Witch-Burning Beer and Other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 16, 2010 — 73 Comments

Top Story: Outrage is spreading across the Internet over The Lost Abbey brewery’s decision to feature a woman being burned at the stake for their “Witch’s Wit” wheat ale.


Detail from the “Witch’s Wit” label.

“First of all, it’s an insult to me as an ordained Pagan minister and long-time practicing witch. If you want to capitalize on the beer’s name in order to sell more brews, at least use a more tasteful image. Hex, I could accept a picture of the stereotypical wart-nosed, green-skinned ugly old hag over this. But to show a buxom woman standing helplessly as the flames engulf her… while a group of onlookers (presumably male monks) surround her gawking at the sight is simply degrading.”

In a widely-forwarded e-mail message about the beer label, Motherpeace Tarot co-creator Vicki Noble calls the image dehumanizing and outside the bounds of good taste.

“Can you imagine them showing a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven? No, of course not, such images are simply not tolerated in our society anymore (thank the Goddess) and this one should not be either. Please call them or write them a letter to protest this hateful and dangerous expression which dehumanizes women.”

So far no statement has been issued from the California brewery, and there’s no mention of the controversy on their Facebook or Twitter feeds, though a discussion thread has been started at their Facebook page. Considering the fact that women are still being killed and imprisoned for crimes of “witchcraft” it does seem rather tone-deaf of the company. I’ll keep you posted as this story develops.

UPDATE: Lost Abbey responds:

“I encourage you to look at all of Lost Abbey’s beers and consider them in context. Each of the Lost Abbey beers features a label which depicts a theme of Catholic excess — good and bad — on the front, and tells a moral story on the back. (Our founder is a recovering Catholic.) In the case of Witch’s Wit, the back label is a story of the bad consequences of religious intolerance and oppression. The woman on the front is referred to as a “healer” on the label and accuses the Church of being narrow-minded and violent, threatening the same fate to anyone who would help the woman. The label ends with a note that this beer — a light, sweet and golden ale — is brewed in honor of that woman (and all those who died for their convictions).”

I’ll be interested to see how Noble and others who were offended will respond to this.

Pagan elected Trustee of International Interfaith Organization: Covenant of the Goddess National Interfaith Representative Don Frew has been voted in for another term as an At-Large Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative.

“The URI is the world’s largest, grassroots interfaith organization, with 496 local branches (“Cooperation Circles”) in 77 countries, involving millions of people in interfaith programs around the world (www.uri.org). The purpose of the URI is “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation; to end religiously motivated violence; and o ctraete cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”  I worked with many others – including CoG’s Deborah Ann Light – in the writing of the URI’s Charter in conferences in 1998-2000.

This is my third term on the URI’s Global Council.  In 2002, I was elected to be one of three Trustees from the North American Region on the URI’s first elected Global Council.  In 2006, I was asked to be one of two At-Large Trustees on the URI’s second elected Global Council.  This time, on the third elected Global Council, I am again one of two At-Large Trustees, the other being Swami Agnivesh of New Delhi, India.”

This election to a third term as a trustee of the URI comes not long after Covenant of the Goddess member Rachael Watcher, a longtime interfaith activist, was elected to the Executive Board of NAIN. In addition, Phyllis Curott, President Emerita of COG, is one of three Pagans currently serving on the Board of Trustees of the Council For A Parliament of the World’s Religions. It’s clear that COG is an organization that is leading the way for Pagan involvement in the interfaith community. Congratulations to Don on his election.

Druids vs The Daily Mail: One of the ongoing side-stories to The Druid Network being granted charity status in the UK (a process that was explained in-depth here at The Wild Hunt) was reaction to a scathing editorial by Melanie Philips of the Daily Mail, who called the situation both “absurd” and “malevolent”. TDN founder Emma Restall Orr sent out a lengthy rebuttal to Philips, while a 4100 signature-strong petition calling for an apology was hand delivered by around 30-50 Druids and Druid-supporters to the Daily Mail offices.

“The Daily Mail had someone waiting for us on the steps to take the petition. I handed it over and he promised that he would get it to Robin Esser. I made damn sure I got a handshake and thankfully, someone was quick enough to take a photo of that. At the PCC, Simon Yipp, the gentleman who has been dealing with complaints RE this article, came down personally to recieve the petition. I’m going to give it a week and email both the DM and the PCC for updates, if I don’t hear from them before then.”

In attendance at the petition-delivery were noted UK Pagans like Arthur Pendragon, Vivianne Crowley, and Andrew Pardy (Chairman of the Police Pagan Association). It remains to be seen if this petition will have the desired effect. No doubt Philips thrives on controversy, and I can’t imagine her backtracking on her views.

Moving Halloween? Since Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, some communities are moving observances to Saturday. Some for practical reasons, and some because they believe Halloween to be “pagan” or “Satanic” in origin. News10 in California covered the mini-controversy and spoke with PNC-Sacramento coordinator David Shorey, from Sacramento Grove of the Oak.

“David Shorey. a practicing Druid (a form of Paganism) with Sacramento Grove of the Oak, says “Halloween or as we call it Samhain, is a time to honor the ancestors, look at the past year and honor those who have passed on.” Shorey recognizes that Halloween has evolved into a secular holiday for most Americans and says he and his fellow Druids celebrate with candy and costumes as well as in a traditional Pagan manner. “We’re actually going to be celebrating on the following weekend where we’re going to do an ancestors feast, where folks come together and bring a dish that recognizes and honors their ancestry,” Shorey said.”

Catholics in the UK are trying to “reclaim” Halloween, while animal shelters halt adoption of black cats, partially due to rumors that Witches are out sacrificing cats. All seem to be rooted in the anxiety that Halloween, at its true root, isn’t really associated with the Judeo-Christian backdrop most people are comfortable with. In any case, I think David did a good job with the interview, and stressed that this time of year is one of religious observance for most Pagans.

Invoking Artists: In a final note, artist Jeffrey Vallance, participating in the annual Frieze Art Fair, decided to hold a massive séance involving famous (deceased) artists.

“There were some spooky goings on this week at the fair around the Frieze Project devised by the artist and Fortean Times contributor Jeffrey Vallance, who asked five psychics to channel the spirits of blockbusting artists Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, Leonardo da Vinci and Marcel Duchamp. Before the mediums—and the artist phantoms—arrived, the spiritualists predicted: “There might be some problems with electricity.” Before you could say Doris Stokes, the internet crashed during the séance, which meant that a live web broadcast had to be scuppered. It was all to do with “forcefields”, apparently.”

Of course the Internet crashed! Artists, particularly great artists like Kahlo and da Vinci, are/were some of the most potent magic(k) workers around. You don’t invoke them lightly. It’s unseemly, and it’ll play havoc with your electronics.

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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