Top Ten Pagan Stories of 2010 (Part One)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 30, 2010 — 24 Comments

As we reach the close of 2010, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.

10. The Crackdown on Minority Religions in Russia: A woefully underreported story in the mainstream media, but one that could have vast ramifications for modern Pagans, is the slow-moving oppression of minority faiths in Russia. As the government, in seemingly increasing collusion with the Russian Orthodox Church, use laws against extremism and “cults” to intimidate and oppress competing faiths, the future of indigenous and neopagan faiths in Russia seems endangered.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

These laws were originally written to address “doomsday cults” in Russia, but are increasingly being used on largely benign faiths, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and the the Mari people. These developments should concern anyone who values freedom of religion, and especially those concerned with the growth and preservation of Paganism across the globe. It should also act as a warning to those who would start writing and supporting laws that would oversee the free expression of faith.

09. Psychic Services & The Law: I’ve been reporting on run-ins between local governments and those who provide various psychic/fortune telling services for a long time, but this year the topic seemed to garner wider press attention. Both Time Magazine and the BBC looked at a growing trend of stricter regulations against psychics being enforced by local governments, and in response to this attention I interviewed professional psychics and tarot readers like Christian Day, Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack.

“I don’t believe in specific laws and regulations for fortune tellers that go beyond the standard business laws of any community. It has been found that laws prohibiting fraud cover most cases of abuse perfectly adequately and far better than regulations that discriminate unfairly against this particular profession, especially when they assume criminal behavior where none has been shown by the individual. It has been proved over and over again that discriminatory regulations are created by special interest groups and that they are unfair and almost always unconstitutional.”Mary K. Greer

Spurred by a variety of impulses, some religious, some not, towns and cities created subcultural “red light districts”, stood by total bans, and argued over whether psychic services could be classified as “spiritual counseling”, while in Canada, obscure laws against “witchcraft” were used to pursue fraud cases. We also saw a big win as the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that fortunetelling and other psychic services are protected speech, setting a precedent that could affect laws across the country. Expect this issue to continue to make news, and involve members of our community in 2011.

08. The James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Death Controversy: While the tragic events that took three lives happened at the end of 2009, 2010 saw the arrest and ongoing drama unfold in the case of New Age guru James Arthur Ray, who is accused of negligent homicide after a sweat lodge ceremony went horribly wrong.

This event has had repercussion through many different communities, some Native American activists and commentators are concerned their beliefs are going to be put on trial to exonerate Ray, and in one instance have even considered regulating Native practices to prevent such occurrences from repeating. In the New Age hub of Sedona, business is down, and some are blaming the “negative energy” of the sweat lodge deaths, though few think practices will dramatically alter in the long term. Meanwhile, Ray and his lawyers continue to try to suppress damaging evidence as the trial looms ever closer. What the longterm ramifications of this event will be for Ray, Native Americans, the New Age market, and the modern Pagans who cross-pollinate with these affected communities remains to be seen.

07. WM3 and the ghosts of Satanic Panic: While the horrors of the mid-1980s moral panic over “Satanic” cults, a phenomenon that imprisoned dozens and ruined the lives of hundreds more, has most devolved into “did that really happen” gallows humor, 2010 reminded us that there’s a lot of unfinished business from that era. The most high-profile instance is the case of the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.), long considered by many to be victims of panic-fueled miscarriage of justice, the three men recently won the right to new evidentiary hearings, providing them their best chance yet of overturning their convictions.

“The court also pointed out Thursday that Circuit Judge David Burnett erred repeatedly in the case, including dismissing requests to consider DNA and other exculpatory evidence without a hearing. Burnett has been the focus of activists’ campaigns because of his pro-prosecution stances. He will not hear the new case because he was recently elected to the state legislature. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also fought against a new hearing.”

This case has long drawn the attention of modern Pagans since prosecutors used Echols’ interest in the occult and Wicca to help convince a jury, with no physical evidence and a coerced confession from the mentally challenged Misskelley, that they were to blame for the murder of three boys. As a society, we are still dealing with the fallout of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” panic, and many of those who participated enjoy high-profile careers to this day.We need to not only right the wrongs of yesterday, but remain vigilant that such a panic doesn’t emerge again.

06. The Passing of Isaac Bonewits: 2010 was a heavy year for deaths within the Pagan community, but the passage of seminal Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits in August shook our communities, and brought forward an unique communal outpouring of grief and tribute rarely seen.


Isaac Bonewits, photo by Ava Francesca, from the ADF website.

A true Pagan polymath, Bonewits seemed to drink deeply of modern Paganism in all its myriad forms.He’s been an initiate into Santeria, religious Witchcraft (both orthodox and heterodox), various magic(k)al traditions, and fraternal Druidism. A man of letters, he wrote many celebrated books, andmany more influential essays. Many of the phrases and terminology we now use on a regular basis had their genesis with Isaac Bonewits. His Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF)has been used by Federal law enforcement and foreign governments to evaluate religious minorities, and he’s been a visionary in predicting the growing pains our movement would encounter.

Perhaps his greatest gift and legacy to the Pagan movement will be the founding of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), a Druid fellowship that from the outset anticipated the ramifications of our growing numbers, and the strove to meet the challenges that would bring. […] His role in founding the ADF alone has earned him a place in history.

Bonewits was a giant among us, and his passing has left us without one of our most intelligent and forward-looking leaders just as many of his visions for the future were coming to fruition. We can only hope that his legacy and example will endure.

Tomorrow I will post the top five Pagan stories for 2010. In the meantime, I invite you to check out the top religion stories from some different perspectives. Here are the Religion Newswriters Association’s picks, Terry Mattingly’s (of Get Religion fame) picks, the top spiritual trends according to Charisma Magazine, the top picks from Christianity Today, and Time Magazine’s top religion story picks.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://twitter.com/Moonwriter2010 @Moonwriter2010

    Hello– I teach in the Grey School of Wizardry. We are preparing the next quarterly edition of our school Zine, a rather high-quality publication, if I do say so myself. I would like to ask your permission to excerpt this article– with FULL credit to you and your blog– in the next edition (Imbolc). I'll also be pleased to send you a copy of the Zine when it comes out. Please let me know at Moonwriter07@comcast.net. Thank you! It will also be a great opp for the zine to give your blog a shout-out, as your blog is seen by us as a key source of Pagan news, etc. Thank you, Moonwriter

  • http://www.facebook.com/EdAHubbard Ed Hubbard

    Thanks Jason, I am looking forward to this.

  • Robin Artisson

    There's no doubt that Isaac was a great man, clever and witty, and a true Pagan. But wearing creepy Tie-dyed neon celtic knotwork is certainly an embarrassing way to be remembered. However- forget the costume, and look at his eyes and face. He radiates a glow of peace and joy, and friendliness- something that's not fake; something he couldn't hide, even behind a small smile. That, my friend, is a sign that he lived rightly, and that death was kind to him as a result. Peace is, more than any other attribute, a sign of wisdom's attainment. Clothes become a secondary consideration after that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kkampmiller Kat Kampmiller

      Oh don't worry, there won't be nearly as many people to remember or gawk at your images when you die. They'll be like, Chuck who? ;)

      • http://military.pagannewswirecollective.com Lori Dake

        Y'know Chuck, some things you should really keep to yourself. And this is *me* talking!

        That's a pretty shitty thing to say. :( Can we see a pic of you in your ritual garb so we can determine your sexiness and its fashion-worthiness as well? I'm sure you're a real 20-something Fabio.

        • Robin Artisson

          I don't think Chuck's comment was all that nice- and indeed, my return comment, which was intended mostly as a rebuke to him for not looking deeper than new-age fashions, but has apparently been taken as some sordid agreement with him- tries to communicate that.

          But let's be honest; He only said he hoped he had a better picture; he didn't bring up sexiness, fashion-worthiness, or anything like that. There's lots of reasons why he may have disliked this picture; the composition of the shot may have perturbed his tastes. Everyone here is reading a lot into what Chuck said, even me- I assumed it was the colors on the man's cloak that bothered him, because it's what I myself didn't like.

          Now, we can all let this go, or let it whirlpool into useless drama.

      • blah

        considering his notoriety in occult circles i doubt it.

        • Robin Artisson

          Chuck Cosimano is notorious in occult circles? It's odd that I don't know of him, then.

        • http://www.facebook.com/kkampmiller Kat Kampmiller

          LOL Seriously? Here all these.. 15+ years I've been involved in the Occult and Paganism circles, I've never heard of him. What books has he written? What organizations has he contributed to?

    • http://www.facebook.com/phaedra.bonewits Phaedra Bonewits

      Good grief, now everyone is a fashion critic? ;-) That was his official ADF ArchDruid portrait. It's lucky they did it when they did.

      • Robin Artisson

        Madame, My personal opinion regarding the colors of the gentleman's ensemble don't make me a fashion critic. As a person that respected Isaac greatly, I regret that you ignored my genuine praise for the man, in favor of that briefly expressed opinion about neon colors. And, of course, I'm sorry for your loss. I read Isaac's book on magic when I was very young, and enjoyed it.

  • http://www.tigerseyetemple.org/ DanMiller

    Pretty classless thing to say Chuck. And Robin's commentary isn't far behind.

    • Robin Artisson

      Dan, you'll pardon me if I take anything you say as valueless- you have proven yourself time and time again to be not in the league of the typical commentator here, neither in understanding, knowledge of paganism or the occult, nor in basic common (or not so common) sense on the matters under discussion. You are another clone from the PC brigade, another "good guy badge" guy, and another hopeless case waiting till the pressure builds up high enough for you to convert back to whatever Episcopalianism you began in .

      • http://www.tigerseyetemple.org/ DanMiller

        It's awfully sad that some pagan folk seem to have lost touch with basic decencies; respect for the elders of a community and respect of those elders who have passed this life. The relative anonymity of online life to post egomaniacally snide and condescending commentary show how little the human condition has advanced.

        • Bookhousegal

          I can arrange that! (Well, hopefully not the dying part.)

          But there's actually a fair amount of photographic talent in the Pagan community, for all we don't seem to be a big sitting-for-portraits bunch. Something easily taken in hand, if you're worried.

          As soon as I drag most of my own dinosaurey skillset (and computers) into the 21st century, I've been planning to see about setting up an imaging bureau/archive for the PNC or some such. Generating content shouldn't be so hard. ….and I can do editing and logistics, but as an organizational wiz, I'm, well, a pretty good shaman. But a portrait archive wouldn't be hard. :)

        • Robin Artisson

          It's awfully sad that one pagan person- DanMiller- likely never had touch with basic sense and reason, and had, in their place, an unerring ability to grandstand and cause drama where there was no need for any. I respect people who have earned my respect, and neither their age, nor whether or not they are alive, affects that. I can respect Isaac- which I did- and still have personal tastes and preferences about clothing and costuming. I didn't like the costume. I liked Isaac. Issac is not his clothes. Isaac was not his clothes.

          You want to talk about the human condition "advancing" not at all? You're sitting in here doing the same ass-kissing, good-guy badge ego-stroking, and conflation of sense and sensibility that people have been using for centuries to manipulate others.

          • http://www.tigerseyetemple.org/ DanMiller

            You got quite the shtick as a wind-up merchant, as my friends in the U.K. would be apt to say.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    I remember reading a nice and depressing comic about girls who were living it up before killing themselves, taking cheerful pictures they wanted used at their funerals and making notes about wanting, say, flowers instead of incense. Only one goes through it with, though, and the other watches as her funeral uses the unflattering, dreary picture and incense instead of flowers.

    But I think it's a nice picture.

  • http://www.hecatedemetersdatter.blogspot.com Hecate

    I hope that the continued Dominionist control of our military makes it into the top five stories. It's still going on:
    http://hecatedemetersdatter.blogspot.com/2010/12/

  • http://OccultCorpus.com Caliban

    Why cannot we just say that he died? Are we not supposed to be the ones in tune with living Nature and all its diverse manifestations and recurring cycles?

    We are animals. We are mortal. We die. Isaac Bonewits died. He didn't "pass". He didn't "cross over". Why is it so hard for us to say that?

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    Perhaps. But the death of Isaac Bonewits may deserve a slightly different terminology. His death is not merely a personal event, and a personal loss (however deep) for those who knew him well.

    Isaac's death marks the passing of an era of modern Paganism. It seems appropriate to me to reflect that in the wording here. (Your sense of the language may differ, of course; I understand that doesn't imply a lack of understanding of his importance to us, as his community.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/kkampmiller Kat Kampmiller

      I don't think of it as a passing of an era. I think of it as the death of a person who's work lives on, and he has influenced so many people whether they know it or not, through his writings and ADF and all he's done. His ideas totally live on.

      • Kathy Frank

        Isaac was smart and funny, something often sorely lacking in pagan circles. While in a Women's Group run by Lady Rhea at the Magickal Childe, Isaac was the only man invited to address our group. After he spoke, a woman criticized me for having an annual May Pole Dance and inviting people "not of the Craft". Isaac asked me, do your guests know you consider this a religious act? I said, yeah, of course. He said he thought it was great to expose people who were not pagans to our ways, and he didn't see any harm in it. She then complained that I was using ancient prayers, a chant that went, "Oh do not tell the priests of our art, for they will call it sin, for we shall be out in the woods tonight, a-conjuring summer in …" I replied, "That's not ancient, it was written by Rudyard Kipling'." Isaac smiled and said, "You know, she's rght." I am sorry to hear of his not being around any more. The world has lost a smart, witty, erudite and nice guy with his leaving us, and I for one will lift a glass of Irish Mist to him.

    • Kathy Frank

      And that's a great picture, and a most fashionable outfit, if you ask me. Loosen up, people! In-fighting and stupid interfaith criticisms have been a bane to the pagan world for decades (actually, for centuries), and I think Isaac looks cool as hell. He was a class act, and people would do well to emulate his scholarly, gentle and good-humored approach.