I’m back from the wilds of Florida! Before I begin my lengthy Pagan-news catch-up, I’d like to thank the folks at the Florida Pagan Gathering who were excellent hosts, and all the folks who attended my talks, they made my first time at such a gathering a truly memorable one. As time allows, I hope to write further about my experiences there, but for now it’s down to brass tacks!
We start off with the horrible tragedy that occurred when U.S. Army major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on a military processing center at Fort Hood in Texas, killing 13 people and wounding several more. For an in-depth analysis of the various religious angles in this story, I urge all of you to check out the recent posts at Get Religion dealing with the matter, meanwhile I’d like to briefly explore a Pagan angle that has emerged since the incident. As many of you may know, Fort Hood is famous within our communities for its large and active Pagan population (more than 150 live in and around Fort Hood). It is the Fort Hood Pagans who weathered a storm of controversy that prompted George W. Bush to famously opine back in 1999 that “witchcraft isn’t a religion”. So when I heard of the shooting in Florida my first instinct was to ask after the safety of our Pagan troops, luckily a reliable source assured me that none were harmed during the incident. But while no Pagan soldiers or their families were hurt or killed in the rampage, the loss and shock following such an event can often be crippling, so Circle Sanctuary has stepped up to offer counseling to local Pagans stressed by the tragedy.
“A team of Pagan spiritual counselors has been formed by Circle Sanctuary to provide free telephone counseling support this month for Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, Pantheists, and other Nature religion practitioners distressed by the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas this past Thursday … Circle Sanctuary formed this Pagan counseling support team as part of its services to Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, and other Pagans in the US Military. This special response team consists of sixteen Pagan leaders from across the nation who are among those doing various forms of Pagan ministry through Circle Sanctuary. The team is collaborating with other Pagan leaders in the Fort Hood area in providing help. Circle Sanctuary is offering free Pagan oriented counseling by telephone to supplement grief counseling resources at Fort Hood. Circle Sanctuary’s Fort Hood Tragedy response counseling services are for Pagans in and around Fort Hood as well as for Pagans at other US military installations and elsewhere who have been adversely impacted by the Fort Hood shootings. The counseling work being offered is specific to distress resulting from the Fort Hood shootings and will be offered throughout the month on November.”
You can find contact information for the support team, here. I’m glad to see a national Pagan organization willing to jump into action in times of hardship and need, blessings on Circle Sanctuary for this quick response. You can be sure that if any further Pagan angles emerge to this story I’ll do my best to bring them to your attention.
Let’s turn to the ongoing reverberations caused by Republican Heathen Dan Halloran getting elected to the New York City Council. Double X blog the XX Factor claims that Paganism was the real winner that night, while the New York Times analyzes the demographics of Halloran’s win. Meanwhile, a blog called “Queens Crap” unearths a document that pretty convincingly proves that Democratic opponent Kevin Kim was indeed trying to use Halloran’s religion against him in the race.
“…not only is it a new low, but making it appear that the church mailed these out to voters could have serious consequences for both the church and the candidate. It puts the church’s 501c3 in jeopardy and opens up the possibility that Kim could be prosecuted for mail fraud. Federal postal rules prohibit printing an address other than your own on a piece of mail bearing your prepaid postage stamp.”
You can read the document, here. While accusations of mud-slinging came from both camps, it appeared that Kim participated to a larger scale, and that the (overwhelming Democratic) voters of that district, sick of the mud-slinging, decided to send a message. Again, more proof that we may be seeing religion-fatigue on the part of voters? Making Paganism not so much the political liability some may think it to be? As for Halloran, we continue to look forward to paying close attention to his career.
Did you realize it’s been ten years since Ronald Hutton’s “Triumph of the Moon” was first published and changed the way we look at Pagan scholarship and the history of Wicca? To celebrate that anniversary Hidden Publishing has released a collection of essays entitled “Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon”.
“Ten years on from the groundbreaking Triumph of the Moon: A history of Modern Pagan Witchcraft by Professor Ronald Hutton, a selection of worldwide scholars, some ‘big names; some newer in the field, with nearly two centuries of hands-on pagan research experience between them, present a collection of researches inspired by, deriving from or just celebrating the immense impact of that seminal book. The topics cover many historical periods, many academic disciplines and it provides a wealth of information of use to academic scholar and interested freelance reader alike. Includes an extended essay by Ronald Hutton on the history of such scholarship, the state of it today and some of his thoughts for the future.”
The collection includes essays from Sabina “Witching Culture” Magliocco, Caroline Tully, Henrik “Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation” Bogdan, Phillip Bernhardt-House, and Ronald Hutton himself. Sounds like a must-have to me!
Turning to film, Fangoria interviews Robin Hardy about the upcoming sequel/companion to “The Wicker Man”, now entitled “The Wicker Tree”, and currently filming.
“It isn’t a sequel or a prequel, it’s another film in the same vein,” he says. “What I’m interested in saying is that this approach still works. The way THE WICKER MAN was constructed and the way most horror films today are constructed are totally different, and I believe it was a quite interesting alternative. It makes the film more intriguing. You can have more things in it than just horror.”
Hardy goes into some depth about how modern gore-fest “horror” movies aren’t really all that scary, and how the build-up of suspense along with the use of music and humor can often lead to a more successful film. I’m sure the folks raking in the dough from the ultra-low-budget film “Paranormal Activity” agree.
Showing how complex the issues can be when an increasingly global modern Paganism meets the current global epidemic of witch-killings, the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has put out a press release criticizing the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s recommendation to the UN that law suppressing the practice of witchcraft be enacted.
“The call for the “fight against the twin evils of those practising witchcraft and those claiming to find and cure witches in Africa”, encourages not only the suppression of those using the excuse of so-called “witchcraft” to commit criminal acts, it also has the unfortunate effect of encouraging African governments to suppress Witchcraft as identified by actual self-identified adherents of the Craft and Religion of Witchcraft. Many South Africans already openly identify themselves as Witches. Witches are already a visible and recognizable religious minority in Southern Africa. We have our own religious council, represented on various interfaith bodies, and we have our own government appointed religious marriage officers. A blanket and unqualified call for the suppression of “Witchcraft” in Africa is a call for the suppression of religious belief, something our own constitution protects under freedom of religion and association clauses in our Bill of Rights.”
SAPRA points out that the most witchcraft-murders in South Africa are against alleged practitioners, not perpetrated by them. That “muti” murders, when carried out, aren’t done by “witches”, but instead by traditional herbalists, and that blanket statements of the “twin evils” only encourages laws that will outlaw Wicca alongside African conceptions of witchcraft. One can certainly understand why a humanist organization might equally damn these two separate phenomena as one madness, but I wonder if other NGOs and officials are striving to “equalize” muti murders with the mainly Christian-led network of anti-witchcraft forces in order to not offend the politically and fiscally powerful churches. It may be a mater that needs closer investigation.
In a final note, I received word that on October 28th scholar Owen S. Rachleff passed away due to complications from Parkinsons. Rachleff wrote a scathingly critical work in the early 1970s on the occult and modern Pagan movement entitled “The Occult Conceit”, which won him the ire of many Pagans and occultists at the time. Quotes like the following in this 1972 article of Time Magazine didn’t help much either.
“Most occultniks,” says Rachleff, “are either frauds of the intellectual and/or financial variety, or disturbed individuals who frequently mistake psychosis for psychic phenomena.”
Despite his dim view of occult practitioners, he was willing to engage with them and went on a nationally syndicated radio program in December 1973 with practicing Witch Leo Martello. This was, according to author Michael Lloyd, very likely the first nationally broadcast debate on the subject of Witchcraft and the occult between a skeptic and a practicing Witch. It no doubt helped spread word of modern Paganism, and exposed many to its ideas and concepts. So while Rachleff was a skeptic and a critic, he also played a vital part in our history in America.
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!