Quick Notes: Selena Fox on 2011, Witchcraft in Romania, and Gaia

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 2, 2011 — 41 Comments

A few quick news notes on this Sunday morning.

Predictions for a New Year: CNN’s Belief Blog asks various religious leaders for their “faith-based” 2011 predictions. Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox sees a growth of interfaith involvement for Wiccans and Pagans.

“More Wiccan ministers and other pagan leaders will be actively involved in interfaith organizations, conferences and initiatives in the United States and internationally. Interfaith endeavors will grow in importance in addressing ongoing needs in the world today as well as in responding to natural disasters and other tragedies.”

Most of the predictions are aspirational, though Pagans have made great strides in interfaith recently. CNN’s senior Vatican analyst John Allen Jr. predicts that “Christianophobia” will become a buzzword in 2011, though I’d argue variations on that theme have been popular for generations.

(Don’t) Legalize It: Romania has changed its labor laws to make witchcraft a legal profession, but the local witches and fortune-tellers aren’t lining up to thank the government for it.

“The move, which went into effect Saturday, is part of the government’s drive to crack down on widespread tax evasion in a country that is in recession. In addition to witches, astrologists, embalmers, valets and driving instructors are now considered by labor law to be working real jobs, making it harder for them to avoid income tax.”

One Romanian Witch has already stepped forward to threaten spells against the government, nor is this the first time Witches have fought back against government intervention into their affairs. In a country where mystical attacks are still taken seriously by politicians, the economy must be truly bad for them to move forward on this initiative. As for the Witches, they opposes legal recognition for the same reasons marijuana growers in California do, because it would hurt their bottom line.

Gaia is (coming) Alive! At a recent symposium in Sydney, Australian professor, scientist, and environmental activist Tim Flannery apparently had some interesting things to say about our Earth and the Gaia hypothesis.

Robyn Williams: So there you’ve got an image of the earth, the planet as a god, but also a very sophisticated and credible scientific idea.

Tim Flannery: That’s right. I was tempted in the book to simply give in and call it Earth System Science, because Gaia is earth system science and in many university departments around the world, as you’ll know, Robyn, earth system science is a very respectable science. But as soon as you mention Gaia of course, the scepticism comes out. I didn’t do that though, because I think there’s a certain elegance to Gaia, to that word and the concept, and also because I think that within this century the concept of the strong Gaia will actually become physically manifest. I do think that the Gaia of the Ancient Greeks, where they believed the earth was effectively one whole and perfect living creature, that doesn’t exist yet, but it will exist in future. That’s why I wanted to keep that word.

Robyn Williams: How will it exist in the future? Because an organism is one thing; the earth is complicated, but it is after all a lump of rock with iron in the middle and a veneer of living things outside, and a very thin atmosphere. It’s not an organism, so how is the feedback system such that it stabilises things, temperature anyway, like an organism?

Tim Flannery: That’s the great question. I must admit that as I wrote the book I was unable to come to a clear landing on the extent of Gaian control over the system, because much of the data is equivocal. I think that there is clear evidence for something that I call in the book geo-pheromones, which are elements within the earth system, which when present in very small amounts have very large outcomes, a bit like ant pheromones. But they often do multiple jobs. Some ant pheromones do as well, but many of them are specific. One of those is course carbon dioxide, a trace amount in the atmosphere, four parts per ten thousand is enough to keep the earth habitable. Ozone is another one present in just a few parts per billion. Human-made CFCs are yet another one. Atmospheric dust may well be another one. So these elements in the earth system have a profound impact on the system, and there is some evidence that there’s some sort of homeostasis established, if you want.

This theory that Earth/Gaia is becoming a unified living organism has incensed conservative journalist Tim Blair, who blasts the idea of a “sentient Frankenplanet spirit” and rips into James Lovelock, largely credited with popularizing the Gaia hypothesis, for good measure. Behind the sneers of “general occult weirdness” and “summoning of a dirt god” is the same fear of an environmental “green dragon” seen among American Christians, the over-zealous backlash against the idea that Christianity isn’t the only or final truth in this world.

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

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • James

    "against the idea that Christianity isn’t the only or final truth in this world." Well said Jason.

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

    This theory that Earth/Gaia is becoming a unified living organism has incensed conservative journalist Tim Blair, who blasts the idea of a “sentient Frankenplanet spirit” and rips into James Lovelock, largely credited with popularizing the Gaia hypothesis, for good measure.

    Well, they're a bit late. Should have been railing against de Chardin several decades ago.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Yo!

    • http://www.wiccanweb.ca Makarios

      Ditto Matthew Fox.

  • http://www.facebook.com/OberonWhitethorn James Russell Rusty Broach

    I admit I worry about our faiths slide into goddess monotheism it seems every few months we slide a bit closer.

    • gitana

      GetReligion seems to simply be another assertion of xtianity under the guise of journalistic reporting. Any mention of other religions is only from the viewpoint of how they impact xtians/xtianity.

      The 'Big Three' religions are historically violent, their religious texts are full of violence, and they have persecuted and been persecuted throughout history; you reap what you sow.

      The rest of the world is getting a little tired of it, don't you think?

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        If one believes that the fact that the press doesn't get religion is serious enough to put up with a conservative, mostly Christian staff following examples, then it's worth hanging around the site. I daresay most of us here can come up with examples of how the press doesn't get religion.

      • Robin Artisson

        Gitana: your comment here for the win!

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I'm curious how you measure this slide.

      The anodyne is for each of us to re-devote ourselves to the particular form of Deity that speaks to us.

      • http://www.facebook.com/OberonWhitethorn James Russell Rusty Broach

        Well right there your using Deity as a singular. Not to long ago it was whatever Deities or Deity. Now all you here is Spirit and Deity.

        In addition a lot of the major no-nos in Paganism get suspended when it comes to the goddess. Proselytism for example and even using magic to bring people around to "HER" is slow being more accepted in some circles.

        The final one being a growing number of Pagans stating our faith is all about serving HER.

        I have no links all of this is from my interaction with the growing number of Pagans online and in face to face meetings.

        • Robin Artisson

          Thank you James! Superb points, and yes, the slide into the tasteless, homogenized goo that is the "Deity" and "Spirit" talk really grates on my nerves as well. I'd rather be Catholic than a general "spiritual" person going on about "Deity" and "Spirit".

        • Robin Artisson

          And I'd like to point out that, yes, I am encountering the goddess-monotheists that walk around talking about "Service to HER" myself- I've encountered them for years, actually, but I still run across them (and run foul of them) today. And the entire notion of "Service to HER" traces directly back to Marion Zimmer Bradley and her thrice-accursed work "The Mists of Avalon".

          The entire notion of "serving the Gods" is just another Christian notion (Service to God) that falls over into Paganism on the backs of converts, who replace God, and their christian sense of duty to God, with "Gods" or "The Goddess" or whatever. Pagan Gods don't need human servants. Nowhere in the historical literature I'm aware of are human beings presented in a servitor-master relationship with the Gods of the polytheistic world. Gods don't need humans to serve them; Gods have what they need to do handled, because they are Gods.

          What they want from humans- if they can be said to want anything at all- is that we be like them- be aware, focused on excellence, and living in accord with the great Laws of this nature and this world. But living that way isn't "service" to a God or a Goddess, or to all the Gods; living properly makes you a servant to no one, but a help to all, happy with yourself, and you become a true benefit to this world and all its inhabitants, Godly or Mortal.

          • Rombaldf

            Well, you seem to define Paganism in terms of worshipping multiple gods that were worshipped before Christianity, in a historically attested manner (or something along those lines).

            There are Gaia-Goddess types who define Paganism mainly in terms of environmentalism and the one goddess.

            Bonewitz insisted that no neoPagans are racist, sexist or homophobic.

            Several different groups seem intent on defining Paganism, and each definition excludes people who consider themselves Pagan. I can't help thinking it woud be better to either not use the term, or accept that it is a catch-all for anyone not Abrahamic, Buddhist or scientific materialist.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Gaia is an ancient Goddess worshipped before Christianity in a historically attested manner (or something along those lines). Just so you know.

            And Gaia-Goddess worship is not monotheistic, unless you find Her worshippers insisting that She be worshipped exclusively, and that Isis, Diana, etc, are not "real" Goddesses.

            Goddess worship is often henotheistic, and it's proponents tend to not understand the difference between henotheism and monotheism. But henotheism implies polytheism whether people realize that or not.

          • http://www.facebook.com/OberonWhitethorn James Russell Rusty Broach

            Believe it or not Apuleius those of us against the rising tide of Goddess centric monotheism have read the old stories. The Gaia of the goddess monotheist is not the Gaia of the Ancients.

            Just for one example the goddess centric types see Gaia as all good and loving however the Gaia of the Ancients at times did very evil deeds.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Those who believe any Goddess or God capable of "very evil deeds" know nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever, of ancient Paganism. Even the airiest fairiest flower child knows infinitely more about the Gods than those who believe Them to be capable of "evil."

          • druideric

            Scientists are in disagreement, monotheistic religions are happy to utilize doomsday scenarios to their own ends,politicians wrestle over the economic implications of it all but logic indicates that we are all in thrall to the whims of the sun god as my pagan ancestors affirmed. Nothing has changed. The influence of the egotistical human race is nothing more than a fart in an anthill!

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Robin, I became Pagan with an epiphanal experience of the Goddess. In the two following years I found myself offering succor to three women who had suffered sexual abuse. Each was more severe than the last and each stretched my abilities to the point I could not imagine further extention, until the next one happened. I would not have met any of them had I not been Pagan. Since I regard every woman as a potential messenger of the Goddess, I had no problem classifying what I was doing as service to the Goddess, gladly (if laboriously) rendered. At no point did "Mists of Avalon" cross my mind.

          • Robin Artisson

            So long as you understand that your notion of "service to the Goddess" (whoever this Goddess may be) is idiosyncratic to your experience, there's no issue. You're free to interpret your personal experiences as you see fit. It's the people who feel the need to offer justification to their beliefs or personal interpretations of experience by co-opting and re-writing history that bother me.

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

            This is clearer than your original remark, Robin–and very much on point.

          • northernsea

            Bless you for this Baruch.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          James, I use Deity as a category. It contains multitudes.

          Thanks for your information about Pagan montheophilia. I've never experienced any of them.

          • http://www.facebook.com/OberonWhitethorn James Russell Rusty Broach

            You do realize that is like using person to describe everyone posting here or cat to describe every animal in a zoo.

            Inaccurate, misleading and confusing.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            It is like using "human" to describe everyone posting here. Human is singular when applied to an individual — one human, two humans — but is also a collective applying to all humans.

            If this is confusing I fear it means you are not difficult to confuse. If it's misleading, that arises from your own unfamiliarity with collective nouns. It is not by any means inaccurate.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Baruch, in my opinion you are absolutely right about this.The one proviso I have is that it is, unfortunately, very easy to be confused about this. The reason is simply that ever since Eusebius (c. 263-339) Christian apologists have attempted to seize hold of every instance in which singular nouns are used to refer to the divine as evidence of exclusive monotheism.

            In fact, there is a small army of modern day scholars, some of whom are actually quite sympathetic to Paganism (or like to think they are), who insist that whenever one finds the singular nouns theos or deus in ancient Pagan writings that this is symptomatic of so-called "Pagan Monotheism".

            A number of scholars have tried, largely but not completely in vain, to correct this misperception. The most notable case is that of Gilbert Francois who, in 1957, published a 400 page study of every instance of the use of the singular "ho theos" in Greek literature prior to 350 BC. He showed that no distinction whatsoever was made between the use of the singular and the plural. The same author, often on the same page, will switch back and forth between "ho theos" (singular) and "hoi theoi" (plural).

            This makes perfect sense if one follows Baruch's advice and thinks of how people use collective nouns like "man" in instances where one could also use a plural, such as "human beings", or more abstract nouns like "humanity".

            The full title of Francois' work is Le Polythéisme et l'emploi au singulier des mots ΘΕΟΣ, ΛΑΙΜΩΝ dans la littérature grecque d'Homère à Platon.

          • kauko

            The funny thing about that is that the word for 'God' in the Hebrew Bible is in the pural form.

          • http://www.facebook.com/OberonWhitethorn James Russell Rusty Broach

            Human can be singular or plural. Deity however has always been singular.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            "Deity however has always been singular."

            Wrong. There are clear cases from ancient Pagan texts in which singular and plural are used interchangeably. This is actually well known to anyone who has make any real effort to understand the ways in which ancient Pagans wrote and spoke about the Gods.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      Paganism does not pit "the One" against "the Many". That is a false dichotomy.

      Singular references to the divine are found in ancient Greek and Latin Pagan writings. But in one sentence you find "ho theos", and in the next sentence you find "hoi theoi" — both obviously referring to the same divine essence. There is no trace of monotheism in this whatsoever.

      • Rombaldf

        I suspect that insistence on polytheism is a reaction against monotheism. The issue of the number of the gods has not been central to many religions.

        In Hinduism, folk religionists are cheerfully polytheist, and some intellectuals are polytheist, but most are either monotheist (Dvaita) or pantheist (Advaita), yet they all worship at the same temple.

        In Shinto, with which I have more practical experience, partly because Japanese doesn't have plurals, I have found that people cheerfully switch from using "kami-sama" to mean "a god", "the supreme god", "gods" and "the gods".

        It is not merely that different religions disagree, but that they disagree about which things are worth disagreeing about.

  • elnigma

    Thank you Selena Fox and Lady Liberty League for their work defending religious freedom!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1195241145 Aisling Kelledia

      The "soil" of our Mother is sacred; the only "dirt" is within corrupted minds.
      And that's my sound-bite of the day.

      • Robin Artisson

        Frackin' A!

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

        Dirt Worshippers Unite!

      • Pagan Puff Pieces

        Dirt's done an awful lot for me lately!

        Oh, those wacky people, revering something so out there and invisible.

        Oh, those wacky people, revering something so mundane and visible.

  • Robin Artisson

    "Behind the sneers of “general occult weirdness” and “summoning of a dirt god”…"

    Hey! I resemble that statement!

    • http://www.facebook.com/OberonWhitethorn James Russell Rusty Broach

      Hmmm lemme see my gods.

      Blacksmith, Music, Order, Civilization, Wisdom, Poetry, Compassion, Nature, Agriculture…

      Can't find one of dirt….

      Hmmmm can I sub an Earth Father (The Dagda), Nature, Fertility or Agricultural God?

      • Robin Artisson

        I don't know. Does agriculture actually require dirt? If so, then yes. Would we exist without dirt? If not, then your "All Parent" type Gods, Nature, or Fertility Gods might make shoo-ins, too.

  • Thriceraven

    O Great Gaia, sentient Frankenplanet!

    Not exactly Homer, but it does have a certain ring to it…

  • Pitch313

    Yes, of course we understand planetary systems perfectly and completely so as to dismiss any and all suggestions that we may not understand it all as utter nonsense. And human beings are thoroughly in control of this planetary system we live on, too. (Who makes frankenlandscapes? Humans do!)

    I happen not to imagine that the planet Earth is a single planet-sized super-organism. I imagine that the planet Earth comprises a cluster of different super-organisms whose overall relationships are symbiotic, and probably mutual or commensal more than parasitic.

    I, a Neo-Pagan, also imagine that some of these relationships obtain via non-physical means.

    But the chief point of what I imagine is that planet Earth is a complicated dynamic system whose character we humans do not yet know about let alone understand. (My college biology textbooks did not mention deep Earth chemoautotophs, for example, because nobody then had a clue that there were any.)

    I do my best to keep an open mind about the diversity and complexity of the planet Earth, and not to cling to theories and suppositions because they provide an orderly and closed intellectual legacy. Even when clinging to those theories and suppositions enable me to deliver wads of sopping snark and blobs of know-it-all sarcasm.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Over on GetReligion.org the topic of Christianophobia has already come up, being coordinated and recently violent hostility to Christianity in various parts of the world. It arises in an general environment in which criticism of Islamic culture seems to evoke a response of "Islamophobia!" We've seen similar complaints here. If I may speculate, I think the tone is, "You invoke Islamophobia? OK, we invoke Christianophobia!" (pardon me if I make it sound like dialogue from Calivn & Hobbes).