and if you like their tunes, you know they’d appreciate your patronage. You can find more information and touring schedules for Sharon Knight, Wendy Rule, Mama Gina/Nine Toes the Bard and Joanna Swan and the Familiars at each of their sites.

Author’s Note: Each of these songs linked from Bandcamp have the lyrics on their site. I considered posting the lyrics for every song here, but for the sake of column length, decided against it. I encourage you to go read, or sing, along.

* * *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Posted by Karl E. H. Seigfried

From Oct. 5 through 8, Frith Forge 2017 will be held in Petzow, Germany. Organized by the Troth’s International Relations and Exchange Program, the event is designed as “an international conference among inclusive Asatru/Heathen organizations and individuals.”

According to the official website for the October conference,

Frith Forge is the space and time on an international level to build alliances, understanding, and friendships among us instead of compartmentalizing further in an industrialized world. Let’s learn from each other with respect and fellowship to forge frith [Old Norse “peace”] among us. Together we can enjoy this opportunity to discuss inclusion in religion and to promote cultural, religious, and educational exchange.

frith forge poster

Several organizations have confirmed that they are sending leaders or prominent members as representatives to present about their groups, including Asatru UK , Distelfink Sippschaft (USA), De Negen Werelden (Netherlands), and Verein für Germanisches Heidentum (Germany). Other Pagan groups that include Heathen members will also be participating, including Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (USA) and Pagan Federation International Deutschland.

In addition to these introductions to the various organizations, the conference will include rituals, workshops, group discussions, presentations on a variety of topics, and vendor tables.

Although based in the United States, the international Ásatrú and Heathen organization known the Troth currently has members served by official stewards in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. A branch in the U.K. was started in 1993, chartered as an autonomous branch in 1995 and — due to increasing interest from non-U.K. Europeans — became Ring of Troth Europe later the same year. A German partner organization was founded in 2000 as “Eldaring – the Troth Deutschland,” although it became independent in 2009 to receive nonprofit status and is now simply called Eldaring.

Founded in June of last year, the Troth’s International Relations and Exchange Program was created “to explore options for improved interaction, education, research, and communication among the Heathens in the various Heathen homelands.” Program coordinator Amanda Leigh-Hawkins says that a main goal is to build and strengthen ties and focus on commonalities rather than differences: “The inclusive USA Heathens need to connect more with the inclusive European Heathens and vice versa. I hope that as all of our small groups connect, we will find that it reduces the infighting and obsession over old redundant arguments.”

Troth steersman Robert L. Schreiwer expands on the goals for the conference:

While Frith Forge is about inclusive Heathenry, it may be more accurate to say that it is a gathering of Heathens who are inclusive. We are seeing a rise in dangerous thinking that is creating the same schisms within Heathenry that are appearing within several Western nations. The true diversity of American Heathenry is often misunderstood abroad, but, as some of the same issues are arising in other countries, more Heathens abroad are seeing the value in creating networks and friendships with like-minded Heathens around the world.

Heathens have many different traditions and backgrounds, yet we face many of the same challenges in many countries. Our wider societies do not understand our religion or why we pursue it. Many Heathens do not understand the many subcultures within our religion, and events like Frith Forge can help Heathens who are inclusive to learn about one another, to form networks to help one another, and to make friendships that will help us to keep pace with one another’s activities.

Leigh-Hawkins also hopes the conference will create a space to build dialogue on the engagement of Heathenry with changes in today’s world. She says, “I want to discuss implicit bias and inclusion in religions versus inclusion in the branches of Ásatrú and Heathenry specifically, how our political and religious struggles are overlapping more than before Brexit and Trump.”

She also pushes back on divisive trends in Heathenry today that build walls instead of bridges: “There is a struggle for inclusive Heathens to maintain and nurture healthy boundaries in our circles. We fear connecting with other Heathen groups because of racism but also because of ‘you’re not the boss of me, you’re doing it all wrong’ and ‘you don’t live near me, so I’m not going to recognize that you matter.’ We try to define and label ourselves, which further separates us for good reasons and bad.”

Philip John Parkyn, a founding member of Asatru UK, also believes that current events necessitate action from Heathen organizations: “With racist religious groups in Europe seeking to exploit the current surge to the right in the political tides, I feel the need is more urgent than ever for the inclusive groups to join in finding positive actions to address the public perception of Heathenry.”

Haimo Grebenstein serves as Ewart (coordinator for ritual and religious matters) for the German Heathen organization known as Verein für Germanisches Heidentum (Association for Germanic Heathenry). He has been working with Leigh-Hawkins to design and coordinate the specifics of the conference. He emphasizes the importance of Heathens engaging in open dialogue: “The world is becoming weirder at an accelerating pace, and this happens everywhere. In my experience, this has an impact on personal relations, and I consider that to be not good at all. As Heathens, Pagans, and Ásatrúar, we do share at least a similar – or even an equivalent – mind-set as a foundation for frith: dialogue, friendship, and mutual respect. I honestly consider Frith Forge to be an act of international understanding.”

Schreiwer explains why the U.S.-based Troth decided to hold the conference in Germany:

When the idea of Frith Forge first arose, we in the Troth had considered several locations for the first conference. Historically, the Troth has had strong ties to some European organizations. The idea of Frith Forge is to celebrate and to expand those relationships while creating new connections with other organizations in Europe and elsewhere. Since we were the ones seeking the new connections, it made sense for us to take to the road.

German culture is very rich in Heathen lore ranging from sacred sites and ancient votives to Externsteine, the Brocken, and the Goseck circle. German Heathens know their history, and they have a lot of insight and experience to share. I am looking forward to learning from them as well as sharing with them some of what the migrants from these same lands brought with them to the United States.

Germany also is located within a comfortable traveling distance from many other European countries that have large Heathen populations. I am eager to meet these people and to learn about their histories and their current methods of Heathen religious expression.

Grebenstein believes that Frith Forge complements the International Ásatrú Summer Camp (IASC) and the Eldathing, Heathen gatherings already established in Europe, and says, “These are three different events with different settings and target groups. Frith Forge goes across the borders of Europe and extends the target group of the others. There have been a few difficult moments with U.S. visitors at the IASCs, so I do see a need for a mutual engagement in order to understand each other better. IASC has proven for Europe that, although we have different religious understandings and ritual practices, we have more in common than we expected and we can support each other.”

Teutoburger Forest by Ivan Shishkin (1831–1898) [public domain]

Grebenstein is also organizing the Sacred Sites Tour Germany 2017, which will follow the conference and run from Oct. 8 through Oct. 14. It includes visits to places of Heathen interest such as the Kyffhäuser monument to Barbarossa; the Oberdola excavation site, museum, reconstructed buildings, and recreated sacrificial sites; the Frau Holle pond; the Exernsteine; the Teutoburger forest; megalithic sites; and the Viking Age trading center Haithabu (Hedeby).

He hopes that the tour will extend the frith-building of the conference, and points out that “Frith Forge is only a couple of days and is packed with scheduled events. There will be not so much time for individual talks and really getting to know other persons. The tour is different – being close together for six days all day long, sharing Heathen experience and history. In the Asatru-EU Network, it took years to build up the mutual trust that carries the network, split up into several smaller gatherings. The tour may pack this process within a week. At least I hope it will.”

Specifics for the Frith Forge conference can be found here, and details for the Sacred Sites of Germany Tour are here.

* * *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Posted by Sejal Singh

Republicans have a new bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This one is even worse for women, and everyone else, than before – and the House could vote on it as soon as next week.

Remember when House Speaker Paul Ryan and Donald Trump tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act last month? Their obscenely cruel bill would have stripped health insurance from 24 million people, dramatically raised premiums for people who could keep their insurance, and defunded Planned Parenthood all to cut taxes on the wealthy – which is why it went up in flames in March. But apparently, Paul Ryan is willing to endure any and all humiliations to cut marginal taxes for the wealthiest Americans, so the bill is back, and somehow worse than before.

The latest version of the House repeal bill, titled the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would allow states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s ban on discriminating against people with preexisting conditions – allowing insurers to charge people astronomically higher premiums for having medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, or cancer.

And guess what else counts as a pre-existing condition? Pregnancy. A study from the Center for American Progress estimated that if Obamacare’s preexisting conditions protections were rolled back, insurers would charge about $17,320 more in premiums to someone who had previously had a pregnancy – and that’s without complications. According to the same study, breast cancer survivors (under 50) would see an approximately $28,660 increase in premiums. And, like everyone else, women experience asthma (a $4,340 increase in premiums), depression and bipolar disorder ($8,490), and heart attacks (a staggering $57,960).

It gets worse. If passed, the new version of the AHCA would also allow states to opt out of Obamacare’s “essential health benefits” requirement.

When GOP congressmen misleadingly complain that “Obamacare makes men pay for maternity coverage,” what they’re actually objecting to is this “essential health benefits” requirement. The ACA requires that insurance plans sold in the individual market and the Medicaid expansion cover ten basic “essential health benefits” – including lab tests, hospitalization, prescription drugs, and, yes, pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care. In fact, thanks to the EHB requirement, insurers must cover 22 kinds of women’s health visits, prescriptions, and tests, including domestic violence counseling, mammograms, and contraception. This is for good reason – in 2009, prior to the passage of the ACA, the National Women’s Law Center found that just “13% of health plans available to a 30-year-old woman” in the individual market covered maternity care. In capital cities of nearly half the states, the Law Center couldn’t find a single plan that covered maternity care.

In other words, before Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirement, it was almost impossible for women in many parts of the country to get maternity coverage. If the AHCA passes, we risk going back to the times when mothers and would-be mothers were shut out of insurance markets (because nothing says “pro-life” like denying people maternity coverage). As Grancene Franke-Ruta notes in the Atlantic, GOP discomfort with maternity coverage seems rooted in conservative discomfort with motherhood outside traditional marriages – especially since the ACA empowered single women, especially single women of color, to access maternity care.

The new bill also still defunds Planned Parenthood, blocking them from receiving Medicaid reimbursements for basic, affordable health services. Federal money is already prohibited from being used to pay for abortions (#EndHyde), so this move does nothing to reduce abortion but instead blocks low-income people from accessing life-saving health care like pap smears and mammograms.

The repeal’s impact would be devastating for everyone, but especially so for women. In March, the first attempt at repealing Obamacare failed in part because the farthest-of-the-far-right Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus thought the bill didn’t hurt working-class people enough. With these changes – the ones that would let insurers gouge people with pre-existing conditions and offer coverage that doesn’t include ambulances, hospitals, or maternity care – the Freedom Caucus has gotten on board. Most of their 30 or so members will vote to repeal Obamacare, putting ACA repeal closer to the finish line than ever.

But the AHCA didn’t just fail because of the Freedom Caucus. Massive protests across the country pushed Republicans in swing districts into coming out against the AHCA. At least 17 still appear to be “no” votes, and more are undecided or leaning no; thanks to grassroots pressure on them, House leadership is already delaying the repeal vote. The AHCA isn’t dead yet, but Republicans can only lose 22 members – meaning that calls, protests, and letters in the next week could kill it once and for all.

We’re not telling you what to do. But you can find Indivisible’s Save the ACA Toolkit here.

Image credit: Megan McLemore via Human Rights Watch

Posted by selenic76

My entry for the SGA Reversebang 2016/2017, with link to art by sastmk as well.

Title: The Dynamics of Us
Author: selenic76
Beta: melagan
For: sgareversebang
Pairing(s): John/Rodney, background Lorne/Radek
Characters: John, Rodney, Lorne, Radek, Carson, Elizabeth
Rating: NC-17
Word count: ~14700
Warnings/Tags: none of the usual, light angst / Alpha/Beta/Omega dynamics, bonding, established relationship, episode related: 2x08 'Conversion', Alpha!Rodney, past Beta!John, Omega!John
Disclaimer: Don't own or profit from them

Summary: John was a Beta, always had been. Until he suddenly wasn't anymore.

Link to fic: on AO3 | on my DW

Link to art: on AO3 | on Tumblr

Posted by Juliana Britto Schwartz

Maryland recently became the first state to pass a law reimbursing its Planned Parenthood clinics if Republicans in Congress cuts their funding. 

Stars of The Handmaid’s Tale on why the story is relevant today.

Pennsylvania House Rep. Brian Sims, an openly gay lawmaker, went after an internet troll by calling his grandmother.

Sonia Sotomayor refuses to agree that police can do no wrong.

The White Collar Crime Risk Zone map uses machine learning to predict where financial crimes are mostly likely to occur across the US.

The Trump administration’s position on this Supreme Court Case suggests that Melania Trump could be deported.

Four things you need to know about Trump’s attack on National Parks and Monuments – and why they matter for our environment.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe historian LaDonna Brave Bull Allard on DAPL protests and seventh generation activists.

Posted by Cara Schulz

UNITED STATES – The Department of Defense (DoD) has added several Heathen and Pagans religions to its recognized faith groups list after a multi-year effort by Heathen and Pagan religious organizations and individuals. The DoD added or updated just under 100 religions to its document: Faith and Belief Codes for Reporting Personnel Data of Service Members. Being listed on this document allows Pagan and Heathen military members to accurately communicate their religious preference, rather than being designated “Other,” and grants them associated benefits and protections.

[Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel]

[Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel]

Four of the religions added to the document include Heathenry, Asatru, Seax Wicca, and Druidry. The Army had already recognized The Troth, while the Air Force had already recognized Heathenry and Asatru. All military branches recognize Wicca or Earth-Based Spirituality as a recognized Faith Group.

In addition to listing various religions, the Faith and Belief Codes spells out things such as religious observance dates, religious tools, and have dedicated places of worship.

The recent DoD document update came as a surprise to the organizations and individuals who had been working with the individual service branches for recognition.

Gaining recognition

In January 2015, The Open Halls Project thought its six year battle for recognition of Heathenry and Asatru in the US Army was over and approval had been granted. That victory was short-lived.

Josh Heath, co-director of the Open Halls Project, first started working toward Heathen faith group recognition in 2009 after he and his wife Cat joined The Troth. Heath was on active duty with U.S. Army and wanted to see both Heathen and Asatru added to the religious preference list. As that application required the backing of a 501c3 organization, he asked the Troth for help, which they gave. Unfortunately, the Army thought The Troth was a religion, not a religious organization, and added that to its list instead of Heathenry or Asatru.

Heath began the process over again, this time looking for support from a group whose name contained the word Asatru, as advised by Army officials. With the help of Vince Enland of the Asatru Alliance and Patricia Lafayllve of The Troth, he submitted a second application in 2010. This was also the year that he and Cat formally established the Open Halls Project.

By 2013, momentum began to build in the form of both interest and corresponding actions. In terms of earning increased support, Josh Heath credits a 2013 interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried published on The Norse Mythology Blog. That article inspired Msgt. Matt Walters to seek out the Open Halls Project for help in getting Asatru and Heathen added to the Air Force religious preference list. That effort was successful. The two terms were added to the list in 2014.

In Spring 2015, the Army notified The Open Halls Project that approval for Heathenry and Asatru had been put on hold. The Army Times reported that “The Army sidelined all such requests, pending the findings of a Defense Department working group investigating how to create a single set of faith group codes across the service.”

While The Open Halls Project was advocating for Heathens, Ellen Evert Holman, ArchDruid of Tribe of the Oak, was working toward recognition for Druids.

In 2007, Ms. Hopman, sent a list of Druid characteristics to the US Army for possible inclusion in the Military Chaplain’s Handbook. It included holidays, symbols, modes of worship, and religious tools. Hopman was also involved in the effort, started in 2004, to include the Awen as an approved Veterans Affairs symbol for Druid veterans’ headstones.

Hopman says that she comes from a military family and this influenced her involvement in gaining official recognition from the various military entities, and in gaining protection for Druid military members.”Even though I myself am a pacifist, I have quite a bit of sympathy for soldiers who actually see action,” she explains, “I feel they need all the spiritual support they can get.”

Her efforts over the past 13 years culminated in the successful addition of Druidry to the DoD Faith and Belief Codes.

Benefits to recognition

While being added to the Faiths and Belief Codes is purely administrative, the benefits can be far reaching in the experiences of a Pagan or Heathen soldier, and in the education of military officials.

Heath says, “On official records you can now be known as a Heathen, Asatru, Druid, Troth, Seax Wiccan. That does not limit discrimination per se, but it does provide service members a significant element of support for certain cases of discrimination that might occur.”

Heath says that Heathen soldiers, for example, may now be allowed a drinking horn in their barracks. Or a Marine that is Asatru can now request to attend a Midsummer event that is outside the normal distance limit for a four day pass.

He explains that this also helps to build a solid census of the numbers of Heathens and Pagans in the military and could lead to having a Pagan or Heathen Chaplain. “This is also a preliminary step to having Chaplains and will allow for an easier time of establishing Distinctive Faith Groups/Lay Leadership on military installations. We do not anticipate having a Heathen Chaplain in the near future, but this addition of faith codes helps.”

Heath adds that while these codes can help in combating religious discrimination, they only work if the command structure is willing to follow the guidance they were created to provide. Looking at the history of Pagan religious rights in the military, that is up in the air.

Military’s mixed history with Paganism

On of the most famous examples of Pagans fighting for religious rights within the military system was the Pentacle Quest.

The Pentacle Quest began in 1997 when Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s Archpriest Rev. Pete Pathfinder Davis applied to have the pentacle added to the Veterans Affairs list of religious symbols available for use on memorial markers. Over the years, other persons and groups would also send in applications and a lawsuit would be launched by Circle Sanctuary.

Sgt. Stewart Pentacle Marker

In 2007, ten years after it began, Americans United, who had joined in support of the lawsuit, announced, “The Bush administration has conceded that Wiccans are entitled to have the pentacle, the symbol of their faith, inscribed on government-issued memorial markers for deceased veterans.”

That decision ended the lawsuit and the long wait for many Pagans veterans and their families.

This April marks the 10th anniversary of Veteran Pentacle Quest victory, one that paved the way for the inclusion of other Pagan and Heathen emblems including Thor’s hammer and, more recently, the Awen.

In 2007, the Air Force Academy made news in a string of articles showcasing the institution as the focal point for an evangelical Christian takeover of the military. In a 2011 interview, Col Dan Brantingham, then AFA Cadet Wing Chaplain, explained the climate of Evangelicalism appears to have come about due to an over-correction to the sexual assault cases that shocked the campus a few years earlier.

“In the aftermath of the sexual assault cases in 2004-5, some leaders looked to religion to assist cadets in living honorable lives. In doing so, the leaders unintentionally promoted a particular flavor of religion as the solution.”

Starting in 2007, the Academy took steps to renew its focus on freedom of religion. In 2008 and again in 2010, the Academy hosted the Conference on Religious Respect. Out of the 2008 conference, the Cadet Interfaith Council was formed, the Religious Respect Training program was launched, and support was increased for the Spiritual Programs in Religious Education (SPIRE).

The third initiative to come out of the 2008 conference is what the Academy calls its “cornerstone religious diversity program,” the Religious Respect Training program for cadets, faculty and staff. The program is unique to the Air Force Academy. It includes in-depth training on the First Amendment, and the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Free Speech clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The most visible result of the renewed commitment to free exercise of religion is the creation of Colorado-based Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle. While Falcon Circle is open to any cadet, Pagan cadets in the Earth-Based Spirituality Distinctive Faith Group have priority in its use.

Another open circle serving military personnel is located further south in Texas. Fort Hood Open Circle is a non-denominational Pagan group that has been meeting on the military base since 1997.

Michele Morris, the Distinctive Religious Group Leader, said the amount of support her congregation has received has varied considerably. “The last six years that I have had the privilege and responsibility to serve as clergy for Fort Hood Open Circle have been a dizzying roller coaster of harassment and neglect relieved by brief moments of support and underpinned by the soul killer that we proudly call ‘tolerance,’” she wrote in her Facebook post.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy. [Photo Credit: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette]

What precipitated sharing these feelings on Facebook was being locked out of the stone circle which congregation members use for their rituals, something that has happened more than once. However, Morris is of the opinion that the issue is not one of access, or even one that is isolated to Fort Hood.

“This is a military problem,” she said. “I don’t believe that chaplains are properly trained anymore,” and they fail to understand that they must serve the needs of all military personnel under their care, regardless of religious affiliation.

Effect on religious discrimination

While Heath sees the inclusion of more Heathen and Pagan faiths as a victory, he doesn’t see this update of the codes as a magic bullet to end religious discrimination.

“To be honest, the US military in general is run by a large proportion of Christian leaders of one form or another. Some are mission focused and they know that being accepted gets their primary missions completed,” he explains. “Some are not and are fighting tooth and nail against allowing for a more inclusive environment in the Department of Defense at large. Discrimination will continue to be a problem.”

Heath encourages current service members to change their religious preference from “other” to a preference that more closely fits them.

He also has this advice for how Pagans and Heathens can change the culture in the military to one more accepting of minority religions, “Excel at your jobs. Wear the sharpest uniform, outperform your peers, throw yourself 100% into everything you do in the military. You will win wordfame through your deeds, and that will honor your ancestors, your living kin, and will earn you the respect you deserve.”

Posted by Juliana Britto Schwartz

Our favorite feminist Chicanx/Latinx band is back with another video, this time criticizing our new administration and its attacks on marginalized people. In “If I Was President,” the band imagines what would happen if brown folks, low-income communities, women, or immigrants had control of our country’s destiny. 

They would “take from the rich, give to the poor,” free black and brown kids from prison, and invest in free education and public transportation. The chorus of the video (“Me gusta la lima, me gusta limón, pero no me gusta tanta corrupción”) expresses the sentiment felt across the country that in the age of Trump, we must fight corruption which makes the rich richer and steals from marginalized communities.

Watch the video below, and be sure to read some of our past coverage of Las Cafeteras’ videos on women, land and power, and check out their new album!

Header image credit: KQED

Posted by The Reader

Official Author Website
Order Paternus HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dyrk Ashton is a writer, educator, filmmaker and former actor active in storytelling and media making. Born and raised in the Ohio, he spent his formative years in the American Midwest wherein he got a BFA, Masters & PhD in the field of filmmaking & Movie studies. Dyrk loves the outdoors and even more the genre of speculative fiction. He currently resides in Ohio, but the fantasy landscape is the place he calls his true home. Paternus is his debut.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Gods, monsters, angels, devils. Call them what you like. They exist. The epic battles between titans, giants, and gods, heaven and hell, the forces of light and darkness. They happened. And the war isn't over.

17 year old Fi Patterson lives with her stuffy English uncle and has an internship at a local hospital for the aged. She doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, misses her dead mother, wonders about the father she never knew. One bright spot is caring for Peter, a dementia-ridden old man whose faraway smile can make her whole day. And there's her conflicted attraction to Zeke -- awkward, brilliant, talented -- who plays guitar for the old folks. Then a group of very strange and frightening men show up for a "visit"...

Fi and Zeke's worlds are shattered as their typical everyday concerns are suddenly replaced by the immediate need to stay alive -- and they try to come to grips with the unimaginable reality of the Firstborn.

"Keep an open mind. And forget everything you know..."

FORMAT/INFO: Paternus is 479 pages long divided into three parts which are further divvied up into thirty-three titled chapters with a prologue & epilogues. There’s also an acknowledgement section along with a few other extras. Paternus is the first book in a  an unnamed trilogy and can be read as a standalone.

May 1 2016 marked the e-book and paperback publication of Paternus and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Lin Hsiang & cover design is by Brie Rapp.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Imagine a novel or story that’s hard to describe, there have been quite a few of them over the past few years. Now with those stories, you can break them down and still make sense to whomever you are describing them to. But then there are those books that even when broken down, they are hard to encapsulate within genre, style or even plot. These are those rare gems that can go either way but usually have a core following and considered classics by many. I’m glad to say Paternus can be added to that small list as well. Paternus was a SPFBO finalist chosen by the fine folks over at Fantasy Faction & I can’t thank them enough for selecting this amazing debut.

Paternus is a doozy of a story and I mean it in the nicest way possible. To summarize the start of the main plot like I do with all my reviews is going to nigh impossible with this one but I’ll try my best. The first 10 chapters reveal a constantly rotating cast of characters some of them human, most of them immortals or near immortal as you can get. The storyline while beginning from a current time standpoint has its roots in a conflict that spans eons or yugas (this will be clear to fellow aficionados of Hindu mythology). The few humans who are introduced into this conflict are Fiona Patterson and her friend (maybe boyfriend) Zeke. Fiona is a teenager who has been orphaned and interns in a geriatric hospital wherein she takes care of a guy suffering from dementia named Peter. Fiona or Fi as she’s fondly called by everyone close to her, lives with her uncle Edgar who is as docile as they come and encourages her while successfully straddling her exasperating teenage antics from time to time. Fi and Zeke have a weird turn in their blossoming friendship but before things can settle down. They both learn a few secrets about Peter, Uncle Edgar and Fi herself. It’s from here on we are taken on a ride of global proportions and epic intensity as they run into several other beings who also take POV turns and find out more about the true nature of the world.

The biggest plus point that I can reveal about this story is the author’s imagination and his love for the various world mythologies, lore & religiosities. Plus I cannot state this enough as to how masterfully Dyrk Ashton has seemingly combined them to put forth a grand unified theorem for world mythologies. So far amidst all the various urban fantasy and literary fantasy books that I’ve read not one book has even come close to the mythological finesse that is showcased within Paternus. Kudos to you Dyrk Ashton for managing to write an epic story that combines all of the world mythos and makes it coherent. Especially with this I would like to point out one very cool thing that the author has done, I’m a big mythology nerd and being Indian, reading all of Hindu mythology's myriad texts and stories has been a lifelong hobby of mine. So you all can imagine how thrilled I was to see the author include Shiva, Parvati, Nandi, Indra and several other cool aspects (Deva/Asura/etc.) of Hindu mythology. Also with the usage of several Sanskrit terminology, the author not only managed to get the words correct but also made it very contextual within the plot. As a desi reader to see a non-subcontinental person utilize these things so solidly made my inner mythology nerd do an orgasmic Tandav.

The next thing which I enjoyed about this book was the characterization and I’m not talking about the humans here. This book focusses a lot on various individuals who can simply be described as gods, demons and a whole bunch of other mythological personae. To give them all distinct personalities and not anthropomorphize them is a Herculean task. However it is one which the author manages to perform adroitly. It was interesting to read about these beings and see their thoughts about the modern world (a particularly funny example of this is one such being who is trying to make a specific species of beasts classified as "endangered" as they are his earthly brethren and hold a special place in his mother’s heart).

These beings were so crucial to the storyline and to make them distinct and showcase them not simply as monsters but truly as higher order creatures with their own agendas was what made me enjoy this story even more. Also the author doesn’t just use European and Christian mythos, he goes beyond anyone else I’ve ever read to include Indian, Sumerian, Japanese, African, Mesopotamian and several other Asian mythologies. This felt truly global and the interactions that occur as well as the backstory for the eons-old struggle that is going on has been laid bare in a very methodical & quizzical way. There are hints laced throughout the story and it’s particularly fun to try to connect the dots along with the characters. I must admit that I didn’t quite get them all but those which I did, it was exhilarating to see them pan out in the story later on.

The action sequences are truly mind boggling as the story progresses become more and more frequent as well. There’s an undeniable horror element to these action sequences which involve the immortals and it is entirely fitting. Some reviewers have described these scenes as very blockbuster-esque and I’ve to agree. If this book were ever to be made into a movie/tv series (HBO), I would be first in line to watch it. The book’s latter half more than makes up for the lull in action in its preceding half and also ends on a humdinger of a climax (thankfully no cliffhangers here). Lastly the humor level in this book is often an understated one, there’s no laugh out loud moments but there truly are some comedic moments that are carefully woven in and brought a chuckle whenever I came across them. For most readers though, this effect might be completely dependent on your comedic tastes.

The one thing that I could say that is a big drawback about this book is for the starting few chapters the reader is introduced to a myriad number of characters and a lot is thrown at the reader which doesn’t make a lot of sense (at that moment). The readers will have to persevere through and it’s not a slog but it gets a tad exasperating to be introduced to a different character after another and not get a longer view at their lives. This was the main reason as to why this book scored an 8.5 in my view. This also is the sole negative point about this book IMHO. There’s also a couple of minor characters who seem a tad caricature-ish but then they are absolutely minor and I think one of them is also presented that way for comedic effect.

CONCLUSION: Paternus is a hard book to classify but not a hard book to like or enjoy. It can be a considered a classic in the making as it’s one of those books that doesn’t have any predecessor. But in the future will be considered the pratham of its own sub-genre. Paternus is an absolute gem of a story and Dyrk Ashton is a bloody, terrific genius. Miss out on this one at your own risk

Posted by Cassie da Costa

“Colossal” is a monster movie about real monsters: men who hate women.

They are human monsters, so redemption is not impossible, but this movie, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, like countless monster movies before it, isn’t interested in redemption — neither for the monsters nor the heroine, an out-of-work writer aptly called Gloria and played both smartly and archetypically by Anne Hathaway. Instead, “Colossal” negotiates the confusions and contradictions that are caught up in the world of a deeply flawed person — Gloria is careless, untethered, selfish, and an alcoholic — who is deeply wronged. The healing the film offers isn’t a forward march to recovery, but the open thrust of confrontation.

The film begins in Seoul, Korea. A little girl and her mother search outside at night for the girl’s lost doll. The wind is howling, and the sky cracks with thunder. The mother calls her daughter back, saying they’ll look again in the morning, but the little girl is insistent, and finally finds her doll, a few paces ahead in the grass. When she looks up, a gigantic, hulking mass of a monster is towering over the city, directly in front of her.

The film then travels across the globe to New York City, where Gloria is stumbling into an immaculate apartment after a night of partying. Her boyfriend, Tim, who owns the place, is sitting at a spotless granite countertop, upset. Gloria’s skipped out on their evening plans, and now she blatantly lies about why, saying she fell asleep at a friend’s house. Tim has had enough, and after telling Gloria off, kicks her out. She won’t be living off of him anymore; she’ll have to finally get her shit together, alone. Gloria keeps lying, unable to process being cut off. The tragedy displayed in the scene isn’t the end of a relationship, but the beginning of a more general isolation. After Tim leaves for work, having informed a shellshocked Gloria that her things are packed and ready to go, a group of her friends arrive in the apartment with alcohol, firing up for round two. She stays seated, staring into space, somehow no more or less present than she was before. By the next scene, she’s left New York and returned to her anonymous hometown in the midwest.

Once there, she reunites with a childhood acquaintance, Oscar, who seems to know a lot about her and her writing career. He’s hometown friendly and conveniently attractive, but Gloria barely takes notice of him. Oscar works to charm her, and takes her to the bar he owns, an inheritance, later delivering secondhand furniture to her parent’s empty house, where she sleeps on a deflated air mattress. Meanwhile, the monster in Seoul has been destroying property and killing people, stomping around the city with no real direction or particular malice; it’s just careless. Naturally, we learn that the monster is being controlled by Gloria, or, Gloria is the monster. And not long after that, we learn that Oscar has his own monster, a robot, that appears in Seoul along with Gloria’s monster when the two step onto the mulch of the neighborhood playground. It’s a wild premise, but one that is ambitious enough to foreground social issues with both humor and heft.

Soon, Oscar’s crush on Gloria reveals itself to be an obsession. When she realizes that multiple people were killed when she drunkenly exhibited her ability to control the monster to Oscar and his buddies, Gloria desperately tries to take control of her life in order to prevent more deaths. But she’s thwarted by Oscar’s cruelty and misogyny. He uses his knowledge of the incredible damage the two can cause as their monster selves to blackmail her into staying in town. Eventually, he physically abuses her, and uses the threat of further abuse both to her and others to keep her around.  When Tim arrives in town, ready to whisk Gloria away from the middle of nowhere and back to the city, he first scorns her, criticizing her decision to take a job at Oscar’s bar and live at home. He’s a snotty, condescending kind of abuser — one who places a set of expectations onto Gloria, not out of love or generosity, but as a form of control.

Thankfully, “Colossal” quickly abandons the notion that Gloria is the true cause of the destruction around and beyond her. Of course, it’s ridiculous to think that Gloria’s alcoholism is actually the cause of multiple deaths in Seoul. But the character’s willingness to take responsibility for those deaths, despite a lack of proximity to them, speaks more generally to how women tend to be socialized. Our wretchedness is not only an affront to ourselves, but to the entire world; men hurt others, fail, relapse, and retain both their charm and freedom from obligation. Women do the same and destroy an entire city — we are taught to feel not only responsible for the consequences of our actions, but the consequences of the consequences of the consequences of the actions of someone we may or may not have hurt. “Colossal” doesn’t reinforce this imbalance, but stares incredulously at it, and challenges it. Gloria does not find absolution in reforming herself, but in (no spoilers) unloading her grief.  The film also doesn’t offer an explanation for Gloria’s alcoholism, unemployment, or irresponsible behavior. We’re asked to accept her without justification and champion her without guarantee. In “Colossal,” the heroine is not redeemed but emboldened, and it makes the revenge that much sweeter.

Header image via

Posted by Juliana Britto Schwartz

Yesterday, a California judge blocked Trump’s efforts to withhold money from cities which provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

This video reminds us how violence and harassment put girls’ education at risk.

The Munduruku people of Brazil demand that the Brazilian government stop destroying their territory with hydroelectric megadams.

Ivanka’s “shallow narrative of women’s empowerment” at the W20 summit
is not how women’s empowerment works.

North Dakota courts have dropped several misdemeanor cases against Dakota Access water protectors, but no felony charges.

Members of the Yale grad student union are beginning a hunger strike today to pressure university officials to enter into negotiations with them.

Posted by Liz Williams

UNITED KINGDOM — Over the past month, there have been a number of memorial celebrations dedicated to Olivia Melian Robertson, one of British and Irish Paganism’s most enduring figures and the head of the long-standing Fellowship of Isis (FOI). Olivia was often seen around and about in London and Glastonbury, as well as in her native Ireland and the US. The recent celebrations were held around the world in British, Irish, German and American locations.

Olivia Robertson

Olivia Robertson 1917-2013 [Courtesy Photo]

Born April 13, 1917 in Reigate, Surrey, Olivia and her clergyman brother Lawrence moved to the 400 year old Huntington Castle, also known as Clonegal Castle, in Ireland when her father inherited it from a relative.

“The IRA had occupied the castle, and treated it very well,” Olivia recalled, “although they locked the cook in the dungeon, and court-martialled the butler.”

Olivia’s childhood was spent at the castle where her family entertained a number of early 20th century luminaries, including Robert Graves and W B Yeats. Perhaps inspired by this early exposure to the Celtic Twilight, Olivia herself experienced a number of visions, including that of the goddess Isis, who she described as “a cross between a queen, a ballet dancer and a gym mistress.”

“We had a long conversation, but afterwards I couldn’t remember any of it.”

Both Olivia and her brother became convinced that the goddess was a power in the world. This was somewhat embarrassing for a member of the clergy. Lawrence eventually offered his resignation to the bishop, but was told there was ‘no need.’

Over the years that followed, Olivia and her brother turned the castle cellars into a series of temples and shrines.

In 1976, Olivia, Lawrence, and his wife Pamela set up the Fellowship of Isis, designed to worship ‘Isis of the 10,000 names.’ Huntington Castle remained its base, horrifying the local villagers who did not take kindly to Olivia’s rituals for a variety of reasons. One witness said that they are “the kind of thing you sit through at weddings when couples insist on writing their own vows.”

Wisely, Olivia left the castle door open so that people could come and see for themselves, and the villagers were mollified when a series of celebrities – including Van Morrison, Hugh Grant, and Mick Jagger – showed up to have a look. Brigitte Bardot’s sister contributed two stuffed canvas dragons.

The Fellowship was modest in its requirements from participants. Dispensing with dogma, it suggested only that members believe in love and beauty. Nor did it insist that anyone should abandon their own religious practices. The result was a growing organization with a presence in a number of different countries.

Olivia was not only a priestess, but a writer and artist. She had her first exhibition of paintings at the age of 21. Over her life, she published 6 books. Her first novel was based on her experiences working with the poor in Dublin’s tenements. when she acted as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse during the war.

She died on November 14, 2013, leaving a legacy that has not been forgotten as evidence by the recent celebrations.

We asked participant and celebrant Caroline Wise about the Centenary itself and she reported that a series of events were hosted by Olivia’s friends around the world and led by those who had been her hosts on her annual travels.

The first of these gatherings took place in Long Beach, California Saturday, March 18. Linda Iles and Anniitra Ravenmoon hosted a day-long celebration, and members from a dozen FOI centers, from both in and outside the state of California, were on hand to honor Olivia’s hundredth birthday.

The event culminated in a presentation whereby Linda Iles demonstrated the dazzling effect of two mirrors reflecting a candle flame off one another. This was Olivia’s ‘Mirror Magic’ – something that she and her brother Lawrence used in their own temple.

Prior to April, the Fellowship of Isis Central website suggested 13 meditations and offerings for members around the world to enact rituals and memorials in solo or in their own autonomous groups from April 1 – 13, leading up to her birthday April 13.

Another pre-birthday gathering was held April 8 in Glastonbury. This one-day conference honored Olivia in an Egyptian-themed room, featuring reminiscences from those who had known her. She was a frequent visitor to Glastonbury, and often attended the annual Goddess Conference in the town.

On the evening of the actual birthday, Olivia’s London friends gathered with members of the FOI, as well as some of her family members, in the Wheatsheaf pub. During that time, they watched a slide presentation of her life story, and listened to lively stories from the floor. John Crow spoke with affection of Olivia’s appreciation of the work at The Cross Bone Cemetery Gates in London. Goddess author Jocelyn Chaplin spoke of Olivia’s sense of equality, her refusal to have hierarchy in her Fellowship, and how she saw each person as important as the next.

The London event ended with singer Julie Felix giving a touching rendition of Yeats’ The Song of Wandering Aengus plus Happy Birthday. Carrie Kirk Patrick, aided by Olivia’s great nephew Storm, showed a video that she had once made of Olivia, so participants could hear her voice in the room.

Olivia’s great niece Sarah messaged to say she was at Olivia’s home in Ireland and was lighting a candle for her, thus linking up the across the sea in memory.

FOI Members and centres around the world, including Germany, and in the US, Chicago, New Orleans, and Florida did hold their own celebrations honoring Olivia, a Pagan Priestess and unique visionary.

Posted by Juliana Britto Schwartz

Things have been pretty bad for Mother Earth lately. Our country currently has a president who believes that climate change is a Chinese hoax and an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head who does not believe in protecting the environment. It’s only been 100 days, and Trump has already pushed through the Dakota Access Pipeline and reopened discussions for the Keystone XL Pipeline, both dangerous fossil fuel projects which we thought had been defeated. His administration is threatening public lands, considering pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, rolling back regulations of dangerous greenhouse gases, and proposing budget cuts that would eviscerate the EPA.

When the safety of our planet is being so ruthlessly attacked from all angles, feminists need to stand up. Climate change hasn’t been a traditionally feminist issue, but it is already affecting every single woman on earth. When communities are hit by natural disasters, or poisoned by pollution from power plants or oil drilling, it’s women who respond to care for society’s most vulnerable. It’s women who are put in charge of feeding people in moments of food insecurity, and low-income women who are forced to overcome terrifying crises when they are already struggling to survive.

The only way to protect our communities from the ravages of climate change and to organize against the fossil fuel industry is with strong communities and robust social safety nets – the maintenance of which has traditionally been women’s work.

This weekend, thousands of people across the globe are hitting the streets to demand that their governments take action against climate change – or in our case, that they stop denying that climate change is real. The People’s Climate Mobilization will be centered in D.C, with sister marches across the U.S., throughout Europe, in South America, Africa, China and New Zealand.

No matter which action you attend, you will probably see women on the stage, holding a megaphone, or on the sidelines, coordinating march routes and permits. From the Dakota Access Pipeline, to the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil, to violent ranchers in Honduras, women, particularly women of color, have been leading the resistance for the future of our planet.

So don’t let up now. See you out there.

Image Credit: Emily Arasim via We Can International

Posted by The Reader

Official Author Website
Order The Grey Bastards HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jonathan French was born in Tennessee, and spent his childhood reading comics. He spent his childhood and teenage in the UK and US which fueled his curiosity and spurred his writing roots. His greatest literary influences are Robert E. Howard and Lloyd Alexander. He loves D&D and publicly speaking on topics that are dear to him. He currently resides in Atlanta with his wife, son and cat.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.” Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs.

Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. Supporting Jackal’s dangerous bid for leadership are Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs. 

When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil. He finds himself saddled with a captive elf girl whose very presence begins to unravel his alliances. With the anarchic blood rite of the Betrayer Moon close at hand, Jackal must decide where his loyalties truly lie, and carve out his place in a world that rewards only the vicious. 

FORMAT/INFO: The Grey Bastards is 442 pages long divided over thirty-six numbered chapters. Narration is via third person solely by Jackal throughout. This is the first volume of the Grey Bastards saga.

16 November, 2015 marked the e-book and paperback publication of the book and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design by Raymond Swanland.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Grey Bastards is a book with a brilliant cover and an unconventional blurb that focuses on a half-orcs and their lives. It’s a fantasy book that’s different in every sense of the word and was a finalist selected by the Bibliotropic blog.

The story begins with Jackal, a half-orc who is a member of the Grey Bastards (one of the eight hoofs *read gang/tribe*) which are present in the lot lands. The Grey Bastards are a group of nine half-orcs who take care of their region in the lots and are on tenuous relationship with most of the other lots. Our protagonist is Jackal who along with Oats and Fetching are doing ranging rounds and we discover their friendly yet competitive relationship with each other. Jackal is a person with ambition in his heart but he needs votes and a plan to dislodge the Claymaster (the head of the Grey Bastards) from the hoof’s chair. His best friends are Oats a thrice-blood (three fourths of an orc and human) and Fetching who’s is the only female half-orc ever to be a Grey Bastard.

Jackal’s plans are gestating however they have to take a backseat as he encounters a sorcerer who’s also akin to their kind. While reeling from this shocker, he discovers that they are soon betrayed by someone who has no reason to do so. Plus there’s the whole mystery of the elf girl who might hold the answers but is unwilling or unable to provide them. There’s also the undercurrents about the hoof leadership which leave Jackal a bit tenuous with his bid. Ultimately all of this will boil down to a few events upon which the history of the Lot lands will be laid bare as well as the injustice meted out by Hispartha that gets uncovered in this opening volume.

Here’s why I enjoyed this story so much, beginning from its unorthodox roots, having half-orcs as the main characters and having biker gang culture shown in a dark fantasy setting is very, very impressive. Kudos to Jonathan French for writing such a different story and having the guts to follow through and not take any easy routes with his characterizations, world history and even politics. This is a murky world and someone has compared it to the biker gang crime drama Sons Of Anarchy which I feel is very, very apt. The characters are mired in shades of grey, there are betrayals, scheming and lot of background/historical details which are slowly laid bare. This is very similar to the Sons Of Anarchy saga and also hearkens to David Dalglish’s Half-Orcs series (but with a lot less magic). Jonathan French’s creations are tortured souls who are just trying to find a semblance of peace, power and parity in their lives.

Let’s talk about the first strength of the book beginning with our protagonist Jackal and all the characters introduced within. Jonathan French makes each one stand out with their unique personas. Jackal is cunning yet not Machiavellian, Oats is steadfastly loyal but not farsighted. Fetching is vicious but not cruel in her ways. The Claymaster and the rest of the hoof mates are equally intriguing as are the various other characters introduced. All of these characters are heroes and villains in their own ways and even though we aren’t given everyone else’s POV besides Jackal, I felt that each and everyone could have been a strong lead protagonist. Secondly the bawdry nature of the story and characters is very true and is constant throughout the storyline. I liked this aspect and while it might not be for everyone, but for those who don’t mind a solid dose of darkness and cursing, this tale will fit right in.

Thirdly the world-building is done very well and what I mean is that the author slowly unveils the world (first the Lot lands and later on Hispartha). Also this world has other races such as Orcs, Centaurs, Elfs and humans who all are far away from the classical epic fantasy tropes and share the darkness imagined by the author. The Centaurs are bloodthirsty and have an interesting way to express themselves via one night (titled the Ravager's Moon). The Elves are contrarians and are also reticent enough to kill folks who disturb them. The Orcs are deadly and war-mongering, not to mention the progenitors of the half-orcs and I believe the readers will learn more as to how they view each other via the story. There’s also the cool aspect of the hogs who function as trusty steeds, deadly battle machines and just are fun to read whenever they are featured in the story. The pace of the story never slackens and the plot twists are not that frequent however they come and shake up the story vigorously. The cover by Raymond Swanland is the icing on the cake and surely a solid reason to buy the book on its own.

The only thing which I thought was the drawback for this story was that the world history wasn’t revealed quite to my satisfaction. This was a very personal observation as the author does reveal a lot but I felt that more could have been unveiled. Of course the author might be waiting to unleash more in the sequel and I can’t wait to read it.

CONCLUSION: The Grey Bastards is a rough gem of story that’s certainly not for every reader however I believe most SFF fans should read it. Jonathan French has to be lauded for his plot ingenuity, bawdry charm and vicious characters. The Grey Bastards has instantaneously catapulted him into my must-read list and the sequel to the Grey Bastards (currently titled The True Bastards) is one of my most anticipated books for 2018. 

Savage Love

Apr. 25th, 2017 04:00 am[syndicated profile] savagelove_feed

Posted by Dan Savage

A concerned man is initiating sex in his sleep. What should he do about it? by Dan Savage

I'm a 31-year-old gay male. I've been with my fiancé for three years, and we are getting married in the fall. I've got a question about initiating sex in my sleep—I read somewhere that "sexsomnia" is the "medical" term, but maybe the internet invented that? According to my fiancé, I have initiated or performed some kind of sex act in the middle of the night and then gone right back to sleep. The next day, I don't remember anything. This freaks me out for a couple of reasons: My body doing things without my mind being in control is concerning enough, but it feels kinda rapey, since I doubt I'm capable of hearing "no" in this state. My fiancé doesn't feel that way; he finds it sexy. The other thing—and maybe I shouldn't have read so much Freud and Jung in college—is that I'm worried my body is acting out desires that my conscious mind doesn't want to acknowledge. According to my fiancé, the last time I did stuff in my sleep, I rimmed him and told him how much I wanted to fuck him. Rimming isn't a typical part of our sex life (although I'd like it to be), and my fiancé has never bottomed for anyone (I've topped guys in prior relationships, but in our relationship I've only bottomed). Is my body doing things that my mind won't admit it wants to do? Is there a way to prevent it from happening?

Sexsomniac Hoping Eventually Eager Trysts Stop

Sexsomnia is a real and sometimes troubling phenomenon, SHEETS, and not something the internet made up like Pizzagate or Sean Spicer. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says sexsomnia is real—a real clinical condition—but they prefer the fancier, more "medical" sounding name: sleep related abnormal sexual behaviors. Dr. Michel Cramer Bornemann, a lead researcher at Sleep Forensics Associates (, describes sexsomnia as "sleepwalking-like behaviors that have sexualized attributes." And sleep-rimming your delighted fiancé definitely counts.

"Sexsomnia may be expressed as loud, obscene vocalizations from sleep (that are typically uncharacteristic of the individual while awake), prolonged or violent masturbation, inappropriate touch upon the genitals, buttocks, and breast of a bed partner, and initiation of sexual intercourse," said Dr. Bornemann. "The vast majority of sleep disorders are not reflective of a significant underlying psychiatric condition."

So your unconscious, late-night gropings/initiatings/rimmings don't mean you secretly desire to be an ass-eating top. And there's no need to drag poor Sigmund or Carl into this, SHEETS, since you're not doing anything in your sleep that you don't desire to do wide awake. You wanna rim your fiancé, you've topped other guys and would probably like to top this one too—so neither of the examples you cite qualify as desires your "conscious mind doesn't want to acknowledge." (Unless you wrote me in your sleep.) Like all sleep disorders, sexsomnia is just something that happens to a very small number of people, SHEETS, there's no need to endow it with deeper meaning. Take it away, Dr. Bornemann...

"The brain is made of approximately 100 billion neurons, or electrical connections that allow effective communication between brain subunits. As with all electrical systems, errors in transmission may occur—these are called 'switching errors.' In sleep, switching errors may activate previously quiescent areas of the brain while other areas remain off-line. In sleep-related behaviors, it is thought that deep-seated subunits near the sleep-wake generating center become triggered, which activate primal automatic behaviors. Simply stated, electrical switching errors in sleep may unleash the animal that actually lies within us all—sometimes to an extent that may have unintended criminal or forensics implications."

In most cases, sexsomniacs will hump a pillow or jerk themselves off. The sexsomniacs who tend to make the news—the ones we hear about—are the "unintended criminals" Dr. Bornemann alluded to, i.e., people who've sexually assaulted someone while asleep. Luckily for you, SHEETS, your fiancé is okay with your "primal automatic behaviors."

But you might wanna watch Sleepwalk with Me, an autobiographical film by Mike Birbiglia, a comedian with a sleep disorder. Birbiglia wasn't initiating sex in his sleep—he was jumping out of windows. A danger to himself and others, he sought treatment and is no longer jumping out of windows in his sleep. You're not a danger to yourself or others currently, SHEETS, but if you got a new partner or your current partner's feelings about surprise, middle-of-the-night rimjobs were to change, you could be a danger. So you should chat with a doctor now about drugs and/or other interventions.

"My catch-all advice is to read this book called The Promise of Sleep by Dr. William C. Dement," said Birbiglia in an e-mail after I shared your letter with him. "He's sort of the father of sleep medicine. He talks about sleep hygiene extensively, i.e., how to have the best night's sleep possible by avoiding TV, eating heavily, drinking, etc., a few hours before bed. I know this isn't exactly an answer to SHEET's specific question, but getting a better night's sleep could probably help him across the board in ways that he doesn't even realize."

My boyfriend wants to visit a private gay sex dungeon in Europe this summer but we want to play only with each other. Any tips on getting to play in an actual dungeon without having to put out for the guy whose dungeon it is?

Requests A Curious Kinkster

Put Berlin on your itinerary, RACK, google "SM Apartments" or "Hoist Basements," break out your credit card, splurge, and send pics.

I'm a straight married male. My wife has a very close male friend who happens to be in a poly marriage. Recently, my wife said she would like us to be able to date others, have sex, romance, etc., but still remain a married couple. She specifically wants to date her friend. I am struggling. I am not closed off to having a conversation about nonmonogamy, but I struggle with the thought of her having a boyfriend. I want to be able to give this to her, but I feel like my mind and body are not letting me. Any advice is so much appreciated.

Help Understanding Spouse's Blunt And New Demand

"Introducing nonmonogamy into an existing monogamous relationship can be tough, especially when it wasn't your idea," said Cunning Minx, host of the Polyamory Weekly podcast, who has been providing poly news, advice, and insights to the masses since 2005 at "It's even more stressful when there is a potential partner waiting in the wings! Yikes!"

While Minx is a poly activist and advocate, HUSBAND, she thinks both parties need to be on the same page before going poly. And before you take that step—if you take that step—Minx thinks you need to ask yourself some questions. "HUSBAND should do a fear inventory," said Minx. "What is he afraid of? What would it mean to him if his wife had a boyfriend? What if she wanted to love a woman—does the penis make a difference? If so, why? Then he should sit with his wife and take stock of the health of their current relationship."

You can say no to opening up your marriage, HUSBAND, but your wife may decide she wants out of the marriage if no is the answer—basically, this is a circumstance where one of you is going to have to pay a pretty steep price of admission. Either you'll have to accept polyamory or your wife will have to drop it. There isn't really a middle ground here—or is there?

"It's perfectly acceptable for HUSBAND to self-identify as monogamous while his wife practices polyamory," said Minx. "It's a difficult path, and will require a high level of internal security and self-awareness on his part, but ultimately your self-identity is your own decision." recommended

On the Lovecast, a deep dive into the world of cuckolding:


[ Comment on this story ]

[ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]


hth: recent b&w photo of Gillian Anderson (Default)

November 2016

678 9101112

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Apr. 29th, 2017 09:23 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios