Nov 182011
 

Earlier this year, I put up a two posts on new media.  In those pieces, my overall thesis was publishers would continue to release print material mostly for basic, 101 type material.  The reason behind this was purely economic: the money is in 101 books, not more advanced material.   Increasingly, the best place for 202 and 303 material- the best place for challenge- is the free new media: blogs, podcasts, and social networking.

 

In the last month, the vital importance of the new media has taken center stage in a hot and heavy debate that started calmly, erupted with volcanic force, and seems now to have settled down to a steady smolder.

 

In October, both The Wild Hunt and About.com’s Paganism/Wiccan site announced the reformation of the American Council of Witches.  The original body, formed in 1973 and disbanded in 1974, lasted just long enough to compile the 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief.  The U.S. Army later incorporated those principles into their chaplain handbook.  The new body, originally dubbed the “US American Council of Witches,” claimed that they and their organizer, Kaye Berry of Peoria, Illinois, had been contacted by the military to update the handbook.

 

Since then, the three pillars of new media have scrutinized the group, expecting honesty and transparency from any council that claims to represent the Witches of America.  The Council has not stood up well beneath the microscope.

 

Blogs

The Pagan community learned about the council’s existence mostly through blogs.  As I mentioned earlier, The Wild Hunt posted a story in the early days as did About.com.  Reading the comments, everything started out peacefully.  In general, Pagans seemed happy that there was going to be a new advocacy group to fight for their rights.  They were excited about the idea of a Pagan Dream Team from all traditions coming together to forge interfaith dialogue and work for Pagan rights.

 

At this point, it is important to note that the Council claimed that it would represent Pagans of all traditions, yet called itself the “US American Council of Witches.” As not all Pagans are Witches, this should have sparked some suspicion.

 

A few bloggers were even asked to join the council, including Steve Provost at The Provocation as well as Devin Hunter of The Modern Witch.  But then these bloggers started asking questions (as bloggers do).  What they found was the beginning of the explosion.

 

The bloggers noticed inconsistencies.  Most importantly, they noticed that, while the group claimed to be a 501c3 nonprofit, and had a PayPal button for donations, they actually were not in any way registered as a legitimate 501c3.  Both Christina at The Caffeinated Witch and Rowan  at One Witch’s Way and The Modern Witch have documented this and the rest of the bloggers’ saga very well.  For even more, visit Beyond Dead

 

Social Networking

This is where it got really hairy.  The Council’s only web presence, aside from Kaye Berry’s personal business site, was their Facebook page.  Like the blog posts, the comments all started out supportive.  Gradually, according to the bloggers, people started asking questions – legitimate questions.  On October 18, the response was that the council was overwhelmed and taking a step back.

 

Then, last week, it became apparent that all posts to the Facebook page that questioned any activities by the council were being deleted, and those who posted their questions were banned from the group.  Facebook travels fast; deletion of critical comments could only inflame the already burning questions.

 

Podcasts

Then there was Tuesday night.  In the center of this from the beginning, Rowan and Devin on The Modern Witch poured gas onto the flames for their two-hour long, live podcast.  In a detailed discussion, Devin discussed his experiences being deleted and banned for asking legitimate questions and Rowan went deeply into her research on the group.  Their guests included former Council members Heather Killen and Kenny Klein, who exposed the inside story on the not-so-honest workings within the Council.

At this time, the Facebook page for the US American Council of Witches appears to have been deleted.  Rowan’s most recent post reporting this includes comments that suggest this is not ture and that that she may only have personally been banned, but I can’t find the page anymore.  When I search Facebook, I get only The Modern Witch’s posts.

This is the power of the new media in the Pagan Community.  In 1974, when the original council was active, they could have been an abject fraud and it would have taken years to figure it out.  In our era, with our media, it took about a month.  Perhaps the Council will return revitalized and ready to represent our community in a more straightforward manner, but at this point that doesn’t appear to be the case.

 

As I wrote in those earlier pieces, the internet is the venue that will provide both solace and challenge for our far-flung community.  Challenges, like the one endured by the US American Council of Witches, ultimately help the community by teaching us what is and is not acceptable.  Maybe the next attempt will be more honorable.  Maybe the next attempt will truly bring unity across our wide variety of practices.  If it does, then the fire of the new media truly served its purpose.

UPDATE:

The Facebook Page for the Council is available.  I searched long and hard for it last night, but it wasn’t there.  I know others who did the same.  Looks like there’s more to come in this saga…

  16 Responses to “New media examines The US American Council of Witches”

  1. Please provide a source showing when the “13 Principles” were included in the Army Chaplains Handbook, as I cannot find them in any edition I have (1993 original inclusion of Wicca, and the online edition from April 1999 through April 2001 (and last updated 30 May 2000) makes no mention of the Council at any point.

  2. Oh yes, while the internet has assuredly sped up many things from the 1974 standards, you might be surprised how fast the US Postal Service, Ma Bell, the emerging Pagan Press and some pissed off Witches could spread the news as well – Ask Oberon about that some time. :)

  3. HR Mitchell: I only had time this morning to look up a few quick sources for you.
    These two sources state that the info on Wicca can be found on pp. 231-236 in the Army chaplain’s handbook. If you look under the sections “Basic Beliefs” and “Practices and Behavioral Standards” you will recognize many ideas from the 13 principles folded in.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_usbk.htm

    http://www.ecis.com/~alizard/chaphand.html

    You can also check the links in my post to The Wild Hunt and Rowan’s One Witch’s Way.

    Then of course there’s Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Council_of_Witches

  4. I assure you, Kaye Berry’s personal profile is still up, and the page for the US American Council of Witches is only unpublished as it does show up in the search field and through a google search, but cannot be accessed at this time until she re-publishes it. More than likely, anyone who cannot see either her personal profile or see the council page on a search has been banned from the council page and blocked through Kaye Berry’s personal profile. I would suggest that the Pagan community continue to “keep an eye” on this as I have become aware of some new developments happening behind the scenes at this time. I am not at liberty to disclose the information or source at this time, however, it is becoming apparent that Mz. Berry is determined to continue her actions.

    Tim, thanks for a great article on the subject and the shout out above, I wasn’t expecting that and it gave me a smile for the day ;)

  5. Chrsitina: Thanks. I knew her personal profile was still up, but left that alone as I didn’t feel it pertained to this post. I just found their FB page again. It wasn’t there last night when I wrote this, but now it’s on page 2 of a google search. Alright, let’s keep an eye on them and see what happens next. Maybe it will be good?

  6. [...] “The Juggler” blog examines statements made by “The U.S. American Council of Witches” and some questionable practices.  http://culture.pagannewswirecollective.com/2011/11/new-media-examines-the-us-american-council-of-wit… [...]

  7. Tim: I had a few people state to me that they couldn’t find either, so just thought to address it in my comments here. I’ve also received a report that was very troubling. It wasn’t to be made public, but since it has been referenced on the Modern Witch podcast page, (please see their Facebook page and multiple comments made on the Email Questions post regarding her answers as well as the post just below it regarding hearing back from Oberon. You will be looking for comments made by SuzyKate Jordan Smith regarding the experiences that one of her students had with email contact for just liking a comment.) It’s not pretty and honesty, I can’t fathom how this could turn around with the current behavior that we’ve all seen go on with those behind the Facebook page.

    I’m not normally such a pessimist about such things, however, I don’t see the patterns changing on this and fear it will be a stubborn continuation of the same song and dance. Yes, let’s keep an eye on this, and you are more than welcome to contact me privately if you should wish. It really is a shame that all of this has happened as I was quite hopeful when I first heard about this re-formed group.

  8. Greetings,

    I have been following this saga for the last couple of days and I am a very concerned Wiccan Witch. I am a Priestess of The Dragon and The Rose Coven, located in Georgia and naturally, I am very familiar with the 13 Principles, as any Witch should be.
    First, I am very concerned about Kaye Berry because she is not a Witch. Nor is she a Wiccan.
    Second, she doesn’t communicate in a diplomatic and/or civil or fair manner.
    She is not transparent.
    She should not be in a position of leadership for the community of our Nations’ Witches and Wiccans. Now, if she is wanting to speak for the Native American, I have no problem with that.
    I do have a problem with her creating a page for this organization however and NOT being a Witch and/or Wiccan. This is un-nerving. It would be like me going and staring a page and organization for the Native American and I am full blooded Irish. It makes no sense.
    I have a few issues with this woman and the way she has gone about trying to “reform” our late ACOW.
    But there is one more thing that bothers me, and it is this;
    What concerns me is the term “Wiccan Principles”.
    I would like to point out that back in the 70′s, anyone who was a Witch was a Wiccan and anyone who was a Wiccan was a Witch. In today’s Witch community, not all Witches are Wiccan any longer.
    We have many folks in our community who claim to be a Witch, but do not claim to be Wiccan Witches. These principles can no longer be titled “Wiccan Principles” as this excludes all other Witches.
    If the reformation of the ACOW is going to occur, I feel the title of these principles be changed to “The 13 Principles of The Witch”.
    It would be all inclusive of all Witches at this point and not “exclusive” to Wicca and/or Wiccan Witches. Wicca has a specific set of beliefs, a specific doctrine that it follows and while Wiccan Witches do in fact, follow these 13 principles, they were not intended to be written just for Wiccans, but were intended to be written for ALL Witches.
    Therefore, we must take the time to encourage whoever *does* get involved with the reformation of this organization, to take that extra mile … not only to explain the diversities of our Witch paths in this Nation, but to also explain the different Traditions and to make any necessary changes to this title “The 13 Principles of Wiccan Beliefs” to “The 13 Prinicples of The Witch” , but any other titles that may need changing, so that all of it will help our Nation understand us, and to also accommodate the growth our community has seen since 1974.
    Just my two cents. :)
    If anyone wishes to contact me, I am on facebook under suzykate (rain dove)
    Blessed Be,
    Rain Dove

  9. Rain Dove: There is some question in regards to if she is actually Native American. If you read through all the comments over on the original announcement of The Wild Hunt, several people brought this up and the fact that the ceremonies that she is portraying as being Cherokee in origin, are in fact not Cherokee at all. I do believe that someone began the process of investigating this/reporting this as it is a violation of federal law to pass oneself off in an attempt to profit from the Native Nations. So there are questions from every facet of the various communities that she claims to have been a part of for so long.

  10. http://www.myspace.com/school_of_spirituality I found this– it’s over a year old but it’s Kaye’s.

  11. Jill: Yes it is, and she was taking “donations” way back when. I’ve done quite a bit of research into the matter and there is quite a bit that is out there that I’ve been unable to publish due to not being able to confirm all the facts. You can go and do a search online of Illinois state records.. there’s nothing for Kaye Berry.. not even business licenses for any of the businesses that she claims to own and the records go back to at least 2000.

    A little update: This morning both Joe from Beyond Dead and I received comments on our blogs regarding this matter from Ariel, editor of The Green Egg. Joe and I were recently made aware that Mz. Berry had threatened someone for liking a comment another person left on the USACOW page before it was taken down and Kaye implicated that Oberon would be dealing with them. From what I’m now getting from Ariel, I seriously doubt that Oberon is even aware of her latest tactics.

  12. Tim: Thank you for your post! It has been quite the onion that’s been peeled back!

    I was never banned from the Council’s Facebook page, however Devin was. At my last reporting their page was gone (it was down for two or so) but then came back completely stripped of everything and with their Info details completely changed.

    In-between then and now Devin and I received and email from Oberon Zell in response to our questions we sent the Council and Kaye Berry. In the email, along with a supposed draft of a future press release about the Council as well as Kaye’s answers to the questions we posed. The unprofessional, defensive, and somewhat immature answers to these questions, all of which are quite brief, paint more of a picture than any lengthy reply could have. It is only my open now that anyone with any power over Kaye Berry in this Council will ask her to step aside into a different role. She is not suited, nor prepared, for a position of this magnitude. (You can see the replies on The Modern Witch show blog.

    Thank you again, Tim! I’m going to be continuing to follow and write about this on my blog and we’ll likely update any major changes on the show.

  13. Excellent article, but it really only took 1 day for people to start calling “BS” on this initiative and for the group to have to admit they were not contacted by the Army.

    I give huge kudos to all the various Pagan media who examined this group and then went public with what they found. They ran the very real risk of being castigated as just wanting to stir things up for ratings. Pagan media can be entertaining, but at it’s best, it’s a mirror to reflect what is truly there and a light to shine in the dark corners.

  14. There was some interesting posts about the council on Amber and Jet (Yahoo! e-group). IMHO I don’t know how a small group of people in 1 country can determine what principles I will judged by.

  15. I thought the whole thing was fishy right away, because of the vagueness of the web presence on Facebook. But, like others, I thought the idea of an initiative to come together was a good idea, if the people organizing this thing were legitimate. However, when I tried to contact someone, I found it difficult to find any actual contact information. Then Kaye Berry posted links to the USACOW, and another person told me Kaye Berry had approached them about this thing and what did I think about it.

    So I emailed Kaye and asked her if she could tell me who was actually behind the USACOW. I’ll sum up the email exchange as, she rather harshly told me that it shouldn’t matter who was behind it, and that she couldn’t speak for the USACOW as she was just helping. She didn’t really answer any of my questions and said she was bound by secrecy.

    I was teaching at the central IL Pagan Pride in Bloomington that weekend and asked around about her; apparently Kaye Berry used to run the central IL PPD in Peoria.No one I met had anything good to say about Kaye. Now–I’ve seen enough inter-Pagan disputes to know that it’s easy for one person to end up with a terrible reputation via hearsay, so I was willing to withhold judgment on the matter until I saw more. However, when the information was posted to the Wild Hunt about USACOW, and I found out that Kaye had lied to me about her involvement, I was pretty upset. I was also upset at how defensive and rude Kaye was to others in the comments on the Wild Hunt blog.

    I’m glad to see that more information has come to light on this, and that my gut instinct was correct about Kaye. However, I’m very sad to see that this may be yet one more initiative that fails because someone who’s not qualified to lead it is the one behind it. I’d be happy to support the initiative if it was led by someone with a stronger reputation. But, some of my minimum requirements for a leader are: no lying, and not threatening people.

    Perhaps this initiative in a new form, or another similar initiative, would have better success. It obviously won’t have success under Kaye.

    I do have to say that I’m really excited by the journalism and research that helped bring things to light. In the past, one of the problems with challenging people in the Pagan community is that any finger pointing or questioning of someone gets immediately translated into a “witch war,” and people totally shut down around that. Either they’re polarized on the side of the accuser, or the side of the victim. With the role of journalism within the Pagan community, there’s an actual impartial vehicle to gather evidence and present that without it being about that person, or anyone really–it’s just about the facts. Kudos for that, at least!

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