The Wild Hunt for Justice: At the Intersection of Ritual and Protest

I was recently invited to the New Orleans Pagan Pride Day this year to lead the opening ritual.  I also led a couple workshops on activism and non-theistic Paganism and joined Bart Everson, Nicole Youngman, and Emily Snyder in a panel discussion on the same topics.

I wanted to share the opening ritual here. I’ve written before how protest marches can be like Pagan ritual. Here, I tried bring together elements of Pagan ritual with elements of political protest.  I tried to bring together the myth of the Wild Hunt with social action, blurring the line between a religious procession and a protest march.  Rather than standing in a circle with our backs to the world, I wanted the ritual to be focused outward.  And I wanted to raise energy without dispersing it cathartically, so as to motivate social activism.  I also wanted to tie the ritual to the place where the ritual was held, so references were made to environmental devastation, and racial and LGBT violence perpetrated in or near New Orleans.

Outline of the ritual

Shrine of Marie LaVeau at the New Orleans Healing Center

The ritual consisted of a procession around the New Orleans Healing Center where the Pagan Pride Day was held.  In lieu of casting a circle, we processed to each of the four corners of the block and invoked spirits of the Wild Hunt, spirits of the earth which has been desecrated by human green, spirits of other-than-human beings who have been driven to extinction, spirits of LGBT people who have been victims of homophobic and transphobic violence, spirits of Black and Brown men and women who have been victims of racist violence  We then processed inside the building to an ancestors altar for the last invocation, of our activist foreparents, and the ritual was closed with song.  The procession was lead by four individuals playing the Wild Hunt.  I remained in the back of the procession so my voice could be heard.

The Ship of Death

The ritual would not have been possible without the help of several people.  Four individuals volunteered to play the Wild Hunt.  They were draped in black and stood silent, with mouths gaping throughout the ritual.  I especially want to thank Eric Montgomery who went all out with the costume and led the Wild Hunt.  Cool rhythms were skillfully provided by drummer Louis Martinie and who also provided tambourines for the participants.  And I also want to thank the artist who constructed the life-size Ship of Death on the northwest corner of the block, which fit so perfectly into our ritual.

The procession begins

(Portions in italics are spoken aloud. Stage directions are in brackets.)

As we approach Samhain, the Wild Hunt rides forth.  We say the veil is thin at this time of the year.  So let us see what can be seen. 

[Gong. Drum starts.]

23231097_10214288861953363_5466118166105903685_n[Process out of the Healing Center to to the Ship of Death in the small park at the northwest corner of the block.]

[Gong. Drum ends.]

Call and Response:

Call: What do I see there in the shadows?
Response: The Wild Hunt Rises!
Call: What do I see moving in the forest?
Response: The Wild Hunt Rises!
Call: What is it that comes nearer and nearer?
Response: The Wild Hunt Rises!
Call: What is the sound of horns I hear?
Horn is blown and the Wild Hunt comes forth from behind the Ship of Death.
Response: The Wild Hunt Rises!
Call: What fills my soul with fear?
Response: The Wild Hunt Rises!
Call: What causes the evildoers to flee?
Response: The Wild Hunt Rises!
Call: What are these wild riders?
Response: The Wild Hunt Rises!

Gong. Drum resumes.

Call and response: What through the darkness flies? Behold the Wild Hunt rides!

[Process to the northwest corner, led by the Wild Hunt.]

Spirits of victims of racist violence

[Gong. Drum stops.]

Look! [pointing at the Hunt] I see the Hunt riding forth from the Otherworld. Among them I see more spirits of victims of human violence.  I see the spirits of Black and Brown men and women murdered by police and by White supremacists. Their mouths are open, but no sound comes forth. We must be their voices.

Eight miles to the northwest of here, I see Baton Rouge, where Alton Sterling was shot by police multiple times at close range, while an officer knelt on his chest. I see other Black victims of police violence. Will you speak some of their names with me?

Alton Sterling. Michael Brown. Laquan McDonald. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Eric Garner.

May our hearts not rest in peace. May our hearts be perturbed, may our bodies moved to action, and may our voices be raised to call for justice.

[Gong. Drum resumes.]

Call and response: See them ride, on whirling winds. Called back from death, they’ve shed their skins.

[Process to the southwest corner, led by the Wild Hunt.]

Spirits of LGBT victims of violence

[Gong. Drum stops.]

Look! [pointing at the Hunt] I see the Hunt riding forth from the Otherworld.  Their mouths are open, but no sound comes forth. We must be their voices.

Among them I see the other spirits, more victims of human violence.  I see the spirits of lesbian and gay men and women and transgender men and women who have been killed by bigots.  I see others driven to suicide by a homophobic and transphobic culture.

Two miles to the southwest, I see the a gay bar called the Upstairs Lounge, where 32 people people died in an intentionally set fire, the second deadliest attack on LGBT people in US history. Will you speak their names with me?

Dr. Perry Waters, Rev. William Larson, Joseph Adams, Reginald Adam,  Guy Anderson, Joseph Bailey, Luther Boggs, Louis Broussard, Hurbert Cooley, Donald Dunbar, Adam Fontenot, David Gary, Horace Getchell, John Golding, Gerald Gordon, Glenn Green, James Hambrick, Kenneth Harrington, Ferris LeBlanc, Robert Lumpkin, Leon Maples, George Matyi, Clarence McCloskey, Duane Mitchell, Larry Stratton, Douglas Williams, Eddie Warren, James Warren, Willie Warren.

May our hearts not rest in peace. May our hearts be perturbed, may our bodies moved to action, and may our voices be raised to call for justice.

[Gong. Drum resumes.]

Call and response: The horn will sound, the Hunt begins, to hunt the wicked, once again.

[Process to the southeast corner, led by the Wild Hunt.]

Other-than-human spirits

[Gong. Drum stops.]

Look! [pointing at the Hunt] I see the Hunt riding forth from within the earth. Among them I also see spirits of other-than-human beings.  I see thousands and thousands of species who have been driven to extinction or near to extinction by human greed. Their mouths are open, but no sound comes forth. We must be their voices.

Forty miles to the Southeast, I see the Deep River Horizon, which spilled 200 million gallons of oil containing carcinogenic hydrocarbons, poisoning over 8,000 different species of mammals, birds, fish, and other marine life. Will you name some of these spirits with me?

West Indian Manatee. Hawksbill Sea Turtle. Leatherback Sea Turtle. Loggerhead Sea Turtle. Atlantic Sturgeon. Pallid Sturgeon. Gopher Tortoise. Ringed Map Turtle. Piping Plover.

May our hearts not rest in peace. May our hearts be perturbed, may our bodies moved to action, and may our voices be raised to call for justice.

[Gong. Drum resumes.]

Call and response: Lightning cracks, and ghost hounds bay. None shall bar, the Huntsman’s way.

[Process to the northeast corner, lead by the Wild Hunt.]

Spirits of the land

[Gong. Drum stops.]

Look! [pointing at the Hunt] I see the Hunt riding forth from within the earth. Among them I see the spirits of the land, the genius loci.  Spirits of the the land which has been poisoned by tar sands extraction, leaking pipelines, fracking, oil spills, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, toxic waste. Their mouths are open, but no sound comes forth. We must be their voices.

Two miles to the northeast, I see Agriculture Street Landfill where the groundwater and soil have been contaminated by lead, arsenic, and carcinogenic hydrocarbons. I see other spirits of this land of New Orleans. I see Bayou Bonfouca in St. Tammany Parish, where wood treatment operations have rendered a mile and a half of the bayou biologically sterile from creosote contamination. I see Delatte Metals in Tangipahoa Parish, where battery recycling operation poisoned the soil and groundwater with lead. Will you say the names of these places with me?

Agriculture Street Landfill. Bayou Bonfouca. Delatte Metals.

May our hearts not rest in peace. May our hearts be perturbed, may our bodies moved to action, and may our voices be raised to call for justice.

[Gong. Drum resumes.]

Call and response: The lightning cracks, and the ghost hounds bay. Give the dead their due, or be their prey.

[Process inside to the altar of ancestors, led by the Wild Hunt.]

Spirits of activist forebearers

[Gong. Drum stops.]

Look!  I see the Hunt riding forth from the past.  Their mouths are open, but no sound comes forth. We must be their voices.

Among them I see the activist heroes and heroines who began the fight for social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, economic justice.  I see the spirits of those who have gone before us, demanding justice and equality in all our relations.

There are many still living.  But I see many more who are gone.  Will you speak some of their names with me?

Aldo Leopold, Betty Friedan, Cesar Chavez, Chico Mendes, Dorothy Day, Edward Abbey, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ella Baker, Emily Wilding Davison, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Harvey Milk, Ida B. Wells, John Lennon, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Margaret Sanger, Martin Luther King Jr., Mary Wollstonecraft,  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mother Jones, Mother Teresa, Pete Seger, Rachel Carson, Robert Kennedy,  Rosa Parks,  Susan B. Anthony, Wangari Maathai.

May our hearts not rest in peace. May our hearts be perturbed, may our bodies moved to action, and may our voices be raised to call for justice.

[Gong sounds three times.]

Raising Our Voices

In ages past, people hid from the Wild Hunt.  But we are Pagan. Say it with me: We are Pagan! Even if you don’t call yourself Pagan, be Pagan with us now.

We do not hide from the darkness. We do not hide from the violence wrought by human hands. Why?  Because we are Pagan!

Let me hear you say it: We are Pagan! [Repeat 3 times.]

The Wild Hunt calls us!  The Hunt calls us to rise up and speak out.

Say: Rise up, Speak Out!  Louder!  Rise up, Speak Out! 

When our waters and our lands are under attack, what will we do?  Rise up, Speak Out! 

When our animal and plant kin are under attack, what do we do?  Rise up, Speak Out! 

When our gay and lesbian and trans brothers and sisters are under attack, what do we do?  Rise up, Speak Out! 

When our Black and Brown brothers and sisters are under attack, what do we do?  Rise up, Speak Out! 

What?  Rise up, Speak Out! [Repeat 3 times.]

We will now close with a song from the Women’s March. [Distribute lyrics.]

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