WitchDoctorJoe

The Adventures of a Wiccan Prison Chaplain

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Joseph Merlin Nichter

Joseph Merlin Nichter

Joseph Merlin Nichter is an author, blogger, ritualist, Freemason, Wiccan and co-founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain, Joseph provides Pagan religious services and assists with religious accommodations of minority faiths for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; he has also served the California Department of Mental Health as a religious program instructor. Joseph is the co-founder and current president of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association. Joseph lives in Central California with his wife and four children, where he continues to actively serve his community.
The Lustravi, Rending the Veil Within

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

It seems to me that the Witches Ladder is one of those unique and valuable, yet greatly under-appreciated bits of craft lore that has fallen to the wayside of contemporary Witchcraft. If you're not familiar with the term, there's a good article you can read here on Wikipedia that will give you the background and basic gist on the ladder. And if you Google it (images) you'll find a wide variety of ladders, made in many different ways and used for many different types of craftwork. Like much of modern day Witchcraft, people have taken an old idea and done something new it, and so have I.

But there are certain challenges that arise from this type of new growth within the Craft. There are so many of us taking old bits like the Witches Ladder, reclaiming it, remodeling it or recreating it. But we're not renaming it. As a result, all these neat new and original creations like prayer beads are being labeled  as "Witches Ladders" and sold on Etsy. Make no mistake, I'm not criticizing the idea of "Witch Ladder Prayer Beads," in fact, I love the idea. I am however, trying to point out the confusion this form of appropriation and re-association can create.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Prison: Past Tense

To the uninitiated, prison chaplaincy isn't at all what you might expect. Prison life isn't always like MSNBC's Lockup Raw. I'm not challenging the shows authenticity, I've been to some of those places and sat in a room with some of those people. Although the show may paint an accurate portrait, the canvas they frame tends to promote the most extreme circumstances. It is, after all, a television show.

But not every inmate is a violent face-tattooed psychopath. Most are hard on the outside and soft on the inside. They all wear emotional and psychological armor.They have to, prison is not a place to show weakness. But as a prison chaplain, as a priest, you must be soft on the outside and very strong in the middle.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Cernowain Greenman
    Cernowain Greenman says #
    Joe, thank you for your chaplaincy ministry to Pagans in prison. You have been an inspiration to many. Blessings on you and upon y
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Nichter, Thank you for all the help you've given to our fellow Pagans in prison. May the Goddesses and Gods bless you and you
  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter says #
    Just a quick update, my daughter passes both the practical and the written exams today. It's official, she's a pro. Proud Daddy Mo
  • Grace Reinhardt
    Grace Reinhardt says #
    Congrats to your daughter! that's excellent :-)

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

It was explained to me at a young age that funerals are more for the benefit of those left behind than for the deceased. Our rites facilitate our emotional and communal needs to grieve, mourn, express our feelings and provide an opportunity for closure. Our Pagan rite of Samhain perpetuates those opportunities every autumn and through the seasons we are able to transition from morning the loss of those who have crossed over, to honoring and celebrating their lives.

In seminary I was taught to turn to the Bible and how to employ Biblical scriptures to render aid and comfort to those suffering from the grief and trauma of death and other critical incidents. More than once I have attended funerals where the family of the deceased had given strict instructions to the funeral homes forbidding the use of any and all Christian references, especially Jesus or the Bible. This in effect, tied the hands of the chaplain leading the service and rendered him utterly useless, except to make the general announcement and invited family and friends to speak. I watched as they clutched their good books and hesitated to speak, struggling to find a suitable substitute to their gospel. More than once I have been asked to speak at these events, to read from my Grandmothers book the story of a little leaf who grew up on a tree in a city park, and to share with them the Gospel of Nature.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Rebecca Basley
    Rebecca Basley says #
    I am grateful to hear of a pagan ministry for inmates! My husband is a long term inmate here in Connecticut. We are serving a 40
  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter says #
    Rebecca, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Your husbands mix of culture and tradition sounds kinda cool and I'm glad you were fina
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    Thank you for posting this. I riffed off of it for the Samhain ritual I did for the inmates I work with, and it was very powerful

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Last year at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies I spoke about PTSD, what it was like coming home and what many of us are dealing with. While my dealings with some of experiences in Iraq may be rough and troublesome, the hardest part was coming home and returning to civilian life.

After everything that I had been through, and strangely enough, everything I have become accustom to, I had a much more difficult time integrating back into "normal" life and relating to "normal" people (civilians). I soon discovered that most people had equal difficulty relating to me. There were many awkward silences because they didn't know what or what not say, and neither did I.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Ulf
    Ulf says #
    Thanks for writing this. I have been involved in the community for 30+ years. I wanted to add my voice on an aspect of this that p
  • Amarfa
    Amarfa says #
    Not everyone is cut out for a prison ministry of presence, but everyone can actively engage in a community ministry of compassion.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Unpopularity Contest

Synchronicity is a mysterious muse who has always danced in periphery of my life. I have seen her out of the corner of my eye on what often seems to be a daily basis. Today was no different except to say, this time she danced across my news feed.

The other night as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed and came across a post by Witches & Pagans editor Anne Newkirk Niven. She had written that she had just gotten her a** handed to her by some readers regarding her editorial. Being no stranger to having my a** handed to me, I was among the first to offer a supportive comment.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Freeman Presson
    Freeman Presson says #
    It seems that the more marginal a community is, the more viciously it chews at non-conforming members. We learned some lessons the
  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter says #
    I'm sure your right Gary, I've seen the power and control issues present in many social groups and communities I've had the pleasu
  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    good post Joseph i feel your pain. of course this problem is ubiquitous in all religious communities. ever been to a bible stud
  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter says #
    I wholeheartedly agree Taylor. We need to begin dissolving the egos and coagulate the community.
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Sad to say that this is nothing new. I've seen Pagan intolerance since the 90's when I first got involved in the community. That w

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

One of the first articles I ever wrote was for Witchvox way back in 2009. It was titled Kangaroo Magic, and I'm resurrecting the message of that article here because the need for it has returned.

In that article I mentioned that among my travels to numerous countries, by far my favorite was Australia. Mostly because I had spent my life as a student of indigenous Magical practices and has always been fascinated with aboriginal culture and the concept of the dreamtime.

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