America the Eclectic and other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 10, 2009 — 24 Comments

Top Story: Is eclecticism and syncretism part of America’s religious DNA? A recent survey by the Pew Forum seems to suggest just that. While America is dominated by various forms of Christian belief, many adherents also partake in different religious practices and subscribe to various beliefs outside the theological boundaries of their faith.

“In total, upwards of six-in-ten adults (65%) express belief in or report having experience with at least one of these diverse supernatural phenomena (belief in reincarnation, belief in spiritual energy located in physical things, belief in yoga as spiritual practice, belief in the “evil eye,” belief in astrology, having been in touch with the dead, consulting a psychic, or experiencing a ghostly encounter). This includes roughly one-quarter of the population (23%) who report having only one of these beliefs or experiences. More than four-in-ten people (43%) answer two or more of these items affirmatively, including 25% who answer two or three of these items affirmatively and nearly one-in-five (18%) who answer yes to four or more. Roughly one-third of the public (35%) answers no to all eight items.”

This increasing trend of heterodoxy undermines the idea that the Religious Right, and other vanguards of religious orthodoxy, have much sway outside their main base of support. When nearly a quarter of America Christians say they believe trees possess spiritual energy, I’m far more convinced we’ll see a post-Christian culture than some sort of Family-style conservative Christian coup in the years to come. This transition may upset some, but I suspect that most Pagans, especially the eclectic and syncretic, will feel right at home.

In Other News: Pagans seem to be the ultimate test of how “open” your local city council’s opening invocations are. When a government body is accused of engaging in primarily sectarian prayer, as is the case in Bakersfield California, they usually point out that the invocation slot is welcome to any faith tradition that wants a turn. But as Americans United senior policy analyst Rob Boston points out, that openness often grinds to a halt when a Wiccan signs up.

“When communities try to set up a totally open forum for prayers, “what usually happens is that sooner or later someone comes along from a religion that is unpopular or misunderstood” — such as a Wiccan or Pagan — “and the conservative Christians throw a fit,” he said in an e-mail.”

Councilmember Jacquie Sullivan says Bakersfield is ready to pass the Pagan test, stating that “it would be their turn”. Did you hear that Bakersfield Pagans? Time to step up! They are ready. It’s your turn! Whether the “include a Wiccan” gambit would help them in a lawsuit is still an open question.

In Toronto, a con-artist who bilked a woman out of tens-of-thousands of dollars isn’t just up on charges of fraud, but also on charges of pretending to be a witch.

Det. Constable Jones says it’s rare to charge someone under Section 365, but the circumstances of this case fit. “It’s a historical quirk,” says Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. Some sections of the Canadian criminal code reflect offences that were more prevalent centuries ago. When the code was enacted in 1892, witchcraft per se was no longer a punishable offence, he says, but lawmakers wanted to ensure witchcraft wasn’t used as a cover for fraud. Section 365 states that any one who fraudulently pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, or enchantment or who “undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes … is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.” “It’s not really about occult activity,” Prof. Young says. “It’s about defrauding people.”

One would assume that a real Witch would be immune from such charges. One would also hope that this near-forgotten law won’t be abused in a crusade against honest psychic practitioners, as they have been in America.

The Daily Grail features an excerpted essay from Greg Taylor that is very close to my heart, the history of occult practices in rock music.

“There is a vast amount of related material we could cover: from the influence of the occult upon Norwegian Black Metal, to Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson’s interest in Aleister Crowley, which has recently resulted in a feature film. Or perhaps even The Mars Volta’s use of an Ouija Board in the creation of their 2008 album The Bedlam in Goliath (considering the mayhem that allegedly resulted, perhaps they should have listened to David Bowie’s advice…). But, ultimately, rock music is about transcending the intellect, and just losing yourself in a maelstrom of sound and feeling.”

That essay, and others, is from Darklore volume 2, available now from Also, in a somewhat related note, Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth’s “Thee Psychick Bible” (a project initiated by Industrial music pioneer Genesis P-Orridge) has been re-released in an updated, expanded, corrected edition. Perfect gifts for the occult music-lover in your family, and if all this talk of occult and Pagan music has you wanting to listen to some, why not check out my weekly podcast?

In a final note, the Houston Chronicle looks at the massive December pilgrimages in Mexico, with many traveling to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe (her feast day is on Saturday), located on a former pagan shrine. While nearly a million travel to gain the blessings of the “goddess of Mexico”, the local priests want you to know that there is no trace of pre-Christianity left in the rites and traditions surrounding this popular saint.

“Arriving by bus, car or bicycle, the faithful first stop at the artesian stream springing from the roots of a huge and ancient cypress tree. They don crowns made of fresh flowers and leave petitions to God hanging from the fence posts, wash in or drink from the spring and dance before the statue in a small chapel … When their dance is finished, the pilgrims ride a few miles down the mountainside to the village of Chalma itself, where they walk through a gantlet of vendors and restaurants to arrive at the church. There they attend Mass, get blessed by priests and leave petitions or letters of thanks to God hanging on walls. “It is 100 percent Catholic,” Manzanares said of the pilgrimage, “based in Catholic belief for the Catholic faithful.” Chalma’s shrine was erected by Spanish friars in the 1530s conquest in a cave that the Aztecs once worshipped as the dwelling of Ozteatl, a god represented by a large man-sized black boulder they believed had healing powers. The friars destroyed the stone, according to some accounts, and a Christ statue appeared in its place.”

Catholic perhaps, but grown from “pagan” soil and tradition. Whether Guadalupe is “100% Catholic” or a Christianized version of the Aztec moon goddess Tonantzin, she is still the most-venerated goddess/saint in the Americas, and neither Catholic nor Pagan should take that lightly.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • @cuculatii

    In order to pass that "Pagan test" all the city would need do is contact the Church of Wicca of Bakersfield — founded in Bakersfield in 1972 and ask for someone to help them out.

  • LadyJake

    Viva Guadalupe Ma!

    • Snoozepossum

      (waves to Tonantzin Maria)

      Enjoy your day, Lady!

      The Pew Forum report isn't surprising. There are plenty among even the uberconservative Christians here who pay lip service to preach absolute adherence to orthodoxy, but most of them still have a ghost or "haint" story.

      The funniest incidence I've seen was a tract with a list of political and popular figures that my mother's church was passing around several years ago, and getting all worked up over. It claimed that some combination of each name added up to 666, proof that they were connected with Satan, or might be the Antichrist. I LMAO when I pointed out to them they'd used numerology, which is a form of divination and therefore to them evil, to find evil.

      • Riverbend

        LOLOL…ah, that's too funny. So much of fundy-ism is "magical thinking"…I think my favorite fundy ritual that I've heard of so far is when they go around the perimeter of their property and sprinkle it with holy water, or say the rosary, or "pray the blood of Jesus over it," to keep witches, demons, and whatever other assorted bad guys away.

        I still remember the first time I saw the Virgin of Guadelupe imagery–some anti-abortion protestors were holding a big picture of her, actually–and I realized she was **standing on the horned crescent moon**!! I love it.

        Aside from the syncretic religions and the Catholic-layered-on-Pagan rites, the more the different religions and their ideas interact with each other, the more fuzzy around the edges they're going to get, and I suspect that's probably a good thing overall. I've been in the Deep South so long that any ritual work that seems to close to having any xian influence gives me the heebie jeebies, but I try to take a deep breath and remember that it's impossible to 100% disentangle it all, though we can certainly have our preferences about how much overlap we use. At least Pagans are, I think, generally good about acknowledging how it's all intertwined.

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  • Khryseis_Astra

    I always have a few pet peeves when it comes to how Pew words things in their surveys, usually because it shows the lack of actual study into the things they're asking about. Case in point this time around for the Astrology question: "astrology (that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives)." As a modern astrologer, I *don't* believe the planets "affect" people's lives. That implies a certain cause-and-effect theory that I do not subscribe to, and many of my modern peers would agree. Rather I feel astrology gives us a symbolic picture of what is already there, a la Jung's principle of synchronicity. I also don't believe it's "fortune-telling;" the real forecasting side of it (not to be confused with Sun-sign horoscopes) is more like tracking life cycles. It's no more "fortune-telling" than estimating what age someone is likely to loose their baby teeth, or what time someone is likely to eat lunch based on what work schedule they have.

    Another popular pet peeve is the way they ask if people believe in "God with the Capital G" or a "Universal Spirit," as if those are the only two possible options! LOL

    As for this: "the local priests want you to know that there is no trace of pre-Christianity left in the rites and traditions surrounding this popular saint." I'm LMAO!

    • apuleius platonicus

      It's really important to point out these issues about the wording. It's all the more important because the same issues keep recurring over and over and over again. They want us to give up!!

  • Tea

    Genesis P-Orridge is so adorable.

  • humane mouse trap

    It claimed that some combination of each name added up to 666, proof that they were connected with Satan, or might be the Antichrist.

  • apuleius platonicus

    Very nice Venn diagram at the link to the pew forum survey! Notice the intersection where you have self-identified Protestants who attend Catholic Mass and believe in Astrology. I'm gonna have to think about that one…..

    That 24% of the population "believe in reincarnation" is consistent with data from the European Values Survey, where about 22% of Europeans report belief in reincarnation. This is very consistent across most of Europe. The two biggest outliers are Iceland and Lithuania, where belief in reincarnation is over 40%. Here's a pdf with some of that data:

    And yes, I do feel more at home now, thanks!!

    Aahhh. There's no place like home….

  • Robin Artisson

    The veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe is about as Christian as I am.

  • Riverwolf

    Don't see how the Mexican pilgrimage can be called "100% Catholic" when there's sacred trees, bathing in springs and dancing before statues! Very different from any Catholics I know!

  • brainwise

    Robin, LJRich, and Riverwolf all pretty much pointed out what I was going to say about the "100%" Catholic" claim in the final story. So I'll simply post "Kudos!" to them for their insight and to Jason for another excellent summary. Well done, folks!

  • Yvonne Rathbone

    Re: Bakersfield

    This should be filed under "if they could hear themselves speak…":

    "No city should ever feel they cannot have prayer at council meetings because somehow law or the Constitution forbids it," Brad Dacus, attorney with the pro-religion Pacific Justice Institute in Sacramento said. [from the article]

  • Magaly Guerrero

    The more I read the more proud I am of my eclectic beliefs. We are so mixed up at the core, that if you look really hard you can see the semantics moving around like a little worm.

  • Magaly Guerrero

    Hey! My dad is 100% Roman Catholic, he only brews good luck potions because he knows that there are some mean Witches out there 😉

  • apuleius platonicus

    Agreed. Kudos to all.

    "…one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe." Carlos Fuentes

    "the Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery". Octavio Paz

  • Magaly Guerrero

    I like the "somehow" part, just too funny.

  • Robin Artisson

    Yeah, that's beautiful. "No one should ever feel that they can't behave in a certain way just because something as silly as a law says not to do it…"

  • Magaly Guerrero

    Oh my Gods! I'm laughing so hard my face hurts.

  • Shawoman

    Wonderful quotes! Having lived in the Southwest and witnessed the fervent local devotion to Our Lady, I know the Catholic priests are nervously defending themselves, even more now with this hard-line pope.

  • LJRich

    It is amazing to me that they claim no trace of -pre-Christianity left in the rite, when clearly, there is pagan tradition left in the rite. You can't take a pagan tradition and just say, "It's not pagan, now because we said so." That's lame. A lot of "Catholic" traditions are pagan in origin and they'll always be that. I can't stand disinformation. Sadly, average people fall for the fluff and assume the rites are different somehow, when they're the same.

  • Makarios

    That was precisely the attitude that the Bush administration held for eight years. Real men don't let minor things like the Constitution get between them and what they want to do.