March Against Monsanto

March Against Monsanto is a grassroots movement founded by Tami Monroe Canal in 2013. Every year, millions of people take to the streets in a worldwide peaceful protest united against Monsanto’s attempted monopoly and corporate control over the worlds’ seeds and food webs.

We are concerned parents and citizens from all walks of life. We aim to raise awareness of the destructive impact of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) and their toxic pesticides on our communities, our health, our environment, our economy and all living beings. Ordinary people are outraged that these experimental products have been forced on us without our knowledge or our consent. As conscious and responsible consumers, we have a Right to Know what’s in our food and a Right To Choose 100% gm-free, uncontaminated, organic and nutritious foods.

Why Monsanto?

Monsanto is a U.S. chemical company notorious for its toxic products including Agent Orange, dioxin, DDT, PCBs and rBGH. They have a history of environmental destruction, pollution and cover-ups. For decades, Monsanto has contaminated, leaked and dumped hazardous and toxic substances into our air, water, soils and oceans, even the cells in our bodies! Monsanto is associated with many of the 114 toxic super-fund sites in USA.

They occupy governmental positions, lobby politicians to influence policies favourable to their products, and contribute enormous sums of money to governments, universities and agricultural groups to promote the gmo agenda. They have been caught falsifying and manipulating data, and have faced numerous lawsuits for unsubstantiated advertising, contamination and bribery. Including in our very own South Africa.

Monsanto is the leading producer of genetically modified seeds and Roundup, the most widely sold weedkiller in the world.

What is a GMO?

In traditional seed breeding techniques, peasants and farmers have carefully selected, crossed and propagated plants of the same species for desirable characteristics and complex traits like flavour, size, yield, adaption to micro-climates, disease resistance and resilience to cope with stresses like salty water or soil, drought and flooding.

A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is the result of an unnatural laboratory process taking genes from one species and inserting them into another across the species barrier to try to obtain a desired characteristic. Genetic engineers force DNA from one organism to another using bacteria or viruses to “infect” plant or animal cells with the new DNA, firing DNA into cells with a gene gun, injecting new DNA into a fertilized egg, or electrocuting the sperm membrane to force the new DNA into the sperm. These processes do not occur in nature. Uncontrolled mutations and complex interactions occur at multiple levels within the organism when even a single new gene is inserted.

These imprecise techniques result in unintended and unpredictable effects including changes in the nutritional content of food, toxic and allergenic effects and poor crop performance. Co-existence is not possible as they contaminate non-GM crops and wild relatives through horizontal gene transfer.

GMOs are living organisms – once released into ecosystems, they cannot be recalled. The impacts are irreversible. They continue to multiply in the environment and GM genes are passed on to future generations. These risky experiments should be strictly quarantined in laboratories.

Most GMOs are genetically engineered for two traits: To tolerate heavy doses of weedkillers and to resist a particular insect. The toxin is engineered into the plant so that every cell of the plant constantly expresses that insecticide. The result is now widespread weed and insect resistance to these two traits. Farmers must use more agrochemicals like 2,4-D and Dicamba, and harmful chemical cocktails to combat them.

GMO’s are patented and farmers may not save seeds for the following crop. The companies who profit from GMO’s should be held liable for contamination of non-gm crops. Instead, Monsanto has sued farmers whose organic crops have been contaminated. The Current GMO’s on the market, are a highly profitable scam perpetrated by unscrupulous chemical companies with criminal histories to sell their war chemicals and patent seeds.

Pesticides:
Chemicals pollute the air, soil, water and oceans and contribute massively to collapse of ecosystems and climate disruption. They strip the soil of nutrients and kill beneficial bacteria, microbes, pollinating insects, birds and other non-target organisms. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup products, is classified by WHO (World Health Organisation) as a Category 2A “Probable Human Carcinogen”. (as well as countless other scientists who have found various other side effects)

Diseases:
While the impacts of GMO’s and agri-chemicals on humans is not being monitored, studies show that they cause cancer, diabetes, birth defects, infertility, obesity, cholesterol, heart disease, immune-deficiency diseases, damage to kidneys, liver, hormonal disruption, allergies, learning disorders etc. Developing infants and children are especially vulnerable. Thousands of scientists have stated that there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.

The South African regulators do not conduct safety tests on GMO’s and pesticides and they lack the capacity to monitor them. They rely on data from the biotech companies which is not published and peer reviewed and is heavily edited under Confidential Business Information.

South Africa is the only country in the world where the staple food (Maize Meal) is genetically modified! The majority doesn’t even know what a GMO is! 86% of the maize and almost all Soya and Cotton grown in South Africa is GM. Most processed products like bread, baby formula, fast foods and snacks contain GM ingredients. Cottonseed oil is used in tinned sea foods and vegetable oils. Check your labels for GM ingredients like High Fructose Corn Syrup, maltodextrins, soy milk, protein or lecithin, Aspartame, MSG, Flavour Enhancers, Colouring and E-numbers etc.

The EU, USAID and mega-wealthy philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates have embarked on a wave of neo-colonialism disguised under the philanthropic mantra of “feeding the world”. They force developing nations into trade agreements and policy reforms to facilitate the interests of multinational monopolies like Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Cargill, Nestle and Pepsico (which Gates also invests in.) These draconian policies result in biopiracy, land-grabs, loss of livelihoods, loss of our diverse agricultural heritage, poverty and hunger.

Studies show that peasants feed 70% of the world population using 30% of the world’s resources. The industrial food chain feeds 30% of the world’s population using 70% of the resources. Leaders should promote food security through sound agro-ecological practices and support small farmers instead of this industrial, petro-dependent, chemically intensive agricultural model. Global control of commercial seeds, agro-chemicals, fertilizers and genetics is now in the hands of just four corporations. Family farmers cannot afford the inputs. Control the food and you control the world.

The world produces enough food for 14 million people. About 50% is wasted, including the resources used to produce it. GM monocrops are used mostly for biofuels & livestock feed, not food.

GMOs have been grown in USA for two decades, yet 17 million children struggle with food insecurity. One in four children lives without consistent access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life. In South Africa, where GM crops have been grown since 1998, one in four people regularly suffers hunger and more than half of the population are at risk of going hungry, despite the fact that we produce more than enough food. Africa has been transformed from a net exporter to a net importer of food.

What can we do?

Support local organic farmers who grow food sustainably, eat local grown, organic, whole, nutritious foods, grow your own, get your neighbours involved in community gardens, plant a food forest, save your seeds, teach children to grow food, raise awareness with family, friends and colleagues about the harmful impacts of GMOs on our health, the environment, ecology & biodiversity, take to the streets and join peaceful protests like March against Monsanto, share & like anti-gmo pages, get a NO GMO bumper sticker or t-shirt, hand out pamphlets, stick info in public places, demand labelling, boycott gmo products, demand strict labelling and gmo-free food at your local supermarket, sign petitions, tell your governments and newspapers to ban GMO imports, testing and cultivation in South Africa. Let’s take back our food!

This is only the tip of the iceberg, if you want more, please visit these pages on Facebook:

March against Monsanto
March against Monsanto South Africa
NO GMO South Africa
African Centre for Biosafety
SA Food Sovereignty Campaign

The MAMSA team
This article is republished here with permission.

GMO Myths and Truths

An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops and foods.
John Fagan, PhD Michael Antoniou, PhD Claire Robinson, MPhil.

Why Scientists are Worried about the GMO Potato and Apple

Jeffrey Smith

The question that serious scientists are asking is: If we (or bees, or birds, or deer) consume the dsRNA in the apple or potato, can it influence how our genes work? Will these genetically modified organisms (GMOs), eaten as apple pies, french fries, or whatever, change our development, physiology, and behavior?

To ask food companies to reject the use of these GMOs, please sign the petition HERE.

When Brazilian research scientists fed tiny pieces of RNA to young honey bees, they expected little to happen—certainly nothing earth-shaking. The RNA used is not naturally found in bees. It was taken from jellyfish, chosen because it was supposed to have an insignificant impact. The RNA didn’t cooperate. After mixing just a single meal of RNA into the natural diet of the worker bee larvae, as the bees grew older, scientists discovered that a staggering 1461 genes showed significant changes compared to controls.[1] In other words, about 10% of all the bees’ genes, including those vital to health, were either turned up in volume, or more often than not, turned down.[2] The authors of the study concluded that such a massive change “undoubtedly” triggered changes in the bees’ development, physiology, and behavior.

Perhaps the scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) missed this 2013 study when they recently approved potatoes and apples genetically engineered not to brown. “Arctic” apple slices (nicknamed the “Botox apple”) can supposedly sit on the shelf for 15-18 days without discoloring to reveal their age. Sliced up “Innate” potatoes will similarly not show any darkening day after day until they eventually dry up.

To accomplish this effect, scientists at Okanagan Specialty Fruits and J. R. Simplot introduced genetically engineered genes that make their apples and potatoes produce double stranded RNA (dsRNA) to shut off the browning genes. dsRNA is the same type of RNA that was fed to bees.

The question that serious scientists are asking is: If we (or bees, or birds, or deer) consume the dsRNA in the apple or potato, can it influence how our genes work? Will these genetically modified organisms (GMOs), eaten as apple pies, french fries, or whatever, change our development, physiology, and behavior?

One of those serious scientists is Dr. Jack Heinemann, a professor of genetics and molecular biology, and director of the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. For more than a decade, he has been warning the agencies that approve GMOs about the need to test new dsRNAs for safety.

RNA as Gene Controller

RNA is the way-station molecule between genes (made of DNA) and the proteins that they specify. Years ago, scientists were sure that the influence went only in one direction: DNA would pass on a code to RNA, which would then design proteins on that basis. Now it is understood that types of RNA such as dsRNA exert a significant influence in the opposite direction. “These small dsRNA molecules control genes,” says Heinemann. “They turn them on or turn them off.”[3]

Genetic engineering can introduce new dsRNAs into our food. This can be done intentionally, as in the case of the apple and potato, or totally by accident. In either case, these may be “new patterns that we’ve never seen before,” says Heinemann. “We can be exposed to these and potentially have genes regulated by those dsRNA molecules.”

“We have to be able to assess, before we use these foods,” asserts Heinemann, “whether they can have an adverse effect on people or on other organisms in the environment.” When he expressed his concerns to the governments’ GMO regulators in Australia and New Zealand, they dismissed them.

Government Safety Assurances are a Sham

RNA, according to the regulators, is too unstable. It would be destroyed long before it could enter the blood supply. And even if it were to get into the blood, they claim it wouldn’t have any effect whatsoever.

While it’s true that most RNA are not stable, Heinemann points out that “surprisingly, the form of RNA called dsRNA is very very stable. . . . And it’s now been shown that they can be taken up after digestion of the food into our blood supply.” More importantly, in a groundbreaking study conducted in China in 2012,[4] dsRNA fed to mice “transferred to the liver and down-regulated an important liver enzyme.”

This study provided early evidence that the excuses used by the regulators were just that, and not backed by science. So when Heinemann read the governments’ evaluation of a GMO wheat variety that used dsRNA to alter its starch production, he was alarmed to find that all the new published research about dsRNA was totally ignored.

“When we looked at the regulator’s risk assessment, we found that they never considered the potential adverse effect of the intended dsRNA either on people—and this was an approval to test it on people—or on unintended targets in the environment.” They simply assumed “that RNA cannot be toxic.”

In addition to regurgitating the same outdated arguments of dsRNA instability and lack of influence, they added three more.

According Heinemann, the regulators claimed, that dsRNA “would never accumulate to levels that would have a biological effect.” But he points out, “There are zero experiments testing how much dietary dsRNA is necessary for a biological effect.” It was a baseless argument.

Then, using rather strained logic, they flatly claimed, according to Heinemann, “because RNA is everywhere, it must be safe. It is our background baseline of safety.” While Heinemann acknowledges that “The chemical properties of RNA molecules are generally the same,” it’s not their chemical composition—the nucleic acids—that is critical. “They miss the most important thing about nucleic acids,” he says. “The activity of nucleic acids is the specific sequence of nucleotides along the backbone of the molecule.” And it’s that specific sequence that determines if and how the dsRNA influences gene expression. So some dsRNA will be safe and some will not.

The point becomes obvious when you realize that GMO companies like Monsanto are hoping to get approval for crops they engineered with dsRNA to kill insects. “Every RNA molecule eaten by insects does not kill them,” says Heinemann. “But certain dsRNA molecules do, because of the order of their nucleotides.”

In their final argument, the regulators contradict themselves by acknowledging that the order of the dsRNA may be important. But the dsRNA used in the GMO wheat, they contend, must be safe. Why? Because the dsRNA sequence comes from wheat itself. And since humans are so far away from wheat in the biological order of things, there couldn’t possibly be a sequence match between wheat RNA and human DNA.

Finding Hundreds of Sequence Matches in the Human Genome

Not only does this betray a certain arrogance, from a mathematical perspective it’s preposterous. The active portions of the dsRNA are typically very small—between 7 and 21 nucleotides in length. And there are just 4 types of nucleotides that make up the code. So what is the probability that a sequence of just 7- 21 nucleotides will match up with a corresponding section of the human DNA, which stretches 3 billion nucleotides in length? We don’t have to guess. Using the sequence of dsRNA that was likely produced in the GMO wheat, Heinemann and his team used “bioinformatics” to confirm not just one match, but hundreds of them.[5]

Heinemann is quick to point out that just because there’s a sequence match does not mean that any particular dsRNA will have an effect on gene regulation. It’s a potential threat, but one that has to be taken very seriously.

Feeding Studies Required

In order to evaluate the real risk, you can’t rely on computer models alone. Heinemann insists there must be at least feeding studies using those organisms that will be exposed to the dsRNA if the GMO is released outdoors or commercialized.

The bee study demonstrates why. While computer analysis identified several sequence matches, only by actually feeding the jelly fish derived dsRNA to the bees were scientists able to confirm which of those matches resulted in “misregulated” genes. In addition to these “direct” effects, many of the changes in the 1461 genes were, according to the authors, attributed to “indirect downstream secondary effects” of the dsRNA. That is, the genes that were altered directly due to the matched sequences produced altered amounts of RNA or proteins. These altered amounts in turn influenced the activity of yet more genes, which in turn, affected yet more.

To make things even more complicated, the single dsRNA meal affected hundreds of genes when the bees were quite small, but they influenced a whole different set of genes when the bees were older—with little overlap. Because different genes activate at different stages of development and in different types of cells, feeding studies must be conducted at different ages and evaluate different tissues and organs.

USDA and EPA Cautions About Unpredicted Side Effects

In 2013, Heinemann and colleagues published a full protocol for assessing the risk of dsRNAs in a highly respected risk assessment journal Environment International.[6] Not long after, USDA scientists published a similar analysis[7] and cited Heinemann’s work. In early 2014, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also published a white paper[8] that verified Heinemann’s concerns about risk assessment, as did a subsequent analysis by the EPA’s Science Advisory Panel.[9]

The USDA scientists’ paper, for example, called for “sequencing genomes for species” that will be exposed to the dsRNA to “understand those that may be affected.” All the papers acknowledged the need for comprehensive testing conducted under a variety of conditions. And they admitted that the current assessment protocols for evaluating the impact of GMOs or chemical pesticides are not sufficient to evaluate all the risks associated with dsRNA. The EPA paper stated, for example: “The knowledge gaps make it difficult to predict with any certainty whether unintended effects will occur in non-target species as a result of exposure to dsRNA.”

Political Science Posing as Science

Knowing that USDA and EPA scientists and advisors warned about unpredictable unintended effects that could escape detection by current risk assessments, one might think that the approval of the apple and the potato should have at least waited until those assessments were thoroughly updated. But that would require those in charge of the USDA to make decisions based on science. Even a cursory review of the history of US GMO regulations demonstrates just the opposite.

In the 1990s, for example, FDA scientists repeatedly warned their superiors about inherent dangers of genetically engineering crops for human consumption. They wrote of possible toxins, allergens, new diseases, and nutritional problems that would be hard to detect in the gene-spliced foods. But the person in charge of GMO policy at the agency was Michael Taylor, a political appointee, not a scientist. In fact, he was the former attorney for Monsanto. The policy he oversaw falsely claimed that the agency was not aware of information showing that GMOs were significantly different, and therefore no safety testing would be required. Companies like Monsanto, who told us that DDT, Agent Orange, and PCBs were safe, would determine on their own if their GMOs were safe.

As a result of Taylor’s policy, companies don’t even have to inform the FDA before putting a GMO onto the market. While many do participate in the FDA’s “voluntary consultation,” it is pure theater. At the end of this meaningless exercise, the FDA issues a letter that simply reminds the GMO producer that it’s their job to determine if their GMO is safe. In the case of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerant soybeans, for example, the FDA letter to the company stated:

“… it is our understanding that, based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, you have concluded that the new soybean variety is not materially different in composition, safety, or any other relevant parameter from soybean varieties currently on the market and that it does not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval.” [emphasis added]

Note that these official FDA letters never state that the agency approves the GMO or deems it safe. In the case of the new potato, for example, that determination is entirely in the hands of its maker, J. R. Simplot.

In an interview with Simplot’s Vice President of Plant Sciences, Haven Baker, he assures us that their potato is just fine. How does he know? He says the USDA’s outdoor “field trials demonstrate that their Innate™ potatoes were found to pose no health or environmental risks, [and] create no harm to other species.” The USDA did not, however, conduct any sequence matching analyses or feeding trials; and there’s no evidence that J. R. Simplot did either.

But to make sure we’re completely put at ease, Baker adds, “The FDA’s parallel review of Innate™ potatoes, which is also underway, will ensure that they are safe for consumption.”

Simplot also claims, without releasing their data, that the Innate potato will have lowered amounts of a possible carcinogen that’s activated during frying. But even though Simplot supplies McDonalds with roughly half of all its french fries, the fast-food chain stated that they have no plans to use genetically modified potatoes.

The question is, will you?

The Innate potato and Artic apple may be available for consumption as early as 2016.

To ask food companies to reject the use of these GMOs, please sign the petition HERE.

Watch this IRT video to learn more:

Additional Resources

Judy Carman, Jack Heinemann, and Sarah Agapito-Tenfen, New paper on dsRNA risks – briefing for non-specialists, 21 March 2013 http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/rss/14698-new-paper-on-dsrna-risks-briefing-for-non-specialists

Recent papers providing more evidence that dietary dsRNA survives in humans/mammals and may alter gene expression:

Mlotshwa, S., Pruss, G. J., MacArthur, J. L., Endres, M. W., Davis, C., Hofseth, L. J., Pena, M. M. & Vance, V. A novel chemopreventive strategy based on therapeutic microRNAs produced in plants. Cell Res, doi:10.1038/cr.2015.25 (2015). http://www.nature.com/cr/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/cr201525a.html

Baier, S. R., Nguyen, C., Xie, F., Wood, J. R. & Zempleni, J. MicroRNAs are absorbed in biologically meaningful amounts from nutritionally relevant doses of cow milk and affect gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, HEK-293 kidney cell cultures, and mouse livers. J. Nutr. 144, 1495-1500, doi:10.3945/jn.114.196436 (2014). http://www.ralf-kollinger.de/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Milch-micro-RNAs-Are-Absorbed-in-Biologically-Meaningful-Amounts-from…-.pdf

“We conclude that miRNAs in milk are bioactive food compounds that regulate human genes.”

Lukaski, A. & Zielenkiewicz, P. In silico identification of plant miRNAs in mammalian breast milk exosomes – a small step forward? PLoS ONE 9, e99963 (2014). open access http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0099963

References

[1] F.M.F. Nunes, et al, Non-Target Effects of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP)-Derived Double-Stranded RNA (dsRNA-GFP) Used in Honey Bee RNA Interference (RNAi) Assays, Insects 2013, 4(1), 90-103; http://www.mdpi.com/2075-4450/4/1/90

[2] Because of the limitations of the equipment used, this may be an underestimate of the number of genes affected.

[3] Quotes taken from authors interview with Dr. Jack Heinemann, conducted in person in China, July 2013.

[5] Jack Heinemann, Evaluation of risks from creation of novel RNA molecules in genetically engineered wheat plants and recommendations for risk assessment, An Expert Opinion by Jack Heinemann, August 28, 2012. Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety at the University of Canterbury in New Zealandƒ

http://www.thenutritionalhealingcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Wheat-Heinemann-Expert-Scientific-Opinion.pdf

Update on submission: March 21, 2013 http://safefoodfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/opinion-on-possible-dsrna-mediated-adverse-effects_update-1.pdf

[6] Heinemann, J. A., Agapito-Tenfen, S. Z. & Carman, J. A. A comparative evaluation of the regulation of GM crops or products containing dsRNA and suggested improvements to risk assessments. Environ Int 55, 43-55, doi:10.1016/j.envint.2013.02.010 (2013). http://gmojudycarman.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/comparative-evaluation-of-the-regulation-of-GM-crops-or-products-containing-dsRNA-and-suggested-improvements-to-risk-assessments.pdf

[7] Lundgren, J. G. & Duan, J. J. RNAi-based insecticidal crops: potential effects on nontarget species. Biosci. 63, 657-665 (2013). http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/8/657

[8] FIFRA. RNAi Technology as a Pesticide: Program Formulation for Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment. (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/cb/csb_page/updates/2014/rnai-whitepaper.html

[9] Environmental Protection Agency, Transmittal of Meeting Minutes of FIFRA Science Advisory Panel, January 28, 2014. http://www.epa.gov/scipoly/sap/meetings/2014/january/012814minutes.pdf

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This article was first published on April 21, 2015 at www.responsibletechnology.org/posts/why-scientists-are-worried-about-the-gmo-potato-and-apple/  and is re-published here with permission.

Brythonic Gods and Polytheist Reconnection – Interview with Lee Davies

Lee Davies follows the Brythonic Gods of what we now call the United Kingdom. As there are some gaps in what we do know about those gods he has to try to fill in the gaps to create a modern practice. With others with the same interest he takes part in the website Brython and discussions at Caer Feddwyd.

With development of devotional works to the Brythonic gods, Lee has set up a publishing company, Grey Mare Books. He is seeking submissions and working on putting together their first book. Lee also has his own blog the blog, Cylch Riannon, which goes back several years.

Christopher: What kind of background were you raised in?

Lee: Pretty standard I guess. I grew up in West Wales, so a very rural farming sort of area on the coast. My extended family are mostly farmers and we all come from a farming background so there was a fair amount of time spent on farms growing up. I was also brought up Catholic; church every Sunday, altar boy, Catholic school with nuns – the lot.

Christopher: What started your interest into Paganism?

Lee: By the time I hit 13 I had got bored of church, the whole thing just left me totally uninterested so I had started skipping it and going for a walk around town or the paths on the edge of town near the sea or hills. Then one day a friend brought in a book to school called ‘Vikings: Hammer of the North’ and it was the first time I had seen that there might be other Gods out there so I immediately started going to the local library and getting what I could on different ‘pagan’ cultures and religions. That friend and I started making altars in the woods, having rituals and making offerings. It was exactly what two 13 year olds would do with very little information but a lot of willing (this was back in about 1992 so no internet of course).

Christopher: When and why did you become interested in the Brythonic gods? Which gods are these?

Lee: I don’t remember exactly when it was, probably about 15 or so years ago. I think that growing up in Britain and specifically Wales; it is all too easy to forget that there is that underlying layer of myth and deity. The natural state of things in my landscape was Catholicism, so I never really looked there to find something different. I do remember thinking that there must be something pre-Christian in my homeland, and so with the use of the first PC I had owned and my first forays into the internet (dial-up..click buzz whirrrr) I met the realisation that the stories we read in school about Branwen and Pwyll were actually the echoes of Gods and Heroes who had lived and walked the very soil I had spent my childhood on. It’s in those stories that you can find a later echo of the Brythonic gods; Rhiannon, Teyrnon, Taran, Gwyn ap Nudd, Lleu and a handful of others.

Christopher: What do we have as decent source material about them?

Lee: The most obvious and well known source is the collection of stories known as the Mabinogion, these are 14th to 15th century middle Welsh manuscripts of older tales. That said, it can’t be called a complete mythology as they were committed to parchment almost a millennium after they had existed as living oral traditions.

There are clear and definite remnants of the gods in them though; Rhiannon being the echo of Rigantona, Taran of Taranis. It’s a bit of a forensic effort to some extent digging the gods out from the heroes, the literary inventions and host of other names that stem more from the habit of bardic extravagance rather than mythological heritage. Beside the Mabinogion we have inscription evidence from the Romano-British period and we can also successfully look at comparative survivals in Eire or Gaul.

Christopher: With there being gaps in the information, what can be used as a resource material to help fill in the gaps? Are there any Pagan religions that follow similar types of gods?

Lee: the most obvious ones are Eire and Gaul. These are the closest cousins to the Iron Age Britons. So if we see for instance particular named gods from both of those cultures it is a very safe inference that there was a Brythonic deity of similar name. It isn’t as easy with goddesses as they often vary hugely and are tied more to the landscape, but with gods it is far more straightforward.

For instance there is a blacksmith god across all three cultures; Goibhnu (Eire), Gobannus (Gaul) and of course the Welsh Gofannon or originally Gobannonos of Britain.

Perhaps the biggest revelation for me was when I started looking into the Indo-European cultures and seeing how closely connected those peoples were in terms of language, religion and culture. There is so much potential in there to begin rebuilding and reconnecting with the gods of this land.

Christopher: When and why did you start Cylch Riannon?

Lee: Oh crikey. I had to go check the archive of the blog to find that out, it has been a fair while. July 2007 I did my first blogasm, so 8 years ago. I think at the time I wanted to have a means of charting what I was doing and what I was reading and discovering, because by and large because there was at the time very little out there on the net that could be considered ‘good’. Almost everything that had the words ‘Celtic’ in it in relation to paganism was shite.

Reading back some of the earlier posts makes me cringe a bit too, this has all been a journey and I made some silly steps (hopefully fewer these days) but I would like to think that I have grown and changed and developed a better understanding and a better connection to what I believe rather than something poorly thought out and superficial.

Christopher: I note in your posts you are constantly asking the question of why and how about things. Do you feel too many Pagans never think about why things are done and how they might best be done?

Lee: At times it feels that way. In my experience there certainly was, and may well still be, a large stream of the Pagan community who simply want to follow. Who want to be given X, Y and Z and be shown how to use them. They want spoon feeding and simply won’t or can’t make the steps to going out there and finding it for themselves. Too few people I have encountered across the Pagan scene, online or in London particularly ever questioned, and in some instances this led to groups of people being taken for a ride by someone who was making stuff up and feeding lie after lie.

I have always questioned; I want to know why, how or when. I am a fundamentally nosy person, always wanting to know things. My work is in science so those are fundamentals to what I do and it is probably because I have that deep rooted desire ‘to know’ that it emerges in not only work but my religious practices too.

Christopher: In one post you mentioned that we have lost the understanding of the religo-magical relationship with the land. Why is this important?

Lee: I don’t hold with the notion that there used to be some ‘pagan’ utopia when man lived in harmony with his environment and the gods. We have always been a destructive species and have been changing the land around for millennia – albeit on a different scale to what we can, appallingly, achieve today.

However, I do think that we have lost our connection to the landscape around us and with that our connection to the gods. I believe that the gods and ungods arise out of the land itself as a kind of by-product of a spiritual ecosystem that we are part of and the gods are shaped by our interaction with that spiritual ecosystem.

We are detached from the landscape beyond weekend walks or holidays and so because we have lost that, we have lost our connection to that which comes from the land; the gods and ungods. Perhaps one of the greatest gift my parents gave me was the freedom to go off on my own a lot growing up; I could go watch the sunset on a rocky outcrop up from our house or go out and sit on the distinctive cliffs overlooking the sea. I was given the freedom to disappear for the day and just spend time ‘out there’, so to me it more likely I could find the gods in the sea, the sun, the woodland and rivers than in a church.

No Sunday mass ever gave me that feeling of utter exhilaration or awe I have felt watching winter waves pounding the cliffs or late summer sun filtering across golden barley. If we want to find the gods, it is those moments we have must look for them and into those places we need to put ourselves.

Christopher: How is this tied to the concept of Sovereignty? What does Sovereignty mean used this way?

Lee: I think that in order to live ‘harmoniously’ and successfully we need to live in balance as part of a three-way relationship; people-gods-landscape. If we neglect part of that it all falls apart. If we take the gods out of the balance (you don’t need to be Pagan here, ‘gods’ in this sense can stand in for anything beyond the purely functional or mundane) our relationship with the landscape becomes one of function and potential use and down that road lies environmental degradation and the problems we see today in our environment. We need this balance otherwise we are going to be in deep shit, as we now find ourselves heading towards.

In the past sovereignty was held within the Chief/King/Queen and they embodied the people’s right and relationship to live upon the land itself.

These days we don’t have that kind of sovereign relationship and so what I am trying to figure out is how we can come to embody sovereignty in ourselves and go about living a life in balance with the land and the gods. We need to work out how we embody that relationship and renew it in ritual format; back in the day it would be done at a coronation, so my current line of thinking is something around harvest time which also incorporates the Horse Sacrifice (not an actual horse these days of course) though how we get an assertion from the gods that we have played our proper part in this triumvirate is another matter; divination perhaps or trance possession.

This whole subject is up there on my list of ‘things to ponder’, later this year I am hoping to enact the Horse Sacrifice ritual in a larger group so that will certainly be something to build on.

Christopher: What is the importance of the stories and myths in a religion? If they are lost, is there a way to create new ones for our reconstructed religions? Is there a need to continue to create new myths for religions as time and conditions change?

Lee: Myths are glue. They are glue that binds the people to the gods and to the landscape. They are a way of explaining and expressing things that ‘just are’ in a way that we can relate to and feel comfortable with. If we have lost them, which we have pretty much done with the Brythonic myths; the Mabinogion is a mere shadow of what we can guess as being the original British mythos.

I think we can create new ones. Myself and some others at Brython did just that. I wrote a new creation myth; it has a connection and commonality to Indo-European myths, but with a definite Brythonic slant in that it places the gods into a context which relates to how we view them and their place in the landscape.

A friend, Potia, wrote a myth about Rigantona’s descent into the Otherworld and oddly enough it was only much later that we started finding odd things that she had ‘made up’ which have precedent or actually fit in with historical practice. They aren’t essential but having written one, it is strange how they work their way into your way of thinking and how you view the gods.

Christopher: How long have you been taking part online in Brython and in Caer Feddwyd ? How have you found them useful for anyone interested in the Brythonic gods?

Lee: I joined the Caer Feddwyd discussion boards back in 2005 and was invited to get involved with Brython soon after that. The key thing about the people at Brython is that they are all about starting with the academic; what we can glean from myth, history and archaeology to form a starting point but from there the really important stuff is personal experience and sharing that personal experience.

Taking unverified personal gnosis (UPG) and turning it into shared gnosis; when we start coming forward and sharing the same experiences it gives us confidence that we are doing something right or that the gods are responding favourably to what we are doing. It gives light to our murky knowledge of the past. Then of course there is the sharing of what we do.

From discussions we all tend to work in slightly different ways when it comes to devotional work, but after discussion, we incorporated what we call the triple toast; a shared bit of praxis where we toast the gods of the group, the gods of the season/festival and our own personal gods. It’s good to know that when you are standing outside or at an indoor altar there are other people doing the same thing at the same time and making similar libations. That shared liturgy gives an anchor that binds us together as a disparate but also united group.

Christopher: You had been discussing the need to publish devotional material. What has pushed you to start Grey Mare Books now?

Lee: Rigantona. Over the past year I have been putting together a lot of material from a number of sources into an essay to try to clarify, to myself as much as anything else, what I understand of Her nature. One of the problems of being a polytheist working from a culture that has almost been lost to time is that what remains is fragmentary and unreliable at times and so we have to embark on a fair bit of syncretism.

So personally, I have been syncretising Rigantona and Epona. Now it may be that what I have been doing isn’t that much of a leap, but it still needs gelling together in a sympathetic way and preparing that essay has been part of that process. Then She gave me a shove and it seemed like a fine idea to get an anthology published as a devotional piece from anyone out there who also felt connected to Her.

Christopher: How do you envision the mission of this publishing company? What it is the first project planned?

Lee: Well the plan is to publish the Grey Mare on the Hill anthology this year as a non-profit venture with it being a collection of poems, hymns, prose, devotional art or whatever seems appropriate by people with a connection to the constellation of Horse Goddess – Landscape – Sovereignty. Beyond that I have no set plans; I would like to get the Brython liturgical material published because some of it is simply stunning and I think there is a distinct lack of new liturgy out there particularly, again I think that would have to be non-profit. I like the idea of anthologies on a subject, especially on a specific deity.

One of the greatest things about being involved with Brython is the sharing of experiences and ideas about the gods and what each of us does or prepares when worshiping. Some of us, like me, are crap at poetry but can churn out pretty decent hymns to the gods, and having a means of sharing that material for each of us to make use of is a really valuable thing. If I had to be pinned down on this I would say an anthology each dedicated to Gwyn ap Nudd and Briganti. We shall see.

Christopher: So what do you hope for in the future for these various things that you are involved in?

Lee: Can I be ambitious? I would like to do a handful of these non-profit devotional publications and see thousands and thousands of people get hold of them and know that there are people all over the world finding joy and exhilaration in a shared body of liturgical work to their gods and goddesses; offering the same prayers to Epona or pouring out libations to the Great Queen whilst using the same praise hymns as a thousand other people.

Christopher: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?

Lee: I cheekily changed the title of these questions when you sent them to me. I hope you don’t mind?! I prefer reconnection-ism rather than reconstruction-ism; we live in the 21st century and we need the gods to be relevant to us now. Reconstructionism is something from the past, it was relevant then. We need to find that connection to the gods and make it relevant to us now in this century and at this time and in the land as it is today. The actions, beliefs and practices of our ancestors are a foundation, but we need to build our own houses upon them.

Pagan Freedom Day – 27 April 2015

 

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April 16 is Margot Adler Day

April 16 – Margot Adler Day

In Memoriam: Margot Susanna Adler (April 16, 1946 – July 28, 2014)

This interview was first published in ACTION on Ostara 2009.

Margot Adler is an American author, journalist, lecturer, Wiccan priestess, radio journalist and correspondent for National Public Radio. When I first started out in Wicca, one of the first two books I read was Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, and much later I knew of her being on National Public Radio. We come to categorize people and put them in boxes, but if we really look a bit at them we find that we know very little. As I started to research Margot, I found there was a lot I didn’t know about her and was in a quandary over how to interview her.

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Christopher: Your life seems to be a major order of self discovery. I was struck by something you said when you were studying Greek goddesses in 1957. You said you decided you didn’t want to worship them , you wanted to be them. Have you always been driven  to be a doer in life?
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Margot Adler

Margot: Not really. I just found that the images of women in the 1950’s were so cardboard, so stereotyped, that the goddesses seemed deeper, more vibrant, more powerful, and I wanted to access whatever that was in my own journey to become whoever I was going to become. I don’t know if I am a doer, I am often someone who reflects, who like ideas, who wants to see how various ideas synthesize, so I am not really sure I see myself as a doer particularly. It is true that during the 1960’s I spent a lot of time in activism, so I suppose that was “doing”, but I have never thought of myself as a “doer”, it was a new thought for me, when you asked it.

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Christopher: You have recently had a book published, Heretic’s Heart: A Journey Spirit and Revolution. I think there were about as many experiences of the 60’s as there were people. What were the 60’s to you?
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Margot: What were the sixties to me? It was a time when everything was on the table. Nothing had hardened into concrete. So one was free to imagine society and one’s own life as malleable. There were infinite ways to create society, to create communities, to love, to share, etc. One could re-imagine how work should be, what kind of relationships people could be in. In other words, many of the alternate worlds that science fiction writers imagine, we could imagine as possible in the here and now. That is why there were attempts at communes, at group love, at anarchist forms of community. Some of these experiments were silly, even stupid. But the fact was, everything was open and that was incredibly exciting… it was a world filled with ecstasy and possibility.
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Christopher: What were the movements that grabbed your attention?
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Margot: Primarily the civil rights movement first, then the anti-war movement, and probably I would have to admit I was fascinated by and looked at with yearning, but did not really participate in, the more intense revolutionary movements that were all around me.
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Christopher: In 1968, you were just getting into radio. Why radio and why have you have stuck with it?
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Margot: Total fluke. I had not had a real good experience with journalism. I had spent three disastrous weeks on the college newspaper, hated it, and was terrible at it. I took one journalism course in college. But one morning when I had no idea what to do with my life, in the middle of senior year, I turned on the radio and heard the news director of KPFA, the Pacifica station in Berkeley, talk about his philosophy of news. He was reading George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and it was a pretty profound essay about the uses and abuses of language. And after he was done, he talked about his philosophy of news. He said he believed in calling things by their real names. It was “the Chinese,” not “the Red Chinese.” And so forth. He didn’t believe in propagandistic language. I was fascinated. With my heart in my throat I called him up and became a news volunteer, for one day a week. By the time I graduated in June I had a tape of myself reading the news on the air for seven minutes.
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When I got to New York, I got a junky job, and eventually got up my nerve to go into the Pacifica station in New York, WBAI. WBAI was wild in the sixties: I started as a volunteer, finally got a job in the news department for $85 a week, and after a little while decided I really had no experience and got myself a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia. After that I covered political trials; I spent six months at the Black Panther bomb conspiracy trial in New York. And later, was at the Pentagon Papers trial. And then, after a couple years found my love, free-form radio. Free-form radio was magic. I had a show at 5 am, and total freedom on Pacifica. Sometimes my audience created the show. I would just say into the ether that half the people I knew were underemployed, not doing what they really wanted or were capable of, and then I would open the phone lines. One day I went on the air and said, “I don’t know if I ever want to have a child. I am afraid I would become a Stepford Wife”. Women called for weeks with their stories and decisions. Funny thing, I now have an 18-year-old, but I was in my late 20s at the time. We created a vibrant community of listeners who talked about real life and real issues. Not the crazy, shouting type of talk shows you hear today. Tony Schwartz, the late brilliant ad man once said, “The thing about radio is people were born without ear lids.”  Think about it, in radio, like books, you make the pictures, it is the medium of ideas, dreams and the imagination, and you can create real community, and we at WBAI did that.
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Christopher: You started with National Public Radio in 1979. Why NPR, what made it the place to be for your career?
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Margot: Again, pure fluke. A bunch of us were thrown off Pacifica, after some very weird decisions were made, and we took over the station, occupied the building, etc., had our FCC licenses suspended. It was the end of an era. A year later, after living on a tiny bit of unemployment, getting a little help from my boyfriend, later to be my husband, and writing Drawing Down the Moon, I went down one day to help the old station fundraising.  I sat next to an old colleague who was a producer at NPR and later we went out for a beer.  He asked me to come and freelance… which I did. I ended up getting hired a year later. It has never had the depth and the community for me of those old radio shows, but it is a place that still, after 30 years, allows me and many others to do real, creative work and talk about real issues.
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Christopher: You are a serious journalist. You have done many special broadcasts. Which were some of the ones that you are the proudest of? What do you look for in a story?
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Margot: I like to turn the world upside down. I like to do stories which sort of say, ha, you thought that, but it is really complex and often exactly the opposite. Stories I am proud of. Here are three. One of the first stories on Aids counselors in San Francisco in the early 80’s. Another was a story on adoption of the disabled that actually had an effect on changing the law, making adoption of disabled children easier. And I was the American who discovered J.K Rowling for the media here in the states, did the first radio interview and there is a book out that says my stories had an impact on the phenomenon. Who knows if it is true?
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Christopher: National Public Radio has been under political attack for many years by the political conservatives. Yet it is still with us. What has kept it going when so much else has gone under?
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Margot: Radio creates community; you know the phrase, “driveway moments.” It is also not as liberal as all that. It is way more conservative than I am, and I think it has become more so. And I am not nearly as radical as I was, so everything has moved to the right. It’s just that there was so much of a move to the right by the country that NPR moved less to the right than everything else… but NPR endures because the people on it make real connections to people out there… they are people you know and can trust. And again, radio is the medium of dreams, ideas and the imagination.
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Christopher: As I  mentioned, Drawing Down the Moon was one of the first books I read. How did it come to be and how did you learn as much as you did Pagan communities? Wasn’t it the first attempt to study the new movement?
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Margot: Yes, the first attempt to really study it seriously; there had been other books, but they were more pop. I was involved in Wicca, had been since the fall of ‘71, and was in a group, starting in the winter of ‘72. And I would get these two magazines, Nemeton and the Green Egg, and the discussions in those magazines were so much deeper than what I was experiencing in my little group. So I was really determined to find out where this deeper Pagan reality was. Again, fluke, I met an agent introduced to me by a boyfriend, and I had never thought of a book. When I told her about Wicca and the Pagan movement she suggested I write a book. Through a series of very lucky circumstances, she had just left an agency, and was actually looking for clients. So she showed me how to write a proposal, and it went around and got rejected and almost accepted, and rejected, etc, until it got accepted by Viking press and I got half of a $7500 advance to do it. So then I sat in the library for six months and read all the books I felt I should read before writing, and then I wrote all the interesting people in Green Egg and asked to meet them, and used the money to travel around the country. That’s how it happened.
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Christopher: You are well known in our community as an author, lecturer, and as one who gives workshops on various subjects. How does your religion affect your life in general? How long have you been open about your religion?
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Margot: I have always been open about my religion. Because I worked for alternative Pacifica at the time I got the contract, I didn’t feel I had to hide it. When I went to NPR and got hired in ‘79, the book was about to come out; it was too late to go back in the closet. I have a crazy life, family, work, and so only get a chance to do ritual once in a while these days. I go to public festivals, open rituals, and lead workshops in singing and chanting, which is my own pathway to the sacred. I do my personal rituals as well. I am living too much of a mundane life at the moment, and hope, once my son goes to college, to have a bit more time for my spiritual life.
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Christopher: As I said you are a doer. You are not one to sit on the sidelines in anything  you think important. Any advice for our readers on how they might find out what they can take part in and what they have to offer?
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Margot: The real difference now from when I started is the internet. Witchvox.com has many articles and you can read up on some 70 pagan traditions there. There are open Pagan circles in many communities. If they live in a very conservative community, often the Unitarian Universalist church is a good doorway to meet people involved in earth spirituality.
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Christopher: Where can people learn more about you, your books, beliefs and ideas?
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Margot: I have a fan page on Facebook where you can click on a dozen columns I wrote for Beliefnet. Or you can go to Beliefnet and read them. You can hear all my mundane pieces on npr.org; just put in my name or the subject, such as Harry Potter. My books: Drawing Down the Moon and Heretic’s Heart are available in all the obvious places like Amazon and you can order them from your local bookstore.
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Christopher: Anything else you would like our readers to know?
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Margot: Just remember, if you go far enough back, all our relatives were Pagans – that is, they were part of religions based on seasonal ceremonies, rituals of doing as opposed to believing. The Pagan project, so to speak, is an attempt to create a new/old revived recreated religion that combines ritual and ecstasy with intellectual integrity. It doesn’t take itself literally, has no literal scripture and is therefore at home with change, with modern science and more. It doesn’t proselytize, but if it’s what you always believed, you will find it.