Top Story: Newspapers in Washington have been giving a lot of coverage to the death of Sherry Harlan, stabbed to death and then dismembered by her jealous ex-boyfriend Eric James Christensen. While serious crimes often get coverage in local papers, this one is getting special attention for its savagery, and the reason Christensen has given for murdering Harlan.
“Christensen told detectives that he’d found similar messages on Harlan’s phone weeks earlier and that she’d promised to cease contact with the man. To seal the deal, Christensen said he and Harlan had gone through a “blood oath” ceremony. “He said that in ‘ancient times’ people that broke similar vows were sometimes killed,” a sheriff’s detective wrote of the conversation. Christensen said that on Jan. 2, when he confronted Harlan about the messages, the argument became physical and they traded blows. He told detectives that because she’d broken the oath, Harlan “in Scottish … would be what’s known as a warlock, which is evil, a traitor, an enemy,” court papers said.”
The Daily Herald piece quoted above is to be praised, as they avoided the sensationalist and dubious term “Wiccan blood oath” repeated by several papers and news outlets in the initial wake of the story breaking.
“Prosecutors said Christensen told police that Harlan had broken a “Wiccan blood oath” she had made to break off a relationship with another man.”
Only local NBC affiliate King5 actually sought out a member of the Everett Pagan community for comment on the story, Jeri Schaible, who had once dated the abusive Christensen. Schaible confirms that both were studying Wicca, but points out that Christensen should not be considered a Wiccan as he doesn’t adhere to the Wiccan Rede. No paper, television outlet, or site has interviewed any local Pagan leaders or organizers for background, or to comment on the “blood oath”. This, despite the fact that the Seattle area is full of Pagans (and there’s a regular Pagan meetup in Everett), as is the Pacific Northwest in general.
There is little doubt that Christensen will be going to prison for life, as the man who helped him hide the body parts is testifying against him in exchange for immunity. With his capture and conviction ensured, now is the time to gain context for the sensationalist religious statements made by Christensen. Will the press step up here? I can’t imagine a killer invoking a “Christian blood oath” without local Christian clergy being consulted. As for Sherry Harlan, may her spirit find rest, may her killer be punished, and may her friends and family find closure.
In Other News:
Clash of Faiths in Haiti: Religious tensions are mounting in Haiti between Christian aid groups and Vodou practitioners. First, Vodou leader Max Beauvoir claims that evangelical Christians are monopolizing aid, and showing favoritism towards their own instead of fairly distributing food and water.
“Max Beauvoir, Haiti’s “supreme master” of voodoo, alleged his faith’s opponents had deliberately prevented much-needed help from reaching followers of the religion, which blends the traditional beliefs of West African slaves with Roman Catholicism. “The evangelicals are in control and they take everything for themselves,” he claimed. “They have the advantage that they control the airport where everything is stuck. They take everything they get to their own people and that’s a shame.”
He alleges these groups are using food to “buy souls”, taking advantage of the chaos in order to win converts. Meanwhile, the case of 10 Baptists from two different congregations in America, who are accused of trafficking Haitian children for the purposes of adoption, is only fueling accusations that protestant Christian groups have one primary objective, convert, convert, convert.
“Some critics say the race to remove Haiti’s children is culturally insensitive, if not downright illegal. Others are offended by the prospect of children from a Catholic culture being airlifted into evangelical institutions or families — losing their faith along with their families.”
You can be sure that the uneasy situation created by the increasing growth of evangelical and pentecostal denominations in the predominately Catholic-Vodou continuum of Haiti will only increase now that mission-minded groups see the earthquake as an “opportunity” for growth and conversion. It could not only radicalize Vodou practitioners in Haiti, but it could also create massive rifts between protestant and Catholic groups. And the longer that Haiti’s government is hobbled, the worse the problem may become.
Air Force Academy Gets A Circle: Last Thursday I reported on the Air Force Academy installing an outdoor worship area for Pagan and Wiccan cadets, a move that has been generally praised within the Pagan community. Since then the story has been picked up by national media outlets (I’m sure NewsBusters is pleased), and is now being used by some right-wing pundits as a stick to hit President Obama with.
“U.S. President Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, wants to make the Air force Academy more inclusive for people practicing occult pagan witchcraft. Hence, he’s willing to increase the federal government’s record-breaking debt to fund a chapel that will add a circle to be utilized as a worship area for so-called “Earth-centered religions, during a dedication ceremony” that is tentatively scheduled for March 10.”
Well, first off, Obama had nothing to do with the Air Force Academy building a stone circle (military bureaucracy just doesn’t move that fast), but even if he had, that’s a pretty weak “Obama the Democrat is spending too much” argument. Thankfully, not all conservative pundits see equal treatment for religions within the military as a bad thing.
“Our Constitution affords us the right to practice any religion we would like, I think that should be especially true for anyone in the military who is willing to serve and sacrifice for us. Do I agree with pagan religions like Wicca? No. But those who have chosen to serve their country, and have joined the Air Force Academy deserve a proper worship area just like any other religious faith.”
You don’t have to like Wicca or Paganism, but to deny we should have equal treatment goes against everything America stands for, no matter what groups like WallBuilders may claim.
The New Age Sweat Lodge Death Controversy: Self-help author Jonathan Ellerby, who seems better educated and more respectful of Native practices than most in his line of work, answers some key questions about sweat lodges that have arisen since three people died in a sweat ceremony led by New Age huckster James Arthur Ray.
“I personally do not think or feel that non-Native people should run Native lodges. Too many Native traditions have been borrowed and stolen from Native Peoples only to be misused, sold or poorly conducted. These are very powerful and culturally sacred practices and it’s a deep act of disrespect just to “copy” the practices of another tradition. You wouldn’t see a group of Native people pretending to be able to read Hebrew or making up fake Hebrew sounding songs in a building they called a synagogue. It’s absurd. Worse, Native people have been the victims of cultural appropriation and attack for 500 years. To take without permission, training or blessing is just an insult. However, yes, I do think that ceremonial steam baths have something to offer all people and if done well, a non-Native “sweat lodge” for non-Native people can be a very important, healing and beautiful thing.”
It is distinctly refreshing to see someone from the self-help/New Age/spirituality community come out in defense of the integrity of Native religion and spirituality. As Ellerby points out, if you want a sweat/steam ceremony, there are ways of designing one without simply aping American Indian traditions and slapping a different label on them. As for James Arthur Ray, he gave his first-ever interview since the incident last week. In it, he claims no responsibility for the deaths, but says that “his ego has been adjusted by the experience”. You know what else adjusts the ego? A court trial and punishment for negligent homicide.
Meanwhile, the Angel Valley Retreat Center is doing a little damage-control and CYA of its own, insisting that the sweat-lodge’s construction was not to blame (Ray has been insinuating that’s where the blame lies). We still await word on criminal charges in this case.
“Since its appearance, the so-called Rider-Waite deck has sold gazillions of copies, inspiring brooding hermeticists and teenage Goths alike, and stamping its enigmatic images onto such key 20th century artifacts as T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” the classic noir Nightmare Alley, and the inner gatefold of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. The Rider-Waite deck earns a so-called because the name — which has been trade-marked by US Games, the current (and controversial) copyright holder — ignores the artistic contribution of Pamela Colman Smith, an American illustrator and occult initiate whose nickname, Pixie, seems preternaturally on target in light of the most widely-reproduced photograph of the woman.”
I’ve often bemoaned the lack of emphasis and credit to female artists like Smith, or Lady Frieda Harris, without whom the tarot theories of famous (male) occultists like A.E. Waite or Aleister Crowley would have remained in books, and largely unexamined by a popular audience. Today, tarot artists are more widely feted and acknowledged as equal partners in the design and creation of new decks, instead of being treated as silent partners, or hired help, by tarot theorists and designers.
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!