ACTION - Lammas 2010 - Article 1

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Circle Cemetery, Eco Friendly and Pagan
Interview with Selena Fox By Christopher Blackwell

On June 16, 2010, Circle Sanctuary completed the final steps to expand their Circle Cemetery to a full twenty acres and to include green burials as well as handling the ashes of Pagans. This is something still very new in our country though the idea of green burials is catching on. So I thought I would interview Selena and get all the facts of interest for our community.

Christopher: How long has Circle Sanctuary existed? How and why did it come to be founded?

Selena: I founded Circle Sanctuary, also known as Circle, in October 1974 at Samhain. The name Circle, its logo, and the concept of having an organization that brought Nature religion people together for mutual support came to me during a meditation.

At Yule, 1974, a small group of us held our first event, a networking social, and it included those of several traditions as well as those from the United States and the United Kingdom.

We incorporated as a non-profit religious organization in Wisconsin on October 27, 1978. In 1980, we received federal tax exempt status, and in 1988, we received church zoning for our land.

In addition to serving Pagans in the region, we provide services to Pagans worldwide, including networking, publishing, Pagan rights, festivals, healing, education, and other endeavors. More details about our organization and its work are on-line: http://www.circlesanctuary.org .

Christopher: Why a Green cemetery and why a Pagan cemetery? What are the benefits of both to our Pagan community?

Selena: A Green cemetery is one that combines Nature conservation with the returning of bodily remains back to the Elements. With the continued growth of human population in the world today,it is crucial that humankind find additional ways to conserve natural areas -- Green cemeteries do this. It also is important for humankind to conserve resources and to curtail pollution -- Green cemeteries also help the environment in these ways. Natural burials do not involve the use of toxic substances such as formaldehyde for embalming, and natural burials at Green cemeteries eliminate the consumption of resources such as steel and concrete for caskets and liners.

In Green cemeteries, bodies are placed in shrouds or bio-degradable caskets of wicker, cardboard, or wood. Greening the end of life through natural burials, Green funerals, and Green cemeteries helps to sustain the Circle of Life of which we are all part and which we hold sacred. Cemeteries are a special type of sacred site that in addition to respecting the dead, can help the living with grieving and connecting with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

In addition to the need for Green cemeteries, there also is a need for Pagan cemeteries where Pagan dead can be honored with Pagan rites and symbols. Ancient Pagan cultures had their burial grounds and cemeteries, which served as portals to the ancestral realm and otherworld, and in creating and sustaining Circle Cemetery, we seek to provide this service to Pagans of many paths today.

Circle Cemetery is Wisconsin's first Green cemetery and America's first national Pagan cemetery and burial grounds. Those interested in being buried or having cremains at Circle Cemetery do not need to be a member of Circle Sanctuary, but should have a worldview and philosophy that honors Nature and respects Nature spirituality.

Christopher: Where is Circle Cemetery located?

Selena: Circle Cemetery is located in the heart of Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, a 200 acre site in southwestern Wisconsin, a few miles from the village of Barneveld and about a half hour's drive west of Madison, Wisconsin in north central USA.

If you are interested in visiting, please make arrangements with us in advance, and when possible, time your visit in connection with one of our events when we have guides on site who can give tours of the cemetery.

Christopher: If people saw Circle Cemetery, how different would it look from the more ordinary cemetery? How do you see it in the future as it becomes more widely used?

Selena: In contrast to the chemically treated and mowed lawn forms of cemeteries prevalent throughout the United States, Circle Cemetery consists of natural areas, including a forested ridge top, woodlands, meadows, and a restored prairie. At present, the grave markers we permit are recumbent grey granite markers which complement the surrounding environment.

As Circle Cemetery gets increasingly used for body burials as well as cremains burial and scattering, it is our plan to continue to preserve the natural features and beauty of the land. We plan to expand the areas were gravestones are permitted, but to also have some areas without markers.

Christopher: What is still needed to make that vision come true?

Selena: We are in the midst of developing business and marketing plans for the cemetery as well as researching GPS grave marking technologies and grave digging equipment options.

We also are doing fundraising to fund these endeavors and are doing networking to let others know about our cemetery.

Christopher: Where can Pagans go to learn more and how they can help?

Selena: More information about the Circle Cemetery project is on-line:

http://www.circlesanctuary.org/cemetery

One way to help is to spread the word about Circle Cemetery to others who might be interested. In addition, we are endeavoring to list our cemetery in on-line and in-print directories and would appreciate suggestions where we can submit a listing for Circle Cemetery.

We also welcome financial donations to help with cemetery development expenses including roads improvement, purchase of GPS equipment for gravesite marking & recording, brochures design and printing, business planning, and other costs.

Donations are tax deductible in the USA and can be made on-line http://www.circlesanctuary.org/donate or with a credit card, by phone: 608-924-2216.

In addition, to helping in these ways, we welcome suggestions and feedback about Circle Cemetery as well as contributions of expertise to aid in cemetery management, business planning, upkeep, and other work - if you can help in any of these ways, please email us: cemetery@circlesanctuary.org or call us.

Christopher: Now a little background. How far back have you had the idea of a Pagan cemetery and when did you take the first step? What is involved in planning for a cemetery?

Selena: I first envisioned having a cemetery back in 1980 as part of the planning we were doing for our Pagan land project. From 1980 to 1983, as we looked for land to purchase, we kept in mind the need to have a cemetery area for cremains and burials.

In June, 1983, after raising funds for a down payment and looking at many possible sites, our land quest met with success. At Samhain that year, purchase began for what is now known as Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve.

We completed the purchase of our land in 1995, and once this was done, we founded Circle Cemetery and dedicated an area for cremains on Ritual Ridge, which is a short walk from our Stone Circle ritual site.

Cemetery planning includes developing and sustaining an organizational structure to care for the cemetery in the present and future, finding a suitable site and developing a site plan and map, researching and complying with government regulations pertaining to cemeteries, and developing a team of people who can assist with cemetery upkeep, administration, ceremonies, and support of those visiting and interfacing with the cemetery.

Christopher: When did you start working on cemetery expansion?

Selena: In 2005, we began the process of expanding our existing cemetery to twenty acres in size in order to also do burials. We hired a local professional surveying company to do surveying and platting of our cemetery. We began doing fundraising to cover these costs.

We also began talking to and meeting with township and county officials. We invited their input, addressed their questions, and satisfied Wisconsin's laws necessary to allow for the burial of human bodies at our cemetery.

Christopher: And then a diversion, getting the Pentacle okayed by the VA?

Selena: Yes. Our process for getting cemetery zoning and plat approval through a series of local government meetings was underway and was moving forward in the first part of 2006. However, in June of that year, we temporarily halted this process in order to concentrate our efforts on the federal quest to get the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to add the pentacle to its list of emblems of belief authorized for inclusion on the veteran grave markers it issues.

Fortunately, this federal quest finally met with success on April 23, 2007. On May 1, 2007, the first four VA-issued pentacle markers arrived at two national cemeteries: two at Circle Cemetery, a national cemetery for Pagans, and the other two at Arlington National Cemetery, the most prominent government-run veterans cemetery in the USA.

Several dozen VA-issued grave markers with pentacles honoring deceased Wiccan/Pagan veterans are now in public and private cemeteries across the nation. Circle Cemetery now has seven.

Christopher: So when did you start again and what was required to get it okayed?

Selena: In October, 2009, we resumed the process of legally expanding our cemetery. We went before the township's Plan Commission and after getting their approval, we next went before the Town Board. After getting Town Board approval, we next went before the County Planning and Zoning Committee, and after getting their approval, we had the cemetery zoning that was required.

Our final step was going before the entire County Board and getting our cemetery plat approved. They approved it on the evening of June 15, and our process was finally completed when our plat was registered the next day on Wednesday, June 16, 2010.

Christopher: How many Pagans are already in the cemetery and when do the first burials start?

Selena: Thus far, Circle Cemetery has cremains and tokens of remembrance of seventeen Pagans, including those from Wisconsin, California, Nevada, Utah, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, and New York. Cremains of ten are marked by pentacle grave markers (7 from the VA and 3 privately issued): http://www.circlesanctuary.org/cemetery/directory.html We are now able to do natural burials.

Christopher: Who does one contact to plan a Pagan funeral and what are the costs?

Selena: Those interested in having me and/or one of the other Circle Sanctuary ministers plan and conduct a Pagan funeral should contact the Circle office by email: circle@circlesanctuary.org or phone: (608) 924-2216. Funerals and other memorial rites are by donation, and are done around the nation as well as at Circle Cemetery. We have begun the process of updating fees and costs for burials, cremains scattering, markers, and other cemetery services.

Those who have an immediate need for funeral planning and/or burial at our cemetery should email or call the Circle Sanctuary office as soon as possible for more details and to make arrangements.

Christopher: Anything else you would like our readers to know?

Selena: Circle Cemetery is open to visitors at most of our events throughout the year and at other times by advance arrangement.

At our Samhain Festival, October 29-31, 2010, we will be celebrating our cemetery's expansion and approval for natural burials as well as Circle Cemetery's 15th anniversary. We are planning workshops on natural burials and green funerals as well as rituals.

Circle Sanctuary minister Nora Cedarwind Young, a death midwife, Pagan hospice chaplain in Washington State, and national speaker on home funerals and natural burials ( http://www.thresholdsoflife.org ) will be doing presentations in addition to me and others.

More information about various aspects of my work, including speaking on death passages and other topics, creating and performing funerals and other rites of passage, and bereavement counseling by telephone and other counseling services is at my personal website http://www.selenafox.com .

As they become available, updates about Circle Cemetery, our upcoming Samhain Festival, and other aspects of our work will be published in our free e-bulletin, Circle Times (sign up at http://www.circlesanctuary.org/network ) and on-line at our website: http://www.circlesanctuary.org .

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