[You can read part one of this entry, here.]
05. The Business of Paganism: Modern Paganism fuels a multi-million-dollar market. Books, trinkets, festivals, music, and conventions maintain a small (though lucrative for some) cottage industry. 2008 was a mixed bag for that industry, one that was rocked by corporate greed, businesses shutting down, and contraction. If all this sounds familiar, it just proves that “as above, so below” relates to economic matters too. The “New Age” market, which sees quite a lot of overlap with our own, rushed to embrace a post-Oprah reality though it wasn’t enough to avoid a major trade show cancellation for 2009. Meanwhile the Internet book-selling giant Amazon sent ripples through the Pagan publishing world when they threatened to remove the “buy” button for non-Amazon print-on-demand books (a case that has resulted in an antitrust lawsuit).
“So why not just switch over to [Amazon's] Booksurge, you may ask? Two reasons … They’re more expensive – they want a significantly larger cut of the profits than many others … Their distribution isn’t as good … So why not just have accounts at both Lightning Source and Booksurge? Because the cost to upload books would double … So why not just use offset and other traditional forms of printing? Because you need thousands of dollars up front, even for a small run, plus warehousing space–and you have to hope that they all sell or else you’re out a good deal of money. Given that the big box stores are already biased against small presses, big losses are a major possibility …” – Lupa, author and employee of Immanion Press.
In addition to all that, two Pagan-friendly music labels shuttered, niche magazines find themselves hanging on by a thread, and journalists are looking into just how recession-proof psychic and occult services really are. All this could add up to some belt-tightening for the Pagan world in the years to come.
04. Salem Becomes the Epicenter of Halloween in America: While the economy may be bad all over, the town of Salem, at least this year, seemed immune. Famous for putting women to death for being “witches” in generations past, this sea-side New England town has morphed into a haven for Pagans and Witches (who purportedly make up 10% of the local population) and a tourist draw of Mardi Gras proportions.
“For better or worse, this change from cheesy wax-works and trial re-enactments into a massive cultural (and money-making) multi-week event is partially due to the emergence of Witches and modern Pagans injecting a sense of the sacred (and the psychic) into the proceedings. It may never be officially called a Samhain festival, but for all intents and purposes this is America’s tribute to Summer’s End.”
Given these factors it is little wonder that Salem continues to make the news on a regular basis, from game shows to pop-documentaries, everyone wants in on the action. Like it or not (and some very much don’t like it), this town casts a long shadow on our communities and on the public perception concerning modern Pagans.
03. Witch-Hunts, Witch-Killings, and How it Affects Us: While there is still much debate over how modern Pagans and Witches should feel concerning the persecution of “witches” in Africa, India, and the Middle East, 2008 saw the issue affect our communities more than ever before. The most notable case of this phenomenon were efforts by lawyer, author, and activist Phyllis Curott to bring attention to the plight of Fawza Falih, an illiterate Saudi woman sentenced to death for crimes of “witchcraft”.
“I get articles about killings from the African and Indian press almost every day. People – so often women – are singled out and murdered just because of an accusation of Witchcraft. We know what that means. That is part of our history. I think we need to respond to that dangerous persecution wherever it arises. It has to be stopped before it spreads. But it may be years before our community is large enough, has enough resources and enough presence in the global community to affect these situations. Working to save Fawza can teach us how to be effective the next time something like this happens — we’ll have better skills, better organization, better contacts, more wisdom.”
This was hardly the only instance – intentional or not – of modern Pagans getting involved in the issue of international witch persecutions. India continues to religiously cross-pollinate with Western esotericism and Paganism and Indian Pagans there see witch persecutions as “their” issue, while Pagans in South Africa continue to fight vaguely-worded anti-witch laws. Meanwhile some have warned that witch-persecutions are being exported to the West, and the controversies over Thomas Muthee (and his connection to fringe Christian movements in America) seem to at least partially verify this concern. So while there may be no theological or cultural connection between us the “witches” persecuted across the world, our communities may find that we have no choice but to get involved.
02. The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church Shootings: On Sunday morning, July 28th, Jim Adkisson, who defined himself to neighbors as a “Confederate” and a “believer in the old South”, walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and opened fire with a shotgun. Seven people were inured by gunfire, two died. He later told police that he targeted the church for its liberal beliefs, and that if he couldn’t kill liberal leaders he would instead kill those who voted them into office. While I suppose this isn’t necessarily a “Pagan” story, it is one that has a deep resonance for all Pagans who have found sanctuary or a spiritual home within a Unitarian-Universalist Church, a place of welcoming in areas of the country not so friendly to modern Pagans.
“Friends of mine were in the church at the time of the shooting. I am feeling so fortunate that they were not injured, but I have heard so much about the sad loss of Greg McKendry, who evidently put himself between the gunman and members of the congregation. There’s no ifs here, there are pagans and members of CUUPS in that congregation. When I first heard the news, even before anything about the gunman’s motives were known, I couldn’t help but guess that it was because the UU *is* the sort of church it is – welcoming, and accepting of pagans, of religious diversity, of glbt, and human diversity.” – Sangrail
Over the years some have found it easy to mock Unitarian-Universalists for their “wishy-washy” faith or their over-earnest attempts at inclusion, but few realized what a target their theological openness and political bravery had made them. I’m proud of the time and energy I’ve spent within the UUA, and the Pagan community should never forget what an ally and asset they have been to us. This attack was on a UU Church, but it was also an attack on those who would stand with us, and we shouldn’t forget that.
01. Pagans and Politics: By far the biggest story of 2008 involving Pagans was our political interactions. I’ve never seen so much news related to, involving, or dealing with modern Pagans in a political context. Things started early as influential figures in the Women’s Spirituality movement split over who to support in the Democratic primaries, while pundits on the right started to see Paganism as an illness that could be “cured” (like homosexuality). Barack Obama seemed almost magical to some Pagans, and was dubbed a “lightworker” by Mark Morford. Pagans ran for mayor of Sacramento and South Carolina’s Great Falls Town Council (neither won), while the Democratic Party saw two openly Pagan delegates go to their national convention.
“We’ve got a great opportunity here, a chance to make our mark on a campaign for change, a chance to be a constant reminder that we expect “Change We Can Believe In” means an America that treats Pagans fairly and equally….from an ensured right to worship for military Pagans (including Pagan chaplains), to true enforcement of the separation of Church (Grove?) and State.” – Rita Moran, Change Who Can Believe in?
Democratic Pagans seemed to really like Obama, and some tried to use that affection against him (they liked that strategy so much they used it in other elections as well). Meanwhile Bob Barr kinda-sorta recanted of his anti-Pagan past in an attempt to gain the votes of disaffected Pagan libertarians while McCain doubled down on Christian nuttery by picking a VP candidate with ties to a rabidly anti-Pagan fringe sect (meanwhile, outside, Pagans protested). The press realized that Oregon had quite a few Pagan voters, a Republican in Paganistan won reelection despite ties to anti-Pagan groups, and an Witch Doctor correctly predicted Obama’s win. Oh? Did I mention that that Obama won, and that an overwhelmingly large number of Pagans voted for him (and we even influenced the people who like us to vote for him too)? Well he did (though Pagans aren’t too happy about the guy they picked to give the invocation at his inauguration). Like it or not, politics and Paganism are enmeshed and will most likely stay that way for some time to come.
That wraps up my top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2008. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2009!