Quick Updates on Recent Stories

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 26, 2010 — 9 Comments

In the day-to-day nature of Internet news, it’s often difficult to keep track of stories as they develop. So here’s a round-up of follow-ups, updates, and recent developments in stories previously reported here at The Wild Hunt.

About that Icelandic Curse: I recently mentioned that the Icelandic Heathen organization Ásatrúarfélagid, led by Chief Godi Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, had made the news for a high-profile (and apparently successful) curse against Iceland’s enemies. Pagan Newswire Collective reporter, and host of the popular Asatru podcast Ravencast, David Carron, spoke with Hilmarsson about the article and brings us the following statement.

“The article in Iceland Review is somewhat slanted, as the TV interview cited was based on the assumption that we had ritually cursed named members of the British and the Dutch governments. The ritual in question was a protective one ( with the subtext that those who would try to harm our nation would be exempt from the protection / sanctuary ) and its intent was to push aggression back to where it belongs. However some people observing the ensuing developments have given us credit for all sorts of things including Gordon Brown’s unstable temper, the freak winter in Britain, and the troubles befalling and in the end collapsing the Dutch government.

I did own up to writing a scathing poem about Gordon Brown in the time honoured tradition of “níðvísa” and I am sure that long after his name is forgotten on the British Isles there will be Icelanders dancing on his grave and and finding inventive and practical ways of pouring / spraying ale upon it.”

So there you are, not so much a “curse” as protection working that is successfully pushing aggression back to its source. Carron is currently arranging an interview with Hilmar Hilmarsson for Ravencast, and I’ll keep you posted as to when that’s available.

The Air Force and Pagans: A lot of news has been made recently regarding the Air Force Academy and its new stone circle dedicated to Pagan services, but this ethos of acceptance and accommodation stretches beyond the academy to the Air Force itself. A memo has been brought to my attention that shows Major General Cecil Richardson, Chief of Chaplains for the USAF, listing Wiccan and Pagan Spring holidays along side other faiths as deserving of accommodation by all commanders.

“Thank you for your continued support of Airmen who request religious accommodation. Airmen who are allowed to practice their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion are generally more spiritually fit and better able to handle the rigors and stressors that come with deployments and a high OPSTEMPO (Operations Tempo) … Wiccans and other followers of Earth-based religions will observe Ostara, the spring equinox, on 21 March followed by Beltane, a celebration of the abundance of the fertile Earth, on 1 May.”

So it looks like the Air Force really is taking the inclusion and accommodation of Pagan airmen to heart. I’d love to know if any of the other US Armed Forces have released similar memos. If they have, please feel free to drop me a line so I can share them with my readers.

The Syracuse Pagan College Chaplain: Student paper The Daily Orange follows up on the appointment of Mary Hudson as Syracuse University’s first Pagan chaplain. While Hudson says that she’s only received positive feedback, reporter Rebecca Kheel finds a more mixed response on the Internet.

“Mixed reactions arose since Hudson was recognized as a chaplain. Hudson herself has only received positive feedback, but there has been an online backlash in comments sections of articles about Hudson’s appointment. Other chaplains said it is too early to make a judgment about whether they agree with Hudson’s appointment … Hudson said she has seen the negative comments in online articles about her appointment, including one that suggested she eats bats. Some others said her appointment will make SU look unattractive to potential students. But that was to be expected, Hudson said.”

Eats bats? Really? As the article points out, it’s still early days, and we have no idea how well Hudson will perform in her role, or if she’ll encounter any real resistance to her chaplaincy. What is important at this stage is that the needs of Pagan students are being acknowledged and respected, and that feedback from that community has been positive.

Covering the Vodou Attack in Haiti: Mollie at Get Religion takes a look at coverage of the recent attack on Vodouisants by evangelical Christians in Haiti, and its aftermath, and finds it wanting.

“I find it fascinating that the first article begins with a call to war by Beauvoir while the second article has him saying he hopes it doesn’t come to war. I’m not saying that both quotes aren’t accurate but it kind of reminds you how much power a reporter has in shaping a story.”

Mollie kindly quotes me on the subject of Vodou leader Max Beauvoir, and in the comments I elaborate my feelings on his leadership, and the need for journalists to approach decentralized minority faiths differently from the dominant monotheisms they are used to.

“The frustrating thing is that we have no real way of telling exactly how important or influential Beauvoir is among Vodou practitioners in Haiti. There’s a number of reasons for this, an important one being the lack of probing and analysis that followed after Beauvoir was first put forward as the “supreme chief” of Haitian Vodou (and, as Mollie mentioned, was called a “pope”).

However, two things are clear that all journalists covering Vodou in Haiti should know. One is that Vodou is, by its nature, a decentralized faith. It is largely organized around different “families” of initiates. No matter how large Beauvoir’s coalition may be, he simply cannot speak for the entirety of Haitian Vodou. The second is that thanks to the reporting so far, Beauvoir’s title has become prophecy. His willingness to interact with the press, to become the spokesman, has cemented his place as the go-to person for the “Vodou voice”. No doubt many families will rally to him in these uncertain times, and he may very well become, for a time, something close to the central figure the press portrays him as.

The lesson here is that journalistic assumptions about religion can shape religions, especially in times of crisis and trouble. Reporters like having a singular go-to leader when discussing a faith, it makes info-gathering and quote-seeking far easier. But minority faiths are very often different from the Protestant denominations or Catholic churches they are used to covering, and they often lack a clear leadership structure (or they have a clear leadership structure, but not one that applies across the board). The best policy is to always seek out multiple voices when dealing with a decentralized faith, and to always take claims of supremacy within a decentralized faith with a grain of salt.”

We all need to do a better job of covering religion in Haiti. Trying to assemble a clear picture from the assorted claims, incidents, and reports is difficult, and we run the risk of giving an incorrect, or even harmful, analysis of current events. If I error, and I probably will considering the trickle of good information, I hope it’s in favor of preserving and respecting Haiti’s indigenous faith traditions.

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

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Michael Troutt

    Just as a heads up the Navy (Active Duty at the moment) has not issued anything clear cut as that… but most of my chain of command is somewhat supportive.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/thewildhunt Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Thanks for the heads-up. I've corrected the post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cara.schulz Cara Schulz

    Once again I get the opportunity to say GO AIR FORCE!!!!!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Bubba_C Bubba_C

    Mmmmm bats!!! I wonder if they're good with ketchup, maybe I should ask Ozzy. lmao

  • lonespark

    Thanks sharing this stuff!

  • lonespark

    Yeah, it's been a while since that's been a good fit in a pagan mouth.

    I love good news!

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

    Great follow-up coverage, Jason.