Pre-Con Interview Series: Joseph Nichter
Joseph Merlin Nitcher is a Priest working within the Mill Creek Seminary in Southern California. In addition, Nitchter is a Minority Faith Chaplain, working inside the prisons with Pagan inmates. Nitchter wrote his book Carcer Via; an Inmates Guide to the Craft. This book addresses spiritual needs for Pagans within the correctional department in an attempt to support incarcerated practitioners.
The biography on his blog states, “Joseph Merlin Nichter is a Wiccan priest and co-founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. He has studied and practiced various indigenous and European traditions most of his life. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain, Joseph provides Pagan religious services and assists with minority faith religious accommodations for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; he has also served the California Department of Mental Health as a religious program instructor. Joseph lives in Central California with his wife and four children, where he continues to actively serve his community.” This is a good description of his contribution to the Pagan community.
As a vocal supporter and patron of the Pantheacon annual convention, PNC Bay Area wanted to ask Nichter some questions about this year’s event.
Pantheacon is a truly amazing thing, it offers such a large variety of activities, events and opportunities, I therefore have numerous motivations to attend and am drawn by the full spectrum of interests. I find the diverse assortment of presentations both spiritually and intellectually stimulating, no matter what your interest or flavor, there’s something there for everyone. I particularly love the interaction, attending various rituals allows me to exploring different traditions, meet new people and make new friends. The social aspect is also a big motivation; there are some friends I only get to see at Pantheacon, which makes the whole experience that much more meaningful.
You are presenting this year; tell us about your workshop and what someone can expect if coming to it.
The presentation I’m hosting is actually the first annual meeting of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association, which I helped co-found earlier this year. The presentation will begin with a brief introduction to the association, its purpose, mission and vision. Next, I will provide a short informational vignette on the essential documents every Pagan volunteer should be aware of such as the California regulations governing over corrections and how they are relevant to us. However, it is my intention to allocate the majority of the time slot for an open forum to discuss issues relative to our work in Pagan prison chaplaincy. In sharing our experiences, both our successes and our setbacks, we are able to learn from each other, which provides assistance in becoming more effective and successful in our ministries.
You have a book regarding Paganism and those who are incarcerated. Can you give us an idea of what your book covers and how someone can find it?
Sure, I wrote Carcer Via: The Inmates’ Guide to the Craft a few years ago in an attempt to assist inmates which I could not visit face to face. The majority of Wiccan inmates are coming to Wicca and Paganism while incarcerated. This can really make it difficult for them because it’s actually one of the most Pagan unfriendly environments there is, and therefore it’s hard to obtain and retain books and materials. The beginning of the book is intended to be a 101 for those new to the Craft, while the main body of the text takes the reader through the thirteen parts of ritual. Each portion is symbolized by a ritual tool and there are lessons associated with each tool, their physical use and spiritual applications. For example, the Athame is used for casting sacred space, but we can also apply this in a more spiritual manner for our self- improvement by “better containing our own energies,” whereby the Athame teaches positive self-governance. It’s available at iBookstore, Nook books and in paperback at Lulu. All revenue derived from the sale of my book is used to send free copies to inmates.
Why do you feel that an event like Pantheacon is important to the Pagan community?
Events like Pantheacon are crucial to our community because they help build and sustain our community. It is an opportunity for collective reciprocity; it enables us to engage in a mutually supportive relationship with our community. This cauldron of interaction also promotes growth; although it may not always be through the most harmonious means, I believe the social issues and concerns that have arose from Pantheacon in the past have greatly contributed to our development and inevitably served our greater good.
What types of workshops interest you from this year’s Pantheacon schedule?
Well, my tastes have evolved over the years and my focus has shifted away from “Magick” and more towards information I can apply to transpersonal and interpersonal paradigms, which I believe is a whole other type of Magic of its own. So I’m interested in workshops like Conflict Resolution for Magickal Communities with Emily Carlin, Restorative Community Circle; Tolerance, Cooperation and Love by Crystal Blanton (she’s really good, I love her work), Pagan Pastoral Care: Assessing Needs and Establishing Support by Sarah Nimmo, Teaching Skills for Coven & Circle leaders by Grant Parker, and no Pantheacon would be complete without Angus McMahan’s Pagan Humor 5: Actual Pagan Stuff.
If you could do five things this year at the Con, what would they be and why?
Actually the first thing that comes to mind is scheduling conflicts; if the five things I could do included “wishes,” then the first thing I would wish is that so many of my favorite presenters weren’t presenting at the same times. For example Friday night at 7: Sam Webster and Ivo Dominguez Jr., how can I be expected to make that kind of decision (?). The second thing I would do is make the time to visit old friends, which coincides with the third: meet my Facebook friends! I’m in a FB group for Pagans in California, we talk all the time and I’d really like to meet them. The forth thing I would do is magically make everything run smoothly for everyone working behind the curtains of Pantheacon. I believe it’s the largest gathering of Pagans in America, or at least the west coast and that is no easy task. The people who work tirelessly to make this event happen are all volunteers; they deserve our patients, support, appreciation and admiration. Lastly, I’d like to see my presentation go well. While I’m no stranger to public speaking, this is my first time presenting at Pantheacon so I’m hoping my critics and peers will be patient and gentle with me, fingers crossed.
Nichter will be presenting at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. He is presenting his work on Introspective Divination. You can also find information about his work and projects on his blog Witch Doctor Joe’s Rattle Bone, or at Mill Creek Seminary.
Nichter’s Pantheacon presentation is called National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association and will be in the Riesling room at 11:00pm on Saturday. He is leading this workshop with Frank Walker. More information can be found on the schedule at https://pantheacon.com/wordpress/at-pantheacon/whats-happening/program-guide/
Pagan Newswire Collective Bay Area would like to say thank you to Joe for answering our questions and we will see you there!!
Crystal Blanton reporting, Pagan Newswire Collective Bay Area