Respecting Native Culture, Goddess Temples, and the HuffPo Deal

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 7, 2011 — 11 Comments

Some news of note to start your week.

Respecting (and Not Respecting) Native Culture: There seemed to be several stories in recent days concerning reactions to indigenous and Native cultures. Some of these stories were positive ones, like a New York Times profile of the new Denver Art Museum’s initiative to credit individual American Indian artists, instead of simply listing the tribe it was made by. However, this newfound sense of respect hasn’t carried over into all aspects of our culture, as the ongoing discussion over the wave of criticism from conservative pundits regarding a traditional Native blessing given by Dr. Carlos Gonzales at a memorial service for those killed and injured in the horrific shooting in Tuscon, Arizona shows. Last week the Indian Country Today Media Network profiled several Native voices regarding the conservative media outcry over the blessing, and today, in a follow-up report, Rob Capriccioso notes that several blogs are weaving conspiracy theories about the one pundit, Power Line’s Paul Meringoff, who did retract his insensitive comments.

Former Washington Times scribe Robert Stacy McCain played the role of an alarmist, writing in a Jan. 31 blog post, titled, “Power Line Gets Scalped: Did Indian Tribe Money Influence Akin Gump Decision?,” that he believed tribes had knocked off Mirengoff—and somehow former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was involved, too. “You may recall that Pelosi and Democrats were elected in 2006 on a promise to clean up the ‘culture of corruption’ in Washington. Exhibit A in the Democrats’ case against the GOP that year? Yeah: ‘Casino Jack’ Abramoff’s shady dealings with Indian tribes,” McCain wrote. “So in criticizing that Yaqui prayer at the Tucson memorial, Paul Mirengoff wasn’t just being politically incorrect, he was also offending a lucrative segment of Akin Gump’s lobbying clientele, whom the firm had recently hired three lawyers to service. Small wonder that Mirengoff was likely forced to choose: Quit blogging at Power Line or quit working at Akin Gump.”

What does it say about any culture, blog or otherwise, when a member can’t retract, or be wrong, without others invoking a web of intrigue to explain it? So instead of a pundit simply deciding he went over the top, embarrassing his employers in the process, and that being accepted, his apology is marked as “worthy of a political prisoner” or an example of the “slow erosion of our speech.” Free speech for some may be never having to say your sorry, but being a part of a community means that our words and actions have consequences. Behind these various conspiracy theories were actual American Indians who were hurt and offended by the attacks, distortions, and smears, that some can’t acknowledge that is troubling.

While we are on the subject of not respecting Native Americans, their religion, and their culture, we have some news in the ongoing James Arthur Ray sweat lodge deaths trial. The trial is set to begin on February 18th, but the defense team are trying to have the proceedings moved from Yavapai County (home to New Age hub of Sedona) to a court in Phoenix, saying the jury pool is too tainted and biased (an allegation locals aren’t too happy about).

“Ray’s lawyers made a similar request last summer, which was denied by Judge Warren Darrow. At the time, though, Darrow said he’d still consider the request as the case moves closer to trial. The Associated Press reports that his attorneys say jury questionnaires reveal widespread prejudice against Ray in Yavapai County.”

Ray’s lawyers are also trying to prevent cult deprogrammer/consultant Rick Ross from giving testimony for the prosecution. They  (prosecutors) want Ross to evaluate Ray’s programs, and testify on how coercive they may be. This trial, once it actually starts, should be very, very interesting.

Opening, Restoring, and Protecting Goddess Temples: Starting with a bit of good news on this topic, the Roman Forum’s Vestal temple and houses, after a lengthy restoration effort, is now open to the public.

No doubt modern followers of Vesta, and those interested in the restoration of pre-Christian temples, will be most pleased! Meanwhile, despite the economic turmoil in Greece lately, restoration efforts in Athens are being pushed forward, with many seeing it as a matter of national pride to continue the work. However, not all efforts regarding ancient temple sites are as well received as those in Greece or Italy, the Goddess Pages is calling for protests over plans to build a visitor center in the middle of a prehistoric goddess sanctuary in Nettersheim, Germany.

“At first we thought this must be a bad joke. Unfortunately the concealed plans are already very advanced. An architect is already dreaming about eternalizing this outrageous action and a mayor is dreaming of hordes of tourists bringing their money. This construction in the middle of this sanctuary would be an terrible crime. It’s more than about questioning the subject of reputation, prestige and profit, fact is it would destroy irretrievable evidence of our foremothers and ancestors. We’re sure the public has not yet realized that this plan exists. In the past churches were built on sanctuaries to honour goddesses in order to destroy them. Today is it to be Info Centers built to attract tourists which will destroy our remaining sanctuaries?”

You can read more about the proposed visitor “cube, ” here. The German article notes conflict “about the ‘male’ form of a cube” not being “compatible with the ‘female’ matrones.” There seems to be a Facebook campaign already underway. You can see some pictures of the Deae Matrone sanctuary, here. Thanks to Medusa Coils for tipping me off to the story.

While restoration efforts happen for ancient temples, modern Goddess worshipers, like those in the Sisterhood of Avalon, carry on in creating new traditions and fellowships. The Waterloo Record in Canada has a profile of a small Sisterhood of Avalon group, and interviews local hearth mother Tiffany Lazic.

“The sisterhood is about “gathering the tools for self-empowerment,’’ said Lazic, a holistic therapist in private practice, who meditates several times a week and journeys to Avalon in her mind twice a month. Pagan faiths, often described as earth-based religions, adhere to ritual practices and follow different mythologies including Celtic, Norse and ancient Greek traditions. [...] Lazic started the Kitchener group in July 2009 which now has 11 active members. Worldwide, there are 350 members in the group which has a seminary in the United States. For Lazic, the sisterhood seemed natural. Her parents were classic teachers and as a child she immersed herself in Greek mythology.”

What’s nice about the article is that it treats this local hearth of the Sisterhood as it would any other religious congregation. As modern Pagans start and continue to build their own temples and communal spaces, an emerging continuity could develop between the new and the old, and modern Paganism could truly restore its place in the public mind as a world religion.

A Quick Note on the HuffPo-AOL Deal: For those who keep track of new media business, you may have heard that the Huffington Post has been purchased by AOL. For some relevant commentary, see Jeff Jarvis, Newspaper Death Watch, Fishbowl LA, and PC World. I wanted to note this here for a number of reasons, first, HuffPo has Pagan bloggers, most notably Anne Hill, Grove Harris, and Donna Hennes (among others), and secondly, because this is just another sign of how the blogosphere is gaining in prominence, and becoming professionalized. Many have noted that blogging as an activity is declining among certain demographics, and while some hope this signals a return to print or more traditional forms of media, I think its simply a sign that the “faddish” nature of the technology has faded as more suitable social technologies have emerged to keep folks in contact and update your friends on your latest adventures.

In many areas, particularly religion, new media is where the future of journalism lies. Relevant and well-written content about our faiths is more vital now than it has ever been. The ability of our faiths to be heard, to inform ourselves and others effectively, will rest in our ability to navigate the changing world of Internet media. Our ability to create our own news organs, and to work within the increasingly condensing content giants, will decide for many how we are perceived. This is our chance to make sure the Pagan voice(s) ring out to the world, and I hope some of you will join me for my talks at Pantheacon later this month as I explore some potential solutions and ways forward.

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

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    "Ray’s lawyers are also trying to prevent cult deprogrammer/consultant Rick Ross from giving testimony for the prosecution. They (prosecutors) want Ross to evaluate Ray’s programs, and testify on how coercive they may be."

    The Witchfinder General lives…

  • blah

    i feel that huffpo is going to lose with this, big time. AOL has a brand image like walmart- it definitely isn't loved on the internet. and huffpo built it's image as a leftie rebel that is part of alternative media, without lacking in sophistication. this aol merger goes directly against that image.
    also, some of the big sites that sold out quickly died out after that. take a look at myspace or geocities.

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

    I appreciate your ideas on expanding small press, and I am sorry I am not going to Pantheacon. Are you going to make it to PSG? It seems that a Pagan Media Camp is forming.

  • Krystal Henderson

    Re: Sisterhood of Avalon

    OMGs! That's my local paper! How was I not informed of this?! I need to read it more, apparently.
    Anyways, it's so awesome to hear about local Pagan groups in my area!

    In other news, the restored temple looks really cool! I hope we see many more in the future.

  • http://www.jaimaa.org Kulasundari Devi

    Just a note to share this with you from Bryan Fischer of the American Family Foundation: http://www.afa.net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147503

    It's pretty appalling. His thesis is that Native Americans don't have any right to their land because God is punishing them for being heathens. Of course, his ode to the Mighty European Conquerors neatly ignores the real facts: that it was enforced indoctrination, germ warfare, forced conversion, forced relocation to desolate land, forced isolation, and forced removal of cultural identity that has created problems for Native peoples to this day.

    Here's a quote:

    In all the discussions about the European settlement of the New World, one feature has been conspicuously absent: the role that the superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of native Americans played in making them morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil.

    God explained to the nation of Israel that because of the “abomination(s)” of the indigenous Canaanite tribes, the land had become unclean and “vomited out its inhabitants (Lev. 18:25).”

    Is this to say the same holds true for native American tribes today? In many respects, the answer is of course no. But in some senses, the answer is yes. Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture.

    The continued presence of native American superstition was on full display at the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooter, when the “invocation” (such as it was) was offered by a native American who sought inspiration from the “Seven Directions,” including “Father Sky” and “Mother Earth,” rather than the God of the Bible.

    Sadly, this column will likely generate a firestorm of nuclear proportions among wingers on the left rather than the thoughtful reflection the thesis deserves.

    ###

    I have thoughtfully reflected on his thesis, and it's not just because part of my extended family is Choctaw and Tsalagi that I'm pretty sure that this is completely racist B.S.

  • jaundicedi

    As I understand the deal AOL paid 30 times the annual income of Huffington Post. Since no other company was likely to offer even half that amount it then became a matter of sell to AOL or not at all.

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    I think AOL got jipped…

  • Khryseis_Astra

    "No doubt modern followers of Vesta, and those interested in the restoration of pre-Christian temples, will be most pleased! Meanwhile, despite the economic turmoil in Greece lately, restoration efforts in Athens are being pushed forward, with many seeing it as a matter of national pride to continue the work."

    It makes my heart glad to hear it… :D Hopefully one day I'll be able to see it all as well.

  • Lady Sage
  • Crystal7431

    It's wonderful to see Greece and Rome rebuilding their temples with such enthusiasm. On another note, I'd really like to see the current administration, as well as future administrations, change the treatment of Native Americans in the States. So far it seems most "dialog" has been lip-service, an attempt to pacify without any real action behind it, and the disregard- no, downright derision- for sacred lands and traditional practices has to stop.

  • http://annehill.org Anne Hill

    Thanks for mentioning the AOL/HuffPo deal, Jason. The increased exposure for us HuffPo bloggers is rather astounding, but I tend to agree with Ken Auletta of the New Yorker that it's AOL's "Hail Mary pass," with no certainty of succeeding for them. Arianna, however, has got herself nicely positioned as head of an entire media group, so if AOL's revenue goes south expect her to rise from the ashes a bigger media mogul than ever.