Taking a Holiday in New Jersey and other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 18, 2010 — 9 Comments

Top Story: Last month I reported that the New Jersey State Board of Education was planning to add the eight Wiccan/Pagan “Wheel of the Year” holidays to its “official” list. Now, Kris Bradley reports that the NJ BoE met yesterday and approved the new calendar, which included the Pagan holidays.

“This morning, the New Jersey Board of Education voted to approve their list of religious holidays permitting pupil absence from school for the 2010-2011 school year. Included for the first time on this list are the eight Pagan/Wiccan holidays, or sabbats.  This marks the first time any state has approved Pagan holidays to a state calendar, and will set a precedence for other districts and states across the country.”

The Rev. Elena Ottinger of Salem County, who started this campaign when her daughter’s school wouldn’t allow an excused absence for Yule, is now working to change the policy that gives individual school districts the discretion whether to allow the holidays to be excused. Needless to say this is a groundbreaking display of what grass-roots organizing, paired with social media (much of the organizing was done through places like Facebook), can do for Pagan rights in this country. I urge everyone to read the well-written summary of the events that brought us to this point at Kris Bradley’s Examiner site. Now to see how long before another group of Pagans works to get their children’s religious holidays put on the official school calendar.

Pagan Leaders Backing Patrick McCollum: The Pagan civil rights coalition Our Freedom has released an open letter of support for Pagan chaplain Patrick M. McCollum’s ongoing fight to ensure equal treatment for minority faiths in the state of California, and criticizing the discriminatory amicus brief submitted by WallBuilders, Inc. in support of dismissing the case.

“…we as Pagan Americans say and affirm to the Northern District Court of the State of California, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Attorney General’s Office, and the Governor of the State of California, that Pagan inmates have similar requirements and needs comparable to those of the five faiths currently being served. Included in these needs are: access to paid Pagan chaplains to facilitate regularly scheduled religious services, provide spiritual guidance and counseling support; facilitate Pagan rites of passage and liturgical needs; and to serve as intermediaries between Pagan inmates and correctional administrators and staff to educate about Pagan religious needs or requirements of Pagans. In doing so, the state of California will continue to move forward into a system which is inclusive of religious belief.”

Signing on to the statement were representatives from ADF, Circle Sanctuary, CUUPS, EarthSpirit, Gaia’s Womb, Irminsul Aettir, Pagan Pride Project, Inc., and several other groups. I have uploaded the entire statement as a plain text document, so that you can read it in its entirety and forward it to other Pagan news outlets.

Medical Examiner Rules on Sweat Lodge Deaths: Autopsy results from the three deaths in the James A. Ray  “Sweat Lodge” case have been released, with the examiner ruling them all “accidental”.

“Autopsy reports from the Yavapai County medical examiner show that shortly after arriving at a hospital on October 8, Shore, 40, and Brown, 38, died of heat stroke brought on by the sauna-like conditions inside the tent. Neuman, 49, died October 17 from multiple-system organ failure as a result of prolonged exposure in the sweat lodge, according to the Coconino County medical examiner.”

It should be noted that the “accidental” death ruling doesn’t mean Ray is off the hook for the manslaughter charges he is currently facing. It just means that no other factors, aside from prolonged exposure to the sweat lodge’s conditions, contributed to their deaths. What Ray, currently out on bail, will have to prove is that he didn’t act negligently in conditions that led to their deaths.

God In 100 Words or Less: Last month the pan-religious news portal Patheos.com posted a selection of Protestant Christian “theobloggers” describing “who or what is God” in 100 words or less. Since then, they’ve decided to expand the question to religious bloggers from several other faiths. One of those answers came from me, with essential help from Erynn Rowan Laurie and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.

Modern Paganisms are plural and within them the concept of “God” is also seen as plural, not singular. While many Pagan faiths acknowledge a source of some kind, they also believe that sacrifice, the act of making something sacred, or worship, the act of giving worth to something, are practices that evolve between the many deities and powers who have grown, struggled, and changed along with humanity. A second-century philosophical text has Epictetus saying the gods are “A constellation of eyes, the spirits of understanding; if you fear, it is fearful; if you are temperate, it is sanctified.”

Patheos.com invites people to add their own 100-word conceptions of “God” in the comments section. While I’m on the subject of Patheos, they are currently looking for bloggers to write for their Pagan portal. If such a gig sounds interesting to you, please contact their Director of Content, David Charles.

All About that Witch-Hunting Movie: If you were curious to know more about that “Last Witch Hunter” movie that just got acquired by Summit Entertainment (the folks who brought you the “Twilight” saga), IESB has a full script overview.

“They have been walking among us since the beginning. They call themselves Haxen and are not the biggest fans of daylight. The witches abilities have brought a fear into the hearts of many Examples of this fear of witches can be found in historical events such as The Crusades and The Salem Witch Trials. This is why the Haxen have hid for many centuries and have broken up into what we know as covens. Each nationality has their own coven of witches, Hispanic “brujas” in the Bronx, and witches of African heritage in Harlem. The only one who has the ability to stop them is the immortal Nightshade.”

It sounds like a pretty crazy mix of full-blown fantasy-action film with random bits of witchcraft-related folklore thrown in for spice. Personally, I’d like to say that I’m not really worried about people becoming “last witch hunters” and going around killin’ or persecuting Pagans because of a stupid action film, I just think it’s in poor taste when there are still plenty of people in the world who are killing and persecuting (primarily) women and children for the crimes of “witchcraft”.

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters