Wednesday, December 7, 2011

US American Council of Witches Dissolves

As of late Monday night, December 5th, it has been announced via the US American Council of Witches Facebook page that the group is dissolving “due to circumstances beyond our control”.  This statement comes after a very long and somewhat strange few months since this revision of the 1973-74 American Council of Witches came into the public light.  During that time we’ve seen so many stories that have had twists and turns and contradictions that it’s been hard to know what the real story is.  Today, however, that story is somewhat being set straight with a joint public statement being released by Oberon Zell and Kenny Klein which attempts to put to bed many of the questions and misunderstandings about this Council, its formation, and the involvement of both Oberon and Kenny.  Here is their statement:
December 5, 2011
Re: Oberon Zell and Kenny Klein, and the US American Council of Witches
In the past few months, there has been a good deal of concern over the organization and web presence of the “US American Council of Witches.” The original idea—as proposed by Kaye Berry of Illinois—was a resurrection of the old American Council of Witches that was convened in Minneapolis in 1973- 1974, and which drafted and ratified the legendary “13 Principles of Wiccan Belief.” Kaye proposed reforming the ACW to re-examine the “13 Principles” for possible updating; and also to update the information on Witchcraft and Paganism for the US military and prison chaplains’ resources. To distinguish the current Council from the original one, it was retitled “US American Council of Witches.”
While some saw the reviving of this Council as a good idea, or perhaps as an interesting venture, in the weeks after its presence was announced on social networking sites those researching the project brought to light serious issues concerning the organizers and apparent misrepresentation of nonprofit status.
In various postings by representatives of the Council, and in various missives by those concerned about the Council, mention of Oberon Zell and Kenny Klein have come up several times. There seems to be an assumption that either or both Oberon and Kenny have some affiliation with the Council, or according to some posts, that either or both lead the Council. Oberon and Kenny would like to take this opportunity to voice their own positions on this matter.
Oberon was contacted by Kaye Berry simply to provide the “reformed” Council with documents and information from the original 1973-‘74 Council records, which he happily agreed to do. He also offered to try and reconstruct the roster of the 73 people who had met in 1974, and contact those who are still alive regarding their possible participation in a new Council. In the ensuing months, suggestions were made that Oberon was an actual member of the new Council, or that he was taking an active role in reforming the Council. Neither of these were true.
Kenny saw mention of the Council being “reformed” on a social networking site, and offered to help in what was being represented as the primary goal of the Council, an updating of the Army Chaplain’s Manual entry on Wicca. Within a day or two of this offer, Kenny was asked to draft a press release, which he did, using the information given him at the time (this press release was to be represented as a document released by the Council, and was not to have his name personally attached to it).
In the next week or two, Kenny found that much of the information that had been given to him was erroneous, and when Kenny asked for clarification or simple answers, he received answers that he felt made no sense, or met with avoidance of resolution to important questions. The press release was also posted as being written by him. Kenny also found that various Council web sites named him as a member of the Council, a position to which he had never consented. And then Kenny began hearing from other Pagan figures that they too were “placed” on the Council without giving their consent. On October 18, Kenny informed the Council by e-mail that he was very upset with these actions, and was no longer to be considered as a member or a resource.
Unfortunately, two months have gone by, and both Oberon and Kenny still seem to be answering questions and clarifying rumors about their Council involvement. Therefore, please let it be known that while both Oberon Zell and Kenny Klein believe strongly in Pagan networking and organization, both of us also feel that there are already strong organizations serving the needs of our community. Further, neither of us have ever been official Council members; each of us have served in limited capacities (Oberon as adviser, Kenny briefly as editor), but neither of us has ever taken an active role or a leadership role in creating any official “US American Council of Witches” policy or program.
Kenny spoke out quite actively last month against certain Council activities on the Modern Witch Podcast, denouncing many of the posts and e-mails created by the Council, and he encourages any interested persons to listen to that episode of the Podcast to be aware of his views on the matter.
Oberon was in Australia for the entire month of November, and had no involvement with the Council during his absence from the U.S. Meanwhile, as he has learned, all manner of rumors had been wildly circulating regarding his alleged involvement with the Council, and his name had even been invoked in threatening admonitions to people raising awkward questions. Now that Oberon has returned, he and Kenny have consulted with each other and decided to draft this joint statement.
Considering the controversies and ill-will that this project has engendered within the Pagan community, it is our joint opinion that the US American Council of Witches can no longer be regarded as a viable enterprise, and we strongly recommend that the entire project be abandoned at this time and the USACW be dissolved.
Thank you for your interest, and please feel free to repost this letter in its entirety only.
Oberon Zell
Kenny Klein
P.S: Several other people who have been pulled into the “gravity well” of the US American Council of Witches have also asked that they be allowed to add their signatures to this letter to indicate their agreement with what Kenny and Oberon have written. We have agreed to this, and here they are:
Christina Nyx (Caffy, The Caffeinated Witch)
Sylveey Selu (Webmistress for the Green Egg)
Ariel Monserrat (Editor/Publisher of Green Egg; co-host of “Over to Oberon & Ariel” on blogtalk radio)
Steve Provost (publisher of The Provocation; co-founder of Pagans of California networking group)
Rowan Pendragon (co-host of The Modern Witch Podcast; author of One Witch’s Way blog)

Some of my afterthoughts…
I have to say that I’m glad to see this is coming to an end, for now.  But I need to make a few things very, very clear.  I have had the opportunity in the last handful of weeks to see some material from within the Council (emails and Facebook messages) that have painted a somewhat inaccurate picture of my reasons for resistance (and Devin’s as well).  I wanted to make my reasons and thoughts on this clear for the last time.  I am only speaking for myself and not for Devin on this matter.
I do not know Kaye Berry, I have never spoken to Kaye Berry directly.  The only time I had any contact with her was late in the game on the USACW Facebook page the day after our episode of The Modern Witch aired that addressed this issue in depth.  In the few days that followed she allowed questions to remain on the page, something that was a large part of the problem at that point (though they were eventually deleted as well).  Other than that time I have never spoken to her before or since.  While it might sound somewhat callous, I don’t care about Kaye Berry on any personal level.  As that is the case I never felt the need to make any sort of attacks on her, never once threatened her, and never once made any “character assassinations” against her.  Why?  Simply because I don’t know her character and I don’t know her.  However her own words and actions did more harm than anyone else did, I think.
It has appeared from the beginning, and continues to appear as though Kaye Berry just lacks the ability to take responsibility for her actions.  When I and others in the community wanted to know more about this woman who was spearheading this endeavor, we asked.  I asked.  Publicly.  I wasn’t going to confine my questions and comments to private emails that would likely never get answered.  That’s not what I do as a blogger and as a teacher and public figure in the Pagan community.  When there’s something that I feel strongly about and that I feel needs to be brought out in the open I do it on my blog.  I don’t write a blog about my cats, or needle point, or about sharing recipes from dinner of the night before.  I write about magick and the Pagan community.  And this was a huge community issue that needed to be addressed and fully examined before deciding whether to support it or not.  However my asking to know more about Kaye Berry and her various claims about her background were seen as attacks by her and attempts to make her look bad.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I, and others in the community, wanted to know, quite simply, WHO is Kaye Berry?  Who is this person that is looking to head such a large and lofty project that would impact the whole of the Pagan community?  How would that be a question that would be dubious?  When Kaye’s response was that she didn’t need to justify herself, her background, or divulge anything personal about herself to anyone she lost a lot of potential credit in the eyes of many.    When you’re a virtual unknown in the community and you want to come out and work for the community in a public way you have to expect people are going to want to know about your qualifications to do so.  She didn’t feel this was important, and certainly that’s her prerogative.  But then it’s the prerogative of people in the community to hold her and her work as being questionable at best.
And as the apparent mudslinging ensued Kaye appeared to hide behind her computer screen, using Oberon Zell’s name as a shield, and using her admin power on Facebook to “delete the stupid people”, as she so eloquently put it, who didn’t agree with her, who questioned her, and who opposed what she was doing.  If this is how she was acting within the Pagan community, how are we supposed to assume she would act in a leadership role in an interfaith capacity?  If people in other faiths and other faith groups began to question her or oppose her materials she claimed to be putting together, would she consider them part of the “stupid people”?  Would she dodge their questions and claim harassment?  Would she start files on them for the FBI like she claimed she was for all of us that were questioning her?  How do you think this woman’s actions would have translated when it got to the point where it was time to put things into action?
There was also the big issue with that overall mishandling of the entire project from the start.  Money was a big issue because almost immediately there was a PayPal donation button and links on solicitous messages on Facebook telling people where they could go donate money to help this cause.  She was also looking to start applying for grants for the organization because, as she put it, “who’s going to pay for all these manuals” (in reference to the new military and prison manuals she wanted to create).  She also claimed that they needed to pay for websites and other associated costs and needed people to pitch in here and there.  It wouldn’t be until almost at the end of this that finally someone, possibly Kaye or her mysterious “secretary” that she’s pinned some of these missteps on, got the hint and just started a website on a free service.  There was no reason why, until the group had a way to afford something else, that they couldn’t have done this from the beginning.
In the end it comes down to this.  I personally don’t care about the issues with Kaye Berry on any level other than how they could potentially cause harm to the Pagan community and its already often strained image with the greater world community.  The fact that it would later come out as well that Kaye Berry is not herself a Witch or Wiccan but yet was going to lead up a group that was suggested to her by Oberon (in one of his few acts as an adviser to the project) be focused on initiated Wiccans and Witches only, just as the original group in 1973 was, also made things seem sort of odd.
Also, understand this, because this is something that I have been slammed for in all of this.  I am not at all against the vision of an interfaith Pagan organization to help foster positive and productive interactions between Pagans and the greater community.  In fact I have always embraced such endeavors and have been involved in a few myself.  The problem with USACW was how it was handled, how it attempted to get off the ground, and how its leader chose to interact with the very community she was claiming to help.
There is no ego or power trip here on my part, as has been suggested.  I don’t want to head anything like this myself (been there, done that, and I know how hard it is).  And again, I have no personal vendetta against anyone involved in the Council or the Council itself.  I am all for furthering our community with positive and sincere organizations and actions.  This, unfortunately, was not that.  I do think it’s unfortunate to see the whole thing become lost, but that’s just how this has panned out for now.  The project and its vision are certainly worth saving and considering under the right type of leadership.  One day that may happen, but that day is certainly not today and that lead is certainly not Kaye Berry.
For those who expressed a great deal of disappointment and anger over the decision for the Council to end this incarnation, please know there are already a number of organizations in place that attempt to address many of the same things that Kaye claimed this group would handle.  Consider visiting some of these resources and putting your support in whatever way you can behind them and their efforts.
Also a look around Facebook will help you find many small grassroots Pagan groups that work to do petitions, advocacy, and letter writing campaigns when needed to address various social and political issues that impact the Pagan community.  If you want to get involved in helping bring change to the community, both Pagan and non-Pagan, and to help with finding avenues toward interfaith dialogue, all you need is yourself, your voice, and the passion you have in your heart and spirit to see it happen.

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