Carcer Via: An Inmate's Guide to the Craft
Article ID: 14296
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: November 21st. 2010
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Every year thousands of Bibles, Korans, and other religious materials are donated to prisons and numerous other institutions around the country. They fill boxes stacked high and overflowing from store rooms and line the hallways of prison chapels, while hundreds of Pagan inmates are huddled in small circles sharing and circulating a precious few copies of texts, with the fear that their materials may get confiscated or destroyed.
As Pagans we have no one single universal sacred text, except the Gospel of Nature. We have hundreds of books written about Wicca, Witchcraft, Magic and other popular Pagan topics. We pride ourselves on our personal book collections, often coveting the works of our favorite authors. Most of us would never dream of parting with them except as a temporary loan to a trusted friend.
Unlike most mainstream faiths, we as Pagans do not proselytize. We don’t recruit, convert or save people. Our faith is our own, and to that end there is no inherent need for outreach ministries. There is no obligation to spread our good word; there is no obligation to preach the messages of our Gods or to prepare the non-believers for their return, nature is already here.
It’s been said that Paganism is the fastest grown religion in the world; and while that point is arguable, I myself have seen an explosion of growth within the prison system. For over three years now I have served as a Minority Faith Chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. My first prison visit was with Rev. Patrick McCollum when I accompanied him to a local woman’s correctional facility where we conducted a Samhain service.
He explained about the religious needs and discrimination of Pagan inmates, and he explained how the state of California only hires Chaplains for five faiths; Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Native American.
This is where I got my title, because if you’re not one of the five majority faiths then you fall into the second tier of minority faiths. Not long after that I was contacted by another local prison asking if I would be willing to assist them with the religious accommodations of their Wiccan inmates and I’ve been volunteering there ever since. When I first started our there was only a small handful of inmates. Not just Wiccans, but Druids, Odinists and eclectic Pagans too. Since that time I have seen the Pagan population grow from under twenty to over a hundred in one prison alone. Most of them first coming to Paganism while incarcerated, and for many of them the first ritual they attended was mine.
Just like many of Pagans, when they experience it for the first time there is a feeling that can only be described as a “homecoming.” What follows is the awakening of a new hunger for knowledge and a thirst that cannot be quenched by a single book. It is the beginning of a whole new world, and a whole new path and a whole new life. The next phase is the challenge of obtaining material and every inmate experiences unique difficulties. Some have problems getting things ordered because often times the request must be approved by a chaplain, while others have not problems getting books and materials they have a hard time keeping them. I personally know several inmates who had their copy of Scott Cunningham’s Guide for the Solitary Practitioner confiscated and destroyed by a Christian guard who could not in good conscious allow devil worship or black magic on his block.
But Magic there is. I have seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen inmates representing every conceivable aspect of society; every variation and shade of religion, different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gang affiliations and criminal offense unite in one room, in one ceremony, in one circle. Despite all their conflicting interests and social identities, they still manage to share food, drink and hold hands together in celebration and fellowship. Now that’s true magic.
I see a sincere desire for spiritual growth and a sincere need for help. Every week I receive letters from inmates all over the country requesting assistance, looking for resources, donations, newsletters, or anything they can find to feed their hunger for spiritual growth. While I acknowledge that I may not be the best person to adequately feed the masses, I am trying to help.
I have written a book entitled Carcer Via: An Inmates Guide to the Craft. It starts out with an introduction to Paganism and Indigenous European Traditions, which is based on my annual lecture at Fresno state University and carries on into a variety of topics found in the first section. The second section is divided up into thirteen ritual tools, each of which symbolizes a portion of the ritual I conduct in the prisons, and is accompanied by my personal teachings, understandings and experiences. There are some pretty good stories too. The book concludes with recommend reading list and resources guide.
My book is by no means the “end all, be all, ” but was written to wet the appetite and provide some assistance to those in need. I was honored to have the foreword written by the legendary Raymond Buckland, who has always been as kind with his time and he is with his words. And I feel obligated to do the same, which is why I am away giving copies of this book to inmates for free.
Carcer Via is not just the title of my book, it’s the name of my Pagan community service project. For every single copy of my book purchased I make enough to send two copies to inmates and pay for the postage. I have started a non-profit and 100% of the revenue goes back into the program, I don’t keep a dime. So buy my book and help me help two inmates. It’s a good deal; you get a decent book of completely original Witchcraft for a few bucks and you help out two people in the process. It's a good conversation piece and just good karma.
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