Top Story: While the mainstream media has been generally focused on controversial statements from Harry Reid in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s “Game Change,” a new book about the 2008 presidential election, there are some other surprising revelations to be found. For instance, did you know that Rielle Hunter, who famously had an affair with presidential candidate John Edwards (and most likely bore his child), was (allegedly) Pagan?
“There was nothing legit, however, about Hunter’s behavior. It was freaky, wildly inappropriate, and all too visible. She flirted outlandishly with every man she met. She spouted New Age babble, rambled on about astrology and reincarnation, and announced to people she had just met, “I’m a witch.” But mostly, she fixated on Edwards. She told him that he had “the power to change the world,” that “the people will follow you.” She told him that he could be as great a leader as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. She told him, “You’re so real. You just need to get your staff out of your way.” She reinforced everything he already believed, told him everything he wanted to hear.”
Not exactly the kind of revelation of modern Pagan involvement in national politics one hopes for. Then again, if you believe everything in the book excerpt about the Edwards campaign, Hunter was hardly the most crazy element in that bizarre love triangle. Hunter’s life seems to have always skirted fame and notoriety, but when her moment in the sun finally arrived it was ultimately as an infamous footnote in a historic presidential election.
In Other News: The particularly brutal murder of an elderly woman in South Africa has some calling once again for laws banning the practice of witchcraft in the country. Columnist Michael Trapido argues that the infringements on free expression such a law would create are a small price to pay for greater safety.
“So until such time as someone can put forward a better suggestion for protecting people accused of witchcraft — and not the current law which makes it an offence to call someone a witch — legislation to make it a criminal offence to be a witch seems to be the only answer. In tandem that anyone now possessed of this legal channel to accuse witches, who practices self-help, be given the stiffest possible sentences available to a court faced with that charge. Denying some form of religious freedom is very ugly but what happened to an 81-year-old woman and many others like her is far uglier.”
So in the course of attempting to stop witchcraft-related murders, Trapido would support a law that is so broadly worded that it essentially bans non-violent religions like Wicca. That, I suppose, wouldn’t be such a large issue except for the fact that there is a thriving Pagan community in South Africa. I’m told that the South African Pagan Rights Alliance will be releasing a statement on the matter soon, but they have made their position regarding witchcraft bans quite clear before.
“Witchcraft in South Africa is a recognized Pagan religion. Most Pagans in South Africa self-define as Witches – as adherents of the religion of Witchcraft. Every South African citizen has the right to freedom of religion and belief, including the right to proselytize their religious beliefs should they choose to do so. This constitutional right includes not only the right of religious communities to define themselves and their own religion, but also to challenge anything they may perceive as harmful to themselves and their religious communities.”
Further, the South African Pagan Council is a recognized Religious Organization with SA Home Affairs and SA Revenue Services. So to enact the “solution” of banning “witchcraft” they would have to knowingly outlaw a religion they have previously acknowledged as deserving legal recognition. These murders are horrible, but the solution is education, aid, and enforcement of existing laws, not arbitrary (and discriminatory) new laws. I fear Ben Franklin would be rolling in his grave at Trapido’s “ugly” solution. I think the country of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu can do far better than reactionary attempts to outlaw a belief in hopes it will solve the problem.
A group of lawyers, scholars, activists, and religious leaders from the across the political spectrum have collaborated on a new statement encapsulating the current understandings of Church-State law and freedom of expression in America.
“As the role of religion in public life continues to spark intense political debate and high-profile court cases, a group of diverse leaders from religious and secular organizations has issued the most comprehensive joint statement of current law to date on legal issues dividing church and state. Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian leaders from the evangelical, mainline and Catholic traditions joined with civil liberties leaders to draft Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law, released Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.”
A project of the Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, the statement should be required reading for anyone concerned about legal decisions made regarding religious expression in America. You can download the 34-page PDF file, here. Almost all of the legal issues facing Pagans today in our schools, prisons, military, and the workplace are touched on in the document. Don’t miss out!
Kathy Nance gives us an update on the ceremonial rattles created by Pagan artist Julee Higginbotham for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. After being blessed and distributed by the Pagans at the Parliament, they ended up being gifted to several key spiritual/religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama.
And each was blessed at Pagan prayer circles in St. Louis, Melbourne Pagan events, and the Parliament itself. At each circle, the hope that the gifts would convey messages of love and unity were repeated. On the next to last day of the event, before coffee and breakfast, came word that the Dalai Lama’s personal secretary was on his way down to pick up a shaker. River, a Pagan from Missouri, handed over the gift. It was wrapped in cloth and twine used at the Pagan Peace Ritual. “The shakers passed through hundreds of hands with blessings for world peace and for understanding between different yet similar religions,” River said. “We were all tremendously moved that we were able to give one to the Dalai Lama.”
In addition to the Dalai Lama, shakers were gifted to His Majesty Robert Daagbo Hounoun, world wide leader of the Vodun Hwendo faith, Professor “Auntie” Joy Murphy Wandin, AO Senior Woman of the Wurundjeri People, and “Uncle Bob” Randall, Yankunytjatjara Elder and Traditional Owner of Uluru (Ayers Rock). According to Parliament Board of Trustees member Angie Buchanan, the shakers “opened many doors” between Pagan delegates and indigenous communities across the world.
In a final note, famous Los Angeles Buddhist/New Age/metaphysical bookstore Bodhi Tree is closing down. LA Daily reports that the close came about due to rising costs, rising taxes, and a widely dispersed market.
“Books on Wicca and Astrology and Native American shamanism used to be tough to find. But now every Borders and Barnes & Noble carries a significant selection of religious, spiritual and New Age literature. And what can’t be bought at a bricks and mortar shop can undoubtedly be found online at Amazon. For cheap.”
Where once Pagans, New Agers, occultists, and Buddhists would often be forced to shop at the only place in town that carried “their” kind of books, thanks to the Internet it’s easier than ever to get a hold of material that you find interesting. Indeed, the “community” created around these stores were almost always due to necessity, not a shared theology, practice, or even politics. It was inevitable that as these groups grew into their own, and materials became easier to obtain, the “New Age store” would suffer as a consequence. While there is a part of me that has a somewhat romanticized view of that era, catching only the tail-end of it in the 1990s, I also wouldn’t trade that time for what we have now.
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!