Ten Questions with Kerr Cuhulain

1. What drew you to Wicca?
When I was a child I was wild about Greek and Roman mythology. Back in the late sixties when I was a teenager, I was exploring various different religions, not really knowing what I was looking for, developing an interest in Celtic lore. Then I came across Diary of a Witch by Sybil Leek. And there it was. I’ve been a Witch ever since.

2. What made you decide to become a police officer?
There was a military history on my father’s side of the family (and for many generations on my mother’s side as well). My father had been a flight sergeant in the RAF during WWII and wanted me to become an officer, gentleman and pilot, something he hadn’t achieved. I went off to do that in the Canadian Armed Forces, then realized once I’d got there that it was his dream, not mine. I had a high school associate who had gone on to be a Vancouver cop and this interested me. I signed up with the VPD and spent nearly 29 years there.

3. Why was it important to you that people knew you were a Wiccan and a police officer?
When I first became a cop I didn’t realize until I’d told some people about my beliefs that I was the first Wiccan cop to “come out of the closet.” I found out pretty quickly and defending myself turned into two and a half decades of anti defamation work for the Pagan community. It was important for the police and the public to see that I didn’t resemble the stereotypical image that was being presented by our detractors. Officers of Avalon is an extension of that, showing the world what Pagans in the emergency services are doing for the public on a daily basis.

4. What was the biggest surprise when you started letting people know your religious preference?
The reaction outside of the court rooms was one that comes to mind. I recall the first occasion that I used an affirmation in court, rather than taking an oath on the Bible. Afterwards I was approached by one of our detectives outside of the courtroom and the following conversation took place:
“So, you’re an atheist?”
“No.”
“But you took an affirmation. You aren’t religious.”
“I’m very religious. In fact, I’m a priest.”
Similar incidents occurred almost every time I made a court appearance for the first few years. It is interesting how many people in this culture equate Christianity with religion or religion with scripture. Many of those who challenged me over my practice of taking affirmations did not seem to grasp the fact that a person could be religious and not Christian.

5. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the Officers of Avalon?
On 15 December 1999 Corporal Tricia Mullensky of the University of Massachusetts (Dartmouth) Police Department created the Yahoo e-group Officers of Avalon as a “way for Pagan law enforcement and emergency personnel to talk, discuss, vent or ask questions to others of like mind. In its infancy Officers of Avalon was a small e-group where Pagans in the emergency services could chat. Its obscurity protected it from the predators and proponents of “spiritual warfare”.

That all changed on 12 May, 2002, when Tim Flanagan (Bogota (NJ) Police Reserves) posted the following on the Officers of Avalon e-group:

“The black officers have their organization, the Irish, the gays, etc. Why not us? They all started with just a few members. Don’t you think it’s about time we came out of the closet?… We are good people, and I know that there are many, many of us across the Us who don’t know who to turn to, … This small group can be the start of something big for every Wiccan police officer in the US…”

The initial burst of enthusiasm expanded the membership. Things looked promising: A person came forward to set up a web site. There was a lot of discussion about incorporation, conventions, and other exciting prospects. This all got us a lot of publicity in newsletters, web sites and Llewellyn’s 2003 Wicca Almanac. Suddenly Officers of Avalon wasn’t simply an obscure e-group any more.

Little else changed however, and that became a problem. I had joined Officers of Avalon in March of 2001. I was asked to be a spokesperson and accepted. I was content to sit back and let others run the show as I already had a very full schedule. Unfortunately, at that stage in the development of Officers of Avalon, things were being decided by the time consuming process of consensus. The result was that many of these marvelous ideas did not move forward.

Then things started to really go wrong. The webmistress suddenly disappeared. She dropped off the e-group, did not respond to any form of communication (e-mail, snail mail, phone). I won’t speculate as to why she did this: We really have no idea. The web site stopped working and no one could fix it as the webmistress was the only person with the passwords. There were concerns expressed about this on the e-group but little action was taken. The leadership at the time continued to send messages to the webmistress that went unanswered.

Ultimately the domain lapsed. The webmistress chosen by the leadership had obtained the domain name for our organization, and no effort had been made to turn it’s ownership over to the organization. So when the domain expired the former webmistress was the only one who could have renewed it. When she did not, a Russian entrepreneur snapped it up immediately and offered to sell it back to us for $1200 US.

Meanwhile, as columns by Christian journalist Michael Coren in the Toronto Sun proved, some radical elements within the evangelical Christian community had noticed the existence of Officers of Avalon. They weren’t happy about it. Some of them had been trying for years to defend their position by claiming that the followers of religions other than Christianity were all dysfunctional flakes. Officers of Avalon is living proof that they are wrong. Our members are professional emergency services personnel and an example of the possibilities open to the Pagan community. As a result we became a target for such fundamentalists. Radical Christian web lurkers began to pop up, post and run on our old e-group. A fundamentalist Christian used my name in an e-address for a hate literature site called the “Encyclopedia of Satanic Wicca”. This was brought to our attention by a Christian expert on the occult, Tony Kail. The world isn’t a simple place and it became painfully obvious to us that a simple e-group wouldn’t meet our needs any more.

As a result of all this quite a number of members were starting to write to me, both on and off the e-group, asking me what to do. I was not part of the leadership structure at that point, just a spokesperson and a very visible personality in the community. There obviously wasn’t an effective leadership. I contacted Mullensky and voiced my concerns. She had a lot going on in her life at the time and agreed to let me take the mess over and try to straighten things out.

I took over immediately. I set up a Preceptory system and appointed a Grand Preceptory (our board of directors). We got down to work. Our Chancellor General began to draw up our bylaws. We got the control of the original e-group turned over to the organization and secured all of the other domains available (officersofavalon.com and .net). The organization at this point had no funds at all, so it wasn’t possible to buy the original domain back. When the Russian entrepreneur that had grabbed our original domain name saw that we weren’t going to buy the original domain name back he handed it over to a Spanish porn site webmaster, likely as a means of pressuring us to cave in to his demands. We did not bow to this pressure. Our Inspector General, assisted by Tara Ravensong, a member of the High Tech Services Unit (HTSRU) of the Orange County Sheriff‘s Department Reserve, created a new web site at www.officersofavalon.com.

Our second objective was to build the organization that Tim Flanagan first proposed and turn it into an effective tool to further our interests. On 11 September, 2003, the Grand Preceptory of Officers of Avalon learned that we had succeeded in our efforts to incorporate our organization: We are now incorporated in the state of Nevada and have a mailing address in our Treasurer’s home town in Wisconsin. What had been talked about for two years we accomplished in a little over 2 months. Our Treasurer General set up a bank account and began to collect dues.

This is just a start. Together we’ve responded to people like Michael Coren. We’ve joined forces against fanatic “occult experts” disseminating misinformation to our non-Pagan colleagues in our work places. Our combined efforts shut down the objectionable “Encyclopedia of Satanic Wicca” web site. Yet there is a lot more problems to be solved and we are uniquely situated to deal with them.

Officers of Avalon isn’t just an e-group anymore. It has become a benevolent association for Pagan professionals in the emergency services. As always, we will continue to offer Pagan cops, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and rescue personnel a safe place to vent, to share ideas and to disseminate information that affects us. We will move beyond the electronic realm and provide opportunities for our members to interact in person, through gatherings and conventions. We are a network like the IPA that can offer members contacts and refuge in cities around the world. A newsletter is being planned and we are looking for organizations and individuals willing to sponsor us. At the time of writing a number of fund raising schemes are being set in motion to help us achieve these goals. Through our disaster relief project, Avalon Cares, we supply funds to people all over the world who are in need.

As Coren and the Toronto Sun discovered, we are spokespersons for the Pagan community. We are proof that many of the guardians of our society are Pagans. We are a shining symbol to the Pagan community of infinite possibilities.

At the time that I first went public about my Wiccan beliefs I didn’t know I was the first police officer to do so. I found out very quickly. It was a lonely feeling. Nearly 25 years later, in March of 2001, I discovered Officers of Avalon and said goodbye to that loneliness. It has become my second family. I’m very protective of it.

6. I’ve started asking many of our interviewees this question. What challenges do you see facing the Pagan community? How can the community resolve those issues?
This community is both growing and aging rapidly. It’s not just a few people meeting in isolated living rooms any more. We have to find large sites to celebrate the turning of the year, create services for people of all ages in the community, provide leadership, counseling and chaplaincy duties, legally marry people and legally bury them in Pagan grave sites. We need to put differences aside and embrace these responsibilities.

7. You’re a frequent contributor on The Witches Voice website. What do you find appealing about that community?
It’s an excellent venue to disseminate information. It’s creator, Fritz, has done an excellent job in creating and maintaining it.

8. TJ Hooker, Miami Vice, or The Shield?
I’m laughing as I read this. You’ve no idea how many people ask my opinion on police shows like these, assuming, I suppose, that if I spend all that time out there on the mean streets I must love police work so much that I’m going to go home and watch all of these shows. The very last thing that I want to do after a stressful shift is go home and watch programs that (a) remind me of the stresses I’ve been facing all day and (b) in no way resemble actual police work. I must confess that as a result, I’ve only a vague idea of what these shows you name are about or who the characters are. I was proud to have served and protected my communities (mundane and Pagan) as a patrol officer, an ERT team member, a hostage negotiator, a gang squad officer, a child abuse investigator and an officer in the mental health emergency services unit. I still do as a police dispatcher. I leave it up to you to decide.

9. You’re such an inspiration to so many people, who inspires you?
In no particular order: Sun Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi, Charles Dickens, Bruce Lee, Gerald Gardner, Amber K, Margot Adler, Selena Fox, Doreen Valiente, Ann Moura, Kristin Madden, Christopher Penczak, Edain McCoy and Fritz Muntean.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question?
Ask you a question? OK. How am I doing?

Excellent.

Kerr retired from the Vancouver Police Department in November 2005 after serving with them for 29 years. He was awarded the Governor General’s Exemplary Service Medal. Kerr’s past job assignments within the VPD include the Emergency Response Team, Hostage Negotiator, Child Abuse Investigator, Gang Crime Unit, and the Mental Health Emergency Services Unit. Kerr is currently working as a police dispatcher for ECOMM for Southwestern BC . Kerr has been a Wiccan for 39 years and has been involved in anti-defamation activism and hate crimes investigation for the Pagan community since 1986. Kerr was awarded the Shield of Valor by the Witches League for Public Awareness. Kerr is the author of the Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca, Wiccan Warrior, Full Contact Magick, Witch Hunts, and Magickal Self Defense, with more on the way. Kerr has a column on anti-defamation issues and hate crimes on The Witches’ Voice web site called Witch Hunts (http://www.witchvox.com/_x.html?c=whs). Kerr is the current Preceptor General of Officers of Avalon (www.officersofavalon.com), an organization representing Neo-Pagans professionals in the emergency services (police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians).